The Big Spill

In these last few months I’ve seen numerous images of dolphins, pelicans and turtles  floating in the deadly and unfortunately coveted oil that is now spilled all over the Gulf of Mexico. But despite the media “bombarding” I still didn’t quite have a complete picture on what went wrong.

 

Sea Turtle Conservancy

 

 

By Charlie Riedel

 

The BP Gulf spill is the “worst environmental disaster in U.S. history” and no one still knows the extent of this catastrophe or how many generations will witness its devastating consequences.

Let’s start by looking back a year before the explosion happened.

On April of 2009 the U.S. Mineral Management Service (MMS), the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling, gave BP a “categorical exclusion” from requirements to prepare a detailed environmental impact report because they thought a spill to be highly “unlikely”.

The MMS claimed that the likelihood of a spill was less than 1% and that if a spill were to happen it wouldn’t be significant or release much oil.

But on April 20th of 2010 BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, turning  one of the world’ s most advanced drill rigs into a pile of twisted metal and putting the MMS and BP to shame.

Initial reports estimated a flow of oil of 1000 barrels per day, a few days later it went up to 5000, and by the end of April it went up to 25,000 barrels per day.

By the beginning of  May the  realization that this spill was the worst in U.S. history was undeniable, the final estimates went up to 100,000 barrels per day!

BP’s Response

Before the spill, BP had an environmental response plan which claimed that the company could recover 500,000 barrels per day using current technology, and therefore the worst case scenario spill would not pose any danger. In this report BP also claimed that a worst case scenario spill would not harm any of the fisheries or marine life of the Gulf of Mexico, including walruses, sea otters and sea lions.

As you are probably thinking, there are no sea otters, sea lions or walruses in the Gulf. We later learned that BP copied and pasted word by word an old environmental response plan prepared for the arctic. They obviously did not take preventing an environmental disaster seriously and as a consequence they have endangered our finite and valuable resources with their carelessness and incompetence.

So what did BP do in order to “try” to clean up their mess?

Mainly two things: Burn the spilled oil and pour chemicals (dispersants) into the water.

These two methods were used to cover their “backs” in the easiest and cheapest way without taking the long-term consequences into consideration. BP priorities are clear, economic profits before people or the environment.

 

NOAA

 

By burning tons of oil, not only did they release massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, but also sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds.

And they were not just burning oil, countless turtles and other marine animals like dolphins and whales were also burnt alive as shown in the picture below.

According to the NY times, the dispersant used by BP (Corexit) was banned in the UK over a decade ago even though it’s EPA approved.

Corexit was also used in the Exxon-Valdez spill and has been linked to human health problems including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney, blood disorders and reproductive  problems.

Dispersants like Corexit break up oil into droplets that linger longer in the water instead of collecting at the surface.  Their use in the Gulf spill has limited the instances (and images) of oil-covered seabirds, but has kept the effects of the spill mostly underwater.

Dispersants have mostly moved the oil from the surface to the deep waters of the Gulf. What is now feared is that these deep-sea pockets of oil are fastly approaching the gulf loop current which could spread the oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

The most conservative figures estimate a total of 5 million barrels of oil spilled to the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists and government officials estimate that BP burned  less than 1/4 of the spill,  another quarter had dispersed into scattered molecules, 1/4 has dispersed into small droplets which are extremely toxic to animals, and the last quarter (five times the size of the Exxon-Valdez spill) remains as sheens on the water or tall balls in beaches.

Environmental and Social Impact

The long-term consequences of this tremendous disaster is still unknown. The oil spill’s impact on the environment and socio-economics of the region will continue for decades to come.

In the first four weeks after the explosion that killed 11 workers and started the massive leak, wildlife officials say at least 500 birds, 250 turtles and 50 mammals, were found dead along the US Gulf coast.  In the following months after the explosion, thousands of fishes, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles were killed by the oil, and  their eggs and offspring poisoned.

Most scientists agree that the damage to the Gulf wildlife will last for many generations due to the high toxicity of the area.

