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Arctic Blast 2001

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"Weekly Topic & News" is posted here every Monday by 7 a.m. CST

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"The Weekly Topic and News" merges the expedition, educational goals, and the needs of teachers. It is the most important component of your online classroom expedition.

Start each week with an in-depth look at this page.

The topic of the week is emphasized with clearly presented, facts and information supplementing each unit of the curriculum package.

Information is also provided to help make real world connections, investigate personal values and discuss current issues.

Completing the circle, the weekly topic will also be highlighted from the Arctic Blast explorers.

Using the sights, sounds, and wilderness perspectives of the arctic facilitate meaningful and energized classes.

The Weekly Topic and News integrates the nationally accredited, K through 12, Nunavut curriculum package and the weekly reports from the expedition. This is where the adventure of collaborative learning really begins.

WEEK 12:
Climate and Arctic Life

Consider a life on the moon. Daytime temperatures soar over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, night time temperatures dive past -200 degrees Fahrenheit. With no atmosphere, the moon is a cold (and hot) place with no wind, rain, or snow.

Venus on the other hand has an atmosphere that is so thick our view of its surface its completely obstructed. Surface temperatures however around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. This is due to an intense greenhouse effect caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. If a person were to stand on the surface of Venus and wasn’t asphyxiated by the large amounts of CO2, his or her clothes, body, and bones would be corroded by a mist of sulfuric acid droplets. Needless to say, its not my first choice of vacation destinations. There are nine planets in our solar system and only one with atmospheric conditions that support life.

The Earth's atmosphere is made up of 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen with trace amounts of other gases like helium, hydrogen, with growing trace of carbon dioxide. Of course, the composition of our atmosphere has changed throughout time. In fact, the present-day composition is totally different from that of the primitive Earth, which was hostile to life. The earliest atmosphere probably consisted of gases like hydrogen, helium, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide -gases which occur in the atmospheres of the other planets. The creation of our modern atmosphere required the removal of CO2 and the production of oxygen as well as a large increase in the amount of nitrogen.

In order to understand arctic climate, it is important to see the relationship between our atmosphere and life. For example, the physical properties and chemical composition of the atmosphere, along with the amount of energy from the sun are the major factors determining the weather and climate of different parts of the earth. It may sound confusing, but its actually pretty easy to understand.

Wind direction and speed, cloudiness, barometric pressure, humidity are all conditions of our atmosphere. These short term changes are called weather; whereas, the general pattern of atmospheric changes over many years is called climate. The climate of the place you live dictates much of your life: how you dress, what you eat (at least in the past), the type of house you live in, what you do for fun. Climate affects plants and animals the same way, too. Basically, there are five major factors that determine the average temperature and precipitation (climate) of your area. They are:

1. The sun. Energy from the sun hits different parts of the earth with different intensity. These patterns vary on a daily, seasonal, and yearly basis.
2. The earth. The earth rotates around its axis. This causes day and night. The earth also revolves around the sun creating seasons. Both of these are related to point one as they affect the amount of energy from the sun that reaches the earth’s surface at any given time.
3. The atmosphere. The amount and presence of certain chemicals in the atmosphere affects the ability of the earth to retain or reflect heat and energy. 4. Land and Water. Continents and oceans play a major role in determining climate and weather.
5. Topography. Mountains, plains, valleys can all alter a region’s weather and climate. (Have you ever heard of a rain shadow desert?)

Nunavut contains of some of the coldest and harshest liveable areas on the earth. It is a truly arctic place with many spots that average winter temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer temperatures warm to above 60 degrees in the southern mainland. Because the average temperatures are so low throughout the year, permafrost exists in most arctic areas. Permafrost is water permanently frozen in the underground layers of soil. Usually, during the “warm” arctic summer, the surface layer thaws; however, the layer of ice a few feet below the surface remains year round. Winters are usually cold and long and average precipitation is low and occurs mostly as snow.

As a result, the summer landscape of the arctic is dotted with marshes, shallow lakes, bogs, and ponds. Life is challenging at best for most plants and animals who live in the arctic. At these latitudes, high winds, low temperatures, and shallow soil conditions limit the ability of woody plants to grow. The resulting treeless plains is called tundra. The plants and animals that live there are a direct result of the arctic climate.

The Arctic is often referred to as "barren ground," which implies a lifeless landscape. Actually the arctic is not barren at all, but a diverse place with many different types of plant and animal life. Hundreds of species of herbaceous plants, mosses, and lichens inhabit Arctic regions. Most have developed adaptations to promote photosynthesis at high latitudes, such as retaining leaves for long periods, even over the winter, in order to be extra ready to process sunlight as soon as possible in the spring. Most of the tundra’s permanent animal residents are small herbivores like lemmings, hares, voles, and ground squirrels; however, caribou, polar bears, muskox, arctic fox, and wolves are also present. Many birds also use the open arctic spaces as breeding grounds in the summer. Remember, each plant and animal is specifically adapted to climactic conditions in the arctic. If the climate were to change so would much of the life.

More recently, it has become obvious have that the Arctic is not as isolated from more heavily populated areas as was once thought and our modern civilization is having an impact on the arctic. For example, industrial activities are responsible for the presence in the Arctic of many persistent organic pollutants and toxic metals that are neither produced nor used there, but rather are transported there through the atmosphere and deposited to land and water surfaces. This is of great concern to the Native and other residents of the arctic, many of whom survive on wild plants and animals that may be contaminated with these materials. Over the past two decades, a series of unusual changes have occurred in the Arctic that may be related to release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by industrialized nations. Sea ice and permafrost are decreasing, precipitation patterns are changing, the air is warmer, and the intensity of harmful UVB radiation is increasing. These climactic changes will forever change the face of life in the arctic.

The web of life delicately connects plants and animals together to form a balanced ecosystem. It is important to realize that each web can only exist within a certain narrow range dictated by our climate. John Muir once wrote that... “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else.” A change in the earth's atmosphere affects the earth's climate, which in turn, affects life on earth.

For more information about climate change check out these websites.
Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research
World Climate Report
Climate Change
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