On Thin Ice: Part 11

A web comic by Callisto

Hello, wonderful readers! Sorry for the wait on this part. I actually created this almost two years ago, but I hadn’t published it, yet. I hope to get the next part out faster than this one, but my life has been full of activities. Thank you so much for being patient!

-Callisto 

Click here to read On Thin Ice:  Part 10, Part 9, Part 8Part 7Part 6Part 5Part 4Part 3Part 2 and Part 1.

Evidence in The Ice

Have you ever found yourself wondering: “Maybe we didn’t cause Global Warming? Maybe it was just nature?”

If so, I don’t blame you. There’s tons of evidence of global climate change in the past, before we humans came on the scene and started using fossil fuels. 

For example, there have been changes in global temperature due to volcanic activity and other natural phenomena.

Here is a graph that shows this fact.

Image credit, NASA. (Data from ice-core samples in Antarctica.)

 

So, what makes scientists think that the present climate crisis is any different? 

The difference in this period of climate change isn’t just 1) how abrupt it is, or even 2) the fact that it started at the beginning of the industrial revolution, when people started burning fossil fuels.  (Although both these facts are proven, too).

What separates this period of climate change from natural ones in the past can be found in the coldest place on earth..

If you still doubt that humans are causing global warming, go to Antarctica. There, in a remote outpost, you will find scientists working in one of the harshest environments on earth. Why are they there? They are drilling into the ice. And not for oil—no! For… more ice.

You see, when snow falls in places as cold as the Arctic and Antarctic, it doesn’t melt. It just builds up, and gets heavier and heavier, until its own weight weighs it down so much that it compresses into ice.  Since snow is made up of 90% air (which is why it’s light and fluffy when it falls), this compression pushes the air out. But some of it stays inside the ice as little air bubbles. 

So as you can imagine, if the snow fell, say, two thousand years ago, never melted, and instead compressed into ice, wouldn’t some of the air bubbles trapped inside also be from ten thousand years ago? Yes!  And these are little samples of the air from that long-ago time.

The scientists in Antarctica are studying these air bubbles for that reason. They want to study the air from long ago. The air around the world is mostly the same at the same time, so if the air in Antarctica was composed of certain things, probably the air of the whole world at the time was composed of the same things—-giving the scientists the longest and best record they can get of what the climate was like throughout history.

So, scientists can get the ice and study it to find out, for example, how much carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere at a certain time. 

 

Now, here’s another thing I need to tell you: You know plants breathe in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, right? Well…Plants are picky eaters. Yeah, you heard me right. Plants prefer one isotope*(See definition at bottom) of carbon dioxide over another. There are two main isotopes of CO2, carbon 13 and carbon 12. Carbon 12 is the lighter type, and it’s the type all plants prefer… even the plants, say in the time of the dinosaurs.

So, when those prehistoric plants died, they kept the carbon 12 in their remains, and over time those remains became fossils. Now, we’re pumping them back up as fossil fuels. Hence the name, right? 

Well, since those plants mostly contained carbon 12, so do the fossil fuels. And when we use fossil fuels and release them into the atmosphere, changes happen:  the atmosphere’s level of carbon 12 goes up, and the level of carbon 13 goes down.  And that’s measurable.

Image credit: kottke.org

 

As you can see in this graph, the level of lighter carbon (carbon 12) went up, while the level of carbon 13 (mostly caused by volcanic activity) went down. 

This is incredibly substantial evidence that humans, who released the carbon 12, are the culprits of our current climate change.

 

*Isotopes are like types of atoms. Atoms, which are the building blocks of all things,  are made of different compositions (amounts) of their own building blocks––electrons, neutrons, and protons––depending on what they are part of or what they are creating. Carbon 12 contains six neutrons, six protons, and six electrons, giving it an atomic mass (size or weight- amount) of twelve. Carbon 13 contains six protons, six electrons and seven neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 13.

 

Underwater Perspective

by Callisto

You step into the warm sand and wiggle your toes. Then you run towards the ocean, and you can hear the laughter of kids building sand castles and splashing in the salty water. When you reach the water, a smile comes to your face; it seems like an endless expanse of swimming pool. You step deeper into the water and waves lap around your knees; then you step in even deeper, and the sea is up to your waist; next, you bend down, and let the water slip around your shoulders. You let out a cry, because the water is cold; your bathing suit won’t protect you much from that. Then you leap forward and start swimming.

Your arms and legs paddle the water, and propel you farther into the ocean. You take a deep breath and close your mouth, then dive into the blue sea. You had put on goggles to protect your eyes, so you are able to see through the water. You swim downward, and touch the sand that has settled at the bottom with your hands. The sand slips through your fingers and makes a cloud around your arms, before drifting back down––or being carried away––by the ocean current. By this time you need air again, and swim back up to the surface.

