Dr. Maciej Manecki
Department of Mineralogy
Petrography and Geochemistry
AGH - University of Science and Technology, Poland
What questions related to the Arctic are you trying to answer? The group of geologists I am working with have, I would say, historical objectives. On the one hand, we are interested in ancient past of our globe, trying to reconstruct the order of geological events which resulted in contemporary arrangement of lands and oceans in the Arctic. On the other hand, we are interested in our future, trying to reveal how the climate changes result in the evolution of the environment, particularly soils, glaciers, and waters. These changes are relatively fast (compared to extremely slow geological processes in general) and may affect humans.
How will answers to those questions help us understand more about our world? It is still a matter of discussion between scientists studying nature, to what extent observed climate changes result from civilization and to what extent this is a natural fluctuation, similar to [previous changes] observed in the geological history of the Earth. Therefore, reconstruction of the history of Earth and information about the evolution of the Earth surface before humans were even present gives us a hint on natural global processes. This allows for clear separation of the effects of civilization on the environment from natural changes.
How are you trying to find the answers to those questions? [The] Arctic acts as an exceptional natural laboratory for environmental research. This is thanks to [its environment which is] relatively clean and undisturbed by civilization. On the other hand, this region, similarly to other regions of the world, is under the influence of global changes and global scale pollution. This includes global climate changes.One of the most pronounced (obvious) effects of observed global warming is [the] retreat of glaciers. In many cases, this creates a very unusual opportunity for researchers: we can sample the sediment which very recently appeared from under the glacier and compare it with identical sediment [which has been] exposed for many years now. We can also observe how new soil and new life colonizes these [newly-exposed] patches of land which until now were for ages covered with tons of ice.Studying these extremely complicated systems requires collaboration between researchers from many disciplines: chemists, biologists, mineralogists, geologists, climate modelers and many others. Everybody can find himself/herself useful [if he or she has] solid education and enthusiasm for solving mysteries.
Recount for us one of your field days in the Arctic. The most exiting part of this work is the fieldwork. Still, after so many years in the field, I find unspoken pleasure in hiking through the glaciers and mountain ridges with the geological hammer in the hand, a notebook in the pocket and a handful of sampling bags in the backpack. Finding rocks which were never sampled by other geologists before. How exciting! Many places in the Arctic are still as [untouched] as the surface of the Moon. And every time I feel the same excitement I felt doing [research] for the very first time.The days seem to be similar to each other: setting up the tent on the glacier moraine, dinner, few hours sleep in the warm sleeping bag, difficult wake-up and cold mornings, looking into the direction of next exploration over the cup of coffee and breakfast, then packing and hiking again for the whole day. Often a very long day. Geologists work in summer seasons, when the sun doesn’t set [above the Arctic Circle]. So there is no time limit for the working day. This makes the fieldwork safer, too.
What do you find most rewarding about being a scientist? The most rewarding about being a scientist is shearing the results and new findings or ideas with others. This makes me feel useful for the society and gives pleasure of accomplishing something important. This is a very pleasant feeling when you conclude that you solved a problem and you go confront the solution with others. And when it holds, when you defend your point of view, you feel strong and important, contributing to the progress and to our understanding of the Mother Nature.
Department of Geology and Geochemistry
Stockholm University, Sweden
What questions related to the Arctic are you trying to answer? How did the Arctic Ocean evolve to what it is today? When and how did we get the perennial sea ice cover? Has the sea ice cover disappeared during any of the previous interglacial periods (periods in between ice ages, like we live in today)? How large were the glaciers during past ice ages? How did the present Arctic Ocean circulation system evolved?
How will answers to those questions help us understand more about our world? By learning more about the history of the climate system we might get insights into where we are going with the present global warming trend. For example, the perennial sea ice cover reflects a large part of the incoming solar radiation (albedo effect).
Without the white sea ice cover we know that more heat will be absorbed from the sun [into the dark-colored ocean water]. If the ice cover disappears, how fast can it be re-established? To learn more about this we need to combine studies of the past climate system with numerical modeling experiments.
How are you trying to find the answers to those questions? Through studies of marine sediment records and numerical modeling. The sediment accumulated on the seafloor works like a large library where the layers are like the books containing information of the past conditions in the ocean. Studies of microfossils, chemical changes etc (the pages in the books) will tell us about the past conditions.
Recount for us one of your field days in the Arctic.
This is an excerpt from my diary from the last expedition. Click here
August 27, 2007
At about four a clock in the morning the seismic streamer (an instrument used for taking seismic measurements of the sea floor) got stuck in the ice that closed up in the wake behind the [icebreaker ship] Oden. We could see the streamer pinched and entangled around extremely large blocks of ice.
