On May 9th., 2013, humanity reached new heights. But not a high we can be proud of.
The American National Oceanograhic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the 400 parts per million mark for atmospheric CO2 had been passed at it’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
The Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) is a premier atmospheric research facility that has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950′s, including CO2 levels.
800,000 Years of Atmospheric CO2 Levels In Three Minutes.
Please be prepared to spend 3 minutes to watch the video below. Click on it, and get ready to watch 800,000 years of CO2 concentrations…
That is powerful!
While the American Indian Chief Seattle didn’t say
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”,
it’s an approach we would do well to take.
On that basis, our generation has borrowed the Earth from our children and grandchildren, and we’re handing it on in a dirty, degraded and damaged condition.
Kevin Rudd may have forgotten that “Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time” after he became Prime Minister in 2007, but it still is.
Mendacious corporate interests, biased media proprietors, spineless politicians and sadly gullible deniers have swung public opinion against the reality of climate change, even as the scientific evidence continues to pile up.
Me and You, and CO2- What the Heck Are We Gonna Do?
All I can say is that each of us who are prepared to examine and accept what the experts tell us on climate change (and there’s a more than a 93% consensus amongst climate scientists), need to take every opportunity we can to influence media, candidates and voters in the leadup to the September election.
Our children and grandchildren deserve no less.
Arbor Day: Inspiring People To Plant, Nurture, and Celebrate Trees
As the level of CO2 in the atmosphere relentlessly rises towards 400 parts per million mark, we seem to be incapable, as a species, of altering our behaviours that are driving the rise. The main behaviour is, of course, our burning of fossil fuels. While there are some bright spots of increased use of renewable energy, the amount of CO2 humanity produces continues to climb.
But that’s only the half of the unfolding drama fuelling global warming. The other half of the drama, the other half of the equation, is our continued destruction of native forests around the world. It’s vegetation that takes in the CO2 produced by animals in general, and, increasingly, by humans in particular. This deforestration reduces the planet’s ability to use up the CO2.
Easter Island provides perhaps the clearest example of what happens when a society destroys it’s trees, and degrades its environment.
The native Rapa Nui people overpopulated the island, plundered their natural resources to exhaustion, and destroyed their trees. Their society collapsed, and all but disappeared.
If we’re not to suffer a similar fate to the Rapa Nui, we need to learn the lessons their history and folly teach us. Prominent among those lessons is, preserve your trees.
All around the world, their are many occasions used to celebrate the role of trees, to promote their preservation and their replanting.
Founded in the US, the Arbor Day Foundation aims to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. Arbor Day is celebrated in many countries, in different guises, and on many different dates. In the United States, it’s the last Friday in April. In the United Kingdom, it’s National Tree Week, and celebrated in November. In Australia, Arbor Day is in June, with the National Tree Day falling on the last weekend in July. Arbor Week falls at different times around Australia!
World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 and is celebrated every year on 5 June in more than 100 countries around the world Tree planting is a popular activity on the Day.
Trees Are Amazing!
What can you and I do as individuals? We can support events such as Arbor Day, World Tree Day and World Environment Day. We can support political action to oppose deforestation, and promote tree planting. We can personally plant trees, in the country, and around our homes. We can nurture the trees we already have and with simple steps we can make our landscape more environmentally friendly, energy efficient, and beautiful too!
In the 1950′s, my best friend, Robert, introduced me to astronomy. I introduced him to stamp collecting.
I definitely got the better of the deal- the stamp collecting is now a thing of the past for me, but a love of astronomy just grows and grows.
Rob had a little terrestrial (not astronomical) telescope, with a comparatively tiny front lens of around 70mm. It had a simple mount (altazimuth-type for the aficionados), and because of the swiveling nature of the mount, was quite naturally named ‘Elvis’.
While Elvis was pretty basic as telescopes go, with a little study, and a lot less light pollution than we suffer today, he was our tiny window on an “amazing and expanding universe”. (Yes, we both love Monty Python’s Galaxy Song).
Now, I’m a young 67, born in 1944. I’ve been fortunate to live through some amazing times, and some wondrous discoveries.
- Only 21 years before I was born, Edwin Hubble detected a variable star in the Andromeda galaxy, that led us to understand that our Milky Way Galaxy is only one of billions of ‘island universes’.
- Only 16 years before I was born, Hubble’s work on researching the redshift of these ‘island universes’ led to the realisation that the universe is expanding.
- When I was 5, Fred Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang” to describe the theory that has become our best understanding of how the universe was born.
- When I was 9 years old, the Astronomer Royal opined that “Space travel is utter bilge. I don’t think anybody will ever put up enough money to do such a thing.”
- When I was 9, the double-helix structure of DNA was discovered.
- When I was 12 years old, Sputnik became the first artificial satellite.
- When I was 24, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon.
- It wasn’t until my mid-20′s that our understanding of plate tectonics became widely accepted.
- It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30′s that Luis Alvarez and others discovered evidence of the Chicxulub impact that likely led to the end of the dinosaurs.
