Stories tagged arctic

Aug
16
2011

Let's play "Alphabet Soup"! What do you think the acronym PGC stands for?

Plumber's Green Coat.
Public Greeting Ceremony?
Periwinkle Glam Cupcakes??
...Pennsylvania Game Commission?!

It could stand for all of those, I suppose, but today the correct answer is... Polar Geospatial Center.
Old-timey aerial photograph of Antarctica's snowy surface: Photographed in 1947 under Operation Windmill, a U.S. Navy expedition to test equipment, train personnel, and reaffirm American interests in Antarctica.
Old-timey aerial photograph of Antarctica's snowy surface: Photographed in 1947 under Operation Windmill, a U.S. Navy expedition to test equipment, train personnel, and reaffirm American interests in Antarctica.Courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of Minnesota's PGC has supplied maps, logistical support and training to US researchers in Antarctica for over five years. Recently, they’ve had the opportunity to expand their resources to cover the Arctic as well.

*** Beep! Beep! We've interrupted to bring you a not-so-important-at-all notice: ***

Maps are awesome! They're useful for getting from Point A to Point B and many are beautiful enough to frame and hang on your wall. Handy and pretty. What's more to love?? Maps are so great that the author of this post took an entire college course in maps (there was some aerial photography too, to be fair). It rocked her socks.

*** We will now return to your previously scheduled program.***
New-fangled satellite image of Antarctic Peninsula
New-fangled satellite image of Antarctic PeninsulaCourtesy Google and NASA

Some of the maps used by the PGC are originals: newly created for a specific team’s research goals. For example, they’ve used high-resolution satellite imagery to count emperor penguin and Weddell seal populations. By tracking the changes of animal populations, arctic landscapes, and seascapes, the PGC is building a record of the effects of climate change.

Bonus: You don’t have to be a researcher yourself to enjoy the PGC’s map work because they partner with Google to keep Google Maps and Google Earth up-to-date on the Arctic and Antarctic. (Note: You have to download a plugin for Google Earth.)

Happy mapping!

Jul
16
2009

The burning you feel is your childhood evaporating: Also, your skin.
The burning you feel is your childhood evaporating: Also, your skin.Courtesy jurvetson
Ho-ly spit.

Zo-mg.

We are in deep trouble, friends, enemies and Buzzketeers.

Screw rising sea levels. Nuts to dwindling glacier-based freshwater reserves. Forget desertification. The real danger of global warming we’ve known about since 1958 and we’ve done nothing to prevent it. In our arrogance, we thought we’d be safe forever, but now the chickens have come home to roost. And they’re roosting hard.

Is it possible that you don’t know what I’m talking about yet?

Well, let me explain it to you in a roundabout way.

Remember being a kid in 1958, sitting in your home entertainment room, petting your chinchilla in the dark (not a euphemism), and eating a box of Gushers as you watched your Blu-ray of Steve McQueen’s The Blob? Remember how you felt when that little piece of space goo started to eat that old dude’s hand? Those Gushers burned like the blob’s acid touch, no doubt. And remember when you realized that no amount of hot lead was going to stop the blob, because, duh, why would bullets hurt space goo? You probably squeezed your poor chinchilla to death in your anxiety. Do you recall the little pinprick of hope you felt at the blob’s response to a blast from the CO2 filled fire extinguisher, and the final surge of relief as they crated the awful thing to the arctic, where it could be kept in safety… JUST SO LONG AS THE %@$##$%ING ARCTIC STAYS COLD… QUESTION MARK????!!!!!!!!!

If your chinchilla wasn’t dead already, it didn’t stand a chance at that point, because you were convulsively squeezing everything within reach, and vomiting half-digested Gushers all over your parents’ modern Scandinavian furniture. But no, soothes your nanny, as she strokes your hair and gently clears the Gushers from your airway, that could never happen. It’s the arctic she says, and, standing in the lit doorway behind her, your personal chef nods reassuringly. That’s why they call it “the arctic,” he says in his heavy Japanese accent. Your normal childhood is safe from a life of constant monster threat.

Or so you thought. It’s fifty years later, the arctic is melting, and, in many respects, you’re still a child. And the blob is free.

So far the number of humans-dissolved-alive remains at or near zero, but I expect this figure to skyrocket any day now, as the blob has been seen off the northern coast of Alaska.

