Climate change causes glacial river in Yukon to change direction

from CBC News…

Glacier retreated so much that its meltwater switched course, in an event not documented in modern times.

Climate change has caused the massive Kaskawulsh Glacier in the Yukon to retreat so much that its meltwater abruptly switched direction, in the first documented case of “river piracy” in modern times.

Instead of flowing into the Slims River and then north to the Bering Sea, the water has changed course and now flows south toward the Kaskawulsh River, the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean, scientists have found.  Read more…

Latest GeoNews

You may have noticed, I’ve update the GeoNews “window” on the landing page. Using Google Docs and “Publish to the Web”, I finally found a way to update GeoNews without having to go into the web-authoring app I’m using. This is just too easy!!

The latest update includes:

Canada moves ahead with carbon taxes, leaving the US behind Canadians too often look south for guidance when, in fact, they can be (and are) leaders (MIT Technology Review)
How an Ancient Greek mathematician calculated Earth’s circumference
A great, short video (Business Insider via
Solving the mysteries of the MonsoonScientists have just returned from a groundbreaking research campaign to understand the Indian monsoon (
Unearthing a Giant Marine Reptile – nearly 75-foot-long ichthyosaur fossil found in the limestone banks of Sikanni Chief River of BC (NatGeo)
Health Canada proposes ban of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticide (
Notre Dame Must Vacate 2012, 2013 Football Wins Over Academic Violations (NPR) Plagiarism costs! Dearly!
Sea Ice Reaches a New Low  Sea ice in the Arctic is about 2m km² smaller than its November average (The Economist) 
You may be higher up the global wealth pyramid than you think IF YOU had only $2,220 to your name, you might not think yourself terribly fortunate. But you would be wealthier than half the world’s population… (The Economist)
Canadian Index of Well-being  Is our overall quality of life getting better or worse? Are we getting closer or moving farther away from realizing the kind of Canada we want to live in?  (Univ of Waterloo)

…all well worth the reading!


Weekend Wandering 6: Why do many reasonable people doubt science?

whydoubtscienceTypically, Weekend Wandering posts take the reader to a website filled with links allowing you to surf in a variety of different directions. Today’s post is the opposite. The essay by Washington Post science writer Joel Achenbach, posted on National Geographic last week – Why do many reasonable people doubt science? – is an exploration of your own thoughts and meanderings about science and how you might interpret it.

From my perspective, the most prescient quote of the whole article is from Marcia McNutt, editor of the journal Science:

Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.

The trouble is, we’ve been led to believe by the media and by pseudo- or pop-scientists in the media that science has all the answers. Then, when science is “wrong” or the “answers” turn out to be untrue, all of science is questioned. What science actually does, is provide possible answers, theories, typically, but not always, with 95% significance, knowing that there are other possibilities – but people and the media gloss over that part. As Joel Achenbach states:

Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation.

The other problem is that “science” has been co-opted by corporations to generate income. Too often, with motives of profit, science and ethics are often blurred in the business world. Add to that governments who often see their job as supporting and promoting business and we get disasters like Thalidomide.

Furthermore, we get corporate claims like “GMOs are being developed to feed a hungry world” and it’s no wonder people are questioning “science”. (Aside: Let’s face it, rightly or wrongly, GMOs are being pursued to increase profits through a host of questionable ethical practices, not the least of which is tying the sale of pesticides to specific GMO seeds).

What about climate science? Why does one detractor garner as much attention as a thousand legitimate climate scientists? The media hides behind their attempt to provide “balance”, yet, where’s the balance if a thousand people say one thing and one person says another and they both get equal air time? Any good scientist welcomes alternate views, but why is that one detractor is given equal weight when their legitimacy is clearly in doubt due to their salary or research grants being funded by big oil? The the real problem is what’s going in the background which is often obscured by the bigger foreground discussion.

“Real” science is complex. One must think to understand. So, it’s no wonder that pseudo-science, “pop” science and the media portrayal of science have caused people to question all science. How does the average person possibly judge the difference in a 30-second sound bite or a one-column article? Perhaps we must look to education… have we created a class of people educated enough to understand a little, but not academic enough to delve deeper? Has our teaching of “critical thinking” failed us in that we’ve produced critical thinkers who don’t have the discipline to learn before thinking? Perhaps Alexander Pope was correct when he said, in his 1709 An Essay on Criticism:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Anyway… I’ve said enough. Read what Joel Achenbach has to say…

And – Happy Valentine’s Day!

