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ish. “The world is just not as white as it used to be,” he says. “And that’s a big problem, because white reflects energy.” New snow, he explains, protects the earth from the sun’s heat by reflecting 80 percent of it back into space. Bare tundra, on the other hand, absorbs 80 percent of that energy. As climate change has caused Arctic snow to retreat, the reduction of polar reflectivity has accelerated the warming of the climate—which has further contributed to Arctic snowmelt, resulting in a harmful feedback loop. After 26 years at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Fairbanks, Sturm recently accepted an academic position at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, where he hopes to help shape the next generation of snow scientists. His richly illustrated 2012 book, Finding the Arctic, details his 2,500-mile snowmobile journey across Alaska and Canada. Sturm also wrote a children’s book, Apun: The Arctic Snow, and designed a teachers’ guide to help kids better understand the importance of snow to the health of the planet. Lately he has had to focus on a task he enjoys far less: advocating for the launch of a snowpack-measuring satellite. Modern satellites are able to tell us how much land is covered by snow. But that’s not enough, Sturm says. Most of our water comes from snow, but snow’s reliability as a water source depends on its depth and moisture content. And no satellite that’s currently operational—or even currently planned—is capable of giving scientists that kind of critical information. It’s information that he believes is needed—urgently. “We rely on snow, as humans, enormously,” Sturm says. “I have kids; hopefully I’ll have grandkids someday. What I do matters. What I figure out matters. And it’s real.” 2 2 onearth

spring 2014

APPROPOS

What it’s called: When to Plant Compatible with: iOS What it does: Gives optimal planting times for vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers, basing suggestions on frost data gleaned from nearly 5,000 weather stations. Also includes advice on best soil types and sun requirements for specific plants, as well as sowing and harvesting tips. How much it costs: $1.99 SPOTLIGHT The latest larger-thanlife figure to get the Hollywood biopic treatment is the world’s first wildlife conservationist and expert on sea-level rise. Noah, starring Russell Crowe, floods box offices on March 28.

float ’em a few bucks

W

anna get in on the ground floor of a really

cool research project that will massively boost your science-geek cred? In this case, the ground floor is just below sea level, and the project is SeaOrbiter: a 1,000-ton, semi-submersible, residential ocean-research facility that has been likened, in terms of its overall mission, to Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. As fanciful as it may seem, the project enjoys the blessing of scientists affiliated with NASA and NOAA, among others. And though they don’t seem to want for corporate and institutional partners—Microsoft and UNESCO have signed on—SeaOrbiter’s founders have opened up a portion of its construction financing to the public via a crowd-funding campaign. Interested in being a sponsor? Get out your credit card ... and make it so. seaorbiter.com

sneeze alarm 24 21 14

13

12

12 more than a quarter of americans are allergic to ragweed

pollen. Now there are signs that climate change is actually increasing the length of ragweed season in the Midwest. Figures inside the circles on this partial U.S. map represent the number of days by which the season grew in various parts of the region between 1995 and 2011.

map data: national allergy bureau; above: courtesy of jACQUES ROUGERIE

F RONTLINES

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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