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Gianna Gruen | Reporter's Log

Exploring the North – Further North

Arriving in Tromso, Norway, we are now located just at the Arctic’s doorstep. It is a quiet strange feeling, when you suddenly stand at the edge of something, that is normally so incredibly far away. If it’s far away from you as well and you derive from that that you don’t have to care – hang on. You actually should, as the Arctic often is referred to as earth’s air conditioner. And on hot summer days without (working) air conditioning, you feel perfectly well what it is good for.

Thought you might have seen enough snow, so I found this Tromso view of June 2010 for you (Photo: CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0: Nietnagel)

If you look at such pictures of the Arctic region it does not at all like an air conditioning. I was actually suprised that it can be that green in the Arctic region, as I always associate of snow and ice with Artic. What about you?

But this ice is only there in winter time – that’s when it fulfils it’s cooling job, by reflecting 80 percent of sunlight back to space which then cannot heat up the ocean or earth anymore. But from March on, ice starts melting due to increasing temperatures. The decreasing sea ice cover uncovers the dark oceans that absorbs the sunlight instead of reflecting it – the cooling air conditioning turns into a heating facility.

Arctic sea ice loss animation

Animation of Arctic summer ice cover (Credit: By NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)

So far, the Arctic yet hasn’t been completely ice-free during the warm summer period. But you might remember scientists worrying last summerabout the small area that is left ice covered: The larger the ice free part, the more heat is absorbed by the ocean underneath – in turn, even more ice melts and a vicious circle starts.

Not on the edge of the Arctic, but on the edge of Arctic research, you find scientists working on how this influences the Arctic environment. Sometimes this influence can even be positive: Researchers recently found that microbes in the soil can fix more carbon in a warmer climate.

But yet, researchers cannot tell how Arctic ice cover will evolve, but they work for example on better models to predict what is going to happen. That is especially important, as many earth systems are connected: A warming Arctic sea also affects ocean currents for example, that – connected to each other – span over the whole planet. In turn, oceans take up less CO2 for example, and in consequence more of this greenhouse gas in the air, warms up the whole planet.


April 21, 2013



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Gianna Gruen | Reporter's Log

Exploring the North – Visible signs of climate change

Almost in the middle of nowhere, where just a few houses stand between trees around the lake, there is kind of a research nest. Scientists from different countries live and work together in Abisko, Sweden, to investigate the impact of climate change in the Arctic region.

That is especially feasible, as the research station is located North of the polar circle. The Arctic region is far more sensitive to climate change than others: While globel mean temperature yet rose by 0.8 degrees celsius, the Arctic already warmed by more than one degree on average.

“If you came here 40 or 50 years ago, you would see that the treeline has risen since then”, says plant ecologist Ann Milbau.

Also the composition of species growing here has changed: mosses do worse, while more grasses growing on the vast ground. But in the last years, researchers suddenly walked on a green moving carpet – made of caterpillars. Temperature in the previous winter did not fall below -35°C, a threshold above which all caterpillar eggs survive. The eclosed moths ate away all leaves from the trees. “There was nothin green here in summer”, Milbau says, “But yet we don’t know, whether this was just an exception or really a sign of climate change.”

Which visible signs of climate change can you see in your environment?


April 18, 2013



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Klaus Esterluß | ClimateChamps

Climate Champ – This isn’t a game. Our future is at stake.

Do you feel responsible for our future? Are you tired of waiting for a breakthrough at climate conferences? If you are already taking action yourself, you are our ClimateChamp and we want to get to know you! Answer our questionnaire to become a part of our new blog series, take your chance to be nominated as a Climate Champ.

1.What is your name, how old are you and where do you live?
My name is Srijesa Khasnabish and I’m eighteen years old. I’ve lived in Lexington, Massachusetts (USA) for most of my life.

2.How does the climate change affect your everyday life / your community?
I am shocked by how climate change impacts so many different aspects of my everyday life. For example, how I get to school in the morning: if I wake up early, I take the bus and save some carbon dioxide emissions. If I wake up late, miss the bus, and have to drive to school, I’m further contributing to global warming. I always shake my head in disgrace when I see my peers driving to the town center in the middle of the day whereas it only take seven minutes to walk there.  This is one thing that motivates me to action.
What is most detrimental to my community is the severe storms we’ve been experiencing. During Hurricane Sandy, damages were extensive.  An old pine tree even fell on my house and crashed into my living room!  Many people’s basements were also flooded and most of our community was without power for up to 3 days.

3.What trigger event led you to start fighting climate change?
What sparked my interest in the climate change movement was an assembly I watched four years ago, presented by the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) and created to educate youth about climate change and inspire solutions. The forty-five minutes I spent watching this assembly changed my perspective radically and converted me into a fervent climate activist. Today I am the New England Youth Representative for ACE, where I help to galvanize the Youth Climate Movement in my local community.

4.How exactly do you fight climate change?
I fight climate change on several levels. First of all, in my house: my family recycles, we’re conscious of the energy we use, we hang our clothes out to dry, and eat vegetarian several times a week. At school, I’m the president of the Global Warming Action Coalition. This year, we’re working to maintain a student run vegetable garden and establishing a school-wide composting system. We’ve purchased bike racks and are working on getting hand dryers in our school’s bathrooms to reduce waste. Outside of school, I’m the New England Youth Representative for ACE. As a Youth Rep, I help facilitate at monthly Youth Leadership Trainings, give speeches and raise awareness about youth climate action in Massachusetts, and blog about climate change and my experiences. Last year I was a keynote speaker at a Youth Climate Summit at MIT, and I participated in a  Climate Vigil to encourage the Massachusetts Senate candidates to address climate change in their debates. I consider the work I do with ACE extremely important because I’m helping to educate and motivate youth to take action against climate change. I’m spreading a cause I earnestly care about and I find it exceptionally rewarding.

