An Ice-Free Arctic: Why should you care?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are aware of the global climate change crisis we are currently facing on planet Earth. You may also ask yourself, “Who is at fault for this?”, “Why should I care?”, and “What parts of our planet are getting hit hardest?”. In this post, I will provide answers to these often misunderstood questions, but more importantly, I will be focusing on one particular geographic region that is often overlooked by the general public: the Arctic.

What is the Arctic?

A region that falls within the Arctic Circle. The edge of that circle is defined as the northernmost point at which the sun is visible on the northern winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun can be seen on the northern summer solstice. The high Arctic is that most northerly third of this region. It’s a region dominated by snow cover much of the year.

Below is a regional map of the Arctic. Take note of the red dashed line and how it crosses over various political boundaries.

Source: theconversation.com

The Details

On September 18, 2019, the Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent this year, at 4.16 million square kilometers. This number is the second lowest on record, with only 3.4 million square kilometers in 2012 topping it. This is nothing to be proud of. Especially when you come to accept with the fact that this is all due to anthropogenic causes or human induced. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere is the leading cause for our warming planet.

Over the last century, the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases as well.

According to a recent special report on the ocean and cryosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science due to climate change, claim that we could very likely see an ice-free Arctic once every 100 years if we limit warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. But, if we warm to 2 C, that would increase to once every three years.

The Science

Snow and ice have long played a vital role in moderating Earth’s climate since the beginning of time. The white surfaces reflect the sun’s radiation, which in turn help to maintain a comfortable temperature to sustain life on our planet.

Since our planet is experiencing an extreme warming effect, ice thins and melts which then exposes the dark water below, which then absorbs the radiation. So each year the global temperature rises, melting more ice and more snow. This process is called a positive feedback loop, warming causes ice melt, ice melt causes warming. And that process — also called Arctic amplification, the science explaining why temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic region than anywhere else in the world. This ultimately leads to what we are observing now, which is a rapidly changing climate.

The positive (amplifying) climate feedback loop.

Source: nas-sites.org

Arctic Amplification

In order to fully understand why the Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest minimum extent this year, it is imperative to understand the scientific complexity behind this phenomenon.

In sum, the loss of sea ice is a major reason. When bright white and reflective ice melts, it gives way to a darker ocean; this amplifies the warming trend because the ocean surface absorbs more heat from the Sun than the surface of snow and ice. In more technical terms, losing sea ice reduces Earth’s albedo: the lower the albedo, the more a surface absorbs heat from sunlight rather than reflecting it back to space.

Since the Arctic circle is largely covered in ice, it is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet!

Temperature anomaly map showcasing the large increases in temperatures (red) in the Arctic region. The darker the red, the greater the warming effect in that region or Arctic amplification.

Source: alaskapublic.org

Watch the NASA video below to learn more.

Military Involvement?

If you are interested in learning about the political and military impact this warming trend has had on the Arctic region, read this article from National Geographic.

Resources:

https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/home/

https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/record-heat-burning-arctic-and-melting-greenlands-ice

https://nsidc.org/about/monthlyhighlights/2009/09/arctic-amplification

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/ice-free-arctic-1.5291966

The Science of Sunscreen

Why do we wear sunscreen?

Chances are, at one point or another in your childhood (or adulthood), you’ve been instructed to wear sunscreen when spending long periods of time outside in the sun. But have you ever considered the science behind this logic? Well no worries, I am here to save the day and share the scientific explanation behind this often misunderstood concept!

Source: offthemark.com

Science debunked!

I have dark skin. I don’t need sunscreen.

MYTH. Dark skin is just as susceptible to sun damage. In fact, it’s just more difficult to visually see the skin damage on the skin. Skin cells respond to UV rays by releasing pigment. This pigment, which we think of as a sunburn, is harder to see in darker skin. Your skin color is not the same as SPF sun protection!

-I don’t need sunscreen if it’s cloudy out or it’s cold.

MYTH. Clouds are simply water vapor. They can’t protect you from UV rays from the sun. People tend to hold the misconception that since it’s not sunny outside, there’s no way the sun’s rays could damage one’s skin. Newsflash! When you’re out skiing in the snow, you’re actually getting hit by the sun’s rays twice because the UV rays are being reflected; once from the sun and then when the sun’s rays bounce off the snow. This same phenomenon occurs on a cloudy day at the beach; you get hit by the sun’s rays directly and when they bounce off the water or sand.

-My sunscreen is SPF 50 so I don’t need to apply it as often.

MYTH. No matter what the SPF number is, sunscreen is only effective for around two hours maximum. The number refers to how much protection you’re actually getting from applying the product, not how long it lasts.

This visual reiterates what I stated above regarding what SPF numbers actually mean. The SPF value refers to how much protection one is receiving, NOT the duration of time it lasts.

