Earth’s temperatures are getting warmer. In fact, sixteen of the seventeen hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. These warmer temperatures are driving larger, long-term changes in our planet’s weather and climate. Scientists refer to these changes as “climate change.”
In a few places, climate change might be welcome, but around the world, warmer temperatures and other changes are leading to a host of problems from rising sea levels to more extreme weather events and the spread of harmful human diseases.
Professor Scott Mills, from the University of Montana, wanted to see how climate change might be affecting one particular animal called the snowshoe hare.
Snowshoe hares live in regions of North America that receive snow every winter. The hares, in fact, change their coat color from brown to white and back again every year. This helps camouflage them against their background—and hides them from the eyes of lynx, owls, and other hungry predators.
Here’s the thing: snowshoe hares can’t choose when they molt, or change their coat color. Molt timing is controlled by their genes, which are part of the DNA inside their bodies. If a hare’s genes make it molt to white in October, but snow doesn’t fall until December, the hare will stick out like a light bulb against the brown earth. And that’s a problem. Why? Because almost everywhere on earth, the length of time with snow on the ground is growing shorter and shorter.
To find out if shorter winters might harm hare populations, Scott and his team spent three years tagging and following hares. They measured how many were born, how many died, and what they died from. They also recorded whether the hares were matched or mismatched against their backgrounds.
They discovered that predators killed mismatched hares significantly more often than hares whose coats match their backgrounds. Scott and his team also calculated that over the next one hundred years, this greater mortality, or death rate, could lead to the decline or disappearance of many snowshoe hare populations.
The good news? Different hares molt at different times. This may help some hare populations adapt to shorter winters and longer periods without snow.
Hares are not the only animals affected by shorter winters. More than twenty species of animals including lemmings, weasels, hamsters, and Arctic foxes change their coat colors every year. Scott’s research helps us predict what might happen to these animals—and decide what we can do to protect them.
Scott’s discoveries about Montana snowshoe hares, together with experts’ predictions about our future climate, indicate that hares will be mismatched between 5-½ and 10 weeks by the end of this century.
Before tagging and putting a radio collar on a snowshoe hare, Professor Mills and his team must weigh and measure it.
This snowshoe hare has been tagged and fitted with a radio collar—and is now ready to help scientists learn more about snowshoe hare survival.
Even from a great distance, a mismatched hare stands out like a glowing light bulb. (Photo Courtesy of L. Scott Mills research laboratory)
Besides serving as popular prey for predators, snowshoe hares are irresistibly cute. This is a young hare, also called a leveret.
Sneed B. Collard III is the author of more than eighty award-winning books, many focusing on science and the natural world. His entertaining memoir Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts—Journeys of a Biologist’s Son recounts his challenges and adventures growing up as the son of divorced biologist parents, and the experiences that would one day lay the foundation for his writing career. He is a dynamic speaker and offers school and conference programs that combine science, nature, and literacy. To learn more about him and his talks, visit his website, www.sneedbcollardiii.com.
This book was reviewed by Vicki Cobb in the Huffington Post: "The Cheeseburger of the Forest".
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. "Hopping Ahead of Climate Change." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/hopping-ahead-of-climate-change.
Earth has a problem. The sun creates hot spots over land, in the air and in the water. That’s why there are winds, weather, and currents in the ocean as Earth tries to even out the heat, moving warmer masses of air and water to cooler areas.
During hurricane season ( from June 1-November 30), only 10 or 11 of the 80 tropical disturbances off the west coast of Africa (where most of our hurricanes originate) become large enough storms to be given a name. Only two or three of them hit the United States. They are not frequent but they are massive wind storms that can destroy life and property.
Do they do anything good at all? As far as the Earth is concerned, these largest of all storms are a safety valve to rapidly move heat that has been accumulating in the oceans up to the stratosphere (from 7 to 31 miles above the Earth’s surface). From there it will be transported through the air to over the North Pole. It’s the way Earth stops a fever.
Once a hurricane forms, it must have an ocean surface that is at least 80°F to keep moving and to grow. Under the storm, huge amounts of warm water become water vapor. Warm moist air rapidly rises through the spinning winds of the hurricane, up to the stratosphere. When moist air reaches the frigid (-70°F) stratosphere the water vapor quickly condenses to liquid water (rain) releasing its heat. This heat makes surrounding air molecules move faster forming winds.
How do hurricanes cool off the oceans? How do they move the heat? Here’s a clue: Wet your finger and wave it in the air. How does it feel? Pretty cool, I bet! That’s because the heat from your finger changes liquid water into water vapor (a gas) as your finger dries. Water vapor molecules store this extra heat. They rise because they are lighter than other air molecules.
So, a hurricane is a heat engine that moves water vapor from the ocean’s surface high enough to condense back into liquid water and release heat safely to the stratosphere forming rivers of wind that move it to the poles.
Scientists predict that global warming will increase the number and the power of the hurricanes as the ocean surfaces become increasingly warmer during our summers.
This diagram of the anatomy of a hurricane shows the direction of the winds. The blue represents cold air descending while the pink shows warm moist air rising. The outflow surface clouds form as water condenses into a "table-top" cloud, releasing heat that becomes wind. Kelvinsong via Wikimedia
Hurricane Isabel (2003) as seen from orbit during Expedition 7 of the International Space Station. The eye, eyewall, and surrounding rainbands, all characteristics of hurricanes, are clearly visible in this view from space. Image courtesy of Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
Vicki Cobb's How Could We Harness a Hurricane? offers questions and provides new points of view that may just change peoples' thinking by showing young readers the work scientists and engineers are doing to avoid future disasters. The book includes hands-on experiments that make science fun, be it at home or in the classroom. Here's a link to the book' s Trailer.
How Could We Harness a Hurricane was named a 2018 Best STEM Book K-12 by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council.
Vicki is a member of iNK's Authors on Call so you can invite her to your classroom via iNK's videoconferening Zoom Room. Click here to find out more:
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "Earth's Emergency Heat Valve: The Hurricane." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 24 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council