5.What is your opinion about climate change skeptics?
I strongly believe all skeptics must wake up to the climate change crisis because it’s a universal issue – it doesn’t matter where you live, or how rich or poor you are, you’re impacted by climate change. And if I could realize that when I was just fifteen years old, children and adults worldwide should be able to acknowledge it too. More importantly, the amount of time we have to address climate change is limited. The sooner the world acknowledges this issue, the sooner we can cooperate to build a brighter future, one where policies are enacted to protect the planet and there’s a change in the human way of life. This means people are conscious of their emissions: they think about where their food comes from and how their houses are being heated, and how all of this affects the environment. People think twice before buying a plastic water bottle or throwing a half-eaten apple in the garbage, where it will be buried under pounds of trash and release methane as it decomposes.

6.Worst case scenario: What do you think your city looks like 10 years from now, if no action had been taken to fight climate change?
I envision more frequent, monstrous storms that damage homes, power lines, trees and people’s lives. The destruction caused by these storms will reduce the quality of life in Lexington and be detrimental to the economy as well (especially because Lexington makes a large income on tourism). The intense summer heat will cause many people to perish, and emissions from cars will cause smog in the air, leading to more children suffering from asthma.

7.Best case scenario: What do you think your city looks like 10 years from now, if more and more action had been taken to fight climate change?
Ten years from now I hope to see a variety of infrastructure improvements throughout Lexington. I imagine plastic bags and bottles will be rare and backyard vegetable gardens will flourish behind every house. I also envision smaller houses and cars, perhaps even zero cars per household because buses and subways will be the preferred mode of transportation. The bike paths throughout town will be reworked such that they are easily accessible by everyone and the optimal way for children to get to school when the weather permits. The town will save a tremendous amount of money on energy, as solar panels will be mandatory and the rest of the needed energy will be wind energy, produced in one section of town. Education about climate change will begin in elementary schools, where children will also develop the habit of recycling and composting – sustainability will be second nature to them by the time they are in high school.
Perhaps my vision of the future is a bit unrealistic or is more accurate as a description of what my city will look like in 20 years, but the core of what I want to see in the future is more education on the causes and impacts of climate change. I feel that if more people understand how human choices and actions are triggering problems like sea level rise and severe weather conditions, they will be more likely to ameliorate their lifestyle in an earth-conscious way.

8.Short and simple: What do you demand from your government as far as climate change is concerned?
I demand that the US government 1) reject the Keystone XL pipeline and 2) take climate change seriously by passing laws that are in line with the science and protect our planet and its inhabitants.  This isn’t a game. Our future is at stake.


April 1, 2013



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Gianna Gruen | Reporter's Log

Exploring the North (1): The Arctic circle

Freezing temperatures, darkness, vast icy landscapes –  that’s  what I’m expecting within the next days as I journey northwards through Sweden and Norway. Maybe those are just stereotypes I have as I travel towards the Artic circle (and actually even cross it into the Artic region). I’ll soon find out. But I’d like to take you along on my exciting journey.

Credit: Map courtesy The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. Treeline added at NSIDC based on information from National Geographic 1983, Armstrong et al. 1978, and Young 1989.

What is so special about the Arctic circle?

The circle of 66,65° latitude (commonly) defined as the Arctic circle, above which the sun doesn’t rise or set for at least 24 hours a year. In fact, in most regions these states last for several month of the year. Additionally, temperatures can fall below -70 degree Celsius and usually do not rise higher than 10 degrees in summer. That may not sound very comforting. But, actually there are several animals, plant species (there are more than 400 flowers that can only be found North of the Arctic circle) and people who live and flourish here – traditionally as well as for research purposes.

Because living beings have to be well-adapted to such tough conditions in order to survive, the regions and its inhabitants are especially sensitive to changes due to global warming. Scientific measurements showed that temperatures in the polar regions are two to three times quicker than in other regions. That is why it is said to be the planet’s early warning system.

What’s next on this journey?

I’d like to show you how a relatively rich country like Sweden harnesses green energy sources – and why some people protest against it. In addition, I hope to introduce to you some non-human climate rescuers.

You can follow my journey here on the Global Ideas Blog and see my travel route on this map:

Journey to the Arctic circle auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

(Green icons: been there, blue icons: places to visit later on)


March 5, 2013



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Gianna Gruen | Ideas

Is the ocean to quit it’s job?

Silently and mostly unrecognized, ocean is doing a yet quiet good job for the climate: it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and dumps it into the deep. That is one of the reasons, why climate did not further heat up within the last decade – although world keeps emitting lots of CO2.

But now researchers found that the Atlantic ocean absorbs less CO2 than usually – and also figured out the reason for this. It’s because the so called “meridional overturning circulation” slows down. Before you now think “I’ll never get this” – hang on. Sounds more complicated than it actually is.

The overturning circulation works like this: In the Atlantic ocean, water flows northwards – from the warmer Southern part into the colder Northern part. There, the water cools down, becomes saltier and sinks into the deep. There this so called deepwater flows back towards the South, warms up there and is welling up in consequence. Back at the surface in the Southern hemisphere it is, where ocean water takes up the antropogenic CO2.

(Public domain: Robert Simmon, NASA)

Now, due to global warming, also ocean surface water – even in the Northern usually colder part of the Atlantic – warms up – and does not sink to the deep. This in turn slows down the overturning circulation. In consequence of this slowing, CO2-saturated water is not dumped into the deep as usual, but stays rather close to the surface. In consequence, less CO2 can be taken up from the atmosphere.
So the research team scientifically proved that we actually are destroying those natural systems that normally help keeping CO2 levels low – by emitting more and more CO2 and warming up the planet with its ocean.


February 24, 2013



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