AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: global warming

Glaciers Hold Less Water than Previously Thought. Is this Good?

Last summer in Alaska, I was kayaking up to the Holgate Glacier when I noticed the water getting colder. I began to feel the katabatic winds as I got even closer to the massive wall of ice. Small ice chunks began to surround the kayak, and I could see the fast moving silt deposits flowing beneath me. I then heard a noise which boomed and echoed off of the surrounding mountains, and I saw a massive chunk of ice break off (“calve”) from the glacier and plummet into the sea. I’ve always known that climate change was happening, but seeing it before my eyes reaffirmed my fears.

Aialik glacier pano 2

Holgate Glacier, Aialik Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska

I’m not here to talk about my fantastic trip to Alaska, but rather to talk about the new scientific findings which will further predict the climate change battle. Previously, scientists believed that warmer-than-average temperatures can begin to melt glaciers, causing the sea levels to rise and cause disastrous flooding. Just recently, satellite image glacier research spearheaded by Romain Millan of Grenoble Alpes University in France has determined that glaciers hold 20% less water than previously thought. This means that, if all of the glacier ice were to melt, that the seas are predicted to rise 10 inches instead of 13 inches.

This is great news, right? Well, some could argue that less flooding means less disaster (landslides, wipe out infrastructure, etc), and that it’s good news. But it’s not, because even if the sea levels were to rise just a few inches lower, still 29% of the entire world’s population would be predicted to be immediately affected by flooding, and within a few days, 99.9% of the entire world’s population would feel the indirect effects through shortages or outages. In addition, less water quite literally means “less water.” 2 billion people currently rely on glaciers as their primary source of water, so “less water” would effect them through a drought. As

Parque estatal Chugach, Alaska, Estados Unidos, 2017-08-22, DD 94

Glacier at Chugach State Park, Alaska (which I too visited)

we’ve learned in AP Biology, water is one of the most, if not the most, important molecules to biological existence. A drought can affect human life from hundreds of angles, such as famine, or more immediately, dehydration. Water is extremely crucial to performing catabolic reactions such as hydrolysis, which we learned in AP Biology.

Factoring in mountaintop glaciers and their water content, Millan is able to determine the rate at which communities will run out of water. But for the non-alpine communities, these mountaintop glaciers are only a tiny drop in a large bucket. Millan’s research lacks one major component: the antarctic and arctic glaciers. If these unbelievably large ice fields continue to melt at the current pace, 90% of the United States is predicted to be underwater by 2050. To be honest, I believed this statistic was exaggerating until just recently. In Alaska, one of the glaciers named “Exit Glacier” had markers at the glacier’s terminus for each year. As I got closer to the glacier, I noticed the markers getting further and further away, signaling that the glacier was melting quicker and quicker. Take a look at the graph below, specifically how the year intervals begin to get smaller, and let me know how it makes you feel in the comments. Although it does not take a trip to Alaska to realize that climate change is really happening, new and emerging headline-worthy research like Millan’s is truly highlighting the immediate issue we all could face soon.

Exit Glacier Terminus Position From 1950-2020



Human Disruption: Main Cause of Climate Change


Live Science, in a recent article about climate change, claims that according to a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there are many significant impacts that have occurred on our precious planet. Marine life overheating as it grasps for oxygen in warming oceans, rising seas swallowing islands and coastal areas, storms growing and causing flooding, coral reefs dying, rare species going extinct, are just some of the events that have occurred due to climate change. These are now used as a wake up call, implying that there’s far worse to come if we do not control human-driven climate disruption. 

The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate presents its latest evidence that climate change is already underway and we are “on thin ice and running out of time to act,” said Bruce Stein, chief scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

One of the main causes of this climate change are fossil fuels. If the use of these fossil fuels isn’t reduced and if global warming continues, it could have a huge negative impact on both wildlife and humans. Researchers recently found more than 200 dead reindeer in Norway; they starved to death due to climate change, which disrupted their access to the plants they eat. After the precipitation froze, creating “tundra ice caps,” a thick layer of ice that prevented the reindeer from reaching vegetation in their usual winter grazing pastures. This forced them to dig pits in shoreline snow to find seaweed and kelp, which are less nutritious than the reindeer’s usual fare.

