Category Archives: General

High Arctic plant spurts raise climate concerns

Arctic

Plants are getting taller in the Arctic high latitudes as warmer, moister soil prompts growth that could increase the release of greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 11 October, 2018 – The Arctic is becoming greener, warmer and leafier as small plants that once hugged the ground to trap snow and insulate their roots in the permafrost have started to gain in stature.

In the high latitudes, plants have begun to respond to climate change and warmer, moister soils by reaching for the sky.

It is estimated that, by 2100, the northernmost vegetation could have grown by up to 60% taller.

European scientists, backed by an international team of more than 120 biologists, report in Nature journal  that tundra plants are gaining in height, and that species from further south are advancing towards the Arctic Circle.

Close survey of growth

Their conclusion is based on more than 56,000 observations of tundra vegetation and a close survey of growth at 117 sites around the high latitudes in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia.

“The increase in height we saw was not just in a few sites but nearly everywhere,” says Dr Anne Bjorkman, a researcher at Germany’s Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. “If taller plants continue to spread at the current rate, the plant community height could increase by 20% to 60% by the end of the century.”

“Precipitation is likely to increase in the Arctic region, but that is just one factor that
affects soil moisture levels”

Her research colleague, Isla Myers-Smith, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, says: “While most climate change models have focused on increasing temperatures, our research has shown that soil moisture can play a much greater role in changing plant traits than we previously thought.

“We need to understand more about soil moisture in the Arctic. Precipitation is likely to increase in the Arctic region, but that is just one factor that affects soil moisture levels.”

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. Sea ice has been in dramatic retreat and other research teams have repeatedly observed dramatic changes in the plants and animals that cling to life in the hemisphere’s harshest climate.

Ground reflectivity

What happens to tundra vegetation matters as a vast community of birds, insects and mammals survives on the annual growth in the brief northern summer.

Plants both respond to climate change and play a part in that change. They affect the reflectivity of the ground surface, and warm the soil in ways that could release ever more greenhouse gases.

Half of the planet’s stored carbon could be trapped in the permafrost, and any escapes could only accelerate global warming.

“This is the first time that a biome-scale study has been carried out to get to the root of the critical role that plants play in this rapidly-warming part of the planet,” Dr Myers-Smith says.

And Dr Bjorkman warns: “Shorter plants trap more snow, which insulates the underlying soil and prevents it from freezing as quickly in winter. An increase in taller plants could speed up the thawing of this frozen carbon bank, and lead to an increase in the release of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Plants are getting taller in the Arctic high latitudes as warmer, moister soil prompts growth that could increase the release of greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 11 October, 2018 – The Arctic is becoming greener, warmer and leafier as small plants that once hugged the ground to trap snow and insulate their roots in the permafrost have started to gain in stature.

In the high latitudes, plants have begun to respond to climate change and warmer, moister soils by reaching for the sky.

It is estimated that, by 2100, the northernmost vegetation could have grown by up to 60% taller.

European scientists, backed by an international team of more than 120 biologists, report in Nature journal  that tundra plants are gaining in height, and that species from further south are advancing towards the Arctic Circle.

Close survey of growth

Their conclusion is based on more than 56,000 observations of tundra vegetation and a close survey of growth at 117 sites around the high latitudes in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia.

“The increase in height we saw was not just in a few sites but nearly everywhere,” says Dr Anne Bjorkman, a researcher at Germany’s Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. “If taller plants continue to spread at the current rate, the plant community height could increase by 20% to 60% by the end of the century.”

“Precipitation is likely to increase in the Arctic region, but that is just one factor that
affects soil moisture levels”

Her research colleague, Isla Myers-Smith, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, says: “While most climate change models have focused on increasing temperatures, our research has shown that soil moisture can play a much greater role in changing plant traits than we previously thought.

“We need to understand more about soil moisture in the Arctic. Precipitation is likely to increase in the Arctic region, but that is just one factor that affects soil moisture levels.”

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. Sea ice has been in dramatic retreat and other research teams have repeatedly observed dramatic changes in the plants and animals that cling to life in the hemisphere’s harshest climate.

Ground reflectivity

What happens to tundra vegetation matters as a vast community of birds, insects and mammals survives on the annual growth in the brief northern summer.

Plants both respond to climate change and play a part in that change. They affect the reflectivity of the ground surface, and warm the soil in ways that could release ever more greenhouse gases.

Half of the planet’s stored carbon could be trapped in the permafrost, and any escapes could only accelerate global warming.

“This is the first time that a biome-scale study has been carried out to get to the root of the critical role that plants play in this rapidly-warming part of the planet,” Dr Myers-Smith says.

And Dr Bjorkman warns: “Shorter plants trap more snow, which insulates the underlying soil and prevents it from freezing as quickly in winter. An increase in taller plants could speed up the thawing of this frozen carbon bank, and lead to an increase in the release of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Airborne potable water can banish thirst

Airborne potable water straight from the atmosphere could provide a lifeline for arid regions, with the use of commonly available chemicals.

LONDON, 6 September, 2018 – A new technology, harvesting airborne potable water from the air using salts and sunlight, is set to offer new hope to many communities desperate for water to drink and to grow their crops.

An existing technology, which collects water from mist and clouds in mountain or coastal regions, is now established as a useful source of water in many countries. But where there is no fog it can achieve little. The new technology, harvesting water vapour from the air with the use of abundant salts and virtually unlimited sunlight, has now become a possibility, meaning even places without fog are not condemned to continued thirst.

