Melting glaciers reveal Canadian land hidden for 40,000 years


Southern Baffin IslandKike Calvo/AP

Melting ice is exposing hidden landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that haven’t been seen in more than 40,000 years, new research published in Nature Communications reveals.

Unsurprisingly, the study suggests climate change is the driving force behind this record-breaking glacial retreat and with Arctic temps rising at increasing speed thanks to strong positive feedback loops in the polar regions, we can expect things to heat up even quicker in the near future. According to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Canadian Arctic may be seeing its warmest century in as many as 115,000 years…

❝ Simon Pendleton and colleagues’ research is based on plants collected at the edge of ice caps on Baffin Island, the fifth-largest island in the world. The landscape is dominated by deeply incised fjords and high-elevation, low-relief plateaus. The latter conserves lichens and moss in their original position in the ice for periods of time lasting thousands of years — a little like a cryogenic chamber.

RTFA to learn why scientists like Pendleton have to be hot on the spot to gather samples of vegetation as it becomes exposed.

Vegetation is essential for limiting city warming effects

Cities are well known hot spots – literally. The urban heat island effect has long been observed to raise the temperature of big cities by 1 to 3°C, a rise that is due to the presence of asphalt, concrete, buildings, and other so-called impervious surfaces disrupting the natural cooling effect provided by vegetation. According to a new NASA study that makes the first assessment of urbanization impacts for the entire continental United States, the presence of vegetation is an essential factor in limiting urban heating.

Impervious surfaces’ biggest effect is causing a difference in surface temperature between an urban area and surrounding vegetation. The researchers, who used multiple satellites’ observations of urban areas and their surroundings combined into a model, found that averaged over the continental United States, areas covered in part by impervious surfaces, be they downtowns, suburbs, or interstate roads, had a summer temperature 1.9°C higher than surrounding rural areas. In winter, the temperature difference was 1.5 °C higher in urban areas…

The study, published this month in Environmental Research Letters, also quantifies how plants within existing urban areas, along roads, in parks and in wooded neighborhoods, for example, regulate the urban heat effect…

The northeast I-95 corridor, Baltimore-Washington, Atlanta and the I-85 corridor in the southeast, and the major cities and roads of the Midwest and West Coast show the highest urban temperatures relative to their surrounding rural areas. Smaller cities have less pronounced increases in temperature compared to the surrounding areas. In cities like Phoenix built in the desert, the urban area actually has a cooling effect because of irrigated lawns and trees that wouldn’t be there without the city…

At the human level, a rise of 1°C can raise energy demands for air conditioning in the summer from 5 to 20 percent in the United States, according the Environmental Protection Agency. So even though 0.3°C may seem like a small difference, it still may have impact on energy use, said Bounoua, especially when urban heat island effects are exacerbated by global temperature rises due to climate change.

I grew up in a southern New England factory town. What changed it from being as much of an environmental disaster as most – was the struggles for Keynesian solutions like the CCC during the Great Depression included the transformation of vacant brownscapes into parks. Sufficiently done that the city began calling itself a park city. Every neighborhood acquired a little more life, more human friendliness, with the addition of a greenscape of grass and trees.

Satellite data aids tracking, predicting, animal migrations

NASA says satellites can help track zebras migrating in the African nation of Botswana, one of the world’s longest migrations of the striped creatures.

Predicting when and where zebras will move has not been possible until now, researchers said, but with rain and vegetation data from satellites they can track when and where arid lands begin to green, and for the first time anticipate if zebras will make the trek, the space agency reported…

Predicting when the zebras will be on the move provides a powerful tool for conservation efforts, biologists said.

“We’re getting close to the stage where for some organisms, we can use satellite data in management,” Pieter Beck, a research associate with the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass., said.

Earth-orbiting satellites that can capture images of the zebras’ seasonal movements on their epic treks as well as the daily change in environmental conditions are an invaluable tool, researchers said.

We need to know what the fate of those migrations is under climate change,” Beck said.

“Understanding when animals might come through, what drives them, what they’re looking for sometimes,” is very useful information to managing those landscapes so that migratory animals and humans can coexist, he said.

Bravo! I was just sitting in on one of those unproductive arguments about R versus D in R&D and defending the usefulness of astrophysicists. Thanks for one more good reason.

Ukrainian tunnel of love

A young couple walk through the ‘tunnel of love’ near the town of Klevan in Ukraine. The tunnel is a two-mile section of private railway that serves a local factory. A train runs through it three times a day.

From the GUARDIAN “Eyewitness” series of photographs

Snowmass fossil site discovery in Colorado


Mammoth fossils turned up by earthmover

An Ice Age fossil site recently discovered in Snowmass Village, Colorado, is providing a trio of U.S. Geological Survey scientists with a laboratory to study more than 100,000 years of vegetation and climate records in Colorado.

The USGS team is studying about 22 feet of fossil-bearing sediments from the…excavation, which appear to encompass more than 100,000 years of prehistoric time…

“A vegetation and climate record that covers this much time at such a high altitude—about 8800 feet—is unprecedented in Colorado to our knowledge,” said Jeff Pigati, a USGS geologist on the team.

Sediments that contain the fossils appear to have been deposited in a small lake or marsh that formed when a stream was dammed by a glacial moraine, or accumulation of glacier debris, at least 130,000 years ago…

The Ziegler Reservoir megafauna site was discovered while crews were enlarging the reservoir, which provides water to Snowmass Village and, to some extent, the nearby ski area for making snow…

Thanks to a bulldozer operator who knew enough to apply the brakes, notify folks what he’d unearthed.