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Scientific message in a bottle

In 1959, geologist Paul Walker put this note into a bottle and left it buried inside a pile of rocks in a remote part of the Arctic. More than just a "GEOLOGY WUZ HERE" sort of message, though, the note requested that whoever found it measure the distance between the cairn that contained the bottle and a nearby glacier and send the measurement to him. The goal: To document whether the glacier was advancing or retreating.

A group of scientists discovered the message this summer and followed its instructions. What they found is probably unsurprising to anybody who has been paying attention to the state of Arctic ice over the last couple decades. In 1959, the cairn and the glacier were 168.3 feet apart. Today, there is 333 feet between them.

Phone app helps visualize sea level rise

Looking Glass is a prototype phone application that allows you to see the future of sea level rise right in front of your face. There have been some other programs aimed at visualizing sea level rise recently — Drown Your Town, which adds rising water levels to Google Earth, is the most famous example. Looking Glass is a little bit different in that it moves the sea level rise to a first-person point of view. So you can drown not just the town, but your living room, or the people standing directly in front of you.

Right now, Looking Glass is a prototype that only works for the town of Wickford, Rhode Island. But it's a cool concept that could be expanded to a larger number of cities, later on. The goal, says creator Eli Kintisch is to make the invisible visible — to take things that we can only read about in dry scientific papers and show us what they'd really be like to live with.

'Rising Seas,' long-form radio doc on climate change by Alex Chadwick and 'BURN: An Energy Journal'

My friend, former NPR colleague, and longtime journalism mentor Alex Chadwick has an incredible new radio documenting hitting the public radio airwaves this week. We're sharing it here on Boing Boing before it hits the radio-waves. I asked Alex to tell us a little about 'Rising Seas.' He explains:

The Rising Seas project grew out of an encounter at an MIT energy seminar almost a year ago. I met an Americanized Brit, Dr. Len Berry, from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He's been speaking forcefully and clearly about the threat that rising seas present. At the end of his talk, I asked if Miami is a viable city. He smiled and answered, 'well, it is right now'.

And then I asked about the end of the century. He smiled again, but said nothing.

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Climate change and the point of no return

Eric Holthaus reports on the aftermath of last week's climate change report, which found that anthropogenic causes are almost certainly behind global warming.

Without jumping up and down on the desks of their computer terminals, this forum of scientists has done about as much as they can do. With this report, they have proven humankind’s impact on the climate, and confidently projected dire consequences should world governments fail to act immediately.

An interesting way of explaining scientific certainty and climate change

There's a new IPCC report coming out and that, inevitably, leads to confusion about what scientists mean when they say things like "we are 95% certain that climate change is being caused by human behavior." The AP's Seth Borenstein used this as a jumping off platform to talk about certainty, and other (less popularly/politically controversial) ideas that also have 95% certainty attached to them. Are scientists 100% sure that climate change is caused by people? No. But they're at least as certain of that fact as they are of the fact that smoking is hazardous to your health. Maggie 68

What's climate change ruining today?

Crunchy, tart apples — defined by some* as the only kind of apples worth eating — could soon be threatened by changing climates. A study of 40 years worth of harvests from Japanese orchards growing Fuji and Tsugaru apples found that, over time, those varieties have become softer and sweeter — a fact that's probably driven by warmer temperatures prompting earlier flowering of the trees. Maggie 32

You can go wading in the lake at the North Pole

Last week, Dean told you about the lake at the North Pole, a pool of melted ice captured on camera by the North Pole Environmental Observatory webcams.

At Climate Central, Andrew Freedman provides some really fascinating context that illustrates the changing nature of, well, nature ... and draws a big, heavy underline on how difficult it can be to make assumptions about what is and what isn't an effect of climate change. Arctic sea ice is melting in concert with rising global average temperatures, but (contrary to the knee-jerk assumption I made about this story) the lake at the North Pole may or may not have anything to do with that. In fact, little pools have been forming at the North Pole in summer for as long as we've been paying attention. They don't actually represent the total melting of ice, but rather a layer of slushy water that forms on top of solidly frozen ice — usually, you could wade out through them and never get more than waist-deep.

