TIME weather

7 Reasons to Love This Freezing Weather

Because there's always a bright side

It was 1º F in New York City on Friday—one frigging degree. That’s a keep-the-penny, why-bother, rounding error on the Fahrenheit scale. Convert it to Centigrade and it gets even worse, a brisk -17.22º, which may help explain why America never went metric.

But cold weather isn’t so bad. OK, it is, but here are seven things to like about the current deep freeze:

Less crime!

Criminals may be fools but they’re not stupid. If you’re going to heist a flat-screen TV or knock over a convenience store, would you rather do it when it’s 7oº and clear or when it’s 12-below and the wind chill factor is freezing your eyeballs? Crime historically drops during winter, and when it’s a brutal winter, things get even more peaceful. New York just earned applause after setting an all-time record for consecutive days without a homicide—at 12. (We do get graded on a curve.) Boston—which is just one woolly mammoth away from the next Ice Age—saw a 32% drop in larcenies, 35% in burglaries and 70% in homicides from Jan. 1 to Feb. 8, compared to the same period last year. But cold weather can increase auto thefts, thanks to what are known as puffers, cars left running in driveways while owners wait inside for them to warm up.

More sex!

Maybe it’s the cuddling under blankets, or the body heat generated when you’re active, or the belief that one more day of this flipping cold and you’re going to die so you and your squeeze might as well go out happy. But whatever it is, when things freeze, humans steam. Last summer, the Pittsburgh area saw a spike in s0-called “polar vortex babies,” with increases in births of 27.8% and 15.9% at two area hospitals compared to the same period a year earlier, following a bitter stretch that occurred nine months earlier. Cold weather amorousness may also be attributable to the mere fact that it gets dark earlier in the winter—putting people in mind of nighttime activities—or that bundling up in the winter means we see less skin during the day so even a glimpse of a partner’s elbow or ankle might be enough to light the engines.

Lose Weight!

Snowmen may never be anything but round, but the rest of us can slim down naturally in cold weather. That’s mostly because of the simple business of shivering. The whole purpose of shivering is to keep you moving, which generates heat—and uses calories. The very good news is, it doesn’t even take active shivering to burn at least some fat. A phenomenon called non-shivering thermogenesis (NST) may raise your thermostat and lower your weight when it’s as warm as 64º F (17.8º C). Caveat: NST helps only so much. Waiting out winter by huddling under a blanket, binge-watching TV and hoovering up Doritos is still going to have the expected effect.

Fewer bugs!

Nothing like the buzz of flies, the bite of mosquitos and the sting of bees to make summer the idyll it is—not. One of the few advantages of winter is that it’s murder on insects. All of them make provisions before the freeze hits, of course—either burrowing underground and hunkering down until spring or leaving behind a fresh clutch of eggs that can turn into a fresh swarm of bugs next summer. But if the thermometer drops far enough, those eggs may be finished too. The gypsy moth, the emerald ash borer and the pests that feed on honey locust trees all leave fewer heirs when the thermometer falls below zero. That means an easier season for the trees, and far fewer things for you to swat with a rolled up newspaper.

Live longer!

Alright, this one might be a stretch. Studies have absolutely, positively shown that colder temperatures activate genes that increase longevity—provided you’re a worm. Which you’re probably not. But another study shows that reducing core body temperature can increase lifespans by as much as 20%—provided you’re a mouse. Or a mussel. Still, it’s breakthroughs in animal studies that often lead to breakthroughs in human studies, so there’s reason to hope. Meantime, go mussels!

Feel no pain!

Or at least feel less. All that stuff you hear about cold weather making arthritis and other joint pain worse is true enough. But in at least one study in Finland, a plunge into icy water was found to increase norepinephrine levels in the blood as much as two- or three-fold. One of the many jobs neuropinephrine does is reduce overall pain. That’s a good thing. But plunging into icy water to get that effect? Not so much. So this one too may need a little work.

Fewer wars!

Napoleon didn’t leave a whole lot of valuable lessons behind. But one thing history’s bad boy did teach us was that on the list of truly bad ideas, attacking Russia in the winter ranks pretty much No. 1. It’s not just that wars bog down in cold weather, it’s that we tend to be less moved to fight them. Part of this is the same phenomenon that keeps crime down in the cold. Part is something much newer that was revealed in a 2011 study, which showed that higher temperatures have historically meant higher levels of armed conflict. The Cold War, it turns out, may have been an oxymoron.

