Sunday, March 30, 2008

Arctic Tundra at Risk

Dr. Philip Higuera has examined ancient sediments from four lakes in a remote region of Alaska in and around Gates of the Arctic National Park to determine what kind of vegetation existed in the area after the last ice age, 14,000 to 9,000 years ago. By looking at fossilized pollen grains in the sediment cores, Higuera and his co-authors determined that after the last ice age, the arctic tundra was very different from what it is now. Instead of being covered with grasses, herbs, and short shrubs, it was covered with vast expanses of tall birch shrubs.

This research indicates that a warming climate could make the world's arctic tundra far more susceptible to fires than previously thought. The findings are important given the potential for tundra fires to release organic carbon -- which could add significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases already blamed for global warming.

"This was a surprise," Higuera said. "Modern tundra burns so infrequently that we don't really have a good idea of how often tundra can burn. Best estimates for the most flammable tundra regions are that it burns once every 250-plus years."

The ancient sediment cores showed the shrub tundra burned as frequently as modern boreal forests in Alaska -- every 140 years on average, but with some fires spaced only 30 years apart.

Higuera's research is important because other evidence indicates that as the climate has warmed in the past 50 to 100 years, shrubs have expanded across the world's tundra regions.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Climate change makes water the new oil

Water has long been considered a right in the UK. But with the onslaught of climate change and shifting demographics, its value is changing. Natural disasters are no longer things that happen elsewhere in the world as every nation's climate hangs in the balance. At the same time, consumption is increasing at an exponential rate.

Philip Green, chief executive of United Utilities, one of Britain's largest water companies with a market value of £6.5bn, says: "Water is to the global agenda [today] what oil has been for the last few decades."

Friday, November 9, 2007 educational site

A team of international climate scientists have launched as a one stop link for resources that people can use to get up to speed on the issue of climate change.

Climate Change information starting point.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Stalagmites layers contain important data

U.S. scientists studying cave stalagmites from Borneo have found the tropical Pacific might be more involved in climate change than previously believed.

Georgia Institute of Technology Assistant Professor of paleoclimatology Kim Cobb and graduate student Jud Partin studied stalagmites from two caves on the tropical Pacific island to determine how the Earth's climate suddenly changed several times during the past 25,000 years.

By analyzing the stalagmites, the researchers produced a high-resolution and continuous record of the climate affecting the equatorial rain forest.

"These stalagmites are, in essence, tropical ice cores forming over thousands of years," said Partin. "Each layer of the rock contains important chemical traces that help us determine what was going on in the climate thousands of years ago, much like the ice cores drilled from Greenland or Antarctica."

Partin and Cobb's research suggests the tropical Pacific played a much more active role in some of the abrupt climate change events of Earth's past than was once thought and might even have caused some of the changes.

Their findings are reported in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


For the uninitiated, paleoclimatology is a field of study primarily interested with climate change throughout the past. Just as economists provide that caviate that past results are not indicative of future performance, the same hold true for data obtained about the earth's history, though recognizable and predictable patterns often emerge once sufficiently refined parameters are defined.

My current interests include study of polar ice cores, specifically pollen and air contents that provide data about precipitation as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. My past studies have included plant fossils and sediment layers but I have become increasingly interested in the more basic elements that allowed life to flourish.