Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend 2010.1

I stayed put in New Mexico for Thanksgiving, which makes this the first time I've ever missed it with my family back in Connecticut. Thankfully, there wasn't a shortage of activity this weekend. So although I missed my mom, grandma, and uncles, I had a very good holiday weekend.

UNM was only closed Thursday and Friday, but all my classes were canceled on Wednesday, which gave me a jump on the weekend. The professors had their own families to prepare to cook for, and my adviser was entertaining about 10 people and needed to get ready. Lev was coming in later in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day, so we spent a good bit of Wednesday cleaning the apartment up so that he'd have a reasonably comfortable place to sleep. I also did some of my much needed grading, which is still ongoing because it is such a long, painful, assignment.

The morning of Thanksgiving I continued with the cleaning and got started on making our contribution to dinner. I had six sweet potatoes that I boiled and whipped up with orange juice and butter. We also experimented a bit and created a new dish which we have yet to come up with a name for. It was quinoa with dried cranberries, golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, caramelized onion and garlic, and citrus. It ended up being very tasty, at least by my tastes. It'll need a little tweaking, but I wrote down everything we did so that I can play with it in the future. Matt and I have become big fans of quinoa, which is a South American grain that cooks up very much like rice. It has a lot of nutrients that rice lacks, and it is a very good base for a lot of different flavors.

While I was cooking my mom gave me a call with everyone who was at her place for dinner. My family does more of a Thanksgiving lunch than a dinner; I guess the idea being that you can relax more afterward and you don't go to bed overly stuffed. They passed the phone around, and I got to briefly talk to everyone. I really miss being home, and I'm hoping that I can make it back for Thanksgiving a couple times during my time in NM. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down.

Matt and I left for Socorro around 2pm, and got there a little after 3. Mouse had her parents over, and we were waiting on Lev who was driving in from Phoenix. He showed up a little later than we expected; that was okay, since the turkey was taking its sweet time cooking and he showed up shortly after the bird was done. Dave had put a glaze on the turkey, and the whole thing was tender and delicious. Actually, pretty much everything we had was delicious.

After dinner, we played a board game. About midway through we stopped to have some dessert, and I had a very satisfying piece of pumpkin pie. Mouse also made chocolate martinis. The game went of for a very long time, which sometimes happens with these German strategy games when you play with a lot of people. Matt ended up winning; I haven't won at Settler's in a while. We didn't get back to Albuquerque until 1:30am.

Unfortunately, neither Matt nor I had our camera for all of this. I had grabbed mine initially, but in juggling the food around I accidently put it down in the living room and didn't realize this fact until we were already at Mouse and Dave's house - an hour away. Matt didn't bring his because I was (theorhetically) bringing mine. So, there is no photo documentation of our first Thanksgiving out here. Thankfully, I did bring a camera for the rest of our weekend adventures, but that's another post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Death Valley Trip

This past weekend our lab group jam packed two SUVs full of gear and people and headed out to Death Valley to clean up the field site and do some additional data collecting.

I've never been driving through California, Nevada, or Arizona before, so it was cool to get that far out west. I've officially stayed in California now, so I should really update the list of states I've been to as a result of this trip.
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US that forms as a result of the damming of the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam

I drove past the Grand Canyon two times during this trip, but yet I have still not seen it. This is unacceptable.

Our main purpose for this trip was to try to retrieve as much field equipment as possible. That included animal traps, wire, and lost i-buttons. Ian, equipped with a map and metal detector, found a good number of traps, but none of the i-buttons. i-buttons are data recorders that are attached to tagged animals, and you get the data back when you trap the animal again. The obvious flaw with this technique is that animals die or get eaten and you just never see them again. The hope was that we would find some lying on the surface, get some additional data, and also save $20 a pop on each data logger. Sadly, that didn't happen. For some reason, a lot of the rocks in the area were setting off the metal detector, so it was a waste of time using that particular piece of equipment. We checked any coyote scat we saw on the surface for i-buttons, but this also turned up nothing.
A panorama of the field site.

Another shot of the field site, the big bush-like things are mesquites.

The other data we collected were branches and thorns and leaves from mesquite bushes. The project was on how the woodrats in Death Valley survive, and they make their middens in these horrific mesquite bushes that will stab you even if you look at them. I've never held so many thorny branches in my life. The idea was to bring back samples to see how much water the woodrats are getting from these plants. This involved carefully stripping leaves off of the branches, and placing the branches and leaves in separate collection bags. We'll weigh and dry the leaves and branches to see how much water they have back in the lab. I think I still have mesquite spines stuck in my fingers.
An adorable young (and healthy) woodrat that was trapped in our campsite!

The whole trip was enjoyable over all. I got to bond some more with my lab mates, and I find camping to be fun in general anyway. However, Friday evening the wind really picked up and it didn't subside for the rest of the weekend. This made every task much harder, and I'm glad I brought ear plugs. Otherwise, I doubt I would have gotten much sleep with the flapping of our tent. In addition to the wind, there was this raven on our camp site that was awake at the crack of dawn making this horrible "warking" noise. It sounded funny but was annoying Fred.