It was decided to attach a rope around the streamer and try to pull it loose using the helicopter. The helicopter pulled on the streamer for nearly an hour while [another icebreaker ship]drove very close in attempts to break nearby leads (open sections of water between the ice floes) to release the ice pressure. Despite some very skillful maneuvers by the helicopter pilot and the Russian ice breaker captain and his mates, the streamer did not want to come loose.
The rescue maneuver was finally called off. But our Russian companions did not want to give in and offered to try pulling out the streamer with the ship. This required extreme skills as 75000 horsepower easily could snap a streamer or at least stretch it out like a rubber band. But the rescue succeeded and parts of the streamer could be saved....
[Because we could no longer take seismic measurements] due to the loss of the streamer, we decided to take a core. An accident seldom comes alone. The old coring winch (the oldest piece of equipment on board the otherwise modernly equipped Oden) got a sudden hydraulic oil leak and half the oil leaked out on deck. After this was repaired, the winch broke down completely due to an electrical short in one of the magnetic valves that steers the hydraulics. It looked really bad, what could we do without a winch?
August 28, 2007
Chief Engineer Dan Skantze had narrowed down the problem with the coring winch and come up with a solution. He rebuilt a new magnetic valve and installed it. When the winch started again and worked, we all were mighty impressed and pleased! It meant that we could go for more cores.
What do you find most rewarding about being a scientist? To understand how things are working and to see that your work is being used.
School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
University of Alaska Fairbanks
What questions related to the Arctic are you trying to answer? I have been working in the Arctic since my first expedition as a graduate student in 1984. Since my first trip, I was fascinated by sea ice. I was amazed to see that sea ice harbors such an abundant flora and fauna. Millions of tiny bacteria, plants and animals live within each square foot of the sea ice, forming the base of an ice-associated food web. The ice algae are the food of amphipods, which are the food of Arctic cod, which again is the main food for Arctic birds and mammals.
I try to improve our understanding of how these organisms have adapted to their ice habitat, why we find them in certain concentrations, and what the contribution of this entire sea ice community is for the food web in different Arctic regions. This requires not only a detailed understanding of the diversity of life in the sea ice but also an understanding of the productivity of the ice regime. I also want to know, which organisms…benefit from the ice-associated biology.
How will answers to those questions help us understand more about our world?
There are several aspects of relevance:
- Food for native communities
Native communities in the Arctic rely on marine food (fish, whales, seals) as an important component of their diet. Sea ice is an important part of the life cycle of these species and we try to understand the complexity of interactions relevant for the Arctic ecosystem.
- Species diversity
Although sea ice has been studied for more than 100 years, we still do not know how many species occur in this habitat. This might provide important baseline information if we want to follow the expected change in community composition over the next decades. Which species will grow better under a warming climate? Are they ones that have been there before, or will sub-polar species invade certain parts of the Arctic? Are these new species suitable food for animals like fish, birds or mammals? Will we find toxic phytoplankton species in a warming Arctic? There are many questions for which we need reliable baseline information. That is why we started the Arctic Ocean Diversity project, a contribution to the Census of Marine Life (http://www.arcodiv.org/).
- Potential for new physiological pathways.
Living conditions in sea ice can be extreme – extremely cold (down to –30deg C) and extremely salty (more than five times more than sea water). How can organisms grow under such conditions? Can we use some of these [special] characteristics (e.g. cold adapted enzymes) for producing substances useful for humans and/or commercial applications?
How are you trying to find the answers to those questions? To a large extent, we need to go to the field, take samples, start experiments and follow the natural cycle. Adding it up, I have spent more than a year in the Arctic, collecting ice material and trying to analyze the diversity and activity of the ice communities. Many of these expeditions lasted for several weeks to months. Other trips (like to Barrow) are more on a time scale of a week. The lab analyses include understanding the chemical composition of the ice biota, counting them under a microscope and keeping them alive in a climate controlled chamber.
