Category: Earth

Yes — another Antarctic ice mass is becoming destabilized


Click to enlarge — Hope Bay glacier now shedding ice

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent.

Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially “imminent risk” due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size…

And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems…Researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula…

Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that “a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized” and accounts for “a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.”

The likely cause of the change, they say, is warmer waters reaching the base of mostly submerged ice shelves that hold back larger glaciers — melting them from below.

This has been a common theme in Antarctica recently — a similar mechanism has been postulated for melting of ice shelves in nearby West Antarctica (which contains vastly more ice, and more potential sea level rise, than does the Antarctic peninsula)…

Indeed, the paper suggests these southern Antarctic peninsula glaciers may have only begun their retreat. The glaciers may now be unstable, says the paper, because some of their ice shelves currently rest on bedrock that is not only below sea level, but slopes further downhill as one moves inland…

The greater Antarctic worry remains the ice shelves and glaciers in other regions, West Antarctica and East Antarctica, whose potential contribution to sea level rise is measured in feet or meters, not centimeters or inches. Still, the broad picture is that we’re now seeing consistent — and worrying — changes in many different regions on the fringes of the vast frozen continent.

The know-nothings carry on consistently. They seek out a lone skeptic, legitimate or otherwise, whose writings match their unwillingness to accept responsibility. It doesn’t really matter what the event may be, the process inexorably trudging towards future ills and dim loss. Whether a futile war, corrupt economic policies, destruction of our planetary environment – papier mache politicians accept neither responsibility nor the charge to lead the way from disaster.

Anti-science is only part of their anti-reality. Passing the buck to the next generation’s taxpayers is perfectly acceptable to creeps who define wars as unfunded mandates.

Obama creating 1,500-mile “butterfly corridor” to help Monarchs get from Mexico to Minnesota


Click to enlargeimage/howardsview

US president Barack Obama, a friend to bees and other pollinating insects in peril, has unveiled his national strategy to mitigate honey bee loss, increase the Monarch butterfly population, and restore the habitats of both insects, whose health is essential to our food supply. The program will depend heavily on federal agencies and will also involve Mexico and Canada, since bees and butterflies know nothing of state laws and don’t really care about borders.

The strategic report includes a section on “expanding pollinator habitat on rights-of-way.” This doesn’t mean the feds will tell bees and butterflies who flies first, but rather that the US Department of Transportation and US Fish and Wildlife Service will help rehabilitate butterfly habitats alongside Interstate 35—a federal highway that extends from the Texas-Mexico border to Duluth, Minnesota.

That’s a key path or “flyway” for Monarch butterflies, who winter in Mexico before making a multi-generational migration, laying eggs and dying in the southern US, and leaving new, young butterflies to finish the journey north…

The Monarchs’ numbers have been dwindling, in part due to the loss of a nectar-producing flowers and milkweed—an important source of butterfly nourishment that has been depleted in the American midwest by agriculture and the ubiquitous herbicide Roundup.

Overdue.

It’s raining spiders In Australia…

This month, the weather reports from down under are downright terrible for arachnophobes. That’s because the story that it has literally been raining down baby spiders in one part of Australia appears credible, according to scientists.

Clouds of millions of baby spiders were spotted falling out of the sky upon the so-called southern tablelands of New South Wales earlier this month, coating parts of the countryside and even some homes with the strands of their webs that they rode upon the wind.

“What happens is that during a particular time of the year, particularly in May and August, young spiders in the Outback somewhere throw these threads of spiderwebs up in the air and use them as a parachute to detach themselves from the ground and move in large colonies through the sky,” one local retiree named Keith Basterfield told the Goulburn Post newspaper.

Basterfield also took the opportunity to request the public to send him samples of the spider web material, which is also sometimes called “angel hair.” The paper obliged, publishing his post office box where the public can send their samples.

But there’s a hidden, more bizarre side to angel hair that might be compelling this retiree to ask for spider web donations. Basterfield is well known in the UFO research community, having published a few books over the years on the topic. He’s also been cataloging and analyzing Australian instances of angel hair since at least 2001.

Why? Well, it could be because many UFO enthusiasts and researchers believe that some instances of angel hair could actually be a mysterious substance created by the interaction of a UFO or its electromagnetic field with Earth’s atmosphere.

Balloon spiders

But in this particular instance, both Basterfield and scientists seem to be in agreement that what fell onto Australian fields this month was probably drifting spider webs…

Of course, if we’re talking about alien spiders riding on angel hair created by UFO exhaust, perhaps there is some reason for concern.

