Planet Earth Weekly

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


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Hidden Diseases in the Ice: What Could They Mean to Us?

diseases and melting ice

Diseases may surface with global warming.

By Linn Smith

“Microbial diseases are normally unable to survive for long periods outside of their hosts. But the soil under permafrost offers a unique habitat to preserve bacteria and viruses over thousands of centuries.”

—Claverie

May 30, 2017—John Piscu, a Biology professor at the Montana State University said, “You put something on the surface of ice and a million years later it may come back out.” And this is about to happen. Temperatures in the Arctic Circle are rapidly rising, three times faster than the rest of the world!

Scientist have discovered evidence of RNA which caused the Spanish flu virus in 1918. Smallpox and bubonic plague are also thought to be buried in Siberia. Is it possible these diseases could again raise their ugly heads? The answer is, unfortunately, yes! NASA scientists have successfully revived bacteria frozen in an Alaskan pond for 32,000 years.

A microbe, a term for tiny creatures that are too small to see with the naked eye, can invade our body and make us very ill. Microbes, including bacteria and fungi, can cause infectious diseases such as flu and measles. Microbes that cause diseases are called pathogens.

dormant diseases in arctic ice

Microbes in ice are resurfacing.

Survival of Microbes Within Ice

An article, “Microbes Can Survive Deep Freeze for 100,000 Years” at newscientist.com, states the theory that microbes can survive trapped inside ice crystals under 3 kilometeres (about 1.9 miles) of snow for more than 100,000 years. “A tiny film of liquid water forms around the microbe. Oxygen, hydrogen, methane and many other gases will then diffuse to this film forming air bubbles nearby and providing the microbe with sufficient food to survive, thus any microbe can remain alive in solid ice, resisting temperatures down to minus 55 degrees Celsius (-67 degrees F) and pressures of 300 atmospheres.” The microbes would not be able to grow or reproduce but would be able to repair molecular damage, keeping them intact for more than a thousand centuries. The study used ice in both the Antarctic and Greenland, detecting isolated microbes.

Disease and melting ice caps

Consequences of Global Warming

Pathogens Come Back to Life

According to an article on BBC.com by Jasmine Fox, “Not all bacteria can come back to life after being frozen in permafrost. Anthrax bacteria can do so because they form spores, which are extremely hardy and can survive frozen for longer than a century.
Other bacteria that can form spores, and so could survive in permafrost, include tetanus and Clostridium botulinum, the pathogen responsible for botulism, a rare illness that can cause paralysis and even prove fatal. Some fungi can also survive in permafrost for a long time.”

The threat of disease causing microbes resurfacing is not entirely due to melting of the ice and permafrost. An indirect result of melting ice allows for drilling of gold, minerals, oil and natural gas. The layers of permafrost containing microbes can be exposed by drilling, as opening up previously pristine areas of the arctic becomes profitable.

melting arctic and diseases

Diseases resurface with melting of Arctic.

Frozen permafrost soil, which was previously untouched by humans, is the perfect place for bacteria to remain alive for very long periods of time. Some microbes may have been embedded in the ice and frozen soil as long as a million years! That means melting ice and drilling for its natural resources could potentially open a Pandora’s box of diseases!

Microorganisms Disrupt Oceans

Even if these potential diseases would minimally affect humans, masses of microorganisms melted into the oceans will disturb the present marine systems and the balance of ocean life, flooding the oceans with long absent organisms. “Earth’s glaciers and sub-glacial sediments contain more microbial cells and carbon than all the lakes and rivers on the surface of the planet, a huge load of organic matter that, if thawed, would end up in the sea,” said Brent Christner, professor of Biological Sciences.

Release of Carbon with Thawing Biomass

The release of carbon from thawing biomass could cause an additional problem. As decaying biomass embedded in the ice is uncovered, it will convert into carbon dioxide which will add to our greenhouse gases, expediting global warming.

John Priscu, a professor studying Antarctic microbiology, states his concern for melting Arctic ice and permafrost, “If you hold that light switch right there before it flips, the lights begin to flicker. I think that’s what we’re seeing now. We’re pushing it and it’s becoming more variable, and pretty soon it’ll pass a threshold and reach a new state. Whether or not it can go back to a previous state, we don’t know. We may end up not ever being able to go back.”

We’re treading in unforeseen territory!

Melting of Arctic and Diseases Awakening


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Greenland: Human Settlement has been Dictated by a Changing Climate

Melting of the Arctic

The Arctic sea ice is melting at a record rate.

“The year 2016 was the warmest year globally since records began in 1880!

By Dr. John J Hidore

January 25, 2017—–Since Greenland was first settled by arctic people and Europeans, climate has played a huge part in the ups and downs of the human population. The first European colonization took place during a relatively warm period in the Arctic. The global climate during the years 950 AD to 1250 AD is known as the Little Climatic Optimum. Weather was unusually warm for several centuries and human settlements spread toward the Arctic. Iceland and Greenland were settled as were other islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Eric the Red is believed to have discovered Greenland in 982 AD. In 984 AD, the Norse founded the colony of Osterbygd on the island. Evidence of agriculture and other activities serve to indicate what the climate was like at this time. While it was a cold land, it supported enough vegetation (dwarf willow, birch, bush berries, pasture land) to make settlement possible. The settlers brought cattle and sheep that not only survived but thrived for a considerable period. The Norse established two colonies and began to farm. The outposts thrived and regular communications existed between Greenland and Iceland.