Recount for us one of your field days in the Arctic. I love being in the Arctic. Each expedition is different, the ice conditions differ from year to year and the weather and climate changes as well. Being on an icebreaker for three weeks with a group of colleagues is exciting, as I can learn more about what they study. I was very excited about the 2005 Ocean Exploration expedition with the US icebreaker Healy into the Beaufort Sea. We had divers studying the under-ice environment; we took ice samples and looked for all different life forms. Here is an excerpt from the log of scientist Katrin Iken, a colleague and experienced under-ice diver:
Most different from regular diving operations, under-ice divers are tethered to the surface. On the surface, a dive tender holds on to the tether and can communicate with the diver via a code of short pulls on the rope. Every diver under the ice always has to be tethered to the surface because it is very hard to keep orientation under the ice. During regular diving, maintaining orientation is not much of a problem because the diver can just come to the surface, re-orient, and continue the dive or surface-swim back to land or the boat. During under-ice diving this is not possible. The sea ice creates a solid lid on the surface and does not allow the diver to come up at any location. Using a tether is the main safety measure during ice diving. (Source: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/05arctic/. This website has many pictures, logs and videos)
But the most exciting aspect for me in recent times was the [discovery] of a new species. My colleague Bodil Bluhm and I found a small jellyfish related animal in the sea ice, and we sent samples to our Italian colleague Stefano Piraino – it turned out to be a new genus and new species and we are currently working on publishing these results. One first paper has already been published (Bluhm BA, Gradinger R, Piraino S. 2007. First record of sympagic hydroids (Hydrozoa, Cnidaria) in Arctic coastal fast ice. Polar Biology, 30:1557-1563.)
What do you find most rewarding about being a scientist? I believe it is a great privilege to can do the kind of work I do. I interact with wonderful colleagues including very talented students. We are involved in many projects, where I meet people from other disciplines and other research foci – maybe with our involvement in the Census of Marine Life as a highlight of my career. But most of all, I can do what I really enjoy and what I want to do – this gives me all the motivation I need to keep going and stay involved in the scientific world.
Wildlife Conservation Society
What questions related to the Arctic are you trying to answer? We are trying to understand how wildlife in the Arctic is affected by both a changing climate and increasing oil development. The wildlife we do our work with in Alaska are the migratory birds that arrive in the spring to nest on the tundra. Birds arrive from all over the world; coming from every continent and every ocean, to raise their young in the Arctic.
The warming of the arctic is changing the habitat in many different ways and will continue to change. Birds are arriving earlier to nest because springtime is arriving earlier with a warming climate. The oil industry is growing in Alaska, and new buildings, pipelines, roads, and people are coming to areas that were before wilderness. With the oil industry come larger numbers of arctic fox, ravens, and gulls. These species eat birds’ eggs, and so can affect the wildlife breeding near industry.
We are concerned that many Arctic wildlife species are at risk of losing populations size and even extinction unless we understand through science how a changing Arctic is affecting its important wildlife. We want to find key regions of Arctic Alaska to protect for wildlife conservation. We have found that the areas around Teshekpuk Lake are very important for wildlife. We are working with other groups to try to protect this region from oil development.
How will answers to those questions help us understand more about our world? Climate change is happening more dramatically in the Arctic than any other region on Earth. Because of this fact, we are seeing climate-related changes now in the Arctic that might be important for us to understand in other parts of the world in the future. And so the Arctic is important because it is showing us what climate change means and what it does, and that information we can share and use to understand what climate change might mean for us in the lower 48 United States so we can prepare for it.
Wildlife conservation is important to us in the Wildlife Conservation Society. We want to help insure that wildlife has a place in our world. Understanding how climate change is affecting wildlife in the Arctic helps us understand how best to prepare for changes that may happen soon to other wildlife in other parts of the world.
How are you trying to find the answers to those questions? We study wildlife with scientific methods. We find bird nests and follow them throughout the season, trying to understand which nests succeed in rearing young birds and which nests fail because predators find them. We try to identify areas where birds are more successful raising young and work to protect them.
Teshekpuk Lake is a remote area where birds are very abundant and have great success in raising young. By having that information, we try to convince others that protection of this region is needed.
Because others did studies on bird nesting twenty years ago, we can compare our studies now with theirs and understand how a changing climate is changing the timing of when birds breed. We can look at other changes, too. For example, we can understand which species are increasing in numbers over time, and which species are declining in number. Having that information helps us decide what studies we need to do to help conserve wildlife.
Recount for us one of your field days in the Arctic. I have been lucky to be able to be part of raft trips where we float down Arctic rivers and camp in remote areas along the way. On my first trip to the Arctic we floated down the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
On one special day late in the trip, I saw a tusk from a wooly mammoth on a stream bank. Wooly mammoths were related to elephants and were in the arctic 10,000 years ago. They went extinct along with many other arctic species. The tusk had been buried for thousands of years and became exposed by the workings of the river on the bank.
To find the tusk in this remote region was very exciting. It was a reminder of how places can change, and how North America had amazing wildlife long ago. All of us in the group were yelling and screaming with excitement. The tusk is on my desk today, and is a reminder of the arctic past and present, and that special day.
