ALLIGATORS IN THE ARCTIC
The last time Earth was free of ice was during the Priabonian stage (33.9- to 38-million years ago) of the Eocene epoch. It was the latest age or the upper stage (3 0f 4) of the Eocene series. Greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide and methane, played a significant role during the Eocene in controlling the surface temperature. During this period of time, little to no ice was present on Earth with a smaller difference in temperature from the equator to the poles.
One of the unique features of the Eocene’s climate was the equable and homo geneous climate that existed in the early parts of this epoch’s long period (33.9- to 59.2-million BC). The transport of heat from the tropics to the poles – much like how ocean heat transport functions in modern times such as the Gulf Stream that flows towards Iceland, the British Isles and Norway, was considered a pos sibility for the increased temperature and reduced seasonality for the poles. Alligators swam in Arctic swamps during that time.
Eventually, just before the transition towards the Oligosene epoch at the begin ning of its first division known as the Rupelian stage (28.1- to 33.9-million BC), a reversal from a warming into a cooling climate began to take hold as carbon dioxide rained from the air and was locked up or sequestered into ocean and seafloor sediments.
This long process of climatic change continued from the late Eocene and into the Eocene-Oligocene transition period around 34-million years ago and marked the accelerated decline into an icehouse climate and the rapid expansion of the Antarctic continental ice sheets. Over the past few million years the glacial periods have repeatedly surged across the northern continents as well. Some 20,000-years ago the land areas where Chicago, New York, and London are now situated were buried under ice.
THE EBB AND FLOW OF ICE
There have been five known major ice ages (or periods) in our Earth’s more recent geologic history – notably, the Huronian (2400-2100 million years ago or ‘mya’), the Cryogenian (800-635 mya), the Andean-Saharan (450-420 mya), the Karoo (360-260 mya) and the Quaternary (2.58 mya-present) episodes.
The Quaternary Ice Age – the most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the ICS, continues on up to the present time but we are currently in an interglacial cycle zone with the last glaciation event ending approximately 10,000-years ago with the start of the Holocene epoch which caused the ice sheets from the last glacial period to begin to disappear.
The ebb and flow of ice build-ups on the surface of our planet has been going on for millions of years, initially at 40,000-year frequency but more recently at 100,000-year frequencies and when it recedes they leave behind massive gla ciers that transform the topography of Earth’s landmasses.
COMMENTARY: The snowball hypothesis was originally devised to explain the apparent presence of glaciers at tropical latitudes and the term “snowball Earth” was coined by Joseph Kirschvink, a professor of geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, in a short paper published in 1992. The major contributions from this work were: (1) the recognition that the presence of banded iron formations is consistent with such a glacial episode; and, (2) the introduction of a mechanism with which to escape from an ice-covered Earth – the accumulation of CO2 from volcanic out-gassing leading to an ultra-greenhouse effect. Modelling has suggested that at one time in Earth’s past history (earlier than 650-million years ago) glaciers spread to within 30° of the equator, an ice-albedo feedback would result in the ice rapidly advancing to the equator (further modelling shows that ice can in fact get as close as 25° or closer to the equator without initiating total glaciations). Therefore, the pre sence of glacial deposits seemingly within the tropics appeared to point to global ice cover.
Remnants of these last glaciers – now occupying less than 10% of the world’s land surface, still exist in Greenland and Antarctica. But, a disturbing trend involving accelerated global warming – which has been tracked and recorded since early 20th century, has exacerbated the retreat of these remaining glaciers at a rather alarming rate in the last 30- to 40-years.
The earliest well-documented ice age, and probably the most severe of the last 1-billion years, occurred from 800- to 600-million years ago (during the Cryo genian period). It has been suggested that it produced a Snowball Earth in which permanent sea ice extended to or very near the equator. On the other hand, the earliest ‘hypothesized’ ice age is believed to have occurred around 2.7 to 2.3-billion years ago during the early Proterozoic Age.
The timing of ice ages throughout geologic history is in part controlled by the position of the continental plates on the surface of the Earth. When landmasses are concentrated near the polar regions, there is an increased chance for snow and ice to accumulate.
Small changes in solar energy absorbed on Earth’s surface can also tip the balance between summers in which winter snow mass melts completely and summers in which the winter snow persists until the following winter. Due to the positions of Greenland, Antarctica, the northern portions of Europe, Asia, and North America in polar regions, the Earth today is considered prone to ice age glaciations. But something sinister is changing all that and one species that currently dominates all the rest that inhabit the planet is much at fault for that.