Source: colorescience.com

Sunscreen is just a lot of applied chemistry!

A short synopsis of the science behind sunscreen:

  • UVA waves: About 95% of all solar radiation that reaches earth’s surface. It is also the kind of UV wave that penetrates deepest in our skin. Contributes to skin cancer through indirect DNA damage.
  • UVB waves: About 5% of all solar radiation that reaches earth’s surface. Causes direct DNA damage and one of the main contributors to skin cancer.
Source: solaveil.com

In order to be most effectively protected from the sun, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for the “broad spectrum” label when purchasing a new bottle of sunscreen. Broad spectrum simply means that it will protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

This infographic gives an even more in depth look into the chemistry of the various types of UV rays and their impact on the human body.

Source: compoundchem.com

Below are some of the super informative websites I used to learn about the science behind sunscreen. Check them out to learn more about sun exposure and sunscreen!

Most of all, enjoy the summer solstice tomorrow!

Climate Change and its Effect on Mapmaking

“It’s 2019. We already have maps of Earth. There’s no need to create anymore maps because we already know what our planet looks like. Geography and cartography are dead fields anyway, what’s the point?”

Despite the fact that I majored in geography during my undergraduate career, I understand why so many people in our country hold this skewed logic.

Why do so many people hold this stance on the geographic discipline?

I think the first flaw is simply the misunderstanding of what geography as a discipline is. Geography isn’t just about memorizing the capital of every U.S. capital or being able to point out where every country is located on a world map. Geography is not just about memorization and location.  It is the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments. Geography seeks to understand where things are found, why they are there, and how they develop and change over time. This brings us to my next topic of discussion. . .

This is honestly how I felt while earning my geography degree. Silly representation, but so accurate.

Why should you care?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably are aware of the phenomenon our planet is currently experiencing and has been for several decades: Human induced climate change. This is not something to take lightly. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.

This graph compares the amount of atmospheric CO2 from samples found in ice cores taken by researchers in Vostok, Antarctica, with the more recent direct measurements. This graph quite evidently presents evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. Or in other words, recent warming trends are due to anthropogenic causes.

Also, did you know that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming over the past century are due to human activities? Personally, I believe this is an alarming statistic we must pay attention to and I think you should, too!

What does the global climate change phenomenon have to do with mapmaking?

Just think about it for a moment. Climate scientists have found that one of the largest impacts this warming trend has on our planet is increased temperatures on our planet, causing glaciers in the polar regions to melt at an alarming rate and in turn, results in sea levels rising. Wouldn’t this mean that our current maps might slowly but surely become inaccurate because of recent warming trends? Might this necessitate an update in the appearance of our maps, especially in the Arctic region?

A quaint community along the coast of Greenland. One can visually see the breaking off of pieces of glacier.

I found an article from BBC.com that captures this issue really well. The author of the article, Jonathan Amos, points to the fact that the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The seasonal sea-ice is decreasing at an alarming rate and the ice sheet that sits atop Greenland is losing mass at a rate of about 280 billion tonnes a years. In layman’s terms, this is extremely disconcerting and should not be something to take lightly.

When choosing to make a map of this region, one must understand that it has to be updated rather often. This is exactly what the team on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are doing currently. Geographic information systems and mapping specialists from the BAS are working on producing an updated map of the Arctic region. This is no easy feat. It takes time and persistence to take on such a huge, yet imperative task.

I hope I helped you better understand why we still need geographers in this world.

If you’re still interested in learning more about global climate change and what YOU can do to help, check out some of the great resources I found below:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC): The United Nations body is responsible for assessing the science related to climate change.

NASA on Global Climate Change: NASA’s site has extensive research on the most up to date research in current climate science.

Physical Activity and Memory Retention: Two Peas in a Pod

When is the last time you exercised? Take a moment to think about it, Whether that be completing a lengthy workout at your local gym, a yoga class at the hip studio down the block, or even a walk in your neighborhood park. Do you remember how you felt afterwards? Or more specifically, can you recall how the physical activity you performed impacted your memory? Chances are you don’t remember and that’s perfectly fine but I want to introduce you to something completely mind blowing!

Would you believe me if I told you that physical activity actually helps improve memory retention and mood?

Believe it or not, this is a very researched topic and rumor is true, aerobic exercise and memory recall have a very close relationship with one another. Let’s call them peas in a pod to help you understand the tight-knit relationship they share.

Why am I sharing this with you anyways?

So here’s the thing, this summer part of my role as a science education student in GRS, I will be partaking in developing a week-long science camp program for middle school students in Sodus. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sodus, it’s a small, rural town located about 35 miles northeast of Rochester, NY right along Lake Ontario. Collectively, my group (The Playground Posse) and I are responsible for creating lesson plans related to our provided topic which is based off the fact that Sodus’ elementary school will be getting a new, updated playground later this year.

