Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cross-country skiing for science

Three British explorers are going on a skiing trip. Sounds like a lot of fun. You know, being out in nature, hitting the slopes. Except these three people have something else in mind than just good ol' fun. They're out there measuring polar ice melting. These kinds of measurements can certainly be done with satellite and everything, but there is something invaluable about having the human element in this as well. For instance, they talk about one morning when they had to hurry up and move their tent because the ice was breaking up beneath them. If you're a slow waker in the morning, just imagine that wake up call.

Experiments and measurements like these are very important for the further understanding of the way our climate works. I've mentioned this before, but climate is not the same thing as weather. As it been cold in the northeastern U.S. this winter. My heating bills say "yes." But one chilly season does not mean that global climate change is over and done. The key words in that phrase of "global" and "climate." Snow in March in NYC does not mean the Earth is getting colder. Climate scientists are concerned that the years ahead will see no ice at all in the Arctic Ocean in the summer. That's kind of a big deal because the Arctic ice acts as a sort of climate regulator for the entire globe. Sunlight is reflected back to space, meaning that less radiation is absorbed by the Earth. Less radiation means less climate change. Everything is stabilized. Take away the Arctic ice, the stability is thrown out the window.

Important stuff, and worth keeping an eye on, no matter if you think climate change is real or a bunch of hooey.

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