UUFSD Member, Jeff Severinghaus: Mining Ancient Air

Drilling Holes in Ice Sheds Light on Future

Researcher studies past climate trends revealed in ice cors to predict climate trends

By Deborah Sullivan Brennan APRIL 19, 2014 – UTSan Diego

Dr. Jeff Severinghaus, a professor of geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, displays an ice core with trapped bubbles of gases he studies to track changes in ancient climate at Scripps on Friday in San Diego, California. — Eduardo Contreras

Dr. Jeff Severinghaus, a professor of geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, displays an ice core with trapped bubbles of gases he studies to track changes in ancient climate at Scripps on Friday in San Diego, California. — Eduardo Contreras

For nearly two decades, Jeff Severinghaus has unearthed time capsules buried in polar ice.

They chronicle past epochs of Earth’s history, record ice ages and act as thermometers of the prehistoric sea. The objects of Severinghaus’ exploration are tiny vaults of fresh air, preserved for thousands of years in some of the oldest ice on the planet.

Scientists extract these time-stamped bubbles of ancient air from ice cores drilled thousands of meters below the surface.

“What we get is, ultimately, a record of past atmospheric gas concentration and temperature on the same time scale. You can’t get that from tree rings or ocean sediment samples,” said Severinghaus, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.

His work and studies by other researchers, conducted in some of the world’s most forbidding locations, show that “today’s heat-trapping gas concentrations are unprecedented in the entire ice-core record of 800,000 years. Ice cores also show unambiguously that fossil-fuel burning is the cause of the current (carbon dioxide) rise.”

Policymakers and others continue to debate the pace of global warming, why average temperatures have flattened in recent years and how much money countries should invest in adapting to the effects of climate change.

But there’s wide agreement on the value of ice-core science.

Like the carbon-dioxide measurements started by Scripps professor Charles David Keeling, ice-core analysis has been a pillar of climate science since the 1950s, when researchers first began drilling polar ice to scrutinize its chemical timeline.

But in contrast to the Keeling Curve, which tracks atmospheric carbon dioxide from 1958 to the present, ice-core records extend backward in time to measure climate conditions tens of thousands of years ago.

While the Keeling Curve is enshrined at the National Academy of Sciences and received extensive news coverage when carbon dioxide peaked at historic levels last year, studies of ancient ice have proceeded quietly behind the scenes.

Severinghaus discussed his research during a lecture in La Jolla this month, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the third of three sweeping reports about the extent of climatic shifts and how countries should respond to them.

“Taken together with projections of future fossil-fuel burning, ice-core research allows scientists to make predictions of future temperature with high confidence,” he said.

“My goal is to be an honest broker in the legitimate debate over the best response to climate change, by providing impartial scientific advice,” Severinghaus added. “Values and priorities will determine an individual’s tolerance for risk and preferred response to climate change, so the best course of action is not really a scientific problem. It’s a discussion that all citizens of our democracy need to be having.”

ICE AND GEOLOGY

Near the beach at Scripps is Severinghaus’ lab, one of the world’s leading sites for ice-core research.

There, in a subzero freezer, Severinghaus and others store samples mined from polar ice sheets and slice off sections for analysis. Scientists extracted the cylinders using specialized drills.

Outside the storage area is a rack of hats and snowsuits — essential gear for the job, but incongruous among the surfboards stacked in other offices on campus.

Stored in a -7F basement, Dr. Jeff Severinghaus, a professor of geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, cuts an ice core with trapped bubbles of gases he studies to track changes in ancient climate at Scripps on Friday in San Diego, California. — Eduardo Contreras

Stored in a -7F basement, Dr. Jeff Severinghaus, a professor of geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, cuts an ice core with trapped bubbles of gases he studies to track changes in ancient climate at Scripps on Friday in San Diego, California. — Eduardo Contreras

In his lab upstairs, Severinghaus and his team use an assemblage of flasks, tubes and burners to melt the samples and decrypt the secrets locked in the ice bubbles.