Louisiana, the nearest state to the leaking well, around 42 miles offshore, has been the most impacted. The state’s governor stated in May that almost 200 of its 400-mile coast had been polluted at that time.

The U.S. government has declared a “fishery disaster” in the seafood-producing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama due to the oil spill. A quarter of US waters in the Gulf of Mexico are closed to fishing, hitting the livelihoods of shrimpers, oyster-catchers and charter boat operators.  Marine biologists agree that “every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying”.

Following is a map showing the fishery closure boundary (as of June 2010):

Most government officials said the impacts could take years to unfold. Scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service stated that “this is just a giant experiment going on and we’re trying to understand scientifically what this means”.

One of the marine species that has been mostly affected are sea turtles. Their range is shown in the map below.

View (courtesy of NASA) of the spill from space:

Looking forward

The Deepwater Horizon explosion is a direct consequence of our addiction to oil. The most important conclusion we should take from this disaster is the urgent need to shift towards clean renewable energies.

The prize of oil becomes way too expensive if we take all its externalities into consideration. The clean up, environmental and health costs and impact on the local economy are all externalities that should be considered when paying for oil.  In the long run green energy is not only cleaner and safer but also much cheaper!

We only have a few more years of oil left before we exhaust the last reserves on earth, and we should be moving towards renewables at a much higher speed.

President Obama just lifted the moratorium on deep water drilling, so unfortunately it looks like we will continue to drill until the last drop of oil, no matter how many more accidents, spills or deaths this may cause.

Instead, we should be focusing in investing more into clean renewable energies, that is the only way to ensure an accident free and clean future for us and our kids.

Sources:

National Geographic

NOAA

NY Times

Aquaponics, the future of gardening?

Imagine having a self sustaining food source in your backyard (or community) where vegetables and protein can be grown in a fairly small space without the use of sythetic fertilizers,chemicals, or even soil!

This is what aquaponics, a system using fish and ciruclating water propose:

In this closed system fish waste accumulates in water which becomes high in nutrients and this water is then fed to plants growing hydroponically.

Plants take up all the nutrients from the water which is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water, the systems rely on the relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass from the system.

Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the type of aquatic animal and also can support different types of vegetation.

Some examples of Aquaponics, small and large scale:
Sources: NY Times

Self Sufficient Buildings and Vertical Farms for the Future

desertification_1

Desertification due to unsustainable agricultural practices

By 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. By then the population increase (minimum of 3 billion people more) paired with a massive loss of fertile soils due to erosion, desertification, salinization, etc. will surely lead to disastrous food shortages.

We won’t have enough fertile soils to grow crops for all, and we certainly won’t want to cut down the little forest left to grow more food, the consequences of doing so would be devastating.

But some of the most ground-braking architects and scientists have already come up with a solution: self sustainable buildings with vertical farms.

Depending on the crops being grown, a single vertical farm using  hydroponic growing methods could also allow thousands of farmland acres to be permanently reforested.

One of the first models of vertical farming was conceived by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences at Columbia University, who believes that vertical farm skyscrapers could help fight global warming.

Imagine a cluster of 30-story towers  producing fruit, vegetables, and grains while also generating clean energy and purifying waste water.  Despommier estimates that one of these buildings could feed 50,000 people for a year. A vertical farm could be self-sustaining and even produce a net output of clean water and energy.

Sky Farming (New York Magazine)

Sky Farming (New York Magazine) designed by Rolf Mohr

1. The Solar Panel Most of the vertical farm’s energy is supplied by the pellet power system . This solar panel rotates to follow the sun and would drive the interior cooling system, which is used most when the sun’s heat is greatest.
2. The Wind Spire
An alternative (or a complement) to solar power, conceived by an engineering professor at Cleveland State University. The wind spire uses small blades to turn air upward, like a screw.

3. The Glass Panels
A clear coating of titanium oxide collects pollutants and prevents rain from beading. The rain slides down the glass, maximizing light and cleaning the pollutants and it’s then collected for filtration.