The blob has been observed floating in dark, gooey looking mats on the surface of the ocean. The strands of goo are reported to be up to 12 miles long.

What you’re trying to convince yourself, I’m sure, is that this is no blob, but just another harmless oil spill. Wrong-o, says the local coastguard.

“It's certainly biological,” a coastguard petty officer reports. “It's definitely not an oil product of any kind. It has no characteristics of an oil, or a hazardous substance, for that matter.” The smell and composition, he says, suggest that it’s some natural substance, but it’s nothing that any of the locals remember seeing before. But they need only to return to their home theaters, and I’m sure they’ll recognize the substance in no time.

The substance is dark, hangs off the ice when they come in contact, and appears to be “hairy” when examined closely. “It kind of has an odor,” explained one of the locals on the goo expedition, “I can't describe it.” Well, I’ll describe the smell for you: fear.

Jellyfish have been seen tangled up in the blob, and one local turned in the remains of a dead goose, “just bones and feathers,” that had supposedly been found in the goo.

Samples of the blob were brought to Anchorage for analysis. Waste of time, if you ask me. The coastguard pilots that helped retrieve the sample are pretty certain it’s some kind of algae, but that’s what the military would say. It’s the blob.

Hide yourselves. Save your game frequently. Cherish what you remember of “normal life,” because it’s all about to change.

Mar
19
2009

He's not lying: Image subtly modified from an illustration on wikimedia commons
He's not lying: Image subtly modified from an illustration on wikimedia commonsCourtesy Haplochromis
Add it to the list! Which list?

The list of things that will kill you!

And, please, don’t quibble. The nit-pickers, the brick-counters, and the penny-slicers among you Buzzketeers might point out that, since we can really only die one time, a person can’t be killed by more than one thing, and therefore making a list is silly.

To all y’all, I say, “Shut it!” A person can be technically dead for several minutes and still be brought back into this town we call Life. Or, maybe, several fatal things could happen to you at very nearly the same time, and if the final straw could even be distinguished, we might accurately say that each contributed to your final achievement of death. Example: “Was it the hypothermia, the severe electric shock, or the brain parasites that killed JGordon?” “Hmm. Well if it was the brain parasites, him digging a fork into the toaster while trapped in a meat locker couldn’t have helped.” See?

So let’s recap the list so far:

1) Brain parasites
2) Electrocution
3) Hypothermia
4) Throwing knives (accidental)
5) Throwing knives (intentional)
6) Embarrassment (via brain aneurysm)
7) Misunderstanding enema directions
8) Falling off a high tree
9) Roller coaster decapitation
10) Poisoned dates
11) Fame

And the newest item?

. . . . .

“Predator X,” a carnivorous aquatic monster with a nine-foot-long skull, and foot-long teeth! It could totally kill you dead! The only caveat is that you would have to travel back to the cretaceous period, which is still about 65 million years further than we’re currently able to time travel. But, still, once you got there, you would be bitten like crazy.

Predator X has been lurking around the lower end of this list for a while now. For the last several years, paleontologists have been excavating a huge deposit of marine fossils on the arctic island of Svalbard. (That story was covered here on Buzz, back in October of 2006.) In fact, I wrote about another monster pliosaur uncovered at the site last March (See “Something Awesome.”) But Predator X, which was discovered on the last day of that field season, is an even more monstrous pliosaur. It looks like it was around 50 feet long, and weighed in the neighborhood of 45 tons.

(Pliosaurs, just to review, are extinct aquatic reptiles, and are not to be confused with “plesiosaurs.” Plesiosaurs are those long-necked, Nessie jobbers. Pliosaurs are related to plesiosaurs, but they had short, thick necks, and huge, scary heads.)

Back when the pliosaur we call “Something Awesome” was discovered, a paleontologist made a fun superlative sort-of statement about the new creature: “It was big enough to pick up a small car in its jaws and bite it in half.” Because Predator X is slightly larger, I’m going to save that scientist some time, and go ahead and say, “It was big enough to pick up a medium-sized car in its jaws and bite it in half.”

Very impressive, Predator X. You would so be able to kill me.