What do you find most rewarding about being a scientist? Being a wildlife scientist means being able to work in wild and remote places. I enjoy working in remote parts of Alaska with wildlife that migrate long distances to get there. I like to think that the work we do helps others understand how important wildlife and wild places are, and why we need to balance wildlife protection with the challenges of our changing world.
Centre for Chemical Sciences
School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences
University of Plymouth
What questions related to the Arctic are you trying to answer? My main area of interest in the Arctic concerns the sea ice. This is the part of the Arctic Ocean that freezes in the winter and melts in the summer. In recent times, there has been growing concern that the amount of sea ice is getting smaller and smaller due to global warming. In order to better understand how important these changes are and how they might affect the planet in the future, we need to have a much better understanding of how the amount of sea ice has changed in the past. At the moment, we have good sea ice records for about 30 years, but that’s not really enough if we are trying to make good predictions for the future.Sea ice is very important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it acts as a kind of ‘sun-screen’, limiting some of the sun’s rays from warming our oceans. Secondly, it plays a role in controlling the currents in the oceans and therefore contributes to things such as the Gulf Stream. Thirdly, starting with bacteria and algae, and finishing with large mammals like polar bears, it plays a key role in biological food chains in the arctic and Antarctic.
How will answers to those questions help us understand more about our world? At the moment, it is clear that we are experiencing a period of warming on Earth. What is less clear is how the influence of humans is contributing to this and how much of this warming is due to natural processes. Both are evident, but what are their relative contributions? In order to answer these questions, we need to understand how the natural processes influenced the Earth before mankind could have had any influence. In addition, if we have a better idea of the importance of these factors, we can better advise recommendations for the future. From a biological point-of-view, by examining the plants and animals that live in or on top of the sea ice, we can better predict the effect that reducing the sea ice will have on life in the polar regions of the planet
How are you trying to find the answers to those questions? To examine historical record of sea ice on Earth, we are carrying out experiments with Arctic sediments or the mud that lies at the bottom of the ocean in the Arctic. This may seem strange at first, since we are interested in the sea ice at the sea surface, not what goes on at the bottom. We do this because ice melts in the summer, so there is no direct record of its occurrence.
Instead, we use a ‘fossil-approach’. Certain micro-organisms live in the ice and grow really well during the Spring. When the ice melts in the summer, they fall through the sea water below and [settle] into the sediment or mud on the ocean bed. These organisms are very fragile and dissolve easily releasing some chemicals into the mud. Just as we use fingerprints to identify if a person has been in a particular location or has handled a specific object, we know if the chemical is present in the mud, there must have been the micro-organism that made it which, in turn, means there must have been sea ice at that time. If the chemical is absent, then the sea ice must have been absent.
By analysing long sections of mud which might be tens, hundreds or even thousands of years old, we are able to use this fingerprint approach to build a historical record of Arctic sea ice. To better understand the influence of the sea ice on biological organisms, we use the same fingerprint method to trace which animals are feeding on the organisms in the ice and which are found higher up in the food chain.
Recount for us one of your field days in the Arctic. No two days of work in the Arctic are the same. With changes in location, changes in the weather and problems with scientific equipment, there is usually something to get in the way of best made scientific plans!
On one occasion in 2007, I was taking part in some fieldwork aboard the Canadian ice-breaker, CGS Amundsen. We were sailing from East to West through the North-West Passage in northern Canada. Unusually, all of the conditions were perfect. Fantastic sunny weather, virtually no wind and all of the equipment on board was working. We were having a perfect day for sampling the ice, the water beneath the ice and mud on the ocean floor beneath all of that.
During a brief break, we took a trip to the top of the ship (the bridge) and admired to view in all directions. Everything was very still and peaceful. All of a sudden, the captain announced that she had spotted two well-camouflaged animals moving on the ice a few miles away on the horizon. It could only mean one thing-–polar bears.
All 70 of the crew and scientists on the ship assembled on the deck, jostling for position in hope of catching a rare glimpse of these symbolic creatures of the Arctic. To our amazement, as the ship slowed down and approached them, the bears did not run away but, in fact, came even closer. All this, despite us being on the only ship around, a hundred metres in length, thousands of tonnes in weight and bright red!
Eventually, the mother and cub were directly next to the ship and everyone was able to take photos and make videos. It was a real treat. After a few minutes, the polar bears retreated behind a small iceberg, the ship changed direction and it was time to go back to work. It was an unforgettable experience.
