Archive | April, 2015

Ice Shelves & Glaciers: Melting, Melting, Melted

Posted on 28 April 2015 by Jerry

Glaciers around the world and Arctic/Antarctic ice are melting as a result of climate change.  Ice is showing its susceptibility to even small rises in temperature.  The continuing disappearance of glaciers and destruction of ice shelves is causing great concern.

The collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in the Antarctic in 2002 is continuing.  After having been one of the largest and fastest deteriorations scientists have ever seen, recent measurements show the ice shelves held glaciers in place.  Absent the shelves the glaciers have increased the speed of their flow causing a profound thinning that weakens them even further.  The glacier flow speed increased by 55% from 1997 to 2012 as the glaciers shrank even further.

A research team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego analyzed 18 years of satellite observations.  They determined the loss of ice-shelf volume in Antarctica increased from about 25 cubic kilometers per year from 1994 to 2003 to in excess of 300 cubic kilometers each year from 2003 to 2012.

Scientists have discovered ocean mixing that causes floating Arctic ice to be vulnerable to melting from warmer water below in an updraft that carries heat upward.  The article in the February 19, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “As sea ice disappears, the atmosphere can transfer more of its energy into the ocean which drives ocean mixing.”

Researchers led by Gary Clarke of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, have used climate models to predict 70% shrinkage of glaciers in Western Canada by the end of 2100 relative to those seen in 2005.  Their report states, “We project the maximum rate of ice volume loss, corresponding to peak input of deglacial meltwater to streams and rivers, to occur around 2020-2040.”

Climate change deniers used the surging or apparent growth of glaciers in the Himalayas as evidence that there is no global warming.  But scientists now suggest the glaciers of the Karakoram Range, which cover a total of 18,000 square kilometers or represent more than half the ice content of the Himalayas, are actually “surge” glaciers.  This means they are not necessarily adding to their mass but merely redistributing.

An article by Jane Qui in the March 27, 2015 issue of Science magazine, entitled “Himalayan ice can fool climate studies” states, “The 20 or so Karakoram glaciers they analyzed surged on a ‘surprisingly consistent’ schedule, he says (Frank Paul of the University of Zurich), at intervals ranging between 25 and 75 years….After a surge, the lower part of the glacier thins while snow accumulates on the upper part until it reaches a critical threshold, triggering another surge.”

Many scientists now believe the limit placed by most countries of the world on the heat rise from climate change will outstrip the +2° limit. While developing nations are pushing for a lower limit of +1.5°, most scientists believe this is to increase the size of assistance their countries receive from wealthier nations.  These poorer nations charge it was the wealthy countries’ economic progress that created the problem.

An article appearing in the April 2, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “It has become increasingly clear, however, that temperatures are destined to soar well beyond anything that humans have ever witnessed.  Even if countries keep to the emissions pledges they have made up to now, climate models predict that the world is on track for about +3° C of warming this century.”  This is the lowest level of the forecasted range of possibilities.

On a final note, we know the ice around the world is disappearing because we have seen our first article about how climate change has a negative impact on being employed.  The article in the April 16, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states that scientists who cover the cryosphere (places on Earth that are sheathed in ice) are having a difficult time coping with changes as a result of melting ice shelves and glaciers.

There are two effects of climate change that are being exacerbated by this disappearance of ice.  Glaciers provide water to downstream populations and their shrinkage will limit the fresh water that is available.  Ice shelves that are breaking up and melting will increase the water in the oceans and lead to a rising of ocean waters.

These effects are real and need to be of concern to everyone.  We need to push our elected representatives at all levels to acknowledge that these effects are real and must be dealt with before they reach the crisis stage.  We must have drinkable water and cannot afford to let the ocean invade the land.

Use the following links to access additional information or see the original articles used to prepare this blog.


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Where Did All the Water Go?

Posted on 27 April 2015 by Jerry

With the World Meteorological Organization declaring 2014 as the warmest year on record and droughts continuing throughout the world many are wondering what is happening to our fresh water.  The answer is it is disappearing because we are using it.  With replenishing sources of water drying up (glaciers, reservoirs and lakes) because of global warming, people all over the world are turning to underground water sources, using up natural aquifers.

The problem is that underground sources take a long time to replenish and once they are gone, they are gone for a long time.  Unfortunately the problem is getting worse.

A recent study by Wada and Bierkens divided underground water sources into renewable and non-renewable factoring in global warming.  This study reveals that non-renewable subterranean water use has grown by 50% from 1960 to 2010.  This is largely because of the growth of irrigation in the U.S., China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and northern Iran.  Their study says, “Crucially, this rise is primarily attributed to non-renewable groundwater withdrawals.”

Droughts are widespread and the whole world is reeling.  California is in the midst of a drought and has implemented its first ever, mandatory water restriction.  It focuses on non-agricultural water use and requires a 25% reduction from levels established in 2013.

