Video: How Tiny Sea Monkeys Drive Huge Ocean Currents

Remember those old sea monkey kits, with the pictures that made it look like you could raise tiny mermen in a fish tank? My parents never bought me one (despite my best efforts), but apparently a lot of kids were severely disappointed when their freeze-dried eggs hatched and looked like this instead:

This Is What Sea Monkeys Actually Look Like.

Well, it turns out that we may have dramatically underestimated the sea monkey (a.k.a. “brine shrimp”). According to a new study, the movement of sea monkeys and other small sea creatures could influence ocean circulation patterns on a global scale—to an extent that rivals the wind and the Moon.

Sea monkeys travel in large groups, and their movements are dictated by the Sun. During the nighttime, they come closer to the water’s surface, and in the daytime they swim deeper. Knowing that, researchers from CalTech used laser lights to manipulate the movements of sea monkeys in a tank, and recorded their motion. As the shrimp swam, microscopic silver-coated glass spheres in the water helped high-speed video cameras capture the water movements. Check out the video below:

Each individual shrimp only generates the tiniest of currents, but when many shrimp swim in tandem, they generate a current that’s stronger than the sum of those created by each individual. “When a bit of water is pushed by one animal, that water moves downward by a small amount and then stops moving,” study author John Dabiri explains to Popular Science. “If two animals are swimming close to one another, the downward ‘push’ they give to the water is more than what would happen if a single animal pushed the water twice.” And when a larger group moves together, he says, they produce strong downward jets with swirling currents on the side.

Here’s another video, just because it’s so flippin’ cool. In this one, the colors indicate particle velocity.

Though the experiment took place in a fish tank, the researchers think that the collective action could be powerful enough to influence broad circulation patterns. And if other small sea creatures influence water flow in similar ways, it could mean that together they add a trillion watts of power to the ocean’s currents. That means that even the most minuscule organisms could drive the distribution of salt, nutrients and heat throughout the oceans, and they may even influence climate.

The study was published in Physics of Fluids.

Sea Monkey Swirls.
This timelapse image shows the circulation patterns as the sea monkeys (white) move through the water and glass particles (yellow).
M. M. Wilhelmus and J. O. Dabiri/Caltech

Dramatic Ice Loss Is Messing With Antarctica’s Gravity

2014 ESA ice sheet antarctica gravity dip
Ice loss causes gravity dip
Decreasing ice mass on West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 led to dips in the region’s gravity field, according to the European Space Agency. This image shows the “vertical gravity gradient change” based on data from two Earth-monitoring satellites. The redder areas experienced the greatest gravity shifts, but the overall change in gravitational force was very slight.
ESA, DGFI/Planetary Visions

Just when you wondered if climate change news couldn’t get much worse, along comes proof that it’s affected one of the fundamental forces of nature: The ice sheet covering West Antarctica lost enough mass between 2009 and 2012 to cause a measurable dip in the region’s gravity field.

As Eric Holthaus noted in Slate, it’s a very small decrease in gravity, far from enough to send any penguins, sea lions, or research scientists floating into space. But the finding is especially troubling combined with the news Popular Science reported back in May, that the collapse of some West Antarctic glaciers due to rising global temperatures is now very likely unstoppable. “The biggest implication is the new measurements confirm global warming is changing the Antarctic in fundamental ways,” Holthaus writes.

According to the European Space Agency, scientists discovered the gravity change by combining readings from the ESA’s GOCE satellite, which has been taking high-resolution measurements of Earth’s gravity for the past four years, with those of the American-German orbiter GRACE, which uses gravity data to measure changes in ice mass. This animation shows the two data sets overlaid:

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

Climate change is having other measurable impacts on the southern continent. Data from the ESA’s CryoSat satellite shows that West Antarctica’s seasonal ice melt has sped up by a factor of three since 2009, and that Antarctica has shrunk in volume by 233 cubic miles since 2011.

It’s true that the extent of Antarctic winter sea ice has grown over the past few years. It would be a relief if this suggested that global warming is ebbing, but no. As the ozone hole over the continent has shrunk, it’s letting in less UV radiation — which, along with complex ocean circulation factors, is a much more likely reason that there’s a bit more sea ice encircling the South Pole.

Climate Week 2014: The Wrap-Up

March for climate action
Two days before the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon (right) joined over 300,000 people to march in New York City for action on climate change.
United Nations

As Climate Week NYC slips into the rearview mirror, what can we take away? Did anything, you know, happen?