In addition, there are several other effects that human activity has had on the environment. According to the IPCC report, 50% of the coastal wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years due to the results of human pressures and extreme climate events. They predict that by 2100, seas could rise by more than three feet, which could result in the displacement of millions of people. They also predict that by 2050, marine heat waves will be 50 times more frequent and the uppermost ocean zones could lose more than 3% of their oxygen, eliminating populations of marine animals and harming fisheries. Glaciers could be reduced by as much as 36%, affecting about 4 million people who live in the Arctic and around 670 million people who inhabit mountainous regions. The widespread loss of ice and snow could lead to water shortages, affect food security, and cause intense droughts and wildfires. Evidence has also suggested that warming oceans have caused an increase in tropical hurricanes according to the report. 

The Earth’s fate lies in our hands.  Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC, says that we can control global warming if we create advances to all aspects of our societies, such as energy, land and ecosystems, urban and infrastructure, and industry. Roberts also suggests we must as early and decisively to avoid permanent changes and risks, all in an effort to improve our lives and achieve sustainability around the world. It will require “unprecedented” political actions to eliminate all the impacts that human-made carbon has created on our oceans. The youth are our strongest supporters to prevent the most severe consequences to our planet. 


Warming Up This World

      The article,Oceans Are Warming Even Faster Than Previously Thought” by the University of Berkley adds to the ongoing conversation about global warming and our world’s future. This research expands on the idea that scientists must look at ocean temperatures in order to fully understand this phenomenon instead of using data that is susceptible to yearly changes like El Nino. Evidently, it was estimated that ninety-three percent of excess solar energy is in the world’s oceans, thanks to greenhouse gases.

     Models like the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 state that the temperature of the top two thousand meters of the ocean will rise .78 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Thermal expansion, because of this rise in temperature, will cause sea levels to rise 12 inches without the addition of melting glaciers and ice sheets. In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report accumulated that research models have shown that there has been a faster increase in the excess heat from the oceans. Moreover, around four thousand “diving robots” called Argo have been monitoring many of the oceans conditions like the temperature, pH, salinity as well as other data. Before this exciting new technology, most of the data was collected using a technology called expendable bathythermographs. However, this only collected data on water temperature only once. The updated research techniques use the atmosphere’s oxygen content to determine the speed of global warming while taking into consideration burning fossil fuels, of course. This is because warming oceans release oxygen.

     Overall, I believe the path that global warming scientists are beginning to explore is crucial to understand the necessary changes we must take to take care of planet earth. From this research, it is obvious that actions even as simple as recycling initiatives are crucial to reduce greenhouse gasses and hopefully prove the CMIP5 model and other models wrong by slowing down or even preventing global warming and climate change.

Would you fuel your car with leaves to end global warming?


Leaves are the most abundant product on earth and now can be the answer to end global warming.


Speaking on behalf of my family, we cannot agree on anything! Ironically, we have one tradition that we all agree on. On Sunday evenings, we order take-out food and watch 60 Minutes. Typically, episodes contain a couple segments on current global or domestic political issues, but this past week was different. This past week the last segment was about an unlikely inventor. This inventor was a senile 81 year old man that has quoted himself as the messiah that is here on earth to solve global warming although his drivers license says Marshall Medoff. Mr. Medoff , the unlikely inventor asked  himself, “how do I change inedible plant life into transportation fuels?”


Toiling without an answer, Mr. Medoff went for a stroll around the Walden Pond in the middle of Fall, noticing the vast quantities of leaves and natural debris that covered the ground. Mr. Medoff realized that if he could gain mass quantities of sugar molecules he could solve this issue! When continuing to walk around the pond, Mr. Medoff realized that if he could extract the cellulose from the cell wall of the abundant leaves and natural debree, that he could change the course of history, forever. One may ask, how does this work? It’s simple! In the most basic terms, electron accelerators fire energy downward towards the biomass, breaking the cellulose away from the cell wall, and generating the biofuel.


