Stories tagged The Water Cycle, Weather and Climate

Mar
23
2008

The Briksdal Glacier: Not at its most impressive. Just look away.
The Briksdal Glacier: Not at its most impressive. Just look away.Courtesy xdmag
Across the globe, glaciers are suffering the humiliation of being seen in a state of exacerbated shrinkage.

Having gone so long without serious scrutiny as to their size, the bedroom door has been thrown open on the glaciers of the world, leaving them flailing to cover up what little is left of theirs to cover up.

“What did you expect?” Points out one glacier. “We’re cold. that’s what happens.”

Climatologists would disagree, however, on the cause of the shrinkage, if not the shrinkage itself, viewing the phenomenon as a key indicator of a warming climate. Average glacial shrinkage, it is reported, has risen from about 30 centimeters a year between 1980 and 1999, to 1.5 meters in 2006.

The glaciers, as they retreat like “frightened turtles” into their mountain refuges, are causing alarm not only as indicators of global climate change, but for their own diminishing potential to supply fresh water for “drinking, agriculture, industry, and power generation.”

Glaciers are believed to have started shrinking globally around 1850, although the rate of shrinkage looks to have increased dramatically in the early 80’s, and Dr. Wilfried Haeberli, director of the World Glacier Monitoring service, says that “the latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight.”

Feb
24
2008

Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century

Want to know what to do with your life. A diverse committee of experts from around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Science Foundation, identified 14 challenges that, if met, would improve how we live.

Here is their list in no particular order. You can learn more about each challenge by clicking on it.

You can vote for which is most important

The committee decided not to rank the challenges. NAE is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important and to provide comments at the Engineering Challenges website

Feb
15
2008

Drawing down: The white banks show the one-time high water mark of Lake Meade in Arizona. One group of researchers say there's a 50 percent chance the lake could dry up by the year 2021
Drawing down: The white banks show the one-time high water mark of Lake Meade in Arizona. One group of researchers say there's a 50 percent chance the lake could dry up by the year 2021Courtesy amysh
Have you ever been to Hoover Dam? It’s a popular day trip destination for those looking for a break from the gambling in Las Vegas.

One of the impressive sights is the huge body of water stopped up behind the dam: Lake Meade. The water stretches and snakes for miles and miles upstream on the Colorado River, which cuts its way through the Grand Canyon. That reservoir of water is also the main drinking supply for much of the southwest U.S.

But analysts from San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography that there’s a 50 percent chance that water will dry up by 2021. In a shorter time span, they say that there’s a 10 percent chance water in the lake will not be usable for drinking by 2013, just five years away.

The dire predictions are based on global climate change factors along with a growing demand for water in southern Nevada and southern California.

Due to current drought conditions, Lake Meade and its sister reservoir, Lake Powell upstream from the Grand Canyon, are only currently half full. Combined, they provide water to 27 million people spread over seven states.

But an official from the Central Arizona Project said that the predictions are alarmist and absurd and that the reservoirs are in no danger of drying up.

And I remember just a couple weeks ago we posted a story here on the Buzz that Rocky Mountain areas have seen wondrous amounts of snowfall this winter. A lot of that snow runoff finds its way into the Colorado River.

Do you have any deep thoughts to share on the southwest water situation? Post them here and let other Science Buzz readers know how you feel.

Feb
08
2008

Building a better future: One piece of junk at a time.
Building a better future: One piece of junk at a time.Courtesy thebigdurian
Just when you started to think things weren’t cool anymore (I know you were thinking that), something great comes up in the news, and turns your frown… upside down.

For the last few years the world has been sulking and pouting over the lack of continents. “We’ve discovered them all,” people say. Or, “Look at that darn Pacific Ocean, sitting there with practically no continents in it.” Or, “Hawaii must be so lonely!” Well, Lonesome No More!, Hawaii, because you’ve got a new friend, a friend the size of the continental United States!

Where did this massive mass come from? And how could such a thing have gone so far unnoticed? Whoa, explorers, one question at a time! The mass came from our own human ingenuity! That is to say, it’s trash! And we don’t really notice it because it’s largely translucent plastic, and because it’s located just beneath the surface of the ocean, so it can’t be seen in satellite photographs!

Now before you get excited and start purchasing real estate (although I like the way you think), our new garbage blob isn’t quite ready for building yet. It’s currently more of a “plastic soup,” held together by “swirling underwater current.” It is, nonetheless, a fairly cohesive chunk of junk, consisting of two connected bodies that span from about five hundred miles off of California almost to Japan.

Like many natural and quasi-natural wonders, however, Trashlantis is being threatened. Primarily by aquatic animals. Nearly 100,000 aquatic mammals choose to kill themselves every year by abusing floating garbage in some way or another, and sea birds have proven to be shameless garbage thieves, spiriting away everything from toothbrushes, to lighters, to syringes from our trashy endeavor. Where’s the proof? Inside their dead stomachs. Try to hide that, birds!

Approximately a fifth of the garbage dumped into the ocean comes from oil platforms and ships. If you want to ensure that Trashlantis remains more than a fable for your children and grandchildren, though, be sure to do your part, and produce as much plastic waste as possible, and dispose of it improperly.

Feb
03
2008

Punxsutawney Phil: Surrounded by his attendant wizards.
Punxsutawney Phil: Surrounded by his attendant wizards.Courtesy Aaron Silvers
This afternoon, in an announcement that surprised all, a rural Pennsylvanian groundhog emerged from a tree stump cage, and used magic to tell the world that it would be under the icy yolk of winter for at least six more weeks. Residents of the planet’s southern hemisphere were particularly disturbed.

