Tag Archives: climate change

Wonderful Things: Argo float

The Argo program was set up by a collaborative of research groups at the turn of the century in response to growing concerns about global climate change.

Named after Jason’s “Argo”, a ship in Greek Mythology that undertook the treacherous voyage to capture the Golden Fleece, this ambitious program involves the deployment of data-collecting floats in oceans across the world. They sink to depths of 1500m and only rise to transmit information in real time via a satellite which allows sea temperatures, salt levels (salinity) and ocean velocity to be monitored. There are currently over 3000 floats in circulation.

All Alone: Every year new floats are deployed building an ever more dynamic picture of our oceans

All Alone: Every year new floats are deployed building an ever more dynamic picture of our oceans

One of the most significant features about Argo data is that it is freely available to anyone (www.argo.net). The speed with which the information is recorded and published allows oceanographers to quickly draw seemingly conclusive analytical reports about trends and changes in our oceans.

However, the accessibility of the survey network can lead to problems. Information published has not always been accurate and science writers are quick to use Argo data to shape and support their theories, rather than allowing the data to collate over time to form more conclusive readings.

It is expected that in the not too distant future, the Argo global dataset will provide crucial indications that global warming is happening. Some feel that there is already enough evidence to support this theory and that we should take immediate action to combat its effects.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the people of the world have put their absolute faith in your hands. How would you use Argo data findings? Consider:

Can we really suggest global warming is occurring based on monitoring the oceans alone?

To get a truly conclusive indication that climate change is happening might take many more years of Argo data observation. Would you wait or take action now, potentially making decisions that will affect the lives of millions?

Would it be better if the data collected was less readily available, or do you feel that everyone has the right to such information?

The Argo float is in the Atmosphere Gallery, great for all age groups to explore the many issues concerning climate change in a balanced and engaging way.

-John Inch

Sceptics, change your tune

No, this isn’t about the Olympics… I’m sure you’ve all heard so much about Olympic fever (you may even be deep in the grips of it), so we’re going to give you a break from it for a minute.

This is about climate change (and we’ve heard so much about that too!). That the climate has been changing is almost universally accepted inside and outside scientific circles- but that the fluctuation is actually due to human activity has been a matter of debate for some scientists.  Now a groundbreaking study has given powerful indications that the 1.5C rise in temperature over the past 250 years is due to our busy work on the planet- and has even turned some sceptics!

So what is different about this study compared to all the others? First of all, it analysed data as far back as 1753 (previous datasets only collected from mid-1800s), and instead of having a human organize the data, it was done entirely by a computer (eliminating the criticism that scientists would apply their own bias to the data). The research plotted the upward temperature curve against suspected ‘forcings’ to analyse their warming impact- for example solar activity, or volcanoes. It turned out the best match was for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels- which as we all know have been on the rise, linked to our use of fossil fuels and the ice caps melting.

Our addiction to fossil fuels is getting us in hot water

Our addiction to fossil fuels is getting us in hot water

Interestingly, the results of the data analysis were all released before this paper was even published- another move aimed at appeasing the climate sceptics! So whilst some continue to be vocal about their dissent, others including Prof Richard Muller (who started the whole project!) have changed their tune: “We were not expecting this, but as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds.”

That’s really powerful, because we don’t always think of scientists having an agenda, but they do- just like any other people they have beliefs and theories about the way the world works. But if we are to get closer to understanding the way it really does work, we must be open to changing or refining those ideas if new evidence arises.

Luckily we aren’t the only ones who say this! Einstein said ” The important thing is not to stop questioning…” and that is one of the most important skills for your students to pick up, not just scientifically but applicable to all walks of life.

We like to model this for teachers and students using Mystery Boxes - try it out as an icebreaker, and to teach How Science Works in a fun, hands-on way.

Wonderful Things: Antarctic ice core

Faced with mounting concerns over climate change and global warming, we look to the scientists for answers, to explain what exactly is going on and what can be done to remedy it.