TIME health

Facebook Must Shut Down the Anti-Vaxxers

Prove it: Silencing the anti-vaccine crowd can save a lot of lives
Justin Sullivan; Getty Images Prove it: Silencing the anti-vaccine crowd can save a lot of lives

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Mark Zuckerberg should unfriend the crazies before more people get hurt

Mark Zuckerberg has never been famous for his reading choices. No one knows or cares if the founder of Facebook got around to Moby Dick when he was at Harvard. But in January, Zuckerberg launched an online book club, offering reading recommendations to members every two weeks. Earlier suggestions included such important works as Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature and Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day.

But Zuckerberg dropped something of a small bombshell with his most recent—and most excellent—choice, On Immunity by Eula Biss. It’s a thoughtful exploration of what’s behind the irrational fear and suspicion in the anti-vaccine community, as well as a full-throated call for parents to heed medical wisdom and get their kids vaccinated. “The science is completely clear,” Zuckerberg writes, “vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community.”

So kudos to Zuckerberg for getting the truth out and challenging the lies.

And shame on Zuckerberg for enabling those lies, too.

Social media sites can do an exceedingly good job of keeping people connected and, more important, spreading the word about important social issues. (Think the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge would have raised the $100 million it did for research into Lou Gehrig’s disease if people couldn’t post the videos of themselves being heroically doused?) But it’s long been clear the sites can be used perniciously too.

Want to spend some time in the birther swamp, trading conspiracy theories with people who absolutely, positively can tell you the Kenyan hospital in which President Obama was born? You can find them online. Ditto the climate-denying cranks and the 9/11 truthers.

But the anti-vaxxers have a particular power. People who buy the nonsense on a birther or truther page can’t do much more than join that loony community and howl nonsense into the online wind. Climate change denial is a little more dangerous because every person who comes to believe that global warming is a massive hoax makes it a tiny, incremental bit harder to enact sensible climate policy.

Anti-vaxxers, however, do their work at the grass-roots, retail, one-on-one level. Convince Mother A of the fake dangers of vaccines and you increase the odds that she won’t vaccinate Child B—and perhaps Children C, D or E either. And every unvaccinated child in her brood increases the risk to the neighborhood, the school, the community—the entire herd, as the epidemiologists put it. The multi-state measles outbreak that began in Disneyland, along with the epidemics of mumps and whooping cough in Columbus, Ohio and throughout California, have all been fueled by falling vaccine rates.

One thing that would help—something Zuckerberg could do with little more than a flick of the switch, as could Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and the other bosses of other sites—is simply shut the anti-vaxxers down. Really. Pull their pages, block their posts, twist the spigot of misinformation before more people get hurt.

The very idea of muzzling any information—even misinformation—will surely send libertarians to their fainting couches. Similarly, people who believe they understand the Constitution but actually don’t will immediately invoke the First Amendment. But of course they’re misguided. Is Facebook a government agency? No, it’s not. Is Zuckerberg a government official? No, he’s not. Then this is not a First Amendment issue. Read your Constitution.

It’s not as if the folks at Facebook aren’t clear about the kinds of things they will and won’t allow on the site, providing a brief listing and a detailed description of what are considered no-go areas. “You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence,” is one rule, so nobody would get away with posting instructions for, say, how to build a pressure cooker bomb. There is nothing in the regulations that specifically prohibits trafficking in bogus medical information, but the first section of the policy statement begins, “Safety is Facebook’s top priority,” and then goes on to say “We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety.” (Emphasis added.)

It’s worth wondering if Facebook would consider a page arguing that HIV does not cause AIDS and that therefore condoms are not necessary a threat to public safety. What about one that told teens that bogus research shows it’s OK to drive drunk if you’ve had no more than, say, three beers? If the site managers didn’t block these pages and a multi-car crack-up or a cluster of HIV infections occurred as a result, would they wish they they’d made a different decision? It’s hard to know. (As of publication time, Facebook had not responded to TIME’s request for a comment on, or further statement about, its policies.)

