Planet Earth Weekly

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


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The Galapagos UNESCO Heritage Site in Danger

Galapagos islands at risk from climate change

Home to many rare species of plants and animals

“In 2007 UNESCO listed the Galapagos as threatened, as a number of the most unusual creatures found on the islands were in decline.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

August 11, 2017—-The Galapagos Islands are located about 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador. There are 13 major islands in the group, in addition to dozens of smaller rock outcrops. They were discovered in 1535 by sailors engaged in exploration. These islands are a unique treasure on our Planet.

The Galapagos Islands have been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. When explorers first described the islands to people on returning to their home ports, most people did not believe the stories that were told.

The Galapagos Islands are significant for a variety of reasons. First, there is no other island ecosystem like it. They are home to many species of plants and animals not found anyplace else on the planet. The animals include blue footed boobies and marine iguanas. Second, it is the setting for the work of Charles Darwin in formulating the theory of evolution that was published as The Origin of Species. Charles Darwin visited the islands in the year 1835. At the time, the islands were known as Las Encantatas or the enchanted ones.

Galapagos Islands and climate change

Galapagos animals and plants are at risk due to global warming.

Climate Change is Altering Life on the Islands

Global warming has already raised the temperatures over the islands. The islands generally receive little rainfall. Parts of the islands depend on cool season fog to provide condensation for plants. Additional warming may eliminate this weather pattern which is the only source of moisture for vegetation is some areas. Increased rainfall that may come with a changing climate may also lead to the decline in many species of plants.

The warmer conditions are causing vegetation zones to move to higher elevations. The rising temperature is also affecting the ratio of males to females in some turtles. Warmer temperatures tend to produce more female offspring, a phenomenon that has been observed at different locations around the world.

The mean temperature of the surrounding ocean of the islands is rising. Like other regions that lie astride the equator, coral bleaching has now been observed to occur in the reefs around the islands. The bleaching is an indication of not only global warming of the atmosphere, but of the warming of the tropical oceans. While corals live in warm water they will not live in water that is even a few degrees above their optimum temperature range. As the ocean warms they are also expected to become more acidic. This will increase the rate at which minerals are dissolved from the reefs.

Sea level has been rising and is expected to rise even more. The only question is how much more it will rise. Estimates of sea level rise by 2100 vary  with the highest estimates rising 30 inches. Rising sea level may destroy many of the mangrove forests which are home to some unique species of birds including some species of finch.

Galapagos Islands and climate

Galapagos Islands are at risk due to climate change

Invasive Species

There is a second problem which may be a greater threat than climate change to the uniqueness of the islands. This is the introduction of plants and animals not native to the islands. It is believed there are now more than 1400 introduced species on the islands of which more than half are plants.

Many of the introduce species have been accidentally introduced. Probably among the first were rats, which jumped ship over the years. The rats thrived and the population grew rapidly. Many other species of insects and plants were probably introduced at the same time. The accidental introduction continues as other species of plants and animals come to the islands along with the importing of merchandise.

Other species of plants and animals have been deliberately introduced. Among the first were domestic goats. They were often kept aboard ship for the purpose of supplying meat and milk for a ship’s crew. On the Galapagos some of the goats escaped to become wild. Their numbers increased and they began devastating the natural vegetation. In recent years major programs to eliminate the goats have been initiated, especially on the smaller islands. In 2006, for example, a massive effort was mounted to eliminate some introduced species from several islands.

Largely due to problems related to the invasion of species, in 2007 UNESCO listed the Galapagos as threatened, as a number of the most unusual creatures found on the islands were in decline. This includes sea lions which depend on a declining food supply off shore. The changing of the plant communities is a threat to many native birds. Some of the very species of finches which were the foundation of Darwin’s theory of evolution are in danger of becoming extinct.

On the plus side, most native species are expected to survive if invasive species can be controlled. But again, additional climate warming may eliminate the weather pattern necessary for plant and animal survival!

The Galapagos Islands

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Global Warming is Changing Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Global warming is causing disappearing glaciers.