The Little Ice Age and the End of Norse Settlements

Between 1250 AD and 1450 AD climate deteriorated over wide areas around the North Atlantic in what is known as The Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age was the coldest period in historic times. Areas bordering the North Atlantic Ocean experienced drastic cooling. Mountain glaciers expanded and in some cases reached their maximum extent since the end of the Pleistocene glaciation. Iceland’s population declined. Greenland became isolated from outside contact, with extensive drift ice preventing boats reaching the settlements. Grain that grew there in the tenth century would no longer grow. In Europe storms resulted in the formation of the Zuider Zee, and the excessively wet, damp conditions led to a high incidence of the disease, St. Anthony’s Fire (ergotism).

The little ice age marked the end of the Norse settlements in Greenland that had begun in the tenth century. After flourishing for more than 400 years the colonies disappeared about 1410 AD. A Danish archaeological expedition to the sites in 1921 found evidence that deteriorating climate must have played a role in the population’s demise. Excavations show that at first the soil permitted burying bodies at considerable depth. Later graves became progressively shallower. Some graves were in permafrost that had formed since the burial. Tree roots entangled in the coffins showed the graves were not originally in frozen ground. It also showed that the permafrost had moved progressively higher. Examination of skeletons indicated that food was becoming more and more scarce. Most remains were deformed or dwarfed. There was clear evidence of rickets. All the evidence points to a climate that grew progressively cooler, leading eventually to the isolation and extinction of the settlements. It is not certain the colonies failed due to climatic reasons, but it seems likely.

By 1516 the settlements had practically been forgotten. In 1540 a voyager reported seeing signs of the settlements, but no signs of life. The settlers had perished.

Resettlement of Greenland

There was no European settlement on the island of Greenland for 200 years. In 1721 Denmark sent an expedition to the island to form an outpost, starting the Greenland resettlement.

Glacier National Park

Global warming is causing disappearing glaciers.

The Warming of Greenland

In recent centuries the climate of the Arctic basin has warmed a great deal. The average temperature over land in the Arctic for the year ending in September 2015 reached the highest since recording began in 1900. The temperature was 2.3 degrees F above the mean for the last 114 years .

The year 2016 was the warmest year globally since records began in 1880. The average temperature for 2016 was 58.69 ºF. Temperatures on Greenland followed suit. In June at Nuuk, the capitol city, the temperature reached 75º F (24º C). As temperatures continued to warm the population of the island has been growing. The current population is now above 55,000. Many small settlements have sprung up and agriculture is returning. Until recent years fishing was the primary industry, but now tourism is a growing source of income. Unemployment is relatively high, but with increasing temperatures and more varied employment sources the population is expected to continue to grow. Human settlement in Greenland has been dictated by a changing climate!

Climate change effects Greenland!


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Recent Global Changes of Note

Heat waves and global warming--i.e. climate change!

With climate changes comes broken temperatures!

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

September 25, 2015—Planet Earth is now in a period of rapid change. A fundamental driving force in many cases is the growth of the human population. From the time of its origin until now the population has been growing faster and faster. It took modern humans some 200,000 years to reach a total of one billion individuals. We have added another billion in less than 15 years since the start of the century. The global population now stands at over 7, 368,000,000. Many of the global changes taking place at this time are a result of human activity. Examples from recent years of the 21st century serve to indicate just how fast it is changing.

Year 2014

There has been an overall increase in global temperatures at least since 1900. Global temperatures for the years 1880 to 1980 were below the mean for the 20th Century. Since 1980 global annual temperatures have been above the mean of the 20th Century. The 10 warmest years have occurred since 1997. The three warmest years since 1880 were 2005, 2010, and 2014, all in this century. 2014 was the warmest year on the earth since records have been kept (136 years). The first seven months of 2015 are the warmest for the period since records have been kept.

Global Greenhouse Gases

Climate Change

Warming of the Arctic

Parts of the arctic region are now the warmest they have been in 44,000 years. The warming is taking place around the North Pole including the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding land masses. Most of the ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic broke away from land during the past 14 years. Every summer for the last ten years the area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. On Sept 17, 2014 the area of sea ice in the Arctic reached its lowest in recorded history. The extent of the ice was 1.9 million square miles (1.94 million square kilometers). In mid-September of 2015, the extent of the ice was a little greater than in 2014 but still among the least.

Freshwater melting from Arctic ice sheets is slowing the Gulf Stream. Further slowing of the Gulf Stream could cause a three foot rise in sea level on the east cost of the United States. This is in addition to the rise in sea level due to climate change.

