Earth ChangesS


Climate change: Less CO2, less jobs. It's that simple.

If you want to know what an economy that pumps out less carbon dioxide is like, look at Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. Factories closed, growing numbers of jobless, people driving less because they have nowhere to go, government deficits.

As it happens, it's the U.S. debt crisis that's done it to us. When the air comes out of the tires of your biggest trading partner, look out.

However, it's also what a well-meaning climate-change lobby felt was pain worth risking for the sake of the planet, when it recommended a regimen of emission caps and/or carbon taxes to reduce C02 emissions in Canada.

How do you like it so far?

Not so much, at this desk.

This is not the whole story as it doesn't include coal and natural gas, but there are some provocative specifics in a recent Statistics Canada document. (Link)


Africa's first bird extinction likely within four years

The modest plumage of the Sidamo lark may not catch the eye, but the bird could achieve the worst sort of fame - as the first contemporary African bird to go extinct, a new study warns.

The lark is adapted to Ethiopia's "rangeland" - the savannah of native grasses that traditionally covered large parts of east Africa, but is now rapidly disappearing. If the rangeland goes, so will the lark, says Claire Spottiswoode from the University of Cambridge.

"Rangeland degradation is often overlooked by conservationists, but it is not just the birds that suffer from the change in land use. The native people, the Borana pastoralists, also rely on intact rangeland to support their nomadic lifestyle," she says.

Better Earth

Algal blooms dump toxins on the ocean floor

Toxic algal blooms are bad enough on the ocean surface, but now it turns out that the toxin in them sinks to the ocean floor - where it persists for weeks.

Far from degrading soon after the bloom, as previously assumed, new research suggests that the neurotoxin that causes shellfish poisoning, domoic acid, sinks to the ocean floor and could poison marine mammals, birds and humans.

"The first signs of an algal bloom are often birds washing up on the shore or seals acting funny, aggressive and twitching, looking as if they were drunk," says Claudia Benitez-Nelson of the University of South Carolina.


US: Environmental disaster - every single bat may soon be dead

Alabama farm
© Associated Press/Elizabeth DalzielBats protect Alabama farms from insects.
While the media made a big deal out of honey bees dying last year, bats are quietly suffering a similar fate. And the death of bats is an environmental disaster in the making. Every single bat in the United States may soon be dead. White-nose syndrome (WNS), a mysterious fungus that kills bats wiped out about 90 percent of the bats in Connecticut this past winter and the syndrome is now headed to Alabama and other southern states.

According to a report in the Hartford Courant (Bats Die), officials from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection have found "veritable bat catacombs" in the state's caves. The wildlife inspectors discovered thousands of dead bats stacked up along the ledges of cave walls.


Cosmic Ray Flux and Neutron monitors suggest we may not have hit solar minimum yet

Cosmic rays illustration
© Simon Swordy/University of Chicago, NASAThe shower of particles produced when Earth's atmosphere is struck by ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (the most energetic particles known in the universe).

There's some interesting information of the six month trend of neutrons being detected globally that I want to bring to discussion, but first I thought that a primer on cosmic rays, neutrons, and their interaction with the atmosphere might be helpful to the many layman readers here. - Anthony

Cosmic rays are energetic particles that originate in space and our sun and collide with particles as they zip through our atmosphere. While they come from all directions in space, and the origination of many of these cosmic rays is unknown, they has recently been shown that a larger percentage emanate from specific deep space sources. Cosmic rays were originally discovered because of the ionization they produce in our atmosphere. They cause ionization trails in the atmosphere much like you see in a simple science project called a cloud chamber, shown below right:
cloud chamber ionization
© unknownUsing the Wilson cloud chamber, in 1927, Dimitr Skobelzyn photographed the first ghostly tracks left by cosmic rays.

In the past, we have often referred to cosmic rays as "galactic cosmic rays" or GCR's, because we did not know where they originated. Now scientists have determined that the sun discharges a significant amount of these high-energy particles. "Solar Cosmic Rays" (SCR's - cosmic rays from the sun) originate in the sun's chromosphere. Most solar cosmic ray events correlate relatively well with solar flares. However, they tend to be at much lower energies than their galactic cousins.