4. The Control Room
The vertical-farm environment is regulated from here, allowing for year-round, 24-hour crop cultivation.

5. The Architecture Circular design uses space most efficiently and allows maximum light into the center. Modular floors stack like poker chips for flexibility.

6. The Crops

The vertical farm could grow fruits, vegetables, grains, and even fish, poultry.

The vertical farm doesn’t just grow crops indoors, it also generates its own power from waste and cleans up sewage water.

skyfarming2

New York Magazine

1. The Evapotranspiration Recovery System
Nestled inside the ceiling of each floor, its pipes collect moisture, which can be used as drinking water.

2. The Pipes
Work much like a cold bottle of Coke that “sweats” on a hot day: Super-cool fluid attracts plant water vapors, which are then collected as they drip off .  Despommier estimates that one vertical farm could capture 60 million gallons of water a year.

3. Black-Water Treatment System
Wastewater taken from the city’s sewage system is treated through a series of filters, then sterilized, yielding gray water—which is not drinkable but can be used for irrigation. (Currently, New York city throws 1.4 billion gallons of treated waste water into the rivers each day.)

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

4. The Crop Picker
Monitors fruits and vegetables with an electronic eye. Current technology, called a Reflectometer, uses color detection to test ripeness.

5. The Field
Maximization of space is critical, so in this rendering there are two layers of crops (and some hanging tomatoes). If small crops are planted, there might be up to ten layers per floor.

6. The Pool
Runoff from irrigation is collected here and piped to a filtration system.

7. The Feeder
Like an ink-jet printer, this dual-purpose mechanism directs programmed amounts of water and light to individual crops.

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

8. The Pellet Power System
Another source of power for the vertical farm, it turns nonedible plant matter (like corn husks, for example) into fuel. Could also process waste from New York’s 18,000 restaurants.

9 to 11. The Pellets
Plant waste is processed into powder (9), then condensed into clean-burning fuel pellets (10), which become steam power (11). At least 60 pellet mills in North America already produce more than 600,000 tons of fuel annually, and a 3,400-square-foot house in Idaho uses pellets to generate its own electricity.

Sumarazing some benefits of vertical Agriculture:

1-Uses less space and resources than traditional agriculture.

2-Agriculture land can be converted back to forest.

3-Dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, shipping, etc).

4-No massive crop failures as a result of weather-related disasters.

5-Less likelihood of genetically modified strains entering the “natural” plant world.

6– All food could be grown organically, without herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, eliminating agricultural runoff.

7– It recycles and purifies water.

8-Generation of energy via methane  from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals, supplying not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment.

9-Can have applications for arid environments or refugee camps as a food production source.

10-Great impact in reducing green house emissions.

Some other models of vertical agriculture:

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

To learn more about vertical farming designs:

http://www.verticalfarm.com/

Avoiding Fishy Mercury

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Fish consumption is generally very healthy. They contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid that promotes healthy cardiovascular systems.

In a recent article I discussed different fish based on their environmental impact and fishing practices and suggested Eco-friendly fish for your consumption. Today I want to consider mercury levels in fish and its health effects, especially in kids and pregnant women.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which is found in soil, rocks, lakes, streams and oceans. In addition to natural sources, mercury is released into the atmosphere and water from man made sources, such as coal generated power plants, mining operations and paper processing plants.

It is first released into the air and then enters the water with precipitation. Once in the water, methane-generating bacteria turn the mercury into methyl mercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. Fish consume methyl mercury through their diet and absorb it from the water. Predatory fish (fish that eat other fish) and older fish generally contain higher levels of methyl mercury than vegetarian or smaller fish.

Mercury bio-accumulates in fatty tissues. This means is that when a larger fish eats a smaller fish, it accumulates the level of methyl-mercury that the smaller fish contained. When it eats another smaller fish, it accumulates some more methyl mercury. The more fish it consumes, the more methyl-mercury it accumulates, and the level does not drop. Then along comes an even bigger fish and eats the fish that ate the smaller fish. This large predatory fish accumulates all the mercury of the fish it just ate and so the vicious circle continues.

