Tag Archive: climate change


The Glacier March

“Ice is nice and good for you, Snow makes Glaciers grow.”

Those are the words my dissertation advisor, Carl Benson, used to have us all sing, at the Geophysical Institute Christmas party. We’d sing it in a Salvation Army Band sort of way, to “Onward Christian Soldiers” He generally had a wonderful comic talk to go with it, and to this day if you get a group of old GI folks together and start the song, they will join in. I used to play the trombone with the group — the only playing I’d done for at least 25 years, which may give you an idea of our musical quality (or lack thereof.).

But I wasn’t satisfied. The words were too simple, I kept saying, and I finally wrote a set of my own. Pretty soon I found myself expected to write a new verse every year. The tune stayed the same, and the theme – the glaciers’ point of view on climate change – but I generally tried to incorporate something tied to the year in question.

I missed some years, and lost what I wrote for others. But imagine yourself a glacier, and sing.

1984
Onward grind the glaciers, surging o’er the land.
Ice sheets dream of ice falls where the cities stand.
Though we’re now divided, we’ll together flow
Bringing snow and permafrost and raising albedo,
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1985
Oranges freeze in Florida, Phoenix reels in snow.
All the world is wond’ring where we next will go.
Shall we sink a tanker (Columbia Glacier, solo)
Surge, and raise the sea? (West Antarctic Ice Sheet, solo)
Wrap the world from pole to pole in icy purity? (all)
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1986
See the mighty Hubbard thrust into the sea,
Trapping seals and dolphins, what Fools these mortals be!
Though the rise of Russell Lake swept away their pen,
Wait til next year and the Hubbard will be back again!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1987
Arctic haze and CO2, Men dispute our sway.
We have plans against them.  See how, far away.
High above Antarctica crystals fill the air,
Helping chlorine take away the Ozone layer there,
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1990
Can the clouds replace us in our feedback role?
Silly bits of vapor climate can’t control.
They don’t even know their sign!  Now that’s just not nice.
We are large and positive.  Let’s hear a cheer for ice!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1991
Glaciers love a cloudy day, with sulfate drifting high
Pinatubo thrilled us, blasting at the sky.
Aerosols are scatt’ring light. Greenhouse, go away!
We’ll spread out, increase albedo, dig in here to stay.
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1992
Once men thought that winter cold helped to make us grow.
We’ll take any winter, give us summer snow!
Snow in lowlands into May, white Septembers too,
Help us glaciers grow until we surge all over you!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1994
See the Bering Glacier surging on its way,
Scribing loops and swirlings, geo-art we’d say.
Glaciers all are artists, modeling the land,
Mountains would be boring things, without our helping hand.
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1995
Did you think you understood glaciers’ surging play?
Variegated caught you by surprise, I’d say
Surges’ periodicity varies as we please.
Dam the rivers! Cut the pipeline!  Topple stately trees!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1996
Blizzards rage across the plains, Floods strike the Northwest
When it comes to weather, glaciers do it best.
Now that ENSO’s gone away we can do our thing.
Chill Alaska AND the East Coast: see what NEXT year brings!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1997
Once again El Nino blocks our destiny.
Land that once was our land ours again will be.
You can slow us with the breath of you fossil fuels.
If you think you’ve truly stopped us, you are then the fools.
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1998
We are paranoid you think, shrinking back in fear?
Look at what the weather’s handed us this year!
Hardly any snow this spring, little more in fall,
Rain to melt us in the summer.   Strike back, glaciers all!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

1999
See the Himalayas rise far into the sky,
We will help erode them where the winds blow by,
Sucking carbon from the air, sending it to sea,
Kill the greenhouse, bring the ice house, let the glaciers be!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

2000
Once the world was covered up pole to pole with snow
Naught you’d see but whiteness, anywhere you’d go.
Glaciers fattened on the land, sea ice ruled the sea.
What an error when the Cambrian let complex life be!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

2001
Have a little pity for glaciers we pray
Slowly we are melting, trickling away
You are slowly killing us with your carbon breath.
We will raise the seas in vengeance, even in our death!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

2002
Once again El Nino comes to dispute our sway,
Rain clouds in Alaska, Storm clouds in L.A.
Evil forces stand against those of ice and snow.
If you let the warming triumph where will glaciers go?
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

2003
Sea ice pulls back toward the poles, ice shelves break away.
Heat and drought and wildfires blossom day by day
Men are in denial.  Glaciers still advise:
If we melt we’ll take you with us as the oceans rise!
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

2004
Summers ever warmer grow, smoke clouds fill the sky,
Shielding us, but not enough, from the sun’s white eye.
“Join with those you can’t defeat.”  Shall we take that way?
Melt into the global ocean, wash mankind away?
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

2005
Would you really rather have hurricanes than ice?
Just keep right on playing with those carbon dice.
Warmer waters give the storms greater energy,
You may bind us, but you’ve set the swirling storm clouds free.
Onward yet the glaciers
Surge with pond’rous tread,
With the fimbulwinter
Going on ahead.

