Arctic Oscillation Diagram
It’s hard not to notice the lack of winter across most of the country, at least in the lower 48 states. Two weeks ago a January heat wave smashed records from North Dakota to California before spreading into the Northeast. At least 1,500 daily record high temperatures were set during the period from January 2-8, including Minnesota. Real winter weather is just around the corner though, thanks to the Arctic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation is a pattern of atmospheric pressure that helps steer the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere and is transitioning into a new phase. When it’s in a “positive phase” as it has been so far this winter, cold air tends to remain bottled up in the Arctic. In fact, the Arctic Oscillation has been extremely positive this winter, with the Arctic Oscillation index reaching its second-highest level on record, dating back to 1950. This is the opposite of how things were in December 2010 and January 2011, when the Arctic Oscillation was extremely negative and several major snowstorms slammed the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Scientists do not fully understand what influences the behavior of the Arctic Oscillation, but some studies show links between it and the loss of Arctic sea ice, which is due in large part to global warming, and other research suggests that solar activity can have an effect on it as well. Our friend and Minnesota weather guru Paul Douglas was on MPR’s Midmorning show recently discussing our weird weather and more. Listen here.
At a recent school visit in Proctor, Minnesota in early January, Will Steger explained the difference between weather and climate and talked about how he navigated his expedition teams without a GPS unit using wind, the sun, and weather as a guide. Students were surprised to learn how skills he learned as a young child enabled him to survive in the Arctic. Learn more about Will's early observations and journals in our online classroom.
Nicole Rom, Executive Director
Helping students to understand how the choices they make have an impact on the planet can be difficult, but in recent years online "carbon calculators" have been developed to help make this concept easier to grasp. There are many different options out there and which one is best really depends on the age of your students and how much work you want them to put into the activity. I have done a short summary of some of the calculators I have come across or have been recommended to me. In general I have stayed away from calculators that only measure things that are out of young people's control, such as airplane flight or knowing the cost of a utility bill. The calculators below give a nice overview of different directions you could take with your class depending on the age of your students or your intended outcomes. If you have a favorite calculator you have used, please share in the comments section below!
This is my favorite calculator, especially for upper elementary through middle school students that don't drive cars,but can make other decisions like turning off the lights, the water, etc.
This is a simple calculator I really liked because it breaks down your impact into household, transportation and food and then provides a very nice analysis comparing your carbon footprint to the average US citizen and the world. I especially like the food section because it really makes it clear what an impact certain food choices can make.
This calculator allows you to estimate the benefits street side trees provide. You need to input your zip code and information about the tree you have. The outcomes include the benefits of your tree for stormwater, property values, energy, air quality and CO2 mitigation. This one is great because students can measure and identify trees in their schoolyard or at home and input the information to get a general sense of the value of trees from both an economic and ecological standpoint.
A more comprehensive assessment of how carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus flow through your household.
This is interactive,and allows you to play around with what things would most offset CO2 emissions, but mostly includes things only adults would be able to change.
Institutional based and for older high school and college students interested in doing a full inventory of their campus.
Give you the option of offsetting your footprint through a cash donation and explains what they will do and how it will offset. Offset project examples include funding a tire recycling program, landfill gas recovery and forest restoration. Most of the items are applicable for adults, not kids.
- Topic Changing Behavior
- Expert Kristen Poppleton, WSF Director of Education
- Resource Type Blog
One of the initiatives I have become more aware of the last few months is that led by the US Green Building Council focused on the importance and value of Green Schools. You can read more about the work they are doing at http://www.greenschoolbuildings.org/Homepage.aspx.
This TED talk features one example of a Green School a bit more "out there", but very inspiring and just plain fun. The 3 simple guiding principles to building a green school that John Hardy share in his 13 minute talk are:
1) Be local.
2) Let the environment lead.
3) Think about how your grandchildren might build a school.
An article today in Conservation Minnesota details some ways that Minnesota schools can make their school a more environmentally friendly place WHILE freeing up money for education. The article brought to mind two things that have surprised me as the parent of a kindergartner just starting public school this year.
Before our daughter started kindergarten we attended several meetings at the school, met with her teacher and received at least 3 mailings. The result of these various meetings and mailings was close to a quarter of a ream of paper, much of which contained replications. I realize that often it takes this many times for a parent to respond, but an alternate delivery method, or a prioritizing of what truly needs to be printed seems in order. Put it all up on a website, but have some copies available for those who don't have access to the internet or ask parents on their kindergarten registartion forms if they would prefer to use email or post mail.
2. Bus vs. Ride
We are lucky in our city to have free busing available to all public school children within the district that are more than a mile from school. Because we live outside of a mile our daughter will be taking the bus. There is a long list of reasons I could go into why we made this decision, but I will stick to the one most relevant this blog. Carbon emissions. A bus could be described as the largest carpool option that exists and regardless of if I choose to use it or not, it will be running. Therefore if I choose to drive to school I double the emissions. On top of this, our school district has been involved with a great program called Project Green Fleet. "Project Green Fleet is a collaborative effort among business, government agencies and non-profit organizations to improve air quality and protect health by reducing emissions from Minnesota’s school buses and other diesel vehicles. Project Green Fleet helps school districts, privately owned school bus fleets, heavy-duty fleets and other diesel fleet owners reduce emissions through retrofits, repowers, and idle-reduction technologies."
When we toured the school my daughter will be attending last year we were able to go on a school bus ride. During the ride the driver explained how his bus was retrofited under this program to all of the kids and parents on the bus. His explanation turned the district's involvement in Project Green Fleet into not only a good environmental decision, but a teachable moment for children and parents alike. By using the bus system available to my child, I show my support for our district thinking about the importance of reducing carbon emissions and air pollution and providing a teachable moment for all of us about the changes that can be made system wide.
You can view our full profile at the Charities Review Council.