And then when we humans eat a juicy fillet of that large fish, we consume all that accumulated mercury.

That’s why predatory long lived fish have the highest concentrations of mercury in their tissues, and those are the ones that we should avoid.

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Mercury can cause damage to the nervous system if consumed in sufficient amounts over a period of time. When you eat fish that contains methyl mercury, it is absorbed through the intestine and spread throughout the body. It affects the nervous system because it easily enters the brain. In pregnant women, methyl mercury can cross the placenta affecting the growing fetus. Methyl mercury is also passed through breast milk, increasing the risk of delays in brain development. The child may experience delayed motor skills and learning problems.

Most governmental, health and environmental organization recommends pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children to limit or stop the consumption of predatory fish such as tuna, shark, grouper and swordfish. For the remainder of the population, the standard recommendation is to consume these fish no more than once every two weeks to a month (depending on body weight).

Following you’ll find a list of fish with high, medium and low levels of MERCURY:

HIGH: Swordfish(*), Marlin, Tuna(*), Shark(*), Grouper (*), King Mackerel.

MEDIUM: Bass, Cod (*), Halibut, Lobster, Mahi Mahi(*), Snapper.

LOW: Sardines, Oysters, Salmon, Crab, Tilapia, Shrimp (*), Trout, Herring, Mackerel (not king), Clams.

(*) Highly Environmentally Destructive Practices

SOURCES

EPA

NRDC

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Algae, the Fuel of the Future

Earth2tech

Earth2tech

Biofuels that come from corn, palm, sugar cane or soy are responsible for deforestation and an increase in food prices.

This is not the case of a  biofuel that was first considered in the seventies, and is now getting much deserved attention: algae.

Algae transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, and can generate 30 times more oil per hectare than other plant based biofuels. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

Its production doesn’t require massive amounts of land like other plant based fuels.

On top of those advantages, algae grows better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas),  and on contaminated water bodies. By collecting algae we could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems at the same time.

Various algae contain different levels of oil, and they can also be genetically modified to produce more oil. Most scientists argue that the algae found in pond scum is best suited for biodiesel.

Also, pressing algae creates a few more useful byproducts such as fertilizer and feedstock without depleting other food sources.

Once the oil’s extracted, it’s refined, mixed with an alcohol (such as methanol), and a few more steps will bring algae biodiesel fuel.

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

But the most exciting part of algae biodiesel is the great productivity at low cost (economic and environmental). Biodiesel makers claim they’ll be able to produce more than 800 gallons of algae oil per ha per year.

Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn. For example, a 50 ha algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 40 million ha of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of hectares for other biodiesel products. Since algae can be grown anywhere indoors, it’s a promising element in the race to produce a new fuel.

For now algae based biofuel is still in the R&D stage, but we’ll hopefully  run our cars on this uber green fuel in our lifetime.

Some interesting Algae Biodiesel Start-ups:

GreenFuel

Aurora

BFS

Saphire

Less than 50 years to say goodbye to Sushi

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 % of the world’s fisheries are now either over-exploited, fully exploited or significantly depleted. A study published in Nature concluded that 90 % of the “big” fish (tuna, swordfish, and marlin) are already gone.

Scientists agree that if we continue to fish at our current rates, all commercial fish species will disappear in the next 50 years.

Government subsidies to the fishing sector, totaling approximately $20 billion annually, represent one of the principal forces behind the overfishing crisis. But the biggest force behind this crisis are the world’s industrial fishing fleets which are destroying the ocean at an alarming rate.

If all the fish we ate was caught old school using a simple fishing rod the oceans would be in much better shape. Small fishermen are trying to shift to sustainable practices, because they are realizing that overfishing is not only destroying the ocean, but also destroying their livelihood, leaving them with no fish left  to catch.

