The Hot Zone

Catch a cold

Climate change has made apparent the interconnectedness of Earth systems. That sometimes doesn’t match with our human experience of the vastness of the world, where we dump trash elsewhere, fish the oceans without limit, and send pollutants into the atmosphere thinking nothing will ever come back at us. Yet a study published in a recent journal of Science is a reminder of how change in one place can ripple to the far reaches of the globe. Data from as far back as 3.5 million years ago shows... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 21, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past, The Oceans

Picture disaster

We’re all glued to the television in voyeuristic horror when disaster strikes, and there’s been plenty of incidents already this year to strike our imagination: a volcano in Iceland, an earthquake in Haiti, and the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history with the BP oil spill. You know what I’m talking about. Doesn’t this do something to you? The oil slick is headed right into a wildlife refuge. Gulf of Mexico oil leak, NASA's Aqua satellite, April 25, 2010 Well,... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 16, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

This old lake

Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest lake and at 10 million years, one of the oldest. Straddling four countries in East and Central Africa, Tanganyika spans 418 miles and plunges 1,870 feet deep, making it an important source of freshwater and fish for millions of people. It so happens that its features also make it a geologic gold mine. Deep in these waters, researchers are finding out more about modern day climate change. Lake Tanganyika. Photo courtesy of NASA Taking sediment cores from... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 2, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past, The man made climate

The Big Freeze

Around 12,000 years ago, the Earth spun into The Big Freeze, a (geologically) brief cold snap known as the Younger Dryas event. Glaciers returned to parts of the Northern Hemisphere and humans who were around then probably shivered quite a bit. The Clovis people in North American, the first paleo-Indian inhabitants that made distinctive bone and ivory tools, took a population nosedive. What caused The Big Freeze? The prevailing theory is a shutdown of the ocean conveyor belt caused by a rapid influx... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 1, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Sizzling Hot

Massive wildfires that cause untold destruction of life and habitat are becoming a feature of modern climate change. A mere 1.8 degree jump in temperature is predicted to equal a 40 percent increase in lightening, the main ignition source of natural fires. We already get some 8 million strikes a day under modern atmospheric conditions. It’s becoming sizzling hot here on Earth. Greece has been hit with massive wildfires in recent years. Photo courtsey of NASA, 2009 Foothills of NASA's... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on May 28, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Ice, ice baby

Maybe the most defining characteristic of the Arctic is its ice. What would the Arctic be, if not for a frigid, barren, icy landscape? We’ve come to lament the loss of sea ice in the Arctic. Yet it’s interesting to note that the Arctic has, in fact, been ice free and for long periods of time. As recently as 125,000 years ago, the summertime brought ice-free conditions. In fact, it probably wasn’t until 14 million years ago — the launch of a cooling period — that the... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on May 16, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past, The Oceans

Reading the leaves

We know there’s a relationship between rising levels of CO2 and warmer temperatures. That, of course, is the crux of global warming science and plays an important part in the models that predict future climate change. But looking at the past can be just as informative. A group of Penn State-led geoscientists and ecologists are shedding light on the matter by looking at the ecological conditions that lead to types of carbon in plants leaves. In a paper published in March 2010 in Proceedings... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on May 13, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

A faint young sun

Some 3.8 billion years ago was a mystery that scientists have long attempted to solve. Way back then, the Earth was a completely different place, and so was the solar system. The sun shined with less luminescence — as much as 30 percent weaker — which meant the Earth should have been really cold. So cold, in fact, that liquid water would not have existed. But the geologic record shows that water was, indeed, present and provided the foundation for the proverbial “primordial soup”... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on May 4, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Asphalt volcanoes

The ocean’s version of the La Brea Tarpits has been discovered off the Santa Barbara coast, so-called asphalt volcanoes that probably added a lot of methane to the atmosphere when they were active some 35,000 years ago and deposited massive flows of petroleum offshore. The underwater volcanoes are part of a larger structure of tar deposits in the area, and although the volcanoes themselves are not active, oil has been bubbling steadily out of nearby seeps in the underground rock for thousands... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on April 30, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past, The Oceans

Human volcano

The volcano in Iceland is a reminder of how ultimately precarious our situation is here on Earth. There’s just no telling what the planet’s systems have in store for us. We build entire civilizations on the assumption of permanence. But in moments the ground — or skies — can start shifting. As Eyjafjallajökull continued spurting dark clouds across Europe causing human chaos, scientists simply could not say for sure when the end of it was near. NASA image of ash dust from... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on April 21, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past, The man made climate


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