This is how we know what we know about climate change today: scientists, like good detectives, have to look  into the past to find clues to help them form a better picture of what is taking place now. By doing this they can ascertain what environments and climates were like on our planet millions of years ago, and so helping us understand where we stand today.

Can scientists travel through time?

Yes, but not in the “Doc Brown” way you are imagining.

 In a technique that is similar to the way we determine ages of trees and  have given a time of extinction for the dinosaurs , a sample of ice, known as an ice core is taken. This is basically a cylindrical cross section of ice, showing various layers of ice that were laid down over hundred of thousands of years. From this we can see what our world was like back before humans even existed.

The ice core in the Atmosphere gallery

The ice core in the Atmosphere gallery

How is this possible?

As scientists peer at this ancient shaft of ice they explore the various layers. Each layer corresponds to a year or sometimes a season. Within these layers lay trapped everything that fell that year including dust, pollen and atmospheric gases. Seasonal swings are detected and thus our past weather patterns are indicated, which gives us a clue as to what we should be experiencing now.

This is one of the reasons we know something is wrong. If we were to go by previous climate patterns, our planet should be getting colder not warmer, bu the unexpected turn has been attributed to the increased production if greenhouse gases.  

The Atmosphere gallery houses the first ice core sample in the world to be put on display! Taken from the Antarctic, almost 200ft beneath the top of the ice in 1989.

If you had all the money in the world, what would you do to preserve the environment?

In fact, is it more important to save the environment or learn to adapt to a changing climate?

Where will you live when the sea levels rise?

And if you’re going to be looking at climate change with your students, you can use Cloud Control, a game about geo-engineering the climate, to get them started on the topic. Cloud Control is part of our new online game suite Futurecade, launching next week!

The ice core is in the Atmosphere gallery, on the 2nd floor of the Wellcome wing

-James Carmody

Wonderful Things: Vickers Vimy

Sometimes it is important to look at some of the older inventions on display in the Science Museum in order to understand how technology has developed and contributed to where we are now.    

One such invention isn’t even 100 years old but technology has moved on so fast that it looks archaic!  This is the Vickers Vimy Mk.IV.  For those of you who aren’t experts in aviation, and I count myself in that category too, this is an aeroplane. 

The Vickers Vimy, 1919

The wonderful Vickers Vimy, 1919. Image SSPL

However, it’s not just any aeroplane, in 1919 it became the first one to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.  Before this, the only way to get across the Atlantic was by boat. All this changed after two men, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown, achieved the flight of 1900 miles in 16 hours.  It is amazing to think that this was just 16 years after the Wright brothers made the first ever sustained flight, which lasted just 12 seconds and covered 37 metres.

The Vickers Vimy flight began on the 14th June in St John’s, Newfoundland. It’s journey was fraught with peril.  The pilots faced storms, snow and ice … At one point Alcock became so disorientated in the dense clouds that they began to spiral out of control!  Fortunately, they recovered just before crashing into the water.  They arrived the following morning in Clifden, County Galway and promptly crash-landed in a bog (probably a bit of a relief). They received a hero’s welcome and were both knighted by George V.      

The Vickers Vimy wasn’t built for this purpose, though; it was originally intended as a heavy bomber during the First World War.  However, Alcock and Whitten-Brown recognised the potential these planes had for long distance flying. They had the best design and Rolls Royce engines, which were the most reliable.

In fact, this was the beginning of a travel revolution, which was to continue throughout the 20th Century.  These days, flying abroad is very common but we are now starting to see the impact that this is having on our environment.  Not only in terms of the energy being used but also the level of noise pollution and changes in our air quality.  In 2010, Heathrow alone recorded nearly 449,220 flights taking off from their runways.  That is 1,231 flights a day! 

Although air travel contributes less to greenhouse gas emissions than say, factories, we do need to address the environmental issues around flying.

  • What suggestions do your students have for how we can reduce the environmental impact of these flights? 
  • The Government has been discussing the possibility of charging a Green Tax in response to these issues (you can read more about green taxes here).  How would you feel about paying a Green Tax when you fly?
  • So…  Would you prefer to holiday 4 times a year by train, or once a year by plane?