NASA “gets” Global Climate Change

IMG_3495Of all the US organizations and institutions, I think NASA is one of the few that gets Global Climate Change correct. Their website Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet is a wonderful, media-rich website.

First of all, the people at NASA call it Global Climate Change (like the rest of the world) and not Global Warming. Americans seem to have attached themselves to this simplistic notion that it’s all about warming. Yes, Earth is warming as a whole, but it’s the climate changes that occur as a result of that warming that we need also to focus on such as flooding, drought, the increase in storm frequency and severity, etc. Furthermore, if they were to look beyond the averages, they would realize that amongst the warming, some places experience slight cooling.

Secondly, NASA leads with the global perspective – difficult to find in U.S. media. On the Images of Change page, for example, the lead visual is flooding in Mozambique from January 2015, followed by urban growth in Egypt. Imagine, leading with Sub-Saharan Africa; quite atypical of western media in general. And, the fact that the floods are topical and were so poorly covered by western media, despite almost 100 deaths, only goes to strengthen the significance of the NASA site. Keep up the great work, NASA!

For more information on Global climate Change, visit > Anthroposphere > Issues > Climate Change.

7:16am – It’s a Snow Day here in southern Ontario – more time to get out for a ski and explore Geography online!

Climate change explained

climatOn, you will find a whole page of links to help you understand Climate Change. One of the sources listed there is from the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. It has an excellent section called The Ultimate Climate Change FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) which offers a different way of accessing information – one that may be easier to access rather than wading through paragraphs of information.

Berkeley Earth

WinterTchangeWant climate data? How about data going back to the 1700s and data for 40,000 locations around the world? If you need an example of “big data” this is it – and it’s free and openly accessible for students and educators (and anyone else interested!) and is called Berkeley Earth.

What I found particularly intriguing is that Berkeley Earth is an independent, not-for-profit organization and their data and methods are completely transparent and open to scientific scrutiny. They tell us exactly how they go about their climate analysis and, as mentioned above, provide all their data. Having the data available allows educators to design a plethora of activities for students to learn data mining, mapping and charting and analysis – all with real climate data.

To quote their “About our Data” page, “The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study has … combin[ed] 1.6 billion temperature reports from 16 preexisting data archives. Whenever possible, we have used raw data rather than previously homogenized or edited data. … [T]he current archive contains over 39,000 unique stations. This is roughly five times the 7,280 stations found in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) that has served as the focus of many climate studies. ”

TO-ClimateChangeFor interest sake, I navigated to the Results by Location page and looked up Toronto, shown here. Incredible! it states, rather matter-of-factly that, based on aggregate historical data, the mean rate of temperature change around Toronto is 5.38°C (±0.41) – higher than I expected, but that seems to fit the model for more northern areas seeing a higher-than-global rate of temperature change.

Interestingly, rather than reporting using specific data from individual stations, with all their inherent sources of error, Berkeley Earth have worked to reduce error by averaging with nearby stations, thus creating a series of averages based on latitude and longitude. For this reason, the data for Toronto are the same as the data for Guelph as they both represent the location: 44.20 N, 80.50 W.

I can envision having students who are new to the notion of climate change (Mmmm, my Gr 7s come to mind…), building a global picture of climate change themselves based on this data and some interesting mapping features in Google Sheets (which we, as a school, use). this sounds like fun!

The Precarious Gulf Stream

GulfStreamOur European friends certainly rely on the wonderful warmth brought tot them each winter by the Gulf Stream – North Atlantic Drift. I lived in Germany for three years and in England for another three years and in all that time, I think I saw snow on the ground for a total of two weeks (other than when skiing in the Alps!). Despite being further north than where I am here in southern Ontario, Western Europe just does not get snow on a regular basis – all thanks to the Gulf Stream – North Atlantic Drift warm ocean current.

But all that could change… When we lived in England a few years ago, there was talk of how the melting of Arctic ice due to Global Climate Change could shift the North Atlantic Drift southwards. This video – The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age – explores that possibility. Although 52 minutes long, and a bit repetitive (as made-for-TV documentaries often are), it is a good watch and has some very good footage and graphics to share with classes.

For more information about Climate Change, visit > Climate Change.