Born in the Bay Area, Severinghaus studied geology at Oberlin College, earned a master’s degree in geological sciences from UC Santa Barbara and received a doctorate from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“I love working outdoors, so that’s why I got interested in geology,” he said.

He delved into ice core-work as a postgraduate student and found that his geology background was useful in the field, allowing him to scan aerial photos to spot the best research sites. Moreover, the ice itself mirrors features of mineral rock.

“It’s kind of like geology on ice,” he said.
The ice, with its clearly defined annual layers, also serves as a repository for ancient air. By cross-referencing the ice and the air pockets within, scientists can look up information from earlier eras. They liken it to a library of early Earth.

“What’s beautiful about the ice core is we’re actually measuring gas of the prior Earth,” said Shaun Marcott, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University who has worked with Severinghaus in Antarctica. “There’s probably no other archive that can compare to that.”

LOW-KEY DECIPHERING

According to the journal Nature, the field of ice-core research began in 1954 when Danish geochemist Willi Dansgaard discovered the “isotope thermometer.”

Oxygen isotopes — atoms with slightly varied atomic weights — precipitate at different rates depending on temperature. So by measuring their proportions in prehistoric ice, scientists can reconstruct temperatures from the past.

In 1957, U.S. scientists first drilled ice from both poles. Researchers from Europe, Russia, China and Japan quickly launched their own polar-ice studies.

One of their key interests was how carbon-dioxide levels in ice bubbles corresponded with the rise and fall of glacial periods. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas, so its concentration in the atmosphere plays an important role in how warm the climate is.

In 1997, Severinghaus pioneered a way to calculate ocean temperatures over time by measuring elements called noble gases, which include argon, xenon and krypton. These gases dissolve more readily in cold water than warm water, and evaporate out as water warms.

“So by measuring the concentration of noble gases in the past, we can calculate what the ocean temperature was,” Severinghaus said. “The ocean temperature is the best indicator of global temperature, because it contains about 95 percent of the heat in the climate system.”

That discovery advanced ice-core research far beyond what scientists thought possible, said Kendrick Taylor, a professor at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada and chief scientist for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core project, where Severinghaus has conducted part of his work.

“If you said 10 years ago, ‘We’re going to get the temperature of the ocean out of the ice core,’ I would have said, ‘Yeah right, dream on,’ ” Taylor said. “But now we’re doing it.”

Severinghaus also discovered how nitrogen and argon isotopes left a chemical “signature” of rapid temperature change in Greenland’s ice. And he developed a “horizontal ice core” method for collecting large volumes of ice.

“We’ve discovered this outcrop of ice in Antarctica that allows us to get ancient ice at the surface,” he said.

There, researchers collect tons of ice — instead of slim columns — and melt them down in the field to extract 100 liters of air. These massive samples let them trace the sources of methane and carbon dioxide trapped in the ice.

“The (carbon dioxide) that comes from the ocean has a different isotopic signature than CO2 that comes from fossil-fuel burning,” Severinghaus said. “So you can actually discriminate between human-caused and natural CO2.”

JeffSeveringhauw3

Jeff Severinghaus, a professor of geosicences at Scripps Institution Oceanography, cuts 12,000 year-old ice with a chainsaw in Pakitsoq in western Greenland. — Photo by Vasilii Petrenko

The detailed examination of past climate helps explain which chemical triggers flip Earth’s thermostat, and how the cascade of warming or cooling unfolds. That lets scientists test the models used to forecast future climate.

“If you can show that the models are getting it right in the past, there’s more confidence that the models’ projection of the future is going to be accurate,” Severinghaus said.

Low-key and measured, he doesn’t go out of his way to highlight his scientific accomplishments. But his colleagues have taken note of them.

Last year, his innovations in gas measurements earned him the title of Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. It’s kind of an Academy Award for earth scientists.

“In some ways, it wasn’t unexpected that Jeff would get it,” Marcott said. “It was just a question of when he would get it.”