Using sheets of various materials that harvest vapour from fog and allow the water to drip into collectors for later use already sustains many dry region communities, and a Canadian charity, Fogquest, works to help people in countries able to benefit. Countries using these established fog collectors include Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Namibia, Eritrea, Oman and Nepal.

In California, where coastal fog is normal even in the driest seasons because of the closeness of the sea to the dry coast, much of the vegetation could not survive without harvesting fog. A large number of water-collecting devices is being tried in a quest to improve efficiency.

“These salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but also … during other times of the day”

But in some desert regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no fog, so the existing technology is no help. What there is, though, even in the driest regions, is water vapour in the atmosphere. And that offers hope.

Until now extracting water from this vapour so people and animals could make use of it has defeated human ingenuity. But Renyuan Li, a Ph.D student from KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, has shown that using commonly available salts which absorb water from the atmosphere at night makes it possible to obtain fresh water during the day – by exposing the salts to sunlight.

With his tutor Peng Wang he experimented with a range of common salts and came up with three that readily absorb water from the atmosphere and release it again in drinkable form when daylight arrives.

Nothing but water

The three salts are copper chloride, copper sulphate and magnesium sulphate. They are effective in capturing water from the air with relative humidity as low as 15%. Still better, when exposed to even weakened sunlight, they release all the water they hold: just fresh, clean water.

“We found that these salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but that they also perform well during other times of the day, such as morning and late afternoon,” Li says. “This is important, because the extended operating hours could broaden the range of conditions in which the process can be used.”

With the problem of water shortages growing ever more acute in parts of Africa badly affected by climate change, many human settlements face extinction if they cannot find a reliable water source. The discovery at KAUST could provide a solution, because even in the most arid regions there is plenty of water in the atmosphere. It has been calculated that at any given moment the atmosphere contains as much as six times the water in all the rivers on Earth..

Professor Wang says their work could be useful in many poor, dry regions. “We are now working on salt-based composite materials with significantly enhanced water-uptake capacity, which we consider to be the second generation of our atmospheric water generator,” he said. – Climate News Network

Airborne potable water straight from the atmosphere could provide a lifeline for arid regions, with the use of commonly available chemicals.

LONDON, 6 September, 2018 – A new technology, harvesting airborne potable water from the air using salts and sunlight, is set to offer new hope to many communities desperate for water to drink and to grow their crops.

An existing technology, which collects water from mist and clouds in mountain or coastal regions, is now established as a useful source of water in many countries. But where there is no fog it can achieve little. The new technology, harvesting water vapour from the air with the use of abundant salts and virtually unlimited sunlight, has now become a possibility, meaning even places without fog are not condemned to continued thirst.

Using sheets of various materials that harvest vapour from fog and allow the water to drip into collectors for later use already sustains many dry region communities, and a Canadian charity, Fogquest, works to help people in countries able to benefit. Countries using these established fog collectors include Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Namibia, Eritrea, Oman and Nepal.

In California, where coastal fog is normal even in the driest seasons because of the closeness of the sea to the dry coast, much of the vegetation could not survive without harvesting fog. A large number of water-collecting devices is being tried in a quest to improve efficiency.

“These salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but also … during other times of the day”

But in some desert regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no fog, so the existing technology is no help. What there is, though, even in the driest regions, is water vapour in the atmosphere. And that offers hope.

Until now extracting water from this vapour so people and animals could make use of it has defeated human ingenuity. But Renyuan Li, a Ph.D student from KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, has shown that using commonly available salts which absorb water from the atmosphere at night makes it possible to obtain fresh water during the day – by exposing the salts to sunlight.

With his tutor Peng Wang he experimented with a range of common salts and came up with three that readily absorb water from the atmosphere and release it again in drinkable form when daylight arrives.

Nothing but water

The three salts are copper chloride, copper sulphate and magnesium sulphate. They are effective in capturing water from the air with relative humidity as low as 15%. Still better, when exposed to even weakened sunlight, they release all the water they hold: just fresh, clean water.

“We found that these salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but that they also perform well during other times of the day, such as morning and late afternoon,” Li says. “This is important, because the extended operating hours could broaden the range of conditions in which the process can be used.”

With the problem of water shortages growing ever more acute in parts of Africa badly affected by climate change, many human settlements face extinction if they cannot find a reliable water source. The discovery at KAUST could provide a solution, because even in the most arid regions there is plenty of water in the atmosphere. It has been calculated that at any given moment the atmosphere contains as much as six times the water in all the rivers on Earth..

Professor Wang says their work could be useful in many poor, dry regions. “We are now working on salt-based composite materials with significantly enhanced water-uptake capacity, which we consider to be the second generation of our atmospheric water generator,” he said. – Climate News Network

Landslides are growing risk to poorest

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

LONDON, 3 September, 2018 – Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said. – Climate News Network

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

LONDON, 3 September, 2018 – Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said. – Climate News Network

15 September: Closed for a bit …

 … but not for long. Sorry everyone, but we’re having to stop the presses for a time – we’ve been brought to a halt by ill-health. It’s nothing serious, it shouldn’t last long – but it means we can’t publish anything for the moment. We plan to return on Monday 3 September, full of vim and vigour and with plenty to report. See you then!

The Editors

PS: We won’t be able to answer emails either for the duration.

