Planet Earth Weekly

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

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.