COMMENTARY: The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) recently called on all countries to take urgent action on climate change at about the same time the 19th annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (CoP) opened in Warsaw Poland. While negotiator-delegates from 190 countries met, the World Meteorological Organ isation’s released a report stressing that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were higher than ever. The DEC, comprising 14 aid agencies, said that Typhoon ‘Haiyan’ was a glimpse of the future for millions who will be at risk from extreme weather. Later, UK Prime Minister David Cameron – speaking recently at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka, seemed to support this view, saying the “evidence appeared to be growing. The images we have seen from the Philippines are a reminder that climate change is not about numbers and process, but a growing reality for poor people who desperately need support to protect themselves and build safer futures.” Even then, some scientists in the minority still maintain their reluctance to attribute any single weather event to climate change such as super typhoon ‘Haiyan’ which devasted Central Philippines, arguing that there is not enough data to support such a conclusion. But climate campaigners believe the land mark Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Report that was released settles the science over global warming saying that more scientists these days are 95% certain that humans are the “dominant cause” of global warming since the 1950s and that the political dilly-dallying and horse-trading going on at the UN is unfair, unjust and it cannot go on while those living in poor and vulnerable communities, such as in parts of the Philippines, are being affected now whilst governments fail to steer us to a better future based on our shared responsibility to care for our planet now and for future generations.
THE FATE OF OUR FAULTS
So who or what is causing this global-sized problem – one that will deliver, with a high degree of certainty, dire consequences for the next generation of humanity and their children’s children?
The answer is ‘Us’. Today, it is bad enough that over 7-billion people in our one and only over-populated planet are breathing in oxygen and in the next instant exhale carbon dioxide non-stop 24/7. Meantime, our once lush and extensive jungles and forests of trees and ground vegetation – which ‘breathe-in’ all that CO2 ‘exhale’ it back into the atmosphere in the form of oxygen humans need to stay alive.
To our increasing dismay, however, this natural vital life support system pro vided by nature is being rapidly denuded. Earth’s jungles and forests are being decimated by thousands of hectares each day across the globe and the replanting rate is just a miniscule fraction of what’s actually being felled and the habitat where they dwell destroyed through slash-and-burn clearing operations.
The overwhelming direct cause of deforestation is agriculture. Subsistence farming is responsible for 48%; commercial agriculture 32%; logging for 14%; and, fuel wood removals make up the balance of of deforestation which alto gether reduce a significant percentage of the Earth’s natural carbon trap and sink ecosystem around the world.
Adding to that, even opening a bottle or can of sugar-sweetened flavoured carbonated soft drinks, soda pop or ‘fizzies’ – as they are called here in New Zea land, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Pressurized carbon dioxide canis ters are also leased to consumers for a variety of applications that including paintball, welding and fire extinguishers.
Carbonated water is generally made by dropping dry ice into water that forces carbon dioxide gas (stored under pressure in a cylinder) into water, making it fizzy. Americans alone dispose of 130-billion bottles and cans every year, and around the world 340-billion beverage bottles and cans are not recycled every year worldwide.
COMMENTARY: There is no exact place where the atmosphere ends; it just gets thinner and thinner, until it merges with outer space. Earth’s atmosphere, however, is a thin layer of gases that surrounds the Earth. It composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, 0.03% carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of a few other gases. Taken from a spacecraft orbiting at 200-miles above the surface, we can see the atmosphere as a very thin blue band between the surface and the blackness of space. If the Earth were the size of a basketball, the thickness of the atmosphere could be compared to a thin sheet of plastic wrapped around the ball. Still, it is this thin gaseous layer which insulates the Earth (and all of us on it) from extreme temperatures. It keeps heat inside the atmosphere but it also blocks the Earth from much of the Sun’s incoming deadly ultraviolet radiation. While Earth’s atmosphere is just about 300-miles (480-km) thick, most of the breathable air we inhale (about 80%) is just within 10-miles (16-km) of the surface of the Earth.
CONSEQUENCES VERY SIGNIFICANT
But that’s not all folks, incessant burning of fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil in ever increasing levels and gargantuan proportions produce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2); nitrous oxide (N2O) released by extensive use of chemical fertilizers; industrial halocarbons (CxHyHalz) like fluorine, chlorine, iodine and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6); chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs); and, methane (CH4). When these gas emissions rise up towards Earth’s thin atmosphere they act as a barrier and trap the sun’s energy, keeping heat from escaping back into space.