 … but not for long. Sorry everyone, but we’re having to stop the presses for a time – we’ve been brought to a halt by ill-health. It’s nothing serious, it shouldn’t last long – but it means we can’t publish anything for the moment. We plan to return on Monday 3 September, full of vim and vigour and with plenty to report. See you then!

The Editors

PS: We won’t be able to answer emails either for the duration.

Natural waste holds promise of safe plastic

Food could stay safe and hygienic, wrapped in a safe plastic made entirely from farm waste. The wrapper could then rot away without harming wildlife.

LONDON, 2 August, 2018 – The good news is that safe plastic is not an impossible dream: novel ways to tackle the tide of discarded material engulfing the planet are under development.

One scheme absorbing US chemists will turn natural waste  into natural polymers. Some day the crabmeat sandwiches in your packed lunch could be safely wrapped in transparent packaging fashioned from crushed crab shells and discarded wood chippings.

The protective wrapping would have all the strength of the polyethylene-based packaging that comes with millions of supermarket products, with one big difference. It will decompose naturally. Polyethylene is the most common form of plastic, with global demand expected to reach almost 100m tonnes in 2018.

Plastic polymer compounds are products of the petroleum industry and have changed lives the world over. But because plastic polymers are all but indestructible, they also promise to change lives everywhere for the worse, as empty plastic cups, soft drinks bottles and supermarket shopping bags amass in the oceans, along shorelines, and in what would otherwise be natural wilderness.

“Our material showed up a 67% reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher, longer”

Researchers have already warned that long after humanity becomes extinct, a geological stratum rich in fragmented plastic toys, drinking straws and yoghurt pots could bear witness to the brief tenure of Homo sapiens.

Plastic detritus threatens to swamp the entire planet. Particles have been found in the Arctic ice, and plastic flotsam could carry dangerous infections to the most distant coral reefs.

But as the world’s nations falteringly begin to address the challenges of global warming and climate change, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, laboratories around the world have been working on possible solutions, both by finding ways to use energy more efficiently, and by exploiting natural wastes.

The latest study in ingenuity is described in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

Soil additive

Researchers sprayed layers of the natural polymer chitin – the substance that provides the exoskeleton of the lobster or the locust – and the plant polymer cellulose to make a thin, flexible, transparent material that could one day replace PET, or polyethylene terephthalate. Cellulose is by far the most common natural polymer – unlike money, it really does grow on trees. Chitin may be the second most common: it is made by shellfish, insects and fungi.

But in the form of alternating layers, made by nanotechnologists – scientists who work in scales of a billionth of a metre – and then dried, the new product becomes strong, flexible and transparent, and something you could throw into the compost heap and watch turn back into nourishing soil.

Such a product is a long way from any commercial manufacture: a lot more needs to be achieved, and many hurdles have to be cleared. But such studies are once again evidence that the chemists and engineers are thinking hard.

“We have been looking at cellulose nanocrystals for several years and exploring ways to improve those for use in lightweight composites as well as food packaging, because of the huge market opportunity for renewable and compostable packaging, and how important food packaging overall is going to be as the population continues to grow,” said Carson Meredith, of Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“Our material showed up a 67% reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher, longer.” – Climate News Network

Food could stay safe and hygienic, wrapped in a safe plastic made entirely from farm waste. The wrapper could then rot away without harming wildlife.

LONDON, 2 August, 2018 – The good news is that safe plastic is not an impossible dream: novel ways to tackle the tide of discarded material engulfing the planet are under development.

One scheme absorbing US chemists will turn natural waste  into natural polymers. Some day the crabmeat sandwiches in your packed lunch could be safely wrapped in transparent packaging fashioned from crushed crab shells and discarded wood chippings.

The protective wrapping would have all the strength of the polyethylene-based packaging that comes with millions of supermarket products, with one big difference. It will decompose naturally. Polyethylene is the most common form of plastic, with global demand expected to reach almost 100m tonnes in 2018.

Plastic polymer compounds are products of the petroleum industry and have changed lives the world over. But because plastic polymers are all but indestructible, they also promise to change lives everywhere for the worse, as empty plastic cups, soft drinks bottles and supermarket shopping bags amass in the oceans, along shorelines, and in what would otherwise be natural wilderness.

“Our material showed up a 67% reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher, longer”

Researchers have already warned that long after humanity becomes extinct, a geological stratum rich in fragmented plastic toys, drinking straws and yoghurt pots could bear witness to the brief tenure of Homo sapiens.

Plastic detritus threatens to swamp the entire planet. Particles have been found in the Arctic ice, and plastic flotsam could carry dangerous infections to the most distant coral reefs.

But as the world’s nations falteringly begin to address the challenges of global warming and climate change, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, laboratories around the world have been working on possible solutions, both by finding ways to use energy more efficiently, and by exploiting natural wastes.

The latest study in ingenuity is described in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

Soil additive

Researchers sprayed layers of the natural polymer chitin – the substance that provides the exoskeleton of the lobster or the locust – and the plant polymer cellulose to make a thin, flexible, transparent material that could one day replace PET, or polyethylene terephthalate. Cellulose is by far the most common natural polymer – unlike money, it really does grow on trees. Chitin may be the second most common: it is made by shellfish, insects and fungi.

But in the form of alternating layers, made by nanotechnologists – scientists who work in scales of a billionth of a metre – and then dried, the new product becomes strong, flexible and transparent, and something you could throw into the compost heap and watch turn back into nourishing soil.

