Friday, April 1, 2011

The Glacier Melt & How it's Screwing Us

As temperatures across the globe have increased, the rate of melting glaciers has also increased. An ice glacier melting is normal, right? Right. Ice glaciers either break off into smaller icebergs and melt directly into the sea, or melt on land and form rivers that will empty into the sea. However, the glacier ice is melting faster today than it was ever expected to and as a result, it is taking a serious toll on the Earth.
A few teensy problems the Earth is currently facing/will face:
·         Global warming
o    Ice glaciers are able to deflect almost 80%  of the heat from the sun, absorbing the remaining 20%. This figure gets reversed when sunlight falls on earth, 80% being absorbed and 20% being deflected. This in turn helps in increasing global temperatures, thus leading to an increase in the temperature of sea water, which leads to icebergs melting faster. Adding to this is the expansion of sea water, leading to a rise in sea water levels.
·         Fresh water shortage
o    Of the Earth’s water supply, just over 2% is freshwater that is fit for human use. Over 70% of this freshwater comes from glaciers, and the subsequent melting supplies living things through lakes and rives.
·         Reduced agricultural output
o    Some areas of agriculture depend on water emanating from ice glaciers. During the dry seasons there will be a shortage of fresh water from ice glaciers, making the land dry and unsuitable for agriculture. Total agricultural output will reduce, leading to food shortages.
·         Shortage of electricity
o    There are many regions on Earth that rely solely on the constant flow of water from melting glaciers for the production of electricity and once this flow of water is reduced or stops, the production of electricity will stop too.
·         Excessive flooding/Rise in sea-level
o    In areas where the sea glaciers are on higher altitudes, flooding is destined to occur. When the glaciers melt too rapidly, it causes the flooding of rivers and creation of new lakes which could cause serious devastation for the ecological environment surrounding them. In addition to this, as the sea-level rises coastal regions across the globe will have to relocate due to flooding, soil erosion, et cetera. One city that would be at risk is British Columbia’s own Richmond.
·         Coral reefs will vanish
o    Corals require sunlight for photosynthesis to survive. As the sea level rises, not enough sunlight will reach these corals, deteriorating their quality and possibly even killing them with time
·         Earth will get recontaminated
o    Many people today have never heard of DDT and other pesticides that were banned worldwide years ago. Most of these pesticides became airborne and were finally deposited in cool areas containing glaciers and up to a few years ago, these harmful chemicals remained trapped within the ice layers. The rapid melting of these glaciers release chemicals back into the environment, and into many lakes and rivers formed by these melting glaciers.
So folks, forget about 2012. If global warming trends continue, we can kiss everything we’ve ever known goodbye as we slide down our long, painful, slippery slope to our demise. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Polar Bears: How is climate change affecting the survival of their species?

Right now, the Arctic is experiencing the warmest air temperature in four centuries.  As it stands, there is a rapid shrinking of sea-ice, which scientists predict will result in a “mostly ice-free Arctic summer by 2040 if the present trends continue." Due to human activity, huge amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are continuing to be omitted into the atmosphere at alarming rates which leads scientists to believe that the Arctic will only continue to warm.

This might as well be a death sentence to polar bears all across the Arctic.  Polar bears rely on the sea ice for activities such as hunting, breeding and residing in dens.   A number of polar bears drown every year in attempts to swim to reach the pack ice.  There’s just too much open water to ensure their survival.  As an already endangered species, scientists are estimating that if current forecasts are correct about the future extent of sea ice, then 2/3 of the polar bear population will become extinct by 2050.

So what can we do about it?  Scientists believe that we still have time to save polar bears if we significantly reduce greenhouse emissions within the next few years.  However, it will take 30-40 years for changes in reversing the warming trend to show, and by then it may be too late for the polar bears.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but personally, if another species was responsible for the demise of the human race, I would want them to do everything in their power to help us out.  We are exploiting most of the world’s resources as it is, so we should make the survival of other creatures a priority.  Especially one as majestic (and adorable) as the polar bear.


Monday, February 21, 2011

What is "The Big One," anyway?

There’s no doubt that you have probably heard that us BC-ers and everyone else along the Pacific coast are due to have a huge, catastrophic earthquake at any time. The wonderful tag line, "at any time," is probably used to encourage us to be well-stocked on water bottles and a feast of cat food in our basement somewhere. Naturally, it more likely strikes extreme fear into the bottom of our hearts knowing that there is always an ominous looming of being crushed under a blue whale as it gets washed ashore from the 900 billion foot tsunami we expect to sweep over whatever city we'll regret being in at the time. Before you start installing your apartment with the latest in sea-drainage technology and a shock system, let's get the facts straight.

View Cascadia Subduction Zone in a larger map

The menacing earthquake in question is technically called a megathrust earthquake, and this indicates a sudden slip along the boundary between a subducting and an overriding plate (i.e. a megathrust fault). Basically, all the devastatingly gargantuan earthquakes you hear about in the news for weeks are megathrust earthquakes. We are currently perched along the Cascadian fault line, and although we don't have any written history on the last big shake-up, we have some clues to make some rather strong assumptions on.
  1. Those impressively huge trees along the coast have strange changes in tree ring growth, suggesting a sudden, pandemic regression of roots.
  2. Geologists have discovered sand bars gone awry sitting on buried tidal marsh and forest soils of about the same depth from BC all the way down to California.
  3. There's evidence of strong seismic activity from the detection of landslide layers (aka. silt turbidite) a distance off the west coast.
  4. It's clear a tsunami took the unaccommodating westcoast by storm with confirmation of preserved sea organisms that were discovered in the bottom of lakes, often separated by land elevations of 5 meters high.
Centuries ago, there was a tsunami in Japan without the presence of a local earthquake, but before you label this as magic this isn't some ghost tsunami. This waterloo was caused by the most recent huge Cascadian earthquake on the calamitous evening of January 26, 1700. Just in case you still aren't buying it, there are even legends among first nations people describing a "severe ground shaking on a winter night accompanied by huge waves that destroyed a coastal village."

Juan de' rumble?
It has been estimated that the northwest can expect a one in three chance for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake within the next 50 years. In all seriousness, the only thing we can really do is be prepared with 3 days worth of beverages and toilet paper, a little awareness for safety, and a mix tape of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" to shake up the mood. Although that may be a little inappropriate. I get knocked down...


Monday, January 31, 2011

Does climate change have an effect on earthquakes?

There are actually two questions here to ponder: the former and vice versa. As for earthquakes having any effect on climate change, studies have found some evidence but not influential enough to currently make long-standing connections. Climate change effecting earthquakes, on the other hand, has been gathering evidence and provisional links are beginning to be made.

Melting glaciers and rising sea levels are the first and foremost base of reason concerning this connection, with the weight distribution along the earth’s crust and over fault lines changing slowly with time. The weight allocation relieves pressure on some parts of the crust and applies it to others, implementing plate shifts as sections of the crust strained by ice rise in a process called isostatic rebound. This same reason can change the weight over undersea volcanoes which have been reported to associate with eruptions, which are then related to earthquakes.

Isostatic Rebound
     This isn’t about a couple hundred pounds of ice melting and leaving polar bears scrambling in a panic for still ground, this is about unloading the weight of a sheet of ice a kilometer thick onto a continent, which subsequently can cause serious damage in the way of, no surprise, mega thrust earthquakes. For example, the St. Elias earthquake of 1979 in southern Alaska (magnitude 7.2) had been promoted by melting glaciers in the area. These glaciers near the fault zone had melted substantially since 1899 to be hundreds of meters thinner and many had even disappeared, applying increased pressure on the fault line where the Pacific plate slides under the Continental plate.