Yes … sort of. From the sci-tech perspective, important energy and conservation agreements were announced. Now the hard work of putting them into action begins for the pledgers and signers, as well as those watchdogging that process.

It may not sound like much, but intent must exist for action to ensue, right? So if you’re into environmental conservation — particularly, curbing climate change — these agreements are worthy of some renewed optimism.

Here are some developments that blipped our tree-friendly radars:

New York Declaration on Forests

It’s impressive: 32 national and 20 local or regional governments, 40 companies, 16 indigenous peoples groups, and 49 non-profits have all pledged cooperation to halve current rates of deforestation by 2020. Beyond that, the coalition has promised to restore hundreds of millions of acres of former forestlands and to halt global forest destruction entirely by 2030.

Razing and burning forests accounts for about 10 percent of present global carbon emissions, or 3.6 billion tons of CO2 a year. Currently eight football fields worth of forest is degraded or destroyed every ten seconds, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

So if it’s successful, the plan’s impact on carbon dioxide emissions could equate to taking every single car on Earth off the road. In the U.S. alone, tailpipe emissions account for one-fifth of the nation’s annual 5.833 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. It would also mean an awful lot to the dozens if not hundreds of animal and plant species that call these forests home now and will need room to move as temperatures rise in coming decades.

Importantly, many corporations and indigenous groups are partnering on this effort, along with governments and conservationists. But so far, Greenpeace International is not among them, stating that the plan is neither ambitious enough nor firmly grounded in tangible action. Neither is the nation of Brazil, home to roughly 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest (although the government has stated it intends to cut deforestation roughly 25 percent by 2020).

As part of the declaration, Norway, the U.K., and Germany among others pledged $1 billion to developing countries such as Liberia and Peru for preserving forests.

Palm Oil Pledge

As Popular Science reported live from the climate summit last week, a coalition announced a new commitment to stop tropical forest and peatland loss related to the palm oil industry. A widely used ingredient in processed foods, palm oil has become a lucrative industry that is helping millions escape poverty. But the enormous demand also drives rampant deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia as growers clear land for palm oil plantations.

Major palm oil consumers Asian Agri, Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources, Wilmar, along with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, say they’ll work with the government of Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, to plant new palms and conserve forests that have been cut down as a result of the palm oil industry. They have also pledged to stop buying palm oil from suppliers that destroy forests for the creation of plantations.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it is dropping all of its investments in fossil fuels -– about $60.2 million, or 7 percent of the total $860 million endowment –– in favor of renewable energy. While the greenbacks involved are a relatively small amount compared to the trillions invested in global oil, coal, and natural gas, the symbolic splash is huge: Heirs to a major oil fortune are pulling their money out of the industry. The move will likely put wind under the wings of the fledging international fossil fuel divestment movement, which has been targeted largely at universities and cities so far.

ICYMI: A Quick Recap Of Climate Week 2014:

On September 23, several dozen heads of state, including President Barack Obama, came to the United Nations for a one-day “climate summit.” Scads of business and industry leaders, scientists, and non-profit advocacy and civil society groups also took part.

It was the first time since 2009 that the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, had nestled a day full of climate change-centric programming into the yearly schedule of the U.N. General Assembly. In 2009, official climate treaty talks were scheduled with the intention of producing a strong global climate treaty later that year — one featuring defined and legally binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the U.S. and other industrialized nations. But the Copenhagen talks were a flop, leaving negotiators and climate activists flailing. 

Five years later, many negative impacts of climate change have become even more visible worldwide, as Popular Science often reports. That fact helped get 300 to 400,000 people (including many scientists and the people who love them) from around the country and the world onto the streets of New York City just a couple days before the climate summit on Sunday, September 21. They marched to demand climate change action, and even the march’s organizers claimed to be surprised by the heavy turnout.

Hundreds appeared again the next day, September 22, for “Flood Wall Street,” using the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street protests to keep media attention on climate change.

polar bear arrest wall street nyc
Polar Bear Arrested
At “Flood Wall Street,” a protester dressed as a polar bear — a species already facing changes in its habitat and prey because of global warming in the Arctic — gets arrested by the New York Police Department on Sept. 22, 2014. The demonstration was held to get attention on climate change.

The science behind climate change is well-accepted in most nations, and the urgent need for action has been well-explained to heads of state by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the U.N.’s own climate science body). So this latest unofficial climate summit was more about staking out positions on contentious issues ahead of official climate treaty negotiations that will occur over the next 14 months. That process will culminate late next year in Paris at the 21st official U.N. climate conference, where a new international climate pact is supposed to be finalized.