Maybe I’ll try to write a new verse this year.

(“Blue Babe” is a steppe bison that was killed by a lion, frozen and buried by silt some 36,000 years ago. He was found by a placer miner near Fairbanks, and rests today in the museum at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.)

The bison sniffed the frosty air, his head swinging back and forth as he scanned the snow-covered steppe. Vigilance was part of life, but within the herd it was a shared duty. Here, alone, he felt exposed and vulnerable. He lowered his head and pawed at the wind-crusted snow, uncovering a batch of browned grass, but he took only one bite before jerking his head up to look around.

The dead grass was harsh on his tongue, but it would be the only food available for months. And how could he feed, without others to keep watch? In the herd, at least one or two individuals at a time were always looking around, ready to sound a warning if danger approached. He swallowed the first bite, and lowered his head briefly to snatch more of the poor feed.

The wind tugged at his thick coat, but could not penetrate to his skin. He spread his nostrils and swiveled his ears, seeking warning of any predator, but the hiss of the blowing snow covered other sounds. Again he turned. Where was the rest of the herd? Sheltering from the wind? Perhaps in the valley to his left?

The narrow stream valley provided little shelter from the biting wind, and no other bison. Instinctively he knew the danger of being alone, but until he found the rest of the herd, he had little choice. Again he paced in a tight circle, seeking the source of every imagined sound.

What was that? One eye caught a blur of motion, and he bolted farther into the little valley. But the snow had drifted deeper here, and as he started to turn back, a sudden weight almost collapsed his hindquarters. Bellowing wildly he bucked and spun, the musk of lion rank in his nostrils. For an instant he was free, plunging though the snow for the mouth of the valley, but out of the thickening storm came another lion, leaping for his head.

His nose was pulled down, and again weight came on his hindquarters. He hardly felt the pain of claws and teeth. All his attention focused on the demands of his lungs for air. He tried to shake his head, to throw off the weight clamped to his muzzle, but his legs would no longer support even his own weight, and buckled under him. Redness fading to black washed across his world. He never knew when the lions began to feed.

I Have Awards!

My blog’s been awarded! Twice, both on Monday, with my Monday blog already up and Tuesday and Wednesday queued. So I’m posting about the awards today. I’ll get them on the sidebar later in the day.

Both awards require that you thank the donor by putting a link back to their blog, pass the award on to 5 other bloggers (more about that below) and copy the badge from their site to yours. So thank you Marlene Dotterer for the Liebster (given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers which is a lot more than I have) and Cat von Hassel-Davies for the Versatile Blogger Award.

The versatile blogger award also requires you to state 7 random things about yourself. I actually did 10 a few weeks ago, when I was “tagged” by Samanthia Stacia, but I think I can come up with 7 more.

1. I’m addicted to Shanghai (on my iPad) and Sudoku (on my iPhone.) So far I’m firmly resisting Angry Birds. I like birds, but I prefer them in a good mood.

2. I get along with horses and dogs better than with people. (I like cats, but they make me sneeze.)

3. I have a Harvard degree in physics, from the first year that we Cliffies were awarded Harvard diplomas, well after classes went co-ed,  but before the Harvard-Radcliffe dorms went co-ed. (I believe I was one of four women majoring in physics that year, 1963.)

4. Although I have no professional background in genetics, I’ve followed it as a hobby since high school and have an extensive genetics site on the web that’s been up since the late 20th century. (It actually Googles #1 on “canine coat color genetics. At least it did yesterday.)

5. I went on to get an advanced degree in atmospheric science, taught and researched it for years at the Geophysical Institute, and I follow the political debate on climate change closely. It is a scientific debate only on the details; it’s happening!

6. Although I’ve been writing non-fiction (professional papers and popular science) for years, I started writing science fiction only shortly before I retired. (Prior to that, I wrote fiction only in my head.)

No, they don’t look crowded now, but those are 2″ pots and many will mature 2′ tall.

7. I always have more house plants than I have room for. And yes, the ones I ordered from Logee’s have arrived. I’m going to give them a little time before I repot them.

