After Hurricane Sandy, a flurry of really great articles came out asking whether or not humans might be to blame for such extreme weather. Is Sandy a sign of climate change? Or just a destructive gust in Earth's natural variability? In some ways it's a question that's unanswerable because it seems to require a knowledge of the future, or a better sense of the past than we could possibly ever know. And thus it's a question subject to spin, to politics, to frustration.
Which is why it's particularly exciting to me that this year, the topic of the Howard Hughes Annual Holiday Lecture Series happens to be, coinSandentally enough... "Changing Planet." It's a series of talks (planned and scheduled months ago), that looks at the ways in which Earth has changed over the past 4 billion years. Harvard geologist Daniel Schrag will talk about what kind of information we can glean from rocks to paint a picture of Earth's past climates. Harvard prof Andy Knoll looks to fossils, allowing the organisms themselves (what was able to live on Earth and when) to fill in the picture. And Dr. Naomi Oeskes from the University of California, San Diego, a geologist with an interest in how we come to a scientific consensus, will talk about the stories revealed by plate tectonics.
And now the best part: anyone can watch these talks. They are free and piped live to your computer as webcasts. When? Later this week. On November 15 and 16 (at 10am PT).
Though they're specifically catered for students (the aim of the series is to get high-quality science presentations into the classrooms), it seems they'll be valuable to anyone seeking to learn more about what's going on with the Earth's weather right now. Are the Sandies and Katrinas and tsunamies and snoweaster'canes as bizarre and alarming as they feel? Are they a sign of some massive change underfoot, and could that change be caused by us? Or could they be a completely normal hiccup in an erratic Earth?
These talks promise to deliver information -- not spin, not opinion, but simply... information -- the best we have right now, based on various scientific approaches about the weird things that have happened throughout the history of Earth.
To watch the talks, you have to register. But it's absolutely free and... you get a free poster. I won't spoil the thrill of giant schwag by revealing the front, but here's photo evidence that it is... poster-sized. Teachers, share with your classrooms. And curious minds the world over, sneak a peek if you can to learn more. And though playing hooky to make it a nerd coffee date would certainly be festive, fear not if you can't catch the webcasts live -- a few days later they'll posted so you can see 'em any old time.
The lecture series is part of HHMI's "BioInteractive" mission. Another great resource for teachers and science students. There are lesson plans, activities, a catalog of past talks, and even an "Ask A Scientist" button, which pipes your sci-question straight to an expert.