Climate change isn’t all bad; it just depends on your perspective! If you’re a mountain, a jellyfish, or some of the other things on this list, your future may be pretty bright.
1. GREENLAND GETS A MAKEOVER
The town of Qaqortoq (Julianehåb), Greenland by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen [wikipedia]
In “The Princess Bride,” the evil genius scolds his henchman by saying, “Do you want me to send you back where you were? Unemployed … in Greenland?”
That threat might have carried some weight in the movie, but in real life, Greenland’s prospects are looking up. Its massive ice sheet is rapidly thawing, which means more and more arable land is surfacing all across the island. Industrious residents have begun growing broccoli and other crops during summer months, and speculators are drilling for gold, diamonds, and coal. Geological surveys also suggest that Greenland may contain vast offshore oil reserves.
These newfound sources of wealth have the island’s 58,000 residents, most of them Inuit, feeling empowered. In November 2008, three-quarters of them voted for independence from Denmark, which has governed the island as a colony for centuries. Ambitious local politicians even hinted that, if the movement continues, they may deserve some special consideration from the European Union. Especially because, as the Arctic ice continues to melt, new shipping lanes will open up just off of Greenland’s coast.
2. JELLYFISH LIVING LARGE
Although times are rough for most ocean-dwelling plants and animals, jellyfish are flourishing. For reasons that scientists don’t completely understand, the higher temperatures and increased acidification of ocean water are making the marine environment more hospitable to jellyfish. In addition, the overfishing of predators has left this invertebrate with an abundance of plankton to munch on. All these factors have led to record jellyfish “blooms” around the world, from Mexico to Great Britain to South Africa. In some parts of the Black Sea, blooms contain as many as 1,000 tiny comb jellyfish per cubic meter.
GOOD Magazine video of the Giant Nomura jellyfish [YouTube Clip]
But do good times mean drawbacks for humans? You bet. Some jellyfish can weigh up to 450 lbs., with tentacles up to 120 feet long. Massive Nomura jellyfish off the coast of Japan have decimated fishing villages by devouring fish eggs and tearing apart fishing nets. Plus, as we all know, their stings are nasty. Swarms around Hawaii and Japan have wreaked havoc on tourism industries that rely heavily on snorkeling and boat tours.
3. MOUNTAINS REACH NEW HEIGHTS
Jungfrau, one of the summits of the Alps. Photo: Jphoto [wikipedia]
While climate change is forcing glaciers to recede, it’s also allowing mountains to get taller. As the water stored in glaciers drains away, they mountains underneath them have less of a load to carry. And without all that weight, they can rise to their full heights. In the western arm of the Alps, for instance, mountains are growing at a rate of .035 inches per year. That’s good news for skiers, climbers, and large hills with Napoleon complexes.
4. HELLO, SMALLPOX
Smallpox virions. Transmission electron micrograph by Dr. Fred Murphy, Sylvia Whitfield / CDC
After decades of vaccination campaigns, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in December 1979. But thanks to global warming, this little virus, which wiped out half a billion people during the 20th century, may be making a comeback.
Scientists believe that smallpox can live for decades, or even centuries, while frozen in the Arctic tundra. As temperatures continue to rise, some experts believe there is a distinct possibility that caches of smallpox stored in the ice could thaw, leading to a global epidemic. Indeed, when a mass grave was unearthed in Siberia in the 1980’s , testing showed that the antigen the virus was still active in the dead bodies. It’s a terrifying thought, but there is some good news. Even if smallpox resurfaces, an effective vaccine has already been in invented, so casualties wouldn’t be nearly as high as they were in previous centuries.
5. SATELLITES SPIN FASTER
Track Earth's satellites with NASA J-Track-3D [Java applet]
For years, space researchers have recorded small changes in the speed of orbiting satellites. Sometimes they’d speed up; other times they’d slow down. Scientists soon found a correlation between these changes and the 11-year cycle of sunspots—the dark areas on the surface of the Sun that are caused by intense magnetic activity. Sunspots alter the density of the gases in the thermosphere, the outer layer of the atmosphere that is home to most satellites. When the gases become less dense, satellites travel faster; when they become more dense, satellites slow down.
It turns out that it isn’t just the Sun that’s been affecting the satellites, though. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are also altering their speeds. On the surface of the Earth, carbon dioxide actually cools things down. This makes the thermosphere less dense, allowing satellites to go faster. Scientists confirmed the effect in 2006, and the phenomenon may actually be benefiting us. With less drag, satellites require fewer course corrections and stay aloft longer, meaning that the giant hunks of metal won’t fall to the ground as often.
The article above, written by Gideon Banner, appeared in the Jan - Feb 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.