Climate finance is one of the most challenging issues negotiators will try to resolve in the coming year. A financial entity called the Green Climate Fund” (GCF) has been set up to take in contributions from industrialized nations. (Richer emerging economies, such as China and Mexico, may end up contributing as well.) The fund will distribute money to developing nations to help those countries pay for low- or no-carbon economic development projects, such as expanding their energy generation capacity with renewables like sun and wind, instead of fossil fuels. These types of projects fall under the buzzword “mitigation.” The GCF is also intended to help pay for resilience-related projects, such as strengthening infrastructure to withstand global warming impacts like sea level rise — efforts that are termed “adaptation.”

Donor nations have been dragging their heels when it comes to putting money into the pot, however. There have been disagreements over how the funds will be managed. Many questions remain: Should donor nations have any say over how the funds are allocated? Will countries receiving funds be required to report back on how they’re spent?

Disagreements over emission cuts remain equally fraught. What share of curbing present-day pollution will be taken by the world’s poorer nations as well as the richest? While there were unofficial side talks on this issue last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s no-show at the summit (Modi pointedly arrived in New York afterwards, for the General Assembly and other events) underlines that India will be hard to bring around on cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, which are now the world’s third-largest.

How An Evangelical Christian Researcher Reconciles Science With Her Faith


Editor’s note: Our profile of Bill Nye [September 2014] elicited an impassioned response from readers. We received more than 100 letters, many from readers grappling with how to reconcile scientific concepts like climate change with religion. We asked climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, why science doesn’t have to conflict with faith. (We wrote about Dr. Hayhoe previously in July.) Popular Science does not necessarily support or endorse the views expressed here. The text has been edited for grammar and style.

We often perceive science and faith as two opposing camps, facing off against each other across a chasm. It’s a chasm that seems to grow deeper as the number of topics over which we disagree multiplies, rather than decreases, with time. Adherents on one side dig in and point to their evidence: data, theories, and models. The other side does the same: the Bible, divine revelation, personal belief. Often it seems like these can never be reconciled.

I’m a scientist. I have a bachelor’s degree in physics, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in atmospheric science. I study climate change. My work relies on those same lines of scientific evidence — observations, physical principles, experiments and models. I’m also a Christian, though. I believe that the universe exists because of someone greater than us who — as the Bible tells us — spoke it into being.

I see science and faith as two sides of the same coin. They each provide us with something that we cannot get from the other. And when they disagree, it’s usually because we are interpreting one, or the other, or both of them too narrowly.

In the future, with more information — as in the case of Galileo, where the science was true, or the “static universe” theory of the 1700s, where the theologians were closer to reality — we may eventually be able to build a bridge across our chasm, and meet in the middle. And in the meantime, a little humility, and willingness to disagree with respect and understanding, can get us a long way.

The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that “faith is … the evidence of things not seen.” By definition, science is exactly the opposite of that. Science is the evidence of things that are seen, observed, documented, quantified, measured.

In my own area of climate change, science can tell us that we have a problem: Climate is changing. Science can tell us why it’s happening: It’s us. Science can even tell us what the outcome of different choices will be: If we continue to depend on fossil fuels as our primary source of energy, the impacts will be severe and even dangerous; if we reduce our emissions and transition to non-carbon fuels, the impacts will still be serious but it will be easier to adapt.

But science can’t tell us what we should do about it. That is a value judgment. How much is too much risk? How much suffering is justified in the name of short-term economic gain? For many of us, our values come from our faith, and the core value of the Christian faith is to love others as Christ loved us, and to love our God with all our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. Today, when we look at the impact our energy choices are having on our neighbors here at home and around the world, it is clear from our values that doing nothing about climate change or, even worse, refusing to acknowledge the reality of this problem is 100 percent inconsistent with our faith.

My science tells me that climate change is real, that it’s affecting us here and now, and that our choices today carry tremendous consequences for our future. It’s my faith, though, that keeps me going day after day — a faith that motivates a hope for a better future, and a love for the people and the world that God has created.

Science On Ice: 7 Antarctic Experiments To Keep An Eye On

Since the 1950s, a small but growing number of international scientists have spent months at a stretch on the world’s most remote continent: Antarctica. This year, 29 countries will host research programs there, meaning about 800 scientists and support staff will venture south for the summer season, from October to March. The U.S. Antarctic Program alone will field more than 100 projects, many of which will be making up for lost time; sequestration kept some expeditions off the ice in 2013. The U.S.-led projects will investigate a number of critical questions, including how climate change is unfolding and what the earliest moments of the universe were like. Here are seven experiments to keep an eye on. 

Antarctica map
Seven experiments to watch this year on the Antarctic continent
Katie Peek

 Marine Food Chain

The Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 281-foot icebreaker-equipped vessel, carries the AMLR team across the sea in search of a two-inch crustacean called krill. Penguins and whales—and humans, too—rely on krill as a food source. After three decades of study, ecologists knew little about their winter patterns. The AMLR team is in the third year of a five-year survey to map the distribution of krill—which like to hide under the sea ice—with acoustic sounding equipment. The work will help the U.S. manage the Antarctic krill fisheries.

 Global Ice Melt

GPS and seismic sensors embedded in the Antarctic ice make up PoleNet—the Polar Ice Observing Network—together with sensors in Greenland. This year, the team will add three new stations—each with about 3,000 pounds of monitoring equipment. The data help geoscientists predict how the Earth’s crust will rebound as the Western Antarctic ice sheet melts. The project might confirm whether the melting is a runaway process—as other researchers found earlier this year—and if the rebound could lead to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

 Evasive Particles

Astronomers have been trying to detect neutrinos, the elusive particles whose signatures help them understand mysteries like how supernovae work and what dark matter is, for decades. Traditional neutrino detectors, like Super-Kamiokande in Japan, are water tanks built into abandoned mines. But researchers on the IceCube team figured out how to make a detector 20,000 times bigger than Super-Kamiokande, for just twice the price. Instead of tanks, they use a cubic mile of near-perfectly-transparent ice of Antarctica, with 5,160 optical sensors drilled more than a mile deep. More than 30 neutrinos have been picked up since the detector started operation in 2010. This year, the team will be testing the computers they installed last year in an effort to make the detector more autonomous, and hope to find evidence for where in the universe neutrinos originate.

 The Infant Universe

In March, cosmologists reported a major result from the BICEP2 telescope: evidence of the once-speculative theory of inflation, the violent expansion of the universe the instant after the Big Bang. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and other astronomers have called for more research to repeat—or disprove—the experiment. This season, BICEP3 deploys. With five times more sensors than its predecessor and triple the field of view, it should help confirm or deny the BICEP2 finding. 

 Microbes In The Dark

Biologists know little about how microorganisms that rely on the sun for energy also survive dark polar winters. So the ALPS team has set up sensor stations in two ice-covered lakes, each equipped with algae detectors, phytoplankton samplers, and water chemistry analyzers for year-round data collection. This season, the team gets a first look at over-winter data. The results could help astrobiologists predict whether similar microbes might survive on other ice-covered bodies like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

 Hidden Stars

Because Antarctica sits right at the pole, Earth’s otherwise chaotic atmosphere is stable and predictable there. That means giant balloons—some are wider than a football field and as tall as the Washington Monument—can circle the continent but still land close to their launch point. This season, the Long-Duration Ballooning team’s payload is a 1,700-pound gamma-ray telescope, sent up to watch stars that the atmosphere conceals from the ground. The technique yields spacecraft-quality research trips for a fraction of the space-launch price tag. 

 Penguin Evolution

Because penguins are a key predator, they indicate how the Southern Ocean ecosystem is adapting to climate change. The Penguin Science team is using a 45,000-year record of bones and eggshells preserved in the Antarctic ice—along with data from 15 years of banding live Adélies—to decipher how the species is adapting today. This year, the team will focus on whether birds’ foraging prowess is a learned skill or inherited trait—and whether the ability will survive as sea ice melts.

Plus, McMurdo Station Gets A Makeover

The National Science Foundation is planning a multiyear upgrade to McMurdo Station, the largest and most active base on the continent. Potential overhauls include replacing many of its 100-plus structures, adding new wind turbines, increasing bandwidth, and upgrading instruments for Crary Lab, the main research facility. Technicians may even receive a DARPA-style research wing—dedicated to the development of advanced gliders, robotic field stations, and automated traverse vehicles, all purpose-built for polar expeditions.

Map data courtesy U.S. Antarctic Program; Penguin colony locations courtesy H.J. Lynch and M.A. LaRue; Sunrise data courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory.

Correction (9/22/2014, 7:30 p.m. ET): The original version of this map mislabeled the two Autonomous Lake Profiling and Sampling stations as being in Blood Falls and Lake Whillans. Both are at Lake Bonney, near McMurdo Station. The map has been corrected. We regret the error.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title “The Lab At The Bottom Of The World”.

