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Earth Matters

News Roundup: Antarctic Ice Flow, Faux Climate Controversy, and More

September 2nd, 2011 by Adam Voiland

Behold the Mesmerizing Flow of Antarctic Ice
The first complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica slid off Science’s presses last month and hit the media with a splash. The BBC, New York Times, Climate Central and dozens of other publications highlighted the news and linked to this striking visualization of Antarctic glaciers flowing thousands of miles from the heart of the continent to its coast. “The map points out something fundamentally new: ice moves by slipping along the ground it rests on,” said Thomas Wagner, NASA’s cryospheric program scientist. “That’s critical knowledge for predicting future sea level rise. It means that if we lose ice at the coasts from the warming ocean, we open the tap to massive amounts of ice in the interior.” The study also uncovered a ridge that runs east to west across the continent.

Faux Controversy of the Week
The web got ahead of the facts in August when a Guardian reporter came across a study in an obscure scientific journal that considered how an alien species would react to life on Earth. The resulting Guardian article – ominously headlined “Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations, say NASA scientists” – created quite a stir on the web, particularly because the scientists made reference to the possibility that increasing levels of greenhouse gases could attract the attention of hostile aliens. The problem: as NASA headquarters made perfectly clear in a series of tweets, the agency did not fund or any in any way sanction the research.

An Ocean Current Out of the Blue
The discovery that a long-suspected ocean current – the North Icelandic Jet – contributes a large amount of cold, dense water to the global ocean conveyor belt that regulates climate in the Northern Hemisphere has thrown a wrench into scientists’ understanding of how the ocean will respond to climate change.  The existence of the current means the North Atlantic may be less sensitive to climate change than previously thought, Reuters reported. “We’ve identified a new paradigm,” said Robert Pickart of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and an author of a new study on the North Icelandic Jet. “We’re hypothesizing a new, overturning loop of warm water to cold.”

Foamy Wakes Deflect Climate Change
Can the foamy wakes left behind ships counteract global warming?  A study led by Charles Gatebe of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center suggests the answer could be yes. Boats create fleeting trails of foamy water that can reduce global temperatures by reflecting sunlight more than the darker ocean water nearby, New Scientist reported. That said, don’t expect ship wakes to serve as a trump card against climate change. The cooling wakes produce is just a fraction of the warming caused by shipping’s carbon emissions. And, to complicate matters even further, the particles of ship exhaust can influence cloud development in ways that can also affect the climate.

Happy 20th, Alaska Satellite Facility
Satellites high in space tend to get the lion’s share of attention, but the data they collect mean little until they’ve gone through one of a network of eight ground-based data processing centers scattered across the country. NASA’s distributed active archive centers, or DAACs, transform raw data into sets that all Earth scientists can access and study. One of the DAACs, the Alaska Satellite Facility, just celebrated its 20th anniversary, the News Miner reported. According to that paper, the Fairbanks facility receives data that allows scientists to monitor volcano activity, sea ice coverage, deforestation, and glacier retreat.

Carbon Emissions on the Rise
The economy may feel like its ailing, but that hasn’t stopped carbon dioxide emissions in the United States from shooting up, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. In 2010, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions went up 213 million tons or 3.9 percent – the largest increase since 1988 when emissions rose by 218 metric tons or 4.6 percent. What’s behind the growth? Population went up, manufacturing (particularly energy intensive manufacturing) bounced back after the 2008-2009 recession, and a hot summer led to increased air-conditioning demand. Since 1990, Forbes reported, CO2 emissions in the U.S. have grown at an average annual rate of 0.6 percent.

One Response to “News Roundup: Antarctic Ice Flow, Faux Climate Controversy, and More”

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