The view from our campsite.

We (as in the Smith Lab girls) proved ourselves to be giggly and upbeat throughout the weekend. Meghan, Fred, and I crammed ourselves into a tent that was really only intended for two people, and hilarity ensued. The first night Fred and I were in the vehicle that arrived early to set up camp, and we had an early dinner with Ian and Summer before calling it a fairly early night. I had gotten a little sleep when the second car finally arrived, and Meghan had her sleeping pad and bag to get into the tent with us. The sleeping pad was more like a raft, and it was a ridiculous effort at first to try and get it in the tent over me and Fred. We had a pretty good laugh about it. Meghan is officially the happiest most excitable person I know, regardless of what time of day it is.

The afternoon of our last full day was spent in Titus Canyon, scoping out midden locations. It was full of amazing geology and I did a lot of climbing around on rock faces looking for little caves.

A fairly large cave on a rock face in Titus Canyon. There was a huge midden inside, and some bones from something that was roughly sheep sized.

View from the exit of Titus canyon. All that tan stuff is dust being blown around by the wind. The wind didn't let up for a full 48 hours.

I took more pictures, but there are more than I want to put up here. I'll probably put them in an online album to share, where the beauty of Death Valley can be done justice.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

IMPPS Research Coordinated Network

Before it gets pushed back too far in my memory, I wanted to spend a little time talking about my weekend sitting in with my adviser's research coordinated network (RCN), IMPPS. IMPPS stands for Integrating Macroecological Pattern and Processes across Scales. I could spend an entire post trying to define what exactly that all means, but essentially they are interested in large scale patterns across life that can be described fairly succinctly. Their focus is on body size: how it has changed through time and how physiological constraints on body size have shaped evolution, with an emphasis on mammalian evolution.

I did a lot of intensive listening all weekend which, surprisingly, took a lot out of me. It was interesting to see how a large research group functions, since that is something I have never participated in. The group publishes a lot together, but there are also small sub-projects within the group. I was impressed at how much got done over a few short days. This is a very productive group of scientists.

I can't say for sure if I will be collaborating with them in the future. Their NSF funding is running out, and they only have a few more meetings in the future. I'm also not sure that I am interested in all of the same research questions that they are; but, there are a few. I did a little data mining this weekend for a fairly new project, and if I get sucked into that it could result in something good for me. Felisa said I was welcome to get as involved as I wanted with the group, if it was something I felt I wanted to do. I think the project I was helping with sounded interesting, but I'll need to learn more about it before I get myself invested in it.

In general I like the members of the group. I have some disagreements with some of the opinions that I heard this weekend, but that isn't a bad thing. That's just something that naturally occurs. I don't think I'm going to agree with Felisa or Jim or anyone on everything; that wasn't even the case with Russ. I think it's important that everyone in the group enjoys working together; they are friendly. That makes it possible to actually accomplish things.

On Saturday evening we had a fancy pizza party at Felisa's house. It was make your own pizza: home made dough, interesting toppings, and lots of wine followed by dessert. It was good way to break up the hard work of the weekend. Plus, I can only listen to work related things for so long before I get burnt out.

In conclusion, I would say that it was a generally good experience and I'm glad I went. I also got to hang out with Meghan a lot, and I got to know her better.

Tomorrow the lab group is leaving for Death Valley for a few days. When I return I will give my account of that little adventure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Importance of Communication

Humans are animals; however, we have several characteristics that make us stand out as unique. Our large brains have allowed us to be able to do some pretty amazing things. Aside from being able to walk upright, solve problems, and be self aware, we also engage in fairly complex relationships. Those relationships are possible because of the complex ways in which we communicate: visually, verbally, and through writing.

I want to talk about science communication. Or rather, the lack there of. Communication is especially bad between scientists and non-scientists. The point of science is to answer questions and produce new information. It's rather ironic, then, that there is such poor communication of scientific ideas. Many scientists seem unwilling to ensure that their research is known and understood.

Before I go on, I know some of my more "sciency" friends might claim that the general public is unwilling to learn, or even listen to what scientists have to say. I agree, but only to a certain extent. I believe this is partially true, because scientists have allowed a stereotype about themselves to perpetuate, to a point where it is coming back to bite us in the butt. That stereotype is: scientists are cold, uncaring, arrogant people who can't be bothered to explain what they do. This is the point of view that exists, and it is largely the fault of scientists who are, in fact - cold, uncaring, arrogant people who can't be bothered to explain what they do to those people who are (in their own minds) too stupid to understand anyway.

Now I ask my fellow sciency people, would you want to LISTEN to a person with that kind of attitude? Of course not! Yet we expect the general public to just listen to us, even when we don't take the time to explain to them what we are up to in a way that is accessible. Then we lose our patience if they can't understand, in spite of the fact that a lot of what we do is confusing. This, my friends, is called a superiority complex. It is based on the false assumption that somehow we are smarter or better than "they" are. And, it is going to make it really difficult to get people to listen to us in the future when we have something really important to say (if you can imagine it being more difficult than it is already).