Such a product is a long way from any commercial manufacture: a lot more needs to be achieved, and many hurdles have to be cleared. But such studies are once again evidence that the chemists and engineers are thinking hard.

“We have been looking at cellulose nanocrystals for several years and exploring ways to improve those for use in lightweight composites as well as food packaging, because of the huge market opportunity for renewable and compostable packaging, and how important food packaging overall is going to be as the population continues to grow,” said Carson Meredith, of Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“Our material showed up a 67% reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher, longer.” – Climate News Network

Flooded internet is possible by 2035

Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?

LONDON, 20 July, 2018 – US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.

The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.

And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”

In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.

But city managers already have the awful lessons of massive flooding in New York  from Superstorm Sandy, or of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, or of Houston from Hurricane Harvey.

The message from climate science for the last five years has been simple: expect more coastal flooding.

Risk easily increased

The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.

Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.” – Climate News Network

Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?

LONDON, 20 July, 2018 – US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.

The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.

And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”

In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.

But city managers already have the awful lessons of massive flooding in New York  from Superstorm Sandy, or of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, or of Houston from Hurricane Harvey.

The message from climate science for the last five years has been simple: expect more coastal flooding.

Risk easily increased

The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.

Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.” – Climate News Network

Dinosaurs’ deaths may be guide to today

Evidence from the dinosaurs’ deaths 65 million years ago might just provide a lesson to learn about the lasting damage now being done by humanity.

LONDON, 5 June, 2018 – US geologists have identified the moment of the dinosaurs’ death in the Earth’s deep past as the time when the climate changed, even faster and more severely than it is changing as a consequence of human action.

That fateful moment occurred on the day around 65 million years ago when a vast comet or asteroid smashed into Earth over what is now Chicxulub in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and brought the Cretaceous era to a close.

The scientists used tiny bits of fish scales, teeth and bones to compose a temperature chart for the last 50,000 years of the Cretaceous, and the first 100,000 years of the Palaeogene, when planet Earth changed forever.

The planetary average temperatures rose around 5°C and stayed perilously hotter for at least another 100,000 years, and in the course of this the last dinosaurs disappeared, as if violently wiped out in one short episode.

There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century

Theorists predict that an impact with something 10kms or so across arriving at a minimum of 20 kms a second would have delivered a ferocious blast of heat, a huge ejection of rock and dust into the upper atmosphere, a darkening of the skies, an all-year-round winter that might have endured for a decade, and then dramatic warming as the air filled with carbon dioxide from blazing forests around the planet.

The researchers report in the journal Science that they see this fateful celestial traffic accident as “an unusually relevant natural experiment to compare to modern climatic and environmental changes.”

The evidence comes from a series of shallow marine marls deposited 65 million years ago in what is now Tunisia: these strata contain fragments of fish, and the phosphate compounds in the hard fragments contain oxygen isotopes that in turn can answer questions about the atmospheric temperatures at the time the ancient fish swam in ancient oceans.

And in this series of sediments is a thin red layer rich in the kind of evidence to be expected from a colossal impact with an interplanetary fireball.

No abrupt cooling

What the scientists did not find was evidence of a sudden, brief dramatic cooling, but they didn’t expect to. But they did find, they say, evidence that “matches expectations for impact-initiated greenhouse warming.”

The impact probably extinguished three fourths of all life on Earth. As so often happens in research, a second, almost simultaneous study in a different publication of a different series of geological sediments – in North Dakota in the US – yielded more details about the Cretaceous calamity.

Plant fossils, pollen and spores, according to a report in the journal Current Biology, confirm indirectly that not only were the world’s forests incinerated during and after the impact, but perhaps all tree-dwelling birds of the time.

Today’s finches, falcons and guinea fowl all seem on separate evidence to have evolved from the ancestors of the kiwi, the ostrich, the cassowary and other ground-dwellers.

Because Earth is a once-only experiment, the only lessons for how climate change happens without human help are to be found in the deep past. But the past is a mysterious and sometimes enigmatic landscape.

Modern speed-up

Climate change happens because of tectonic plate movements, or shifts in planetary orbit, or dramatic losses of oxygen in the oceans, but these changes often happen imperceptibly, over very long periods.

But the change associated with the human expansion and the profligate combustion of fossil fuels – sometimes called the Great Acceleration – in the last 200 years is far, far faster.

Thanks to evidence from the last days of the Cretaceous, though, climate scientists have found an accelerated change even faster than anything humans have yet managed.

So the latest study provides, the scientists say, “a perspective on the response of Earth systems to extremely rapid global perturbations.” So far, that is all it provides: a perspective. There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century. – Climate News Network

Evidence from the dinosaurs’ deaths 65 million years ago might just provide a lesson to learn about the lasting damage now being done by humanity.

LONDON, 5 June, 2018 – US geologists have identified the moment of the dinosaurs’ death in the Earth’s deep past as the time when the climate changed, even faster and more severely than it is changing as a consequence of human action.

That fateful moment occurred on the day around 65 million years ago when a vast comet or asteroid smashed into Earth over what is now Chicxulub in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and brought the Cretaceous era to a close.

The scientists used tiny bits of fish scales, teeth and bones to compose a temperature chart for the last 50,000 years of the Cretaceous, and the first 100,000 years of the Palaeogene, when planet Earth changed forever.

The planetary average temperatures rose around 5°C and stayed perilously hotter for at least another 100,000 years, and in the course of this the last dinosaurs disappeared, as if violently wiped out in one short episode.