But unfortunately most of the fish that we consume doesn’t come from sustainable sources, it comes from large industrial boats that use highly destructive fishing methods and harvest massive amounts of fish at an unsustainable rate.

Following are some of the most destructive and also most common fishing practices. This is how the fish we consume gets harvested from our oceans and ends in our kitchen and restaurant tables:

Bottom Trawling:

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, coral, sponges, plants, and all kids of sea life. It literally scraps the ocean floor clean of life.

It is used to fish cod, haddock, squid, shrimp and crustaceans among other commercial fish.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers will destroy deep sea species before we have even discovered much of what is out there. What we are doing to our deep oceans by allowing trawling is like driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest leaving a flat and lifeless desert.

This practice is so widespread and damaging that it can even be seen from space:

bottom-trawling-from-space

Bottom Trawling from Space

Botom Trawling

Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawler

Bottom Trawler (Greenpeace)

spanish_trawler

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Long lines:

Long-lining is one of the most widespread methods of fishing. The lines are up to 130 km long (80 miles) and have hundreds of thousands of baited hooks at a time. The hooks are dragged behind the boat at varying depths or are kept afloat by buoys and left overnight.

This method is used to catch mainly tuna and swordfish, but it also kills millions of sea birds, dolphins turtles, and other marine life every year.

pelagic_longline

Oceana

turtle__fishing_line

Turtle killed by a long line

Gillnets:

Gill nets hang like massive curtains in the oceans, drifting with the currents. Ranging from 3.5 to 10 km in length, gill nets are weighted at the bottom and held upright by floats at the top, creating what some have deemed “walls of death.”

Fish are unable to see the netting, and unless the mesh size is larger than the fish, they get stuck. When they try to back out, the netting catches them by their gills or fins and they get stuck.

In many occasions they are left to drift for days an many of them get lost (become ghost nets) killing thousands of untargeted marine life- specially dolphins, turtles and seals.

Gilnet (By Oceana)

Gilnet (By Oceana)

ww1994-gillnet

Sea Lion killed by Gillnet

Purse Seines:

This is the primary fishing method for tuna fish. Tuna swim at the same level as dolphins, and fishermen usually track dolphin pods in order to locate tuna.

The dolphin schools are then chased by small high-speed boats or even helicopters that accompany the fishing boats. When the dolphins begin to tire, the fishermen encircle the school with huge nylon nets that are up to 5 km long and 100 m deep. When both the dolphins and the tuna have been completely surrounded, the bottom of the net is pulled closed, much like a drawstring purse, hence the name purse-seining. Purse-seining has proven to be an extremely effective method of catching fish. Entire schools of tuna are able to be scooped up without a single fish escaping. Unfortunately, many dolphins are also killed in the process, as they become entangled in the nets and drown, or are crushed as the nets are pursed and hauled in.

pursesiene

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Solutions:

  • Only 0.8% of the ocean is protected, we need to make more ocean sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited.
  • We need to ban these destructive fishing practices which are not only damaging the oceans, but also endangering the only protein source of millions of people and endangering the livelihood of many small fishermen.
  • Shifting to sustainable  fishing practices,  having stricter quotas and regulations could aid the recovery of most commercial fisheries.
  • Demand and support safer fishing alternatives, it is possible and it must be done soon!
  • Aquaculture can be an alternative, but it also has many negative consequences if not properly managed. There are sustainable aquaculture farms, but it depends on the fish you want to grow (some species are more suitable than others) and the methods used.

Guide to sustainable Sea Food :

Most Sustainable Fish : Anchovies, Sardines, Salmon (Wild), Mussels, Mackerel (Atlantic), Oysters (Farmed), Trout, Clams (Farmed), Lobster, Halibut, Crab.

Least Sustainable: Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna, Grouper, Cod, Swordfish, Shrimp, Salmon (Farmed), Octopus, Monk fish, Mahimahi (Imported), Snapper (Imported).