In my neck of the prairie they’re called balloon spiders or parachute spiders. For me, they’re a real sign of the transition from spring into summer. The spider silk collects along our fence line.

Now, downstate in Roswell – I’m not so certain what people think.

Solving the energy crisis with affordable, renewable clean fuel — in Hobbs, NM

Joule has pioneered a CO2-to-fuel production platform, effectively reversing combustion through the use of solar energy. Free of feedstock constraints and complex processing, this platform can achieve unrivaled scalability, volumes and costs without the use of any agricultural land, fresh water or crops.

Unlike products derived with complexity from petroleum or biomass, Joule Sunflow® products are produced in a direct, continuous process from abundant resources. The novel CO2-to-liquids conversion requires only sunlight, non-potable water and proprietary catalysts that are tailored to produce specific products, including ethanol and hydrocarbon fuels that are inherently compatible with existing infrastructure.

…This uniquely modular system can achieve replicable productivity, whether installed across 100 or 1,000 acres, mitigating scale-up risks and ensuring stability of supply. At full-scale commercialization in ideal locations, the company ultimately targets 25,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-E (solar ethanol) or 15,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-D (solar diesel) per acre annually, for approximately $1.20/US gallon ($50/barrel).

Joule has successfully pilot-tested its platform for over two years, initiated demonstration-scale operations, and assembled a specialized team to lay the groundwork for commercial deployment. The company is moving rapidly to commercialize Joule Sunflow-E, with Joule Sunflow-D and additional hydrocarbon fuels to follow.

Phew! The link above is from the “about us” statement at their website. Wander through the whole site starting here. Looks interesting. A winner if it works.

Had this link in the hopper for a short spell and just got round to clicking through.

Germany adds to its wind energy portfolio — Nordsee Ost comes online


Click to enlargeLuftfoto/Scheer

Wind energy is a vital part of a German move to a low-carbon economy, the German economic minister said during the inauguration of RWE’s Nordsee Ost wind farm.

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel hosted ministers from the Group of seven industrialized economies, along with representatives from RWE, for the inauguration of the 48-turbine wind farm off the northern German coast.

“Offshore wind energy is a strategically important element of Germany’s energy and climate policy and is key to the success of the energy transition,” Gabriel said…

Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy, a trend established after its decision to move away from nuclear power, in the wake of the nuclear tragedy in Japan in 2011. The United Kingdom is close behind and, combined, the European Union has more than 100 gigawatts of wind power online.

Nordsee Ost has an installed capacity of 295 megawatts, enough power to meet the annual energy needs of about 320,000 households.

RWE’s project is among the largest of its kind in the world and, by year’s end, more than 40 percent of its power capacity will be generated from wind energy.

The expansion of renewable energy is one of our main growth areas and offshore wind energy will play a vital role,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Terium said. “RWE will become the third largest player in the European offshore market this year.”

Strange as it may seem to Americans, European conservatives haven’t dedicated their political careers to standing in the way of switching to renewable energy sources and walking away from unhealthy fossil fuels, uneconomic nuclear power generation.

Increase in quakes from fossil fuel boom prompts new USGS hazard maps


Drilling in Weld County, Colorado

Earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater are 100 times more likely now than in 2008 in regions of Colorado and seven states that are hotbeds for oil and gas drilling, federal geologists said Wednesday.

This has prompted the government to prepare new seismic-risk maps for construction, insurance and public safety.

The question of who bears the costs of possible damage and quake-resistant construction has yet to be decided. But a U.S. Geological Survey team, based in Colorado, also has started a series of meetings with engineers and designers…

“If you live in one of these areas of induced seismicity, you should educate yourself and those around you for protective actions you can take,” Mark Petersen, chief of the agency’s National Seismic Hazard Modeling Project said…

While most industry-induced quakes result from disposal of wastewater, the scientists said they’ve documented quakes caused by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process used to stimulate release of oil and gas from deep shale rock formations.

USGS scientist Bill Ellsworth said quakes linked to fracking are short-lived…

USGS researchers are investigating whether industry-triggered quakes could spur bigger earthquakes along natural geological fault lines.

There’s no evidence that industry could cause quakes up to magnitude 7, the level associated with catastrophic natural quakes. “But we cannot rule that out,” USGS scientist Justin Rubinstein said…

Insurance companies see quakes in Colorado as an emerging risk. There’s no claims history, said Carole Walker, director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Industry Association.