I know for a fact that a lot of scientists don't write well. I do a lot of reading, that comes with college and graduate school. Scientific papers are dense, in every definition of the word. This isn't always the fault of the author; limitations and requirements imposed by editors and journals often make it impossible to write something pleasant or intelligible to a non-expert. As a result, scientists learn to communicate well with others in their own specific area of interest, but they can't always communicate adequately with outsiders. This is a deficiency, and it poses a huge problem when trying to solve multifaceted problems that require interdisciplinary collaboration. This is compounded when the results of research have political or economic implications.

The simple fact remains: a lot of research funding comes from the government. Ultimately, that money comes from taxes. So in a sense, we are being paid by the general public to do what we do. Therefore, it benefits scientists to effectively communicate; not just with each other, but with everyone.If "they" don't understand what we do, "they" will stop paying us to do it.

We are facing many troubles: environmental, biological, and economical. And the people who can make meaningful policy, laws, and decisions are either not listening to us, or they don't understand. In reality, it's probably a little of both. We can spend a bunch of time and energy going back and forth, arguing about whose fault it is. We can ignore people who are perceived to be too "dumb" to know what's good for them. Or, we can take a proactive approach and commit ourselves to communicating more effectively. I'm not saying that we need to restructure the way in which we publish original research (although, one could argue, that might be a good thing). What I am saying is that scientists need to get outside of their individual bubbles, and interact with regular people. We need to reach out. We need to talk and write in a way that is accessible.

Even if you are a scientist who hates humanity, who thinks people are stupid. You should make an effort to give your wealth of knowledge to someone other than yourself, if only for the sake of getting things done.

Next semester I will be participating in a class that runs a biology blog. It will highlight research as well as other things going on in the department of Biology at UNM, as well as other biology related topics.
Matt and I also have plans for starting a science blog, with the explicit goal of making science accessible to the general public.
My plan is to connect those blogs to my PhD blog in some fashion, with the hopes of increasing outreach.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Geological Society Statement on Global Warming (with references!)

The only disclaimer I will include here is that I did not write this: this is the official statement on Global Warming from the Geological Society of America. All credits go to those parties listed at the end of this statement. I am merely passing this along, because I feel obligated to help educate the public on what is arguably one of the most pressing issues faced by humanity. This disclaimer was added on July 1, 2011. I will also add that the most current pdfs of the IPCC report can be downloaded for FREE online.

97% of scientists agree: climate change is happening largely due to human (anthropogenic) activities.

The Geological Society Statement on Global Warming

Climate change is a defining issue for our time. The geological record contains abundant evidence of the ways in which Earth’s climate has changed in the past. That evidence is highly relevant to understanding how it may change in the future. The Council of the Society is issuing this statement as part of the Society’s work “to promote all forms of education, awareness and understanding of the Earth and their practical applications for the benefit of the public globally”. The statement is intended for non-specialists and Fellows of the Society. It is based on analysis of geological evidence, and not on analysis of recent temperature or satellite data, or climate model projections. It contains references to support key statements, indicated by superscript numbers, and a reading list for those who wish to explore the subject further.

What is climate change, and how do geologists know about it?

The Earth’s temperature and weather patterns change naturally over time scales ranging from decades, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of years1. The climate is the statistical average of the weather taken over a long period, typically 30 years. It is never static, but subject to constant disturbances, sometimes minor in nature and effect, but at other times much larger. In some cases these changes are gradual and in others abrupt.

Evidence for climate change is preserved in a wide range of geological settings, including marine and lake sediments, ice sheets, fossil corals, stalagmites and fossil tree rings. Advances in field observation, laboratory techniques and numerical modelling allow geoscientists to show, with increasing confidence, how and why climate has changed in the past. For example, cores drilled through the ice sheets yield a record of polar temperatures and atmospheric composition ranging back to 120,000 years in Greenland and 800,000 years in Antarctica. Oceanic sediments preserve a record reaching back tens of millions of years, and older sedimentary rocks extend the record to hundreds of millions of years. This vital baseline of knowledge about the past provides the context for estimating likely changes in the future.

What are the grounds for concern?

The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall2; increased acidity of the oceans 3,4,5,6; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater7,8,9.

There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.

When and how did today’s climate become established?

The Earth’s climate has been gradually cooling for most of the last 50 million years. At the beginning of that cooling (in the early Eocene), the global average temperature was about 6-7 ºC warmer than now10,11. About 34 million years ago, at the end of the Eocene, ice caps coalesced to form a continental ice sheet on Antarctica12,13. In the northern hemisphere, as global cooling continued, local ice caps and mountain glaciers gave way to large ice sheets around 2.6 million years ago14.

