74 Degrees at the North Pole

Probably you’ve already seen this disturbing story by Andrew Revkin in the NYTimes about a huge study demonstrating the existence of a "tropical Arctic" fifty million years ago, with waters at the North Pole as warm as Florida, about 74 degrees.

As a short item in the Nature newswire put it:

Not only did the Arctic heat up to an extent that is inexplicable by current climate models, say the researchers, it also seems that the North Pole began to cool at about the same time as the Antarctic. This timing suggests that climate was being driven by a global factor, such as atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, rather than something more local, such as geological upheaval.

"This is a major, major surprise," says Jan Backman, a marine geologist at Stockholm University in Sweden, who co-led the expedition.

(It’s not the only troubling paper in this issue of Nature, but it’s the only one I can get to in this post.)

But have you seen the video version?

(It’s accessible from the same page, but nestled modestly in the text next to a somewhat incongruous picture of Arctic mountains, about halfway down).

The reporter speaks directly to the camera. He’s dignified, conversational, easy to understand, persuasive. It’s a good piece, but it’s a different piece than the print version, which in traditional newspaper style, uses the bottom of the story to dig into the details. 

In the video version, Revkin sums up:

"In other words, it got a lot hotter up there [in the Arctic] than our current understanding of the system can account for. The models, and our understanding of the Arctic, are less sensitive than the real climate is to a jolt, a warming jolt…and the scientists I talked to, who were authors of the paper, and some others, who were independent experts, all say this is reason for caution in thinking about how fast we want to build up those gasses."

Essentially, he’s making the important point explicitly; in the newspaper version of the story, it’s implicit. Plus, the video version ends with this crucial point, so we’re more likely to remember it.

Interesting. I think the newspaper may be on to something here. 

Here’s a computer simulation from Nature of an undersea mountain range that the $15 million, seventeen-nation, three-icebreaker study team discovered, after extensive drilling into the ocean floor near the North Pole:


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: