[Vision2020] DISCOVER Vol. 28 No. 01 | January 2007

Art Deco deco at moscow.com
Fri Dec 29 07:13:01 PST 2006

            The current issue of Discover Magazine contain a list of what they consider the 100 most important science discoveries of 2006.

            Below are two.  The photos of the Muir Glacier retreat are very sobering.


            The Top 8 Earth Science Stories of 2006 
            Global warming as hot topic, water worlds under Antarctic ice, King Tut's alien heat source, and more 
            DISCOVER Vol. 28 No. 01 | January 2007 

4 The World Melts and the Masses Mobilize
"Oops, something is happening now, climate is changing really fast"...

20 Global Warming Leaves Its Marks
Sixteen places where global warming is apparent...

35 Melting Permafrost May Rev Up Global Warming
Defrosting could release nearly 1,000 gigatons of carbon and hasten global warming...

52 Storms May Be Getting Worse
Is global warming leading to more extreme weather?

61 Ancient Rain Settles Sierra's Age
Geologists settled a dispute over the age of the Sierra Nevada range by studying gravel that was soaked with ancient rainwater...

81 Tut Jewel Formed by Asteroid Impact
The central jewel in King Tutankhamen's pectoral gear may have been literally out of this world...

82 Secret Lakes Lie Under Polar Ice
Scientists have found evidence of subglacial lakes and rivers far under the surface of Antarctica...

90 Drillers Tap into Foundation of Earth's Crust
Geologists successfully drilled into the bottom layer of the ocean's crust for the first time...


4 The World Melts and the Masses Mobilize


      When Muir Glacier in Alaska was photographed by William Field in 1941 (top), parts of it were more than 200 feet thick. Since then it has retreated more than 12 miles. A photograph taken at the same spot by Bruce Molnia in 2004 (below) shows that the melted glacier's once-barren banks are now covered with trees and other vegetation. 
With an almighty crash, a mass of rock half the size of the Empire State Building dropped off the side of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland last July 13. Thousands of tourists had flocked to see it fall, toasting its collapse with beer and cheers. Geologists had predicted the plunge for weeks, citing the retreat of an underlying glacier that had held the rock in place. Two days later, glaciologists at the University of Zurich reported that the area covered by alpine glaciers had shrunk by 50 percent in the past 150 years. They also predicted that if Earth's temperature rises by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, 80 percent of alpine glaciers will be gone by 2100. The loss is more than cosmetic: The Alps supply a crucial source of water for irrigating crops across Europe. "If they disappear," says study author Martin Hoelzle of the University of Zurich, "a lot of people will realize, oops, something is happening now, climate is changing really fast."

In 2006 signs of warming amassed so quickly that it was scarcely possible to keep track of them. A major study of Greenland showed that the landmass lost 100 billion metric tons of ice between 2003 and 2005, a melt rate three times faster than that seen five years ago and one that could be contributing to sea-level rise. A separate report indicated that the rate of global sea-level rise had accelerated during the 20th century; if it continues as predicted, by 2100 seas will lap shores 12 inches higher than they did in 1990.

"Should we be worried about this? By all means," says geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. "Partly because you can't put the ice back once you lose it. The amount of warming that's already built in the system would bring Earth's temperature close to what it was when the sea level was 13 to 20 feet higher. If we don't act to cut emissions, there may not be time left to avoid this outcome. It may be that we're very close to the point where an irreversible and relatively rapid rise in sea level will occur that's enough to obliterate coastal civilization as we know it."

There is little doubt these changes are human induced, as the Bush administration-appointed federal Climate Change Science Program conceded in May. The panel reported that the world is warming throughout the lower atmosphere, as climate models had predicted, and acknowledged "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system." A study in February reported that heat-trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are being released at a rate 30 times faster than they were during a well-studied climate shift 55 million years ago that triggered an extreme period of warming. "It is as clear as a bell that the rapid warming of the past 30 years is due to increasing human-made greenhouse gases," says physicist James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a leading authority on climate change.

Hansen has been warning about global warming since 1988, when he testified before Congress on the cause-and-effect relationship between atmospheric temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 20 years later, though, Hansen faces challenges in being heard: Last January, in The New York Times, he accused NASA of trying to censor his calls for reductions in heat-trapping gases. Since then, he says he's had no problems speaking out. "However, that does not mean that the [Bush] administration is paying attention to the implications of our research," he says. "Indeed, they seem almost oblivious to it." 

Given the overwhelming evidence, a few big names sounded the battle cry. Most prominent was former Vice President Al Gore, whose documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, grossed $24 million. Another movie, The Great Warming, focused on evangelical Christian environmentalists, among them 86 church leaders who began urging Christians to fight global warming. Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines, pledged $3 billion to combat global warming by investing the money in the development of biofuels. And California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has overseen legislation that will require the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. 

Perhaps the most telling sign that global warming has gone mainstream came in October with the Weather Channel's launch of One Degree, a Web site whose mission is "to present an open, balanced dialogue around the scientific facts concerning global climate change." The site's name is drawn from the 1 degree Fahrenheit the world has warmed in the past 30 years; as the Web site states, "something so seemingly small as a single degree can change the world."

Josie Glausiusz


20 Global Warming Leaves Its Marks 

1. Africa: Ice fields on the mountains near the equator are shrinking and could vanish within 20 years. 

2. Alpine glaciers: The Alps could lose between 80 and 100 percent of their glaciers by the end of this century. 

3. Antarctica: Winter air temperatures over Antarctica have risen by more than 2 degrees Celsius since the 1970s. 

4. Greenland and Antarctica: 20 billion tons of water flows into oceans every year because of runoff from ice sheets in these two polar areas. Greenland's ice is now melting three times as quickly as it was just five years ago. 

5. The Arctic: Giant cracks larger in total area than the British Isles appeared in August in the Arctic sea ice. 

6. Western United States: Large forest fires have occurred more frequently as spring temperatures have increased. The dry season grew longer, and summers got hotter. 

7. Northern Bering Sea: Whales are moving farther north as temperatures warm. 

8. Sweden: The country plans to be the world's first oil-free economy within 15 years. 

9. Britain: Scientists report that 80 percent of more than 300 animals studied have extended the northern boundary of their habitats. Also, episodes of extreme rain have become more frequent in parts of the United Kingdom over a 40-year period. 

10. Europe: Spring arrives an average of six to eight days earlier than in the 1970s. Seventy-eight percent of 542 plant species studied flowered and fruited earlier in the year. Migratory birds were flying home to Northern Europe earlier in time for the beginning of spring. 

11. Northern Siberia: As lakes in the permafrost zone of northern Siberia thaw, they are releasing methane-a potent greenhouse gas. The carbon in the methane had been sequestered in the permafrost for more than 40,000 years. 

12. Atlantic and Pacific oceans: Average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Pacific oceans have risen by 1.2 and 0.58 degrees Fahrenheit in the 20th century; the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years. 

13. Pacific: The flow of air currents that fuels Pacific trade winds and modulates the weather from South America to Southeast Asia may be weakening. 

14. South America: Glaciers in the region are melting so fast that some are expected to disappear within 15-25 years. The resulting water shortage would jeopardize people and food supplies in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and Bolivia. 

15. Himalayas: Snow and ice cover in the eastern Himalayas has shrunk by about 30 percent since the 1970s. The melt-off could cause flooding. 

16. China: A November report predicts that the coal-powered, populous country will surpass the United States in 2009 as the world's biggest emitter of climate-warming carbon dioxide.
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