In reality, I cannot discredit this phenomenal invention as it tackles global warming daily, but we need to take it a step further. This invention will only take roughly thirty to forty percent of the global fossil fuels market and uses only renewable and vastly abundant products. Overarching, this is a phenomenal start, but we as a society are still dependent on fossil fuels, which are depleting quickly. You may ask, SAMonella, What’s next? Personally, I don’t know, but we must continue to invent and create new forms of biofuels and start to become less dependent on fossil fuels. If this trend continues, as a society, we could change the global warming debate for the better! Save the turtles!


Thank you!


From your favorite bacteria,



Diversity in Forests Will Save the Earth

Global warming is a fast approaching problem that the human race cannot ignore. It is caused by a number of factors, including the overuse of fossil fuels and farming. These things release the greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere and contribute to the overall problem. As humans, we are in no rush to stop doing these things, as they provide transportation and food. However, there is one more factor that is more easily controlled than the former; deforestation. Deforestation actually affects the environment differently than burning fossil fuels and farming in that it doesn’t produce more greenhouse gases- it strips the earth of it’s ability to metabolize gases-namely, CO2-into oxygen. The solution easy; just plant more trees, right? While not inherently wrong, research has shown that there is a smarter way to do it

Aftermath of Mexican forests burned for agriculture.

The smarter solution is as simple as planting different species of trees instead of just one type. BEF-China was started in 2009 as a community effort between Germany, Switzerland, and China- an experiment to record the changes when biodiversity was altered. What they found was incredible; more than twice as much carbon was stored in the plots with more species than in those with monocultures. This was not the first time species-rich environments were tested, though; this project is backed up by and based on a series of experiments done in the 1990s, where it was found that each species differs in its ability to capture certain resources. This biodiversity will not only work in the limitation of multiple types of resources, but will also provide habitats for other animals, increasing biodiversity not just in plants, but wildlife as well.

If nothing else, this new research will inform forest clearers’ decision making. It is improbable that humans will suddenly stop needing lumber, but small steps such as clearing monocultural forests instead of diverse ones will make a big differences. Because of the rising interest in the replanting of forests, this information can improve daily life in that respect. The point of no return is coming upon us, and it is important that we as inhabitants of earth do everything we can and do it intelligently.

Climate Concerns and Rising Sea Levels: Antarctic Edition

    Photo Source

   Climate change has been a recent concern as it affects all aspects of human life. More evidence to climate change and the rise of sea levels was expressed in a very recent study conducted by IMAS PhD student: Alessandro Silvano. By doing so, he ultimately found that this process quickens the rate that ice melts and sea levels rise.

The study was conducted using ocean measurements off the coast of east Antartica. The study showed that glaciers are freshening the ocean, as the glaciers do not consist of salt. This dilutes the natural salt content of the ocean. He found that the melted water from the glaciers causes the ocean’s surface layer less salty and more buoyant, which prevented deep mixing during the winter months. Therefore it allowed warm water to retain its heat and melt glaciers from below. This process allowed the water to exist in layers, similar to when one attempts to mix oil and water. The study found a positive feedback mechanism, in which glacial melt water caused further melting of ice shelves, leading to an increase in sea level.

In some areas around Antartica, the study also found fresh meltwater decreased the formation and sinking of dense water. This results in decreasing the rate of ocean circulation, which stores heat and carbon dioxide. Because the cold glacial melt waters cause a slowing of the currents, which then decrease the ocean’s ability to decrease carbon dioxide and heat from the atmosphere. These two processes feed off of each other and induce and speed up climate change.

I enjoyed reading this article because I am personally passionate about decreasing the rate of climate change and educating myself on global warming. Backing global climate change due to its concerning effect – only one of which is sea level – with scientific evidence is important for gaining support of our communities.