Facebook is equal parts town square, medium of communication and commercial bazaar—complete with ads. And it does all of those jobs well. What the site shouldn’t be is a vector for lies—especially lies that can harm children. Free speech is not in play here. This should be an easy call.

Read next: Doctors Who Minimize Measles Should Lose Their Licenses

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Towering Plume Spotted on Mars Remains a Mystery

A formation first spotted by amateur astronomers baffles the pros

It’s not often astronomers are completely stumped—especially when it comes to Mars. The planet that once held nothing but mysteries has been yielding up more and more of its secrets, thanks to the storm of probes we’ve sent its way over the decades, including the seven that are now orbiting it or trundling about on its surface.

But something’s up with Mars at the moment—or at least something was up not long ago—and nobody seems able to explain it. That’s the beats-me conclusion a team of investigators reached in a new paper in Nature, when they attempted to explain a freakish plume that appeared in the Martian atmosphere in March and April of 2012, and might have occurred in 1997 as well.

The newest plume, which rose an unprecedented 155 miles (250 km) high in the Martian sky, was first observed by Wayne Jaeschke, an amateur astronomer in West Chester, Pa. on March 12, 2012. He sent the word out across the amateur astronomer community and soon reports were coming back that yes, other backyard sky-watchers were seeing the same thing. The plume lasted for 11 days and then recurred on April 6, this time hanging around for 10 days. Both phenomena appeared in the same spot in Mars’s southern hemisphere.

Plumes aren’t unheard of on Mars. The planet does have an atmosphere, after all—albeit one only 1% the thickness of Earth’s—and both dust and ice crystals can swirl up into the sky. Aurorae may also appear when charged particles streaming in from the sun interact with the planet’s magnetic field, which can create a plume-like effect.

But ice crystals have never been observed to climb above an altitude of 62 miles (100 km). Aurorae occur higher in the Martian sky, but at a maximum of 80 miles (130 km), they fall short too. And dust storms don’t even come close.

But those three are the only known explanations for what Jaeschke and the others saw—or at least the only known ones—and the mere fact that dust or ice or aurorae have never behaved this way before does not mean that they can’t. So a team of researchers led by Agustín Sánchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, decided to put all three theories to the test.

The investigators began their work by studying not just the images of the plumes but also roughly 3,500 pictures of Mars captured by amateur astronomers around the world from 2001 to 2014, as well as a series of shots taken by the Hubble space telescope from 1995 to 1999, when it was giving the Red Planet a good going-over. None of these pictures showed anything similar to the 2012 phenomena except for a single shot taken by Hubble on May 17, 1997, which did show a similar plume in a similar spot.

Ice crystals—whether made of water or carbon dioxide—were easy for the researchers to rule out. In addition to the altitude problem, the atmosphere would have to be significantly colder than it typically is at the height at which the plume was observed, and if the crystals were water ice, conditions would also have to be far wetter than they ever get so far above ground. The reflectivity of the plume was similar to what would be expected if light were bouncing off of ice crystals, but that doesn’t fix the other problems.

Dust was even less plausible. In this case, the reflectivity was all wrong and while so called “rocket dust storms” could, in theory blow dust to unprecedented altitudes, no such gales were observed on Mars at the time of the plume in 2012. All this was true of the 1997 plume as well.

And as for aurorae? They struck out too. Incoming solar energy was too weak at the time to put on such a sky show, and even if it had been, the plumes were too dim in the ultraviolet frequencies to be aurora-related.

The astronomy community as a whole seems untroubled that the study concluded with what amounts to a peer-reviewed who knows? “The observation is a big surprise,” said French astronomer Aymeic Spiga, in a statement put out by Nature. “Another puzzle on Mars!” And happily, the conspiracy community has not yet been heard from—whispering on as they did about the mysterious face on Mars photographed by the Viking 1 spacecraft in 1976, which turned out to be nothing more than a mound in the planet’s Cydonia region cast in evocative shadows on the day it was photographed. By 1998, the Mars Global Surveyor revealed that the formation had largely eroded away.

The plumes, if they prove anything, are merely one more sign that we have a great deal to learn about our close planetary neighbor. Life may or may not exist on Mars, but cosmic puzzles surely do.

Read next: Astronauts Vying for One-Way Ticket to Mars May Be on Reality TV

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TIME vaccines

Watch the Science Cop Take on Chris Christie’s Vaccine Talk

Christie isn't a doctor, so why is he dishing out advice on vaccines?