Year 2015

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the burning of organic fuels has released more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years. Global CO2 reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in history. The level has increased 85 ppm in the 55 years, since measurements were first made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This represents a 25% increase since 1958. This rate has been increasing more rapidly in the past few decades. This rate of change parallels the growth of the human population and the probability is that it will continue increasing even faster. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for as long as 1000 years!

Antarctica

On March 24, 2015 at Hope Bay, Antarctica, the temperature reached 17.5 OC (63.5o F), the highest ever recorded on the Antarctic continent. This temperature was recorded at the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula at Argentina’s Esperanza Base, and nearly as high a temperature was recorded the day before.

Rising Temperatures in India

This year a May heat wave in India claimed at least 2,500 lives. Heat waves are fairly frequent in India but this was the greatest loss of life from a heat wave in over 30 years, with extremely high temperatures were reached in cities scattered over the country. Power outages were wide spread as a result of high demand for air conditioning. The city of Khammam recorded the highest temperature ever recorded there at 118.4oF (48o C). Other high temperatures recorded were:
Allahabad 118 F (47.8 C)
Delhi 113 F (45.5 C)
Hyderabad 115 F (46.0 C)
Jharsuguda 113.7 F (45.4 C)

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

The Pakistan Heat Wave

In June the deadliest heat wave known to have occurred in Pakistan took place in the southern part of the country near Karachi. The death toll is unknown for certain but may have reached more than 1000, and was followed by several weeks the severe heat wave that struck India. The heat wave struck during the month of Ramadan which made the impact of the event more severe than it might have been. Unfortunately, city services were not in condition to cope with the heat.

In the U.S. President Obama has advocated for action on slowing climate change and visited Alaska where global warming is changing the lives of the native people.

Pope Francis’s Warning

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued “Laudato Si,” a plea for the environment, which is a remarkable change from recent heads of the Catholic Church. He stated, “The current climate change is the result of human activity and, to reduce climate change and pollution, we must convert from using fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources.” His message: We all must work together for change!


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From Global Warming to Global Environmental Change

Global Greenhouse Gases

Climate Change

There will always be those that deny that humans have any effect on the earth’s environment. But the evidence is in! It is time to focus not on whether we are altering the global system but how we can best slow the rate of changes.

By John J. Hidore
June 2, 2015–More than 100 years ago (1896) Svante Arrenius, a Nobel Laureate, made a study of the relationship between carbon dioxide and global temperatures. He concluded that the burning of fossil fuels could result in increasing temperatures.

In the 1930’s, a meteorologist named G.S Callendar, examined the temperature data from around the world and determined atmospheric temperatures were increasing. He also believed that the use of fossil fuels would lead to a warmer planet. In the 1950’s Charles Keating and Roger Revelle demonstrated that a large part of the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels was accumulating in the atmosphere.

Rising Temperatures

About this time global temperature measurements began to show a slow and erratic increase. Over time the increase became well documented and the rising temperatures began to alter many natural processes on Earth. In the past several decades the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has accelerated.

Global Warming

Global Warming and Declining Sea Ice

The Koyoto conference

In 1997 in Koyoto, Japan, an international conference on what was then being called global warming was convened. Many nations were represented at the Koyoto conference indicating a global awareness of the problem related to the additional greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. But–the largest contingent at the conference was that of energy corporations. They lobbied with the premise that global warming was a natural event and human activity had nothing to do with global warming. These deniers nearly prevailed! Only the efforts of then Senator Al Gore and a few others bought about a plan to reduce the greenhouse gases. Many nations set goals for reducing their contributions of carbon dioxide.

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

Global Warming vs. Climate Change

The reference to the process of global warming gradually was replaced by the phrase climate change. Climate change does not imply any hazard, just change! In one sense, the phrase “climate change” is more benign than global warming. Global warming has a more definite connotation of a threat than does climate change. However, implicit in climate change is the fact that there is more involved in change in the atmosphere than just temperature.

Climate consists of all different kinds of weather that occur in any area. It includes average temperatures, and seasonal changes. Climate also includes extremes that may occur in terms of temperature and precipitation. Temperature extremes may include extreme heat or cold. Climate also includes extreme precipitation and propensity to drought. Thus, climate change implies there are many more changes taking place in the atmosphere other than just temperature. The result of massive data collection around the earth documents both global warming and climate change.

Climate Change and the Effect on Regional Systems

It has now become apparent that the changes in climate, that are currently taking place, effect all aspects of the environment. Every region is made up of the atmospheric conditions, the flora and fauna, the water supply, and the land surface itself. Climate change is altering many regional systems such as the tropical rainforests, the grasslands, and even the world deserts.

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

The Effect of Ocean Temperature on Planet Temperatures

The Arctic basin is a good example. Not only has the region warmed but the Arctic Sea has changed from being largely frozen summer and winter to more and more ice free in the summer. This has greatly altered the lives of most inhabitants of the region. Perhaps most significant are the changes in the world ocean. The world ocean covers the majority of Earth’s surface and it is warming and becoming more acidic. These ocean temperatures determine the average air temperature of the planet! The height of the ocean is also rising, reducing the amount of land surface.

