Motivating Students to Learn, Project-based.

Last week, in my physics class, I was attempting to motivate my students to do research on alternative energy sources that will help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.  The emphasis is on replacing the production of electricity from combustion sources like coal or natural gas and favoring wind energy or solar photovoltaic cells.

Each day at the start of class I would mention yet another climate change occurrence that I had read about or heard about on the radio that was at the detriment to our survivability as a species on this planet.

On Thursday I mentioned the following climate changing occurrence:

The director of the World Meteorological Organization at the United Nations reported that the Arctic ice pack melted over an area larger than the United States during the summer of 2012. The polar ice pack shrank to a record low in September before slowly beginning its fall and winter growth.

“The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far reaching changes taking place in Earth’s oceans and biosphere: Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” Michel Jarraud, director of the WMO, said in a statement.

Jarraud noted the increasing incidence of extreme weather across the planet, with drought covering as much as two-thirds of America’s “lower 48″ states, and much of western Russia. So far, despite a cool, later winter/early spring, 2012 has been one of the nine warmest years in the 160-year history of keeping climate records.

As to the Arctic icepack, “The trend is not only continuing but accelerating. The more it melts, the faster it will melt,” said Jarraud.

Two other climate-related developments have made news this year.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that the global sea level is rising at a rate 60 percent faster than previously estimated, according to a report in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“It confirms the trend toward a warmer planet,” said the report.

Sea levels are 20 centimeters, or about eight inches, higher than a century ago. They increased by six centimeters between 1990 and 2010. The trend threatens to imperil coastal cities, as witnessed in the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy that devastated coastal New Jersey, portions of Staten Island and low-lying beachfront neighborhoods on Long Island.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have also noted changes in the Chukchi Sea off Arctic Alaska.

Non-Arctic species such as gray whales and orcas (killer whales) are feeding in the Chukchi Sea, site of a controversial lease where Shell Oil plans to begin drilling next summer.

The global news follows Tuesday’s release of a Washington state panel’s report on ocean acidification. It found that about 25 percent of human-generated fossil fuel emissions are being absorbed by the oceans.

“As a result, the average acidity . . . of the surface ocean has increased about 30 percent since 1750,” the panel reported. “Today’s ocean acidification is important not only for the amount of change that has occurred thus far, but also for how quickly it is happening. The current rate of acidification is nearly ten times faster than any time in the past 50 million years.”

The panel found that acid buildup is putting in peril Washington’s $270 million a year shellfish aquaculture industry.


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