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Planet Earth Under Threat

Back to the ice

  • Julian Hector
  • 26 Apr 06, 10:29 AM

We're doing well with our planning. Looks like a trip in June is on (around the 10th) to see the Greenland ice melt back for real - And I'll let you know more about that as we get nearer the time. Also interesting research from Australia looks like a top story for us. Global warming is partly due to a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Plants, as you might know, are co2 guzzlers, magically turning this greenhouse gas into sugar by harnessing the power of sunlight via photosynthesis. The biologists are showing that higher atmospheric levels of co2 are making the plants leaves less freeze tolerant so, I suppose, predisposing them for seeking warmer conditions. We hear a lot about climate warming forcing plants and animals to seek colder conditions as their surroundings warm (there's a big northerly drift of fish species in the North Sea for example), but this appears to be different. We'll tell you more.

Back to the iceā€¦One of our other presenters (Paul Evans, who presents "Nature" on BBC Radio 4) has just come back from a one-off experience and place.
Paul Evans stumbles into the office with snow on his boots and a wild glint in his eye as he tells his saga of a week in arctic Norway. "Glaciers are alive!" he declares, "we've been thinking about glaciers retreating as if they were barometers of climate change - just big lumps of inert ice that are shrinking - but they're also full of life. There are astounding microbes living in the sediment and water underneath them and even in the veins between ice crystals. Glaciers are like whole ecosystems and they have an awesome presence and power - we should be doing everything we can to protect them."
As a member of the Nature programme team, Paul was invited by scientists from Bristol University led by Gemma Wadham to the Svartigen sub-glacial laboratory in Norway to observe the search for life in extreme environments under the Engebreen glacier. Paul mutters something about thinking the scramble up 550m of mountain from sea-level in 2.5 km with a full rucksack and recording equipment being extreme enough, but that was a stroll in the park compared with what the scientists have to go through to do their work. Living in tunnels carved out of the mountain to collect melt water for hydroelectric power in the summer, the scientists go in winter to collect samples of ice, water and sediment to try and answer questions about the nature of glacial life, how it survives, what it feeds on and how much of it there is. "Imagine this," says Paul, "you blast a hole in the glacier using a jet of hot water to create a cave 5m deep. Then you crawl inside it to chip off bits of ice to take back to the lab. The ice cave is a strange and beautiful grotto, but there's 200m of solid ice above you and you can hear it cracking. The pressure is immense and the whole thing will close up in 24 hours." Once we've calmed him down, Paul's programme of his adventures with the search for life in the Engebreen glacier and beyond will run in the forthcoming series of Nature. We'll also hear about this glacier in PEuT.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:16 AM on 02 May 2006,
  • Mark Houghton wrote:

So you're bothered about the environment. So why burn more C02 visiting Greenland to see melting ice when you're trip is helpign aid the process that burns the ice in the first place. Nice joined up thinking there - not.

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  • 2.
  • At 02:00 PM on 02 May 2006,
  • Nick Mallory wrote:

Plants need CO2 to respire, so won't higher CO2 levels mean they need to open fewer pores to breathe?

Won't this therefore mean they lose less water through their leaves and so allow them to survive and thrive in areas previously too dry to support them?

Won't this mean that trees and grasses will be able to spread back into deserts created by over grazing?
This has happened in forests planted by the Isrealis, but then that's hard evidence rather than a moral judgement so perhaps it's not acceptable.

Isn't this a good thing though? Won't global warming green the deserts rather than destroy the world's vegetation?

Do you really think there'll be less life and plant growth in Greenland or Canada or Siberia in the future, if global warming is a real long term effect? Higher CO2 levels would surely help green the Sahara, rather than increase it.

If your research showed that global warming did have net benificial effects would you be in favour of it?

Just asking.

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Hi Julian, I'm currently sat at a PC in Greenland having just returned from the icecap! I'm one of six young people that was chosen to be part of the first year of the Climate Change College, an initiative run by a business, an NGO and a polar explorer to give young people the chance to find out more about climate change and to support some of the scientists currently working on the icecap. We'd love to talk to you about our experience in Greenland - for more information on what we've been up to, do take a look at our weblogs that are currently online. We'd love to hear from any likeminded people and would be happy to chat more to you or any of your colleagues involved with your initiative.

Kind regards

Ben Richards, Hayley Potter and Ruth Cameron in Kangerlussuaq

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  • 4.
  • At 03:46 PM on 22 Mar 2007,
  • clyde baby wrote:

Where can I obtain a script of the Grt Global Warming Scandal program? I don't have time to watch but I do have time to read... which goes much faster.

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