Apr
29
2008

Tusk, tusk: A pair of narwhals surface in the Arctic waters. A new study says that the sea creatures are the most at risk to changes from global warming
Tusk, tusk: A pair of narwhals surface in the Arctic waters. A new study says that the sea creatures are the most at risk to changes from global warmingCourtesy Glenn Williams
Is there a more overlooked creature of the animal kingdom than the narwhal? Granted, it lives in the frosty waters of the Arctic Ocean and has a twisted, mean-looking tusk, but why don’t we give the narwhal more love?

Global climate change researchers are taking note of the odd sea beast. They’ve categorized the narwhal as being the sea creature most at risk from global warming changes. The pronouncement was made following in-depth analysis of how potential environmental problems that could affect the 11 marine animals that live year-round in the Artic region.

Polar bears, which have been generally considered the most “at-risk” animals from global warming, came in second place in the rankings.

Right now there are actually a lot more narwhals in the Arctic region (50,000 to 80,000) than polar bears (20,000). But researchers feel the overall impacts of global warming could have a quicker, more devastating impact on narwhals.

What’s the difference? Adaptability. Polar bears are able to gather food either by swimming or roaming land. As ice sheets diminish, they can forage for food on land.

Narwhals, on the other hand, are highly specialized creatures. A main feeding practice is diving to depths of 6,000 feet to feed on halibut. They live in areas with 99-percent ice cover. If that ice area diminishes, predators like orcas and polar bears will have easier access to getting to narwhals. And warming waters could send the narwhal’s favorite food of halibut to non-icy areas as well.

Following narwhals and polar bears as the most at-risk Arctic animals were the hooded seal, bowhead whale and walrus. Least at-risk are ringed seals and bearded seals according to the study.

Aerial view: A group of narwhals can be seen swimming together from an aerial view.
Aerial view: A group of narwhals can be seen swimming together from an aerial view.Courtesy narwhal.info
BTW: Here’s a little more general information about narwhals:

• They don’t use their tusks for hunting. Males do have “duels” with each other using the tusks to establish dominance. Male tusks can grow up to be 10 feet long. Females grow a much smaller tusk. The tusks are also twisted in a corkscrew fashion.

• An adult narwhal can measure to around 25 feet in length. Males can weigh up to 3,500 pounds while females are about 2,200 pounds.

• The animals also exclusively hunt under thick ice sheets.

• Inuit legends has it that the narwhal was created when a woman holding onto a harpoon had been pulled into the ocean and twisted around the harpoon. The submerged woman was wrapped around a beluga whale on the other end of the harpoon, and that is how the narwhal was created.

Jan
30
2008

Fighting for survival?: Delays by the Department of Interior on putting polar bears on the endangered list have made some congressional leaders upset. What do you think about this?
Fighting for survival?: Delays by the Department of Interior on putting polar bears on the endangered list have made some congressional leaders upset. What do you think about this?Courtesy wikipedia
Congressional environmentalists were getting cranky last week as deadlines are coming and going on giving polar bears endangered species protection. At the same time, deadlines are coming to open up some prime polar bear locations to oil exploration.

The Chukchi Sea, home to about a fifth of the world’s polar bears, could be opened to oil and natural gas expeditions next week through the action of one Interior Department division.

Congressional environmentalists, who want to see polar bears be added to the endangered list, claim they were promised that action would happen earlier this month. Now, they claim, the delay is being made to keep the Chukchi open to energy discoveries.

Proponents of global climate change say that melting ice caps in the Arctic are threatening the polar bear population. One study completed this fall predicts that up to two thirds of the polar bear population could be gone by the middle of this century if current warming trends continue.

Interior officials testifying at Congress yesterday said that the delay on adding polar bears to the endangered list is due to a desire to assure that Congress and the public will understand the decision when it is made public.

What do you think of all of this? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Sep
16
2007

Get your swimtrunks!: Next August is looking even better!  (image by toddraden on flickr.com)
Get your swimtrunks!: Next August is looking even better! (image by toddraden on flickr.com)
The Northwest Passage, a long-sought sea route from Europe to Asia, finally revealed itself this summer. The arctic sea ice that had made such a journey impossible until now has temporarily melted, thanks to Earth’s tidy new roommate, Global Warming.