There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century

Theorists predict that an impact with something 10kms or so across arriving at a minimum of 20 kms a second would have delivered a ferocious blast of heat, a huge ejection of rock and dust into the upper atmosphere, a darkening of the skies, an all-year-round winter that might have endured for a decade, and then dramatic warming as the air filled with carbon dioxide from blazing forests around the planet.

The researchers report in the journal Science that they see this fateful celestial traffic accident as “an unusually relevant natural experiment to compare to modern climatic and environmental changes.”

The evidence comes from a series of shallow marine marls deposited 65 million years ago in what is now Tunisia: these strata contain fragments of fish, and the phosphate compounds in the hard fragments contain oxygen isotopes that in turn can answer questions about the atmospheric temperatures at the time the ancient fish swam in ancient oceans.

And in this series of sediments is a thin red layer rich in the kind of evidence to be expected from a colossal impact with an interplanetary fireball.

No abrupt cooling

What the scientists did not find was evidence of a sudden, brief dramatic cooling, but they didn’t expect to. But they did find, they say, evidence that “matches expectations for impact-initiated greenhouse warming.”

The impact probably extinguished three fourths of all life on Earth. As so often happens in research, a second, almost simultaneous study in a different publication of a different series of geological sediments – in North Dakota in the US – yielded more details about the Cretaceous calamity.

Plant fossils, pollen and spores, according to a report in the journal Current Biology, confirm indirectly that not only were the world’s forests incinerated during and after the impact, but perhaps all tree-dwelling birds of the time.

Today’s finches, falcons and guinea fowl all seem on separate evidence to have evolved from the ancestors of the kiwi, the ostrich, the cassowary and other ground-dwellers.

Because Earth is a once-only experiment, the only lessons for how climate change happens without human help are to be found in the deep past. But the past is a mysterious and sometimes enigmatic landscape.

Modern speed-up

Climate change happens because of tectonic plate movements, or shifts in planetary orbit, or dramatic losses of oxygen in the oceans, but these changes often happen imperceptibly, over very long periods.

But the change associated with the human expansion and the profligate combustion of fossil fuels – sometimes called the Great Acceleration – in the last 200 years is far, far faster.

Thanks to evidence from the last days of the Cretaceous, though, climate scientists have found an accelerated change even faster than anything humans have yet managed.

So the latest study provides, the scientists say, “a perspective on the response of Earth systems to extremely rapid global perturbations.” So far, that is all it provides: a perspective. There are many more questions to be settled before the dying convulsions of the dinosaurs become a model for what might happen to humanity in the coming century. – Climate News Network

Shifts in Earth’s crust link to climate change

Researchers think there may be an ancient link between catastrophic climate change and the forces that build mountains: shifts in the Earth’s crust.

LONDON, 23 May, 2018 – Movements of the Earth’s crust may mean that global warming driven by greenhouse gases from power stations and vehicle exhausts isn’t the only threat to life the world faces.

About 700 million years ago, global temperatures fell so low that glaciers may have reached the equator. Snowball Earth may have all but extinguished life on the planet. But the only life at the time was microbial and dispersed in the oceans.

The planet survived: volcanic eruptions may have darkened the ice and pumped more carbon dioxide and steam into the atmosphere, and the world warmed again.

But, say two Texan scientists, the frozen plane in what geologists call the Neoproterozoic era may have been precipitated at the start by the first dramatic movements in the Earth’s crust or lithosphere, known as plate tectonics. That is, shifts in climate and shifts in the Earth’s crust could be linked.

Unique surface

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently,” said Robert Stern, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

All other rocky planets so far observed are shielded by a single “lid”: one outer sphere of rock that seals any liquid or molten interior. But the Earth’s surface is alive, continuously interacting with the atmosphere and the oceans, and perhaps making life itself possible, as well as precarious.

Professor Stern and Nathan Miller at the University of Texas at Austin report in the journal Terra Nova that there could be at least 22 ways in which the movement of tectonic plates could have delivered a calamitous drop in planetary temperatures, and they propose that until about 700 or 800 million years ago, the planet’s crust was rigid.

Only in the Neoproterozoic did the tectonic plates start moving, to grind into each other, build mountains, set the rocks quivering, ignite eruptions and set up weather systems that accelerated erosion and drew down carbon dioxide into rock carbonates, eventually to trigger a dramatic form of global cooling.

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently”

Research like this is tentative: the authors offer a hypothesis to be challenged, rather than a theory to be confirmed. But research like this is fundamental: to understand the subtleties of the present climate, now inexorably being altered by human action, it is necessary to understand change in the past as well, and to establish the principles that control the planet’s overall climate history.

In the same spirit, other scientists have confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions could in theory make the planet uninhabitable, that the presence of life on Earth means the planet could perhaps never freeze entirely and that the changes already wrought by humanity make another Ice Age less likely.

The Texas study’s most radical proposal is a new date for the commencement of tectonic activity, relatively late in the planet’s history. The idea that Earth was all but covered with ice has been confirmed in various ways. What is new is the suggestion that the movements of the Earth’s surface might have triggered a climate convulsion.

“In the present day, climate is in the news because we’re changing it by putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said Professor Stern. “But imagine a time when Earth didn’t have plate tectonics, and it then evolved to have plate tectonics – that would have been a major shift in the Earth’s operating system, and it would have had a huge effect on climate, too.” – Climate News Network

Researchers think there may be an ancient link between catastrophic climate change and the forces that build mountains: shifts in the Earth’s crust.

