Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

Great Barrier Reef


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Climate Change Threatening the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Coral bleaching

“The dying of the reefs is attributed to a process known as bleaching.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

July 19, 2018—–Coral reefs are one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. They differ from land ecosystems in that the major populations making up the system are animals rather than plants. Land ecosystems include forests, grasslands and deserts, for example. Coral reefs essentially consist of animal species. The huge variety of animals includes those with backbones and those without. The most prevalent animals are those without backbones such as sponges, snails, clams, scallops and squid. Better known animals are starfish and sea urchins.

Coral reefs are also home to nearly a fourth of all species of fish. The primary food for the animal species is algae. The algae supply the animals with sugars and oxygen in return for shelter and carbon dioxide. These microscopic algae are responsible for the basic color of reefs.

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

Rising sea temperatures are resulting in massive destruction of the reefs. They are dying at an unprecedented rate. Massive bleaching events have been largely an event of the last 40 years. Prior to that, bleaching events occurred an average of every 27 years. The first massive bleaching was recorded in 1982-83. There is no record of large scale bleaching prior to that time. Now severe events are averaging about every six years.

Reefs: Coral Bleaching

Rising ocean temperatures affect coral bleaching of the reefs.

Bleaching of the Reefs

The dying of the reefs is attributed to a process known as bleaching. The bleaching is actually the result of the death of the microscopic algae that both color and feed the coral. When sea water gets too warm for prolonged periods of time, corals become stressed, causing them to expel the algae. This expelling of the micro-organisms leaves the coral appearing bleached or whitened.

Coral can survive for a period of weeks without the algae, but with longer periods of time the algae begins to die. A number of factors can cause the algae to die, but only warmer than average water temperature can cause widespread loss. It can occur with sea temperatures being as little as 1°C (2°F) above normal monthly temperatures.

coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef and coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef lies off the coast of Australia. In 1981, it was listed as a World Heritage Site. It is the earth’s largest system of coral reefs. It is one of the largest heritage sites covering an area of more than 336,000 square kilometers (130,000 square miles). It consists of nearly 3000 individual reefs of varying size and almost 1000 islands, also of varying size.

At the time of this writing a greatly expanded area of coral bleaching has been detected off the east coast of Australia. Almost all of the reefs from the city of Cairns northward show evidence of bleaching. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, water temperatures are the warmest around the north end of the reef nearest the equator and decrease southward. In all, nearly half of the reef is suffering bleaching.

In the northern reaches, where the water is the warmest, bleaching is affecting some 75 percent of the reefs. Going southward to the region offshore from Cairns the bleaching is affecting an average of 25 to 50 percent of the reef. In recent months water temperatures have been warmer than usual and the area of bleaching is expanding southward.

In 2017, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia experienced its second year in a row of extensive bleaching. At least a third of the reef was affected reducing the variety of species. The risk to the reef is due to both global warming and more frequent episodes of abnormal warming.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

The Future of the Reef

In the summer of 2018, the future looks bleak for the reef. Reefs can make a substantial start to recovery from bleaching events in 10 years or longer. The problem is that now the interval between events is getting shorter and there is insufficient time for the corals to recover.

At the current rate of warming, by the middle of the 2030’s, severe bleaching may occur as often as every two years. Within 35 years ocean temperatures may rise enough to essentially prevent reefs from surviving in large areas!

Coral bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef

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Also see similar article on Planet Earth Weekly: https://planetearth5.com/2018/05/13/transplanting-creating-healthier-coral-reefs/

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The Holocene (Holocene-Anthropocene?): Earth’s Environment Since Deglaciation

Anthropocene

Anthropocene and human impact

“With the advent of agriculture, human alteration of the environment began to take place quite rapidly.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

July 30, 2018—-The Holocene is the last currently recognized geological epoch. Holocene means “entirely recent.” It is also the shortest. As between other epochs interconnected events mark the boundary between the Pleistocene and the Holocene. Climatic change was a key factor at the boundary. Toward the end of the long retreat of the ice, the climate alternated between warm and cold. The ice sheets began to melt rapidly about 14,000 years ago.

During the initial phase of melting in North America the water created two rivers now known as the Missouri and Ohio. These two rivers formed at the front of the ice sheet. These rivers joined into what is now the Mississippi River. The volume of water in the Mississippi must have been tremendous based on the width of the Mississippi River Valley. So much fresh water flowed into the Gulf of Mexico that it altered both the salinity and temperature of the Gulf.

