The Breathing Earth

NASA: The average annual ebb and flow of Carbon Dioxide

Earth’s oceans and land cover are doing us a favor. As people burn fossil fuels and clear forests, only half of the carbon dioxide released stays in the atmosphere, warming and altering Earth’s climate. The other half is removed from the air by the planet’s vegetation ecosystems and oceans.

Terrestrial plants — from towering Douglas firs to moss growing on rocks — take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, processing it into carbon-containing leaves, stems, branches and more.

“The land helps to mitigate something like a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions,” said Jeffrey Masek, chief of the biospheric sciences laboratory at NASA Goddard. “The question is: What will happen in the future? Can we count on this to continue? Or are land processes going to saturate, in which case we’d see our atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration start to increase much more rapidly.”

Ocean scientists are facing similar questions about carbon. The ocean water itself absorbs carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions. Doing so, however, changes the chemistry of seawater. As surface water in the ocean continues to warm, uptake of carbon dioxide will slow down.

NASA Video

The animations represent aerosol optical thickness from a portion of GEOS-5 simulation from September 2006 to April 2007. Major tropospheric aerosol types are emitted into the atmosphere and transported by winds, turbulence, and deep convection across the globe. Dust is represented with orange to red colors, sea salt with blue, organic and black carbon with green to yellow to white, and sulfates with ash brown to white. The yellow and red dots on the land surface indicate the locations of wildfires and human-initiated burning that have been detected by the MODIS instrument aboard the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites

Amazing New Video of Our Planet

A great series of images from Russian weather satellite, Elektro-L! The weather satellite’s image used data based on wavelengths of visible and infrared light. This means vegetation red-brown, and less vegetation is green – kind of opposite to what you might think at first glance. Images are from a single point 35,000 kilometers over the Indian Ocean. They were taken every 30 minutes, then combined by educator James Drake to show a day in the life of the planet. Photos were from the Russian Research Center for Earth Operative Monitoring.

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I found this here.

Fear of Nuclear Power Makes Solving Global Warming Difficult

Michael Schellenberger is a principal in the Ecomodernist Movement. While I do not approve of all the policy positions and strategies of his version of Ecomodernism, Michael has done a brilliant job of presenting the case for nuclear power. He has made it quite clear that while nuclear power is in fact both very safe and carbon free, and an important and necessary energy source if we are to have any hope of winning the battle to keep global warming at bay.

How CO2 Infrared trapping increases the planet’s temperature

The Greenhouse Gas Effect

The greenhouse gas effect can be complicated to understand. It is important because it is the mechanism that causes global warming. By adding excess CO2 from fossil fuels, poor forestry practices, poor agricultural practices, and using carbon-intensive industrial processes, we enable the greenhouse gas effect to increase our planet’s average temperature. Too much of this is going to be a very bad idea, so understanding what is happening is smart. Here are some details with a “sort of” simple explanation to start with.

The sun heats up the plants, the earth, lakes, the air and the ocean. Because the earth gets warm, it radiates heat away from itself back toward space. Infrared radiation is part of the spectrum of light, so the wavelengths of infrared are just colours we can’t see with our eyes. But we can see it with instruments that are sensitive to those wavelengths. Imagine yourself in space looking back at the planet earth, but also imagine that you have eyes that can see infrared wavelengths. If there were no atmosphere, you could see all the wavelengths of infrared displayed as the earth radiates its heat (infrared) back out to space. If we add an atmosphere that contains a little bit of water vapour, ozone, methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. Now we can still see some of the infrared, but some of the colours have disappeared and some are not as bright. If we add more of these gases, we still see infrared, but now more colours are completely gone and more are dimmed. The less infrared we can see from space, the warmer the surface of the planet and the atmosphere must be because that infrared is also heat!

The Science Background

That’s one way to imagine how CO2 trapping infrared radiation heading back out to space from the planet can cause an increase in temperature. It is complex. This little video makes it easier to understand.

Does natural selection and evolution depend on living things?