Now I should point out that honors of this sort have a way of multiplying that is – well, exponential, in the strictest mathematical sense. I happen to think it’s a good way of publicizing blogs (if I can find five that aren’t displaying the award already) so I’m playing along, but if everyone who got either of these awards passed it to five others, the number awarded would rapidly exceed the population of the Earth. (Shortly after 15 passages, to be exact.) So if I pass either of these awards to anyone who already has received that award, don’t feel you have to add to the chain.  What it actually looks like is this, where “generation” is the number of times the award had been passed on if each recipient actually passed it on to 5 others:

Generation number
1 1
2 5
3 25
4 125
5 625
6 3,125
7 15,625
8 78,125
9 390,625
10 1,953,125
11 9,765,625
12 48,828,125
13 244,140,625
14 1,220,703,125
15 6,103,515,625
16 30,517,578,125
17 152,587,890,625
18 762,939,453,125
19 3,814,697,265,625
20 19,073,486,328,125
21 95,367,431,640,625
22 476,837,158,203,125
23 2,384,185,791,015,620
24 11,920,928,955,078,100
25 59,604,644,775,390,600
26 298,023,223,876,953,000
27 1,490,116,119,384,770,000
28 7,450,580,596,923,830,000
29 37,252,902,984,619,100,000
30 186,264,514,923,096,000,000

That said, here are my picks:

For the Liebster:

1000th Monkey She’s a fantasy writer whose blog proudly proclaims she uses a Mac. (So do I.)

Lauri Owen Lauri’s an Alaskan lawyer and a fantasy writer, with two fantasy books in print about an alternate Alaska, with shapeshifters and magicians.

Laurel Kriegler, a South African living in the UK (and who hosts Science fiction and fantasy Saturday each week. My posts for this are on Fridays because I’m almost halfway around the world from her.)

Pippa Jay, another science fiction writer from the UK. Yes, I’m trying to spread this around.

The Writing Reader, a blog by Liz Shaw that provides writing prompts and has just announced a new contest.

For the Versatile Blogger Award:

Since Cat gave me the Versatile Blogger Award in part for my different-topic-every-day-of-the-week format, my first honoree is the person who taught me that format, the well-known mystery writer Dana Stabenow.

Then there’s Romancing the Thrill Quill. It’s based on writing, but goes into all the things that so often get in the way. Like collapsing chairs.

Traveling Through and Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams already have versatile blogger awards, so I’ll count them for half each.

Mattie’s Pillow is an interesting blend of horses, dancing, gardening, writing and art. Posts aren’t numerous, but worth looking at.

Nexus is another blog worth looking at, with a wonderful array of photographs.

I hope you enjoy all of the blogs above. Now if I can just figure out how to get those graphics…

(Turned out to be my new OS (Snow Leopard) which reset the mouse so it thought it had only one button. It takes the right button to copy.)

I wrote this for the Alaska Science Forum in 1987, but it’s as true as ever. Besides, the Quaternary creatures of Alaska were a large part of the inspiration for my soon-to-be-released novel, Tourist Trap.

Imagine yourself in a spaceship approaching the earth, eighteen thousand years ago. The ice-covered Arctic Ocean is blindingly white in the early June sunlight, but not just the ocean — all of Scandinavia and parts of Europe and the British Isles lie under a glittering sheet of ice as well. Drift ice fills the northern Atlantic, and the warm blue waters of the Gulf Stream, which you expect to see swinging north of Norway, flow directly across to Spain. As you continue westward, Long Island and Cape Cod are mere piles of rubble at the edge of an ice sheet that rivals the one in Antarctica today. A massive lobe of ice pushes south of what will someday be the site of the Great Lakes, and Canada is an unbroken wasteland of ice, bounded on the south by rushing summer meltwaters that will someday become the Missouri and Ohio rivers.

The North Pacific and Alaska come into view — more ice? Yes, but not only ice. While the Coast and Alaska ranges are massive bastions of white, there are great lakes thawing under the summer sun in the Copper Basin and the inner part of Cook Inlet. And between the Alaska and Brooks Ranges there are wide sweeps of grassland, green with meltwater and the warmth of the sun, extending westward across what has been and will be the Bering Sea to Siberia, then sweeping onward thousands of miles to the back of the European ice sheets. Only an occasional mountain range carries an ice cap there, but areas of tan and gray are visible even from space — dust storms, sand dunes, and plains of silt and gravel dropped by the meltwaters from the glaciers. North of the ice-capped Brooks Range, the cracks that opened in the chill of last winter filled with drifting sand, rather than snow.