As the sea ice melted in the Atlantic, the southern limit retreated northward allowing warmer water from tropical regions to flow further North. The clockwise circulation around the North Atlantic including the Gulf stream developed. The weather patterns around the North Atlantic Ocean came into existence that were much like those of today.

Anthropocene

Lessons from the fossil record: Discarded consumer good. anthropocene layer in the rock strata.

Younger Dryas Event

By 11,500 years ago, only scattered areas of ice sheets remained in western North America. The main ice sheet was in eastern Canada. Real warming of the northern hemisphere could not take place until most of the ice had melted. However, at about this time a fairly rapid reversal of the melting took place. The edges of the ice sheet moved towards the equator once again and some small ice sheets reappeared. This cold period became known as the Younger Dryas event, (named for a small flower found in cold climates). The warming was not a global event. It took place mainly around the North Atlantic Ocean. Evidence of glacial ice at this time is found largely on Greenland, maritime Canada, and northern Europe.

Anthropocene

The human impact on our earth.

Climatic Optimum

Seven thousand years ago conditions had warmed again such that only remnants of the ice sheet remained. The warming peaked about 5500 years ago. Basically, only the Greenland ice sheet and the ice on the Antarctic continent remained. Although it varied in intensity and timing from place to place, the warming was a global event. Mean atmospheric temperatures were warmer than today and the term climatic optimum or thermal maximum was coined to describe this period. In Europe temperatures averaged two to three degrees Celsius (5 ½º F) above the present. There the tree line was some 100 meters (330 ft) above that of today. In Africa there was a rapid drying and expansion of the Sahara Desert. Evidence indicates a major migration out of settlements in the region as food supplies dwindled. Remnants of these settlements are scattered over much of the region.

Anthropocene

The human impact on Earth.

Anthropocene (?)

The Anthropocene is the name given to a recently proposed epoch that coincides with the impact of the human species on our planet. Boundaries between epochs have been placed where there was a significant change in the environment. There is justification for the creation of the new epoch. With the advent of agriculture, human alteration of the environment began to take place quite rapidly.

A major problem is that there is no agreement as to where the boundary should be placed. Some argue that it should be placed at the beginning of the Holocene some 14,000 years ago. Others advocate placing it at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1780.

There seems to be agreement that the Anthropocene, if it becomes a recognized epoch, should coincide with some stage in the technological development of the human species. The recognition of the Anthropocene as an epoch is yet to be determined.


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The Origin of Lawns and Their Environmental Impact

“We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment.”

By Linn Smith

This is an article I published several years ago, but felt it needed reiterating, as it is summer, the time most people drag their mowers out if the garage. Our changing climate requires rethinking our former habits.

Sustainable living

It’s our responsibility to change.

Lawns of the 16th century

Lawns are not a natural part of our environment. Lawns originated around the 16th century as grassy fields around English and French castles. Trees were cut down around the castles, leaving only grassy fields that would reveal an enemy coming forth in the wide open spaces. When the trees were cut, the grasses and flowers sprouted naturally, creating a meadow. “Lawn” originated from the word Launde, which means an opening in the woods. The moist climate of Europe supported these grassy meadows which eventually became our lawns of today.

The History of Grass Lawns

“Grass” is from the plant family Gramineae, which has over 9000 species of plants. In the late 16th century “grass” lawns became fashionable, rapidly catching on among the wealthy. In 16th and 17th centuries lawns were mostly wildflowers and herbs such as chamomile.

Origination of the Lawn

The castles created meadows, “lawns”, to watch for
approaching enemies.

Until the 19th century, mowing consisted of a scythe, shears for edge trimming, a gardener to maintain the lawns, and/or cattle and sheep grazing around the estates. In the 18th century this was a sign of the wealth, the vast lawn showing the amount of wealth of the owner (reminds me of Jane Austin novels)–lawns implied a staff and servants with scythes, shears and edging irons.

Mowers: Creating Easier Lawn Maintenace

In 1870 the push mower was invented, and in 1919 the gasoline mower allowed for much less effort in maintaining a lawn. (A note of interest: during World War 1, Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep, about fifty, cutting the White House lawn, which saved manpower during the war. He sold their wool to the Red Cross.)

When the suburbs sprouted up in the U.S. after the war, the architects created lawns around homes, which increased the value of the house and was inviting to the post war families who enjoyed lawn games of croquet, badminton, ect. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, houses were sold with lawns already in place. With the gasoline mower and the sprinkler system, the lawns were easily maintained.