Over the past 2.6 million years (the Pleistocene and Holocene), the Earth’s climate has been on average cooler than today, and often much colder. That period is known as the ‘Ice Age’, a series of glacial episodes separated by short warm ‘interglacial’ periods that lasted between 10,000-30,000 years15,16. We are currently living through one of these interglacial periods. The present warm period (known as the Holocene) became established only 11,500 years ago, since when our climate has been relatively stable. Although we currently lack the large Northern Hemisphere ice sheets of the Pleistocene, there are of course still large ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica1.

What drives climate change?

The Sun warms the Earth, heating the tropics most and the poles least. Seasons come and go as the Earth orbits the Sun on its tilted axis. Many factors, interacting on a variety of time scales, drive climate change by altering the amount of the Sun’s heat retained at the Earth’s surface and the distribution of that heat around the planet. Over millions of years the continents move, ocean basins open and close, and mountains rise and fall. All of these changes affect the circulation of the oceans and of the atmosphere. Major volcanic eruptions eject gas and dust high into the atmosphere, causing temporary cooling. Changes in the abundance in the atmosphere of gases such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane affect climate through the Greenhouse Effect – described below.

As well as the long-term cooling trend, evidence from ice and sediment cores reveal cycles of climate change tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years long. These can be related to small but predictable changes in the Earth’s orbit and in the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Those predictable changes set the pace for the glacial-interglacial cycles of the ice age of the past 2.6 million years17. In addition, the heat emitted by the Sun varies with time. Most notably, the 11-year sunspot cycle causes the Earth to warm very slightly when there are more sunspots and cool very slightly when there are few. Complex patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation cause the El Niño events and related climatic oscillations on the scale of a few years1,18.

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The Greenhouse Effect arises because certain gases (the so-called greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere absorb the long wavelength infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and re-radiate it, so warming the atmosphere. This natural effect keeps our atmosphere some 30ºC warmer than it would be without those gases. Increasing the concentration of such gases will increase the effect (i.e. warm the atmosphere more)19.

What effect do natural cycles of climate change have on the planet?

Global sea level is very sensitive to changes in global temperatures. Ice sheets grow when the Earth cools and melt when it warms. Warming also heats the ocean, causing the water to expand and the sea level to rise. When ice sheets were at a maximum during the Pleistocene, world sea level fell to at least 120 m below where it stands today. Relatively small increases in global temperature in the past have led to sea level rises of several metres. During parts of the previous interglacial period, when polar temperatures reached 3-5°C above today’s20, global sea levels were higher than today’s by around 4-9m21. Global patterns of rainfall during glacial times were very different from today.

Has sudden climate change occurred before?

Yes. About 55 million years ago, at the end of the Paleocene, there was a sudden warming event in which temperatures rose by about 6ºC globally and by 10-20ºC at the poles22. Carbon isotopic data show that this warming event (called by some the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM) was accompanied by a major release of 1500-2000 billion tonnes or more of carbon into the ocean and atmosphere. This injection of carbon may have come mainly from the breakdown of methane hydrates beneath the deep sea floor10, perhaps triggered by volcanic activity superimposed on an underlying gradual global warming trend that peaked some 50 million years ago in the early Eocene. CO2 levels were already high at the time, but the additional CO2 injected into the atmosphere and ocean made the ocean even warmer, less well oxygenated and more acidic, and was accompanied by the extinction of many species on the deep sea floor. Similar sudden warming events are known from the more distant past, for example at around 120 and 183 million years ago23,24. In all of these events it took the Earth’s climate around 100,000 years or more to recover, showing that a CO2 release of such magnitude may affect the Earth’s climate for that length of time25.

Are there more recent examples of rapid climate change?

Abrupt shifts in climate can occur over much shorter timescales. Greenland ice cores record that during the last glacial stage (100,000 – 11,500 years ago) the temperature there alternately warmed and cooled several times by more than 10ºC 26,27. This was accompanied by major climate change around the northern hemisphere, felt particularly strongly in the North Atlantic region. Each warm and cold episode took just a few decades to develop and lasted for a few hundred years. The climate system in those glacial times was clearly unstable and liable to switch rapidly with little warning between two contrasting states. These changes werealmost certainly caused by changes in the way the oceans transported heat between the hemispheres.

How did levels of CO2 in the atmosphere change during the ice age?

The atmosphere of the past 800,000 years can be sampled from air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice cores. The concentrations of CO2 and other gases in these bubbles follow closely the pattern of rising and falling temperature between glacial and interglacial periods. For example CO2 levels varied from an average of 180 ppm (parts per million) in glacial maxima to around 280 ppm during interglacials. During warmings from glacial to interglacial, temperature and CO2 rose together for several thousand years, although the best estimate from the end of the last glacial is that the temperature probably started to rise a few centuries before the CO2 showed any reaction. Palaeoclimatologists think that initial warming driven by changes in the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt eventually caused CO2 to be released from the warming ocean and thus, via positive feedback, to reinforce the temperature rise already in train28. Additional positive feedback reinforcing the temperature rise would have come from increased water vapour evaporated from the warmer ocean, water being another greenhouse gas, along with a decrease in sea ice, and eventually in the size of the northern hemisphere ice sheets, resulting in less reflection of solar energy back into space.

