Physical Sciences - Geography 1000: Physical Geography
To satisfy the Physical Sciences requirement, I took Geography 1000: Physical Geography in the Summer semester of 2017. I choose to take this course rather than any other Physical Science course because I believed that it would further my understanding of how the Earth was formed and of all of its natural processes, such as plate tectonics, weathering, erosion, and the atmosphere. It has also rightfully furthered my comprehension of human history since so much of history relates to where people were, and the natural disasters that come with our ever changing and moving tectonic plates.
A scientific and spatial understanding of natural processes that shape the surface of our planet and the systems that exist between the atmosphere, climate, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere within the context of the human environment.
Upon completion of this course a person educated in the course should be able to demonstrate a general understanding of the following essential learning outcomes:
- Demonstrate proficiency in the essentials, technology, and methodology of geography
- Demonstrate proficiency in lithospheric systems (i.e. plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes, weathering, mass movement, river systems, and landforms).
- Demonstrate proficiency in hydro-spheric systems (i.e. atmospheric water and weather, water resources, climate systems, and climate change).
- Demonstrate proficiency in energy and atmospheric systems (i.e. solar energy, seasons, atmospheric energy, temperature, atmospheric pressure, and atmospheric and oceanic circulations).
- Demonstrate proficiency in biosphere systems (i.e. soils, ecosystems, terrestrial biomes, and the interaction of humans with the environment.
Chasing Ice Documentary by Jeff Orlowski
- What is the science behind the phenomenon you chose to research?
The science behind the dramatically and rapidly shrinking glaciers and ice caps in Greenland and Iceland are that due to our increasing consumption of fossil fuels as an energy source, we are heightening the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/greenhouse-gases). This can be proven by drilling and examining ice cores of the glaciers for their atmospheric content, and by looking back to climate models of the late 1800’s and comparing them to what we observe today. It has also been proven by measuring the carbon dioxide currently in our atmosphere and comparing it to previous records from earlier decades, or even millennia through extracting and examining ice core samples of long-standing glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, or Antarctica. By reviewing these retrieved ice cores from ancient glaciers, scientists have found that throughout the history of our planet, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere never went above 280 parts per million, and returned down in a relatively quick time frame. Then, humans began to burn fossil fuels as an energy source for industry, cars and airplanes and other applications, and the carbon dioxide level skyrocketed up to 390 parts per million over only around 200 years. Chasing Ice, the documentary I watched, stated that this increase is 40 percent higher than it was when nature took care of the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Additionally, Yale has hypothesized that we may reach 500 parts per million of carbon dioxide within our atmosphere within the next fifty years if we don’t take care of the issue now instead of ignoring it until it devastates the entire world (http://e360.yale.edu/features/how-the-world-passed-a-carbon-threshold-400ppm-and-why-it-matters). The outright staggering pattern of the amount of greenhouses gases in our atmosphere is not likely to go down anytime soon since we continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source even today (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/americas-energy-sources). As should be common knowledge by now, carbon dioxide traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere, so it could melt all of the glaciers and ice sheets if we don’t prevent it from happening by using cleaner energy and using less energy altogether if possible.
When long-frozen ice sheets melt they raise the global sea level to dangerous levels, which can cause coastal cities to be flooded or become completely covered with water. Scientists have estimated that if more of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets melt, many of the major cities of the United States will be either partially or wholly covered in water, as shown in the following website: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/24/opinion/sunday/what-could-disappear.html. Within the documentary Chasing Ice, the foremost climatologist James Balog stated that as many as 150 million people could be displaced if sea levels continue to rise at the levels they currently are increasing at due to global warming, which is a scary proposition to consider. James Balog stated that within his children’s lifetime, sea levels will rise by a minimum of one and a half to three feet causing coastal cities to flood, be completely covered by water, or be affected by natural disasters much more frequently than ever before in their history. Worldwatch Institute estimated that one billion people would be impacted globally if we do not act now to lessen the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, so that the polar ice sheets in Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica will stop melting as quickly as they have, and their glaciers will be able to increase in size (http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5056). In the United States alone, it is estimated that as many as 13 million might be displaced from the coastal cities by 2100 (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2080502-sea-level-rise-may-displace-13-million-people-in-the-us-by-2100/).
- Before watching this documentary, did you believe the topic was of critical importance? After watching the documentary, has your opinion on the issue grown or changed after learning more?
