Stories tagged Earth Buzz

Based on a ranking of the annual energy savings made by technology improvements to commercial buildings, the Twin Cities ranks eighth nationally. Topping the list (in order) are Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. The full report and details can be found here. Interestingly, major cities not making the top ten include New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit. This USA Today report also includes a quiz you can take to find out the eco-friendly score of the place where you live.

A golden opportunity: A minimal investment now and we could be real estate moguls in about a hundred years! Also... wait. Who do we ask about buying Antarctica?
A golden opportunity: A minimal investment now and we could be real estate moguls in about a hundred years! Also... wait. Who do we ask about buying Antarctica?Courtesy Augneblinken
Don't tell me I'm not looking out for y'all's best interests, Buzzketeers.

I recently received a very secret tip, about some very secret mountains hiding under the antarctic ice.

Actually, nobody is totally surprised that there are mountains on Antarctica—these mountains under the glaciers were first discovered something like 50 years ago—but the region has only recently received detailed mapping with ground penetrating radar, and the mountains have been revealed to be very Alpine in nature. That is, they have high, sharp peaks, and deep, er... what's the opposite of sharp... not dull, but like the inverse of... whatever. The mountains have deep valleys. Sharply cleft valleys, we'll say.

It's interesting information because it tells us something about how these massive (about 2 miles thick!) slabs of ice formed: quickly. If the glaciers had formed slowly, the mountains would probably have been ground down do just about nothing by now. But that's not the case.

Perhaps more significantly, knowing more about the character of these glaciers can tell us something about how they might melt if Antarctic temperatures rise significantly with global warming. 2-mile-thick chunks of ice hold lots of water, enough to significantly change sea levels if it all became liquid.

And certainly most importantly is the investment opportunity this presents. I don't know much about real estate. Or the Alps. Or money. But don't people love the Alps? And spend lots of money to be around them, and slide down them on things? Something like that. So c'mon, kidz. Let's move on this! With all the coasts gone, people are going to be searching for new tourism destinations! These mountains could be ours!

Whatever. Check out the article.

Research showing that the glaciers of Glacier National Park might be gone by 2030 was wrong. New aerial surveys of the park's glaciers found them to be retreating faster than previously thought. Park scientists with the USGS now think the park could be glacierless by 2020.

Rivalries are common between college campuses – who's got the better football team, the tastier dorm food or the coolest parties. But in Northfield, Minn., where rival colleges Carlton and St. Olaf are located on opposite sides of the town, there's a growing intense rivalry over wind-power turbines. Read more about it here.

Snow closes roads after rainmaking attempt
Snow closes roads after rainmaking attemptCourtesy John Lemieux
The longest drought in 38 years in Beijing, China prompted scientists to trying "rain making". They fired 313 cigarette-size sticks of silver iodide into the clouds. Heavy snow brought on after seeding the clouds closed 12 highways around Beijing. Scientific American

Feb
11
2009

Changing chemistry and rising levels: Is trouble on the horizon for world's oceans?
Changing chemistry and rising levels: Is trouble on the horizon for world's oceans?Courtesy Mark Ryan
Two recent stories in the news highlight environmental issues with Earth’s oceans. The first deals with how the oceans’ pH levels are changing at a much faster rate than normally due to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The second concerns the rise of sea levels due to climate change.

With the first story, Prince Albert II of Monaco and over 150 marine scientists are urging world policymakers to confront the problem of ocean acidification. They stated their concerns in the Monaco Declaration, a document that arose from the 2nd International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World held in Monaco last October.

According to the Monaco Declaration, the rapid change in seawater chemistry is already measurable and could by mid-century cause oceans to become inhospitable to coral reefs, inhibit calcification in mussels, plankton, and other calcifying organisms, and subsequently harm the fish population to the extent of causing massive deficits in the food source for millions of people.

The world’s oceans have long acted as buffers against CO2 - absorbing up to a third of it - but are now straining to keep up with rising levels of the greenhouse gas. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it causes pH levels to drop, resulting in a more acidic chemistry. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, and in recent years, researchers at Scripps Oceanography have recorded a drop in the pH from 8.16 to 8.05

The declaration warns that only a serious and immediate reduction in CO2 levels will reverse ocean acidification.

You can find more info at the following links:

Story at Sciencedaily.com
The Ocean Acidification Network
EPOCA's blog on Ocean Acidification

In the second story, the rise of sea levels due to climate change may actually be a greater threat than previously thought. The potential for rising water from melting ice sheets is not news. Earlier studies have predicted rising ocean levels from the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and other ice could, by the end of the century, inundate coastal cities and low-lying areas with up to 3 feet of water.