What do you find most rewarding about being a scientist? There are many things that are exciting about being a scientist. Firstly, you get to travel to some parts of the world that some people can only dream about. Secondly, you get to work on real world problems that are important to everyone on Earth. Thirdly, you get to do experiments and make discoveries that nobody else has ever done before. Finally, through the media, you get to tell the world about what you do.
Scientists - More Resources
The International Polar Year’s webpage for Educators has a catalog of lesson plans, activities, classroom posters, discussion groups, podcasts, live chats with scientists in the field, and other resources for teachers. Classrooms can launch a virtual balloon to show their involvement with the IPY and participate in IPY Science Days every three months.
Citizen Science, the science and technology program of SustainUS, mobilizes young people to advance scientific approaches to sustainable development. Citizen Science is committed to raising awareness in the United States of existing and emerging technologies designed to improve economic, social, and environmental conditions for current and future generations. Citizen Science attempts to bring together the many areas of science for a widely diverse, complex, and exciting arena to support the science behind Sustainable Development. The three major components of the program are the annual paper competition, the newly launched listserv, and partnership building. Members range in age from 13 – 26. On the local level, SustainUS members participate in activities and projects coordinated by Geoclusters. These activities include things like, creating a sustainable map of the Geocluster city, organizing a sustainable development career fair, and holding workshops on biodiesel fuel.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Live from the Poles gives an inside look at four major scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Storytellers, photographers and videographers share not just the research teams’ tools and findings, but also how they get to remote locations like the North Pole, how they stay warm when the mercury drops, and even what they eat for lunch.
The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientific Integrity Curriculum Guide is designed to help undergraduate and advanced high school instructors foster thoughtful discussions about the proper role of science in federal policy making in the classroom. The guide includes lesson slides, worksheets, homework assignments, and essay suggestions.
Scientists - Action!
You don’t have to go through years of training to help with scientific research. Many Citizen Science programs exist where hobby-scientists do some of the field work necessary to help professional scientists. Visit Citizen Science in Action to find a list of projects where you can help research a variety of topics- from birding migrations, to butterfly life cycles, to population cycles and movement, plus a variety of non-biological possibilities like mapping communities or searching the skies.
Some of the best-known Citizen Science projects are the Audubon Society’s Bird Counts [http://www.audubon.org/bird/citizen/index.html]. For over a century, volunteers have been collecting information on the birds in their communities during the Christmas Bird Count. There is also a bird count on Presidents’ Day Weekend as well as an ongoing eBird database that is used to study population distribution and movement.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also uses Citizen Scientists to help collect data. The EPA directory lists volunteer organizations around the country engaged in monitoring rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, wetlands, and ground water, as well as surrounding lands.
Join one of these projects and help scientists collect information about our world so we can better understand it and the changes it is experiencing.
Scientists - Discussion Starters
Teachers: Use the following information to spark discussion in your classroom. Familiarize students with the events, people and organizations in the following paragraphs and then encourage students to discuss their opinions and reactions. There are several example questions and suggested areas for discussion. Remind your students that discussion requires well-supported opinions, respectful listening, and sometimes agreeing to disagree.
Although there is scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that the majority of that warming is likely caused by humans, the general public remains confused about this basic fact. Some of this confusion comes from the complex nature of the issue and the difficulty scientists have communicating complicated or subtle issues through the mass media to an audience that may not have a strong science background. Some of the confusion may also come from deliberate efforts by certain groups to confuse and mislead the public or to muzzle scientists.
In a December 12, 2007 lecture,.University of California Science Historian Naomi Oreskes traces the history of scientific consensus building about human caused global warming and then highlights the actions of one organization she asserts has misrepresented science and contributed to public confusion.
First Dr. Oreskes explains that a scientific consensus that human actions were contributing to global warming existed as early as 1979 when the Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences released a report stating:
"A plethora of studies from diverse sources indicates a consensus that climate changes will result from man's combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use." Source: National Academy of Sciences Archive An Evaluation of the Evidence for CO2-induced Climate Change. Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Climate Research Board, Study Group on Carbon Dioxide, 1979.
Then Oreskes reveals that even earlier in 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee warned we "will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate . . . could occur." This prompted President Lyndon Johnson to give a special message to Congress in 1965 stating, "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through...a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels."
Oreskes continues by outlining steps the U.S. government took to address the issue of climate change including passing the National Energy Policy Act of 1988 "to establish a national energy policy that will quickly reduce the generation of carbon dioxide and trace gases as quickly as is feasible in order to slow the pace and degree of atmospheric warming...to protect the global environment."
It was not only the scientific community and the government that was paying attention to the issue. The New York Times wrote on August 23, 1988, "The issue of an overheating world has suddenly moved to the forefront of public concern."