Yes, I absolutely did believe it was of critical importance, since global warming is occurring at a much faster pace than ever before, and is causing natural disasters to become much more frequent along the Earth’s coastal cities. In fact, various scientific disciplines are in consensus on the fact that climate change is happening and that we should take action now before it is too late, such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and geography (http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2015/Q3/purdue-study-climate-change-consensus-extends-beyond-climate-scientists.html). Moreover, since it deals with the kind of Earth I will have to live in in the future, so I think that it’s better to ere on the side of caution with this issue. Additionally, I believe that if we don’t take action now, future humans will suffer greatly from natural disasters becoming much more common all across the globe, so for me it is crucial that we respond to this issue before it is too late. I don’t want people of the future to have to worry about famine or natural disasters, such as hurricanes and widespread flooding of the cities, happening all the time and devastating their lives, simply because of our lack of a response to climate change happening before our very eyes.
My opinion of this issue has grown tremendously through watching this documentary since it is one thing to read or hear about climate change, but seeing it in action cements the fact that it indeed is happening at an accelerated pace. Seeing the shrinking of the ice sheets also put a visible “face” to the theories of climate change and global warming. I started to cry when I saw the ice sheet in Greenland calving and going off to melt in the ocean since it was almost like seeing an entire glacier disappear before my very eyes. Anyone who denies global warming is occurring should be forced to watch this documentary on repeat since it so vividly displays that global warming IS happening at a rapid pace at the polar glaciers and ice sheets. It is unlikely that we will be able to mend the damage that has already occurred though we may be able to manage the consequences since we are already projected to have a two-and-a-half to three-foot rise in the level of our oceans globally.
- Think critically: did the filmmakers do a good job of providing evidence in support of their position on this environmental topic? Did they address opposing views?
Yes, the filmmakers did a fantastic job of providing evidence in support of the fact that the world’s ice stores are melting at a devastatingly fast rate, due to global warming. Most of all their pictures and videos show how fast the ice is melting, and provide unignorable evidence that climate change is happening. The evidence undeniably demonstrates that we need to face this issue now to prevent the ice caps from melting further and raising the global ocean level to unimaginably high levels to the point where citizens of the coastal cities will be forced to evacuate their homes and head inland for their own safety. It also shows how this issue affects us all since the very air we breathe is being changed at a dramatic rate, as well as the ice caps melting. Furthermore, that global warming affects all aspects of life on the planet from agriculture to making natural disasters much more frequent, so it is an issue we must tackle head-on if we want to have a planet to live on in the future.
Some portions of the documentary also showed that the ice is retreating and thinning at the same time as a rate never before seen in the history of humanity. One glacier in Iceland had melted the size of the Empire State Building in an incredibly short amount of time. The documentary showed how massively deep holes are becoming more frequent in Greenland, causing the edges of the land mass to melt away and release massive amounts of water out to the ocean. One glacier called Columbia melted 2.5 miles in three years, which is unbelievably fast and outright astounding. Last, it showed a massive calving event in Greenland that lasted 75 minutes and broke off as much ice as the width of the city of Manhattan in New York state and was two to three times the city’s height, which all went down to the sea to raise the ocean levels even more. This scene is included in the Ted-Ed talk James Balog did on the shrinking of the ice caps named Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss, which is linked here:
The documentary, Chasing Ice, did address the opposing view about global warming and climate change, through James Blog explaining how he used to be a skeptic of climate change. He thought this way because he did not see any concrete evidence of a changing climate and therefore thought that it might just be a Cause célèbre for people to get riled up about with no real evidence backing it up. That is until he looked at the Earth’s ice sheets in Greenland, Iceland, and Montana, and saw the effects of global warming for himself.
Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved on July 19th, 2017 from https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/greenhouse-gases.
How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters by Nicola Jones. Published at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies on January 26th, 2017. Retrieved on July 19, 2017, from http://e360.yale.edu/features/how-the-world-passed-a-carbon-threshold-400ppm-and-why-it-matters.
United States Council on Foreign Relations. America’s Energy Sources. Last updated on April 11th, 2007. Retrieved on July 19th, 2017 from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/americas-energy-sources.
The New York Times. What Could Disappear? Updated on April 24th, 2016. Retrieved on July 19th, 2017 from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/24/opinion/sunday/what-could-disappear.html.
Worldwatch Institute Vision for a Sustainable World. Study Says 1 Billion Threatened by Sea Level Rise. Retrieved on July 19th, 2017 from http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5056.
New Scientist. Sea-level rise may displace 13 million people in the US by 2100. Originally published on March 14th, 2016. Retrieved on July 19th, 2017 from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2080502-sea-level-rise-may-displace-13-million-people-in-the-us-by-2100/.
Purdue Study: Climate Change Consensus Extends Beyond Climate Scientists. Published on September 24th, 2015. Retrieved on July 19th, 2017 from http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2015/Q3/purdue-study-climate-change-consensus-extends-beyond-climate-scientists.html.