—————————————————————————————————————————

(Spanish)

Guia para comer pescado/marisco:

Mejores opciones: Anchoas/Boquerones, Sardinas, Salmon (Salvaje), Mejillones, Cavalla, Ostras (Cultivadas), Trucha, Almejas (Cultivadas), Langosta, Cangrejo.

Marisco menos sostenible:  Atun, Bacalao, Pez Espada/Emperador, Gambas (importadas), Salmon (piscifactoria), Lubina (Importada de Chile/Asia), Pulpo, Rape, Dorada (Asia o Sur America)

SOURCES:

Oceana

Greenpeace

WWF

Environmental Defense Fund

Sea Level Rise will be worse than anticipated

Sea level rise is one of the most feared consequences of global warming.

Polar ice caps and mountain glaciers are melting at such an alarming rate, that scientists don’t seem to agree how many meters the sea level will rise and how fast it will happen.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change worst case scenario predictions were of less than 1 m of sea level rise by the end of the century, but apparently they were way too optimistic. Recent studies suggest that the IPCC global sea level rise predictions were seriously underestimated.

The two major ice sheets that will most likely cause sea level rise (when melted) are Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But the amount of ice that will melt and the time it will take it’s still unknown.

Greenland is the world’s largest island, with an area of over 2 million square kilometers. Most of the island is covered by an ice cap that can reach thicknesses of 3 kilometers

Data from a NASA satellite shows that the melting rate has dramatically accelerated since 2000.

If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m.

Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres per year. Most scientists agree that the melting won’t be gradual, there will be a tipping point when the melting will abruptly accelerate. When will this happen is still unknown.

greenland_melting

National Snow and Ice Data Centre

 

We have known about Greenland’s dangerous warming for a while, but we recently learned that Antarctica is no longer immune to global warming.

A very recent study (Mann, et. al) published in Nature magazine, shows the increased and abrupt warming of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Mann explains that “a larger part of West Antarctica is melting than previously thought”.

In stark contrast, a large part of the continent — the East Antarctic Ice Sheet — was found to be getting colder. The cooling was linked to another anthropogenic (human-caused) effect: ozone depletion.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is 1,800 meters above sea level and holds approximately 2.2 million cubic kilometers of ice, about the same amount of ice contained in the Greenland Ice Sheet.

 

NASA

NASA

Jerry Mitrovica, co-author of a new and groundbreaking study (published in Science) explains that “The West Antarctic is fringed by ice shelves, which act to stabilize the ice sheet — these shelves are sensitive to global warming, and if they break up, the ice sheet will have a lot less impediment to collapse”.

Whether or when this ice sheet might collapse and melt is still very uncertain, but even a partial melt would have a bigger impact on some coastal areas than others.

Sea level rise will not happen uniformly around the globe. When physical and gravitational factors are applied to projections of sea level rise, the impact on coastal areas is dramatically worse in some parts of the world than predicted so far.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a full collapse of the WAIS would raise sea levels by 5 meters globally.
Mitrovica explains that this is an oversimplification, and that sea level rise will be higher than expected, and greater in some places than in others (such as North America).

This study shows three important factors that the IPCC overlooked:

  • Gravity: Huge ice sheets exert a gravitational pull on the nearby ocean, drawing water toward it. If an ice sheet melted, that pull would be gone, and water would move away. In the case of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the water would move away from the south towards northern latitudes.

  • Rebound: The WAIS is called a marine-based ice sheet because the weight of all that ice has depressed the bedrock underneath to the point that most of it sits below sea level. If all, or even some, of that ice melts, the bedrock will rebound, pushing some of the water on top of it out into the ocean, further contributing to sea level rise.

  • Earth’s rotation: A collapse of the WAIS would also shift the South Pole location of the earth’s rotation axis from its present location. This would shift water from the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans northward toward North America and the southern Indian Ocean.

Mitrovica explains that “The net effect of all of these processes is that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, the rise in sea levels around many coastal regions will be as much as 25 % more than expected, for a total of between 6 and 7 meters if the whole ice sheet melts,”. That’s a lot of additional water, particularly around such highly populated areas as Washington, D.C., New York City, and the California coastline.