As you move into the Fairbanks area for a landing, you startle a small herd of shaggy ponies into headlong flight, and a few moments later a group of bison stampedes as well. Their small hooves, designed for speed on hard ground, are only slightly impeded by the moisture still oozing from the few remaining patches of snow. This is mineral soil, blooming with grasses, sedges, sagebrush and wildflowers in the spring flush of moisture, not muskeg.

The trumpet of a startled mammoth splits the air from the line of willows and taller grasses along the river, and a family of the huge, long-haired animals moves into view. They are edgy, and with good reason — a saber-toothed tiger has had its eye on the new calves for several days now.

Eighteen thousand years ago is an extreme case, near the height of the last ice age. But if you picked a random time in the last half million years, it would likely be closer to the icy picture I’ve just described than to the world we are familiar with today. Less than ten percent of this period has been as warm as the last few thousand years, or with as little ice on the land. Exact dating prior to about thirty-five thousand years ago (the limit of accurate radiocarbon dating) is still a problem, but many lines of evidence suggest a long series of ice ages, separated by relatively warm interglacials around ten thousand years long and close to a hundred thousand years apart. Our current interglacial has lasted a bit more than ten thousand years. Are we due for another ice age?

Since the glaciers of Antarctica, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, and the mountain glaciers of modern Alaska together account for a third of the total area of the great ice sheets of the glacial maximum, we could argue that we are still in an ice age — that even what we think of as interglacials are in fact mere pauses in an ice age that has lasted for well over a million years.

Whether we label our era a minimal ice age or a true interglacial, our present civilizations are in balance with the climate. Consider: sea level rose over three hundred feet in the last twenty thousand years, drowning what was once dry land. Vast areas of the Bering and Chukchi seas, for instance, were steppes and cold deserts when the water that now covers them was locked up in glacial ice. Much of our concern about the onset of a “greenhouse” warming comes from the possibility that parts of the remaining land ice could melt, causing a further rise in sea level. If that should happen, shoreside cities — Homer and Honolulu, Nome and New York — might go the way of the Bering land bridge. Ice ages are by no means a problem only of the past.

This is a Discovery Channel DVD, and a very recent one – copyright 2011, so it should be up to date. I enjoyed it, though I raised my eyebrows now and then at the speculation produced as statements. In all fairness, the DVD did include segments of talking with the paleontologists who have often conflicting opinions on the interpretation of the fossil material.

The DVD has three programs of approximately an hour each. Clash of the Dinosaurs: Extreme Survivors, the title episode, goes over what made dinosaurs so successful for so long, and contrasts the strategies of producing huge numbers of young, very few of which will survive, and producing a few young and investing in their care.

Dino Gangs examines the possibility that Tyrannosaurus rex, the iconic big carnivore of the late Cretaceous, may have hunted in groups of mixed age. The young T. rex were apparently lightly built and capable of considerable speed. The older animals were much stronger but had to move more slowly to support their massive weight. In a mixed pack, the adolescents would have chased and turned back the prey for the adults to kill. Maybe. But it is not a world I’d like to visit!

The final program attempts to reconstruct the events when an asteroid struck the Earth 65 million years ago (not 165 million years; the narrator was mistaken there.) The cataclysm makes the events of this year look mild indeed, but I doubt the accuracy of some of what they have reconstructed. For instance, they have a secondary tsunami impacting the Pacific Northwest, but never mention that the initial impact would have caused a huge tidal wave in the Atlantic.

Overall a nice balance of computer generated dinosaurs and input from paleontologists, but it should be watched with full awareness that our understanding of dinosaurs is constantly evolving.

This is an excellent DVD for getting across the idea that the inner workings of the earth, while at times disastrous, are essential for life.

The DVD actually has two programs, both originally shown on the Discovery channel: Inside Planet Earth and Amazing Earth. The graphics are intriguing, though some are repeated a bit too often. The actual camera work is excellent.

My only objection was that at times the narration could be misleading. True, we have been in an ice age for the last 40 million years. But most of the evolution of mammals – and certainly of humans – has taken place during that period. We are adapted to an ice age in the broad sense. My concern is that many people will take “ice age” to mean the periods like 20 thousand years ago, when ice sheets covered much of North America and Europe.

Over all, I found this a good program if a bit sensationalist – and this is my field, so I am aware of shortcomings.

This is the third in the Walking With Dinosaurs series in terms of geologic time and the second in terms of release date. Like others in the series it is unclear what is imagination and what is fact, but the rendering of extinct animals is excellent. One comment on all the “Walking With” videos — animals make sounds for a reason. It may be to freeze or to scatter prey, to communicate with others, or to intimidate a rival — but an animal waiting for an opportunity to attack is silent.