This connectedness in earth’s regional systems has resulted in the coining of the term “Gaia”. The term implies that the earth is a living, ever changing system. The concept of it being a living system has been questioned. However, it is well established that when a region of our planet experiences change in some aspect of the environment, it results in changes in the entire system.

Global Environmental Change

What began as the discovery of global rising temperatures has now morphed into a much broader and more inclusive recognition of 21st Century global environmental change. Human activity no effects the entire planet from pole to pole. The most important question of our time this: How much longer can we continue on the present path before the global system can no longer function in a manner that has supported life on the planet for millions of years. All indications point to the fact that time is running for making major changes in world policies.

There will always be those that deny that humans have any effect on the earth’s environment. But the evidence is in! It is time to focus not on whether we are altering the global system but how we can best slow the rate of changes.

Climate Change: Altering Our Global System


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Climate Change Threatens Polar Bears

Polar bears and declining sea ice.

Reduction of sea has made it difficult for polar bears to find food.

While the reduction in sea ice has created economic benefits for some, it has caused serious problems for many species of animals.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

March 1, 2015—In the Arctic Sea, summer sea ice has been retreating from the shore rapidly in the past few decades. In the last few years, the ice has retreated far enough from shore, and thinned enough that the Northwest Passage is open for commercial shipping. This has resulted in considerable economic benefit for the shipping industry—but at the expense of wildlife in the region!

Polar Bears Use the Sea Ice as a Base to Hunt Food

While the reduction in sea ice has created economic benefits for some, it has caused serious problems for many species of animals—one being the polar bear. Polar bears live on the sea ice much of the year and use the sea ice as a base from which to hunt for food. Climate change has caused the ice to retreat further from the coast, making it more difficult for the animals to swim to the ice and back. The Polar bear needs food that is high in fat—and seals provide such a food. However, the population of seals, which is the primary food for polar bears, is declining because the fish population, on which the seals depend, is also declining because of the change in water temperature.

Polar bears and declining sea ice.

Polar bear cubs are decreasing because of lack of food.

Extinction of the Polar Bear

Polar bears are found across the boundary between the southern limits of sea ice and the northern hemisphere land mass. This area includes Russia, Norway, Greenland, Canada, and the United States. There are more than 15 different groups of polar bear scattered around the arctic sea, and the population numbers for many of these groups is not known, but the total number of bears found in these regions is believed to be declining. Total numbers may be as many as 25,000. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the polar bear as vulnerable.

Polar Bears of the Beaufort Sea

Three-fourths of the global polar bear population is found in North America. Polar bears of the Beaufort Sea, which is the southern boundary for the bear, have decreased by 40% since the beginning of the 21st Century. Since the southern areas are warming faster and the sea ice is retreating further from shore, it is here that the problem for the polar bear is the worst. The number of Polar bears living in the southern Beaufort Sea dropped from an estimated 1500 in 2001, to only 900 in 2010. In a four year period, from 2003 to 2007, scientists tagged 80 cubs of which only two survived.

Sea Ice: Too Thin and Too Far from Land

Two-thirds of the Northern Alaskan female polar bears are being forced to make their dens on land rather than on the sea ice, which is their normal location. The sea ice has become too thin and too far from land in the winter. The female polar bear has been documented as swimming more than 300 miles from ice to land and many do not survive the long swim. If the Arctic ice continues melting far from shore, it may drive the polar bear to extinction. Projections show that the population could decline by more than 30 percent by 2050. In May of 2006, the World Conservation Union declared the species to have a high risk of extinction in the wild. Worst case scenarios forecast the global population to drop by 2/3 by 2060.

Hudson Bay also harbors a group of bear which is declining. Canadian scientists in 2013 estimated this population was down 25% since 1988. Data indicates the weight of the female polar bear here has dropped approximately 88 pounds and the number of cubs are decreasing and becoming smaller. The western Hudson Bay is now freezing later in the season and melting approximately three week earlier than several decades ago. This has reduced the bear’s hunting season on the ice by several weeks. The critical period for hunting is in the spring when the females are giving birth. Over the hunting season the bears are adding less fat to get them through the winter. Due to increasing malnutrition the group could become extinct by 2050.

Survival of the Polar Bear

Whether the polar bear can survive on food found on land is doubtful. Existing food found along the Arctic coast is not enough to sustain the animals. As an alternate source of marine food, some bears have attached themselves to walrus herds. While they do not attack adult walrus, they may capture their young. Some polar bears are beginning to scavenger the carcasses of dead bear and whales for food.

In 2008, the U.S. listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


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Global Warming Opens the Northwest Passage

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

Thoughtlessly expanding activity uses in a poorly understood region already under enormous stress could have dire consequences not only for the Arctic but for our entire planet.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

January 25, 2014—-European explorers in the late fifteenth century began sea voyages westward expecting to find Asia with its riches of spices and ivory. Instead, they located a land then unknown to them, eventually called the Americas. Once they learned there was another ocean beyond this newly found land, they began looking for a way through or around it. At the southern end of the land mass they found the Strait of Magellan. This provided a way around the Americas into the Pacific Ocean. It was, however, a long route.

Exploring a Route through the Islands of the Arctic Sea

Soon, they began looking for a water route around the north end of the land mass. Beginning in the late 18th Century, they started a concentrated effort to explore a route through the islands of the Arctic Sea. Exploration began from both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The explorations were quit varied in mode of travel and resources available.

Many explorers were looking for an open route, including the Franklin expedition which launched in 1845. Though they were experienced and well equipped, the two ships in the search were lost along with their entire crews. Canadian scientists recently discovered the remains of the ship, Erebus, which was one of two ships in Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. Other expeditions suffered the same fate. During the next century alternate routes through the passage were explored, discovering several possible routes. Various ships and small boats navigated the passage either in pieces or over more than one season.

Navigating the Northwest Passage of the Arctic

It was not until 1944 that a ship navigated a route in one season. Traveling from east to west, Henry Larsen, captain of the St. Roch, made the trip in a single summer. In order to claim navigation of the Northwest Passage, a ship must cross the Arctic Circle twice. Once in the Pacific and once in the Atlantic. Many transits of the passage took place in the second half of the 20th Century, all under special conditions and with the use of ice breakers.

Climate Change

The earth’s overall temperatures are increasing every year.

Declining Sea Ice of the Arctic Basin

Satellite images of the Arctic Sea have been available since the 1970s. The satellite data confirms that sea ice has declined throughout the Arctic Basin, but more in some places than others. In recent years the air temperatures over the arctic has been more than 10ºF (5.5 ºC) warmer than the average for the last 30 years. As a result of the warmer temperatures, the ice has been thawing further from shore and the remaining perennial ice pack has been getting thinner. In some areas, it is only half as thick as it was a few decades ago. The summer melting of sea ice has been taking place at an ever increasing rate. It is now taking place much faster than predictions made a decade ago.

Shipping has increased sharply in the past decade. Early forecasting of Arctic warming suggested a possible ice free path through the North West Passage in the summer months sometime between 2050 and 2100. However, at the end of the summer melt period in 2007, there was an open passage of water circling the Arctic Sea. It was hailed as the opening of the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Melting Arctic Ice Opens the Way for Commercial Use

Every summer for the past decade this area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. An ore carrier loaded with 15,000 tons of coal sailed through the passage in 2013. The Nordic Orion owned by Bulk Partners left Vancouver, BC September 17 and reached Greenland in about a week. In the period September 19-30, 2014 a cargo ship made it through the Northwest Passage without the aid of an icebreaker to accompany it. The MV Nunavik left Canada’s Deception Bay and rounded Alaska’s Point Barrow on September 30 headed for the port of Bayuquan, China. The cargo consisted of nickel ore mined in Deception Bay in Nunavik province of Canada. The specially designed ship can force its way through up to five feet (1.5m) of ice.

The route from Deception Bay to the port of Bayuquan through the Northwest Passage is 40% shorter than through the Panama Canal. Through fuel savings the company expects to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, in the past year, a travel company announced it would offer a 32 day, 900 mile luxury cruise through the Northwest Passage. The cruise would operate between Seward, Alaska and New York City. Fares would start at $20,000.

The evidence of change in sea ice parallels other evidence that global warming is taking place much faster than past climate models forecast. If the passage remains open in future years remains to be seen. At its current rate of melting, the Arctic Ocean could be totally ice free in summer this century, if not in several decades. It is even possible a dependable summer ice free passage for shipping may be available within the next decade.

The Arctic is one of our planet’s last pristine ecosystems. As the Ocean Conservatory states, “We need a time-out to understand the implications of destroying this environment. The Arctic needs our help today. Thoughtlessly expanding activity uses in a poorly understood region already under enormous stress could have dire consequences not only for the Arctic but for our entire planet.”


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Global Changes of Note in the Early 21st Century

Climate Change

The earth’s overall temperatures are increasing every year.

Greenhouse gases let solar radiation through the atmosphere, but trap outgoing earth radiation

By Dr. John J. Hidore

October 18,2014—Planet Earth is now in a period of rapid change. The first years of the 21st century serve to indicate how fast it is changing. A fundamental driving force in many of these recent changes is the growth of the human population. From the time of its origin until now the population has been growing faster and faster. It took modern humans some 200,000 years to reach a total of one billion individuals. We have added another billion in less than 15 years since the start of the century.

A major element in change is now global warming and its associated changes. The warming is largely due to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases let solar radiation through the atmosphere, but trap outgoing earth radiation. Heat thus accumulates in the earth system.

Carbon Dioxide and Methane

The major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane. Both of these gases have been accumulating for the last several centuries. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the burning of organic fuels has released more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The concentration in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years. The gases are at their highest levels in historic times and have now passed 400 parts per million.

Four countries contribute most of the carbon dioxide. They are China, India, The United States, and Russia. In the past year, each of these countries increased their emissions of carbon dioxide. The United States, which had been stabilizing emissions, increased its contributions. At a recent conference on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, China, India, and Russia did not attend. Globally an estimated 39.8 billion English tons (36.1 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide were contributed to the atmosphere in the last year. That is 2.3 % more than the previous year. Almost all carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels. .

Methane levels are also at record levels. It forms in the natural world largely from the decomposition of organic matter. It has begun to accumulate during the past two centuries. Since 1750, the level of methane in our atmosphere has more than doubled, from about 700 to 1800 parts per billion (ppb) in 2013. The current level is the highest in at least the last 650,000 years. About half of the increase has occurred since 1960. Methane comes from a variety of sources including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, and fracking

Increasing Greenhouse Gases

Global temperatures have increased accompanying the increase in greenhouse gasses. In the months of May and June of this year (2014) the highest average global atmospheric temperatures, since records began, were recorded. In 2012, worldwide land-surface temperatures for the months of June through August were the hottest ever. Australia recorded its warmest year of record in 2013. Not all of the planet experienced unusually warm conditions at this time, but overall, earth’s temperature has increased.

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

Parts of the arctic region are now the warmest they has been in 44,000 years. The warming is taking place around the North Pole including the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding land masses. Most of the ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic broke away from land during the past 14 years. Every summer, for the last ten years, the area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. Sea ice in the Arctic sea reached is lowest level ever on September 16, 2012.

2012: Records Broken in the U.S.

2003-2012 The warmest decade ever recorded in the United States.
2011-2012 The winter (Dec, Jan, Feb) was the fourth warmest since records began in the 1890s. It was about four degrees Fahrenheit above the average and the warmest since the year 2000. Twenty seven states had one of the 10 warmest of record.
2011-2012 Warmest records in U.S. History.
2012 Warmest year ever recorded in the United States. The year averaged 3.2F above the average of the 20th century.
2012 March sets record high temperatures. More than 7700 U.S daily-high temperature records were set.
2012 In March more than 90 cities set record highs for the month.
2012 The six warmest 12 month periods so far in the U.S. ran through 2012.
2012 Global land surface temperatures in the months from June to August were the warmest ever.
2012 September tied for the warmest ever in the United States,
2011-2012 The 12 months from August 2011 to July 2012 were the warmest ever in the United States.
2012 In July of this year all 50 states in the Unites States set record highs. During the summer of 2012, ninety degree temperatures forced the Tennessee Valley Authority to shut down three nuclear power reactors.
2012 Drought affected as much as 65% of the lower 48 states.

In 2012 eleven extreme weather and climate events each cost the U.S. at least one billion dollars!


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Our Rapidly Changing World

Our Food Supply may be Rapidly Reduced with Rises in Temperatures.

“There is nothing permanent except change”

Heraclitus , Circa 500 BC

By Dr. John J. Hidore

August 22, 2014—Change through time is a basic attribute of Earth. Earth has been undergoing constant change since it was formed from a cloud of cosmic dust some 4.6 billion years ago. The changes that have taken place and are taking place vary in form, size, duration and areal extent. Days use to be shorter than now; the planet has been both warmer and colder than it is now and the magnetic poles of Earth have changed end for end. Mountain ranges have grown and then eroded away. Ancient seas no longer exist; and biological species have appeared and disappeared. Even the sun which supports life on the planet is not a constant source of energy.

Our Changing Climate

Earth’s climate has changed through time like all else. Throughout most of the history of Earth, the planet was much warmer than it is now. The initial atmosphere contained high concentrations of carbon dioxide and little oxygen. Eventually, the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen changed to what we have now with much more oxygen. Scattered through time were ages of extreme cold. The earliest ice age took place two billion years ago. The second glaciation took place between 800 and 600 million years ago. This may have been the most extensive glaciation ever to occur on the planet.

Today Our Climate is Changing Faster than at Any Other Time

The global environment is changing now faster than at any time in recent history. What is most significant perhaps is that not only is it changing at a rapid rate but the rate at which it is changing is itself increasing. Simply put the environment in which all living things exist is changing faster and faster. A few examples of current phenomenon will serve to make the point.

Modern humans or Homo Sapien Sapien evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago. From Africa the species spread out over the planet. It took the modern human species more than a hundred thousand years to reach a total population of one quarter million. We are now adding a quarter million people to the planet each and every day. Each of these added individuals needs food, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. In addition to meeting the needs for survival, they will want many of the amenities of life that are found in the most prosperous countries.

The Rapid Growth of Human Population

Much of the rapid change taking place now is tied to the phenomenal growth of the human population. One of these rapid changes taking place now is the elimination of animal and plant species. There have been times in the past when a large number of species became extinct due to some natural catastrophe. These times are referred to as mass extinctions. Species of plants and animals are now becoming extinct at an extremely high rate. The rate of extinction of species before human development is estimated to have been about one species every ten years. The current rate is at least 100 each year and possibly as high as 1000 each year. Elephants are one species of animal whose numbers are declining rapidly. One hundred thousand elephants were killed in the two years from 2010 to 2012. Satao, the largest known African Elephant was killed by poachers in Kenya near the end of May 2014.