Xeriscaping

Save water with Xeriscaping

The Downside of the Beautiful Lawn

So, here’s the downside of our beautiful, European lawns today! In an article on Smithsonian.com, Sarah Zielinski says it nicely, “We should all know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment. Keeping turf from turning brown wastes water, people use too many pesticides and herbicides, toxic chemicals that contaminate the fish we eat and water we drink. And mowing burns fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Plus nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere with fertilization!”

And one more negative impact of our nice lawns–we are harming the bee population which we depend so heavily on for pollinating the wonderful foods we love! So, unless you are maintaining your lawn with only a scythe, push mower or sheep, maybe it’s time to rethink what we plant in our yards!

Overpopulation and hunger

A depletion of resources.

Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is a water conserving method that orginated in Colorado. It originated from the Greek word “Xero”, which means dry and “Scape” meaning view. It does not mean zero landscaping. It does mean planting plants that will do well with little watering. The plants are not necessarily native to the area, but are selected for their water conserving abilities.

Xeriscaping makes more water available to the community and the environment and reduces maintenance, with just occasional weeding and mulching. Less cost and less maintenance leaves more time for other things! Xeriscaping also reduces water pollution, as herbicides and pesticides don’t end up in the groundwater.

New Mexico has been planting the most beautiful yards using water conserving plants for centuries! It’s time to rethink our beautiful lawns and think about creating beautiful Xeriscaped yards instead!

Lawns of green grass aren’t so “green” for the environment!

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The USA National Phenology Network: Taking the Pulse of our Planet

Phenology

Climate change affects all life.

“Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events.”

By Linn Smith
June 14, 2018—–I learned about Phenology when visiting Biosphere 2 several months ago. Upon entering I asked the question, “But where is Biosphere 1?” “It’s our Planet Earth!” our guide answered. (I knew little before entering!) On the grounds of Biosphere 2 is the Biosphere Village Phenology garden.

Climate Change

Birds depend on insects to feed their young.

What is Phenology?

Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events, such as leafing and flowering of plants, emergence of insects, and bird migration. Many of these events are sensitive to climate change. Birds build their nest to coincide with insects coming to life after a long winter. The insects are the necessary food for the baby birds and, as the climate warms and winters shorten, this nesting time period will change.

Phenology

What is it?

Monitoring animal and plant life, or Phenology, can help scientists predict which populations are in danger of extinction. It can also help manage invasive species, help predict human health problems, such as allergies, and predict optimum times to plant and harvest crops.

The Biosphere Phenology Garden

“The garden at the Biosphere is part of a nationwide effort to help scientists track impacts of climatic variation and change on the natural world. We are monitoring the timing and occurrence of seasonal events of this garden and reporting the observations to USA-NPN’s national data base.” (USA National Phenology Network)

Phenology

It helps us understand our changing environment.

How You Can Help!

And this is how you can get involved! Citizen Scientists were developed so all can participate in monitoring nature and recording the data. The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizens, government agencies, educators, students and nonprofit organizations to monitor the impacts of climatic variation and change on plants and animals across the U.S. The network harnesses the power of people and the Internet to share information and provide data to researchers.

USA-NPN invites anyone interested to volunteer as an observer so that they can better understand environmental trends and adaptation to climate change. Your own yard can serve as a phenology garden where you observe plants and report your findings. You can track the phenology of plants and animals through Nature’s Notebook, which is an online monitoring system, contributing to a national database that can be used by scientists and resource managers.

Phenology

It can help us understand why nature is changing.

Citizen Scientists at Work

“Cathie Bird finds being outdoors healing and inspiring. She goes outside nearly every day to see what other species are up to, and after she heard about Nature’s Notebook, she decided to record what she observes for the benefit of science. She feels “being an observer has connected me even more deeply with life in my neighborhood” and has “enriched my lifelong commitment to cultivate a deeper relationship with Earth.

Chris Nielsen started using Nature’s Notebook to observe native plants in the Northwest several years ago. Chris not only monitors plants at his home, but also at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, WA. What does Chris recommend for getting started with Nature’s Notebook? Don’t take on too many plants! Start out with just a few then take on more as you get comfortable with the program.”

Now is the time to step up to the plate and help out…..the time was actually yesterday, but as the old saying goes, better late than never! Find out more information at: https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook

Phenology, You can help!