You can find the Vickers Vimy aeroplane in the Flight gallery on the third floor of the Museum. 

-Kate Davis

I’ll have the test tube burger with fries please…

Plenty of us love a good burger or a juicy steak, but you’d have to be living under a rock to not be aware that farming meat is really rather bad for the environment, (18% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock) and generally not great for animal welfare either. One solution could be to cut meat out entirely and go veggie- but let’s not kid ourselves. BURGERS ARE DELICIOUS.

BURGERS. Is this meat addiction?

BURGERS. Is this meat addiction? Image Young & Foodish

 So how about test tube meat? Take a muscle stem cell (aka a myosatellite cell) from a cow or a pig, and in the correct conditions, that cell can differentiate into muscle cell and multiply. Even better, muscle stem cells tend to naturally organize into muscle fibres, and provided with some anchor points in the petri dish, will begin to form strips of muscle. And if the anchor points are made of little bits of velcro, then the muscle fibres actually exercise and bulk up as they pull against the velcro! At the moment the best that scientists can do is little strips a couple millimetres thick and 2-3cm long (sounds like ready-ground meat for burgers!) but they are working on a meshwork that could make something thick enough to be prepared like steak.

Muscle cells- is this where your next steak is coming from?

Muscle cells- is this where your next steak is coming from?

There are mixed feelings around lab meat. Some people think it’s genetically modified food (it’s not) and maybe just the idea of eating meat from a factory rather than a farm strikes a peculiar note. But Professor Mark Post (the man behind the meat) points out that until 20 or so years ago, all cheese came from farms- now most of what people buy comes from factories: “Why should meat be any different?”

Could lab meat save the planet? Will it ever be as satisfying and delicious as meat from a real animal? (turns out right now it doesn’t taste very nice!)

Should we just get over ourselves and our demands? Will we invest money into meat research (PETA thinks we should!) Or should we just quit our burger habit?

What about lab-growing rare animal meats, or even human meat? And, bottom line, would you eat it? How about ground up and fried with onions?

New Punk Junk!

Short films are a great way of providing your students with some knowledge to bring into a discussion, or helping them formulate an opinion on an issue.

We do love films… And we love the Punk Science boys- our home-grown rambunctious science comedians. So we have put the two together.

We now have two new Punk Science films that will make all your dreams come true! Well, they will if you dream about having a fun video on ‘going green’ to show your students before a climate-science themed discussion, or a short flick that clarifies the difference between genetic modification and selective breeding.

If you dream about exotic holidays and eating cherries ’til your stomach aches then I’m not sure if Punk Science can help… but they will make you smile. Enjoy!

Eco Dan: Punk Science shows us how it's done

Eco Dan: Punk Science shows us how it's done

Royal rubbish

Loved it or loathed it, the Royal Wedding was a big to-do a couple weeks ago… from dresses to banquet to honeymoon to I CAN’T BEAR TO HEAR ANYTHING MORE ABOUT IT,  everyone seemed to have something to say on the subject. Did you also wonder how much energy was spent on it? Linking current events and topics your students are buzzing about, to the themes you need to cover in lessons is a great way to hook them in. Make a connection between things they are interested in and things you NEED them to take an interest in.

Perhaps this is something you can get your class to focus on- what was the carbon footprint of the Royal Wedding? Working it out to the exact gram of carbon dioxide equivalent might be a bit tricky, but you could get your students engaged in discussing the climate cost of the event by identifying where and how energy was used on the big day. How could they have made the wedding greener?

William and Kate tie the knot

William and Kate tie the knot

From rubbish cleanup and recycling, to the wedding enthusiasts’ travel to London; from the RAF buckingham palace fly-by to the cost of producing commemorative tat for tourists, it was an energetically expensive affair! In fact the international event is meant to have generated over 1,230 times the annual emissions of an average UK household. And as a TV viewer (which you probably were) guess when the power demand surges and drops to the national grid occurred? (Hint- think about those key moments!)

Anyway, maybe William and Kate are offsetting it by taking an eco-honeymoon. Camping, anyone?