The Monarch Butterfly has Rapidly Reduced in Numbers.

The Rapidly Disappearing Monarch Butterfly

Another example of how fast species are declining is that of the monarch butterfly. Less than two decades ago as many as a billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. In the fall of 2013, that number dropped to a tiny fraction (1/30) of previous decades. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is the tremendous application of herbicides to agricultural fields. This rapid drop in butterflies is just one of what is now considered to be the sixth mass extinction.

Record Breaking Temperatures

Earth’s climate is being altered by the human species. The planet is warming up due to human activity. The highest average atmospheric temperatures ever recorded for the months of May and June occurred in 2014. The heating is having a profound impact on almost all parts of the environment including the world ocean.

What the outcome of these rapid changes for the human population and other living species is not known. An even cursory look at what is happening on the planet in 2014 suggests that some drastic changes in the behavior of the human population need to take place now.

The only question is whether the people understand and will demand the changes.


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Carbon Dioxide Increases Ocean Acidity

Marine life is threatened because of acidification of oceans.

Shells of marine life are growing thinner due high ocean acidity.

The only way to slow the process is to reverse the addition of CO2 into our atmosphere.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

July 2, 2014—-Prior to the industrial revolution, some 200 years ago, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was near 280 ppm. Since the start of the industrial revolution more than 500 billion tons of CO2 has been added to the atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 has now reached more than 400 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest it has been in at least the last 800,000 years, or perhaps longer. Carbon dioxide is now being added to the atmosphere in tremendous quantities. We continue to add about 30 billion tons every year and the amount is increasing. The gas in the atmosphere comes from burning wood, coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels. It also comes from the clearing land of trees and other vegetation.

Most of our planet is covered by ocean. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the sea surface. It is then circulated downward by the action of waves and currents. In some areas, the added CO2 is found all the way to the sea floor. The world ocean has absorbed some 30% of all the CO2 that has been placed in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The ocean is currently absorbing about one million tons of CO2 per hour. The capturing of the CO2 by the ocean has reduced the amount of atmospheric heating that is responsible for global warming.

CO2 Dissolves in Ocean to form Carbonic Acid

At the same time that the absorption of CO2 reduces the problem of global warming, it causes substantial damage to ocean life. The carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean to form a weak carbonic acid. This process is acidifying the world’s oceans faster than at any time in the last 300 million years. The acidity is now about 30% higher than it was a couple of hundred years ago. If the present rate of growth in acidity continues, the ocean’s acidity could become double what it was 200 years ago. There does not seem to be any practical means of removing the acidity form the ocean, so it will be with us for the foreseeable future.

CO2 in our atmosphere is linked to ocean acidity.

The acidity of our oceans is threatening ocean life.

Shelled Organisms in Our Oceans are Declining

The effects of the increasing acidity has widespread impact on many marine organisms, from the very smallest to the largest. Carbonic acid dissolves calcium carbonate. Many marine organisms have shells or external skeletons which depend on calcium carbonate to build these structures. Researchers are finding that shelled microorganisms, that form the basis for the marine food chain, are declining. Greater amounts of acidity in the sea prevents the formation of new shells and dissolves existing ones, such as coral. Among the creatures affected by the acidification include oysters, clams, and crabs. The barnacle, which is often found on dock pilings and the hulls of ships, is another example.

The negative effects on sea creatures with calcareous shells have already been well documented. Coral reefs are an identifying feature of the tropical oceans. These reefs depend on the growth of small organisms with calcareous shells. As the sea becomes more acidic, there is less and less carbonate available to form the shells. Some reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast are already being affected. If our present policies on the use of fossil fuels and continued economic growth persist, coral reefs may begin to break up within the next 40 years.

Increased acidification in the ocean, or parts of it, may become too severe to support the microorganisms which are the base of the oceanic food chain. Acidification along parts of the Oregon coast is already so severe that it has cut oyster production in half. The increased acidity stunts the growth of the oyster larvae.

The Rapid Rate of Ocean Acidification

Unless acidification is reduced, large areas of the sea floor in shallow water and reefs will be covered with a mat of algae by 2100. There seems to be little chance of halting the process without a major change in policy to slow global warming. In the past there have been times when atmospheric CO2 was higher than it is now. Past changes in the level of carbon dioxide tended to take place fairy slowly. The present rate of increase may simply be too rapid to enable many marine plants and animals to adapt. The only way to slow the process is to reverse the addition of CO2 into the atmosphere.

This will take a global response to reduce fossil fuel use.


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The Impact of Disappearing Ice Shelves

Melting of the Ice Shelves

Ice shelves are quickly melting in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

The rapid melting that has taken place in recent decades suggests that with increased temperatures in coming decades there will be rapid melting of the ice shelves and more rapid advance of the glaciers that will cause a rise in sea level.