The Week In Numbers: Crabwalking Robots, Ferocious Fungi, And The Future Of Game Of Thrones

Clay Model.
AMNH/D. Finnin

165: number of pounds Lonesome George weighed at the time of his death, before scientists stuffed and mounted him for display.

2: the number of rubber bands needed to build your own shoebox phone projector

100,000,000: amount of money in American dollars the President of Korea pledged at the UN Climate Summit to help developing nations undertake low-carbon economic growth.

Tumbling Alone

250,000: number of seeds a tumbleweed can spread as it rolls. Scientists are researching two species of fungi that can limit the reach of these troublesome weeds. 

Packed up Crab Walker
The Crab Walker is shown here with its rear and forward leg mounts retracted to enable movement over mountainous terrain with its main eight legs, as it keeps up with Chinese infantry., via Hongjian at China Defense Forum

8: number of limbs the new cannon-carrying robot, called the Crabwalker, might scuttle around on, as designed by Chinese engineers.

Laboratory Examination Of Ebola
© Luchschen /

1.4 million: number of people who possibly will contract the Ebola virus by January 2015, as predicted by the CDC.

980,000: number of people who might die from the disease in the next six months.

The Last Gladiator
Evel Knievel didn’t undersell his 1974 feat. “When I make that jump,” he said. “I’ll be competing against the toughest opponent of all — and that’s death.”
Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

1,600: length in feet of the Snake River Canyon that daredevils are attempting to jump in homemade vehicles. Evel Knievel famously failed to jump the canyon in 1974.

25,600: frames of video the new slo-mo camera Phantom v2511 can capture in one second.

Why so pouty, Jon Snow?
Home Box Office

60: percentage chance that Jon Snow does not die, according to a Game of Thrones-themed mathematics paper. The paper’s authors used the Bayesian method to predict plot outcomes in future Song of Ice and Fire novels.

Earth’s Water Is Older Than The Sun

A Star Is Born.
Some of Earth’s water started out in an interstellar cloud (top left) that later got incorporated into the fledgling solar system.
Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO

Since water is one of the vital ingredients for life on Earth, scientists want to know how it got here. One theory is that the water in our solar system was created in the chemical afterbirth of the Sun. If that were the case, it would suggest that water might only be common around certain stars that form in certain ways. But a new study, published today in Science, suggests that at least some of Earth’s water actually existed before the Sun was born — and that it came from interstellar space. 

That’s certainly something to ponder the next time you drink a glass of water. But the discovery is also cool because it means water — and maybe life — may be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy. 

“If water in the early Solar System was primarily inherited as ice from interstellar space, then it is likely that similar ices, along with the prebiotic organic matter that they contain, are abundant in most or all protoplanetary disks around forming stars,” study author Conel Alexander explained in a press release

The researchers concluded that a significant portion of Earth’s water came from interstellar space by looking at the relative abundance of hydrogen and deuterium. 

Deuterium is like hydrogen’s heavier brother. Both atoms have one proton in their nuclei, but deuterium contains an extra neutron, and it mostly forms under special conditions. In interstellar space, for example, water ice contains lots of deuterium, thanks to the freezing cold temperatures and ionizing radiation. Earthly water contains some deuterium, too, but in low quantities — up to 30 times less than interstellar water.

Looking at a water sample’s ratio of hydrogen to deuterium can tell you about what conditions were like when the water formed. But until now, scientists weren’t sure whether Earth’s deuterium came from space, or whether it was cooked up in the birth of the Sun. 

To find out, researchers used mathematical models to virtually recreate the young solar system’s protoplanetary disk — the cloud around the newborn Sun. They found that, based on the temperature and radiation conditions that would have existed back then, it wasn’t possible for the young solar system to create the ratios of hydrogen and deuterium that scientists observe in Earth’s oceans and on comets. Because of that, the researchers estimate that anywhere between 7 and 50 percent of Earth’s water had to have come from the interstellar medium in which the solar system was born.

And since other solar systems would have formed in the same interstellar medium, the findings suggest that the origins of water on Earth were not unique, and that the thirst-quenching, life-supporting substance may be common on exoplanets throughout the galaxy.

Throwback Thursday: The Rise Of Digital Photo Sharing, Computer Viruses, And The Laptop

September 1989 Cover
Popular Science

On this Throwback Thursday, we go back 25 years to the Popular Science of September 1989.

The Snapchat Of The VHS Era?