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The Arctic Basin: Warming Faster than the Planet in its Entirety

Arctic Ocean

Melting of the Arctic Sea Ice

“The arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore
June 8, 2018—–The Arctic Basin consists of the Arctic Sea and the surrounding land. The climate of the basin is warming faster than any other area of Earth’s surface. Air temperature over the arctic has increased an average of nearly three degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit) over the last century. This is almost double that of the global average.

The Energy Exchange in Change of State Between Ice and Water

One very important feature of the energy balance distinguishes the Arctic Basin. Over 95% of the earth’s surface, the major change in the state of water in the environment is between liquid and gas. This entails evaporation and condensation. In the Arctic it is between solid and liquid. There is an energy exchange of about 80 calories per gram between solid and liquid. For the rest of the earth the energy exchange is much higher. The energy exchange between liquid and gas is 590 calories per gram. This is nearly seven times that of ice and water.

The implication of this is that melting or freezing takes place with relative small changes in heat added or heat lost in the environment!

The energy exchange in melting artic

Melting of the Arctic

Energy Exchange in the Tundra

Surrounding the Arctic sea is a grassland, generally known as the tundra. Such a grassland is found primarily only in the Northern Hemisphere. The southern margin of the tundra is delimited by the polar margin of a coniferous forest. Specific regions that contain tundra are the northern coast of North America, Iceland, Spitsbergen, coastal Greenland, and the Arctic borderlands of Eurasia.

A significant feature of the tundra is permafrost. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. Extensive area of land in the basin are covered with it. Permafrost can vary from centimeters to many meters thick.

Ice and snow are highly reflective of solar radiation. However, in the summer months some of the solar radiation melts the permafrost. The surface layer of permafrost thaws leaving the deeper layer frozen. The result is that lakes and ponds are a characteristic of the tundra. Once the permafrost melts at the surface, the wet ground absorbs much more radiation and the thawing increases. However, except on the margins of the permafrost, there remains frozen ground beneath the surface.

How deep the permafrost melts will vary. The point is that once the surface thaws the solar energy that is absorbed goes up substantially. This in turn increases the rate of the thawing of the permafrost. As the earth’s atmosphere slowly warms this process is being accelerated.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Energy Exchange in the Arctic Sea

The Arctic Sea is a part of the world ocean that is frozen much of the year but increasingly is open during the summer months. The season when melting occurs has increased by three weeks since records began. At present, even in the summer, there is a large area that remains frozen. As the atmosphere slowly warms more of the ice cover melts. Open water absorbs much more radiation than the ice and this increases the temperature of the water which then increases melting of the ice. As a result, over recent decades, the sea ice has been thinning or melting entirely over large areas. Just as on land the conversion from sea ice to open water is increasing at an increasing rate.

Climate change

The rapidly melting artic

In summary, the arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the amount of energy it takes to change the state of water between solid and liquid is much less than it takes to change the state between liquid to gas. There is thus a net gain in heat that is proportionately higher than that of the rest of the planet. As the summer season increases in length more heat is absorbed in the environment adding to the general global warming!

Warming of the Arctic


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Garden the Sustainable Way

Organic gardening

Gardening sustainably produces healthier food.

Life on earth is incredibly interdependent!

By Linn Smith
May 30, 2018—-Springtime! It’s time to plant the garden and flowerbeds. Here are a few tips for gardening sustainably, without destroying or putting toxic substances into the soil. Instead, sustainable methods provide nourishment to the soil and plants.

Go Organic

In 1987 a United Nations report defined sustainability as, “Practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is what our Planet Earth Weekly site is all about! For years now we have been writing, providing ideas and actions you can take to do just that! Leave a healthy planet for future generations!

Here are a few tips. First, compost. Look around you. Nature naturally decomposes living matter back into the soil, providing humus, decomposing leaves and plant life with microorganisms. Humus helps plants absorb nutrients and combat diseases.

At our house composting means putting otherwise wasted food parts in a steal bowl by the sink, which eventually makes its way to a fenced in compost pile near the garden. Everything organic can be put back into the soil, an environmentally healthier method than putting the waste in a plastic bag, sending it to the dump where it will stays for years. This is a year around endeavor, where the compost eventually makes its way to the flower and garden beds. It is worked into the soil in the springtime. When plants die in the fall, throw them back onto your compost pile—a completed sustainable cycle!