“With the rapid rise in temperatures it is probable that most national parks will see substantial changes.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

June 24, 2016—June 30 is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service in the United States. This year attendance in the parks is expected to be the largest ever. Many of the parks are now quite different from what they were when they were established on August 25, 1916. Perhaps none has changed more than Glacier National Park in Montana.

Glacier National Park and Waterton National Park

Extending from interior Canada south through the United States is a great range of mountains. The mountains were thrust upward 65 million years ago. The rugged mountains and deep canyons that now exist have been created over the long period of time since the mountains were uplifted. The Continental Divide runs along the crest of the mountain chain. From the crest eastward rainfall and snow melt end up in the Atlantic ocean and, west of the crest, water eventually reaches the Pacific Ocean. Part of the mountain system is in Canada, and the southern sections are in the United States.

Glacier and Waterton National Parks

Rapidly melting glaciers of the northwest U.S.

In 1895 the Canadian government recognized the unique character of the mountains, creating Waterton National Park in the Province of Alberta. In 1910 the United States responded by creating Glacier National Park in the state of Montana. The park contains about 1400 square miles (3626 square kilometers). Since the two parks occupied part of the same mountain system and the two countries have such a good relationship, they joined the two parks to make the Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park.

Glacier National Park

Glaciers are disappearing in our national parks.

The Vanishing Glaciers

The distinguishing characteristics of Glacier National Park are the large number of glaciers that existed inside the park, but the very features for which the park is named, will soon be gone. At the time of its founding, it is estimated there were about 150 separate ice fields. Today there are perhaps 25! At the time the park was established, it was possible to walk a short path to reach a glacier. Now it is a seven mile hike over rough terrain to reach the ice. A few years ago it was predicted that by 2050 all of the glaciers may be gone. That forecast date was later moved forward to 2030. Now a study reports the glaciers may be gone by 2020, just four years from now!

The demise of the snow and ice is due to the warming climate. The climate of the region has been on a slow warming trend since the end of the last ice age thousands of years ago. However, in the past few decades, the temperature has been rising faster and the ice melting at an accelerated pace.

Rising temperatures create earlier snow melt and warmer and drier summers. Today the spring floods from snow melt and the low flows of summer are occurring earlier by several weeks. As temperatures rise more precipitation in spring and fall comes as rain instead of snow. In the summer, temperatures of 90°F are now occurring in July and August. Since the park was established the number of 90 degree days have tripled. Like the rest of the United States, winter temperatures have gotten warmer as well. In the area outside the park, privately owned ski resorts have closed due to the shorter ski season.

Impact Of Vanishing Glaciers on Vegetation and Wildlife

The changing climate has had a huge impact on the vegetation and wildlife. The forests in the park are being affected in many ways. First, the treeline is moving upward in many areas of the park and there are more forest fires. Next, infestations of pests and diseases attacking the forest are on the increase. Finally, native fish, birds, and other animals are seeing their habitat changed.

Many, if not most, other national parks are changing due to global warming. Yellowstone, Mt, Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Redwood, and Joshua Tree are among those also being affected. With the rapid rise in temperatures it is probable that most national parks will see substantial changes.

Our rapidly disappearing glaciers!


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Human Population Growth Challenges Global Carrying Capacity.

Are there enough resources for overpopulation?

With climate change will there be enough resources for all?

The major premise of sustainable growth is that there must be a balance among population growth, economic growth, and the carrying capacity of planet.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

May 27, 2016—-Carrying capacity is a biological concept. It is the limit to the population size of a given species the environment can sustain without damage to the environment. There is, for example, a limit to the size of a herd of elephants that the Serengeti Plains in Africa can support without the herd damaging the ecosystem. Carrying capacity for a species can, and often does, change over time. It can increase or decrease due to changing climate. If annual rainfall increases over time this may increase the food supply for some animals. It may decrease the food supply for others.

