Icebergs Be Fartin’

SciShort_6_4_15New findings from an OSU study contend that icebergs calving off the gargantuan ice sheet that covered North America during the last Ice Age caused methane production increases in the tropical wetlands. The news, which was greeted by yawns and lack of interest from a bored and lethargic public hungry for more reality shows featuring the morbidly obese, is actually quite groundbreaking in how it shapes our understanding of climate change, a subject you may have heard about.

By analyzing core samples from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, Rachael Rhodes, a research associate in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS) at OSU, and her team were able to construct a history of the methane production that is shedding new light on what is happening, and more importantly what will happen, as a result of climate change.

“Essentially what happened was that the cold water influx altered the rainfall patterns at the middle of the globe,” said Rhodes in a press release. “The band of tropical rainfall, which includes the monsoons, shifts to the north and south through the year. Our data suggest that when the icebergs entered the North Atlantic causing exceptional cooling, the rainfall belt was condensed into the Southern Hemisphere, causing tropical wetland expansion and abrupt spikes in atmospheric methane.”

Rhodes and her team used a new method of analysis created in conjunction with Joe McConnell at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.

“Using this new method, we were able to develop a nearly 60,000-year, ultra-high-resolution record of methane much more efficiently and inexpensively than in past ice core studies, while simultaneously measuring a broad range of other chemical parameters on the same small sample of ice,” said McConnell in a press release.

While this new technique and the information we’re learning from it may not sound that sexy, it is a huge leap forward in our understanding of how the planet reacts to climate change.

 “This shows the link between polar areas and the tropics, and these changes can happen very rapidly. Climate models suggest only a decade passed between the iceberg intrusion and a resulting impact in the tropics,” concluded Rhodes in the press release, in words that should both fascinate and terrify.

by Sidney Reilly