Not only is there a wave of obesity in the well-fed Western world, but the Earth itself is getting fatter around the middle, caused by global warming. An increase in glacier melting at the poles, along with shifts in ocean circulation, have forced water away from the poles to the Earth’s midsection. Physicist Jean Dickey of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory says, “Some people refer to it as equatorial obesity.” This is a sudden change in shape for the Earth, which, before this, had been getting rounder for thousands of years. The reversal has stunned scientists, and at first they were puzzled over why it’s happening.
They now think it?s due to a glacier melting rate that?s increased in 1998 to three times what it was in 1989. There?s less heavy ice at the poles and the melted water has flowed to the equator and changed the Earth?s gravity field. “The gravity measurements suggest there is a big change in the Earth, both in its oceans and its ice,” says Dickey. “One has to be concerned for the health of the planet.”
Are we going to find out about global warming before it?s too late to relocate agriculture?and maybe ourselves? It turns out mussels are the ocean?s version of the canary in the coal mine because they?re so sensitive to water temperature?a few degrees lower or higher can make a big difference in whether or not they survive. Stanford University has developed a fake mussel called the Tidbit, which looks, feels and absorbs heat like a real mussel and can dwell among them. They?re filled with technology that measures the temperature of the water.
Researchers plug the fake mussel into a Palm Pilot and download the data directly from the group of mussels they’re studying. Since they live along the Pacific coast in large numbers, they provide a huge natural laboratory in which to study global warming. Researcher Michael O’Donnell says, “They’re really common, so if they start dying that should raise some important questions.”
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