May 18, 2014—Near Earth’s north and south poles are the coldest areas on the surface of the planet. The area around the North Pole is referred to as the Arctic and that around the South Pole as the Antarctic. The reason these two areas are so cold is that during the course of a year they receive much less solar energy than areas nearer the equator. While they are both very cold regions, the Antarctic and the Arctic are fundamentally very different from each other. The Arctic is largely a sea surrounded by land. On the other hand, the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by sea. While they are basically very different geologically, they have many things in common. One, of course, is that they are very cold environments. Both have large ice sheets and moving glaciers. Another less known feature found in both regions is the ice shelf. Ice shelves are masses of floating ice that are frozen to the seashore. They originated as parts of continental glaciers that slowly flowed off the land and began to float. Though they are floating they are anchored to land.

The Arctic Shelves

Most of the ice making up these shelves is more than 3000 years old. Since their discovery in 1906, these ice shelves have lost 90% of their ice. Some of the ice shelves that existed in 1906 are entirely gone and others are on the verge of melting away. The largest known ice island found in the Arctic Sea is one that broke from the land in 1956. Most of the melting of these ice shelves has taken place in recent decades. In 2005, the Ayles ice shelf was just one of several remaining in the Arctic region of Canada. That year the entire ice shelf broke free from Ellesmere Island. The island is approximately 500 miles south of the North Pole. In fact, using a combination of satellite imagery and seismic data, researchers were able to determine that the shelf actually broke away the afternoon of August 13, 2005. Within a few hours the mass had formed a new ice island, trailing bits of broken ice. The ice island drifted some 30 miles out to sea and then became frozen into the sea ice.

August 2008, the Markham Ice Shelf detached from Ellesmere Island and floated away. Two large pieces of ice also detached from the Serson Ice Shelf, reducing the over-all size of the shelf to less that half what it was the previous winter. It is now largely gone. The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is also breaking up. It lost 10% of its area in the summer of 2008.

One important aspect worth noting is the breakup of these ice shelves will not have a major effect on sea level since they are already floating in water. Ice floats in water because ice is less dense than water. When water freezes it expands some nine percent, making it less dense than sea water. So when the ice melts its density increases to that of the surrounding sea water. Thus the volume of water does not change. There is actually a slight change due to the difference in density of fresh water and sea water.

Antarctic Ice Shelves

Ice shelves along the West Antarctic Peninsula are either rapidly melting or have broken up altogether. These ice shelves have always shed icebergs. Large pieces of ice occasionally break off the edges of these floating ice masses and drift away from the land mass. In March of 2000, the second largest iceberg ever measured broke free from the Ross Ice Shelf and floated into the Ross Sea. The huge iceberg, B-15, was about 180 miles long and 18 miles wide. Within a week of this iceberg’s formation, three more large pieces broke free from the ice shelf.

Ice Shelves: Melting at an Ever Increasing Rate

Three of the ice shelves disintegrated in the last decade of the 20th century. Many of the ice shelves located on either side of the peninsula have been melting at an ever increasing rate. These ice shelves are the Prince Gustave Channel, Larsen A, Larsen inlet, Muller Ice Shelf, and Wilkins Ice Shelf. Larsen B and Wilkins lost 1180 square miles of ice in just two years from 1998 to 2000. In 2002 a section broke from the Larsen Ice Shelf that was 1200 square miles in size. On February 28, 2008, a large piece of ice broke from the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf. In contrast to the huge pieces breaking off from the Ross Ice Shelf, these shelves are disintegrating in small pieces, which is usually the case with warming temperatures.
Ice shelf     Location                             Year                          Size                 ________________________________________________________________________
Ayles                 Arctic                             2005                       41mi2

Larsen A         Antarctic Peninsula   1995                   1620 mi2(4200km2)

Larsen B          Antarctic Peninsula   2002                   1200 mi2 (3100 km2)

Markham               Arctic                        2008                  19 mi2 (49 km2 )

Ross                         Antarctic                   1987                 1834 mi2 (4,750 km)

Ross                        Antarctic                      2000              4,250 mi2-11,000km2

Serson                    Arctic                            2008              lost 50% of area

Ward Hunt            Arctic                           2003              150 mi2 (384 km2 )

Wilkins                   Antarctic                       2008              160 mi2 (416 km2 )

______________________________________________________________________

Collapse of Ice Shelves

What is of most concern is how the breakup of these ice shelves will affect the continental glaciers that are driving the ice shelves seaward. Since ice shelves are anchored to land they hold back the continental glaciers from advancing seaward. It is possible that the removal of these ice shelves will result in more rapid advance and faster melting of the glaciers. The Ross Ice Shelf is an example. It is one of the largest shelves on the West Antarctic ice sheet. The tides lift and lower the shelf twice a day. During high tide the shelf is lifted, there is less friction with the sea floor beneath, and the glacier behind moves forward. At low tide the rate of movement is slowed. Melting of the Ross Ice Shelf would allow the glaciers behind to move forward adding ice to the sea and raising sea level. Winter temperatures in the area have increased some 9 ºF (5º C).

The rapid melting that has taken place in recent decades suggests that with increased temperatures in coming decades there will be rapid melting of the ice shelves and more rapid advance of the glaciers that will cause a rise in sea level. How much sea level will rise depends on many factors which are hard to predict.