Over Population and Carrying Capacity

The same is true when temperature changes. The size of a population may increase or decrease, depending on reproductive rates. Overpopulation can damage the ecosystem and reduce the carrying capacity. The ultimate limit to carrying capacity on the planet is tied to photosynthesis. This is the limit of the ability of green plants, algae, and bacteria to convert solar energy to living organic matter.

Overpopulation of our planet.

You may not want to be here!

Limits to Growth: Carrying Capacity for Humans

A fundamental question for us is to decide if there is a carrying capacity of Earth for the human species. “Limits to Growth” by Paul Ehrlich was perhaps the first major statement that recognized the problem at the global scale. The basic premise is that there is an upper limit to the sum of population growth, food production, and economic productivity. There is growing support for a global policy of sustainable development.

The major premise of sustainable growth is that there must be a balance among population growth, economic growth, and the carrying capacity of planet. Sustainable development must provide a balance between the needs and desires of the present generation, and yet protect the carrying capacity of our planet for future generations. In planning for the future, we cannot consider the environment alone, or human needs alone.

Carrying Capacity and overpopulation

What is Carrying Capacity?

Economic Growth and Environmental Stability are Linked

Economic growth and environmental stability are inextricably linked. Sustainable development recognizes that there are limits to human population growth and economic growth. There are a group of academics, mainly social scientists and economists, that argue there is no carrying capacity at all–that there is no limit to population growth! They base their argument on the fact that, in the past, all projections of shortages of food, energy, and other resources have failed to materialize.

These academics say we have always been able to find substitutes for items in short supply. They say we have always been able to increase food supply to not only keep up with the growing population, but to meet a satisfactory level of nutrition. They continually point to the Malthusian doctrine as being not only scientifically but morally wrong.

What is the Carrying Capacity of Our Planet?

What the carrying capacity is for the planet for the human species has been studied extensively in recent decades. The result is that there is no fixed number of people attached to the carrying capacity, but with a lower population, the better the quality of life is going to be in the future. This quality of life is also dependent on the food we are able to grow to feed future populations. We can make choices about the level of food intake and the economic level at which we wish to live.

All technological developments, from the early use of stone tools and fire to the invention of fracking, cause change in our environment. What the sustainable population may be, in which world resources are distributed equally, is not known. The estimates vary widely—from four billion to 16 billion. If the carrying capacity is actually near the lower estimate we are in deep trouble as the population is already over seven billion. Even a cursory look at the extent of malnutrition, migration, poverty, and violence suggest that we are well past the sustainable level!


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Climate Change through Early Geologic Time

The Earth's Atmosphere: Increased Oxygen over time.

The Earth’s Atmosphere has changed over time.

“There is still much work to be done to stop global warming and its resulting effects–the possible mass extinction of many of Earth’s species!”!

By Dr. John J. Hidore

November 27, 2015—When the subject of climate change or global warming comes up people immediately think of what is happening around us now. The time in which we live is not typical of past conditions. Neither the climatic environment nor current living organisms are typical of those in the past.

The Earth’s Eras

The earth was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Not much is known about the early history of the planet because little evidence remains of this time period, but geologists have divided the history of the Earth into four time periods called eras. They are the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. Each of these eras were unique in many ways, including climate and the life forms that were dominate. Each boundary between eras created a point in time when there was a drastic change in the global environment.

Climate Change and Mass Extinction

Extinction of Species

The earliest, and longest, geological era is the Precambrian which spans 88% of Earth’s history, approximately four billion years. Most of us have difficulty in comprehending such a long period time! If we consider the age of the earth on a scale of a single year, the Precambrian Era covers the first 321 days. Using this scale this places the end of the Precambrian Era in mid-November. Evidence of what took place on the planet in the Precambrian is skimpy but today we know some of the most important events. During this long span of time Earth changed drastically. In the beginning it was a hot molten mass without atmosphere, ocean, or land. It was only after a long time that the mass cooled enough for the solid crust to form.

The Primitive Atmosphere

As the Earth cooled and a solid crust formed, gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen formed. It may have had a composition of 60-70% water vapor, 10-15% carbon dioxide, and 8-10% nitrogen. Temperatures near the surface were much higher then than now being in the range of 85-110oC (185-230o F).

