Antarctica Is Practically Defined By Ice. What Happens When It Melts?

A special section in the October issue of BioScience examines the impacts of a single season of intense melting in Antarctica in 2001-2002 on two very different ecosystems. Effects included changes that range from speeding up microbial food webs to shifting penguin populations.

The intersection of two climatic cycles, the Southern Annular Mode and the El Niño Southern Oscillation, produced a particularly warm and windy spring season across Antarctica in 2001-2002, with melting glaciers, thinning of perennial lake ice, and changes in sea ice area. For the far-flung researchers who were prepared to capture it, this natural experiment offered a glimpse into the ecological future of this most remote continent.

The Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER), centered on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Palmer Station, was established on the West Antarctic Peninsula with NSF funding in 1990. It focuses on the ways that changing sea ice extent influences marine ecology and the multilayered food webs of the coastal, nearshore, and continental slope ecosystems. The McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER, established in 1992, explores the ecology of the terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems of Antarctica’s Dry Valleys—an ice-free polar desert where glacial meltwater exerts a profound influence on connectivity and nutrient inputs.

“These two vastly different polar ecosystems offer insights into how diverse ecosystems around the world will respond to climate change,” said Hugh Ducklow, the Columbia University ecologist who leads the Palmer LTER. “With long-term studies already in place, we were able to observe the effects on so many different levels.”

Three papers in the October issue of BioScience explore how atmospheric conditions and resulting changes in sea ice thickness impacted ocean food webs, how rapid melting of glaciers impacted microbial communities in lakes, and the long-term ecological implications of rising lake levels.

Read the special section at http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/10.toc.

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Scientists Offer Advice to Next U.S. President

The next president of the United States will take office in roughly three months, but researchers are not waiting until then to offer recommendations on climate change and science policy. The following are a few examples of outreach by scientists.

A group of 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel Laureates, have published an open letter on the serious risks posed by climate change. The letter warns of the consequences should the United States withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

“The consequences of opting out of the global community would be severe and long-lasting—for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States,” states the letter from scientists. “Walking away from Paris makes it less likely that the U.S. will have a global leadership role, politically, economically, or morally. We cannot afford to cross that tipping point.”

A former director of the National Science Foundation is encouraging the next president to focus on filling key science policy roles in their administration, especially within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). “Since the new administration will immediately be faced with a host of challenges requiring timely S&T [science and technology] advice, it is important that the President move quickly to appoint a Science Advisor and put together a team for OSTP, ensure that OSTP has the support and access to other White House offices and councils it requires, establish S&T policy priorities, and navigate the ongoing budget process for federal R&D investment,” wrote Neal Lane, Ph.D., a senior fellow in science and technology policy at Rice University, in a report released last month. Lane led the National Science Foundation from 1993-1998.

Others members of the scientific community are also reflecting on the end of President Obama’s administration and the work remaining for his successor.

“The Obama administration has made substantial progress toward engaging in public policy that moves from a normative and prescriptive understanding of humans to a scientifically informed descriptive understanding reflecting observed human behavior and social organization,” said Patrick A. Stewart, Ph.D., on behalf of the Council for the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences, which he chairs. “We will continue to encourage future administrations to focus more on descriptive research and nuanced policy practice that considers humans as we are: complex creatures who are influenced by a broad variety of social and biological contexts.”

To see how the presidential candidates would approach a number of significant science issues, please see their responses to the 2016 Science Debate questions at http://sciencedebate.org/20answers.

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Researchers Brief Policymakers on Radioecology

On 6 October, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers hosted a science policy briefing on the role of radioecology in national security. The event was held on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and was organized with assistance from the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Experts briefed staff from congressional offices, federal agencies, the Library of Congress, and non-profits about how science informs decision-making after the release of radioactive materials.

Copies of the presentations are available at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/scientistsbriefpolicymakersonradioecology.html.

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Applications of Bear Research and Big Data, Good Science: Two New BioScience Talks Episodes

Two episodes of BioScience Talks podcast are now available. The October episode features a discussion with the authors of a recent paper whose interdisciplinary work highlights the changing scientific landscape, in which large data sets and new computational methods encourage a more iterative approach to science. A bonus episode focuses on bear behavior and a recent mauling by a grizzly bear in Montana.

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AIBS Past Presidents Recognized for Scientific Achievements

Two former presidents of the American Institute of Biological Sciences have recently received national recognition.

Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University will be honored with the National Council for Science and the Environment’s (NCSE) Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2017. The award recognizes individuals who “significantly contribute to environmental science and improving environmental decision-making. Each awarded individual has dedicated his or her career to advancing science for the public good, and has made a substantial and recognizable contribution to his or her respective field of environmental science,” according to NCSE. Lovejoy served as AIBS President in 1992.

Diane Wall, a professor at Colorado State University, was featured in an article in Nature magazine about the secrets of life in soil. As author Rachel Cernansky writes, Wall “has become one of the most celebrated and outspoken experts on the hidden biodiversity in dirt, having studied soils and their inhabitants in nearly every corner of the world.” Wall was AIBS President in 1993.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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