EXTREME ENVIRONMENT

Severinghaus has traveled to Greenland five times and to Antarctica seven times to study ancient air. While Greenland offers opportunities to study abrupt climate change, Antarctica presents the purest and oldest ice.

Scientists fly into McMurdo Station, a logistical hub of 1,000 residents with warehouses, aircraft hangars and construction shops. From there, they branch out to field sites, where they camp in groups of 10 to 60 researchers, and share tasks such as cleaning equipment and repairing snowmobiles.

At Taylor Glacier in Antarctica, scientists gather the gigantic samples of ancient ice. Another location, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (or WAIS) Divide, has thicker annual layers that allow scientists to measure past climate conditions down to the season.

One technique that Severinghaus helped develop, called replicate coring, lets researchers drill a parallel ice core alongside the main one to mine extra samples from particularly interesting periods of climate change.

“We are able to measure chemical properties we were never able to measure before,” Taylor said. “And we’re able to make the measurements with finer time resolution than we could in the past. So it’s like having a telephoto lens, where you can zoom in on the most interesting parts.”

It’s bitterly cold in Antarctica, even in summer, with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. But the toughest part is handling the ice cores. Researchers actually refrigerate their storage sheds so their samples can be preserved at -10 degrees.

“So we step outside (the sheds) in Antarctica to warm up,” Taylor said. “There’s a blizzard outside, and you’re in the middle of Antarctica, and you say, this is nice. It takes a certain physiology and a certain mental attitude to be able to work in that environment.”

For those with the right constitution, the stark landscape offers a quiet thrill.

“The artistic value is very striking; the robins’ egg blue color of the ice,” Severinghaus said.

In the evening, researchers share cooking duties. At bigger sites, they convene in a dining hall where professional cooks ship in delicacies such as frozen veggies and even lobster.

“There’s a nice spirit, where you sit around the dinner table and talk about your day’s adventures,” Severinghaus said.

He is married to a fellow scientist, Scripps oceanographer Lynne Tally, so the couple alternate field time. Since their twin son and daughter were born nine years ago, Severinghaus has limited his expeditions to every three years or so, sending graduate students in his stead during the intervening years.

As the debate over climate change continues, he makes it clear that his realm is science, not politics. But as a father, he looks forward to solutions.

“Speaking as a citizen, I hope that society will figure out a way to get this problem under control so that my grandchildren can have a decent planet to live on,” Severinghaus said. “It’s definitely worth working on it really hard. It’s definitely still possible to turn it around.”

Yes on Prop 39

UUFSD Reverend David Miller, gun store owner work to find common ground on gun control in Solana Beach

by Jason Sloss, Fox 5 News
4/30/13

davidYesOn39SOLANA BEACH, Calif. — The gun control debate hit Solana Beach City Hall last week when a church group petitioned the city council to take steps against gun violence. “To discuss public safety around these gun issues, uniquely, that happen here in Solana Beach and in North County,” said Rev. David Miller of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, who led the group into the meeting. The actions the church called for included holding gun buyback programs, eliminating gun shows and restricting gun sales through only one gun store in the city.

The city did not make a move on those requests. But after that meeting, there was another as pro-gun supporters and opponents walked outside and a gun store owner approached Rev. Miller.

“He walked up and introduced himself and I was happy to speak with him.  So we started a conversation on the stairs of the city council,” said Miller.

The gun store owner was Gregg Stockwell with Direct Action Solutions in Solana Beach.

“We wanted to let folks know we’re a member of the community — that we think we’re a benefit to the community,” said Stockwell.

The two men realized they wanted to find common ground on gun safety — and do it with civility.

“If I immediately demonize them, then we’re not going to be able to have a conversation,” said Miller.

They are planning to meet again soon. Stockwell said he will take the Reverend out to lunch to talk about the issues.

“I do have some ideas in the industry that could be tightened up and I think the reverend and his church could really do a great job and make a positive influence,” said Stockwell.

yesOn39

 

Gate at Border Opens for 1st Time!

