The Hot Zone

Warm as the Arctic

Far North off the coast of Greenland is Ellesmere Island, a mountainous, icy patch of earth that supports only one species of woody plant, the tiny, slow-growing Arctic Willow. The glaciers in this Canadian outpost have been rapidly disintegrating; its main Ward Hunt Ice shelf fractured a couple years ago, while another, the Markham shelf, broke off into the sea. It’s a great place to study the effects of climate change, both modern and past. Beaver Pond on Ellesmere Island is exceptionally... [Read more]

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

Microbial pump

The journal Science has devoted an entire issue to exploring the way the oceans are rapidly transforming in response to climate change and other factors. It’s worth taking a peek into this extensive sweep of research; the oceans, after all, account for 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and are the least explored part of the globe. I’ll be looking at a number of the papers published in the issue largely because of the growing sense I’ve felt from an accumulation of news stories... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 23, 2010 No Comments »
Category : The Oceans

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

The cold tongue

The disappearance of glaciers goes hand in hand with warming temperatures. But it turns out that the process may be more complicated than rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. For insight, we look to the past. The Pliocene epoch was last era in which temperatures were this warm, about 3 to 5 million years ago. CO2 concentrations were 30 percent higher, sea levels 15 to 20 meters higher, and temperatures more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter. And there were no glaciers, except intermittent ice caps... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 14, 2010 No Comments »
Category : The Oceans

Hot as France

The European heat wave the summer of 2003 is still etched in many Europeans’ minds, and my own. I was having the time of my life hiking through rural, southern France at the time, but couldn’t figure out why I could barely make 7 miles before passing out on a picnic blanket. After finally reaching a town with a newspaper circular, I found out what everyone else already knew: it was damn hot — on the order of 105 degrees. I headed north, but Paris wasn’t any cooler. Whether... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 9, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climate Science and Scientists

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

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