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Will Oceans Continue To Absorb CO2 As They Do Now?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Each year around 40 billion tons of CO2 is released into the air, but 20 billion tons is recaptured through natural processes — sometimes we just don’t know how lucky we are.  We can thank the Amazon rain forest and vegetation in general, not forgetting the seas which swallow about 10 billion tons.  It is going to be difficult enough for humans to deal with the remainder to abate global warming without the surprise scientists dropped on us in a new paper published April 29, 2019.  The oceans are beginning to let us down.

As one might expect with a warming earth, mean ocean temperatures are also rising and that means more bacteria, one cause of the problem.  The vast populations of photosynthetic plankton breathe in CO2 and release oxygen just like the vegetation on land.  As they die, they sink to the bottom of the sea taking the stored carbon with them.

So far so good but the aerobic bacteria get to munch on some of the dead plankton, and in the process release back their CO2.  Aerobic bacteria live in oxygenated environments within 150 feet of the surface, so most of the CO2 simply bubbles back up to escape into the air.  As the bacteria have mushroomed with rising sea temperatures, they are eating more and more of the dead carbon-laden plankton and less is descending to the sea floor.

These effects are worse near the tropics where water temperatures are much higher.  In some areas tested, researchers found extremes of 85 percent of the carbon being released into the atmosphere.  This 85 percent carbon regeneration occurs also in gyres (circulating ocean currents) as well as oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) near the west coast of continents, contrary to expectation.  Apparently, the warming oceans are allowing the bacteria to thrive in these regions as well.

According to the study, the cooler subtropical areas in the center of the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific and South Pacific will feel the effect most strongly because warming will enhance nutrient levels of the rich phytoplankton population giving bacteria a feast.

As oceans warm further, the effect is expected to cause even more carbon regeneration, meaning less will fall to the ocean floor.  To make matters worse, increasing CO2 will lower the capacity of the oceans to absorb more.

Moreover, increasing CO2 lowers pH and raises ocean acidity harming creatures like starfish — and thereby mushrooming populations of their prey the sea urchins.  These in turn are denuding kelp beds, destroying the habitat for fish and invertebrates that shelter there.  The latter are also having difficulty in making shells, and corals with making skeletons, for all these need calcium carbonate that can not be produced as easily in a higher pH ocean. 

To make matters worse, global climate models have been under-predicting temperature rise (2.0-4.5C); the latest have upped it to 5.0C reducing the time to act on climate change.  It is a sad story.  The unwitting consequence of witting fossil fuel burning. 

The more we learn about the natural world, the more important it is revealed to be in sustaining the delicate balance of our fragile home.  To stop the rise in ocean temperatures, we have to alleviate global warming.  It is also one of the causes threatening the extinction of a million species according to the just released UN biodiversity report.  The means to respond to climate change are there.  We know what they are.  We just have to muster the will to use them.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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COVID-19 has given a fillip to biodiversity

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The COVID-19 outbreak caused many problems for the world, but in return gave the planet’s environment and biodiversity a chance to breathe. The high mortality rate may be worrisome, but it provided us with the opportunity to think more about how we should treat biodiversity in a better way.

Biodiversity is an important feature of life explained by the vast diversity of plants and animals, which is a non-renewable resource and its loss will be irreparable, Kioumars Kalantari, head of the natural environment and biodiversity of the Department of Environment said.

The growing importance of biodiversity is due to its role in maintaining the stability of ecosystems, because in an ecosystem, the greater the species diversity, the longer food chains, resulting in a more stable environment, he added.

According to him, today the protection of biodiversity, habitats, and natural ecosystems is among the most important indicators of sustainable development in the world.

Fortunately, Iran benefits from rich biodiversity due to special climatic, geographical, and topographic conditions and characteristics, and more than 8600 species of plants and 1300 species of vertebrates live in the country, he highlighted.

Unfortunately, the environment faces a variety of threats and challenges, including pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, sand and dust storms, natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and increasing disease outbreaks, he noted.

He went on to say that despite all the efforts that have been made nationally as well as internationally worldwide, the environment today is no better than it was in the early twentieth century.

The sudden prevalence of COVID-19, followed by lock-downs and restrictions around the world, reduction in human activity, the evacuation of highways, reduction in travel, air, and land transport, and a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, has benefited the nature much, he explained.

It greatly improved air quality and reduced the risk of lung and cardiovascular diseases, key environmental indicators that have been steadily deteriorating for more than half a century, remained fixed, or moved towards improvement, he emphasized.

