Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Warm favourite

26.10.2001


The smart money is on global warming.


The Nenana Ice Classic tripod sinks into the frozen Tenana River.
© Julie Coghill.


Community ice breaker: a lot less exciting than it used to be.
© Julie Coghill.



An Alaskan sweepstake has become a record of global warming. The competition to predict when ice will melt reveals that, on average, the thaw comes more than five days earlier now than it did 84 years ago1.

In the winter of 1917, railway engineers working in Nenana, Alaska whiled away the long winter nights by erecting a wooden tripod on the frozen Tenana River and placing bets on the exact moment in spring when it would fall through the ice.


The Nenana Ice Classic, as it is now known, has taken place every year since. It attracts entrants from around the world and the original $800 jackpot (about $11,000 in current terms) has grown to around $300,000. The eight entrants who correctly predicted that this year the tripod would fall at 1 pm on 8 May pocketed $38,500 each.

Raphael Sagarin, of Stanford University in California, happened upon this unusual climate record while leafing through his Lonely Planet guidebook. "I was doing research on tide pools in southeast Alaska when I read about this competition," he says. "I thought it might be a good record of climate change."

The Classic stands up to scientific scrutiny because it measures the same thing every year with extreme precision. The contest ends when the tripod is swept downriver and trips a wire that stops a clock. The amount of money riding on the outcome also ensures accuracy.

The record includes a cooler spell in the middle of the century, and reflects rapid recent warming. Since 1975, the date at which the clock stops has advanced by about nine days.

"Ice melt is very strongly related to climate," says Tim Sparks of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire, UK. Measuring melting in this way is "perfectly legitimate", adds Sparks, a champion of the contribution that amateur naturalists can make to climate monitoring.

"It’s just a piece of the whole puzzle," says Sagarin. Combined with information from other biological or physical processes, such as leaf budburst and lake-ice melting, "it shows that the timing of the natural world is moving earlier".

Thaw point

The trend is not predictable enough to aid punters - this year the tripod lasted well beyond the 1917 date of 30 April, for example. Sagarin himself has not entered: "I wondered if I’d have an unfair advantage, but there’s no science to guessing in an individual year."

Two forces can bring about the tripod’s downfall. The ice beneath it can melt or floes swept down the river can break it up. From talking to local witnesses, Sagarin concludes that the former has become more common. Now the ice "just sort of rots away" beneath the tripod, he says. One person told him that the ice contest is "a lot less exciting than it used to be".

References
  1. Sagarin, R. & Micheli, F. Climate change in nontraditional datasets. Science, 294, 811 (2001).

JOHN WHITFIELD | Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011101/011101-2.html
http://www.nature.com/nsu/

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht AWI researchers measure a record concentration of microplastic in arctic sea ice
24.04.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Climate change in a warmer-than-modern world: New findings of Kiel Researchers
24.04.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Why we need erasable MRI scans

New technology could allow an MRI contrast agent to 'blink off,' helping doctors diagnose disease

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a widely used medical tool for taking pictures of the insides of our body. One way to make MRI scans easier to read is...

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

World's smallest optical implantable biodevice

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Molecular evolution: How the building blocks of life may form in space

26.04.2018 | Life Sciences

First Li-Fi-product with technology from Fraunhofer HHI launched in Japan

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>