At the U.N. Framework Convention of Climate Change (1992) George H. W. Bush signed the document and called on world leaders to translate the written document into "concrete action to protect the planet"
Dr. Oreskes then asks how today, almost thirty years after the first scientific consensus emerged that humans are impacting global climate, the perception remains among a large portion of the public that scientists are still debating whether or not humans are contributing to global warming. She claims it is because the public has been repeatedly told by the media that there is no consensus.
Why does the media give the impression of a scientific debate where none exists? Oreskes suggests it may be partly due to strategists like Frank Luntz, a corporate and political consultant and pollster who worked for Fox News, whose leaked 2002 memo to the Bush Administration stated, "Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."
Oreskes also suggests that it may be due in part to the work of the George C. Marshall Institute, founded in 1984, whose board members include people who have worked in the past to claim that CFCs do not harm the ozone layer, that sulfur and nitrogen emissions do not cause acid rain, and that smoking does not damage health. Although these previous causes were abandoned after public sentiment and lawsuits made the arguments longer tenable, the Marshall Institute uses the same strategies employed in the earlier fights to try to foster confusion about climate change.
What Oreskes calls “The Tobacco Strategy” is to use the popular media (in contrast to the scientific literature that requires peer-review) to create the impression that the science is uncertain, concerns are exaggerated, technology will solve the problem, and there is no need for government intervention. Once published in the popular press, their articles are picked up by listserves, websites, and talk radio shows and continue to circulate.
Another strategy the Marshall Institute uses is to push journalists for what they call “balance.” In this strategy they insist that media pays an equal amount of attention to what they call “both sides” of the issue, even though there are thousands and thousands of scientists who agree with the basic tenets of human-caused global warming and only a handful of scientists who do not. This idea of balance appeals to journalists’ own sense of fairness and so they often end up giving equal time to global warming “skeptics” thus creating the impression of the existence of a scientific debate when there is none.
Oreskes claims the “balance strategy” works. She cites an analysis of print media (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004) who found that more than 52% of Climate Change articles published in prestige media (like The New York Times and Washington Post) gave equal time to the view that global warming either was not happening or was not being caused by humans as they gave to the mainstream scientific positions. Only a third of the stories reflected the actual scientific perspective that the anthropogenic contribution to global warming was dominant.
Why would scientists working for the Marshall Institute misrepresent science and try to confuse the American people? Dr. Oreskes believes it is because they are disguising an ideological argument as a scientific one. These men (S. Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, and Frederick Seitz) worked diligently to help the U.S. win the Cold War. Oreskes thinks they are “market fundamentalists” who have an unshakeable faith in free markets to solve all problems, who see government regulation as a form of creeping communism and who worry that signing treaties like the Kyoto Protocol would undermine national sovereignty. Dr. Oreskes concludes by saying, “these men may have been perfectly justified in their political beliefs, but they did not make a political argument on political grounds; they disguised a political debate as a scientific one.”
- Does Naomi Oreskes’ description of how distortion in popular media coverage of global warming science has led to public confusion seem plausible to you?
- What do you think are some of the biggest sources of public confusion about global warming?
- Do you get the impression from the media you watch or read that scientists are still debating about whether or not humans are causing global warming? If so, what gives you that impression?
- Do you know how to tell the difference between an article written for a popular media source and a study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal? Do you think most people can tell the difference?
- How strong of a science background do you think one would need to be able to be an informed media consumer on the topic of global warming?
- Do you feel you are savvy enough to understand media coverage of global warming?
- Do you think most of your friends/family/neighbors/elected officials are?
- What impact do you think the level of public confusion about global warming has had on our ability as a society to take action to slow it?
- Is it important to understand the science of global warming while filling the following roles? Why or why not?
- Government official
- Business leader
- Religious leader
- What could be done to lessen public confusion?
- How could you help your friends/family/neighbors/elected officials better understand the fact that a scientific consensus exists that humans are contributing to global warming?
- The George C. Marshall Institute does not make its sources of funding publicly available [http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=George_C._Marshall_Institute].
- A related topic for further discussion would be how scientists are directly censored. The Union of Concerned Scientists has compiled articles on this subject. Here is a selection of those articles:
- Eilperin, J. 2006. Climate researchers feeling the heat from the White House. The Washington Post. April 6.
- The New York Times editorial. 2003. Censorship on global warming. The New York Times, June 20.
- The New York Times editorial. 2006. Censoring truth. The New York Times. February 6.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial. 2006. Stop muzzling experts. The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 5.