A technology covered in our magazine may have eerily foretold the coming of the social media revolution. Called “Videofax,” it brought together videotape, computer, and fax technologies to create an early photo sharing service. And its description sounds oddly familiar:

“Picture this: Use your video camera to photograph a child, a vacation scene, secret documents—whatever. Now plug the camera into your computer and see a single frame displayed on the screen. Then whisk that image instantly over a telephone line to any fax machine in the world, so that a friend, grandparent, or master spy gets the image, pronto.”

“Dream stuff? No More.” If only we knew how far that dream would take us.

Computer Viruses Were Pretty Scary

Already security firms like McAffee were on the job of keeping computer viruses out of delicate systems. “Like a biological virus that takes over a living cell, a computer virus contains a set of coded instructions that enable it to invade a host, replicate, and infect new hosts,” one article reads.

Just how big a danger viruses, trojans, and worms posed was an open question. After all, not that many computers were infected yet, and getting infected often involved physically loading a bad disc into your machine. Still, the article contains the seed of what was to come. “Less than a year ago,” we noted, “a programmer unleashed a massive attack on Internet [sic], a nationwide network linking military, academic, and industrial research facilities.”

The article closes with this from a leading anti-virus programmer named Ross M. Greenberg:

Greenberg, who offers a reward to anyone who turns in a virus writer, has appended an appeal, addressed to ‘slimebuckets’ like The Plague to his virus-protection program: ‘You have the talent to do something good with your life. What you’re doing is hurting the industry and hurting the community, which would welcome someone with your talents with open arms. And the satisfaction of helping far surpasses the satisfaction you must get from hurting innocent people. So just stop.

Of course, we all know how that worked out.

Global Warming Was Getting Scary Too

This explainer on global warming shows just how long climate scientists have been concerned about the impact of climate change on the environment. Our reporter tells the story of a man killed for protesting deforestation in the Amazon. “A death in Amazonia is inextricably entwined with the fate of the planet. Such connections are of paramount importance in understanding what contributed to the greenhouse effect and why making definitive predictions about its consequences is so difficult.”

They didn’t have the data and real-world effects we do today, but scientists were headed in the right direction and sounding the alarm:

The truth is that while many uncertainties remain—especially over regional effects—and specific projections continue to stir controversy among research institutions, the web of scientific evidence draws ever tighter. It comes from 160,000-year-old Antarctic ice, from satellites peering down at Earth’s atmosphere, from monitoring stations on volcanic peaks, and from the exhalations of cattle. And it points ever more persuasively in one deriection: Earth is warming up at a rate not witnessed for eons.

The spure is the intervention of a rapidly expanding human population impinging on a global system in a mesh of complex processes, feedback loop within loop.

We might not have made as much progress by now as we had hoped in 1989 (August was the warmest month since record keeping began) but this Climate Week, there’s hope once again for a change.

A 1989 Graphic Explaining The Greenhouse Effect
Popular Science

The Portable Computer Got More Portable

Machines that looked a bit like laptops were just coming on the market, and we were excited. “Move over, luggables—you’re no longer as transportable as you once were. Now designers have cut the weight of new portable computers in half—down to five pounds and less—but without eliminating features you need for heavyweight computing.” The proto-laptops had some drawbacks (some lacked essential components like disc drives), but a 50 percent cut in weight is nothing to sneeze at. That trend of miniturization continues today with the smartphone in your pocket.

The Astounding Shrinking Computer Of 1989
Popular Science

You can read the complete September 1989 issue here.

Kicking Ice And Taking Names

The Polarstern

To get a grip on climate change, researchers must go to where it’s changing fastest. Even in winter’s deep freeze, this 387-foot steel vessel pulverizes ice floes to study greenhouse gas concentrations and ice melt at the poles. “Polarstern is able to take scientists to fantastic environments where other ships can’t,” says scientific coordinator Rainer Knust. Three decades of data from the icebreaker’s expeditions help climatologists better understand and predict rates of change. In October, the ship will shove off with a new underwater drill capable of exploring the geology 250 feet below the Antarctic seafloor. 

By The Numbers

20,000Combined horsepower of the ship’s four diesel engines

-58Minimum temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, at which Polarstern’s engines still function

4.92Thickness, in feet, of ice it can break through while maintaining a speed of 5.8 mph. (It can get through thicker ice by ramming.)

1,620,000Miles Polarstern has traveled in its lifetime, equivalent to 67 circumnavigations of Earth 

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Popular Science.

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