Build Trellises

Another tip, build trellises with fallen branches. Below are a few ideas.

Organic garden

Garden Sustainably

Sustainable gardening

Trellis made from tree branches

Living Sustainably

Be creative

Mulching the Garden

Mulch! It saves on water, and when you mulch sustainably using leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust or compost, you also enrich the soil. Make sure you weed before you lay down the mulch, and also provide a thick layer of mulch, usually 2-6 inches, depending on whether your garden is in partial shade or full sun. Also, if using sawdust, you may want to fertilize first with blood meal, a high nitrogen product.

rainbarrel

Rain barrel to harvest roof water

Rain Barrel

Next, get a rain barrel. You can save on your water bill by recycling rain from your roof onto your garden. In Colorado rain barrels were illegal until several years ago because of water rights. ( See https://planetearth5.com/2017/06/23/solar-uses-in-the-west-monitoring-the-irrigation-ditch/ for further explanation of water rights). Several states, such as Nevada, still have laws against it, so check your state policies before investing in a rain barrel.

Heirloom Seeds

Last, plant heirloom seeds. They are likely to produce more nutritious and flavorful veges and they are open pollinated so you can save them to plant next year. Seeds from plants that are cross pollinated hybrids don’t do well when the seeds are saved from year to year. When you save heirloom seeds you’re saving from plants that have thrived in your garden the year before, so most likely will do well the next year.

sustainable garden

Create natural arches to your garden

As Jayne Poynter stated after spending two years in Biosphere 2, “On a day to day basis I was very aware that Biosphere 2, with the plants, the algae, were providing me with my oxygen and I was providing them with their carbon dioxide. It was incredibly interdependent. It’s like that on Planet Earth, but it’s so big you don’t realize it, or think about it.” https://planetearth5.com/?s=biosphere+2

Keep the cycle going!


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Climate Change and Human Population Growth Precipitated the Pleistocene Mass Extinction

climate change and species extinction

Climate change and extinction of species

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception!”

By John J. Hidore

May 19, 2018—-Changes in climate can and do result in the elimination of species of plants and animals. Evolutionary adaptation and ecological equilibrium may not take place as rapidly as the climate changes. Adaptation by plant and animal species to environmental change may take years, centuries or thousands of years.

Different species respond at different rates and in different forms to climate change. Plants are always producing hybrids and individuals with mutations. In any plant species, there are those individuals better suited to the extremes of the range of the plant. These individuals may thrive under changing conditions while the majority perish. In this manner, the optimum conditions for the species changes to those of the new environment. Animals may also come under more and more stress with changing environmental condition and some species become extinct.

Mass extinction and climate change

Mass extinction throughout time

The Paleozoic/Mesozoic Mass Extinction

At intervals through geologic time, events have taken place that resulted in the demise of many if not most living species. Extreme cases are called extinctions or mass extinctions. A current definition of a mass extinction is a widespread and unusually rapid decrease in the number of species of plants or animals. There have been at least 13 mass extinctions since life became abundant on the planet. As a result of these mass extinctions 99 percent of all species that have existed on the planet no longer exist.

The most extensive mass extinction of all time happened at the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. Ninety percent of all living species died out and very drastic changes took place in the fauna of the planet with a major collapse of marine fauna, especially those living in shallow water on the continental shelves.

Among the organisms that perished were the trilobites. Trilobites were one of the dominant organisms of the seas. They survived the previous two extinctions but couldn’t withstand the changes that mark this period in earth’s history. While many land species disappeared, there was no parallel to the mass extinction of marine animals. The changes were so drastic that the life of the following Mesozoic Era was quite different from that of the Paleozoic Era.

climate change and mass extinction

Survival or mass extinction

The Pleistocene Mass Extinction was a Global Event

In the recent history of the earth there have been two periods of accelerated extinction of biota during which the extinction rates were greater than evolutionary causes would predict. These two periods are the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the modern period.

The Pleistocene extinction, took place over a period of a few thousand years, at the end of the last glacial advance (l8,000 to 8000 BCE). In a relatively short period of time, whether measured in either geologic time, evolutionary time or in terms of human history on earth, a large number of species of mammals and birds disappeared without being replaced. The period of greatest species loss was from 13,000 to 8000 BCE. During this time there was a rapid warming of the planet. Especially impacted species were the larger animals weighing more than 40 kg (88 lbs)The spacing of the extinctions over several thousand years makes it difficult to ascribe to climate events alone. Furthermore, most of the extinct animals were large enough to be conspicuous and edible.