“We hope people will purchase insurance if there’s an increased risk. If insurance isn’t purchased, you don’t have the coverage for it and it can become a litigation issue,” Walker said. “A business or homeowner could sue for damages, and they would have to prove the causation of the risk.”

While the insurance industry statement sounds like a copout turned into a sales pitch, they have the bucks to carry forward a lawsuit against oil and gas drillers. Even if they charge penurious rates – and I have no idea what earthquake insurance in the Rocky Mountains would cost – they will be likely to attempt to recoup their expenses by suing whoever is handy.

And that establishes the baseline for future suits.

Mexican miners and farmers unite over toxic spill

The pipes have gone silent. Gone is the hum of water flowing through them to the world’s second-largest copper mine, just south of the U.S. border. Instead, in the normally empty desert here, tents and buses line the highway. Dust and smoke from cooking fires fill the air while hundreds of people listen to speeches and discuss the day’s events.

This plantón, or occupation, which began on March 18, has shut down most operations at the Cananea mine, which consumes huge quantities of water pumped from 49 wells across the desert in order to extract copper concentrate from crushed ore.

Many of the people involved in the plantón are miners who have been on strike since 2008, when they walked out because of dangerous working conditions. Two years later, the government brought in 3,000 federal police, drove miners from the gates and occupied the town. Since then Cananea has been operated by contracted laborers recruited from distant parts of the country. But the strike has continued, as miners struggle to survive in this small mountain town where the mine is virtually the only source of work.

Now, for the first time in five years, the mine is again paralyzed. This time, strikers didn’t stop its operation by themselves. Half the people with them are farmers — residents of the Rio Sonora Valley, angry over a toxic spill that upended their lives last August, causing health problems and economic devastation.

People in the towns along the river used to have little involvement with the miners, but the spill gave them common ground. This alliance between miners and angry farmers also includes a U.S. union, the United Steel Workers. Together they are challenging the Mexican government’s fundamental rule for economic growth — that workers’ rights and environmental protections must be subordinate to the needs of corporate investors.

RTFA. In the classic journalist genre of “from our reporter in the field” – AJAM has done a thorough job of reporting on the multi-layered conflict at the second-largest copper mine in the world.

Scientists find origin of creepy “Blood Falls”


Click to enlargePeter Rejcek, National Science Foundation

The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are some of the most extreme desert regions on the planet. But new research indicates that the region may actually be full of salty, extremely cold groundwater. The water may even connect surrounding lakes into a massive network, and it probably hosts extreme microbial life…

Despite McMurdo’s apparent dryness on the surface, it’s always hinted at something more: The region is home to the magnificently creepy Blood Falls, a red ooze that shines bright against the otherwise desolate surface. For a while scientists believed that red algae gave this mysterious, bloody ooze its vibrant color. But even though iron oxide is responsible for the hue, analysis has shown that the feature does contain strange bacterial life.

Jill Mikucki and her colleagues used an electromagnetic sensor mounted on a helicopter to scope out the area, testing the conductivity of the ground below. Water increases its resistivity as it freezes, meaning that it’s less conductive of electrical currents. But salty water — which can stay liquid at lower temperatures — have very low resistivity.

“We found, as expected, that there was something sourcing Blood Falls,” Mikucki said, “and we found that these brines were more widespread than previously thought. They appear to connect these surface lakes that appear separated on the ground. That means there’s the potential for a much more extensive subsurface ecosystem, which I’m pretty jazzed about.”

It’s possible that this extensive brine isn’t unique to the valley, Mikucki explained, and that subsurface ecosystems of extreme microbes might be connected to visible lakes, and perhaps even interact with the ocean.

“It turns out that as beautiful and visceral as Blood Falls is in these valleys, it’s actually just a blip. It’s a little defect in this much more exciting feature,” she said.

Scientists have been using the Dry Valleys to test instruments since the Viking missions,” Mikucki said. “So how we detect the brines and access them is relevant to work on places like Mars…

And if we find life on another planet, it’s most likely going to look like the life we find in Antarctica. The subsurface lake Vostok, which is now thought to contain extensive (and quite alien) life, is often cited as an example of what might be found on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-and-ocean covered moon. Recent studies on Mars found evidence of brines on that planet, which could presumably have supported life once as well. On our planet, these subsurface waters host only the most extreme forms of life. But elsewhere in the universe, the same conditions might be as hospitable as a planet gets.”

McMurdo reeks with extra-terrestrial feelings. I knew an ice geologist who was based around there for a couple of years and he always felt as if he was on another planet.