Reproduction is the key to natural selection in organisms. Although the norm for organisms is sexual reproduction, that is not necessary for evolution to take place. Bdelloid rotifers (metazoans), for example, have no males, no hermaphrodites and no meiosis. As far as we can tell they have been this way for millions of years. In the absence of “standard” reproductive techniques, they divide unfertilized eggs. DNA repair mechanisms exist as in other organisms. According to Flot JF, et al. Genomic evidence for ameiotic evolution in the bdelloid rotifer Adineta vaga. Nature. 2013, the key may be that they can dry up when there is no water and rehydrate when water is available, potentially incorporating fragments of foreign DNA from ingested food.

This harkens back to the idea of endosymbiosis as the originating mechanism responsible for the establishment of mitochondria and chloroplasts in genetic reproduction. These have played a critical role for the evolution of eukaryotes. The idea is that plastids in an ancient asexual cell may have come from an ingested cyanobacterial ancestor, and then some red and green algal ancestors were incorporated into other phagotrophic eukaryotes via secondary endosymbiosis and retained as secondary plastids. Almost all of the plastids in secondary and tertiary algae are thought to ultimately have originated from a secondary endosymbiosis of a red algal ancestor. Two exceptions include the Euglenophyta and Chlorarachniophyta which possess secondary plastids of green algal origin. It is probable this was parallel independent secondary endosymbioses. Our own genetic material is derived from these ancient processes.

Just to add to the complexity, we can add observations about prions. Prions are non-living pieces of infectious protein devoid of DNA or RNA that can cause fatal neurodegenerative disease. They are capable of Darwinian evolution. The study elucidating this was actually a medical study examining the development of drug resistance in prions. (Jiali Li*, Shawn Browning*, Sukhvir P. Mahal, Anja M. Oelschlegel, Charles Weissmann, Science 12 Feb 2010:Vol. 327, Issue 5967, pp. 869-872.)

The study suggests that “Prions can develop large numbers of mutations at the protein level and, through natural selection, these mutations can eventually bring about such evolutionary adaptations as drug resistance, a phenomenon previously known to occur only in bacteria and viruses.” However, these mutations may be more correctly described as “mistakes” in the way the prion protein is folded. This is all reminiscent of the the idea of a “quasi-species.” An example is an RNA-only virus population, which originally had only one sequence, but was constantly creating mutations and eliminating the unfavorable ones. In both semantic and conceptual terminology we might include the idea of a “quasi-population” where it begins with a single particle, but it becomes very heterogeneous as it grows into a larger population.

This has an almost science fiction feel to it, but the concept of two different origins of sexual reproduction is intriguing, especially when a true metazoan appears to have abandoned sexual reproduction but still maintains a successful evolutionary history. And to top it all off, Darwinian evolution may not require living organisms, although it does require reproduction.

As we move to explore distant planets, the nature of “life” and how it develops, may not be much like what we see here on our planet. The results also make it clear that life does not have to begin before Darwinian evolution can take place. All that is required is for organic molecules to link together to become compounds and be able to reproduce.

A Year in the Life of CO2 2006

NASA scientists have put together a high resolution timelapse map of the circulation and distribution of CO2 for the year 2006 on a daily basis. The seasonal changes are easily seen and the remarkable concentration of the greenhouse gas effect in the northern hemisphere during the winter months is visually obvious.

New Insights into Sea Level Rise and Superstorms

James Hansen and 18 other authors have stated firmly that the sea level rise and superstorms of the ancient past are very real possibilities for our present-day climate if we do not rapidly remove carbon from our emissions. This is not the first time climate scientists have spoken out about the conservative views of the IPCC reports Report on the structured expert dialogue on the 2013–2015 review and suggested that the real world situation is much more dangerous than the public reports from IPCC seem to indicate. Gedens in a policy statement argues that scientists must be willing to state the facts even in t the face of intense pressure to tone down the apparent dangers. Climate Advisors Must Maintian Integrity. In this most recent report, James Hansen and his co-authors suggest many climate changes that are unexpected can occur and that they can occur quickly. He argues that the evidence for some of the worst ones are already visible in the observations.