By its own doing, mankind has modified its own environment exactly “as if” the incoming solar energy had increased by 1%. One percent may seem very little but, given the considerable energies that are at play, the fragile balance of many subsystems of the climate machine, and the fact that these alterations, once made, remains for very long periods of time. The consequences are very signifi cant for our future well-being, as we will see later on.
A RADIOACTIVE OCEAN NIGHTMARE
In addition to the effects of man-made pollutants on our bodies of water, our lakes, seas and oceans are getting warmer too. To add to these woes, it is also becoming increasingly radioactive largely in part to Japan’s failed efforts over the last two years to ring-fence the meltdown of 4-metre long nuclear fuel rods containing pellets of deadly uranium. These rods are found inside Japan’s Fuku shima nuclear power generation plant which was heavily damaged by the mag nitude-9 earthquake and a tsunami which occurred in March 2011 followed by several strong aftershocks many months later.
The meltdown of a reactor within the plant’s site led to a build-up of hydrogen believed to have caused an explosion. The blast severely damaged a radioactive water cooling and containment pool. As a result, several tons of highly-radio active water overflows have leaked directly into the adjacent sea where ocean currents will first carry the poisoned mixture away to the west coast of North America and then on intermingling with other ocean and sea waters across the globe before circling back to its source in Japan.
HUMANITY SHARES THE SAME PLANET
Countries of the developed and rapidly-developing world are mostly responsible for spewing out the bulk of all these greenhouse gas emissions and toxic chemical poisons into our environment daily. The United States in 1997 alone contributed over 20% of the global greenhouse gases emitted that year. The rise of China and India’s industrial base together Europe’s own doesn’t help the overall case for mending Earth either. Consequently, because all of humanity shares the same planet, the coming fate of our collective faults are just beginning to take shape before our very eyes.
COMMENTARY: The 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Warsaw, Poland from 11 to 22 November 2013 and was the 19th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 9th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP 9) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The current batch of conference delegates continued the negotiations towards a global climate agreement but to no real meaningful effect. During conference deliberations, Yeb Sano – the Philippines’ representative, advised the UN summit in Warsaw that “colossal devastation” from Typhoon Haiyan serves as warning to all who live in the planet and called for urgent concerted action to prevent a repeat of the consequences of the devastating storm that hit parts of his country while other country delegates were locked in disagreement on what to agree on. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the inter national community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Mr. Sano appealed to all conference participants to “Stop this madness, right here in Warsaw. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here in Warsaw, where?”
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND
Other penalties of global warming are already rearing their ugly heads. These include a change in the amount and pattern of precipitation; more frequent extreme weather events such as damaging storms; heavy rainfall; massive flood ing; ocean acidification; loss of habitat from inundation; a rise in sea levels; heat waves; droughts; expansion of subtropical deserts; threats to food security arising from unpredictable changes in the coming or going of seasons which consequently decrease crop yields; the continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice; and, accelerated species extinctions (perhaps eventually including our own) due to shifting temperature regimes, just to name a few.
We are already seeing it happen before our very eyes. Just a few days ago – that is, on 09 November 2013, the central islands of the Philippine archipelago faced the brutal onslaught of Super Typhoon Haiyan at 4am local time with winds near 195-mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history.
COMMENTARY: The bigger picture in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan is ever so slowly coming into clearer focus. The devastation is colossal. And as if this is not enough, another storm was brewing again in the warm waters of the western Pacific. Victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines shuddered at the thought of another typhoon slamming the same places where people have not yet even managed to begin standing up.
The storm (known as ‘Yolanda’ in the Philippines) officially maxed out the Dvorak Scale, which is used to measure strong strength using satellites. That means ‘Haiyan’ approached the theoretical maximum intensity for any storm, anywhere. This scale of measurement is a widely used system to estimate tro pical cyclone intensity which includes tropical depressions and intense cyclone intensities based solely on visible and infrared satellite images.
Put another way, the most commonly used satellite-based intensity scale just wasn’t designed to handle a storm of this strength. At its peak, one real-time estimate of the storm’s intensity actually ticked slightly above the maximum to 8.1 on an 8.0 scale. Meteorologists who were tracking Typhoon Haiyan’s path have never seen that before.