Once your head breaks through the surface of the water, you gasp in lungs full of air, but once you catch your breath you don’t hesitate to dive under again. This time you see pieces of shells mixed amongst the sand below. You see a conch shell, and your heart soars with delight; it is whole, not a chip of it is missing. You reach down to grab it, but it moves just beyond your grasp, so you swim closer to it…but again it seems to move further away. You try to grasp it a few more times, but just as before, it never lets you touch it. You look around to see if any of the other shells are affected by the waves, but they haven’t moved a bit. When you look back down at the conch, you realize that it is ten feet below you now. How did it do that? you wonder. You swim toward it, hoping to just grab it…

Suddenly, you realize that you’ve been underwater for almost a minute, and your lungs are screaming for air. You look up, and see the surface far above you. You didn’t notice that you’d swum that far down! A strong current comes out of nowhere, and drags you farther out to sea. You kick and fight the water around you, but it does nothing. The current is too strong. Panic flares through your body. Are you going to drown down here? What are your parents and friends thinking, back up on the beach? Did they see you go under, and are they calling the lifeguard? Or are they all too busy chatting, and have no idea that you are sinking into the ocean’s depths?

All of a sudden, you realize that you are now being carried into a reef. Had you not been in life-or-death danger, you would have been star-struck by the beauty of the diverse corals and other aquatic life around you. You thrash in the water, and notice that you’ve caught the attention of a creature, but you don’t know what it is, because you only see it out of the corner of your eye. Then, you see the conch in front of you, and nearly gasp with surprise. You grab out for it, and to your shock and delight, your hand wraps around it. Suddenly you feel rejuvenated, as if your lungs are full of air again. How did that happen? You don’t care; you’re just glad that it did.

Now, you notice your surroundings. You gaze at the reef in awe. The vibrant colors around you dazzle you, and with the hand that isn’t clutching the conch, you can’t help but reach out and touch a orange brain-coral you drift by. A school of blue fish swim around you and tickle you with their soft fins. A large smile spreads across your face; this feels like a dream. You let the current drag you along, although it’s not nearly as strong as before, and you could easily swim against it if you wanted to.

A sea turtle swims by, but when she sees you, she turns her head away from you defensively. Why would she do that? You’re a human, not a shark; you don’t mean it any harm. The reef suddenly disappears below you, and you find that you are now floating above an underwater cliff. You gaze down it, and stare deep into the fathoms of the ocean and the darkness beneath you. Your curiosity calls you to swim down, and see what lies in the world beneath you. You follow its command, and slip downward, still clutching the magical conch. As you swim leagues beneath the surface, you almost forget that you are a land creature, instead of one of the sea.

When the chill of the deep water creeps into you, you look around, and for a second, you wonder if you have swum into outer space. The only light around you now is the twinkling stars. Or are they stars? They are stars––the stars of the deep sea. They are the light that the creatures down here give off to communicate or lure in lunch. They are stars of bioluminescence. You reach forward to an especially bright star, and find that it is a dragonfish. The small creature looks somewhat like something out of your nightmares, but it also brings a sense of calm to you. It is welcoming you to its home. You follow it as it swims through the abyss, and it shows you the grandeur of its habitat.

You would have followed it forever, if something had not told you to go up. But which way is up? You don’t know for sure, now, but your legs and arms direct you that way. When you go up, you squint, as you are wrapped in warmth and light. The dragonfish cannot follow you, so you say goodbye. When you reach the top of the cliff again, you look around you.

Your heart fills with horror. Everything is lifeless. At first, you think that you are in the wrong place, but recognize the shapes of the coral…or what used to be coral. The skeletons of the coral are pale and brown. A plastic bag drifts by. A plastic bottle lies in the sand. Oil, darker than night, slides around you. How did this happen? How long were you gone? You swim sorrowfully through the dead reef. Even the current seems dead. The sea turtle you saw before swims by, one of her flippers wounded. Now you know why she had turned away from you: she knew what humans could do.

Now, she just looks at you with deep sadness in her eyes. She knows that you, as an individual, are not to blame; it is your kind that are to blame. Your tears mix with the salt water as you think, “It doesn’t have to be this way…it doesn’t!” The turtle turns her gaze away from you. You feel shame for your kind. Having arrived on the beach once again, you sink to your knees in the sand. “It doesn’t!” you exclaim again.

Suddenly your eyes open. You are lying in your bed in your house.

It may have been a dream, but you know that what you saw in the dream is true. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” you say aloud, and with all your heart you know that this is so. But will you do anything to prevent it?

That’s up to you.