Gate at old border fence near Friendship Park opens for the first time ever on Sunday

Father able to see daughter for first time
by John Carroll, 10 News
4/29/13

SAN DIEGO – Sunday marked the first time that a gate in the older of the two fences at the United States-Mexico border near Friendship Park was opened since the fence went up almost 20 years ago.

The historic event came on Children’s Day, a holiday in Latin American countries. Some participants told 10News they think the border fence’s day are numbered.

Over the past two decades, that area of the border has become much more fortified. First, a fence was built in the mid-1990s and then another fence was built just north of the old one. On Sunday morning, the Border Patrol allowed the old gate to be opened. The gate has never been opened before.

As people on both sides cheered, a young father, Luis Angulo, was able to see his 5-year-old daughter Jimena for the first time, with border agents watching closely.

As San Diego Mayor Bob Filner spoke to people on the Mexican side, the father and daughter embraced for about two and a half minutes. Then, it was time for the gate to close again.

Afterward, Angulo tried to find words to express the once-in-a-lifetime moment.

“It’s a miracle,” he said. “For all these people to come to see their families… and it’s really a miracle for me.”

The reason Angulo has not been able to see his daughter is that he only has a temporary visa and until he receives a permanent one, he cannot leave the United States. He told 10News he is hoping to get his permanent one soon.

Then-First Lady Pat Nixon opened Friendship Park in 1971. An old photo shows that there was no wall then, just a simple rope line.

People who gathered at Sunday’s event want the border to look like that again.

“We should be building bridges and opening gates instead of building these big walls that separate us,” said Bronwyn Ingram, who is the fiancée of Filner.

The man honored with sliding back the gate’s locking bar was San Diego architect and longtime Friendship Park volunteer Jim Brown. For him, the day was very special.

“It was very emotional actually,” he said. “It was a… it’s such a hugely symbolic gesture to open a gate right on the primary fence, right on the border.”

Enrique Morones, who founded the group Border Angels, compared the fence to the Berlin Wall, and like that wall, he said this one is destined to fall as well.

“That’s how the walls will fall,” Morones told 10News. “They start with cracks and this was the first big crack, so very symbolic.”

Peter Mayer Concert!

Peter Mayer Concert – June 15
Saturday 7:30 pm – Download the Flyer to share

UUFSD 1036 Solana Dr., Solana Beach 92075
Tickets: $18 in advance, $22 at the door.
All profits will directly benefit the UUFSD Concert Fund.
Tickets available every Sunday after the service.
For advance purchases, make checks payable to UUFSD, memo “Peter Mayer.”

Peter MayerRenowned UU folk musician Peter Mayer (‘Blue Boat Home’) “writes songs for a small planet—songs about interconnectedness and the human journey; about the beauty and the mystery of the world. Whimsical, humorous, and profound, his music breaks the boundaries of “folk”, and transcends to a realm beyond the everyday love song, to a place of wonder at the very fact of life itself.”

For concert questions, contact:  Vicky Newman at vinewman@ucsd.edu

Tickets will be available for purchase at UUFSD in the Core Area on Sundays after service beginning May 19.  Tickets can also be reserved before concert by sending a check to UUFSD (P.O. Box 201, Solana Beach, CA 92075), noting “Peter Mayer” on memo line.

Visit www.PeterMayer.net for more on his music.

View Peter Mayer’s Bio

And listen to “Blue Boat Home”, “Holy Now”,“The Play

And for a little of his whimsical side, enjoy “Happy Place

UUFSD’s Stand for Gun Control

CHECK IT OUT!

UUFSD continues to be in the news for our stand on gun control.

May 1st update:

April 30th update:

April 7th (Original Post):
UUFSD was featured in the Union Tribune today (April 7, 2013) for our work on gun control. Below are links to some of the coverage of the March 16th’s gun violence vigil held in Encinitas, including UUFSD members in the background.

April 16th (Original Notice to UUFSD Members):
Gun Violence Vigil – Saturday, March 16: Just a reminder that if you are coming and have a Standing on the Side of Love T-shirt, please wear it for we are the LOVE PEOPLE!!!

