Back to the ice
- 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 ice…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.