People Have Tracked Changes in Climate for Much Longer Than We Thought

Kiyoshi Miyasaki, a priest, points out some of the records on lake ice and the omiwatari, an ice ridge. His data sheet summarizing the records are on the table. Image credit:  John J. Magnuson 

Climate change may seem like a fairly new topic for scientific investigation—going back a few decades, perhaps—but a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports shows that people have been tracking changes in climate for much longer than previously thought. The study, which examined records from far northern Europe and from Japan stretching back to the 17th and 15th centuries, respectively, found that those early records—like those collected more recently—point to the same troubling conclusion: The world has been getting warmer ever since the Industrial Revolution.

In 1442, Shinto priests in the Japanese Alps started keeping track of the date on which a nearby lake froze. And in 1693, merchants in northern Finland began to track the date on which ice would break up on a local river. Taken together, these are the oldest inland water-and-ice records known.

“These are direct observations of climate, and they’re very consistent with each other,” biologist Sapna Sharma of York University in Toronto tells mental_floss.

The data from both locations can be plotted as approximately straight lines, showing only a very slow change in the freeze-date in Japan (which moved gradually earlier), and in the melting date from Finland (which moved gradually later), until the 19th century—at which point “the slope of the line changes significantly,” indicating a rise in temperatures, Sharma says.

The international team of researchers was led by Sharma and by John J. Magnuson, a limnologist (an expert on inland waters) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. 

The Japanese data was collected by priests at Lake Suwa as part of a ceremony honoring two gods said to dwell on opposite sides of the lake. According to legend, the male god, Takeminakata, would cross the frozen waters to visit a female god, Yasakatome, at her shrine on the other side of the lake. In Finland, the freezing of Torne River was important to traders, merchants, and travelers. Record-keeping continued in both locations right up to the present, with few interruptions, Sharma says: “The Scandinavia data only has six missing years—when the Russians invaded Finland, and the record keeper had to flee.”

In Japan, the upward trend in temperature begins in the 1810s, while in Finland it begins around 1867—reflecting the later start of industrial activity in far northern Europe. “We looked at climate records, and diaries that people had kept describing the climate, and it seems to be consistent with when things started to warm up in both of those regions,” Sharma says.

In Japan, for more than 200 years, the freeze-date moved by only a tiny amount from year to year—less than one-fifth of a day per decade, on average. After the onset of industrialization, however, that rate climbs to 4.6 days per decade. The Finnish data show a comparable change.

The data are consistent with other studies of long-term climate change based on theoretical models as well as “paleo” studies (what scientists have been able to infer from sediment, ice cores, and tree rings) and from modern record keeping of ocean and air temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, Sharma says.

The findings “provide a nice source of confirmation for other lines of evidence,” Michael Mann, an atmospheric scientist at Penn State University, who was not involved with the study, tells mental_floss. Attempts to model changes in Earth’s climate over time rely on extrapolations of modern data, so having these early records can help scientists refine their mathematical models, Mann says. This, in turn, can help us predict what may lie ahead. “The better we are able to reproduce documented past changes in climate, the more confidence we have in our projections of future, human-caused climate change using the same climate models,” he says.

Kathrin Weiland
Cow Manure and Elephant Dung Could Be Used to Make the Paper of the Future
Kathrin Weiland
Kathrin Weiland

The average dairy cow produces 82 pounds of manure daily. For elephants, that number is up to 300 pounds. According to researchers at the University of Vienna, all that dung represents an untapped resource that has the potential to change the way we make paper.

The team of scientists presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 21. Waste from cows and elephants, they say, is rich in the same cellulose that's required to make paper products. What's more, the cellulose in manure has been broken down by digestion, making it easier for paper manufacturers to process.

"Animals eat low-grade biomass containing cellulose, chew it and expose it to enzymes and acid in their stomach, and then produce manure," researcher Alexander Bismarck said in a statement. "Depending on the animal, up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible."

Bismarck first got the idea to make paper from manure after seeing goats graze on dry grass in a small village in Crete. As he watched the plant matter go in, he wondered if that same matter wouldn't be suitable for making paper once it came out the other end. Today most paper is made by grinding down raw wood into nanocellulose, a process that takes a lot of power. The cellulose in dung has already been chewed and worn down by acid and enzymes in the animal's digestive system, cutting out the need for all that grinding.

Following Bismarck's goat manure–inspired revelation, he and his team began working with waste from horses, cows, and now elephants. Thanks to cattle farms and elephant parks around the world, this material is an abundant sustainable resource. The dung they collect is treated with a sodium hydroxide solution to remove lignin, the glue that holds cellulose fibers together (and can also be used as fuel). From there, they filter out other impurities like proteins and dead cells and bleach whatever's left with sodium hypochlorite to create a pure, white pulp that's ready to be made into paper.

The research team is currently exploring potential applications for the material. For now, they say it could be used as reinforcement for polymer composites or as filters for wastewater. It can also be made into paper for writing, though it may be a while until you see notebooks made from elephant dung at your local office supply store.

Good for You, Good for the Environment: 'Plogging' Combines Jogging With Picking Up Trash

If you can’'t motivate yourself to maintain a jogging habit for your own sake, try doing it for the sake of the planet. That's the thinking behind plogging: an eco-friendly Swedish fitness trend that's made its way to the U.S.

As Mashable reports, plogging (a mash-up of "jogging" and the Swedish word plocka, meaning "to pick") is simply going for a jog and picking up any litter you see along your route. The trash-collecting portion of the activity requires some bending and squatting, which adds variety to your workout routine. And at the end of your run, your neighborhood is a cleaner place for its residents—human and animal alike.

Improperly discarded trash can seriously hurt and even kill wildlife if it's ingested. Cities can hire people to clean up excess litter, but it comes at a high cost. According to a 2013 story in the Los Angeles Times, communities in California spend close to half a billion dollars a year keeping litter out of waterways.

Plogging alone won't solve the world’s litter problem, but if every jogger suddenly became a plogger, that would be a huge step in the right direction. Looking for a way to jump on the trend? The fitness app Lifesum now includes a plogging option for users.

[h/t Mashable]


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