LONDON, 23 May, 2018 – Movements of the Earth’s crust may mean that global warming driven by greenhouse gases from power stations and vehicle exhausts isn’t the only threat to life the world faces.

About 700 million years ago, global temperatures fell so low that glaciers may have reached the equator. Snowball Earth may have all but extinguished life on the planet. But the only life at the time was microbial and dispersed in the oceans.

The planet survived: volcanic eruptions may have darkened the ice and pumped more carbon dioxide and steam into the atmosphere, and the world warmed again.

But, say two Texan scientists, the frozen plane in what geologists call the Neoproterozoic era may have been precipitated at the start by the first dramatic movements in the Earth’s crust or lithosphere, known as plate tectonics. That is, shifts in climate and shifts in the Earth’s crust could be linked.

Unique surface

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently,” said Robert Stern, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

All other rocky planets so far observed are shielded by a single “lid”: one outer sphere of rock that seals any liquid or molten interior. But the Earth’s surface is alive, continuously interacting with the atmosphere and the oceans, and perhaps making life itself possible, as well as precarious.

Professor Stern and Nathan Miller at the University of Texas at Austin report in the journal Terra Nova that there could be at least 22 ways in which the movement of tectonic plates could have delivered a calamitous drop in planetary temperatures, and they propose that until about 700 or 800 million years ago, the planet’s crust was rigid.

Only in the Neoproterozoic did the tectonic plates start moving, to grind into each other, build mountains, set the rocks quivering, ignite eruptions and set up weather systems that accelerated erosion and drew down carbon dioxide into rock carbonates, eventually to trigger a dramatic form of global cooling.

“Earth is the only body in our solar system known to currently have plate tectonics, where the lithosphere is fragmented like puzzle pieces that move independently”

Research like this is tentative: the authors offer a hypothesis to be challenged, rather than a theory to be confirmed. But research like this is fundamental: to understand the subtleties of the present climate, now inexorably being altered by human action, it is necessary to understand change in the past as well, and to establish the principles that control the planet’s overall climate history.

In the same spirit, other scientists have confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions could in theory make the planet uninhabitable, that the presence of life on Earth means the planet could perhaps never freeze entirely and that the changes already wrought by humanity make another Ice Age less likely.

The Texas study’s most radical proposal is a new date for the commencement of tectonic activity, relatively late in the planet’s history. The idea that Earth was all but covered with ice has been confirmed in various ways. What is new is the suggestion that the movements of the Earth’s surface might have triggered a climate convulsion.

“In the present day, climate is in the news because we’re changing it by putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said Professor Stern. “But imagine a time when Earth didn’t have plate tectonics, and it then evolved to have plate tectonics – that would have been a major shift in the Earth’s operating system, and it would have had a huge effect on climate, too.” – Climate News Network

Planetary climate influence has age-old effect

There is such a thing as planetary climate influence which changes the Earth over aeons. Now scientists know just how it happens.

LONDON, 14 May, 2018 – There is now firm evidence in the ancient rocks of planetary climate influence – a climate cycle that lasts for 405,000 years. This confirmation of celestial clockwork – the swing in planetary climate happens because the Earth’s orbit is periodically distorted by the combined tug of Venus and Jupiter – has been tracked back through evidence in the rocks for the last 215 million years.

The 405 kiloyear cycle is only one of a series of cycles that change the levels of sunshine received by Earth on its journey around the sun. Researchers have also known about and documented periodic shifts over cycles of 21,000 years, 41,000 years and 100,000 years, all of them also driven by astronomical change. But the 400,000 year-plus pattern of change, they say, is the most predictable, and most regular.

And although these changes have been known to have affected the pattern of the Ice Ages, the latest study pushes the influence of the longest of them back in time to a date even before the emergence of the dinosaurs.

“There are other, shorter orbital cycles, but when you look into the past, it’s very difficult to know which one you’re dealing with at any one time, because they change over time. The beauty of this one is that it stands alone. It doesn’t change. All the other ones move over it,” said Dennis Kent, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and Rutgers University, in the US.

“It’s an astonishing result because this long cycle, which had been predicted from planetary motions through about 50 million years ago, has been confirmed through at least 215 million years ago.

”All the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle”

“Scientists can now link changes in the climate, environment, dinosaurs, mammals and fossils around the world to this 405,000 year cycle in a very precise way.”

Such studies are fundamental explorations of the machinery of climate. By understanding how conditions changed in the distant past, researchers can better appreciate the speed and danger of climate change today, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that return to the atmosphere greenhouse gases locked up in the rocks for more than 100 million years.

And the importance of the latest research – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – is that it highlights at least some of the machinery of ancient change and at the same time makes it easier to interpret other evidence in the fossil record.

The planet’s orbit around the sun is an ellipse: sometimes it is almost but not quite a circle, and sometimes the orbit is elongated, which means that the total sunshine that hits the planet changes. This is not the only factor: the planet wobbles on its axis, and its tilt relative to the sun changes over a long cycle as well, and all these things affect climate.

Planetary pull

But the most dramatic change occurs every 400,000 years or so, when the elliptical shape is elongated by as much as 5% as a consequence of the gravitation pull of other planets as they loop around the sun, to points where they can tug at Earth.

And Professor Kent and his colleagues have been able to read evidence of this regular cycle in huge cores of rock drilled from a geological feature in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and rock cores from ancient sediments beneath New York and New Jersey.