By 3.8 billion years ago, continued cooling caused the water vapor to condense, clouds to form, and frequent, intense, and widespread rain to occur. The large amount of water vapor in the atmosphere must have caused rains that went on continuously for thousands of years. Eventually the ocean basins filled with water. Water began to cycle through the environment as it changed from liquid in the ocean to gas in the atmosphere and back to liquid precipitation again. By 3.5 billion years ago the distribution of water was pretty much the same as today. Sea levels were similar to that of recent times.

Climate Change and Mass Extinction

Mass extinction could happen again-do we care?

The Origin and Demise of Early Life Forms

The most important event of the Precambrian Era is the appearance of living organisms. Exactly when or where life first appeared on the planet is not known, but several aspects of the appearance of life are certain:
1. All the chemical elements essential to life were present before life appeared and were present in sea water. Early forms of life were bacteria that thrived in a carbon dioxide rich environment.
2. The next step in the process of evolution was the development of organisms capable of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The process takes carbon dioxide and water, and in the presence of sunlight, produces oxygen.
3. Between three and a half and four billion years ago crude forms of algae appeared. They were oxygen-producing bacteria that lived in an oxygen-poor environment. These oxygen producers began to change the atmosphere from carbon-rich to oxygen rich.
4. Most organisms that thrived in a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere perished. This resulted in the first great mass extinction, an event in which the majority of existing life forms disappeared

Unusual cooling result in ice ages

Throughout most of the history of the Earth, the planet has been much warmer than it is today. There have been times however, when the climate became much cooler than now.
At times the atmosphere got cold enough for massive amounts of ice to develop on the surface. Such periods are known as ice ages. The earliest ice age took place two billion years ago. A second ice age took place from 800 to 600 million years ago and was more widespread than the previous one. Ice collected first in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and then expanded outward. The glaciers repeatedly scoured the continents, creating what was possibly the most extensive glaciation period ever to occur on our planet.

The Precambrian Era

This glaciation period also correlates with the boundary between the Precambrian Era and the Paleozoic Era approximately 750 million years ago. The climate changes, which took place during the Precambrian Era, were massive and dwarfed the climate changes taking place today. The Precambrian Era also resulted in mass extinctions. However, environmental changes are now taking place so rapidly that some scientists predict these changes will lead to another mass extinction. Some studies indicate that more than half of all species that existed since humankind first appeared on the planet are already extinct. If this is the case than we are indeed may be responsible for another mass extinction.

There is still much work to be done to stop global warming and the resulting effects–possible mass extinction of many of Earth’s species!

There is still much work to be done to avoid climate change


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Climate Change is Adding to the Sixth Mass Extinction

Species extinction

Extinction of species is happening at an accelerated rate.

More than 90% of the threatened species are due to climate change, habitat loss, hunting, and the introduction of exotic species.

June 26, 2015–Scientific studies indicate Planet Earth was formed some 4.6 billion years ago. Most of us have difficulty comprehending that length of time. For some time after our planet was created there was no life in existence as we know it today. Primitive life developed 3 ½ to 4 billion years ago because of ideal conditions.

Mass Extinctions

Once life appeared, the number of species generally increased. At the same time the overall number was increasing, individual species disappeared (became extinct). Thus extinction is a natural process that has been taking place over time. When a majority of existing species disappear in a relatively short time it, is referred to as mass extinction. A mass extinction is defined by a loss of a least 75% of existing species within a relatively short period of time–as measured by geologic time.

Extinction of species

As human population accelerates, so does extinction of species.

Climate and Mass Extinction

Climate change was responsible for the first mass extinction. It occurred when oxygen replaced carbon dioxide as the primary gas in the atmosphere. Organisms that had developed in a carbon rich atmosphere had to adapt to the change or die. Most organisms succumbed to the change. It took place approximately 1.5 billion years ago. A number of other such extremes took place over geologic time. The last was about 65 million years ago, known as the K-T boundary. It was thought to have been caused by the impact of a large object from space, which lead to the demise of the dinosaur.