Chris Christie called for “balance” this week between public health and parents’ right to choose when it comes to vaccinating their children, going against the prevailing science.

Christie’s office was quick to walk back his comments and say “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” But TIME’s Science Cop Jeffrey Kluger explains why statements like this, and the ongoing decision by many to forego vaccinations, are harming America’s children.

TIME Health Care

Chris Christie’s Terrible Vaccine Advice

Did I say that? The NJ gov has medical wisdom to share
Jeff Zelevansky; Getty Images Did I say that? The NJ gov has medical wisdom to share

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The New Jersey governor and likely presidential candidate attempts to play doctor—and fails

Last I checked, Chris Christie isn’t a licensed commercial pilot, which is one reason he probably doesn’t phone the cockpit with instructions when his flight encounters turbulence. Chances are, he doesn’t tell his plow operators how to clear a road when New Jersey gets hit by a snowstorm either. But when it comes to medicine, the current governor, former prosecutor and never doctor evidently feels pretty free to dispense advice. And don’tcha’ know it? That advice turns out to be terrible.

Asked about the ongoing 14-state outbreak of measles that has been linked to falling vaccination rates, Christie—the man who prides himself on chin-jutting certainty—went all squishy. “Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated, and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

The governor then went further, taking off his family-doctor hat and putting on his epidemiologist hat. “Not every vaccine is created equal,” he said, “and not every disease type is as great a public-health threat as others.”

MORE: Christie Says Parents Should Have Choice on Measles Vaccine

He was not specific about which diseases fall below his public-health threat threshold, but New Jerseyans are free to guess. Would it be polio, which paralyzed or killed tens of thousands of American children every year before a vaccine against it was developed? Would it be whooping cough, which results in hospitalization for 50% of all infants who contract it and death for 2%, and is now making a comeback in California because of the state’s low vaccination rates? Or would it be measles, which still kills nearly 150,000 people—mostly children—worldwide every year?

O.K., so politicians hedge—especially when they’re thinking of running for President. But this isn’t Christie’s first time at the antivax rodeo. In 2009, he shamefully—and un-take-backably—endorsed the central fallacy of the Jenny McCarthy–esque crazies: that vaccines cause autism.

“I have met with families affected by autism from across the state and have been struck by their incredible grace and courage,” he wrote in a letter to supporters. “Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children.”

In fairness, medical nincompoopery knows no party label, as then Senator Barack Obama illustrated when he was running for President in 2008. “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” he said at a Pennsylvania rally. “Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

Christie and Obama have gone quiet on this utterly debunked claim, as has McCarthy herself of late. But Christie’s more recent—if less outrageous—remark is just as dangerous for the very fact that it sounds more reasonable. Vaccines are not intended to be taken cafeteria style, helping yourself to the full course of polio shots while sampling the MMR and saying a firm no-thanks to the lifesaving HPV vaccine. Vaccine coverage, as real epidemiologists will tell you for the trillionth time if that’s what it takes, needs to be around 95% in most cases to create herd immunity—the protection a well-vaccinated community provides to its comparatively few members who truly cannot be vaccinated for demonstrable medical reasons.

New Jersey is barely scraping by on this score, with a 95.3% rate in 2014, and some counties—like Monmouth, lowest in the state at 92.6%, and Hunterdon, at 93.1%—are failing the course entirely. Seems like a bad time for the teacher to tell the class not to worry about studying.

The backlash against Christie—particularly in social media—has been fierce. “Insane. Christie is done,” tweeted CNN’s Campbell Brown. Business Insider jumped on tweets by GOP strategist Rick Wilson, who said Christie had “disqualified” himself from serious presidential consideration and called his statement “wildly irresponsible.” Wilson added: “Hey…you know what’s great? Not having 1 in 3 kids die of preventable diseases.”

