Monthly Archives: August 2017

Alaska’s permafrost is melting.

The permafrost in Alaska is melting and is starting to thaw. By 2050 much of this frozen carbon could be gone and will have contributed to climate change. It is in the Arctic that one can see the effects of climate change as the warming is twice as fast as in other parts of the planet.

The permafrost is a layer of ground that is usually always frozen. In Alaska, much of the ground underneath is permafrost. It extends a few feet below the surface to hundreds of feet below. It contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter that has been frozen for decades and decades coming from vegetable matter. If this ancient carbon material begins to thaw, microbes will digest this and convert it into carbon dioxide and methane, two gases that contribute to global warming.

The problem of all this thawing is not only for the planet, but for the communities that live in those areas. What one sees is sagging infrastructures with the slumping of land as ice loses volume and turns into water. Roads and airport runways have now to be re-inforced with liquid-filled pipes that transfer heat out of the permafrost to prevent slumping.

Naturally, the thawing of the permafrost will be slow. There is a massive amount of carbon below the surface and the temperatures are still cold, but less so than before. It was a freezer before but now it is turning into a refrigerator. It will take milleniums before all the permafrost is thawed out. Perhaps before then our gas emisions will have fallen enough to prevent this man-made disaster from happening.

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Climate change affecting land in Africa.

You would think that Africa does not have a problem of good land, but it does. It is a problem now compounded by climate change as well as other factors such as more people, erosion, poaching and soil degradation.

In various parts of Africa people are on the move, desperate to find usable land as good farmland is diminishing. The problem is that the population is rising and the quality of land is going down. This in turn means competition for that good land and usually those with the guns get that land.

As most people in Africa live off the land, having too many people for that land that is getting rarer and rarer is a recipe for turmoil and war. The sizes of farms now are going down as the typical family is now larger. The slices of farmland are now smaller and it is harder to live off them. If one adds to the mix climate change and the fact that drought and desertification are on the rise one can see that the future is grim. Violence is in the cards. More and more countries in Africa will suffer from famines. This year three countries will suffer from this while in the past only one would suffer in a bad year.

In many areas the soil has dried up and is exhausted. Even with rain the quality of the soil is impacted. This means that many countries will have to rely on imports from abroad. If one adds the protection of wildlife to the mix it is clear that climate change is a problem not in the future but right now for most African countries. And private companies and investors are not helping as they are buying good farmland now knowing that it is diminishing rapidly and the price of that commodity will simply rise in the future, thereby increasing the difficulties for the average African farmer who has little money.

 

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On the trail of the hummingbird moth.

Those of you who read this blog know that I like to take pictures and have been doing so for the last twenty years. I like to take pictures of all sorts of animals and insects but one insect in particular that gives me a thrill to photograph is the hummingbird moth, also known as Hemaris diffinis in Latin. It is an insect despite the name and this is because it mimics the flight and behaviour of a hummingbird.

I remember quite well the first time that I observed it, not knowing what it was. At first I thought that it was a bumble-bee as it has yellow and black segments. A quick look at it seems to confirm this until one see the differences; the body of the insect is longer and the shape of the wings are larger and different. Most importantly they are clear.

I had great success last year in capturing several pictures of them in flight, but this year was another story. I simply could not find them and yet, some photographers had reported seeing them and had taken great pictures of them. My luck was to change last week.

These insects like to feed the nectar of purple and pink cone flowers with their long tongue. They tend to hover around the plants and never really stop, moving from one to another in quick succession. Taking a picture of them is a challenge for me, with a camera that is 7 years old and a lens found in lens kit sold ordinarily. Just to take a good picture of it when the insect flies requires me to use a speed of at least 1/1600 of a second. Better lenses and cameras might need half that speed. My friend takes pictures of these insects at 1/500 of a second.

Here I was, looking carefully at pink and purple cone flowers when suddenly my eyes saw something in the sun resting on some green plants. I approached and saw that it was the hummingbird moth seemingly resting. I carefully approached it and took several pictures from the side, seeing the dark eye perfectly. It was the first time that I had seen it immobile.

After a few minutes I went on scouting again and found one that was active, sipping the nectar from a purple cone flower. Luckily the sun was shining and the insect varied its position so that sometimes I had it facing from the side and other times its back.

These insects are most active when the sun is out and the temperatures are at their peak. This is probably why few people had seen them in the past weeks as we have had fairly cool weather with not much sun. The past two weeks seemed to have seen an explosion of them.

I was lucky as during that day I saw two of them on the same purple cone flower. I took many pictures and sure enough I had several where the eye of the insect was clear. One has to take many pictures in order to have a few that are good. Hopefully this insect will be more abundant in the following weeks as the summer season continues.

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South Asia is warming up.

A new study seems to confirm that South Asia will face a threat in the future from heat and humidity driven by global warming. At least 30% of the millions of people living there may be exposed to this deadly combination.

We humans cannot easily survive in areas where the humidity is high, or what is called the “wet bulb” temperature recorded by weather stations. If wet bulb temperatures in our environment are greater than 35C then our ability to sweat and to dissipate heat diminishes and even the most fit individual would die in around 6 hours.

Even a wet bulb temperature of 31C is a dangerous level for most people. In 2015, in India and Pakistan a heat wave killed 3500 people. This new study seems to show that we would go from zero people affected by wet bulb temperatures to 30% of the people affected in the area. A lot of people work in agriculture in those areas.

The only solution is to keep the increase of the worldwide temperature to just over two degrees for the worst case scenarios to be averted. And India and Pakistan would not see deadly heat waves arriving every year and killing thousands of people. But the prospects of this happening is now seriously in doubt.

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