There have been several periods of extinction in recent times. One was at the end of the Pleistocene glaciation, when many large animals disappeared in a relatively short time. There is some debate as to whether it was due to the sudden environmental warming, or if human hunting was a main factor. A spurt of extinctions also occurred with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. Extinctions increased even faster with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, about 200 years ago, and are accelerating today.

Human Activity and Extinction

The current high rate of species extinction is due primarily to human activity. More than 90% of the threatened species are due to climate change, habitat loss, hunting, and the introduction of exotic species.

At the present time, species of plants and animals of all types are being eliminated at a rapid rate. The natural rate of species extinction prior to human intervention was one in five species per year. The actual rate of species extinction now is not known for certain. Scientific estimates range from 100 to 1000 times the rate prior to the agricultural revolution. In actual numbers determined by statistical theory, there may be an annual loss of species of at least 100,000 species each year. The large number of extinctions includes amphibians, arthropods, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Thousands of species probably became extinct even before they were described. This modern extinction is known as the Sixth Mass Extinction or the Holocene Extinction. The Holocene is defined as that period of known history that goes back to the beginning of agriculture some 10,000 years ago.

Species that are becoming extinct

Many species of life are accelerating towards extinction–except human.

Amphibians and Invertabrates

No one actually knows how many species are in danger of becoming extinct in the future. Plants and animals of all types are in danger of being eliminated. It is estimated that approximately 2/3 of all plants evaluated are in danger of extinction. For species of animals evaluated by the IUCN, the highest rate of endangered species appears among amphibians and invertebrates with a projected loss near 30%. Among fish, mammals, and reptiles about 20% are endangered.

Climate Change and Extinction

Global warming and climate change contribute to the loss of many of the species already extinct and those that are in danger. The warming of the planet endangers plants and animals on land and in the sea. Two examples serve as illustrations. Cloud forests exist in mountain regions in many parts of the world. These are forests that exist high enough in the mountains so as to be immersed in clouds much of the time. In some areas they are being restricted to higher and higher elevations or are disappearing altogether.

One such cloud forest is the Monteverde Forest in Costa Rica. In the world ocean many coral reefs are in danger, as species associated with reefs are dying due to warmer water. The end result is coral bleaching, the dying of the many species of organisms that lived there in the past. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is an example of a reef which is undergoing bleaching.

Forecasts are based on current as well as past data and projected into the future. There are forecasts which provide an idea of the extent of the problem of the disappearing species. Based on the use of different data and different forecasting methods, the results differ. There are forecasts that thirty to fifty percent of all of species known to exist during historic times may be permanently lost to extinction by 2050. More conservative forecasts suggest that a loss of half the spices will not take place before the year 2100.

It needs to be stated that the current crisis of life on Earth does not yet qualify as a mass extinction. However, at the rate extinctions are occurring, it could classify as mass extinction within a century or two. What is clear is that the rate of extinction is increasing and will continue to increase unless action is taken soon. As a major contributor to extinction, reducing the rate of climate change is essential to saving Earth’s biodiversity. It must be done now!

Reducing the rate of climate change is essential to saving Earth’s biodiversity


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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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Climate Change in the 21st Century: Pacific Hurricanes, Super Typhoons, and Extreme Cyclones

The increased frequency of super storms

Super Storm Haiyan

If the past several decades are any indication, and if current trends in global warming continue, the probability of more frequent and severe super storms will continue to increase.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

November 25, 2014—Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones have been familiar events in weather lore for a very long time. In the past several decades, a new weather event has entered the picture. This is the extreme ocean storm. The 21st Century has given rise to some previously uncommon events. One of these is the super typhoon. Summer 2014 is no exception.

Super Storms

The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the world’s oceans. Because of its size, it is the scene of many cyclonic storms. The larger cyclonic storms are referred to as super storms. The term super hurricane or typhoon has been in use for 35 years and was coined by the US Military Joint Typhoon Warning Center. It was defined as a storm with sustained winds of over 150 mph (194km/h) for at least one minute. This is the most frequently used measure of a super storm, but not the only one.