Christie—no surprise–quickly began walking back his statement. “To be clear,” his spokesman said Monday, “The governor believes vaccines are an important public health measure and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” Then, alas, the top dog—through the poor spokesman—went all yippy again. “At the same time, different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

It was a nice, nuanced statement. The problem, as a real epidemiologist will tell you, is that viruses don’t do nuance. Diseases don’t do nuance. They do sickness and death. Vaccines—as Governor Christie is supposed to know—stop that.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME vaccines

Meet the Latest Driver of the Anti-Vaccine Clown Car (Who Thinks You’re a ‘Bad Mother’)

Not your friend: The measles virus—highly magnified—is exceedingly easy to transmit
Dr. Gopal Murti/Visuals Unlimited Not your friend: The measles virus—highly magnified—is exceedingly easy to transmit

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A doctor who should know better peddles dangerous rubbish

Vanity doesn’t die; misinformation doesn’t die; arrogance and narcissism and opportunism don’t die. But you know what does die? Children. That’s worth keeping in mind as the latest carnival barker from the anti-vaccine community steps up for his ignoble hour of attention.

The new medical reprobate is Dr. Jack Wolfson, an Arizona-based cardiologist and practitioner of holistic medicine. Until recently, he was a largely unknown character—which was a very, very good thing. But in the wake of the California measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland and has so far infected 93 people in eight states and Mexico, he has picked up the megaphone of social and mainstream media to inveigh against vaccines as unsafe, unnecessary, stuffed with toxins and, well, never mind. You know this drill.

The vaccines he condemns would, of course, include the measles vaccine, which was not widely available before 1980 when 2.6 million people died of the disease each year, and which, when it did become available, quickly slashed that death toll by 99.4%. Measles was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000—but even now, 1,000 people are being monitored in Wolfson’s own state for possible exposure to the Disneyland strain, which got a toehold in the first place only because of the nation’s falling vaccination rate.

But never mind that. Wolfson has junk science to sell, and he’s going to sell it. “We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, these are the rights of our children to get it,” he told the Arizona Republic.

“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” he told The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them.”

CNN inexplicably afforded Wolfson the familiar split-screen, point-counterpoint platform to argue the vaccine issue with another doctor—as if there were any argument to begin with. The network touted the exchange on CNN.com as “Fiery Vaccine Debate,” which likely earned the site some clicks and gave Wolfson a patina of legitimacy in return.

The thing is though, he’s not legitimate—not as a person whose vaccine advice should be heeded at least—as the agitprop nonsense he offers on the alternative medicine site Health Impact News reveals. Concerned parents and health care providers should not be angry at him for selling his anti-vax bill of goods, he repeats. Instead, “Be angry at food companies. Sugar cereals, donuts, cookies, and cupcakes lead to millions of deaths per year. At its worst, chicken pox killed 100 people per year. If those chicken pox people didn’t eat cereal and donuts, they may still be alive.”

You should be angry at the people who make Bounce and Downy too, because, “You and your children are wearing and breathing known carcinogens” contained in the laundry sheets and fabric softener. “These products kill more people than mumps.”

But most of all, be angry at yourselves, you parents who vaccinate. Why? Because, “Let’s face it, you don’t really give a crap what your children eat. You don’t care about chemicals in their life.”

There is so very much more wrong with Wolfson and the rubbish he’s selling. There is his supposedly unanswerable riposte about the irrelevance of polio. “Where are all those 80 year olds crippled by polio?” he asks. “I can’t seem to find many.” That’s right, you can’t, because the disease has been vaccinated into extinction in all but three countries in the world. If you were looking around before 1955 you’d see plenty of them.

There is his similar dismissal of measles. “What we’re really talking about is just a fever and a rash,” he says. Yes, a fever and a rash that still kills 145,700 unvaccinated people per year. And what does 145,700 people look like? Picture four sold-out Fenway Parks. Now kill all of those people—mostly children. Every year.

Wolfson, like most anti-vaxxers, rails broadly and emptily at the “chemicals” in vaccines and argues that we shouldn’t be putting them into our children’s bodies. But arginine and alinine and octene and hexanal and 2-methyl butyraldehyde are chemicals too and they’re just five of the 73 you put in your body every time you eat a blueberry. Chemicals are not, by definition, bad things. Wolfson similarly rhapsodizes about “nature,” setting it in make-believe opposition to things that are synthetic or invented and therefore, by binary definition, are bad. But as he himself argues, viruses are part of nature, as are bacteria, and as is every other disease that could kill you or your children before your time. In some cases, the whole point of medical science, to paraphrase William Buckley, is to stand athwart nature shouting “Stop!” If you want your nature pure, you’re free to die young.

