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Floods, bugs and Hollywood disasters

The science behind the holiday news

Michigan State University

Behind apocalyptic hyperbole of Hollywood lies food for thought on global warming Instantaneous ice ages, grapefruit-size hail and tidal waves — all courtesy of global warming — are being served up as Memorial Day weekend entertainment in movie theaters.

The side order: A little scientific food for thought.

"The Day After Tomorrow," a star-studded movie that paints a vivid picture of global climatic catastrophe, is a simplistic look at the complex and real issue of a potential outcome of global warming, said David Skole, professor and director of MSU's Center for Global Change and Earth Observations.

"This is a complicated problem — it's not like a movie where it's catastrophic overnight, but there is some science behind it," Skole said. "It stems from abrupt climate change. Changes in storm frequency and intensity; changes in water availability; changes of pests and related disease — that's the story."

Scientists across the globe, including Skole, struggle to better quantify and understand local impacts of changes in global climate patterns. Skole has been a member of the Academies of Science committee to review the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. "We must not forget the literary license which Hollywood takes in making such films," Skole said. "While they do a lot to enhance viewer appeal, I think there is some scientific basis in the topic, even if the details are sometimes way wrong. It's important to note that a movie can get away with these wild depictions precisely because the science of abrupt climate change is only in its infancy."

Contact: David Skole, professor and director of MSU's Center for Global Change and Earth Observations, 517-355-1778,, Skole's bio:; or Sue Nichols, University Relations, 517-353-8942,

Bugs aren't bugged by flood

Not everyone is unhappy about the floods of spring.

To pesky black flies and blood-thirsty mosquitoes, the flood is the equivalent of a newlywed pad — a place to make lots of whoopee and raise a passel of baby bugs, said Rich Merritt, chairman of entomology at Michigan State University. "With two kinds of breeding environments of water in abundance, this is going to be a bad news year for mosquitoes, and a big year for black flies," Merritt said.

Mosquitoes breed in still puddles of water. Black fly larvae thrive in clean, flowing water. Rivers and steams that have washed over their banks are heaven for black flies, since the larvae cling to grasses and filter food from moving water. Floods, in effect, create a black fly smorgasbord.

Contact: Rich Merritt, MSU professor of entomology, 517-355-4665,,; or Sue Nichols, University Relations, 517-353-8942,

Quick action after flood can save family memories

Once the fear of electrocution or drowning fades and the property damage is tallied during a flood, it's the past that might be the greatest victim of a flood.

Photo albums, tucked away love letters, books and diaries, can not only be ruined by moisture, but they also can themselves be transformed from mementoes to dangerous toxic material, says a Michigan State University library preservationist. "Materials such as these are valuable for personal reasons — not monetarily, but because they hold the family history," said Jeanne Drewes, assistant director for access and preservation at the MSU library. "The love letter, the picture of grandmother. They're precious."

But Drewes notes memorabilia often is stored in basements. A flood — or even dampness — can warp paper and photos, and break books apart. Dampness also can breed mold and mildew, which can be dangerous to inhale. Suddenly, reminiscing over old pictures can become a biohazard event.

Drewes said too many people give up and throw out paper or photos before trying to preserve damaged items. She recommends putting wet materials in a frost-free freezer.

"What that does is it buys you time — it stops the water absorption. Frost-free pulls moisture out of the content, so it will dry it and stop the mold growth. You want to save it, but you need to treat it and make sure it's safe. The best thing to do is buy yourself time to make the right decision. So many people just throw stuff out thinking nothing can be done, and that's the saddest thing."

For specific advice on preservation, see under "care and handling notes."

Contact: Jeanne Drewes, assistant director for access and preservation at the MSU library, 517-432-6123,; or Sue Nichols, University Relations, 517-353-8942,


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