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The Team

 

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PBS
PBS NOVA - What's Up With the Weather?

EPA Global Warming Kids Site

Tons of info on Polar Bears

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Think Dinosaurs are Scary? Try Greenhouse Gasses!


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Imagine you're at the North Pole for a moment. Take a look around you. What do you see? Ok, but besides your breath, what else can you see? A lot of ice? Maybe you also think of polar bears? Or maybe penguins?

Let's see how your imagination checks out in reality. Penguins? Sorry, no penguins up there. There are some that live at the equator, but that's the closest they come to the North Pole since they live in the southern hemisphere.

How about polar bears? We're getting closer now. Scientists have spotted polar bear tracks almost as far as the North Pole, however few bears ever head that far because there just isn't much to eat. Plus they like to be alone, so if there were any nearby you probably just ran them off by showing up.

Ice! At least we can agree on that one, right? There's a lot of ice! Hmmmm. Yeah there is, but that is changing, too. Did you know that because of rising temperatures around the world one day there may not be ice year-round at the North Pole? You're right that you'll still see your breath if you do get to visit one day, but you may not have a lot to stand on!

Global Temerpatures
The average global surface temperature has increased about 1F since the late 1800's. And scientists believe that could rise by another 1.6-6.3F by 2100, with significant regional variation. Why is the planet getting warmer?

If you've ever been in a greenhouse you know that sunlight gets in but can't get out as easily, so the air inside gets pretty warm. Well the entire planet is kind of like a greenhouse because a lot of sunlight can get into the earth's atmosphere, but a lot of it gets trapped inside by certain gasses. These gasses act like the glass on the greenhouse, warming up the air around the planet.

The Greenhouse Effect
This is a good thing overall because it's part of why the planet is warm enough for us to live on. But humans are creating more and more of these gasses, which means things keep getting warmer and warmer. We create these gasses more than anything by burning fuel. Driving cars, heating homes and businesses, and creating electricity is responsible for about 80% of the emissions of carbon dioxide, about 25% for methane, and about 20% of global nitrous oxide emissions in the United States. And the US is responsible for about one-fifth of the total greenhouse gasses!

So what does this have to do with ice at the North Pole? The rising global temperatures mean that ice at the North Pole and around the world is slowly melting. Of course it's too bad that the North Pole is melting, but how many people really get up there anyway? What does it matter?

Satellite image of part of the Filchner Ice Shelf in West Antarctica, in 1973, and again in 1986, courtesy of the US Geological Survey
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Globally, the sea level has risen 6-10 inches over the past century. This is because all that melting ice has to go somewhere, so the oceans take up more space and creep further and further up the beaches and cliffs holding them in place. It's also because warmer water takes up more space. (Ask your chemistry teacher!) But 6-10 inches isn't so much, right?


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But what about 2 feet? What about 4 feet?!? What if the oceans all rose by 20 FEET?!? The ocean level around the US will probably rise by 2 or 4 feet over the next 100 years. And there is a risk that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could slide into the oceans after a sustained warming, or if other factors raised sea level. It contains enough ice to raise sea level 6 meters (20 feet)! Click here to see images of what would happen to the US and Europe if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts.

Whether it's 2 feet or 4 or 20, buildings and property near the ocean will face massive flooding and erosion. This destruction, and the things people try to build to protect themselves, could cost billions of dollars, and the flooding may affect the quality of drinking water.

So if you aren't against global warming yet, consider these other effects:

- There will be a rise in the number of massive storms as evaporation and precipitation increase. Many areas may be affected by droughts, and the places where certain food can be grown might completely move as the weather changes. This could all seriously affect food supplies.

- Many plants and animals depend on a balance of rainfall and temperature to survive. A rapid change in climate could upset this balance and cause even more plants and animals to become extinct.

- People will have to deal with a lot more heat stress, and indirectly, ecological changes, air pollution, changes in food and water supplies, and coastal flooding all may have impacts on human health.

Whoa...it all seems pretty overwhelming, we know... What can any one person do to change such enormous problems? Glad you asked! There's a lot that each and every one of us can do to make a positive difference.

First of all we can make a few easy changes in the way we live our lives. By doing such simple things as turning off lights and televisions, whenever we don't need them, we'll save electricity (and using electricity releases a lot of harmful greenhouse gases). Driving a car burns away our limited fossil fuels, so whenever you can walk, ride a bike, or take a bus. Never forget to recycle all your used cans, bottles, plastics and newspapers, and to choose things made from recycled products. When you recycle, you send less trash to the landfill and you help save natural resources, like trees, oil, and elements such as aluminum.

Think these little changes won't make a big difference? Well imagine this, the average person releases 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year! If our families did something as simple as washing our clothes in warm or cold water instead of hot water, that would save up to 500 lbs of carbon dioxide releases per year! Check out these 20 things our families can do to reduce carbon dioxide releases, and take a guess at how low you can bring your carbon dioxide releases this year! Another thing we can do is to become more informed on the environment, and the corporations and people that are destroying it.

But wait! What's that over there?!? Could it be that we're actually seeing a polar bear? Oh, wait, no, it's a huge oil drill. Could that be real or is it a figment of our imagination like the penguins? Well, if we don't do something fast, it could be real. BP Amaco petroleum company is now trying to start a massive project called Northstar that would drill under the melting Arcitc ice pack. This project would further contribute to global warming and brings in high risks of major oil spills. As if the polar bears, walrus, and caribou don't have enough to worry about with the melting ice caps! Their populations are already declining!

Check out the Greenpeace website to learn more and send a letter to BP CEO John Browne opposing the Northstar project NOW!

Write a letter and take some of these everyday steps to help reduce global warming and you'll have a lot of thankful polar bears you can visit when you do make it to the artic ice caps someday!

The Team

Most statistical information drawn from the US EPA Global Warming Site.

 

 
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Team - Where did all these people come from, anyway?