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Fire and ice: Caf talk discusses big ‘what if?’

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By Carol A. Clark

Joyce Ann Guzik of Los Alamos National Laboratory spoke about the sun to more than 80 teenagers at the Bradbury Science Museum Wednesday evening. Guzik’s presentation – titled “What if the Sun Stopped Shining?” – covered everything from the sun’s suspected origin to its projected demise.The fast-paced, information packed talk was part of the rapidly expanding Caf Scientifique program for youth, brought to Los Alamos and three other Northern New Mexico cities by Science Education Solutions President Michelle Hall.“These kids are just amazing,” Hall said, describing the youths’ mature demeanor and intelligent questions.Guzik agreed, saying she thoroughly enjoys talking with high school students and is impressed by their questions.“I always learn something from them,” she said, adding that she is excited about the subject of the sun and wants the teens to learn more about it.Gusik told the crowd the sun, made up of 73.2 percent hydrogen, 25 percent helium and 1.8 percent other elements, goes through a cycle every 11 years.In 2012, the sun will become more active, she said. Gusik displayed a graph depicting 400 years of sun spot observations.“It looks like there might be a correlation between increased sun spot activity and the warmth of the climate,” she said.Following Guzik’s presentation, the youth broke into small groups to discuss what life would be like if the Earth cooled by 2-3 degrees Celsius.During the coldest part of the so-called Little Ice Age, mean tempatures are said to have dropped between 2-3 degrees Farenheit, in Europe and North America – and perhaps much of the world was subjected to bitterly cold winters, Gusik said.Whether there is a casual connection between low sun spot activity and cold winters is the subject of ongoing debate, she said.Although it did not start at the same time around the world, the Little Ice Age is thought to have extended from the 13th century to the 19th century, Gusik said.In the mid-17th century, glaciers in the Swiss Alps advanced, gradually engulfing farms and crushing villages, and the Thames River as well as the canals and rivers of the Netherlands froze over.In 1622, a freeze occurred in the Golden Horn of Turkey and the southern section of the Bosphorus River connecting the Black Sea and the Medditeranean Sea, Gusik said.In the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze; people could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. Iceland became surrounded by sea ice for miles.Greenland’s Viking colonies died out in the 15th century because they could no longer grow enough food. North American Indians formed leagues in response to food shortages.Violent storms caused massive flooding and loss of life, and large tracts of land were permenantly lost from the Danish German and Dutch coasts, she said.Timbuktu, on the trans-Saharan route, was flooded at least 13 times by the Niger River, she said, adding that there are no records before or since of similar flooding.Students attending Gusik’s talk chatted exciting about all they had learned.“It was enjoyable to learn some things I didn’t know about the sun,” said Landon Sutherland, a 17-year-old senior from Los Alamos High School.LAHS junior, William Repass said, “I learned how the sun was formed, I didn’t know that before. I really enjoy the Caf Scientifique program and the thrill of scientific discovery.”Repass said she intends to become a pathologist.Caf Scientifique Youth Leader Benino Sandoval thanked the Bradbury Science Museum for hosting the event.Because of the large turnout last month for the talk on finding a cure for HIV by LANL scientist Ruy M. Ribeiro, the museum broadcast Gusik’s presentation in its three conference areas.As part of the program, Wednesday’s teenagers were treated to submarine sandwiches, fruit, chips, veggies and candy. They also received cash for car pooling and several lucky participants won door prizes.As word spreads about the program, the Caf Scientifique Youth Leadership Team keeps expanding.“We now have 29 youth leaders,” Hall said, adding that more youth are welcome to join.The next Caf, “Human Engineering of Climate,” is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the University of New Mexico - Los Alamos Building 2 Lecture Hall.For information, access www.cafenm.org or contact Hall at 663-5365, hall@scieds.com.