The rate of extinction varied from place to place and through time. The rate of extinction was lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where modern humans coexisted with the large animals the longest. The rate of extinction increased as distance from the African region increased. The highest rate of extinction occurred in South America.

mass extinction of species

Climate change and mass extinction

To some extent the rate of extinction paralleled the spread of modern humans. It was long believed that large mammals were too powerful for humans to hunt. Perhaps this was true for the individual hunter with spear or bow and arrow, but when hunters went out in groups, it is quite possible they could have been very successful hunters of large animals, even using only simple tools.

In Africa, pygmies hunted elephants with primitive tools. The Plains Indians of North America demonstrated they could successfully hunt large animals with primitive weapons. Herds of animals were driven off cliffs or into water by the use of fire and were either subsequently destroyed in the fall or drowned, or at least made far more vulnerable to attack. Modern humans became more sophisticated hunters as they spread from their place of origin in Africa. Places that were isolated from human migration for a longer period of time, such as some islands, suffered less species loss.

The Mass Extinction in North America

The largest North American mammals were hardest hit. Seventy percent of existing species became extinct. Horses and camels, which had evolved in the New World, became extinct on this continent, as did mammoths and mastodons, which had migrated into the New World over the once dry land of the Bering Strait. The ground sloth, saber toothed tiger, dire wolf, giant buffalo, antelope, and the giant beaver also disappeared, and yet there was no concomitant loss of small mammals, plants or aquatic organisms.

The spread of the human species and the state of the cultural development at the end of the Pleistocene suggests that humans were a major factor in this accelerated extinction. A surprising number of the fossilized bones of extinct animals and birds were discovered associated with charcoal and stone tools, such as arrowheads or spear points. Some of the sharpened tools were still embedded in the bones. Humans appeared in North America rather suddenly from Asia, occupied the continent, and began hunting animals that had never had a chance to adapt to this special type of predator.

The most recent extinction is that taking place today. How severe it will be is yet to be determined.

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Climate change and mass extinction


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Belize: Creating Healthy Coral Reefs

coral reef

Flying into Belize

“Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef.”

By Linn Smith
May 13, 2018—–My daughter recently returned from Belize where she snorkeled among the fish of the Belize Barrier Reef, which runs along the coast for 190 miles. It’s part of the Mesoamerican Barrier reef, which is continuous from Cancun to Honduras… 560 miles. Belize has passed an ordinance prohibiting snorkelers from wearing sunscreen, but this tiny country is doing so much more to ensure the health of their reef and reefs around the world.

Bleaching of a Coral Reef

Coral reefs help protect our shorelines. They also provide food for many species of fish, which, in turn, provides food for the human population. Fishing is a major part of the economy in Belize, providing jobs, recreation and tourism. 

Coral reefs cover less than 1% of our ocean floor but support more than 25% of marine life. Due to global warming, hurricanes, diseases, overfishing, and the warming and acidification of the seas, coral bleaching is happening 4 times the rate of bleaching 40 years ago. Bleaching of a reef looks just like what the word bleaching implies…the reef turns white!

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

According to Wikipedia corals are, “A colony of genetically identical polyps, each polyp being a sac-like animal only a few millimeters in diameter, with a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.”

Corals get their color from the tiny algae that live on them, providing food for marine life. When it gets too hot or the corals get diseased or stressed, they dispel the algae, which is known as bleaching. Bleached corals are more vulnerable to diseases, which spread to surrounding healthy corals and makes it difficult for the reef to recover.

Fragments of Hope

A nonprofit organization, Fragments of Hope, is restoring the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef through transplanting coral from coral nurseries. Lisa Carne, a Marine Biologist, visited Belize after a devastating hurricane in 2001. She noticed fragments of living coral from the reef floating in the sea and asked herself if these could somehow be transplanted back onto the reef. After moving to Belize, Lisa received a research grant to study coral transplanting, thus the creation of Fragments of Hope.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

Fragments of Hope has transplanted almost 100,000, more temperature tolerant, coral fragments along the Mesoamerican Reef. With constant documentation and observation, only 7 of the the original 19 Elkhorn fragments transplanted in 2006 were lost. Not only are 12 of the original still surviving, they have also created satellite colonies! Fragments of Hope has created 28 gene bank nurseries of threatened coral species as of 2018.

Fragments of Hope

Restoring our reefs through attaching healthy coral.