The extent of the disease and the human casualties may be so painful that it does not give us a chance to rejoice in the healing process of nature and the environment, but the good condition of climate and nature can be a fillip for each of us on this planet, especially those in charge, to think more about our past actions and slow down our exponential pace of unsustainable development and the destruction of valuable biological resources, he also highlighted.

Perhaps changing our plans and behaviors to use more of renewable energy, while increasing the use of telecommunications facilities such as video conferencing, webinars, online meetings, can greatly reduce travel as well as greenhouse gas emissions and thus help preserve nature and valuable biodiversity treasures, he said.

Biodiversity conservation is in fact the protection of ourselves and the resources without which we cannot survive, he stated, adding, human health depends on the health of other creatures and the environment in which they live.

The outbreak of the coronavirus and its pathogenic consequences highlights the importance of the dependence of the health of all organisms on the planet on each other and the environment.

“Our Solutions Are in Nature” which expresses the importance of nature in responding to the challenges we face in terms of sustainable development and the necessity of comprehensive cooperation to achieve a future in harmony with nature, he added.

According to experts, “the most important and largest public asset of any country is the environment”, unfortunately, due to the wrong approach and underestimation of its vital importance, its capacity is declining every day, and it cannot be exchanged or bought, although some officials, especially economists, suggest ways to price these environmental resources, they are invaluable, he stated.

Kalantari further expressed hope that by living in harmony with nature, humans will be able to benefit as much as possible from the valuable resources and to protect and preserve the biological richness of the world in the best possible way.

Why human absence prospers nature?

Pointing out that protecting the planet is important to humans, and we need to maintain the best conditions on Earth after Coronavirus, Mohammad Darvish, a member of the National Security Council for the environment, said that the pandemic has caused the earth to breathe deeply, and now the wise man is faced with the question that “why, when human activity as a member of the ecosystem decreases, not only does nothing happen, but the condition of nature improves.”

Think of bees being removed from nature. In this case, the integrity of the Earth’s environmental property, the reproduction of many species and humans themselves will be damaged, or if brown bears are removed, soil fertility will decrease, or if wild boars are removed, water permeability will decrease and floods will increase, he explained.

Therefore, there have been wise in the creation of all plant and animal species or even insects, and have contributed to the earth’s resilience, he emphasized.

Why has it now happened that man, who considers himself the best of creatures, that must be more responsible, has behaved in such a way that his absence is in favor of nature and the earth?

Such happening should give us a lesson to change our development programs in favor of nature and try to understand the laws of nature, instead of spending budgets on warfare, larger and more horrific weapons, he noted, implying that environmental research and health is now more essential as well as improvement of the education system so that in the post-corona crisis world we can appear wiser, more knowledgeable, and more responsible.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Global Warming: Past as Prologue to the Future

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust

If the vice-presidential debate lacked direction, hurricane Delta did not.  It slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 causing widespread damage with its 100 mph winds, then continued inland as a Category 1 storm.  If Delta sounds like an unusual name for a hurricane, it is. 

The World Meteorological Organization has a list from A to W of 21 potential storm names.  The letters Q, W, X, Y and Z are omitted.  In all there are six lists meaning that the 2020 list will be repeated in 2026.

Using names for storms facilitates identification in communications when compared to the prior method using latitude and longitude particularly when the storm itself is moving. 

So here we are in 2020 with 25 storms so far.  The residents on the Louisiana coast have had a double whammy with hurricane Laura slamming them earlier in the last week of August.  It was a deadly Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.  Just 7 mph short of a Category 5 (the deadliest) Laura was only the fourth Category 4 to strike Louisiana since records were kept.  

In addition to the numbers of storms, there are other climate anomalies.  September this year has been the hottest on record and Death Valley reached a temperature of 130 F (54.4 C) the highest ever observed.  September 2019 in turn had also been the hottest on record for our planet. 

If there are storms along the coasts and flooding due to a warming ocean, inland it is not only warmer but drier.  Forests are like tinder needing only a lightning spark or a downed electricity line to set them off.  Thus the forest fires in southeastern Australia and California.

Europe too is warmer.  Forest fires particularly in the south, and inundation are more frequent.  Reading in England for example has just suffered the wettest 48 hours ever. 

The south of France usually associated with blissful weather experienced torrential downpours with more than a half meter of rain (about 20 inches) in a day.  It was an event Meteo-France noted that occurs once in a hundred years.  And then it happened again.  Storm Alex, the cause of this misery, hit France and also Italy and England.  Floods and landslides caused serious damage north of Nice destroying roads, bridges and houses.  In adjoining Italy a section of a bridge over the Sesia river collapsed in the rising waters.  Affecting the Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria regions, it dropped over 23 inches (0.63 m) of rain.  The Po river rose more than 9 ft (3 m ) in 24 hours. 

