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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
Ice Lottery's Scientific Payoff
26 October 2001 7:00 pm
Without knowing it, residents of Nenana, Alaska, have been betting on global warming for decades. Each spring, the townspeople erect a wooden tripod on a nearby river and take wagers on when it will fall through the ice. This lottery has inadvertently accumulated almost a century of data on the river's thaw, and a recent analysis of town records shows that the ice cracks about 5 days earlier than it used to. Researchers hope their findings, which match other climate change records, will encourage others to seek climate data in unlikely places.
In 1917, a group of railroad employees working on the Tanana River in central Alaska gathered $800 in wagers on the exact minute that the ice would begin to give way. The friendly bet became an annual tradition in the nearby town of Nenana, and it has since grown into a statewide phenomenon. Today, Alaskans come from all over to partake in the Nenana Ice Classic, enjoying a banana-eating contest and betting on a jackpot that exceeds $300,000.
Raphael "Rafe" Sagarin, an ecologist at Stanford University, believes this betting tradition has created an extremely accurate record of local climate change. Because of the high stakes, he says, organizers have tried to use the same location, equipment, and definition of what constitutes the "breakup" for 84 consecutive years. When he and his colleague Florenza Micheli analyzed records from the Ice Classic, they found that the ice now breaks an average of 5.5 days earlier than it did in 1917. The same warming trend exists in regional temperature readings. Sagarin hopes that the results, appearing in the 26 October issue of Science, will encourage others to look for environmental responses to global warming in data sets collected informally by individuals or communities, like a bird-watcher's records.
"I think it's cool that people living their ordinary lives can contribute to the scientific community," says Julie Coghill, the Ice Classic's Web master, who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, and has attended the event for decades. Is she concerned that Sagarin might use his data to purloin next year's prize? "Absolutely not," she says. "Rafe is welcome to buy as many tickets as he likes."