Since 2007, the worldwide Earth Hour movement has grown to engage thousands of people in virtually every country on the planet.
One traditional Earth Hour activity is to turn lights off at 8:30 p.m. on the last Saturday of March, which is March 30 this year. This symbolic action is meant to help us look at our own energy use and its impact on the world around us.
Although not all Athabasca University (AU) denizens live at high latitudes, for those in Alberta specifically, it is not even really dark at that time at this time of year. But the connection is nonetheless important.
All of us in North America’s central regions were aware of a brutally cold winter. The dreaded term “polar vortex,” which came into common use during a similar event in 2014, was frequently heard. Some famous tweets even questioned whether global warming could be real in the face of such cold.
In this case, that may deserve some thought. How can global warming make things colder? The answer is truly stirring… yes stirring, as in air normally trapped near the North Pole being stirred up so it forms an eddy and comes south.
Taking a larger view, if that air came down over North America, what filled the region it left? You guessed it, warm air moved north. So while we were in unaccustomed cold, Alaska had a very warm winter!
To better understand this important aspect of our Earth, AU’s Atmosphere, Weather, and Climate course, Geography 365, can unravel the mysteries. While it is a senior-level course it does not have prerequisites so it is open to all learners, although introductory geography is recommended.
Even in the absence of polar vortices, Canadian weather and climate fascinate, so perhaps a good Earth Hour thought is to consider finding out more.
Martin Connors directs aurora observations using a robotic telescope in the dark skies of Athabasca County. He teaches astronomy online for Athabasca University. Strangely, he claims that one can find enlightenment in dark!