October 18, 2007

Drunken Trees

Filed under: Arctic, Climate Politics, Polar

The other week the busy little bees who are working on Nobel Al’s new book… what, you didn’t know Gore was working on a new book? Yep, apparently in the works is a book on climate change and its solutions, supposedly titled “A Path to Survival” in which Gore lays out, well, you can probably figure that out. As we have detailed previously Gore is more than just a little out there when he starts talking about the climate change threats to human’s survivability on Earth. So, we don’t yet know whether his new title will be shelved in the science or science fiction section.

But, as we were saying, the other week the busy little bees who are helping out on Al Gore’s new book sent a call out looking for photographs or other particularly useful information that could be used to illustrate the impacts of melting permafrost and changes to the environment that may result. The request was for images or charts that could be incorporated in a chapter on “permafrost melting” (as a technical point, because we’re sure that Gore will be paying more attention to the details this time around, permafrost—any type of soil that spends most of its time below freezing, whether or not any water is present—doesn’t ‘melt’ but rather, it ‘thaws’). And although it wasn’t specifically mentioned, we’re sure they meant “The more dramatic the better!”

Always interested to help out, we thought that we’d offer up a few images that we recently came across in our on-going effort to compare current conditions in the Arctic with conditions earlier in the 20th century.

Figure 1 shows a “thaw sink” in the middle of a cultivated field that resulted from the thawing of an ice mass buried in the ground. Not dramatic enough? Well how about Figure 2.


Figure1. Photo showing a sinkhole that resulted from a thawing of subsurface ice body (see references for source of photo).

Figure 2 shows a stand of spruce trees that are off-kilter as the permafrost they were growing on thawed and began eroding away. We’re sure that Gore’s staff will like this one! Why? Because the book version of The Inconvenient Truth featured a two-page spread of “drunken trees” that were “leaning every which way” from thawing soil beneath them and Gore pining “These trees put their roots deep into the frozen tundra decades—even centuries—ago and now as the tundra melts they lose their anchor, causing them to sway in all directions.”


Figure 2. Photo showing “drunken trees” that lilt from the thawing of permafrost beneath their roots (see references for source of photo).

Oh, as for the photographs being in black and white, well that’s sort of a give away that they were taken back in the early 1950s, more than a half-century ago. That pretty much assures that Gore won’t be using them in his new book, as the alarming quality of images of “drunken trees” and sinkholes is effectively lost if everyone were to know that the conditions producing them today were not so different than the ones that existed in the not-too-distant past.

Reference:

Benninghoff, W.S., 1952. Interaction of vegetation and soil frost phenomena. Arctic, 5(1), 34-43.




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