The Northwest Passage has been theorized and sought after since the Fifteenth century, as European powers desired a faster sea route to Asia, via the north Atlantic. The Italian explorer, John Cabot, made the first attempt to find the passage in 1497, an act that would usher in half a millennia of failed expeditions. In the last century, several explorers have successfully traversed the waters of the Canadian arctic, although only with ice-fortified ships, and often through very shallow waterways. This August, however, sattelite images have confirmed a navigable and ice-free Northwest Passage.

Many climate models have predicted the opening of the passage with the onset of global warming, but none had suggested that it would happen so soon (predictions had ranged from 2012 to 2080). The waterways will certainly freeze over during the winter, although climate scientists expect that they will be open for increasing durations in summers to come.

John Cabot, after five hundred years of being lost at sea, was understandably nonplussed by the news. “It’s great, I guess,” says Cabot, “It’s just, I wish… argh.” The maritime explorer seemed excited about the prospect of faster trade with “the Orient,” however, as a route through the Arctic Ocean would cut 4000 miles off of a trip from Europe to Asia. On his future plans for international trade, Cabot simply stated, “Spices. Spices, and silks, and precious stones.”

Apr
08
2007

Separation anxiety: Researchers are finding that thinning ice in the Arctic Ocean is leading to an increased number of walrus pups being separated from their mothers. The pups, which have no hunting skills, are in a jam to find food. (Photo by Adre Boffin)
Separation anxiety: Researchers are finding that thinning ice in the Arctic Ocean is leading to an increased number of walrus pups being separated from their mothers. The pups, which have no hunting skills, are in a jam to find food. (Photo by Adre Boffin)
The issue of global warming took on added significance in the eyes of many skeptics when reports came out that polar bears were drowning in the Arctic because ice sheets were getting too thin. Now, new news from the Arctic may up the ante on “animal emotion” meter.

Coast Guard icebreakers going through Arctic waters have found more “orphaned” walruses on ice floes than they ever seen before, report Science Daily. And the thinking is that walrus mothers have to abandon their pups on thinner ice as they follow the thicker ice that’s retreating north.

One recent Coast Guard unit reported seeing nine abandoned walrus pups in one trip. Years ago, it was a sight that was never seen.

Being abandoned is a almost always fatal for a walrus pup. The moms dive into the water to find food – bottom-dwelling aquatic animals – for the pups. But if the ice isn’t thick and strong enough to support the adults, they little ones go hungry. Adult walruses can dive as deep as 600 feet to find food.

“We were on a station for 24 hours, and the calves would be swimming around us crying. We couldn’t rescue them,” said Carin Ashjian, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

That same research crew found a large pool of warmer ocean water surrounding the area with all the abandoned walrus pups. That water has a temperature of 44-degrees, which is about six degrees warmer than water temperatures taken at the same spot at the same time of year two years earlier.

May
01
2006


A model and a fossil show how Tikaalik Roseae might have lived in shallow stream beds about 375 million years ago.

What lived in water, could do push ups and might be the missing link in the evolution of sea creatures and land animals?

It’s Tiktaalik roseae, a crocodile-like creature that lived most of the time in the water, but ventured on land occasionally. Fossil remains of the large, nearly 400-million-year-old creature were recently found north of the Arctic Circle in Canada.

It’s the first solid fossil evidence that shows the transformation of aquatic animals into being land creatures. Tiktaalik specimens that were found range in length from four to nine feet long and look like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. They swam in shallow streams in what at the time, around 375 million years ago, was believed to be a subtropical climate. Tiktaalik were meat eaters.

The key that makes researchers believe it went up onto land is that Tiktaalik’s front fins had a bone structure that is much like a shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist. It’s believed the creatures would slither out of the water and pull themselves around on land much like seals do today.

The head structure of Tiktaalik is also a piece of evidence in the water-to-land evolution. It had a crocodile-like head, including eyes on top of the skull rather than on the side, like fish. It could also move its head independently of its shoulders like land animals can do today. But the creature’s jaws and snout were very fishlike. Researchers think it might have had both a set of lungs and gills for breathing. But like fish, it had scales and fins.

Scientists are planning to return to the Artic region to do further digging, but due to the cold climate there today, there is just a short window for doing field research. But much of what scientists are seeing in Tiktaalik confirms their guesses as to how water creatures could eventually convert to land animals.

The new findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature. Researchers have set up their own Tikaalik website with much more information about the discovery.