Sea Level Changes Revealed

This map depicts the approximate sea level (shown as the new shoreline) for different amounts of sea level rise. To change the amount of sea level rise click on the little arrow beside the number in the upper left hand corner, then choose a new sea level rise. To change the location, you can simply click and hold anywhere in the map. A little hand icon will appear and you can move the map to a new view. To zoom in for a closer look use the little + sign in the upper right hand corner. To zoom out for a more general view, use the little -ve sign. This map is prepared by Firetree.net. To see the map full screen, click on the icon with four spreading arrows and that will take you to the Firetree site.

For orientation with the future, many predictions suggest a one meter rise by the end of this century no matter what we do to reduce emissions. In the longer term, predictions depend on what people decide to do, but if the trends are maintained, the world will undoubtedly see CO2 rise to at least 500ppm. This will ensure a 6m to 9m sea level rise within a few centuries. That combined with continuing increases in population growth could be very difficult as people attempt to retreat inland to avoid the rising sea.

Comments on the TransPacific Partnership Agreement

Swimming with Sharks?
srk035
Trade agreements are always a mix of benefit and risk. So the calculation of net benefit or risk is very important. The benefit of this proposed agreement is presumed to be a much wider market with a considerable relaxation of trade barriers for those who agree to partner inside the agreement. It does not mean those outside the agreement cannot trade with those inside the agreement, it just means the trade barriers will still exist against those outside the agreement.

In recent trade agreements the most difficult clause to swallow seems to be the mediation of potential loss of profit against the countries that enact laws, regulations, or policy changes that have an impact on the potential profit of corporations. Even if the sovereign power decides the change in law or policy is an environmental necessity, the presumed profit (opportunity) loss to corporations is not deemed to be equally necessary. Instead the corporation presuming to have lost the profit can “sue” under the trade agreement by appealing to an internal tribunal or panel that has what amounts to absolute power to judge the case with no transparency of process and little if any recourse to appeal. This essentially gives the equivalent of sovereign power to corporations. In fact, it severely endangers any climate change activity to limit the extraction or use of fossil fuels. For example TransCanada is suing the USA for presumed profit loss as a result of cancelling the Keystone pipeline – the suit could be as high as $20 billion. That behaviour could be significant disincentive for a small country to enact laws that a large multi-national corporation could challenge through TPP.

In this TPP agreement, there is a great deal of verbiage about the environment, but it is largely statements of support that are undermined by the internal processes. In the case of biodiversity and ecological goods and services, it is clear the writers have no idea what these terms actually mean. For these and pharmaceutical trade ambitions, the idea is to exploit species that have biologically active properties. The only protection offered is appeal to CITES when the population level is low enough to get them listed on the Red List of endangered species. Even then there is no proscription against exploitation of the Party wishes to exploit them to extinction locally – and if the species is unique to the Party’s boundaries, to complete extinction in nature.

The statements on fisheries being an over-exploited resource are correct, but there is no mechanism to limit fisheries in areas outside a Party’s jurisdiction. Thus the “partnership” is silent on how to manage open ocean fisheries – a modern version of the “tragedy of the commons.”

My letter to the Liberal Party of Canada regarding the TPP follows:
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“M” Theory with 11 dimensional space – Wow!

As I understand it, all this thinking about dimensions comes from the problem of trying to figure out what gravity is. Einstein’s general relativity theory does not distinguish between time and space, so our familiar three spatial and one time dimension are, in his theory, all of the same character and they create what he called a four dimensional “space-time.” In this theory, gravity is a result (consequence or effect) of the geometry or local shape of space-time. A quantum theory of gravity is needed to reconcile general relativity with known principles of quantum mechanics. An easy example is reconciling light “waves” with “photons.” Gravity in quantum terms is a force, but it is an effect in general relativity. String theory is an attempt to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics by substituting one dimensional objects (strings) for point particles of no dimensions (particle physics). Strings vibrate and move through space. One of the vibrational states creates a “graviton” which is a quantum mechanical particle that has gravitational force (analogous to the photon).There are a number of string and super-string theories. The “M” theory attempts to unify all these string theories into a single quantum mechanics theory that describes gravity as a force, not an effect. Edward Witten suggested that all five super-string theories were in fact just different limiting cases of a single theory in eleven space-time dimensions, which he called “M theory”. Witten said that the M could stand for “magic”, “mystery”, or “membrane” because he hadn’t yet worked out the entire theory. The term brane is derived from membrane.