At least one Arizona pediatrician, according to The Washington Post, is already talking about reporting Wolfson to the Arizona Medical Board, and that’s not an empty threat. Simply taking a contrarian position or advocating for dubious but do-no-harm nostrums is unlikely to get you in trouble with the licensing authorities. But making an argument that is wholly, empirically, medically wrong, and doing so in a way that could actually induce real parents to refuse to vaccinate real children is something that’s demonstrably dangerous.

The state’s medical board standards for disciplining members are exceedingly broad, authorizing action against a doctor who, among other things, “may be guilty of unprofessional conduct.” It would be up to the board itself to define that, but it’s not a leap to think they would do so in a way that would apply in this case.

If there’s anything good about the rise of Wolfson, it’s that it’s a sure sign the anti-vaxxers’ bench is getting thin. He lacks the telegenic sizzle of a Jenny McCarthy. He lacks the one-time credibility of an Andrew Wakefield, whose fraudulent 1998 paper got the phony vaccines-autism link started. The paper has now been retracted and Wakefield has been stripped of his license to practice medicine.

Wolfson, like the others, will have his moment, and then, like the others, he is likely to go away. We will never know for sure how many children will be harmed by his misinformation before he’s finally gone.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Environment

How Climate Change Leads to Volcanoes (Really)

Get used to this: The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010
Arctic-Images; Getty Images Get used to this: The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010

A new study reveals one more consequence of our messing with the environment

Correction appended Jan. 30, 2015

Give climate change credit for one thing: it’s endlessly versatile. There was a time we called it global warming, which meant what it said: the globe would get warmer. It was only later that we appreciated that a planet running a fever is just like a person running a fever, which is to say it has a whole lot of other symptoms: in this case, droughts, floods, wildfires, habitat disruption, sea level rise, species loss, crop death and more.

Now, you can add yet another problem to the climate change hit list: volcanoes. That’s the word from a new study conducted in Iceland and accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. The finding is bad news not just for one comparatively remote part of the world, but for everywhere.

Iceland has always been a natural lab for studying climate change. It may be spared some of the punishment hot, dry places like the American southwest get, but when it comes to glacier melt, few places are hit harder. About 10% of the island nation’s surface area is covered by about 300 different glaciers—and they’re losing an estimated 11 billion tons of ice per year. Not only is that damaging Icelandic habitats and contributing to the global rise in sea levels, it is also—oddly—causing the entire island to rise. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Eleven billion tons of ice weights, well, 11 billion tons; as that weight flows away, the underlying land decompresses a bit. In the new paper, investigators from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland analyzed data from 62 GPS sensors that have been arrayed around Iceland—some since as long ago as 1995, others only since 2006 or 2009. But all of the sensors told the same story: Iceland is rising—or rebounding as geologists call it—by 1.4 in. (35 mm) per year.

That’s much faster than the investigators expected, and other studies of the Icelandic crust show that the speed began to pick up around 1980, or just the time that glacier melt accelerated, too. “Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” said Kathleen Compton of the University of Arizona, a geoscientist and one of the paper’s co-authors, in a statement.

In some respects that shouldn’t be a bad thing: yes, an inch and a half a year is fast on a geologic scale, but in the modern, climate-disrupted world, a rising coastline might be just what an island needs to keep up with rising sea levels. The problem is, Iceland isn’t just any island, it’s a highly geologically active one, with a lot of suppressed volcanic anger below the surface. The last thing you want to do in a situation like that is take the lid off the pot.

“As the glaciers melt, the pressure on the underlying rocks decreases,” Compton said in an e-mail to TIME. “Rocks at very high temperatures may stay in their solid phase if the pressure is high enough. As you reduce the pressure, you effectively lower the melting temperature.” The result is a softer, more molten subsurface, which increases the amount of eruptive material lying around and makes it easier for more deeply buried magma chambers to escape their confinement and blow the whole mess through the surface.

“High heat content at lower pressure creates an environment prone to melting these rising mantle rocks, which provides magma to the volcanic systems,” says Arizona geoscientist Richard Bennett, another co-author.