- Revkin, A. C. 2005. Bush aide softened greenhouse gas links to global warming. The New York Times. June 8.
- Revkin A. C. and K. Q. Seelye. 2003. Report by EPA leaves out climate change data. The New York Times. June 19.
- Revkin, A. C. 2006. Climate expert says NASA tried to silence him. The New York Times. January 29.
- Train, R. E. 2003. When politics trumps science. The New York Times. June 19.
- The Washington Post editorial. The politics of science. The Washington Post, February 9.
Scientists - Lesson Plans
- How do scientists learn about our world?
- What questions are scientists currently asking about the Polar regions?
- What is it like to be a scientist in the Polar regions?
- Each student will read about a scientist and his/her work.
- Students will introduce their scientist to their classmates.
- Students will discuss how the work of numerous scientists contributes to knowledge.
Time Needed: At least forty-five minutes
Grade Level: Middle School or High School
INTRODUCTION (5 minutes)
Explain to your students that scientist is just another word for investigator. Similar to detectives, scientists look at the world with a curious perspective and then work to discover new knowledge. Individual scientists or teams of scientists work to answer specific questions on narrow topics. Large groups of scientists then analyze many studies to try to develop a logical explanation of how a system works. Scientists then continue to test their explanation. An explanation gets stronger and stronger as more and more scientists design ways to test the model.
According to the National Academy of Sciences (2005), “Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by many facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena.”
Because so many different and independent studies contribute to the formation of a theory, one single study that disagrees with the theory does not overturn it. Instead, if the results of a study appear to disagree with an established theory, other scientists review the study, try to replicate its results, look for errors, or try to figure out why it got the results it did.
For example, from 1979 to 2001 some satellite measurements of the temperature in the atmosphere were suggesting that the lower atmosphere was not warming. This finding did not agree with the well-established theory of global warming. Scientists worked to figure out what was causing the disagreement and in 2002 found that the satellite measurements needed a number of adjustments and calibrations. Once corrected, the satellite measurements confirmed the theory of a warming atmosphere (Source: Mears, C.A., Schabel, M.C., & Wentz, F.J. Journal of Climate, May 23, 2003).
ACTIVITY DESCRIPTION (5 minutes)
Explain to your students that they will have the opportunity to become familiar with some of the scientists doing work in the Arctic as part of the International Polar Year (IPY). The IPY runs from March 2007 to March 2009 (it is really two years so it can include two research seasons at both poles) and is coordinated by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization. Its goal is to focus scientific attention on the Polar Regions.
Explain to the students that you will distribute a “Meet a Scientist” hand-out to each student. The students will have five minutes to read the hand-out. They will then have another two minutes to take notes on the scientist’s work and life in the field. Each student will use his or her notes to give a two-minute introduction of his or her scientist to a small group of classmates. Each student’s presentation should cover:
- The scientist’s name
- The question the scientist is trying to answer
- The importance of that question
- How the scientist is attempting to answer the question
Each student’s presentation should also include a short re-telling of an incident the scientist experienced in the field or a creative story about what the scientist experiences in a typical day. Explain to your students that humans have been using storytelling for generations to pass on knowledge and to entertain. Storytelling can make distant experiences “come alive” for an audience.
Give your students some basics on storytelling (source: http://www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/):
- Pretend you’re confident.
- Relax, breathe and have fun with it.
- Use your own words—don’t try to memorize.
- Just remember a few parts of the plot.
- Let your imagination create the magic.
- If you get stuck, don’t frown, curse or apologize—keep going by describing details of sounds, colors, smells, etc. until you remember the story
CONDUCT THE ACTIVITY (24 minutes)
- Divide the class into groups of no more than six. Distribute one “Meet a Scientist” hand-out to each student. (2 minutes)
- Each student reads his or her hand-out. (5 minutes)
- Each student takes notes in preparation for his or her presentation to the group and mentally prepares for storytelling. (2 minutes)
- Each student presents on his or her scientist to his or her small group for a maximum of two minutes. (15 minutes)
SUMMARIZE AND DEBRIEF (10 minutes)
Bring the class back together in one large group to discuss the activity. Here are some example questions you might choose:
- Who can explain how scientific knowledge is gained?
- What new insights did you gain about how science works?
- How do the studies one scientist or group of scientists is doing fit in with studies other scientists are doing?
- What aspects of the being a scientist do you think would be exciting? Rewarding? Frustrating?
- Do you think most people understand how scientific knowledge is gained?
- Scientists analyzed thousands of studies to produce the Fourth IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report. This report finds that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas concentrations.”