How the Hubble Space Telescope’s Ultra Deep Field photo became a 3-D video.
The advance of scientific knowledge during my lifetime has been mind-boggling. Not the least, has been the advance in our knowledge of cosmology- how the universe works. When I was 59, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) unveiled the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind, called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). Over 400 orbits, 800 exposures were taken by Hubble Space Telescope’s camera of a tiny piece of sky, one fiftieth the size of the full moon. The total exposure time was over 11 DAYS. What the photo revealed was simply awesome. In that tiny slice of sky, there were THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of galaxies.
What they did next, was to create a 3-D ‘flight’ through the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, dramatically presenting this most distant visible-light view of the universe. The redshifts of 5,333 galaxies were converted to distances, to assemble the 3-D model of the data. As you ‘fly’ this beautiful, awesome, humbling visualization, remember that the light from the furthest galaxies has taken 13 BILLION years to reach us. Without further ado, here’s the video.
When you take little time to reflect on those numbers that we can’t even comprehend…
- In an area of sky just one-fiftieth the size of the full moon, we can find over 5,000 galaxies.
- How many is that in total? Maybe 100 Billion galaxies.
- The average galaxy contains some 100 Billion stars.
- The light from the furthest galaxies has been traveling 13 Billion years to arrive…
it tends to put our worldly problems into context. A context best summed up by the final words of the Galaxy Song,
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.
El Nino is a cyclical weather pattern, where warming of the Central and Eastern Pacific areas leads to major shifts in weather patterns across the Pacific Ocean. El Nino tends to bring hotter, drier conditions to Australia. When the pattern reverses, it’s called La Nina.
I started marketing water tanks in 2002. Of course, they were in common use in rural areas, where there was no choice. In urban areas, while water tanks had been quite common earlier in the 20th. Century, a drive towards centralised water supply had seen the introduction of town water, and the wholesale destruction of domestic water tanks.
When you rely on your water tank for all your needs, you tend to be careful about how you use water. You use as little as possible, and you reuse as much as you can. The introduction of town water, provided a virtually unlimited amount of water at a very low price. Habits and technology changed, and our water use increased dramatically. To cater for the increased demand, calculations were made, and dams were built based on the perceived needs of the communities they served.
As we entered the ‘longest drought in living memory’, everything looked pretty good. But as the drought wore on through the 2000′s, our water storage capacity proved to be inadequate. Dam levels dropped. Water restrictions were imposed. Desalination plants were commissioned. Water tank incentives were introduced by Governments.
Then the drought finally broke. For three years now, we’ve enjoyed wetter than average conditions, including very high rainfall and serious flooding all down the eastern seaboard. The population has stopped worrying about saving water. Governments have removed water restrictions. Governments have removed incentives on water tanks. Great forward thinking. Great timing, guys, because…
El Nino is coming back to Australia
The El Nino and La Nina weather patterns strongly affect weather on both sides of the Pacific.
Last week I read a very troubling headline.
“Greenland ice sheet albedo continues dropping at highest elevations”, it said.
Now that doesn’t sound like ‘changing the world as we know it’-type news, does it? But it just could be.
The Greenland ice sheet is over 3 km high at its thickest point, and contains some 2,850,000 cubic kilometres of ice. Were it all to melt, global sea levels would rise by approximately 7 meters.
The ice sheet reflects back the vast majority of the sunlight falling on it. One result is that while the lower altitudes experience melt during the summer, the higher altitudes do not. Up until now, that is.
The Greenland Ice Sheet is Getting Darker
The worrying trend was signaled when NASA satellite information led the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to publish an article entitled “The Greenland Ice Sheet Is Getting Darker.” The article outlined the situation in these words…
“The bright white surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet reflects well over half of the sunlight that falls on it. In summer, this reflectiveness helps the ice sheet maintain itself: less absorbed sunlight means less heating and melting. In the past decade, however, satellite observations show a drop in Greenland’s reflectiveness. The darker surface absorbs more sunlight, accelerating melting.”
Here’s a graph, courtesy of www.meltfactor.org which shows the trend in the albedo (reflectivity) of the ice sheet at the highest altitudes. It shows a clear trend, over the period reviewed, of lowering reflectivity. The June 2012 figure is the worst summer figure for the 12 year period. OK, that still seems pretty academic information, until you consider where it may lead.
To quote Dr. Jason Box, of Ohio State University, “darkening of the ice sheet in the 12 summers between 2000 and 2011 would have allowed the ice sheet to absorb an extra 172 quintillion joules of energy, nearly 2 times the annual energy consumption of the United States (about 94 quintillion joules in 2009). In areas where the ice sheet is melting, this additional energy has doubled melt rates, which contributes ice loss to the ocean and sea level rise. In non-melting areas, this extra energy would be enough to raise the temperature of a 5.5-inch-deep layer of snow from 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius) to the melting point.”
The evidence suggests that we are nearing, or may have reached, a critical tipping point. One where the melting of the Greenland ice sheet not only continues, but accelerates. The result would be more and more fresh water pouring into the North Atlantic. THAT, has very serious implications.