“We aren’t suggesting that a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is imminent,” said study co-author Peter Clark of Oregon State University. “But these findings do suggest that if you are planning for sea level rise, you had better plan a little higher.”

 

Click here for a great interview with the researchers of this amazing study.

If you want to see different scenarios of sea level rise in your area go to Google Flood Maps, select 5-7 m and zoom in your home town to see if in the next 100 years your home will be under water!

 

 

“Environmental Economics: Towards Sustainability” at Boston Green Scene

Boston GreenScene is a great new site promoting green living in the Boston area.

I wrote an environmental economics article for the launch, check it out by clicking on the picture:

forestprice

Global Warming: Faster than Predicted

Our current CO2 emissions are already above the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) projections. (IPCC report)

We are headed towards a future which is even more dangerous than the report’s most pessimistic scenarios.

This figure shows the past and current global warming,  showing clear evidence of the man caused temperature increase.

Different surface warming scenarios are also shown, red representing the worst case scenario:

IPCC

IPCC

The following figure from a recent study shows that we are currently above the worst case scenario projections (A1FI-red line).

A1FI (high) projections were of +2.7% increase of Co2 emissions per year, but the actual growth is at +3.5% per year (from 2000-2007).

coemissions

Raupach et al., PNAS, 2007

This means that our temperature will increase more than 5 °C   by the end of the century. How many degrees and how fast our temperatures will rise is still uncertain, but we will see the impacts of global warming in our lifetime, that’s almost guaranteed.

Following is a summary of some of the consequences of climate change:

impactsclimatechange

Stern review on the economics of climate change, 2006

The Amazon at “Steak”

25beef-span-6001

The cattle industry is responsible for 80% of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon according to a recent report by Greenpeace : “Amazon Cattle Footprint”.

Brazil has rapidly become the world’s largest beef exporter:


USDA

USDA

Over the last ten years more that 10 million hectares of forest (an area about the size of Iceland) has been cleared for cattle ranching. And the figures are rapidly increasing; the Brazilian government wants to double the beef production by 60% , and most of this expansion will take place in the Amazon, where land is cheap and available.

Greenpeace

Greenpeace

Industrial agriculture is also a large contributor to the Amazon deforestation, soy plantations are on the rise, mainly for bio-diesel and cattle feed production. Both cattle farmers and agribusiness are very powerful in Brazil, many of the country’s most influential politicians are linked to the industry.

A lot of money is being made at the expense of the Amazon, but the value of this ecosystem is far greater than what we are destroying it for.  It’s terrifying to know that we’ll probably find out it’s real value when it’s too late.

The Amazon rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, being the home of at least 40,000 different plant, 430 mammal, 1399 bird, 500 amphibians and 3,000 fish species, and many others that we haven’t discovered yet (and could be potential cures for human diseases).

Deforestation causes over 20% of global carbon emission, more than the world’s entire transport sector. The Amazon is estimated to store over 120 billion tonnes of carbon, which would be equal to over 50 years of current US carbon emissions if destroyed.

Cattle ranching in the Amazon also has social impacts on the region, including the highest rates of slave labor in Brazil. In 2008, 3005 rural workers who were kept in slavery were freed from cattle ranches in the Amazon.

The Amazon is also home to over 300,000 indigenous people who depend on the forest for their food, shelter, tools and medicines.


deforestation1

Greenpeace believes that Brazil can reach zero deforestation by 2015 through stronger enforcement of its existing environmental laws such as asking landowners to keep 80 % of their land forested,  promote sustainable development programs, increasing funding for monitoring and law enforcement, etc.

We as consumers can also do our part by reducing our carbon footprint. Some ways of doing so include reducing the quantity of meat that we consume, and checking its origin and how it was produced.

The greenhouse gas emissions from beef are 13 kilograms of CO2  per kg. This means that eating a kilogram of beef represents roughly the same greenhouse emissions as flying 100 kilometers of a flight, per passenger.

To know more about your carbon footprint go to this site.