The overarching question we came up with is: What components should an inclusive playground that is physically and mentally rigorous incorporate? Hopefully now you better understand why I want to discuss this phenomenon in greater detail. One of the potential activities my group members have considered doing with the students in camp is to create a memory game that incorporates physical activity. We found a great educational video from Dragonfly TV, a science education television series that appeared on PBS, that put this question to the test! We intend of doing something along the lines of having the students memorize a ton of different objects laid out on a table, have them exert all of that bundled up energy in the form of being active on the playground and running around, and then have them choose which objects are in the same pile on the table from earlier.

This is the playground at Sodus Elementary School that will be getting replaced. It’s your standard run-of-the-mill playground design. We want the students themselves to have a voice in what they want for the new design!

So now you are probably wondering where all the science is to back up this awesome claim. I found a phenomenal TED Talk from neuroscientist and NYU professor Dr. Wendy Suzuki where she discusses the unique relationship between physical exercise and mood and memory. Some of her most recent work highlights how aerobic exercise can be used to improve not only learning but memory retention and higher cognitive abilities in humans.

If you are even the slightest bit curious about how this works, I highly recommend watching this short, yet extremely informative video to learn why Dr. Suzuki believes that, “Exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do to your body.”

Wendy Suzuki gives a captivating lecture on the relationship between brain activity and physical activity.

The Playground Posse would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment any suggestions you may have for a creative memory-physical activity game for our camp plans.

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading (and learning!) and have a fantastic weekend full of exercise and vitamin D!

Culturally Sustaining Greenhouse?

Hello to all my earthlings! Earthies? Apologizes for the pathetic pun but it’s in my blog’s title so it was a necessity.

Anyways, I want to start off by briefly introducing myself. My name is Hana and I am one of ten individuals in this year’s cohort of ‘Get Real! Science‘, a unique, interdisciplinary science teacher preparation program, at Warner School of Education at University of Rochester. I am fortunate to be part of such a special program that uses an inquiry-based approach to engage students in science inside and outside of the classroom. I look forward to incorporating what I learn during my time with GRS, along with my personal experiences, on this exciting platform. But most of all – I cannot wait to teach adolescents the exciting world of earth science! (No offense to the biology, chemistry, and physics nerds out there.)

My innate passion for the earth often influences me to visit county or state parks in my local area. Prior to making the big move to Rochester last month, I had one last outing with my grandma. Keep in mind that my grandma and I have a close relationship, so embarking on my new journey 8 hours away from home was intimidating and I knew being far from her would be tough. We both share a love for nature, so naturally we agreed to make a trip to Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, NY. It is a nature park and arboretum covering over 400 acres! I highly recommend visiting if you’re ever in the area.

My awesome grandma and I cherishing our time together surrounded by a diverse array of beautiful flowers and other plant life.

After taking a short stroll on the grounds we decide to enter the main greenhouse, an earth scientist’s dream. As I push my grandma in her wheelchair along the narrow walkways that weave around the different varieties of plant life, I realize it’s easy to get distracted by the 90 degree heat (thanks to the greenhouse effect) when I’m sweating through my jeans and feel drips of sweat running off my glasses. Regardless, I persevere and continue pushing her on the wobbly path because it was our day and I wanted to enjoy every second of it.

Below is a diagram of the natural greenhouse effect in case you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon.

This is a basic diagram of the greenhouse effect. Notice that solar radiation hits and heats the ground. Infrared rays radiate off the ground and reflect once they hit the glass surface of the greenhouse. Long waves pass through the glass and radiate to the atmosphere. This necessary phenomenon keeps earth warm, allowing life to sustain. Or in the case of the glass greenhouse I visited, it traps heat inside, allowing the plants to grow and thrive.

Source: http://www.earthlyissues.com/greenhouseeffect.htm

Becoming a future science educator and pushing my grandma in a wheelchair have something in common. You may not think so but it’s true. It’s the idea that my future students will all come from different unique backgrounds, just like the wide array of plant and flower varieties that originate from biomes all around the world. In my future classrooms, I will encounter hurdles that will challenge me and I will work with students who might have very different upbringings than my own, as well as their peers. This is why I must maintain a classroom environment that is culturally sustaining or in other words, foster cultural pluralism in a safe space for all students. The main takeaway is that when I am confronted with a tough situation in the classroom, I must acknowledge that every individual in that room comes from different upbringings and so I must understand how to integrate pedagogy that is dynamic and diverse in nature.

As someone who wants to inspire younger generations by making them aware of the challenges our current and future planet will have to face, my greatest goal is to educate them on how to better the world with the simplest actions and how small actions can have large impacts.

So here’s to you learning a bit about me. And to me embarking on this journey to learn a lot about myself both as a learner and as a future educator.

Also don’t forget to check out my fellow cohort’s science education blogs!