Secondary Source Article: The Washington Post: One of the most worrisome predictions about climate change may be coming true

Global Warming can alter the shape of the planet

Climate change is an element in our world which has been around for many years. It has been believed to cause warmer oceans and erratic weather, but a new study, according to scientists, declares it also has the potential to alter the shape of the planet we live in. Global Warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. (read more about Global Warming) Michele Koppes,  assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, conducted a five year study in which she compared glaciers in Patagonia and in the Antarctic Peninsula. Koppes and her team discovered that glaciers in warmer Patagonia moved faster and caused more erosion than those in Antarctica, as warmer temperatures and melting ice helped lubricate the bed of the glaciers.

global warming

 Glaciers erode 100 to 1,000 times faster in Patagonia than they do in Antarctica.   “Antarctica is warming up, and as it moves to temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius, the glaciers are all going to start moving faster,” states Koppes. These ice sheets are apparently beginning  to move faster and should become more erosive. As a result, this will dig deeper valleys and shed more sediment into the oceans. The outcomes of this erosion add to the already complex effects of climate change in the polar regions.  “The polar continental margins in particular are hotspots of biodiversity, If you’re pumping out that much more sediment into the water, you’re changing the aquatic habitat,” Koppes states.  The Canadian Arctic, one of the most rapidly warming regions of the world, will most definitely feel these effects. These glaciers are on the verge of a major shift. The Canadian Arctic is becoming warmer in temperature more than four degrees Celsius spanning over the last 50 years. These glaciers will be flowing up to 100 times faster if the climate continues to shift and shifts above zero degrees Celsius. The findings by Koppes settle a scientific debate about when glaciers have the greatest impact on shaping landscapes and creating relief, suggesting that they do the most erosive work near the end of each cycle of glaciation, rather than at the peak of ice cover. If global warming continues to occur, change in formation of landscape due to higher water levels from melting glaciers is a strong possibility and may already be taking place. This will significantly affect all forms of life on earth.


Original Article:



Forests and their Carbon Dioxide Intake

According to a study conducted by NASA, different types of forests have different intakes of carbon dioxide. The study concludes that of the 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide absorbed annually, tropical forests absorb around 1.4 billion metric tons of that amount. This is a greater amount absorbed than the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere. NASA scientist David Schimel characterized these findings as “good news” because the boreal forest absorption rate of carbon dioxide has been declining. However, scientists believe that tropical forests can continue to intake large amounts of carbon dioxide for many more years. Therefore, the fact that tropical forests play a large role in the absorption of carbon dioxide provides hope that nature will continue to limit the net carbon dioxide emissions that humans pour into the atmosphere.

Scientists have concluded that if the rate of absorption of carbon dioxide by forests slows down, then global warming could occur much faster. Previous studies had suggested that boreal forests might absorb more carbon dioxide than their tropical counterparts; however, this study finds that carbon dioxide absorption occurs more frequently at higher temperatures, indicating that tropical forests have the highest intake. The increased human emission of carbon dioxide gives the forests more fuel to grow, a process called carbon fertilization. Conversely, the climate change brought about by increased carbon dioxide emissions has caused water shortages in some areas as well as an increase in temperature, both factors facilitating the spread of wildfires. The burning of wood caused by these fires further increases the carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite the continual problems caused by increased carbon dioxide emissions, this study still provides hope for the near future. Not only can tropical forests continue to absorb high levels of carbon dioxide for many more years, but also this study might serve as a stepping stone for more complex research of emissions on a global scale that could facilitate the discovery a solution to the problem of global warming.


Too Hot to Handle?

Climate scientist Axel Timmermann has recently stated that “this summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year.” Timmermann has been studying the global climate system and according to his studies, the “Global Warming Hiatus” came to an end in April 2014.

He says that the North Pacific has been the cause of most of the global ocean warming, whose temperature has risen far above any recorded temperatures, has shifted hurricane tracks, and has changed trade winds. There has even been coral bleaching in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Apparently, this began in January 2014 when the sea-surface temperatures suddenly began to rise at an unusual rate. Then in April and May, the warm waters of the western Pacific spread to the eastern Pacific, releasing large amounts of heat into the atmosphere. This heat hadn’t been in the atmosphere for nearly a decade.

Ocean Temperatures

(Sea Surface Temperatures 2003-2011)

Timmermann says that “record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures.” These warm temperatures have been spreading all the way to the Gulf of Alaska.

As this 14-year break in the ocean warming comes to an end, more questions come to the surface: What can we do? What other effects will this have on other environments? Will there be another hiatus?

