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Associated Press/Photo by Louise Murray/Rex Features

Losing cool

Science | Sea ice is melting at the North Pole, but climate activists may be overreacting

Issue: "Inside Election 2012," Oct. 20, 2012

By the sound of some reports, you’d think this summer marked the end of the Arctic. The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a record low Sept. 16, covering only 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “We are in a planetary emergency,” warned NASA climate scientist James Hansen at a press conference. Another researcher predicted Arctic ice might be gone by 2020.

Observers less inclined toward alarmism offered two points of clarification: First, “record low” actually means “33-year low,” since satellite measurements of Arctic ice date back only to 1979. Second, while Arctic ice (North Pole) reached a record low this year, Antarctic ice (South Pole) was more widespread than normal—and has grown by about 3 percent in the past three decades.

Not so fast, countered Michael D. Lemonick, a science journalist writing at the website Climate Central. Lemonick noted recent Antarctic ice growth “pales next to the much faster 15.5 percent drop per decade in the Arctic.”

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Good point, perhaps, but the larger problem is that 33 years of satellite data is too small a window to understand long-term ice cycles at the North and South Poles. Some scientists think ice extent is influenced by ocean currents that change phases once every few decades, alternately bringing warmer or cooler water to the Arctic.

That could explain why glacial melting is an old story: Newspapers reported “astonishing and unexplained” melting at the Poles in the 1950s, and historical temperature readings indicate the Arctic was nearly as warm in the 1930s as today. It’s premature to declare an emergency.

Textbook turnaround

Associated Press/Photo by Luis Chiappe

South Korean officials reversed their position on whether Archaeopteryx, a fossilized species many Darwinists hail as an evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs, should be included in high-school textbooks. The creationist advocacy group Society for Textbook Revise had convinced the government earlier this year that Archaeopteryx might be too scientifically controversial to use as an evolution example (see “Evolving textbooks,” July 14, 2012), but South Korean scientists complained. Now a government panel has approved the feathered fossil—although it agreed textbook examples of horse evolution need revising. Officials asked publishers to adopt the recommendations next year.  —D.J.D.

Ivory power

Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images

The International Union for Conservation of Nature last month called on African nations to fight the growing problem of elephant poaching. In 2011 poachers slaughtered an estimated 25,000 or more African elephants—the highest number since recordkeeping began in 2002—and hacked off their tusks to feed an illegal international ivory trade.

Roughly half a million elephants live in Africa. In September The New York Times and National Geographic magazine published investigations of ivory poachers and buyers, who often carve the ivory into Catholic and Buddhist statuettes or good luck charms. In China, ivory can sell for $1,000 a pound. Poachers have become more capable killers, often outnumbering and outgunning the African rangers hired to patrol elephant parks with assault rifles.

Even Ugandan soldiers, who receive aid from the U.S. government, may be secretly poaching by helicopter. Part of the problem is cultural: Instead of romanticizing elephants, African villagers often view them as menaces and good sources of meat. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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