Super storms go by several different names, depending on where in the Pacific Ocean the storm occurs. Pacific hurricanes are those that occur east of the International Date Line and north of the equator. West of the International Date Line and north of the equator they are called super typhoons. In the southwestern Pacific and the Indian Ocean, they are called extreme cyclones. These super storms are more common in the Pacific and Indian Oceans than in the Atlantic. Storms in the northern Pacific normally begin to weaken if or when they turn toward the North Pole. While they occur someplace in the Pacific every few years, only three super hurricanes have been documented in the Atlantic ocean in the past century.

Super storms are becoming increasingly more frequent.

The speed and size of a hurricane can be accurately detected by satellites.

Categorizing a Super Storm

In the United States, a category 5 hurricane is defined as one with winds of 158 mph. Thus, a super hurricane is an upper category 4 or category 5 depending on the difference in wind velocity between 150 and 158 mph. However, one can argue that it does not matter which definition is used to describe a given storm, it is still a severe storm. Often with severe storms, instruments collecting data may be inaccurate or damaged because of the high level of wind speeds, with more accurate data available from satellite images.

Super typhoons have occurred in each of the past three summers. In 2013, Super storm Haiyan was believed to have had the highest wind velocities ever recorded in a typhoon. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated the highest sustained winds for one minute reached 195 mph (315 km/h). Another agency estimated sustained winds for a 10 minute period reached 170 mph (275km/h). Gusts reached 235 mph (378 km/h). Due to the path it took over the Philippine Islands, the storm took more than 8000 lives and did a tremendous amount of damage.

A number of other recent typhoons have nearly reached the category of being super-typhoons. These include Genevieve, Jelawat, Ramasson, and Vongfong. Typhoon Vongfong in October was the strongest storm on the planet in 2014. Wind gusts were recorded at approximately 195 mph. The eye of the storm was 26 miles across at its peak. The storm may have reached category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale for a short time.

The Increased Frequency of Super Storms

If the past several decades are any indication, and if current trends in global warming continue, the probability of more frequent and severe super storms will continue to increase.

Methane is a fossil fuel that is one of the Greenhouse Gases


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The Hottest Spot of Methane in the U.S.

“It was discovered that the four corners area of the U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) contains the highest level of atmospheric methane in the U.S.”

By Linn Smith

October 29,, 2014—In a study, “Four corners: The Largest U.S. Methane Anomaly Viewed in Space”, published by NASA in October, it was discovered that the four corners area of the U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) contains the highest level of atmospheric methane in the U.S. Data taken from satellites have concluded that this area is a “hotspot” of greenhouse gases which are contributing to the global warming taking place on our planet today.

The NASA Study

According to NASA, this hotspot in the Southwestern area of United States accounts for 10% of all methane emissions from natural gas operations in the U.S. The EPA states that one pound of methane can trap 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than one pound of carbon dioxide.

What is Methane?

Methane is colorless, tasteless and odorless at normal temperatures and pressures. It is highly flammable and, in the proper mixture, is highly explosive. The common name for methane is natural gas, which is primarily methane, a fossil fuel which we add odor to for safety purposes. Most of us know this smell from natural gas cooking stoves.

A History of Four Corners Mining

A history of the four corners area shows this part of the U.S. to be one of the most prolific natural gas (methane) patches in the U.S. Drilling for oil and gas started in this area in the 1920’s. According to High Country News, “Coal mining and two huge coal power plants were layered on top of the natural gas resources in the the 60’s and 70’s to turn the landscape into a fossil fuel super center with an economy dominated by the energy industry.”

As techniques were invented to make it easier to mine coal and natural gas, the fossil fuel energy industry exploded. Improved technology led to rapid extraction of fossil fuels trapped in the underground coal formations.

A methane hotspot.

The four corners area shows the most intense concentration of methane.

