Archive for the 'Environment' category

Picture of the Day - 2 February 2010

Feb 02 2010 Published by under Environment, Picture Posts

There's no such thing as an ugly ecosystem.


Salt marsh.

Near Big Lagoon, NAS Pensacola, Pensacola, FL

1 May 2009

1/160 sec @ f/8.0; Canon EOS Xsi; 20mm focal length

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Global Warming, The Carbon Cycle, and Fish Poop.

When we talk about the role of fossil fuels in climate chance, what we're really talking about is the carbon cycle. That's the term that scientists use to describe the different forms that carbon is stored in on the earth, and the different ways that it can move from form to form. Understanding the carbon cycle is one of the keys to understanding both the effect of burning carbon-based fuels and the issues involved in trying to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. According to a paper in the latest edition of Science, there may still be some pretty significant gaps in our knowledge of the carbon cycle. In particular, it looks like our understanding of the way carbon moves through the oceans may have been suffering because we didn't know poop about fish poop.

Before we get down to the gritty details and talk about what poop has to do with anything, it might be good to start with a quick review of the carbon cycle. Actually, it might be even better to start with a quick review of one of those concepts that we all learn in third-grade physics, but don't think about much in our day to day world: the law of conservation of mass/matter.

Matter is not created or destroyed. Therefore the amount of mass in a closed system will remain constant no matter what happens.

Like most things in science, that might be a bit of a simplification, but when we're looking at something the size of the Earth, it's good enough. Relativity, quantum mechanics, and space dust might all complicate things a bit, but not enough to matter. For our purposes, we can reasonably assume that all the carbon that we're putting into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide has been here since the earth was formed, and that if we want to take the carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere, we're going to have to find somewhere on this planet to store the carbon.

With that in mind, let's look at the some of the more important ways that carbon can move through the crust, oceans, and biosphere, and atmosphere.

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Tropical Cyclone Sidr: How Bad Will This Be?

Nov 14 2007 Published by under Environment

You wouldn't necessarily know it from looking at most major American news sources, but there's a massive tropical cyclone in the Bay of Bengal right now, and it's heading right for one of the most vulnerable areas on the planet. If the most recent storm track predictions are accurate, the eye of the storm will most likely make landfall somewhere between Calcutta and the mouth of the main channel of the Ganges. Currently, the most optimistic forecasts suggest that the wind speeds at landfall will be in the neighborhood of 115 knots (132 mph) - and there's some data suggesting that it could be much worse.


The phrase that most of the people paying attention are using to describe the situation is "potentially catastrophic." That's accurate, but it doesn't convey the true magnitude of the threat very well, so let's try plainer language: there is a very real possibility that this storm could kill more than 100,000 people by this time tomorrow. That's not an exaggeration. That's something that's happened before when strong storms have hit this area. In fact, it's happened twice just since 1970.

There are ten million people living in threatened areas on the Bangladeshi side of the border alone. The available shelter space will only hold about 500,000. People are being told to evacuate, but most of them will have to evacuate on foot, and the worst of the storm is now less than a day away - and storms don't have to stop to rest their feet. Chris Mooney sums the situation up well when he says, "it's time to panic."

Unfortunately, there's not a hell of a lot we can do right now except wait, and watch, and hope for the best.

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I'm getting greener - but there's still a long way to go.

Oct 15 2007 Published by under Do Something, Environment, For the environment, Science

Since today is Blog Action Day, it seems like a good day for a post I've been meaning to write for a while now - what my family is doing to reduce our impact on the environment, and what else we can (and should) add to the mix. Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

I should probably admit right off the bat that I'm not doing enough to minimize my effect on the environment. I tend to suffer from inertia sometimes, and if something hasn't been made easy for me to do, I tend to not do it. That might not make me all that different from many (most) Americans, but it's still not good. While we were living in Honolulu, we didn't do much more for the environment than participate in our local curbside recycling program. We sat down and talked about that as a family before we left Hawaii, and decided that we'd try to do more when we got to Texas.

Here's what we've managed to do so far:

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Al Gore, the Peace Prize, the Partisan Divide, and Communicating Science.

As you are undoubtedly aware, this year's Nobel Peace Prize is being split between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore, in recognition of "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Like almost everybody else here at Scienceblogs, I think this is absolutely fantastic. Gore has worked his butt off over the last few years. He's been tireless in his efforts to focus attention on climate change, and he's made a real difference. The potential effects of human-driven climate change do represent a real threat to everyone on the planet, and Gore has done more than his part to make sure that people - and not just policy makers - understand that.

As I just said, almost everyone here has nothing but praise and congratulations. But it's not quite unanimous. Matt Nisbet seems to have a few concerns about Gore's effect on the differences in the way Democrats and Republicans perceive global warming. Emphasizing the potential dangers, Matt believes, makes it easier for people to dismiss him as an "alarmist," and makes it harder to convince some people that there's a problem - particularly when the science is uncertain.

Personally, I think that Matt sees a problem when he looks at the very different levels of concern about global warming seen in Democrats and Republicans. There is definitely a problem there. I'm just not sure that it's the one he's identified.

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