- Do you think if some people do not understand how scientific theories become well established, that they might get confused about a well-established theory like global warming if they see one or two studies that seem to disagree with it?
Notes to teachers:
- While your students are reading their hand-outs, preparing for their presentations, and presenting to each other circulate among them to make sure they are staying focused on the task and to answer any questions they might have.
- There are more than six hand-outs. You can chose which ones will be most appropriate and engaging for your individual students.
- Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 expedition to Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic will draw attention to some of the scientific projects being conducted as part of the IPY. You and your students can follow the expedition on www.globalwarming101.com.
In 1995 Canadian Richard Weber and Russian Mikikail Malakov became the first and only people to ski unsupported from Northern Canada to the North Pole and back to Canada. They traveled by ski, pulling sleds for 123 days!
This was not Richard’s first or only Arctic expedition, however. From 1978 to 2006, Richard participated in more than 45 Arctic expeditions and is the only person to have completed six full expeditions to the North Pole. On a 1986 expedition led by Will Steger, Richard and a teammate became the first Canadians to reach the North Pole without motorized transportation. In 2006 Richard and British explorer Conrad Dickenson were the first to reach the North Pole traveling solely by snowshoe.
Richard and his wife Josee Auclair own Arctic Watch, Canada’s most northerly lodge. With their company Canadian Arctic Holidays they outfit, organize and lead Arctic expeditions and guide clients to the North Pole.
Q (Will Steger Foundation): You’ve been traveling in the Arctic for over thirty years and you have led more trips to the North Pole than probably anyone else. Have you seen any changes in the environment or in pack ice in the time that you’ve been traveling?
A (Richard Weber): I didn’t think it would be possible to see changes because the variations in the weather from year to year are so different and when you’re walking on the Arctic Ocean you’re looking at such a relatively small piece of ice, but last year when we were up there it was really different than twenty years ago. The pack ice is visibly thinner - when you come to a crack and look in it’s much much thinner. Twenty years ago it was eight to twelve feet thick now it’s three to six feet thick; it’s much thinner. I think in consequence, when you get pressure on the pans they now crumple up.
Last year from Ward Hunt Island almost to the North Pole we had only three big pans—big open spaces, the rest was just rubble. Twenty years ago you would have a big pressure ridge with lumps of ice the size of houses and cars all piled up–a significant obstacle—and then you would have a big open space. Now the pressure ridges aren’t that big anymore but there are no open spaces anymore; it’s just rubble and rubble.
And the weather was fifteen to twenty degrees warmer. Yeah, you can say it was just a warm year, but I don’t think that kind of weather would have happened twenty years ago. That’s the way the weather is going. We had whiteouts and warm weather, you know, May weather in April. By May, the Arctic Ocean was turning to porridge. You couldn’t travel on it anymore. Whereas before in 1992 we traveled and it didn’t do that until the 22nd of June. Things have significantly changed.
Q (WSF): Have the changes affected your ability to travel on the Arctic Ocean?
A (RW): I think, at least last year, it was not possible to ski, to travel from the North Pole back to Canada. Travel in May became impossible last year. There were three expeditions attempting to come from the pole back to Canada and none of them were successful. So I think that it is becoming more difficult. Maybe we will have a colder year this year and maybe there will be some more wind and it will be a bit easier, but definitely it is getting harder—there is no question.
Another significant change is last year for the first time the currents of the Arctic Ocean changed. Normally when you ski from Canada to the North Pole you are basically drifting east and south and we drifted west the whole time. Later on I found out that, yep, every current throughout the Arctic ocean changed last year for the first time. So something is really different up there from twenty years ago.
Q (WSF): What impacts or what effects would you imagine a trend that continued in this direction would have on polar exploration?
A (RW): If it continues like this, in twenty years [the Arctic Ocean] is going to be open water in the summer. So all of a sudden for the planet we are going to have this huge black space instead of a huge white space, so that’s going to make things really different and that’s going to change the weather. As it goes that way, it’s going to speed up and things are going to change more and more…
We’ve been at Arctic Watch, our lodge on Somerset Island] almost ten years now. Twice now we’ve seen electrical storms. And there are local people who had never seen electrical storms. It’s simply too warm. We are getting temperatures up into the low twenties in the summer now. I haven’t been there long enough to know if that is normal or not normal. But we’ve seen areas where there are steep banks that normally hold together because they are frozen but now the permafrost is melting and you have huge slides along the river everywhere there are steep banks. I don’t have enough experience to say, yeah that happens every summer, but I don’t think so because [the river banks] wouldn’t be there; it would look different. So there is definitely melting of the permafrost in our area.
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