Explanations of the Four Corners Hotspot

The question that the NASA study tried to answer is, “Why?” Why is there a huge concentration of methane gas over the four corners area? Some thought it may be from the release of methane during the mining of coal, but, if this was true, then the equally large mines, such as Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, would show an atmospheric “hotspot” when viewed by the satellite. Others thought fracking was the explanation, but the study predates fracking on a large scale, as modern hydraulic fracturing began in 1998. The study began in 2003, before fracking became widespread in the U.S. Also, as with coal mines, the data would have shown hot spots in fracking areas as big or bigger than the hotspot over the four corners area–but it doesn’t. So, again, why the methane hotspot over the four corners area?

Leaking Methane

An aging infrastructure of the coal and gas industry is leaking methane into the atmosphere

Infrastructure Leakage?

Thousands of miles of roads and pipeline have been laid under the ground surface of this area, and much of this web is aging. Eric Kort, one of the scientists studying the hotspot, says this, “The hotspot of methane is a result of leakage in the infrastructure that makes up the mining and processing plants in this area.” He states there are “many, many leaks in wells, pipelines, processing plants and maybe coal beds themselves. Nearly a trillion cubic feet of natural gas, i.e. methane, is sucked out of the four corners basin every year and its infrastructure is old and has developed cracks, holes, loose valves, ect.” He thinks that all these leaks turned into the four corners hotspot.

Marvendra Dubey, a Las Alamos National Lab scientist studying the hotspot, said, “In light of the expansion of hydraulic fracturing in the Farmington, New Mexico region it is important that we continue extensive monitoring with the state environment department to assure we are attributing and managing the overall methane emissions responsibly.” She further says, “Our findings clearly show that one needs to look at the fossil mining industry, as a whole, when it comes to fugitive leaks, and that research on verification of reported leaks is critically needed.”

The Time is Now to Make Changes

Currently, there is some discussion concerning who’s responsible for the methane accumulation over the mining and fracking areas. The mining industry’s view is, “This is the way we’ve always done it and this is the way we will continue.” This attitude can no longer be accepted. Further research is necessary, but in the meantime, responsibility needs to be taken by the fossil fuel industry, with a move forward to enforce stronger EPA regulations on the extraction of coal and gas. Regulations which are not just “voluntary!” When it comes to global warming, our planet is not going to wait for long, drawn out decisions by politicians and the lobbyists who back them!


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Our Rapidly Changing World

Climate Change and its effects

The effects of Climate Change is happening at a faster then previously recorded.

“There is Nothing Permanent Except Change”
Heraclitus , Circa 500 BC

What the outcome for the human population and other living species is not known. Certainly the decisions being made now will make a huge difference in what the planet is going to be like in coming years–and what the life of our descendants will be become.”

 

By Dr. John J. Hidore

June 7, 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 today, vary in form, size, duration and 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.
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.

Changes in Planet Earth

The initial atmosphere contained high concentrations of carbon dioxide and little oxygen. Eventually, the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen changed to what we now have, 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. There have been times when a large number of species became extinct due to some natural catastrophe. These times are often referred to as mass extinctions.

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 Growing Population

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 replacing the Neanderthals. 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 that number of 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.

Extinction of animals and plants.

The melting ice caps will limit the habitat of polar bears.

Extinction of Plants and Animals

Species of plants and animals are now becoming extinct at an extremely high rate. The rate of extinction is now perhaps as much as a thousand times greater than the rate prior to the origin of humans. 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. One example of how fast species can decline 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 of that –1/30. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is the tremendous application of herbicides to agricultural fields.The rapid drop in butterflies is just one of what is now considered the sixth mass extinction.

Among the major reasons for the high rate of extinction among other species is the changing climate. Temperatures around the world are increasing rapidly. Most of the United States has experienced rapid rise in temperatures in the last 30 years, with the northeastern states of Maine and Vermont warming the most. The arctic is now warmer than it has been in more than 44,000 years. The coldest temperatures ever recorded on the Antarctic Continent have occurred in the past five years.