The video is ten years old and some of the paleontology is out of date. So are some of the locations – the evidence for land-dwelling forerunners of the whales, for instance, comes mainly from Pakistan and it is somewhat questionable to put an Ambulocetis in Germany.

The first DVD has six episodes. The first “New Dawn,” is set in the early Eocene, when the earth had settled down from the K-T boundary event and the extinction of virtually all large animals. Mammals are still small, and the descendants of dinosaurs — the birds — are the dominant predators.

Later in the Eocene the mammals are beginning to take over, and the second segment, “Whale Killer,” focuses on marine and estuarine life. It also considers the climatic results of changing ocean currents due to plate tectonics.

The third episode, “Land of Giants,” is set in the Oligocene and focuses on a single type of animal, the indricothere, although others are shown as well. Imagine a rhinocerous the size of a giraffe! I’m not sure they gave their indricotheres the right environment, though.

The early evolution of our own species is covered in the fourth episode, “Next of Kin,” which centers on an australopithecine clan. Grass has now evolved, making backgrounds much easier for the filmmakers to find. This episode is relatively recent, only a little more than 3 million years ago.

The fifth episode. “Sabre Tooth,” is set in South America a million years after the Panamanian land bridge has opened, ending 30 million years of isolation. The old top predators were terror birds, much like those of the first episode. This episode focuses on the North American predator that has replaced them, the sabertooth cat.

The sixth episode, “Mammoth Journey,” takes place in Europe at the height of the last ice age, when two sub-species of humans shared the territory with a number of cold-adapted animals. Living in Alaska and knowing that mammoths did quite well here during the ice age, I am not so sure that the cold would have forced them to migrate out of the lush pastures of the North Sea, though.

Don’t forget the second DVD in the set. This has a good deal of information on how the episodes were made, interviews with the producers, model-makers and animators, and some behind the scenes information on the animals themselves and the evidence for their existence.

(to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”)

Should present climate be forgot,
And ne’er again be seen?
Should glaciers melt and oceans rise
Just because our house is green?
Because our house is green my friends,
Because our house is green,
We’ll sit and swelter in the sun
Because our house is green.

Should deserts spread across the land
While hurricanes grow cruel
From cows and swamps and growing rice,
And from burning fossil fuel?
From burning fossil fuel, my friends,
From burning fossil fuel,
We’ll all dehydrate in the sun
From burning fossil fuel.

Should the I T C Z go away,
And the savannahs return?
Should glaciers melt and cities drown
Because the jungles burn?
Because the jungles burn, my friends,
Because the jungles burn,
We’ll parboil in the tropic sun
Because the jungles burn.

Climate Change (2000, to the tune of “Jingle Bells”)

Dashing through the snow,
On snow machine or skis,
Grass is poking through,
Send a blizzard, please!
It’s balmy in the North
While snowstorms rage Outside,
Please, Santa, all we want this year
Is snowfall, far and wide.

Climate change, climate change,
Wind and ice and snow,
Not much here in Fairbanks town
Wherever did they go?
Climate change, climate change,
Wind and ice and snow,
Should retreat to polar caps,
But tell them Down Below!

Note that “Outside” and “down Below” in Alaska are shorthand for the contiguous 48 states. I thought this carol was appropriate today, the weather in the 48 states being what it is.

Where Have All the #Glaciers Gone

(to the tune of “Where have all the flowers gone”)

Where have all the glaciers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the glaciers gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where have all the glaciers gone?
Gone to water, ev’ry one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Where has all the water gone?
Long time passing
Where has all the water gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where has all the water gone?
Gone to rivers ev’ry drop.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Where have all the rivers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the rivers gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where have all the rivers gone?
Flowed to oceans, ev’ry one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Where have all the oceans gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the oceans gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where have all the oceans gone?
Flooded all the lower lands.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Where have all the shallows gone
Long time passing,
Where have all the shallows gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where have all the shallows gone?
Giving water to the skies.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Where has all the vapor gone?
Long time passing
Where has all the vapor gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where has all the vapor gone?
Gone to snowflakes in the air
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Where have all the snowflakes gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the snowflakes gone?
Long, long time ago,
Where have all the snowflakes gone?
Gone to glaciers, ev’ry one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn.

Another Geophysical Christmas Carol, this one describing the water cycle. The shallows aren’t evaporating fast enough to balance the glacier melt, though.

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