How has carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere changed over the longer term?

Estimating past levels of CO2 in the atmosphere for periods older than those sampled by ice cores is difficult and is the subject of continuing research. Most estimates agree that there was a significant decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere from more than1000 ppm at 50 million years ago (during the Eocene) to the range recorded in the ice cores of the past 800,000 years22. This decrease in CO2 was probably one of the main causes of the cooling that led to the formation of the great ice sheets on Antarctica29. Changes in ocean circulation around Antarctica may also have also played a role in the timing and extent of formation of those ice sheets30,31,32.

How has carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changed in recent times?

Atmospheric CO2 is currently at a level of 390 ppm. It has increased by one third in the last 200 years33. One half of that increase has happened in the last 30 years. This level and rate of increase are unprecedented when compared with the range of CO2 in air bubbles locked in the ice cores (170-300 ppm). There is some evidence that the rate of increase in CO2 in the atmosphere during the abrupt global warming 183 million years ago (Early Jurassic), and perhaps also 55 million years ago (the PETM), was broadly similar to today’s rate34.

When was CO2 last at today’s level, and what was the world like then?

The most recent estimates35 suggest that at times between 5.2 and 2.6 million years ago (during the Pliocene), the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached between 330 and 400 ppm. During those periods, global temperatures were 2-3°C higher than now, and sea levels were higher than now by 10 – 25 metres, implying that global ice volume was much less than today36. There were large fluctuations in ice cover on Greenland and West Antarctica during the Pliocene, and during the warm intervals those areas were probably largely free of ice37,38,39. Some ice may also have been lost from parts of East Antarctica during the warm intervals40. Coniferous forests replaced tundra in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere41, and the Arctic Ocean may have been seasonally free of sea-ice42.

When global temperature changed, did the same change in temperature happen everywhere?

No. During the glacial periods in the Pleistocene the drop in temperature was much greater in polar regions than in the tropics. There is good evidence that the difference between polar and tropical temperatures in the warmer climate of the Eocene to Pliocene was smaller than it is today. The ice core record also shows differences between Greenland and Antarctica in the size and details of the temperature history in the two places, reflecting slow oceanic heat transport between the two poles16.

In conclusion - what does the geological record tell us about the potential effect of continued emissions of CO2?

Over at least the last 200 million years the fossil and sedimentary record shows that the Earth has undergone many fluctuations in climate, from warmer than the present climate to much colder, on many different timescales. Several warming events can be associated with increases in the ‘greenhouse gas’ CO2. There is evidence for sudden major injections of carbon to the atmosphere occurring at 55, 120 and 183 million years ago, perhaps from the sudden breakdown of methane hydrates beneath the seabed. At those times the associated warming would have increased the evaporation of water vapour from the ocean, making CO2 the trigger rather than the sole agent for change. During the Ice Age of the past two and a half million years or so, periodic warming of the Earth through changes in its position in relation to the sun also heated the oceans, releasing both CO2 and water vapour, which amplified the ongoing warming into warm interglacial periods. That process was magnified by the melting of sea ice and land ice, darkening the Earth’s surface and reducing the reflection of the Sun’s energy back into space.

While these past climatic changes can be related to geological events, it is not possible to relate the Earth’s warming since 1970 to anything recognisable as having a geological cause (such as volcanic activity, continental displacement, or changes in the energy received from the sun)43. This recent warming is accompanied by an increase in CO2 and a decrease in Arctic sea ice, both of which – based on physical theory and geological analogues - would be expected to warm the climate44. Various lines of evidence, reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly show that a large part of the modern increase in CO2 is the result of burning fossil fuels, with some contribution from cement manufacture and some from deforestation44. In total, human activities have emitted over 500 billion tonnes of carbon (hence over 1850 billion tons of CO2) to the atmosphere since around 1750, some 65% of that being from the burning of fossil fuels18,45,46,47,48. Some of the carbon input to the atmosphere comes from volcanoes49,50, but carbon from that source is equivalent to only about 1% of what human activities add annually and is not contributing to a net increase.

In the coming centuries, continued emissions of carbon from burning oil, gas and coal at close to or higher than today’s levels, and from related human activities, could increase the total to close to the amounts added during the 55 million year warming event – some 1500 to 2000 billion tonnes. Further contributions from ‘natural’ sources (wetlands, tundra, methane hydrates, etc.) may come as the Earth warms22. The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5-6ºC, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of any mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more. Numerical models of the climate system support such an interpretation44. In the light of the evidence presented here it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be.


