PolarPalooza: Media Mashup Part I

Well its what we’ve all been waiting for, or at least those of us in the enviro-media community: journalists & scientists, sitting down, face to face and helping each other understand their respective side. The image of scientists and journalists sitting down usually conjures up images of awkward kids at a school dance with everyone in their respective corners and no one willing to even look at anyone else, much less talk to them. Okay, so its not quite that bad, but there is something to be said for getting journalists to understand just what those scientists are saying and getting scientists to speak in a language that the rest of us can understand.

Well, this morning, in what felt-like a groundbreaking event, the organizers of the PolarPalooza broke down those barriers, crossed the line in the proverbial gym dance hall, if you will, and gave both sides a safe space to bond and share. Think the Breakfast Club, where different cliques are able to come together and realize their similarities.
As reported earlier, PolarPalooza is a traveling show of scientists and media, whose aim is to bring the issue of climate change to cities across the US, with multimedia presentations geared for audiences young and old. This weekend is the kickoff of the first PolarPalooza and its being held in San Diego.

Below is a recap from the PolarPalooza Media Roundtable where scientists and media from several San Diegan newspapers were able to sit down and discuss topics like melting polar ice caps, sea level rise, and why the scientists can’t just say that climate change is 100% certain. More importantly, the two groups discussed how they can help each other better articulate the issues, without compromising their journalistic integrity or glossing over the scientific details.

When we arrived, there were several items on the table for show and tell, including overmitts (huge gloves with a furry side that keeps the wind off of your knuckles when you are driving around in Antarctica), a 250 million year old fossilized tooth, and an ice core with a sample of ice from 3,000 years ago, as well as other outdoor gear and specimens from the poles.

Then the real interesting presentations began, whereby the scientists each gave a brief recap of what they work on and the issues that are at hand and then the journalists were allowed to start going through issues and asking climate change questions, both broad and narrow.

Dr. Helen Fricker, a geophysicist from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, reported that changes in the ice sheets are occurring much faster than expected and the collapse of the ice shelf in 2002 took only 5 weeks, which just shocked the climate community at its speed. Icebergs need to regularly carve from ice sheets in Antarctica and therefore such an event by itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The concern is when the frequency of these events starts to happen more often.

Fricker said that data on Antarctica is gathered via mapping flow speeds of the glaciers and monitoring the surface elevation of the landscape is used to tell the volume of the glacier. Satellite data is also very helpful, but satellites first went up only 30 years ago and we’ve really only had good, usable satellite data for little more than the last 10-15 years. This does not leave much data or a long timescale to compare to determine whether what we are seeing now is normal or not.

Adding to this, Dr. Sridhar Anandakrishnan, said that in reality we don’t know what the glaciers are doing, in terms of why they are melting. There are too many unknown variables; we know some of them, but not all. Taking the best models, and excluding the recent, rapid changes, the IPCC reported that there would be a 1-2’ rise in sea-level but with an asterisk for what effect glacial movement will have due to lack of consensus. Accounting for the rapid changes, it is more likely that the sea-level will rise roughly 42 centimeters and there is speculation that future summaries and IPCC reports will account for this change.

Orville Huntington, a wildlife biologist and native from Huslia, Alaska provided a very different perspective on the day. Tribal knowledge has known for at least 20 years now that there are major changes on the way and that we have only just begun to see a glimmer of what’s to come. Community elders do not talk to the children about the changes because they want kids to grow up happy and without the stress and worries of the future.

Dr. Darlene Lim, who studies the disappearing ponds and loss of freshwater in Canada, noted much of this loss has occurred over the last 10 years. There have also been weird occurrences of salmon populations declining in the area all due to changing climate. Currently there are very few monitoring programs in Canada and the Arctic so that is one area that is undergoing improvement. Repeated by Lim was the shock at the rate of change and the changes seen in her field, both of which were not predicted and much faster than expected, particularly over the last few years.

The second half of this article continutes tomorrow here.

Tags: Antarctica | Arctic | San Diego | United States

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