The “Yet to be Determined” Outcome

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 needs to take place now. What the outcome for the human population and other living species is not known.

Certainly the decisions being made now will make a huge difference in what the planet is going to be like in coming years–and what the life of our descendants will be become.


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Declining Sea Ice Threatens Walruses

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

The Rising Temperatures of the Arctic

February 22, 2014—World temperatures are warming at a record rate and the global climate is changing rapidly due to rising temperatures of our planet. Though the planet is warming, the rate at which it is warming is inconsistent from place to place. Temperature changes in the Arctic are taking place faster than anywhere else on the planet. The warming is affecting both the physical and biological character in this region. The most widely known affect is the melting of sea ice. The melting of the sea ice is significant, but the melting has many side effects.

Climate Change and the Walrus

The changing arctic climate has started to change much of the arctic wildlife. Among the species affected is the walrus. Walruses are large marine mammals that may weigh up to 2700 lbs or more. They spend nearly two-thirds of their lives in cold water. A walrus carries large tusks which are used to root out food living on the ocean floor. The tusks are also used to help move around on the slippery ocean floor. Off shore of the land masses surrounding the Arctic Ocean. the ocean floor drops slowly on what is generally referred to as the continental shelf. Beyond the edge of the continental shelf the depth to the ocean floor drops to several thousand feet in places. Walruses mainly feed on the continental shelf in water less than 300 feet deep. They will, however, feed as deep as 600 feet.

Declining Sea Ice

Sea ice plays a critical part in the lives of the walrus. Walruses cannot swim indefinitely like some seals, and must rest between forays searching for prey. They use sea ice as a platform for searching for food and as a place to rest during their annual migration. Females also use the sea ice during the summer as a place to give birth and nurse their infants. When the walruses are on the sea ice they tend to spread out over large areas. In late summer they migrate to warmer waters. In the past they tended to move onto land in late August during their migration. There are two species of walrus in the arctic. One is the Pacific walrus which inhabits the Bering, Chukchi, and Laptev seas. The other is the Atlantic walrus which is found along northeastern Canada and Greenland.

The Arctic region is now the warmest it has been in 40,000 years. The sea ice has melted to record lows. This has limited the area where walrus can haul out on the ice if it melts too far from land. When the sea ice retreats beyond the edge of the continental shelf and over deeper water, instead of hauling out onto the ice, the walruses head for land and congregate.

Walruses: Herding On Land

Huge gatherings of Pacific walrus have taken place in the last decade. In 2007, an estimated 6,000 walruses gathered along the Alaskan coast. In the fall of 2008, few walruses came on shore as some sea ice remained near shore. In September of 2009, some 3,500 Walruses were near Icy Cape on the Chuckchi Sea 140 miles southwest of Barrow. In 2011, some 30,000 congregated on a beach about a mile long. Large numbers of walruses have also been seen on shore at Cape Lisbourne. Large congregations have occurred in the years since. The same phenomenon is taking place on the Arctic coast of Russia near the Chukchi sea. Herds of tens of thousands were gathering on this coast. Near Point Schmidt, a herd of some 40,000 was sighted. The total population of Pacific walrus is not known, but estimates place it at about 200,000.

The large herds on land are a threat to the walruses. The threat comes from several sources. One is that they tend to stampede when some unusual event startles them. Individuals are often killed during the stampede. Russian biologists reported several thousand, mostly young, were crushed to death in one stampede. For example, noise from hunting weapons and polar bear attacks can cause a stampede. Pilots of small, low flying aircraft are being warned to stay away from the herds as the noise can cause them to stampede. Large gatherings in a limited space also are more favorable for the outbreak of disease. The concentration of such large numbers also has a severe effect on the clam population offshore from the herds. This extensive harvesting may result in an unsustainable population of their food supply.

The decline of sea ice and the changing environment are not only a threat to the walrus population but serve as further evidence of a warming planet. Biologists are asking for the walrus to be declared an endangered species since the outcome of declining sea ice on the species is not yet clear.