What's more, the picture above wasn't taken at the North Pole. That's because the North Pole Elemental Observatory — which sits on mobile ice — has moved far from the actual North Pole since its launch. So, there probably is a lake (more of a pond, really) at the North Pole, but it might not be caused by climate change. While this lake, which isn't at the North Pole, could well be part of the melting sea ice that climate change does cause. But it also might not, because what happens as a result of climate change is always layered on top of stuff that just happens. In order to be able to tell the difference, you have to do a lot of scientific analysis — much more than you can get from one picture.

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Randall Munroe finishes "Time," the 3,099-panel XKCD serial


Randall Munroe has finally finished Time, his 3,000+ frame slow-motion animation that began life as wordless, enigmatic single-panel XKCD installment. Since then, the panel has been slowly, slowly updating itself, running out its course over several months. Geekwagon has collected the whole series in an easy-to-control window, and the story, taken as a whole, is a beautiful and odd existentialist parable touching on the discovery of geographic knowledge; cultural first contacts; environmental disaster, friendship and ingenuity. (Thanks, @dexitroboper!)

Meltwater lake forms at North Pole

Photo credit: NOAA

NOAA's Arctic division maintains a couple of webcams at the North Pole, and one of them is showing a pretty impressive meltwater lake forming around it. Previous years show small ponds forming and refreezing throughout the summer, but this year nearly all the snow in view of the camera has melted into a lake-sized slush.

Check out this time lapse video of the lake forming. Much more photos and videos from this year and previous years at NOAA's website.

Evangelical Christian scientists in Oklahoma

This is not the story you're expecting. Instead, Tulsa TV news channel 6 is reporting on a group of 200 Oklahoman evangelical Christian scientists who have banded together to urge Congress to both accept the science of anthropogenic climate change, and take action to prevent the worst of its effects. Stuff like this is important. Research shows that one of the best ways to change minds on controversial social issues is to have the mind-changing message delivered by someone who is part of the community to be changed. Messages from insiders are more convincing than lectures from outsiders. Maggie 19

Climate change creating "heat islands" for blacks, Asians, Latinos in US

Writing at GRIST, Susie Cagle points to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which finds that "not all neighborhoods and racial groups are faring equally" as climate change raises temps in urban areas: "According to the research, blacks, Asians, and Latinos are all significantly more likely to live in high-risk heat-island conditions than white people." Xeni 2

Flooding in Toronto

Toronto experienced 100mm of rain yesterday, resulting in widespread flooding. 300,000 people were without power for a time, and a GO commuter train had to be evacuated. Edward Vielmetti has rounded up some of the most dramatic photos tweeted by people on the scene.

July 8, 2013 Toronto flooding (via Interesting People)

Risk of forest fires rising near Chernobyl

A trend towards drier, hotter summers in the forests around the abandoned nuclear power plant at Chernobyl has increased the riks of forest fires in the region — which is a big deal, considering the fact that trees and plants in the area have absorbed some of the radioactive isotopes from the 1986 disaster. If they burn, more people will be exposed to airborne particles. It's a small fraction compared with the people exposed by the original Chernobyl power plant fire, but still dangerous. Maggie

Our planet just had the third warmest May in recorded history

Earth experienced its 8th warmest spring on record, and the third warmest May, with average global temperature in May 1.19 degrees F. above the 20th-century average, matching 1998 and 2005 for the third warmest May dating back to 1880. WaPo: "The global temperature has been above average now 339 straight months (more than 28 years). The last time global temperatures were below average (February, 1985)." Xeni

400 ppm carbon dioxide? In my atmosphere?

It's true, at least for today. Although the real concern in climate science is average concentrations of carbon dioxide over much longer periods of time, surpassing the 400 ppm mark, even for a day, is a historic milestone. 400 ppm was once a level we talked about avoiding altogether through mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Now, it's a reminder that we're not really doing anything to circumvent the steady increase in global carbon dioxide concentrations and global average temperature. Happy Friday! Maggie