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Balance

A glacier’s mass balance is the difference between how much snow and ice it accumulates, and what it loses to melting. A negative…By Michael Segal

A glacier’s mass balance is the difference between how much snow and ice it accumulates, and what it loses to melting. A negative mass balance will, given enough time, skew other balances. As less sunlight is reflected by the shrinking glacier’s bright ice, more is absorbed by the dark ocean, pushing temperatures up.

Warmer temperatures increase the amount of human-produced carbon dioxide stored in the atmosphere, which speeds ocean acidification and the dissolving of deep-water carbon deposits. These deposits make oceans more alkaline, balancing out their acidification.

Peel back one balance, and you find another. In this issue, each balance leans against the next: mental against physical, evolutionary against ecological, one infinity against another. The web of balances that make up our world is intricate, full of tiny stable points and unexpected transitions.

That can make it inscrutable. But, as living participants, we can still tell when it is broken. This February saw over 3,000 record high temperatures across the United States, compared to 30-odd record lows, the most lopsided ratio in history. This January was 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century global average.

Which brings to mind another balance—a moral one.

Welcome to “Balance.”

Lead image credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; Kertase / Wikimedia; Anna Jurkovska / Shutterstock

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