NASA’s Terra satellite took these photographs. In the first image, the ice shelf is still attached to the island. In the second photograph, from 13 August 2005, the now-free ice shelf can be seen near the top middle of the image. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC.
In a dramatic, alarming event, CNN and NASA reported that scientists have just discovered a sixty-six–square kilometer (twenty-five–square mile) ice shelf, the Ayles Ice Shelf, broke free from northern Canada’s Ellesmere Island last year. This was one of only six major ice shelves in Canada. The shelves are ancient, having been present for at least three thousand years; the loss of one is unprecedented. The event was discovered by scientist Laurie Weir who had been examining 2005 satellite data. After she noticed the break and alerted other scientists, satellite images were used to pinpoint the event to 13 August 2005; a retrospective examination of seismologic data confirmed this.
Richard Fisher of New Scientist reports on a study published in Science (vol 315, p 95) studying a fish population (Zoarces viviparous) over the past ten years (also read the report by Katharine Sanderson of Nature News). They showed that rising temperatures in the North Sea have led to a decreased oxygen supply but increased oxygen demand, causing the population to drop sharply. As would be expected, the fish are best adapted to function at the temperatures at which they evolved, not at the warmer temperatures of the last decade.
A sad (and disturbing) event is discussed by Geoffrey Leon in The Independent. Lohachara, an Indian island and formerly home to 10,000 people, has been completely submerged as sea levels rise. This may be the first inhabited island lost in this manner, though uninhabited islands have been disappearing since as far back as eight years ago. Small islands and low-lying coastal areas are vulnerable.
The United States is considering listing polar bears as an endangered species, according to CNN. As global temperatures, arctic ice has melted, reducing the bears’ hunting grounds and leading to starvation. In addition, as reported earlier, drowned polar bears were found for the first time since monitoring has begun.
CNN reports that 2006 was the United States’ warmest year on record, and the sixth-warmest year worldwide.
China’s state press reports record high temperatures in Tibet, according to Yahoo! News. Glaciers there have been melting at the rate of 131.4 square kilometers (50 square miles) per year, and other environmental changes have worsened.
Not all the news is grim; as public awareness of climate change and specifically global warming continues to grow, governments are increasingly acknowledging the issue and even taking action. Over one-third of Earth’s population lives in India and China and their rapidly growing economies are major contributers to climate change. As CNN reports, a joint Chinese-Indian team will head into the Himalayas to study the melting glaciers; these glaciers are the source of rivers that supply water to over a billion people. If their flow were to wane, the results would be disastrous.
Also, as Catherine Brahic reports in New Scientist, the new Congress just began its session in the United States, and has introduced two environmentally friendly bills, including one calling for several changes to promote energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. Similiar changes are expected in the European Union.
Finally, NBC reports that Chicago is piloting some new measures. One is a solar-powered bus shelter; if the first one works well, they plan to install one hundred over the next year. They’re also investigating using recycled rubber from tires to construct sidewalks; a 168-meter (550-foot) section of sidewalk will serve as an initial test. U.S. cities and states have so far been taking the initiative in reducing carbon emissions and such, but perhaps the federal government will finally step in and take the lead.