Perhaps anticipating the climate change deniers’ uncanny ability to put two and two together and come up with five, the researchers took pains to point out that no, it’s not the very fact that Icelandic ice sits above hot magma deposits that’s causing the glacial melting. The magma’s always been there; it’s the rising global temperature that’s new. At best, only 5% of the accelerated melting is geological in origin.

Icelandic history shows how bad things can get when the ice thins out. During the last deglaciation period 12,000 years ago—one that took much longer to unfold than the current warming phase turbocharged by humans—geologic records suggest that volcanic activity across the island increased as much as 30-fold. Contemporary humans got a nasty taste of what that’s like back in 2010 when the volcanic caldera under the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap in southern Iceland blew its top, erupting for three weeks from late March to mid-April and spreading ash across vast swaths of Europe. The continent was socked in for a week, shutting down most commercial flights.

If you enjoyed that, there’s more of the same coming. At the current pace, the researchers predict, the uplift rate in parts of Iceland will rise to 1.57 in. (40 mm) per year by the middle of the next decade, liberating more calderas and leading to one Eyjafjallajökull-scale blow every seven years. The Earth, we are learning yet again, demands respect. Mess with it and there’s no end to the problems you create.

An earlier version of this story misstated the annual rate of land rebound in the coming decade. It is 1.57 in.

TIME weather

10 Questions About the Blizzard

Jack Nicholson In 'The Shining'
Warner Brothers/Getty Images Don't go there; it will all be over soon

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Hint: All of them can be answered 'No'

1. Does this storm prove global warming is really just a hoax cooked up by degenerate scientists like my Twitter feed keeps saying? No. Again: no. Absolutely, positively no. This is weather, not climate. Just like a collie isn’t a species, a crouton isn’t a salad and the aglet on your shoelace ain’t the whole shoe, so too is a single meteorological event in your town (or state or region) not the same as climate. All the same, you’ll hear a lot of self-satisfied huffing from climate change deniers this week. Please feel free to laugh at them.

2. Then is the blizzard a result of climate change—the much discussed “global weirding”? If we’re going to smack down the anti-science kooks on question one, let’s resist the urge for a touchdown dance on question two. It’s true that climate change means a growing number of extreme weather events, and the spike in storms like 2012’s Sandy that do a billion dollars of damage or more do fit with climate change models. But again, any one storm is proof only of that storm. And hey, when you’re getting three feet of snow, that should be trouble enough.

3. Speaking of Sandy, do I have to call the blizzard Juno? No. Indeed, please don’t. Unlike hurricanes, which are named by the World Meteorological Organization as part of a longstanding global tradition, Juno was named by the Weather Channel, as part of a somewhat newer tradition of thinking up scary names that sound good on TV. You are free to give this blizzard any name you want. I’m calling it Larry.

4. What about “nor’easter?” Can I call the blizzard that? Are you a lobster fisherman? From Maine? If not, no.

5. Is “blizzard” just a synonym, for “lots o’ snow”? Nope, there’s actually a technical definition: There must be falling snow (or blowing snow already on the ground), with winds of at least 35 mph (56 k/h) reducing visibility to no more than 0.25 mile (0.4 km) for at least three hours.

6. Do I really need 12 tins of powdered milk, a case of canned tuna and five dozen double-A batteries to get through this? Yes, if it’s 1952 and you’re packing a fallout shelter. Otherwise, we’re talking a couple of snow days at the most—followed by the risk of way too many tuna casseroles for the rest of the year if you don’t get ahold of yourself.

7. Does it have to be so flipping cold for a blizzard to happen? This may not be much comfort to you, Concord, NH, where it’s 14°F (-10°C) in the run-up to the big blast, but no, as long as the atmospheric temperature is 32°F (0°C) or below, snow can form. It can even be a few degrees warmer on the ground, but the snow that falls will quickly become slush or, as it’s known on the sidewalks of New York City, goo.

8. I’ve heard this storm is a result of meteorological “bombogenesis.” Surely the people at weather service are smoking something? Alas no. Bombogenesis is a real word and it occurs when the barometric pressure in the most intense part of a storm drops more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. Lower pressure then causes cold air to rush toward the ground and warmer air to rise. This isn’t to say the weather service doesn’t have fun saying “bombogenesis” over and over and over again. They’re meteorologists, but hey, they’re people too.