Members of the working group:

Dr C Summerhayes                                                Prof J Lowe
Chairman and GSL Vice-President                     Department of Geography,
Scott Polar Research Institute,                             Royal Holloway University of London
Cambridge University

Prof J Cann FRS                                                      Prof N McCave
School of Earth and Environment,                       Department of Earth Sciences
Leeds University                                                      University of Cambridge

Dr A Cohen                                                               Prof P Pearson
Department of Earth and Environmental            School of Earth and Ocean Sciences,
Sciences, The Open University                            Cardiff University

Prof J Francis                                                          Dr E Wolff FRS
School of Earth and Environment,                      British Antarctic Survey,
Leeds University                                                    Cambridge
Dr A Haywood
School of Earth and Environment,                       Ms S Day
Leeds University                                                     Earth Science Communicator, GSL

Dr R Larter                                                               Mr E Nickless
British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge                   Executive Secretary, GSL

Background Reading

For those wishing to read further, the following provide an accessible overview of the topic:

Alley, R.B., 2000, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press.

Bell, M. and Walker, M.J.C, 2005, Late Quaternary Environmental Change: Physical and Human Perspectives, (2nd edition). Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Dansgaard, W., 2005, Frozen Annals: Greenland Ice Sheet Research. Neils Bohr Institute, Copenhagen. The book can be downloaded for free from

Houghton, J., 2009, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, (4th edition). Cambridge University Press.

Imbrie, J. and Imbrie, K.P, 1979, Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery. MacMillan, London.

IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

Lamb, H.H., 1995, Climate, History and the Modern World, (2nd edition). Routledge, London.

Lovell, B., 2010, Challenged by Carbon: The Oil Industry and Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

Mayewski, P.A. and White, F., 2002, The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change. University of New Hampshire/University Press of New England.

Ruddiman, W.F., 2005, Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton University Press.

For the more intrepid:

Alverson, K.D., Bradley, R.S. and Pedersen, T.F., (eds.) 2003, Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future. The IGBP Series, Springer-Verlag, New York.

Burroughs, W.J., 2007, Climate Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach, (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press.

Cronin, T.M., 2009, Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.

Gibbard, P. and Pillans, B., (eds.), 2008, Special Issue on the Quaternary period/system. Episodes (IUGS Journal of International Geoscience), vol. 31, No.2., (a collection of papers summarising the history of Earth’s environmental and climatic oscillations during the last 2.7 million years).

Langway, Jr., C., 2008, The History of Early Polar Ice-Core records. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Research and Development Center. Available online at:

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Year Later

Today was much better, I got a good nights sleep and had a fairly productive day.

As of tomorrow, Nov. 11th, it will have been a year since I defended my master's thesis, and also about a year since I decided that a PhD was a good idea. I still think it is, but I thought I'd have a better handle on what I should be doing. I suppose that since I switched academic fields, it's okay that I'm swamped with classwork to get me up to speed. As far as research goes, I have actually been sorting through some new data to try and answer some new research questions Felisa and I have been discussing. The first step so far has been to see if the data we need even exists already.

Tomorrow evening Meghan and I are heading up to Santa Fe to sit in with the research coordinated network (RCN) that Felisa is a part of. Felisa thought it would be a good opportunity for us to see what it is like working in a large research group, which is something I have no experience with. There is a chance that we could get involved if the group is going to start working on something that interests us. The meeting is from Friday morning till noon on Monday. Meghan and I are only staying through Sunday, since we have teaching and classes to get back to.

If nothing else, I'll get to listen to really smart people talk about research, and probably hang out with my adviser and lab mate more than I have had the chance to so far. And, I have a biostatistics assignment due on Tuesday, and Meghan and I can work together on it easily since we're sharing a room at the meeting.

I'm hoping it will be an educational experience, regardless.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, Sucky Monday

Yesterday was just one of those days.
For the past couple nights I haven't been sleeping well. I have no idea why; it could be because of an excess of sweets over the past few days or stress, although I don't feel particularly stressed out.

I did feel stressed yesterday afternoon, however. From the outset, the day was just destined to be difficult. In the morning I was supposed to go in to work at 10am to try to fertilize some sea urchin eggs so that my students could watch development in real time. It was sort of an experiment to see if this would be a feasible activity to do in the future. Jordan, the student showing me how to do this, and I spent over an hour trying to obtain sperm and eggs from urchins to do all this. It turns out, every spiny sucker which we induced gamete release was a male. So no eggs, and no embryos. Which was a bummer, because it would have been really cool.

The second thing was that during lab I had to show my students a 1-hour video on animal development, a video so old it was on VHS. The VCR in my classroom was hooked up to the projector that is broken at the moment, so I had to use the one in the classroom next door. THAT projector turned out to not be so great either, and I had to watch this movie three times with the color being all screwed up, and the brightness constantly fluctuating. Talk about annoying and distracting!