COMMENTARY: As many as 41 of 81 provinces in the Philippines were severely affected by Typhoon Haiyan. It was likely the deadliest natural disaster to beset this country and for that matter, even probably the world. Local authorities said they had managed to evacuate 800,000 people ahead of the incoming typhoon, but many makeshift evacuation centres proved to be no protection against the extremely force ful winds and surging tides. The Philippine National Red Cross – responsible for warn ing the region and giving advice, said people were not prepared for a storm surge of this magnitude and terror. “Imagine America, which was prepared and very rich, still had a lot of challenges at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but what we had was three times more the force than what they received,” said Gwendolyn Pang, the group’s executive director.
According to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC), based in Pearl Harbour, Hawai’i, at landfall, the storm packed sustained winds of 195-mph (310-kph). Gusts reached a mind-blowing 235-mph (380-kph). That alone was enough to rank this killer tropical storm as almost assuredly the most powerful one ever to make landfall anywhere on Earth.
There have only been a handful of storms anywhere on Earth that have reached this estimated intensity—and only three since 1969. These kind of strong storms usually remain out at sea where wind speed verification is impossible without aircraft. The previous record-holder – the Atlantic’s Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969 had a wind speed at landfall of 190-mph winds.
COMMENTARY: Earth’s climate is changing rapidly because systems on and beyond the earth are changing. The earth has always experienced changes in climate, but these have occurred gradually over many centuries as a consequence of natural changes like the angle of the earth’s axis, or in the earth’s orbit round the sun, and variations in solar radiation. Natural changes are still taking place but are over shadowed by what humans are doing. The use of fossil fuels has increased greatly after the Industrial Revolution. Their combustion raises the concentration of greenhouse gases, including CO2, in the atmosphere, and it is that increase which is now helping to produce a warmer climate in the Arctic and the Antarctic polar areas. Measure ments reveal that temperatures have risen throughout the world, and that the average temperatures in the Arctic in just the last 100-years have risen twice as rapidly as they have elsewhere in the world. The reason for this is complex feedback loops between the atmosphere, the oceans and the ice. Meanwhile, the temperature over land areas has risen more than in the sea, and that this has been greatest in winter. Climate models which calculate the future trend in the climate show that temperatures will continue to rise, and before the turn of this century the increase will be about 3-5 °C over land and up to 7 °C over the oceans.
A HOTTER WETTER WORLD?
The two essential ingredients that go into the making of every typhoon (in the Pacific Ocean) or hurricane (in the Atlantic Ocean) are warm water and moist warm air.
These ocean-bred storms form when warm, moist air from the ocean surface begins to rise rapidly, where it encounters cooler air that causes its warm water vapour to condense and form storm clouds and drops of rain. Condensation also releases latent heat, which warms the cool air above, causing it to rise and make way for more warm humid air from the ocean below.
As this cycle continues, more warm moist air is drawn into the developing storm and more heat is transferred from the surface of the ocean to the atmosphere. This continuing heat exchange creates a wind pattern that spirals around a relatively calm centre, or ‘eye’, like water swirling down a drain.
Since the early 20th century, Earth’s mean surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), with about two-thirds of that increase occurring since 1980. Warming of Earth’s climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are 95-100% certain that it is primarily caused by increasing concentrations of green house gases produced by human activities. These findings are recognised by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations today.
WE CANNOT ALL STOP BREATHING
While the scientific community debates the root cause of the temperature changes that are contributing to the current increase in destructive typhoons and hurricanes, three things are obviously becoming apparent: (1) air and water temperatures are rising worldwide; (2) human activities such as deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions from a wide range of industrial and agricultural processes are contributing significantly to those temperature changes at a far greater rate today than in the past; and, (3) our failure to take action now to lower atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and massive deforestation is likely to lead to more frequent and severe storms of the ‘Haiyan’ and ‘Camille’ variety in the future.
We cannot all stop breathing to reduce CO2 emissions but humanity needs to wake up and act as one soon otherwise the severity and frequency of these killer storms will do us under all in good time and the face of our planet Earth – particularly where the majority of us live, will radically change the way we live.
So, having said all that, let’s peer into the near future and see what the conse quences will be and how these would affect us adversely.
Filipinos in Auckland | Fate of Our Faults (Part-1)
Proceed to Part-2