Beryllium 10 as climate proxy

greenland map icecap
© unknown

Beryllium-10 is an isotope that is a proxy for the sun's activity. Be10 is produced in the atmosphere by cosmic ray collisions with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. Beryllium 10 concentrations are linked to cosmic ray intensity which can be a proxy for solar strength.

One way to capture earth's record of that proxy data is to drill deep ice cores. Greenland, due to having a large and relatively stable deep ice sheet is often the target for drilling ice cores.

Isotopic analysis of the ice in the core can be linked to temperature and global sea level variations. Analysis of the air contained in bubbles in the ice can reveal the palaeocomposition of the atmosphere, in particular CO2 variations. Volcanic eruptions leave identifiable ash layers.

While it sounds simple to analyze, there are issues of ice compression, flow, and other factors that must be taken into consideration when doing reconstructions from such data. I attended a talk at ICCC 09 that showed one of the ice core operations had procedures that left significant contamination issues for CO2. But since Beryllium is rather rare, it doesn't seem to have the same contamination issues attached. - Anthony Watts


Canada: "Pine Beetle Kill" No Longer Just Dead Wood

2010 Olympic Oval
© Holly Pyhtila/IPSNew 2010 Olympic Oval roof made from salvaged "pine beetle" wood.
Vancouver - The sheer magnitude of the devastation left by this tiny beetle is shocking on its own.

"The pine beetle kill", as it's known to British Columbians, refers to the millions of hectares of trees left for dead in the wake of the voracious insect. Forestry officials in Canada's westernmost province estimate the volume of wood lost to be around 620 million cubic metres - roughly equivalent to 15 million logging truck loads.

According to a B.C. Ministry of Forests report, roughly half of the province's pine trees are now destroyed by the bug, with the most extensive damage occurring in the central Canadian Rockies, where two-thirds of the region's lodgepole pine forests have been transformed into a sea of orange needles.

The beetle's environmental impact is just as impressive, as the death of billions of trees normally involved in capturing carbon have instead released carbon. Canadian Forest Service scientist Werner Kurz estimates the beetle's devastation will release almost a billion megatonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2020, equivalent to about five years of transportation sector emissions from Canada.


Man's contribution to climate change is negligible in geologic time

Most geologists, including those in the energy business, take a REALLY long view of the earth's history including global warming and cooling cycles. Within the framework of geologic time, i.e. the earth's history, man is a very late entry and relatively small contributor to climate changes.

The current debate concerning global warming is well publicized. It features histrionic presentations of data on both sides of the issue usually by writers or politicians, with no scientific background, "interpreting" volumes of data gathered by true scientists. The arguments, for and against, have been going on for about 40 years. The earth is about 4.6 billion (4,600,000,000) years old so the debate has been going on for about 0.000001% of geologic time. Man, or at least our earliest demonstrable "human" ancestors, arrived about 2.3 million (2,300,000) years ago so "man" has been an observer of climate change for about 0.05% of geologic time.


Underwater volcano creates new island off Tonga

© Telusa Fotu/AFP/Getty Images
The powerful underwater volcano that erupted in the south Pacific this week has created a new island off the coast of Tonga. The eruption, about 39 miles north-west of the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa, began on Monday, shooting rocks, steam and ash thousands of feet into the air.

Tonga's chief geologist, Kelepi Mafi, said the volcano had two vents, one on a small uninhabited island and another about 100 metres (330ft) offshore. Rock and ash spewing from the sea have filled the gap between the two vents, creating a new land mass measuring hundreds of square metres.


One Third of U.S. Bird Species in Peril

© eFluxMedia
There are about 800 species of birds in our country and almost one third of those are "endangered, threatened or in significant decline." These are the findings of a study that not only found the main causes (habitat loss, invasive species and human behavior), but also gave some solutions to the problem: conservation.

Conservation measures were already taken in the case of some bird species and it really showed. Those species of birds showed significant recovery.