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Showing posts from 2011

Quarrying the Antarctic for climate

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In 1773, Captain Cook described the great southern continent Terra Australis Incognita as ‘A country doomed by nature never once to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays but to lie forever buried under everlasting snow and ice’. But is it? We used to think of Antarctica being completely insulated from the rest of the world, effectively stuck in an ice age which most of the planet finished with 12,000 years ago. Disturbingly, there are signs that the image we’ve conjured up in our minds of a frozen continent is fast disappearing. Across this vast region, the last few decades has seen trends above and below the ice that are far from encouraging. Warming has been observed across large parts of the continent and it seems most probable its down to our high-energy lifestyles that has seen us flood the atmosphere with carbon.


Unfortunately, Antarctica’s connection to the rest of the world means this special part of the world is not immune to rising greenhouses in the atmosphere. As the planet war…

Review of Ian Plimer's 'How to get expelled from school'

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I was in two minds about looking at this book, let alone reviewing it. I had been a real fan of Plimer’s earlier work when he challenged young Earth creationists on their beliefs and showed how they twisted data and used statements out of context to put across a terribly skewed view of our planet. A few years ago I had been sent ‘Heaven and Earth’ to review and had assumed it would do the same with the so-called ‘climate sceptics’. Instead the opposite was the case. ‘How to get expelled from school’ is a follow up, designed to encourage students to question the science of climate change.
Scientists have to explain their work to the public; to inspire, to enthuse; to show the relevance of what they do. In a time of austerity, it is no longer good enough to take the public money, keep busy, out of sight, and hopefully out of mind. Scientists largely communicate with one another through journals few people can afford or understand. As a result, efforts to provide a context for the public …

Sub-Antarctic exposure

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In 2010, I was fortunate to be involved in an exciting piece of research led by Matt McGlone at Landcare Research in New Zealand. Published in Nature Geoscience, we reported a long-term record of vegetation and climate change on a sub-Antarctic island known as Campbell. Located at the far southern end of the Pacific, Campbell Island sits at an impressive 52˚S, entirely surrounded by ocean. By looking back through the ancient peat sediments on the island, we found large changes in the different types of preserved pollen grains over the past 18,000 years. It all pointed to big swings in vegetation across the island. Fortunately, because the vegetation is very sensitive to summer conditions, we were able to get a handle on temperatures in the past. Fascinatingly, the island temperatures didn’t appear to track those recorded by ocean cores from the region. 
Previous work on temperature records from this part of the Southern Ocean had consistently shown warming began at the end of the last …