The key lesson from all this is that global warming is making rare events more common, that the window for action is narrowing, and that the longer such action is delayed the more onerous will be the burden on humanity.  In the meantime, the global warming already built into the system will continue to affect climate for the foreseeable future. 

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The lone woman in the ice

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Photo credit: Varda Sharma

As Dr. Madhubala Chinchalkar walked in for the interview, the panel asked,” You will be the only woman in the team, is that alright for you?”. She replied, “That’s not even a problem.”

Antarctica, the fifth largest continent in the world with a huge wall of ice shelf surrounding it can be described in all superlatives, the country with coldest, highest, windiest, driest weather. Breaking the mould, Dr. Madhubala brings us a real story in the documentary film named, “And the Skua Returned  Early” where she narrates her journey of surviving all odds and completing her expedition in Antarctica as the medical professional.

Isolation, confinement, very dry air, no access to supplies, danger, extreme weather conditions, the monotony of everyday life. Except for lack of gravity, living in Antarctica is the closest thing to a long journey to Mars, for example. This time of year — our summer, their winter — there is sunlight for only three hours a day, and it’s like being on the moon, and just as isolated

While there is no native population on Antarctica, there are 40 permanent research stations, with an average of 1,000 people living there year-round (around 25 people per station), braving harsh winds and an inhuman cold 

As Antarctica is so difficult to get to, once you arrive, you can’t leave — until the next ship/airdrop comes six to eight months later. You are completely isolated from February to October, when the cold and the dark make flights too dangerous to attempt.

Dr. Madhubala describes her eight-month long expedition to Antarctica as a spiritual experience of which she became a part. On clear winter nights, seeing Southern lights better known as Aurora Australis from  behind an ice shelf often rolling waves of green, blue, red like giant reels of fairy dust and painting over the head while spreading to fill the sky is a spectacular scene which will stay forever captured in her mind camera. Silvery moon light on glistening white snow reflecting all around is a sight to behold. The naturally occurring ice caves are the mysteries that mother nature unfolds where the wall is decorated with delicate ice crystals. The ice is so vast, it stretched all the way to the horizon and continued to extend for hours as they walked to explore it. 

In summer nature’s magic touch creates a miracle as plant and animal life blossoms. The team habits in the Indian research station-Maitreyi which stays busy in summer. The work stretches from geological survey, ozone study, geomagnetism, ice core drilling, recording new climatic history to observing plant and animal life.

It’s a mix of emotions as the sun sets welcoming winter. It’s exciting for the winter to start. There’s also a little bit of trepidation too because it’s unknown: How are you going to react without the sun 24/7 for six months? What’s it going to be like working in extreme cold conditions that you really haven’t seen up to that point yet? There’s just a lot of unknowns, so it’s both exciting and a little bit frightening.

Planes with supplies stop flying to Antarctica during the winter, as it’s physically too cold for them to fly when the temperatures plummet to minus 40 F. Fuel freezes to slush, skis can stick to the ice and the hydraulics begin to falter in the harsh conditions. What the team has on hand starting in February is what they’ll have to rely on to last them through the dark, brutal winter.

She remembers as she pens down an instance where Dr. Madhubala was advised by a fellow team member that she should stay indoors and do the domestic work like cooking rather than going outside and taking generator readings. She smiled as she braved the harsh temperature, took more accurate readings than her peers, proving that there is no such thing that women cannot do. She is an example of how you can break a glass ceiling even without making a noise! Her advice for people is always to explore their options and seize opportunities when they present themselves. Keep your eyes open, being open to taking some risk is great too and will take you places you didn’t know exist

The climate is so cold, windy and harsh there, one immediately feels like an intruder. Antarctica is not made for humans, and rightfully so as there should be one place on this planet that we cannot put our sticky, oily handprints all over. But we are doing just that, even from our comfortable homes in temperate climes, and the ice in Antarctica is waking up and shifting in response. The central message that Dr. Madhubala tries to convey is, how much impact global warming is having on Antarctica. You might not feel the effect around you right now, but it isn’t inevitable.

Global sea levels will also rise, because the Earth’s finite reserves of freshwater that were once stored as ice on the land, end up melting into the ocean instead. 

The term “climate change” is a bit misleading, because what’s happening is about so much more than rising temperatures — it’s about how all the different parts of the Earth’s system are being affected by the climate. We need to protect the last naturally occurring delicately balanced ecosystem of Antarctica isn’t our responsibility but a ticket to live on the planet a little longer

We’re all dancing among the icebergs now, and we have a choice: we can try to hold onto the futile dream of returning to the way things once were, or we can talk, think and prepare for how we’ll live on this new Earth

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