But previously unrecognized factors are ratcheting up the severity of that number. Authors of a new study say related events triggered by the initial ice melt could cause the sea-levels to rise as much as 21 feet. But it’s really more of a “could happen” rather than a “will happen” situation.

Geophysicist Jerry X. Mitrovica (University of Toronto) and geoscientist Peter Clark (Oregon State) predict not only would the melted ice add more water to the oceans, but also the reduced gravitational pull from the melted (and missing) ice sheet could cause the Antarctic water levels to decrease while northern water levels increased. Also, once the weight of the heavy ice sheet was gone the Antarctic land mass would rebound, pushing more water outward. Finally, the redistribution of water could cause a shift in the Earth’s rotation and potentially push more water northward toward highly populated coastal regions.

University of Toronto physics grad student Natalya Gomez also contributed to the study that appears in the journal Science.

LINKS
USA Today story
Voice of America news story
Rising sea levels at NASA site

Windpower leader
Windpower leaderCourtesy ecstaticist

The United States overtook Germany as the biggest producer of wind power last year, new figures showed, and will likely take the lead in solar power this year, analysts said on Monday. Wind accounted for 42% of all new electricity generation installed last year in the U.S.
Another interesting change:
The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States. (click links in red to learn more).

Feb
02
2009

Antibiotics
AntibioticsCourtesy billaday
When we think of water quality, we generally assume that all is well in the United States. Sure, we have trace amounts of undesirable stuff here and there. But overall, you tend to be ok.

What about the rest of the world?

Well, recently Joakim Larsson, an environmental scientist from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, found that there is a particular area in India where you may want to think twice about drinking the water, or even bathing in it.

And why is this?

The water leaving the wastewater treatment facility wins the prize of having the highest known levels of pharmaceuticals in the world. As it turns out, almost 100 Indian drug companies dump their various drug residues into this particular stream. For example, ciproflozacin , an antibiotic, is dumped in this stream with high enough concentrations to treat 90,000 people a day.

But wait, aren't antibiotics good for you?

When you actually need them, yes, antibiotics are useful. However, if these antibiotics and floating around willy nilly, running into bacteria here and there in the environment, they are actually allowing the bacteria to become more antibiotic resistant with these casual encounters. As if making stronger bacteria were not enough, these various drugs are also damaging the reproductive systems of fish and amphibians in the water.

Where do we figure into this mess?

Although this is not water in the United States, we are involved in two ways. First, all water resources in the world are connected. There is no "our" water and "their" water. It is water that we all share. Secondly, many of the drugs made by these Indian companies are sold in the United States.

And so we are left with a question asked by Joakim Larsson, "Who has a responsibility for a polluted environment when the Third World produces drugs for our well being?"

Jan
26
2009

Biologists are using clams to identify and clean up river pollutants.

Clams are filter-feeders, meaning they gather water into their shells, eat any food they find in that water, and then release the water back into the environment. The clam inadvertently filters more than just their food out of the water. Other material suspended in the water, such as toxins and pollutants, can accumulate in the clams.

Biologists in Washington, DC, along with help from high schoolers, released clams downstream from industrial parks and highways. The clams absorbed any lurking pollutants and then the scientists could identify the kinds and quantities of pollutants in the water. This process can be quite costly, but the clams offer an alternative method.

The ultimate goal is to be able to trace the pollutants back to their sources. From there, the cleanup process can begin.

Jan
19
2009

It could always be worse.

Ice Sheet - Antarctica
Ice Sheet - AntarcticaCourtesy NASA

Some geologists think that 700 or so million years ago, the entire earth was one spherical skating rink. Called "Snowball Earth", it was a time when runaway ice caps covered the entire earth. They even covered the tropical oceans, making a mid-winter getaway to Hawaii less appealing, and possibly wiping out most of life on earth. The theory goes like this. Millions of years ago the sun was weaker than today. Ice started forming at the North and South poles, reflecting incoming sunlight back out to space and making it colder. So, the ice grew even more and so on in something called a positive feedback. Eventually, ice covered the entire planet, leaving rock types characteristic of glacial erosion in the tropics.

So, how do they think we got out? Well, all the time the earth was covered with ice, volcanoes were belching out carbon dioxide. Over millions of years, carbon dioxide is sucked out the atmosphere by breaking down rocks (it's much too slow a process to help us out in the current situation, though). Eventually carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached many times what they are today, temperatures soared, and there was a global ice-out that's usually described as "catastrophic."

A careful review of the existing information by two scientists from Britain suggests that things may not have been so dire. Geological evidence suggests that some parts of the ocean were not covered in ice, though there was a lot of ice in the tropics. This new view means geologists and climate scientists need to re-think "Snowball Earth" and how it could have come about. Something to think about while you're trying to get the car started.