Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Climate Change has altered gravity

I have been immersed of late in the subject of climate change.

I'm teaching a science course called Humanity in the Universe.  The central idea is to educate college students as to what our place in the natural world is, how the natural world affects us, and how our actions in turn affect it.  There is no greater example of all of that than the phenomena of climate change.  As if to underscore this fact, a new finding has been announced.

Rising temperatures have caused ice to melt in Antarctica.  Billions of tons of ice every year, as a matter of fact.  So much mass has now been lost that there has been a measurable change in the Earth's gravity.  Not an especially significant change or one that you would even notice, but that's not the point.  What is pertinent here is that there is yet another piece of concrete evidence that climate change is real and its alterations are especially visible on the Antarctic continent.  After all, this news comes on the heels of findings that West Antarctic glaciers are in utter collapse and that all of this will inevitably lead to a rise in sea levels.

But wait, gentle ESE reader.  You protest?  Gravity is a constant, you say?  Well, yeah.  Thing is though, gravity is inextricably tied to mass.  When something loses mass, that affects gravity.  In fact, there are slight variations in gravity across the Earth depending upon the thickness of the rock where you're standing.  Or in the case of Antarctica, the ice.

Just add one more log of evidence onto the climate change bonfire (how's that for a metaphor?)  If I have anything positive to say, it's that the kids get it.  For the most part, my students see climate change as a very real and even self-evident occurrence.  Sure, there are few holdouts, self-identified conservatives who don't believe humans are the cause of sea level rise or hotter summers.  Others still don't think things to come will be anywhere near as dreadful as what we climate change "alarmists" are saying.  For the most part, however, the kids get it.  As for the others, who knows?  Maybe they see Antarctic ice melt as a real estate opportunity.  Yes, it's an open window for the young venture capitalist who wants to hold new lands in demesne.

Just like in my novella, Nothing Left But the Cockroaches.  But I digress...

I'm fully aware that such a minuscule (yet appreciable) change in gravity is not going to alter your lives all that much.

Then again, you may want to look out for that iceberg.

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