Candlelight Vigil for all Victims of Gun Violence
Saturday March 16, 2013 6:30 pm
In front of Encinitas City Hall at Civic Center
505 S Vulcan Ave, Encinitas, CA 92024
The Mayor of Encinitas will be hosting!
Bring: Candles, pictures of victims, signs promoting gun safety laws
Sign-up at: facebook.com/EncinitasVigil
For More Info Call: (619) 742-9555 Organized by: Organizing for Action (OFA)

Hmong Story Cloths Exhibited at UUFSD

From left, Nancy Harmon, Roger Harmon, Irving Himelblau and Bob Montgomery stand in front of a Hmong story cloth. Photo: Claire Harlin at the Del Mar Times

May 6, 2012:

The Exhibit Life Becomes Art: Story Cloths and Photographs of Southeast Asia’s Hmong People, is currently displayed in Founders Hall. Join us at a guided tour with Roger and Nancy Harmon after the May 13th service. Save the date of Monday, May 21, from 7 to 9 p.m. when we will hold a forum, free to the public, with presentations and discussions of the topic in Founders Hall. Mr. Bob Montgomery, Director of the San Diego Branch of the International Rescue Committee, will join Roger and Nancy Harmon as our speakers for the evening.

May 15, 2012

The forum is promoted by the Del Mar Times, with interesting background on the history of the Hmong and Hmong tribal life.

May 17, 2012:

The Hmong Story Cloths Exhibit is written up in the Coast News in a beautiful article about the exhibit and the Hmong people. It includes interviews with Roger Harmon and Bob Montgomery.

May 31, 2012:

The Hmong story cloth collection owners, Nancy and Roger Harmon, express their appreciation at the coverage the exhibit received in the Del Mar Times.

Feb 23: UUFSD Kids Standing on the Side of Love

Standing on the Side of Love is a public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression. It is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, and all are welcome to join.

National Standing on the Side of Love Month kicked off on Martin Luther King Day and ended on Valentine’s Day. Our children, under the guidance of DRE Alison Crotty, participated by making Valentines Day “thank you” cards to the organizations and lawyers that fought hard against Prop 8. You can read more about it here (search on UUFSD – you’ll find us about 3/4ths of the way down). On the same day, the whole Fellowship wore Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts and Rev. David Miller preached a sermon entitled “Is God Love?”

UUFSD kids and their Valentines for the lawyers that fought Prop 8.
(Credit: Alison Aguilar Lopez Gutierrez McLeod Crotty)

Dec 9: Vandals hit UUFSD

In the early morning hours on Friday, Dec. 9, our fellowship was vandalized with spray paint and what was apparently intended to be hateful words. It is unclear whether the person or persons who did this meant these words to be specifically against Unitarian Universalism or perhaps just a rant against some sort of religious institution. No matter how they were intended, it is clear that when these acts occur the fabric of civil society tears a little more.

Read the full article, written by Reverend David Miller, that was published in Letters to the Editor in the Del Mar Times and Solana Beach Sun.

The same article was posted on the Standing On the Side of Love blog and commented on by the Reverend Peter Morales, President of the UUA, on his facebook page on December 20, 2011.

Occupy San Diego and UUFSD

On October 15, 2011, nine members and friends of UUFSD marched in support of the Occupy San Diego movement. Members and friends marching in downtown Encinitas included Karen Freeman, John Gilles, Livia Walsh, Irv Himelblau, Dave and Deborah Ploesner, Angela Knappenberg, Ed Mlakar, and Bev Conner.

The Encinitas march was an adjunct to the march in downtown San Diego at which the Rev. David Miller and Ruth Gregory were present. Lisa Shaffer, Steve Bartram, Christie Turner and Laura Colban also participated in the ongoing Occupy demonstrations.

On October 24, Reverend David participated in leading an interfaith service in downtown San Diego outside the Civic Center for the Occupy San Diego protesters. You can find his sermons on the Occupy movement here and here.

And on October 31, the UUA released a statement on the Occupy protests, which can be read here.


Update, Feb 28, 2012:

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