The icing on the cake was one student in particular decided to give me a hard time about his scientific paper assignment. The assignment was to go to the zoo, pick an adaptation that a vertebrate animal has, and perform some kind of simple experiment relating to that adaption. This guy decided to pick an adaptation that "didn't exist" because hypotheses "don't have to be correct". The POINT of the assignment is to learn something, and this guy thought he was pretty clever for sticking it to me based upon what I "didn't say they couldn't do", which was basically make something up. His whole paper was based on a tautology, which is inherently not scientific. He then got defensive and weird when I questioned him. I then spent about five minutes (in an angry but calm manner) arguing that what he did was not the assignment, and I was offended that he would waste mine and everyone else's time. I told him it wasn't MY grade. His comeback was that it was my job, which I can only suppose meant that somehow his poor grade would reflect badly on me. Then I stopped being diplomatic, and flat out told him he was wrong. I also told him and the class that it just so happens that I like teaching, but that he is destroying that.

And at this point, I was pretty tired due to a crappy night's sleep. And so I continued with my lesson.

At the end of class he approached me an apologized, and said he would re-write his paper.

All of this, on top of people just not following directions and complaining about everything. I should make them read 50 term papers from totally uninterested unteachable students: they don't know the meaning of boring and/or difficult.

Next semester I am starting anew, and I am going to be brutally strict. I don't consider myself a door mat, but I try to at least make class enjoyable. If that can't happen, so be it. I don't need my students to like me, and if people don't listen and follow directions, they will fail my class.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Birthday Weekend Continued

So, a lot went on this weekend.

According to my previous post, I should be telling you now how cute and funny the alpaca were on Saturday afternoon. It turns out Matt and I couldn't go because there are degenerate jerks in this world. I will explain.

Mouse and Dave came down to Albuquerque to meet us for lunch before we headed out to the farms. It was decided that we would go in Matt's car since all of his seatbelts work and since Mouse and Dave had already driven a lot. We were walking towards the car and noticed a car in our lot had a smashed window. Then we walked over to the lot where Matt's car was parked, and several more cars had smashed windows. There was a particularly large pile of glass next to Matt's car.

During the night, around 3am, someone had broken into at least seven cars at my apartment complex, including Matt's. The poor guy parked next to Matt had two broken windows, front and back. So not only was this criminal (criminals?) evil, they were also too lazy to unlock the car once they had broken the glass to get to the back seat. Nothing was stolen from Matt's car, since there wasn't anything in there to steal. But they sure made a mess. My car didn't get broken into, and the only reason I can think as to why is because I have an alarm. So, what we should do is install a tiny blinking red light on the dashboard of Matt's car. Problem solved.

By the time we got back from lunch, and got all the mess sorted out (we sent Mouse and Dave on ahead to the farms) we missed out on the alpacas. Matt is getting his window fixed today, since nothing was open after noon on Saturday. Oddly enough, I think we handled the whole thing (psychologically) very well. Had it been my car, I don't know how I would have reacted.

Saturday evening proved to be much better: I had my wine and dessert party. This is the first time we've had company over, and it was really nice having a living room full of people playing games, eating food, and enjoying ourselves. The list of guests included: Mouse, Dave, Alyssa, Meghan, Claire, and Virginia. It was also great to get the living room, kitchen, and bathroom cleaned. That part of the apartment looks pretty good now.

Sunday had even more surprises in store for me. Matt had been saying for a few days not to plan anything around lunch time on Sunday. That's because he had reservations at a ranch to go horseback riding! I haven't been on a horse in two years, and I used to ride when I was a little girl. I had a really pretty horse, too, her name was Lady. Matt's horse was named Blue. In addition to the ride, they had us tack the horse. The trail ride went down to the Rio Grande, where we had our picture taken.

So all in all, it was a very lovely birthday weekend. It was nice to have company and get cards and well wishes from family and friends. Then Matt made it extra special.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Birthday Recap

Yesterday was my birthday, and I'm happy to say I've had two excellent birthdays in a row. Last year's toga party was fun, but this year I opted for something more relaxed. Yesterday evening Matt took me out to a really nice restaurant, the Artichoke Cafe. I got dressed up, and wore this sweater dress that I've had for a while and not had the opportunity to wear it. Matt got me this cool bracelet I was checking out last week in Old Town, which also matched my dress. I almost bought it then, but I'm glad he got it for me. It's so neat, it's made from tagua nuts, and has sort of the look and feel of ivory but it's from a plant! It's a chunky bracelet, and I don't usually wear anything around my wrists, but I've decided I'm going to try to accessorize more.

For dinner I had the pan roasted duck breast over edamame jasmine rice with snap peas and baby carrots with a soy apricot reduction. A side car as my celebratory drink. This place also does flights of different alcohols, so we shared a flight of three different styles of tequila. Matt got the squash ravioli in sage butter sauce, he let me have a taste and it was also really good. I almost got that, but whenever it's a special occasion, I seem to always get duck because I don't have the will to make it myself and I love it. For dessert we split a chocolate orange pot de creme, that had little slices of candied orange peel and a little cookie as a garnish. Itw as the best dinner I've had in a long time. Everything was so delicious, and so pretty.

Afterward we went to the Chama River Brewing Company to meet up with some of my classmates, and I had a beer, and Fred bought me more dessert! It was dulce de leche something-er-other ice cream with chocolate and caramel and pinon nuts in a chocolate bowl. I also got to meet her special friend, John, who was visiting from Oregon.