A Nature magazine “News in Brief” released in the April 9, 2015 edition states, “Many of California’s ski resorts have closed early this year because of low snow levels.  On April 1 for the first time in 75 years, surveyors had no snow to measure at an annual assessment at Phillips Station….The water department measured only 3.6 centimeters of water content in the snowpack statewide – 5% of the historical average for April 1.  The snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state’s fresh water.”

India is in a midst of a drought that has already exacerbated a poor water situation.  The dry months of June and July account for frequent power cuts and water shortages.  They offer a snapshot of what life in India will be like in the future.

In the dry months of 2013 hospitals in New Delhi stopped surgeries at one point because there was no water for sterilization of instruments.  They could not clean operating theaters and there was no water for the staff to wash their hands.  Luxury malls had to close their restrooms and not use their air conditioners.

India could be facing severe friction with its downstream neighbors.  Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have accused India of using too much water so the populations of these countries also have water shortages.

Even a short drought of two years duration is causing major water shocks in Brazil.  We are not talking about the groundwater but rather rainwater that is held in reservoirs and lakes.  Barring a reversal in climate, according to an article written by Herton Escobar printed in the February 20, 2015 issue of Science magazine, “Officials are contemplating drastic rationing that would deprive millions of households of water for up to 5 days a week.”

Further the article said, “The Cantareira system, which provides water for 8.8 million people, is so depleted that authorities are tapping the last 8% – little more than stagnant dregs.  Even if rainfall were to return to normal it will take several years to rebuild these reservoirs.”

At a conference on water security, the Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri stated, “Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face in terms of the crises as far as water is concerned.”  Further he said, “Naturally, this (water crisis) is also going to lead to tensions – probably some conflict between riparian groups and riparian states.”

The shortage of fresh water worldwide is reaching epic proportions.  Residential consumers will feel the heat before farming communities because the farmers feed us all and are a big source of employment.

We must speak up to the rest of the public and get them and us to demand action by our elected representatives.  Contingency planning is required if we are to avoid future shortages and disasters.  We must conserve and find other sources of water using the latest technologies, like desalinization.

Each of us must do our utmost to protect this diminishing resource.  We must do away with lawns; stop flushing as often and generally cut back on our water usage.  Droughts are not restricted to the countries mentioned but are everywhere.  There are too many of us demanding and using too much water.

Use the following links to gain more information or access the original source articles for this blog. (Scroll down to “Warmest Year”)

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Life Began in a Simple Environment & Process

Posted on 25 April 2015 by Jerry

With article titles like “Origin-of-life puzzle cracked” and “Origin of life: Primordial soup that cooks itself” this breakthrough is of major proportions. John Sutherland and his team at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have now shown that life began on Earth with a process that contained three simple ingredients: hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and ultraviolet light (UV).

Further, one common environment was sufficient to begin nucleic acid precursors as well as the starting materials for amino acids and lipids, the three main ingredients of life.  This breakthrough will replace all other, more cumbersome and circuitous explanations of how life began.

The original Miller and Urey experiments and those of Butlerow and Oró were all conducted in environments that were mutually exclusive.  These incompatible conditions make the explanations of how life began cumbersome and in many senses impossible.  A single environment producing all three of the key elements necessary to begin life offers a much simpler explanation of the beginning of life.

There has always been controversy about the beginning of life.  There have been those who believe that life began here as a direct result of conditions and ingredients that existed.  Others have held the beliefs that life began as a result of ingredients arriving on meteors from outer space or as a result of the actions of a supernatural agent.  This is mainly because past beginning-of-life experiments did not provide an understandable and simple enough environment and process to give a rational account of the development of life.

An article published in the March 24, 2015 issue of Nature Chemistry by Paul Bracher describes this dilemma very well.  The author states, “The system relies on the sequential delivery of reagents such as hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide instead of addition of all of the components at the start.  To address this limitation, the authors describe a model scenario in which rains hitting mineral deposits on early Earth may have sequestered reagents that are incompatible early in the synthesis in separate streams that merged later….The key advantage of the Sutherland system is that all of the soups for these families are prepared from the same broth, even if they must be minded by a cook or kept in separate pots.”

Again quoting from the Bracher article, “Taken together, these related studies from 2009 to 2015 demonstrate how the ultraviolet irradiation of an aqueous environment containing a limited set of simple feedstocks and catalysts can yield organic molecules easy to recognize as precursors to modern peptides, nucleic acids, and lipids.”

Scientists that believe RNA began the first life accomplished this breakthrough.  They hold that RNA led to the development of DNA.  This announced finding would seem to validate that assumption.  John Sutherland has been an advocate of RNA.

These results once again affirm the basic assumptions of modern day science that life developed on this planet without the interference or assistance of other worldly phenomena or a supernatural being.  It took roughly the first billion years of the planet’s existence for life to begin.  This research shows that life began as a result of the right ingredients at the right time.  If we assume this was one of millions of separate sets of circumstances that occurred in the first billion years, we should consider ourselves fortunate the circumstances eventually occurred.

Use the following links to get additional information or access the original studies that served as the basis of this article.


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