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How Long-Dead Arctic Explorers Are Helping to Improve Climate Science

Corwin1907The Revenue Cutter Thomas Corwin, in which John Muir sailed as part of an Arctic research trip. Photo: Frank H. Nowell

In July 1879, 33 Navy men set sail for the North Pole aboard the U.S.S. Jeannette Arctic expedition. That fall the ship became mired in ice off southern Alaska and drifted for three years. Its hull was later crushed and the crew abandoned the ship, pulling smaller crafts over the ice, searching for open water. In the end, only 11 men survived. But the logbook, in which the ship's crew wrote detailed weather and sea ice observations, also survived.

Climate scientists are hoping the data inside that and many other Naval and Coast Guard ships, dating back to the mid 1800s, will improve climate science and boost the accuracy of modeling for future weather patterns. Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) began digitizing these logbooks. Now, OldWeather.org, a collaboration between a number of academic, government and citizen science research organizations, is spearheading the Arctic Rediscovery Project, an effort to transcribe this massive amount of data, a vital first step in the data analysis process.

Last month, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the lowest extent in the existing records, which extend back to 1979, when satellite-based data first became available. This was an alarming discovery, especially given the absence of extreme weather that has precipitated ice loss in years past. But the Arctic Rediscovery Project could greatly improve climate scientists' understanding of Arctic sea ice by extending the archives of scientific sea ice data by more than 100 years.

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Powering Public Lands: Government Puts Solar Energy in the Spotlight

Maps_combo_sezLeft: BLM land open to solar development before 2011; right: BLM's current 17 solar energy zone. Maps: NRDC

Wind, solar, geothermal and other so-called green energy sources might not spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but they're far from benign.

Ask any bird conservationist what she or he thinks of wind farms and you might get a less-than-glowing response. Back in 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency put migratory bird mortality due to wind turbines somewhere around 440,000 each year. And solar power developers made no friends among the conservation world when the Ivanpah solar project in Southern California and adjacent to the Mojave Desert Preserve butted up against the endangered desert tortoise. The project was stalled as many hundreds of the reptiles were relocated.

"For a couple of years I was basically in cardiac arrest," says Ileene Andrerson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Because of the amount of land to be developed [for renewable energy] and the piecemeal approach."

Anderson is referring to the years following the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, during which companies filed hundreds of project applications for mostly solar but also wind projects on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which had $350 million in ARRA funds with which it was mandated to "restore landscapes and habitat, spur renewable energy development on public lands, and create jobs."

That looks great on paper, but environmental groups quickly raised red flags over where the renewable energy developments would be sited and what oversight (or lack thereof) would be placed on them. This effectively pitted greens against greens in what looked like a counterproductive, senseless battle. But Bobby McEnaney, land policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, contends that the efforts the NRDC and similar groups have made to ensure renewable energy is developed with minimal negative impacts on wildlife, recreation access and cultural resources were rooted in lessons learned from decades of oil and gas development on public lands.

"Solar and wind energy developers would probably prefer the laissez-faire approach, which is what oil and gas developers have had on BLM land," McEnaney says. "But two wrongs don’t make a right."

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Yes You Can (Drink More Environmentally Responsible Beer)

OBB_cansOskar Blues' cannery row. Photo: Ryan Dearth

By Will McGough, Wake and Wander

Growing up outside of Philadelphia, it was never much of a decision. There were no mountains to climb. We lived the city life and my upbringing was simple: Good beer came in a bottle, crap came in a can.

Flash forward a few years and I'm pacing the beer aisle in a store near the Front Range of the Rockies, my fingers still greasy from prepping my bike chain. Now immersed in an arena of outdoor activity, my priorities have changed—biking and bottles and backpacks certainly don’t mix. Ten years ago, this would have meant inappropriately pairing a light canned beer with a crisp, fall ride through the foliage. Today, I’m happy to say, we finally have options. Lots of them.

Bottles have long ruled the craft brew scene in the United States. But that's changing, largely thanks to Dale Katechis, founder of Longmont, Colorado-based brewery Oskar Blues.

"I won’t call out anyone in particular, but they were all pointing and laughing at the new kid in town," says Katechis, recollecting the reaction he received when he began canning his hoppy pale ale back in 2002. "They thought it was a joke, yet today they’re all canning beer.... Talk about funny."

That hilariously hoppy brew is Dale’s Pale Ale, a drink that has been widely praised by beer experts and easily recognized in stores across the United States in its red, white, and blue can. It’s true: Oskar Blues was indeed the pioneer of the U.S. craft beer canning movement. As it approaches its 10-year “CANniversary” in November, Osker Blues is now one of more than 220 American breweries that have followed suit, according to Craftcans.com.

When it comes to gear, from backpacks to tents to bikes to shoes, weight matters. Whether heading into the backcountry or on a leisurely day hike, no one wants to lug an ounce more than is necessary. The same goes for adult beverage choices: cans are lighter, smaller, and easier to pack out than bottles. So cheers for the trend in canned craft beer.

But we're not the only winners. Cans also offer significant environmental benefits.

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A New Spray That Detects Exposure to Poison Ivy

Shutterstock_107912900Leaves of three, leave it be. Photo: Shutterstock

When I was in seventh grade, my parents took my six siblings and I out of school for a late spring vacation to the East Coast. We camped along the way and eventually landed in a Virginia campground that had great trees for climbing, thanks in part to the vines winding up their bases that made ascending easy. Climbing was a blast, until I fell head first off a branch, about 15 feet to the ground. I put out my right arm for protection and broke my humerus just beneath the ball when I hit. An ambulance showed up and a paramedic asked if I had moved since I fell. I hadn't. Then he pointed to the vines at the base of the tree and asked if I was allergic to poison ivy.

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River Runners: The Latest Victims of Climate Change

River_running_climatePhoto: Grand Canyon NPS

For the contiguous United States, the first nine months of 2012 were the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As of October 2, 64 percent of the United States was in the middle of a drought. Wyoming and Colorado experienced the warmest summer on record, while Wyoming and Nevada saw the driest summer on record. In western and central regions of the country, wildfires burned a record-breaking 3.6 million acres in August.

In other words, it was a cruel summer. It stressed wildlife and depleted water reserves, but it also made life difficult for river runners in the Mountain West, whose business success is dictated largely by the health of the rivers they run. This followed very big water during the summer of 2011, thanks to major snowfall during the 2010-2011 season.

"We're usually kayaking in March, April, May, and usually into June," said Peter Van De Carr, who operates Backdoor Sports in Steamboat Springs and runs the Yampa River. "But last summer, we were done [kayaking] at the end of March. As of June 20, the river was 40 cubic feet per second and going down. A year before, June 20, 2011, it was 4,000cfs and going up."

"Some would say it's not climate change, but climate strange, with one of the wettest years on record followed by one of the driest," said Soren Jespersen, northwest Colorado wildlands coordinator for the Wilderness Society. "I think all the businesses that depend somewhat on consistent weather patterns are having a hard time adjusting to these shifts, whether it be ski resorts or river guides."

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