Today we are going out for a bit with Mouse and Dave to some alpaca farms that are having open houses, but I also need to find some time to clean the apartment a bit because I'm having a wine and dessert party tonight. I invited the girls from my incoming class over, and it should be a good time. I'll have a pretty full apartment, because my place isn't that big, but we'll make it work.

Time to go clean house!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday (Tuesday?) Night (Morning?)

Today wasn't bad, if you ignore the fact that I couldn't breathe through my nose pretty much all day. The lab I taught was on vertebrate adaptations, which was fun, especially for me (big shocker there). To make it even more awesome, I got to hold the cutest snake ever, a rosy boa who was super friendly. She was also super stubborn. For part of the exercise, I was supposed to insert her into a clear plastic tube so that everyone could watch how she moved via constertina movement (as opposed to typical serpentine movement). That worked beautifully; however, two out the three times I did this I had the hardest time getting her OUT of the tube. She just didn't want to come out and go back in her cage. I don't blame her, I think it was probably warmer in the plastic tube than her box, but it was frustrating none-the-less. The plus side, her little tongue tickled my arm when I was holding her. She was aborable.

Today's lab also consisted of endless skulls and skeletons and stuffed animals, which was also cool. One of my students was not so thrilled, especially since many of the specimens would fall within the "cute" animal category. They only care about the cute ones...

I had some time between my labs today, which meant I got a break. I was actually able to eat a relaxing lunch, and then go for tea and a snack later with Matt downtown. If only every week could be like that!

This evening we had French toast and Candian Bacon (there's a joke in there somewhere, but I can't find it at this hour). We ate dinner and watched some episodes of Community, which we have been renting recently.

And finally, I attempted to do some reading for class. It was a little late, but I more or less made it through a very lengthy paper on macroecology. Not bad for a marathon Monday.

Week Recap, A General Lack of Understanding, and Other Mishaps

This past week isn't much to write home about. Friday I got donuts with Fred for breakfast (and then I went again on Sunday with Matt, he loves Krispy Kreme). Then Saturday Matt had a bird survey about an hour and a half south of Albuquerque. When he returned we went to a Halloween party that a classmate of mine was throwing. They had a HUGE dog, but he acted more like an overgrown puppy than anything, so he was fun.

Yesterday I picked up the apartment a bit, and now at least my desk is clear enough for me to comfortably work at. Matt and I went for a drive, picked up some roasted and raw chilies, and then went to Old Town to wander around. It seems like when we go to Old Town it's always late on a Sunday, which is not the best time to go, everything is already closed or closing. There were some shops, however, that were handing out candy to kids in costumes because it was Halloween. So that was fun. Then we went home, and we made some pumpkin soup from the pumpkin I bought about a week ago. Delicious! This time it had a lot of cinnamon in it, probably more than my Mom would have liked, but we liked it.

I received a letter the other day from my auto insurance company. The NM MVD (motor vehicle department) told my insurance that my VIN number doesn't match anything they have on file. That's because I haven't been able to register my car, because I need a copy of the title from CT. I just filled out the online application... to have an application mailed to me. In this day and age, I feel like I should be able to just print the actual application myself, but no. So, hopefully it won't take too long for the application to get here, and hopefully it won't take all year for my title to arrive. The title became lost with all the moving that went on over the past few years. I'm sure I have it somewhere, and I'm going to continue looking for it in the mean time. I also need to call my insurance company and tell them what's going on. Hopefully this won't affect my coverage.

I've had a very frustrating couple of weeks with my students, particularly this past weekend. They were supposed to formulate a hypothesis to test at the local zoo/slash aquarium on a vertebrate adaptation. What they have been reporting to me are not hypotheses. Without going into too many boring details, I've been having a back and forth with them where they'll give me something wrong, and I'll correct them, and then they'll turn around and come back with something that is still just as wrong. They completely ignore my corrections, and just do whatever the hell they want. And I'm starting to lose my patience.

We've also reached that point in the semester where the end is somewhat near. That has been sending me slightly into freak out mode, where I feel like I need to get some more stuff done. However, I'm taking a lot of classes, and as a result that's pretty much all I have time for. My students are starting to get lazier, and getting them to do what they're supposed to do is like pulling teeth. I can remember how that was... back when I was in middle school. But these people are, theoretically, PAYING for their classes. I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

At any rate, it's Monday, and I have a long day of teaching ahead of me. I've been fighting a head cold/allergies ever since I got back from Pittsburgh, two weeks ago. I'm going to go ahead and assume it is allergies. I ran out of one of my perscriptions, and I need to get it filled. But that will have to wait until tomorrow. I don't have time today to stand around in a pharmacy, especially since there might be a complication with getting the perscription transfered from Penn State's pharmacy. I know there probably shouldn't be any reason for there to be a problem, but PSU's pharmacy has a way of making everything complicated.