Climate spice can be nice

Climate science is a hot topic, and right now we have quite a few great (if we may say so ourselves) exhibitions and resources here at the Science Museum, things that will inspire discussion and make teaching climate science that much more engaging.

Right now a special exhibition called Ten Climate Stories is open on the ground floor, revealing the hidden stories behind some of our favourite objects and also showcasing some incredible artwork. The Antarctic Sno-Cat is so amazing, it gives us chills (excuse the pun)! And do you have any idea what goes into making everyday objects like a toaster? We think you will be surprised!

Antarctic Sno-Cat: the stuff adventure is made of

Investigate our climate-changing world in Atmosphere, make sense of how climate works and travel back in time to uncover the secrets of our ice core. This is a really immersive exhibition, designed as a space with its own landscape, oceans and atmosphere so we think your students will find it a lot of fun to explore!

Oh, if you get the chance and bugs don’t bug you out, TAKE OUR COCKROACH TOUR! Put yourself in their shells and take a look at those bizarre creatures known as humans… Weekends only (so maybe this is best for you and a friend), space is limited to ring 0870 870 4868 to book your place.

Of course, pay a visit to the Energy gallery to get your students thinking about the ways we fuel our lifestyle and where our electricity comes from. You will have to book a timeslot for this (it is free), and your students will benefit from an excellent briefing to get them thinking about the energy debate before they go into the gallery. Do call our Learning Support Team to book.

Once you’re back at school (or at home) you can play our online game Rizk which is all about the difference between thriving and surviving- representing the choices we make to develop our world and the risks we take. I’m a big fan of it’s slick, moody graphics- beautiful!

Rizk - whats the difference between surviving and thriving?

We also have a whole range of learning resources that will help you engage your students in the topic (which can be a bit tricky to make appealing, we know!). So on our website you will find everything you need to plan a collapsed timetable day- but you can pick and choose activities to just use in your classroom too.

Our resources are all developed and tested with teachers and students (we even ran the Carbon Cycle Caper at ASE conference in January and it got rave reviews) so hopefully from all this you’ll find something that suits your needs and helps you add a bit of climate spice to your lessons!

Emission statement

Many of us have heard about how cattle production contributes more to greenhouse emissions than cars, but have you ever wondered just how they calculate a cow’s emissions? I have, so I will share what I came across today.

Measuring methane production from a cow

The inflatable tank on the cow’s back is connected directly to the cow’s first stomach through holes in its ribs!  The data from this research is being used to determine how much Argentina’s agriculture contributes to climate change. 

If you are planning a classroom discussion around climate change, try using this image as a stimulus. In fact, take a good look at PopSci’s entire gallery of amazing science images, because many are provocative, intriguing and can be used to engage and inform your students in classroom discussions.

Santa’s Den – how green is your sleigh?

Top tip: Engage your students by making your discussions topical

It could be the Copenhagen conference or the Large Hadron Colider – take advantage of whatever’s happening in the news to get your students talking. On a Christmassy theme here’s a great idea generated by teachers in Newcastle on a recent Talk Science course.

Santa’s Den

Using the format of popular TV show Dragons’ Den, students work in small groups to pitch ideas on how to make Santa’s sleigh more eco-friendly – even Santa is looking for ways to reduce his carbon footprint these days!

Santa, his sleigh and a polar bear

Santa, his sleigh and a polar bear

This is a fun and easy way to look at alternative fuels and energy sources. What do you need?

  • Some dragons (technicians do this very well as do fellow science teachers! alternatively get your students to play the part)
  • Five or six small groups of students
  • Information on alternative energy sources

Plenty of info on energy sources is available on the Science Museum’s Energy Gallery website and also from our ‘Does Flying cost the Earth?’ mini site.

Give the groups time to come up with a new way of powering Santa’s sleigh to maximise his green credentials. The add in whatever extra constraints you like – a budget limit, must generate enough power to travel round the world, does it work in the dark etc.

Each group pitches to the Dragons who can cross examine the ideas. The Dragons then decide if they want to invest or not.

For more information about role play activites click here.

Merry Christmas from the Talk Science Team!