Coral Nurseries

Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef. A rope method uses a long strand of rope strung between a steel frame which is buried on the bottom of the sea floor. The rope is twisted slightly apart to insert the corals between the rope strands. When the coral is mature the entire strand of rope is attached to the bleached-out reef.
Several other methods use a cement mixture to attach fragments of coral to the reef or transplant coral plugs into the reef. The average growing time to create a healthy transplant is about a year.

Fragments of Hope has successfully trained 30 women for the diver roles over the past several years, a role that has previously been dominated by males. Women who successfully train can earn 3 times the minimum wage of Belize.

Fragments of Hope

Creating healthy coral reefs

United Nations Lighthouse Awards

Fragments of Hope has also expanded to other countries, including Jamaica, Colombia and St. Barth. Fragments of Hope offers training for others through manuals, videos and a precise curriculum to guide them towards success in saving the world’s coral reefs.

Fragments of Hope is a 2017 winner of the Lighthouse Awards, an award given by the United Nations to people and organizations that, “Shine a light on the activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a resilient, innovative and transformative solutions that address climate change, the economy and social and environmental challenges. The winners also address some of the most practical and replicable examples of what people are doing to tackle climate change.” The United Nations has been recognizing winners since 2011. There were 19 winners in 2017.

Anyone leading a results-driven project that is successfully addressing climate change may apply for the Lighthouse Momentum for Change Award. The next applications will be taken between February-April 2019. More information is at http://www.momentum.unfccc.in 

Also the Coral Reef Replenishment Manual can be downloaded from Google

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Wind Driven Power Surging Globally

windpower

Wind power is thriving in Arizona.

“Globally, the use of wind driven turbines to generate electricity is growing extremely rapidly.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

April 30, 2018—-Wind has long been used as a power source. The earliest use of wind as an energy source probably began with its use to power boats and ships. Evidence indicates that it has been used for this purpose for several thousand years. Both Egyptians and Phoenicians were using primitive sails on boats. Pictorial evidence shows that it was used on the Nile nearly 4000 years ago.

Windmills are believed to have been in use in what is now China and Persia as early as 2000 BC. They came into use to power water pumps and for grinding grain in Europe around the tenth century. Paintings by early Dutch artists often include windmills. They are still widely used to lift water from the ground throughout the arid and semi arid lands. In the United States such windmills are visible throughout the Great Plains region.

wind turbines

Building offshore wind turbines.

Historic Growth of Wind Power

Wind is one of the renewable sources of energy that is rapidly replacing the use of coal to generate electricity. Windmills to generate electricity are a product of the 20th Century, and in the 21st Century there has been a phenomenal growth in the industry. Today a single wind turbine can power up to 500 homes. According to current estimates renewable energy sources will surpass coal by 2045.

Wind Driven Turbines are now in Operation on Both Land and Sea

Not only are wind driven turbines found on land, but they are also being placed in the ocean. Some are in shallow water with their base on the sea floor. Others are now being placed on floating platforms in deeper water. Hywinds, the world’s first floating wind farm recently began operation off the coast of Scotland and extends towards Norway. The project includes five turbines. The turbines will be tethered to the sea bottom in several hundred feet of water. The system was developed by Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company.

wind turbines

Building Wind Farms offshore.

Wind Power Usage in the United States

In the United States five states now produce more than twenty percent of their electrical energy from wind farms. These states are all in the Midwest. They are Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Texas is known worldwide for its history of oil production. Now the state of Texas ranks 6th in the world in energy produced from wind when compared to that produced by countries around the world.

The state of Iowa is a leader in the proportion of its energy demands being met of wind driven electrical energy. In 2016 it got 36 percent of its electricity from wind turbines and this is expected to increase to at least 40% by 2020. The town of Georgetown, Texas decided in 2015 to require all of the city’s electricity to be from renewable sources. The town currently gets most of its power from a wind farm in Amarillo and this summer will add solar energy from a West Texas farm.

Wind turbine

Wind farm off the coast of the U.S.

Global Use Growing Rapidly

Globally, the use of wind driven turbines to generate electricity is growing extremely rapidly. The year 2017 saw a record high amount of installed wind power. The capacity increased 11 percent over 2016. In 2017 China was the world’s leader in installing wind energy capacity. The European Union was second in amount. Among the countries projected to make substantial increases in wind power generation are Russia and India, both potentially large markets.
Not only is the total amount of electric energy produced by wind increasing, but other aspects of the industry are increasing as well. For example, in the year 2016 there were more than double the number of employees in the wind industry than in the coal industry. As renewable energy grows, so will job opportunities.