The first samples provided the radio-isotopes that geologists use to precisely date rocks. The second confirmed a pattern of wet and dry periods over long cycles of time. And since both sets of rocks contained palaeo-magnetic evidence of the north and south poles’ periodical reversals, researchers were able to calibrate the evidence and arrive at an accurate calendar of changing climate conditions, every 405 millennia.

The study reveals nothing very significant about the effect of long-term astronomical influences on climate change today. Right now Earth’s orbit is near to a circle. In the absence of human interference, Earth should be nearing the end of a long-term warming trend and, according to the astronomical clockwork, should be heading for another Ice Age. Professor Kent is not so sure.

“Could happen. Guess we could wait around and see,” he says. “On the other hand all the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle.” – Climate News Network

There is such a thing as planetary climate influence which changes the Earth over aeons. Now scientists know just how it happens.

LONDON, 14 May, 2018 – There is now firm evidence in the ancient rocks of planetary climate influence – a climate cycle that lasts for 405,000 years. This confirmation of celestial clockwork – the swing in planetary climate happens because the Earth’s orbit is periodically distorted by the combined tug of Venus and Jupiter – has been tracked back through evidence in the rocks for the last 215 million years.

The 405 kiloyear cycle is only one of a series of cycles that change the levels of sunshine received by Earth on its journey around the sun. Researchers have also known about and documented periodic shifts over cycles of 21,000 years, 41,000 years and 100,000 years, all of them also driven by astronomical change. But the 400,000 year-plus pattern of change, they say, is the most predictable, and most regular.

And although these changes have been known to have affected the pattern of the Ice Ages, the latest study pushes the influence of the longest of them back in time to a date even before the emergence of the dinosaurs.

“There are other, shorter orbital cycles, but when you look into the past, it’s very difficult to know which one you’re dealing with at any one time, because they change over time. The beauty of this one is that it stands alone. It doesn’t change. All the other ones move over it,” said Dennis Kent, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and Rutgers University, in the US.

“It’s an astonishing result because this long cycle, which had been predicted from planetary motions through about 50 million years ago, has been confirmed through at least 215 million years ago.

”All the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle”

“Scientists can now link changes in the climate, environment, dinosaurs, mammals and fossils around the world to this 405,000 year cycle in a very precise way.”

Such studies are fundamental explorations of the machinery of climate. By understanding how conditions changed in the distant past, researchers can better appreciate the speed and danger of climate change today, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that return to the atmosphere greenhouse gases locked up in the rocks for more than 100 million years.

And the importance of the latest research – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – is that it highlights at least some of the machinery of ancient change and at the same time makes it easier to interpret other evidence in the fossil record.

The planet’s orbit around the sun is an ellipse: sometimes it is almost but not quite a circle, and sometimes the orbit is elongated, which means that the total sunshine that hits the planet changes. This is not the only factor: the planet wobbles on its axis, and its tilt relative to the sun changes over a long cycle as well, and all these things affect climate.

Planetary pull

But the most dramatic change occurs every 400,000 years or so, when the elliptical shape is elongated by as much as 5% as a consequence of the gravitation pull of other planets as they loop around the sun, to points where they can tug at Earth.

And Professor Kent and his colleagues have been able to read evidence of this regular cycle in huge cores of rock drilled from a geological feature in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and rock cores from ancient sediments beneath New York and New Jersey.

The first samples provided the radio-isotopes that geologists use to precisely date rocks. The second confirmed a pattern of wet and dry periods over long cycles of time. And since both sets of rocks contained palaeo-magnetic evidence of the north and south poles’ periodical reversals, researchers were able to calibrate the evidence and arrive at an accurate calendar of changing climate conditions, every 405 millennia.

The study reveals nothing very significant about the effect of long-term astronomical influences on climate change today. Right now Earth’s orbit is near to a circle. In the absence of human interference, Earth should be nearing the end of a long-term warming trend and, according to the astronomical clockwork, should be heading for another Ice Age. Professor Kent is not so sure.

“Could happen. Guess we could wait around and see,” he says. “On the other hand all the carbon dioxide we’re pouring into the air right now is the obvious big enchilada. That’s having an effect right now. The planetary cycle is a little more subtle.” – Climate News Network

Long-lived civilisation may be a dream

Astrobiology, the search for alien life, has a lesson for us here on Earth: our hope for a long-lived civilisation may not be sustainable.

LONDON, 19 April, 2018 – Humanity’s cherished hope that we are building a long-lived civilisation may be nothing more than a pipe-dream. Human endeavour, two scientists argue, may carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.

The two astrophysicists have turned one of the great questions in science into a way of examining the down-to-earth consequences of global warming, the pollution of the oceans with indestructible polymers, and the wholesale destruction of species in the last 300 years.

They put an innocent question: if there had been an advanced technological and industrial civilisation on Earth several hundred million years ago, how could anyone know? What marks would have been left by a race of intelligent reptiles with motorised transport, housing estates, international trade and an arms race?

In what they call the Silurian hypothesis – a reference not to the geological period long before the first creatures crawled from the sea onto the empty continents, but to a 1970 episode of the British television serial Dr Who – they turn to the only testbed available to contemporary Earthlings: the evidence of the Anthropocene, the geologists’ name for a new era that could be considered to have commenced with the Industrial Revolution.

“Burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

If some alien or distant-future civilisation set out to study the Earth’s geological record, what signs would humans have left in the strata?