9. Once the blizzard’s over, we’re cool, right? Nope. Arctic air is going to continue to barrel through the northeast into February, keeping temperatures well below normal. As for the upper Midwest, where it’s usually only slightly more comfortable than the planet Neptune (-378°F, with a likelihood of graphite hailstones) around this time of year: Nice and mild.

10. If I have kids, is there any chance at all that I won’t hear them singing the score from Frozen while we’re all trapped in the house together for the next 48 hours? No. None at all. Deal with it—and don’t watch The Shining. It will only give you ideas.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

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Image Source RF/Ditto; Getty Never noticed that before: Welcome to the conversation, Senators

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A landslide vote brings Congress's upper chamber into the 21st century—a little

Correction appended, January 24

Surely by now you’ve heard the big news: On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate—The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body Except For the Fact That it Never Really Deliberates Anything—passed a landmark resolution declaring that “climate change is real and is not a hoax.” The proposal passed by a nail-bitingly close vote of 98-1. Only Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, voted no.

The landslide victory thrilled the green community, especially since it included such anti-science paleoliths as Oklahoma’s James Inhofe and Florida’s Marco (“I’m not a scientist, man”) Rubio. But let’s not get carried away. For one thing, voting to acknowledge a fact that virtually every other sentient human on the planet long ago accepted is a little like passing a bill that declares, “Gravity is real” or “Fire make man hurt.” Not exactly groundbreaking.

What’s more, there was only so far the newly enlightened GOP was willing to go. Votes on two other measures—one that declared “climate change is real and human activity contributes significantly to climate change,” and one that made essentially the same point but without the word “significantly”—were blocked by Republican maneuvering. What’s more, the weak tea version of the resolution that did pass—sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse—made it through only because it was a rider to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation. At this point, Republicans would likely approve a Puppies For Lunch rider if it would get Keystone passed.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, among the greenest of the greenies, responded to the GOP’s grudging concession with something less than unalloyed enthusiasm. “From Know-Nothingism to Do-Nothingism in the U.S. Senate,” it declared in a news release. And indeed, the 98 brave men and women who stepped forward to go on record with a statement of the patently obvious have given absolutely no indication that they are actually prepared to do anything about that obvious thing.

The GOP’s big wins in November certainly don’t make them more inclined to yield on what has become a central pillar of party dogma. But if science—to say nothing of the health of the planet—can’t move them, they should at least consider the unsavory company their fringe position is increasingly causing them to keep. Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman addressed climate deniers, supply-siders and foes of the Affordable Care Act as one counterfactual whole—people who are fixed in their positions no matter what the objective evidence shows. That may or may not be too wide a net to cast, but Krugman is right on one score:

If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.

Krugman offers any number of explanations for this, with which reasonable people can agree or disagree, but his larger point—of an ideological cohort animated by rage as much as anything else—certainly feels right. I see it regularly in that least scientific but most pointed place of all, my Twitter feed. I’ve crossed swords with the anti-vaccine crowd more than once, and while some of them have found a way to be savagely nasty in the 140 characters they’re allowed, most of the anger is civil. They’re fretful and, I believe, foolish to have been duped by anti-scientific rubbish, but they’re at least fit for inclusion in the public square.

Not so the climate-deniers, who hurl spluttery insults, fill their feeds with the usual swill about President Barack Obama’s suspicious birthplace and the conspiratorial doings across the border in Mexico, and link to risible idiocy about how the global warming “conspiracy” is a “ploy to make us poorer,” whose real purpose is “to redistribute wealth from the first world to the third, an explicit goal of UN climate policy.”

Yes. Of course. Because it’s harder to believe in science than it is to believe that there’s a four-decade plot afoot that virtually every country in the world has signed onto, dragging virtually every scientist in the world along with them—none of whom have ever had a crisis of conscience or spilled the beans in a bar or simply decided to sell the whole sordid story to the press—and that only a rump faction in the U.S. knows the truth. Makes perfect sense.

If the Senate, even reluctantly, has made the tiniest baby step toward rational thought, that’s undeniably a good thing. “It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse told The Hill. Outside the Senate chamber, however, in the country that is second only to coal-soiled China in CO2 emissions, the ugly, vein-in-the-temple anger remains. The GOP can continue to make common cause with this nasty crowd or, if it chooses, can finally, clear-headedly rejoin the ranks of reason.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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