A point particle can be viewed as a brane of dimension zero, while a string can be viewed as a brane of dimension one. Higher dimensions are labelled “p.” Thus higher dimensional branes are called p-branes. There is something vaguely satisfying when you say p-brane out loud.

The idea of dimensions that can be compacted is a mathematical convenience to avoid the awkward mathematics of a ten or eleven dimensional space-time. If at least some dimensions are slightly curved, extending the limits of space-time results in a number of dimensions that can be assumed to curl up on themselves to a “point” of essentially no dimensions. Think of a making a garden hose. we could start with a piece of rubber that is long and not very wide; a 2-dimensional plane. By curving the width dimension, we can complete the curve of the width dimension to create an inner space bounded by one dimension – the circumference of the hose we just made. Now if we back away far enough, the curved dimension (the circumference) essentially disappears and we are left with a line – of one dimension. So at a distance the hose looks like a one-dimensional object (a line or string). Mathematically at extremes, the two-dimensional hose can be considered as a compacted single dimension composed one linear and one curved dimension. Mind you, an ant crawling on the circumference of the hose would not be confused.

At this stage, my “pea-brain” is about to collapse under the weight of multi-dimensional p-brane concepts which might turn out to be real strings and membranes, and not just magic or mystery. The notion of living in a universe, only some of which may be within our perception or even our conception, is both intriguing and humbling.

Human Population Increase – How Are We Doing?

Population is a critically important variable in the quest for a sustainable and healthy world. Population dynamics of natural populations is relatively well-understood. Introducing an exotic species into a new habitat where it faces little competition and has rich resources results in a steeply rising curve usually with pronounced exponential rates of increase. Here is the curve for human population increase (I used world bank and UN data) which looks more-or-less identical to a normal natural population of an introduced species with little competition and rich resources.
human-pop-growth

Over time the resource level and/or competitive factors or disease from overly dense populations begin to tip the curve so that the slope of population increase is decreased. Here is a chart of the recent changes in human population growth and a projection to 2050.
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Ecomodernist Manifesto

The idea of an ecomodern view point makes eminent good sense. Take the best of modern technology combined with modern understanding of global ecology, human societies, human needs and desires and put them all together in a winning package. The purpose of this Ecomodernist Manifesto, authored by some 26 scholars is essentially to propose an economic strategy (although the authors categorize it as a strategy to improve ecological and human well-being):

“We offer this statement in the belief that both human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet are not only possible, but also inseparable. By committing to the real processes, already underway, that have begun to decouple human well-being from environmental destruction, we believe that such a future might be achieved. As such, we embrace an optimistic view toward human capacities and the future.”

WOW! That is to say, they believe that continuing on the path we currently have embarked on will save the day if we emphasize technological innovation to provide limitless energy and intensive primary production that will not limit the population growth of humans for the foreseeable future (centuries or thousands of years).
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More on Ecomodernist Snakeoil

The Ecomodernist Manifesto is, in my opinion, a cleverly designed marketing tool to allow continued exploitation of extractive energy and mineral resources while encouraging damaging intensive agricultural practices that ignore the limits of soil recovery. There are many messages about how technology will save us all, but on climate change and global ecological challenges, they espouse the following: “Climate change and other global ecological challenges are not the most important immediate concerns for the majority of the world’s people. Nor should they be. A new coal-fired power station in Bangladesh may bring air pollution and rising carbon dioxide emissions but will also save lives

At least some of the authors of the manifesto have serious doubts that the current scientific conclusions from climate studies are accurate enough to warrant spending money on mitigation. They base this uncertainty on a variety of ideas, but primarily that the variability of observations combined with the probability predictions in climate models suggest the sensitivity of the planet is much lower than most climate scientists claim. In addition, they argue that the various scenarios of catastrophic melting or increased temperatures are either unlikely or in the distant future when new innovative technology will come to the rescue – just as it always has in the past.
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