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The Impact of Fossil Fuels on our Planet

“The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect.”

By Linn Smith
April 21, 2018—Most people by now know the impact of fossil fuels on our environment. Ten years ago this wasn’t true, but today it’s common knowledge. Even with this knowledge and scientific data to confirm it, there are still some naysayers out there. As I have said many times in my articles, some people won’t believe in global warming until it’s in their own backyard, or as Bill Wilson put it….”Even then he may be like the farmer that looked out from his cellar to find his home ruined, saying, ‘Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?’”

Are Fossil Fuels the Cause of Global Warming?

How do we know fossil fuels are causing global warming? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the molecules of carbon dioxide (the main culprit in global warming) contain information about their source of origin. Carbon in atmospheric molecules have a distinctly different “signature,” so scientists can analyze these variations. Also, when using just the data that would show normal changes in our climate (such as from forces of the sun), our changing climate can’t be explained. When the carbon molecules are factored in, global warming can be explained accurately.

Coal and Its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Burning coal causes the chemical bonds that hold its carbon atoms together to break. This releases the energy from coal, which we use to heat our houses. But breaking down these chemical bonds that make up coal also releases pollutants and heavy metals into our atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is the main byproduct of burning coal and coal powered plants are the main culprits of CO2 emissions, contributing 24% of all energy related emissions in 2016.

fossil fuels and the environment

One of Colorado’s many oil wells.

Petroleum and its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Petroleum is usually found as small pockets of liquid trapped in layers of rock below the surface of the earth. Burning petroleum products (fuel oil and gasoline) also releases CO2 into our atmosphere. According to http://www.eia.gov, almost 20 pounds of CO2 is produced from burning a gallon of gas that does not contain ethanol. As with coal, many other hazardous byproducts are also released, but the release of CO2 from burning petroleum products is a main contributor to global warming.

Natural Gas and its Impact on Our Environment

Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons, including methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It is often found beneath the earth’s surface near pockets of coal or petroleum and is often extracted at the same time. Even though it burns cleaner than the other fossil fuels (it produces about ½ the CO2 emissions per unit of coal), it still contributes CO2 to our atmosphere. The demand for natural gas has increased greatly in the past decade, requiring drilling for natural gas separately from petroleum. This is called fracking.

Fracking contributes to other environmental hazards besides global warming. Earthquakes, created by disturbing ancient fault lines deep under our earth’s crust, can be a result of drilling for natural gas. As with coal byproducts, the gases from fracking can seep into our water ways, contaminating our drinking water and surrounding soil.

fossil fuels vs renewable energy

House explosion caused by fracking

Hazards of Fracking

In 2017, in Firestone, Colorado, fracking caused a house explosion which killed 2 and seriously injured another. The wells were drilled in the area years before the housing development appeared. The house that exploded was built in 2014. The COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) does not regulate the distance of houses from wells, allowing fracking companies in Colorado to have 129,000 underground oil and gas pipelines within 1000 feet of occupied buildings.

fossil fuels vs clean energy

Gas well showing lines extending out.

Anadarko Petroleum, owners of the nearby well which caused the explosion, allowed toxic gases from an uncapped line to seep into the soil around the house, and to eventually seep into the house. A gas well was 170 feet from the home that exploded, with a gas line 7 feet underground. The gas line, which ran within 10 feet of the house, appeared to be severed at some point, possibly from housing construction. In the past the gas line had run from the well to nearby storage tanks. The tanks had long been removed, but the line that caused the house explosion was still connected to a valve at the well that was left in the “on” position. This allowed a mixture of propane, methane and other gases to seep into the surrounding soil and into the home through drains and a sump pit in the basement. The explosion occurred when the family was trying to light a new hot water heater in the basement. 

Who takes responsibility to prevent these events from happening? In Colorado it’s a constant fight between communities and the owners of wells, such as Anadarko Petroleum.

Eliminating Fossil Fuels

The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect—the heating of our earth which causes stronger, more frequent extreme weather patterns, rising and warming seas, and extinction of wildlife and their habitats.

Renewables produce little to no effect on weather patterns. Renewables lead to a healthier planet, healthier waterways, less erosion……the list goes on and on! If we support clean energy, we support a healthy planet!

Support Clean Energy

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