Wisely deviating from the over relied upon scientific discipline of meteorology, experts have turned to the prognostications of the groundhog Phil, who uses centuries old magical techniques to reveal the secrets of immensely complex future weather patterns.

The determination was not without controversy, however. While the groundhog weather diviner West Indies Wilbur agreed with Phil – the most senior and important of extra-sensory rodents – several noted groundhogs took issue with the announcement. Wiarton Willy, Staten Island Chuck, Sir Walter Wally, Shubenacadie Sam, Malverne Mel, General Beauregard Lee, and Balzac Billy all argued the proclamation. However, as the National Climactic Data Center has stated groundhog accuracy to be around 39%, it makes sense that so many weather rodents would disagree with shrewd Phil.

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.

Jan
23
2008

Edge of the avalanche: Skiers in Norway this winter were carefully navigating their way along a high-risk avalanche area.
Edge of the avalanche: Skiers in Norway this winter were carefully navigating their way along a high-risk avalanche area.Courtesy Jef Maion
Several recent winters of below average snow falls in the U.S. have left skiers and snowmobilers chomping at the bit. But this year there has been a steady diet of snow to keep everyone schussing and zooming about.

Great news, right? For the most part, yes. But with the increased snow comes increased risk of avalanches. And with the reported avalanche deaths in the country through mid January numbering 15, we’re on pace to top the national record of 35 avalanche-related deaths that was set in the 2001-02 snow season. Typically, there are about 25 avalanche deaths nationwide each winter. In Washington state alone, however, there have been nine deaths already this season compared to an annual average of just two avalanche-related deaths per season.

What’s to blame for the unusual spike in snowy deaths? Weather experts are putting out a couple theories.

Race that avalanche: Science Buzz recommends that you don't try this the next time you hit the slopes. Avalanches can get roll much faster than most of us can ever hope to ski.
Race that avalanche: Science Buzz recommends that you don't try this the next time you hit the slopes. Avalanches can get roll much faster than most of us can ever hope to ski.Courtesy Andre Charland
First, there’s the growing popularity of backcountry skiing and snowmobiling. What used to be the sole domain of specially trained and equipped backcountry experts is opening up to more people seeking those special thrills, some who are not well-trained in avalanche dangers. Snow can break free in an avalanche just from the sound of snowmobiles or the sudden push off of ski.

Second, the western mountain ranges are getting a different combination of snow this season, due in part to La Niña weather conditions. The La Niña has doubled the amount of snowfall in many places in the west, but warmer weather in the fall, and during the snowfalls, have left the snow crust on the top of recent snowfalls weaker and easier to break loose into an avalanche.

Should anything be done with this more-dangerous-than-normal situation? In Europe, they don’t allow people to drive snowmobiles in the Alps to decrease avalanche risks. Should we try something like that here? Or are these snow fans assuming the risks when partaking in activities in like this? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

And courtesy of National Geographic, here's an interactive experience where you can create your own mountain avalanche.

Jan
16
2008

Cold, and proud of it: The communities of International Falls, Minn., and Fraser, Colo., will soon be squaring off in court over who owns the rights to the nickname "Ice Box of the Nation."
Cold, and proud of it: The communities of International Falls, Minn., and Fraser, Colo., will soon be squaring off in court over who owns the rights to the nickname "Ice Box of the Nation."Courtesy pbo31
The meteorologists are prepping us Minnesotans for our coldest blast of the winter season in the coming days.

But things are heating up in court for two towns that want to be know as the “Ice Box of the Nation.”

I’ve always thought International Falls as being the place of that distinctive honor as our meteorologists have been hammered us with those words of decades. Officially, International Falls has made that claim since 1948.

Now along comes Fraser, Colorado, which has been using the same slogan since 1956. It slapped a lawsuit on International Falls for using the same terminology. International Falls did the good old American thing when faced with such a situation, found a lawyer and filed a counter-suit against Fraser.

And this isn’t the first time the communities have squared off in court. Fraser settled a suit with International Falls in 1986 by dropping its claim to “Ice Box of the Nation” in exchange for $2,000. But International Falls forgot to renew its trademark privileges in 1996 and Fraser seized that opportunity to get the trademarked slogan.

Now it’s back to court for the communities.

But why do lawyers and judges have to get involved? Can’t science prove this once and for all? Can’t the thermometers of International Falls and Fraser prove without a doubt which site is colder? Whichever one comes up a little bit warmer could be dubbed the “Thermos of the Nation.”

Jan
07
2008

Looks like we may not need such a big thermometer after all: Despite ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures have not gone up in nine years.  What gives?
Looks like we may not need such a big thermometer after all: Despite ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures have not gone up in nine years. What gives?Courtesy arbyreed

Y’know, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good dust-up over global warming here at the Buzz. Last month, 10,000 delegates attended the UN’s climate conference in Bali (most of them traveling by jet and producing more of the carbon they’re supposed to be reducing), and there was hardly a peep. Even when 100 scientists signed a letter poking holes in the popular conception of global warming, nobody here said a word.

Oh well, what can I say? Holiday rush, end-of-the-year malaise…we had other things on our minds. But today, as the Midwest in experiencing record-shattering warmth (62° in mid-Michigan on January 7!), comes news that global warming…has stopped! It seems that global temps peaked in 1998, settled down a bit, and have been basically unchanged since 2001. So, for the past nine years, while humans continue to pump more and more carbon into the atmosphere, global temperatures have… done nothing.

How to explain this phenomenon? Well, there are a couple of wacky European scientists who argue that climate is driven by the Sun rather than by humans, but that’s obviously just crazy talk. The mystery of the missing warming continues.