And almost immediately, their study confronts a paradox. “The longer human civilisation lasts, the larger the signal one would expect in the record. However, the longer a civilisation lasts, the more sustainable its practices would need to have become in order to survive,” they write in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

But the more sustainable a society, the smaller the footprint its agriculture, manufacture or energy generation would have made, and the smaller the signal in the geological record.

So the researchers, Adam Frank from the University of Rochester, New York and Gavin Schmidt, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set out to calculate the future signature of long-vanished human society.

Signs of change

They conclude that the burning of fossil fuels has already changed the carbon cycle in a way that would be recognisable in records of carbon isotopes. Global warming – a consequence of that fossil fuel combustion – would be detectable in the rocks.

Global agriculture would be signalled by increases of erosion and sedimentation rates over time, and plastic pollutants would be detectable for perhaps billions of years. And all-out thermonuclear war – were it to happen – would leave behind some unusual radioactive isotopes.

“As an industrial civilisation, we’re driving changes in the isotopic abundances because we’re burning carbon,” said Professor Frank. “But burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

The latest study is not the only one to contemplate the paradox of a self-destroying civilisation. Last year an Arkansas mathematician considered the silence of the extraterrestrials.

Nothing heard

For 40 years, humans have been listening for the noise of other intelligent civilisations in the galaxy, and have heard nothing. Maybe, he suggested in the same journal, modern humans are typical of technological civilisations, and destroy either their planet, or themselves, almost as soon as they exploit technology.

Perhaps, he suggests, a technological civilisation that lasted for millions of years would not be typical.

The latest study, in essence, pursues the same logic. Human advance for the moment is not sustainable. The people of the Anthropocene have already tipped 12 billion tonnes of indestructible plastics into landfills, and created a technosphere that totals about 30 trillion tonnes. And by 2050, humans will have built another 25 million km of roads.

“You want to have a nice, large-scale civilisation that does wonderful things but that doesn’t push the planet into domains that are dangerous for itself, the civilisation,” said Professor Frank. “We need to figure out a way of producing and using energy that doesn’t put us at risk.” – Climate News Network

Astrobiology, the search for alien life, has a lesson for us here on Earth: our hope for a long-lived civilisation may not be sustainable.

LONDON, 19 April, 2018 – Humanity’s cherished hope that we are building a long-lived civilisation may be nothing more than a pipe-dream. Human endeavour, two scientists argue, may carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.

The two astrophysicists have turned one of the great questions in science into a way of examining the down-to-earth consequences of global warming, the pollution of the oceans with indestructible polymers, and the wholesale destruction of species in the last 300 years.

They put an innocent question: if there had been an advanced technological and industrial civilisation on Earth several hundred million years ago, how could anyone know? What marks would have been left by a race of intelligent reptiles with motorised transport, housing estates, international trade and an arms race?

In what they call the Silurian hypothesis – a reference not to the geological period long before the first creatures crawled from the sea onto the empty continents, but to a 1970 episode of the British television serial Dr Who – they turn to the only testbed available to contemporary Earthlings: the evidence of the Anthropocene, the geologists’ name for a new era that could be considered to have commenced with the Industrial Revolution.

“Burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

If some alien or distant-future civilisation set out to study the Earth’s geological record, what signs would humans have left in the strata?

And almost immediately, their study confronts a paradox. “The longer human civilisation lasts, the larger the signal one would expect in the record. However, the longer a civilisation lasts, the more sustainable its practices would need to have become in order to survive,” they write in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

But the more sustainable a society, the smaller the footprint its agriculture, manufacture or energy generation would have made, and the smaller the signal in the geological record.

So the researchers, Adam Frank from the University of Rochester, New York and Gavin Schmidt, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set out to calculate the future signature of long-vanished human society.

Signs of change

They conclude that the burning of fossil fuels has already changed the carbon cycle in a way that would be recognisable in records of carbon isotopes. Global warming – a consequence of that fossil fuel combustion – would be detectable in the rocks.

Global agriculture would be signalled by increases of erosion and sedimentation rates over time, and plastic pollutants would be detectable for perhaps billions of years. And all-out thermonuclear war – were it to happen – would leave behind some unusual radioactive isotopes.

“As an industrial civilisation, we’re driving changes in the isotopic abundances because we’re burning carbon,” said Professor Frank. “But burning fossil fuels may actually shut us down as a civilisation. What imprints would this or other kinds of industrial activity from a long-dead civilisation leave over tens of millions of years?”

The latest study is not the only one to contemplate the paradox of a self-destroying civilisation. Last year an Arkansas mathematician considered the silence of the extraterrestrials.

Nothing heard

For 40 years, humans have been listening for the noise of other intelligent civilisations in the galaxy, and have heard nothing. Maybe, he suggested in the same journal, modern humans are typical of technological civilisations, and destroy either their planet, or themselves, almost as soon as they exploit technology.

Perhaps, he suggests, a technological civilisation that lasted for millions of years would not be typical.

The latest study, in essence, pursues the same logic. Human advance for the moment is not sustainable. The people of the Anthropocene have already tipped 12 billion tonnes of indestructible plastics into landfills, and created a technosphere that totals about 30 trillion tonnes. And by 2050, humans will have built another 25 million km of roads.

“You want to have a nice, large-scale civilisation that does wonderful things but that doesn’t push the planet into domains that are dangerous for itself, the civilisation,” said Professor Frank. “We need to figure out a way of producing and using energy that doesn’t put us at risk.” – Climate News Network