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Date of Issue: December 24, 2008


Changes everywhere, from climate to glaciers to sharks

If the adage of the only constant being change is true, then we’re in for a long time of constant changes in our future.

Take the medium in which you are viewing these words as an example of how media and information have changed in the past decade. Looking for a factoid in 1998? Off to the books you go. Looking for a factoid at the cusp of 2008-09? Oh, Google, where are you? At the fingertips.

The Islander was thought to be cutting-edge when we first published in November 1992. We produced the paper on small computers, printed the pages out in increments on small pieces of paper, taped the pieces together onto larger sheets and drove the whole raft of paper pages to a printer for publishing.

There were no hot-lead type or massive printing presses tucked in the back of our little office, and no cast of people toiling away inhaling lead fumes and newsprint fibers.

Today, the computer hard drives are bigger and faster, the pages converted to e-files and our printing is handled about 70 miles away.

That’s for our loyal Island readers who want to hold paper in their hands. We also have news and advertising available via the Web, with thousands of “hits” a month from people interested in the doings and antics on Anna Maria Island.

Print newspaper readers are generally dwindling in numbers as part of the wave of “E-News.” The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News only will offer home delivery of the newspaper on Thursday, Friday and Sunday beginning in early 2009, following a nationwide trend of cutting back on newsroom staff to raise bottom-line revenue.

The amount of data, be it blog or believable, fact or factoid, raw or doctored, is extraordinary, generally free, and only a few keystrokes away through your trusty ’puter.

When was the last time you sat down and sent somebody an actual letter, complete with an envelope and stamp and written in Palmeresque penmanship? How many of your holiday greeting cards were posted electronically? How many and how much of your correspondence is done via e-mail?

Probably a lot. A whole lot.

Telephones? Sure, everybody has one of some sort or another, but telephone company folks say 18- to 35-year-old subscribers are generally communicating through cell phones rather than hard-wire service to a house or apartment.

Seniors are in that cell loop, too, and why not? Vacations, summer or winter homes, keeping in constant touch with kids or grandkids while on the road — off to the cell and text messages and forget that old dinosaur in the corner, the telephone.

Consider the feeling of hopelessness you had when you realized you’d left the house without your cell phone or laptop? How will you keep abreast of what’s HAPPENING? Welcome to the e-age.

President-elect Barack Obama ran for office in part on a platform of change, and change is what we have to address and adapt to in the very near future or risk being trampled. Didn’t you get the e-mail on that?

Change: climate

General consensus among scientists and Joe the Weather Guy is that the Earth’s climate is changing. We’re seeing hotter summers, colder winters, less ozone and more spikes in temperature. More climate change lies ahead, little of it good.

One of the last dinosaurs in the “no climate change” choir has been hurricane prediction-expert Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University. He’s been a virtual lone voice saying there hasn’t been any real change in climate, only an altered perspective by the masses that greenhouse gasses by power plants and vehicles have reached a crescendo.

Gray told a Denver Post columnist two years ago that there has been some global warming in the past 30 years. “I don’t question that, and humans might have caused a very slight amount of this warming. Very slight. But this warming trend is not going to keep on going. My belief is that three, four years from now, the globe will start to cool again, as it did from the middle 1940s to the middle ’70s.”

Gray is a staunch advocate of what is called a multi-decadal oscillation, wherein ocean temperatures fluctuate — oscillate — every 20 years or so, producing either more or fewer hurricanes.

We’re in a high-hurricane oscillation, by the way.

But climate change is generally perceived as a climate trend by most scientists. Aside from making a decision of investing in either flip-flops or mukluks, Floridians have to contend with sea -level rise.

Ice caps melt as air and water temperatures increase. Ice held in suspension in the Arctic or Antarctic is released into the world’s oceans, increasing volume. Increased water volume pushes water ashore.

It’s the question of just how much water will come ashore, and where, that is causing some scientific debate.

A study released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Florida State University’s Beaches and Shores Resource Center in August 2008 offers the latest estimates on just how wet we’re looking to get in the coming years.

The study comes up with wildly diverse estimates for sea level rise by the year 2100. Values range from just more than 6 inches to just under 24 inches from 1990 levels to 2100 estimates.

Other estimates have indicated upwards of 7 feet of extra water in the world’s oceans in 2100.

Anna Maria Island has an average elevation of 5 feet.

Few of the data factors in the effect of hurricanes and storm surge. And, as the FSU study reveals, the figures aren’t necessarily site-specific for coastal locations. If your community is behind a levee or seawall, sea-level increases aren’t as important to you as your friend in his beachfront house against a wide, sloping shore.

The rising tides also don’t factor in any dramatic climatalogical alterations. As the FSU researchers said, “The new range does not incorporate the potential  acceleration of melting of Greenland or the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Although recent studies show that net melting from Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be occurring … the IPCC admitted its challenge in  incorporating contributions from melting ice sheets into the [sea level rise] models and that the published range may be too low.”

Change: ice sheets

Here’s a news nugget from CNN:

“Between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion tons of ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska has melted at an accelerating rate since 2003, according to NASA scientists, in the latest signs of what they say is global warming.”

In an age of really, really big numbers, that figure translates in non-journalistic speak at upwards of 2,000,000,000,000 tons, or 4,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds.

One of the biggest hits in the big meltdown comes from glaciers in Greenland and in the Gulf of Alaska.

Change: coral reefs

And one final element in the climate change front, this time an apparent watery disaster in the making.

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network released a global report of coral reefs recently, stating that one-fifth of all reefs worldwide have died and all could be gone within 40 years if trends of warming seas are left unchecked.

Network officials told a 190-nation United Nations conference in Poland that “climate change must be limited to the absolute minimum. If nothing is done to substantially cut emissions, we could effectively lose coral reefs as we know them, with major coral extinctions," according to the group’s coordinator and reported by MSNBC.

It’s not just warming oceans that are chilling coral reef expansion and threatening extinction, the study claimed. There are also threats by non-native species, pollution and destructive fishing practices.

Sandscript factoid

Speaking of destructive fishing practices, the world’s oceans are facing another threat, this time wholly manmade.

We’re killing sharks at an alarming rate — about 100 million per year — and by wiping out the ocean’s top predator, an imbalance in the system is occurring. Call it a disturbance in the force, if you will.

But with shark fins going for upwards of $500 per pound, and shark fin soup hitting the restaurant tables in Hong Kong and Taiwan at $100 per bowl, the market demand is proving to be greater than the ocean’s greatest predator. 

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