Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November Nature Net News - Changing Climate

"Our generation has inherited an incredibly beautiful world from our parents, and they from their parents. It is in our hands whether our children and their children inherit the same world."
Richard Branson
Dear Reader,

The seasons just aren't what they used to be! Summer days are hotter and winters more extreme. Droughts stretch across the country, followed by intense rain. Our climate is changing and it affects us every single day.

Climate change is hot topic nowadays, be you politician, environmentalist, or everyday person. This is because we all live in this world, and impacts of climate change are all around us. A matter of a few degrees in the average temperature can mean the difference between local crops thriving or drying out, or animals being able to adapt or not. 

Records show that Wisconsin's average temperature has slowly increased the past fifty years by more than one degree. Now, this might not seem like much, but consider this: since 1960, signs of spring have come weeks earlier, lakes freeze less often and with thinner ice, and winter temperatures have warmed by 4 degrees (info from here).

There have been a lot of claims and debates made in the past few years about climate change... in this issue of Nature Net News, we have sorted through some great resources to provide you with information about climate change and its impacts around Wisconsin and the world.


Kathe, Sarah and Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know..... 60-80% of snowstorms in the United States occur during warmer-than-normal years.

The average number of days of ice cover on Madison lakes has decreased by around 29-35 days over the past 150 years.

Many Wisconsin species have adjusted their spring activities, blooming or arriving several weeks earlier in spring than they did a few decades ago.

The rate of climate change is predicted to increase over the next forty years, and Wisconsin's average annual temperature will warm by 4-9 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century!

What To Do This Month:
Keep track of weather, plants, animals, migrations and seasonal changes around you (this is called "phenology"). You can use these observations to begin conversations about climate-related topics such as weather, atmosphere, temperature, seasons, ecosystems and more. Here are some great Nature Net resources to get you started!

Learn how climate changes are impacting animal habitats around the world with International Orangutan Caring Week (November 12-20) at the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Stay tuned for public programs and special events at the new Climate Education Center at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center!

Tricks of the Trail for Parents
Explaining Climate Change
Climate change is a complex subject, and can be especially confusing to younger children, who are not old enough to remember when the climate was different. Explain that slowly, over the course of your lifetime, the weather we can usually expect has been changing. Give examples of what your childhood weather was like, and have your children compare it to what the weather is like today. (Remember that there are always variations and extremes, but we are talking about averages over time.) What effect might these changes have on plants, animals and people?

Check out real-life stories of changes in Wisconsin!

Take a look at EPA Climate Change Kids site, and A Student's Guide to Climate Change!

Explore NASA's findings on climate change.

Interact with the Global Climate Dashboard to view a variety of Earth's changes over different time periods.

Research_Explorer has an interesting site on the science of climate change at the Exploratorium.

Check out the WICCI (Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts) website to see what our state is doing in response to our changing climate!

Once you've learned about climate change, find out what you can do about it - at home, school, at the office or on the road.

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Tricky Terms
Why are there so many different (and sometimes scary!) titles for what is happening in the world around us? Here are some definitions to help explain the terms.

Climate Change: difference in long-term averages of daily weather and other characteristics of Earth's systems.

The Greenhouse Effect: how Earth's atmosphere keeps the planet warmer than Outer Space. Earth gets energy from the Sun in the form of heat and light, and its surface absorbs some of this and warms up. Earth then gives off a different form of energy, called infrared radiation. But before all this radiation can escape to Outer Space, it passes through greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which absorb some of it and hold it close to Earth. As the atmosphere gets warmer, it also makes the Earth's surface warmer (from EPA Kids). The Greenhouse Effect is very important for keeping Earth comfortable and suitable for life, but the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (especially carbon dioxide) has been increasing.

Carbon Cycle: the path carbon takes as it cycles through the world. Many living beings, such as humans and animals, inhale air and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants take care of the carbon we exhale, converting it to oxygen, and Earth's oceans absorb a lot of carbon, too. Other things on Earth also emit carbon, through decomposition, combustion, etc. The burning of fossil fuels in recent centuries is adding huge amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, and the trees and plants and oceans can't keep up with the pace.

Weather vs. Climate: Weather is a small-scale phenomenon, while climate is large-scale, made up of an average of weather in an area over months, years and longer. Climate is also what tells us what conditions we can generally expect in a place and time. (Watch "Episode 2" here for a good explanation.) For example, there can be sunny days or rainy days (weather) in the Amazon Rainforest, but the climate there is largely warm and wet.

Phenology: literally "the science of appearance;" studying the physical changes in an environment over the course of the seasons. For example, a phenologist marks the day she sees the first robin of spring, and can then compare it to other years' records or others' observations.

Featured Nature Net Site:
The Aldo Leopold Nature Center has been busy putting together climate education exhibits and programs in their newly expanded facility, including Science on a Sphere, Global Warming: Facts and Our Future, Storms 360 Fly-Through Immersive Theater, Madison Gas & Electric Renewable Energy Center, Nina Leopold Bradley Phenology Center and more!

ALNC members recently got a preview of the exhibits at Fall Fest, and teachers had a sneak peek at the Educators' Open House. The Aldo Leopold Nature Center has also just started booking pilot school groups to test out new fieldtrip programs. Stay tuned for more opportunities to check it out in the coming months!

Learn about other Nature Net sites

 Nature Craft
Rice Krispie Planet
What you need: 3 tablespoons butter, 1 package regular marshmallows (or 4 cups mini marshmallows), 6 cups Rice Krispies, 2 colors food coloring (we used green and blue), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional).

1. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely blended. Remove from heat.
2. Add Rice Krispies and optional vanilla. Stir until well-coated.
3. Divide mixture into two bowls. Add one food coloring to one bowl and another color to the second - a few drops is all you need! Mix well. (You can mix with your hands - be sure to wash them before and after!)
4. Being careful of the temperature, use your hands to combine blue Rice Krispies and green Rice Krispies to make your own Rice Krispie planet!
5. Let cool completely on wax papered surface.
6. Enjoy!
*Note* Be careful of the amount of food coloring used--your teeth may stain!
(Nature Craft adapted from and
Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading
"A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids" by Julie Hall (4-8)
"Ask an Expert: Climate Change" by Richard Spilsbury (4-8)
"The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge" by Joanna Cole (4-8)
"What are Global Warming and Climate Change?" by Chuck McCutcheon (6-12)
"Climate Change" by DK Publishing (9-12)
"Weird Weather: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Climate Change But Probably Should Find Out" by Kate Evans (9-12)
"Global Warming: The Threat of Earth's Changing Climate" by Laurence Pringle (9-12)
"Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change" by Tony Bradman (9-12)
"The Climate Crisis: An Introductory Guide to Climate Change" by David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf (adults)

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Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events