Monthly Archives: April 2017

Littering the Arctic waters.

This is sad but true; a lot of our plastics are finding their way into Arctic waters. The world’s oceans are littered by these plastics coming from bottles, bags and others articles, most of which are mostly tiny particles of plastic.

The fault for this littering is due to an ocean current mainly from the North Atlantic that carries these bits of plastics and leaves them on the surface of the frigid waters and possibly even on the ocean floor.

Every year more than 8 million tons of plastic get into the oceans and scientists estimate that 110 million tons of plastic are in the oceans. This pollution has already made its way into the food chain and no one knows the effects it has on life, including on us.

Most of the plastic found in the Arctic waters is in fragments, and small at that. Other plastics were in the form of fishing line, film or pellets. Most scientist think that only an international agreement could solve the issue of plastic pollution. Good luck with that with an American president who thinks climate change is not true.

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A moral problem.

British scientists have discovered in an underwater mountain some rare minerals, among which are tellurium, a mineral that has concentrations 50,000 higher than on land. This mineral is used mainly in some solar panels. Other elements called rare earth were found and these are used in wind turbines and electronics. The moral problem is this; should we mine this area even if it seriously contaminates the sea floor? Is it better to do this rather than do it on land where everyone can see the damage this type of mining does?

Deep-sea mining is perhaps an idea whose time has come, but so far there is no rush to begin. If it is begun the damage to marine environment could be severe. There is a cost to making green energies and this is one of them. Effectively this is a trade-off, doing some damage now and hoping to reduce overall the damage to the planet long term.

Mining on the seabed could extract more riches in a smaller area with no impact on people but it would kill marine life as well create devastation on a wider scale. Plumes of dust could scatter for long distances and smother life where it settles.

Studies on seabed mining seem to show that marine creatures could recover within a year but over longer periods of time few would return to levels that were before mining occurred.

It is clear that we know very little about what lies on the seabed and how the various marine creatures could be affected by deep-sea mining. More studies are required but in the end we might have to bite the bullet simply because of a lack of alternatives.

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Can plants save us from global warming?

It has been known for some time that carbon dioxide that is released in the atmosphere by man will have an effect on plants. But how great the effect and how they would be affected by global warming was unclear. Until now.

By looking at one chemical in the air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice scientists now know the effect on the growth of plants, and it is stupendous. Plants have been growing at a rate faster than at any other time in the past 54,000 years. They have been converting 31% more carbon dioxide into organic matter than before the Industrial Revolution.

Sine 1840 carbon dioxide has increased 40%. Scientists had always wondered how all those gases were affecting plant growth. They knew that there would be an effect but to quantify it was hard. And then they discovered that by concentrating on one compound called carbonyl sulphide they would be able to have a hard measurement. Plants draw in this compound and then destroy it. Only in Antarctica is the air so well mixed that the growth worldwide of plants is reflected.

What is incredible is that the pace of change in photosynthesis has increased by 136 times what it was in the past. As the plants take in this extra carbon dioxide they are cooling the planet. The problem is that current models show that at a certain point plants will not be able to absorb all this extra carbon. According to scientists we may see plants continue on this path for another fifty years but after that they will hit a plateau and they will no longer buffer us from the effects of global warming. Let us hope that we will have reduced the rate at which the earth is warming by then. And no, plants will not save us from climate change but they sure are giving us a helping hand in fighting it.

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Solar geoengineering to the rescue!

Scientists have come out with a new way to reduce global warming, but this could entail consequences that we do not know. What would happen is that the atmosphere would be shaded from the sun and this would cool the earth, thus compensating for global warming. It is a risky plan.

The concept called solar geoengineering, implies that tiny particles would be injected in the atmosphere. These then would act as a sun shield reflecting sunlight back in space and cooling the planet.

Of course, scientists say that the scheme is not as crazy at it sounds as Nature does it all the time. When volcanoes erupt they spew particles in the atmosphere that do exactly what scientists propose. On a smaller scale the same would happen, with a fleet of aircraft spraying 250,000 metric tonnes of sulfur dioxide into the lower stratosphere. The particles would change how much sunlight is reflected back to space, with less reflection thus a cooling of the planet. Only one percent of sunlight reflected back into space could provide enough cooling to balance the effects of the warming caused by carbon emissions.

Naturally the project would have to be an international effort and would cost about 1 to 10 billion dollars per year. It sounds a lot but could be well worth the effort. After all the United States spends well over 670 billions dollars per year on the military alone.

It is a risky scheme when one tinkers with Nature and a system that has been in use for billions of years. No one can predict the consequences of rolling the dice. What if things become worse? I think it is best to think of this solution as a last gasp, a Hail Mary pass in case we really have no other choices. The best thing is still to drive down emissions and to have countries cooperate to fight global warming as it is in our interest to do so. We all have a stake in this.

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