Certainly this is just another piece in the puzzle of the larger global warming issue, and if it isn’t reversible, how can we stop other similar issues?

Deforestation is Out of Control

Deforestation has always been viewed as a problem by modern observers. No one can deny that the cutting down of forests is necessary for economic development and continued prosperity in some lumber rich nations, however, things are getting out of control. In a recent study, it was revealed that a total loss of 2.3 million acres of forest was destroyed in between 2000 and 2012. To put that amount in perspective, it is equivalent to six Californians or the entirety of the United States east of the Mississippi River. This massive loss of forest land was countered by a gain of only .8 million acres, resulting in a 1.5 million acre net loss of forest land around the globe.

According to Ritchie King, a reporter on the subject, “Deforestation at this scale is having a tremendous ecological impact, on both species and climate. From 2000 to 2011, deforestation effectively added 14.5 billion tonnes (16 billion tons) of carbon to the atmosphere, about 13% of the world’s total contribution to climate change.”  Some nations who, in the past, have been the greatest culprits of deforestation, such as Brazil, have cut back their logging and have greatly reduced the rate at which land is cleared, however, in other parts of the world, particularly Indonesia, (if you scroll to the bottom of the article there is a graphic) deforestation has sped up rapidly. Not only does deforestation threaten the world as a whole through the production of a large precent of the earths greenhouse gases, but it also threatens the delicate forest ecosystems around the world. Heavy deforestation in areas with Rain forests, such as Brazil and Indonesia threatens the unique species of plants and animals which live there, and threatens to reduce the biodiversity present on Earth.

Deforestation in Brazil

The Great Barrier Reef Not So Great?


Image By Paul Holloway, Flickr

The first adjective I use when thinking about the Great Barrier Reef is great. But, according to a new study published by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville, Australia, it is rapidly shrinking. The shrinking is due in part to the recent storms, an increase in the number of crown of thorns starfish in the reef and coral bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral in just over 27 years. John Gunn, the CEO of AIMS, said that we must “… adapt to the challenges of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification.” He goes on to say, “We can’t stop the storms but, perhaps we can stop the starfish.”

Another concern for the Great Barrier Reef is that if this trend of shrinking continues at the rate it is going, then by 2022 the coral could shrink in half again.

But, there is some good news for the reef. It is able to regenerate itself. It will take about 10-20 years for the reef to fully recover, that is if it does not shrink in size anymore than it has already. This is quite near impossible though because there is no way to stop storms or ocean warming, which causes coral bleaching. The ocean warming stems from Global Warming, which is an epidemic in itself. The only thing that we can help to prevent is the crown of thorns starfish from destroying the reef. Scientists can continue to study them to find out how to reduce their numbers in the reef. Without the crown of thorns the reef with increase by 0.89% per year, a small recovery for the Great Barrier Reef. The whole process will take time, but if successful we can save the Great Barrier Reef from becoming a thing of the past.


Global Warming is now affecting the next Ice age

Carbon dioxide emissions in our atmosphere are not only creating global warming but are disrupting the earth’s environmental cycle. Ice ages  occur very rarely in the earths history but it is essential to the earths environmental cycle. According to a study done at Cambridge University, University College London, the University of Florida and Norway’s University of Bergen, the high levels of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere has disrupted this cycle and the next ice age is delayed to at least 1500 years

An Ice Age is a period of time where the earth’s temperature is consistently low resulting in ice sheets and glaciers. Long-term reduction in the earth’s surface temperature and atmospheric temperature creates ice sheets and glaciers. The glaciers reflect the suns energy and absorb less energy. Earth is currently in an interglacial period, warm period, for 10,000 to 15,000 years.

The study was conducted at Cambridge University, University College London, the University of Florida and Norway’s University of Bergen; they used rock samples and information about the variations in the earths orbit. Through research they figured out that the next ice age will not be until 1500 years. However, it will only occur in the next 1500 years if carbon dioxide emissions do not exceed 240 ppmv and we are currently at 390 ppmv. Carbon Dioxide emissions are rising not decreasing so the next ice age might be delayed longer than 1500 years if we do not reduce carbon emissions.

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