Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

Temperatures Set to Skyrocket

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 8:39 PM EST

Here's the strongest evidence yet that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is outstripping the ability of natural sinks to absorb it. The authors of this study predict the present course will lead to a staggering rise of 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees F) in coming decades. Even conservative scientists agree that any rise above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) risks catastrophic climate change.

Highlights from the paper just out in Nature Geoscience:

  • In the past 50 years, roughly 43 percent of global CO2 emissions have stayed airborne in the atmosphere. The rest were absorbed by Earth's carbon sinks on land and in the oceans.
  • However the atmospheric fraction of total CO2 emissions has not held steady but increased over time from about 40 percent to about 45 percent.

The trend is likely the result of a decrease in CO2 uptake by carbon sinks on land and in oceans as the world warms. Which means the forests and waters are maxxing out. Here's why:

  • Emissions are still rising.
  • Before 2002, global emissions grew by some 1 percent a year, since then by some 3 percent a year.
  • The growth is mostly due to China's metastatic output.

However the authors' point out that what's really happened is the developed world has exported its emissions to the developing world. America, Europe, Australia and the like are using the manufacturing power of China to produce goods each would have made themselves 20 years ago.

The real troublemakers? Consumers. Not producers.

We need leaders. Bill McKibben rightly chastizes Barack Obama in a MoJo's Copenhagen Here We Come special report:

The announcement yesterday from the APEC meeting in Singapore that next month’s Copenhagen climate talks will be nothing more than a glorified talking session makes it clear that [Barack Obama] has, at least for now, punted on the hard questions around climate. The world won’t be able to get started on solving our climate problem, and the obstacle is—as it has been for the last two decades—the United States.

You can't fool the science any of the time, Mr. President. Gotta make this the number 1 priority, like, yesterday.

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Chasing the Flu With an Interactive Map

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 11:16 PM EST

What happens when you mix a new flu with new supercomputing power with new superspeedy genome sequencing with a new trend toward the free sharing of scientific data with the supertool Google Earth?

You get Routemap: a visualization of disease transmission based on genetic sequencing.

Translation: You can see where and how disease is spreading in near-real time on a Google Earth map of the world. (FYI: You might have to install a Google Earth plug-in. You will have to leave this page to play with the map.)

It's up and running right now for H1N1—an interactive routemap for the ongoing geographic transmission based on 461 full genomes of the pandemic flu. It's like a vaccination against ignorance. Watch the flu spread. See where it came from and where it's going. Get out of the way.

The visualizations are originally the outgrowth of a study linking many powerful computer systems to analyze huge amounts of genetic data collected from all publicly available isolated strains of the H5N1 virus—that is, of the avian flu. The researchers developed the means to visualize their results in Keyhole Markup Language for virtual globes. Their paper on flu tracking is in Cladistics.

Researchers can use the site to data share. The rest of us can watch the data spread.

El Nino Surfs Again

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 9:31 PM EST

Hold onto your surfboards, El Niño is experiencing a late-fall resurgence. A recent weakening of tradewinds in the western and central equatorial Pacific triggered a strong eastward wave of warm water known as a Kelvin wave. It's headed to South America.

You can see the wave in the red-and-white line marking an area of sealevel in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific standing 4 to 7 inches higher than normal. That's the result of heat expansion where sea surface temperatures have risen 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

In contrast, the western equatorial Pacific is experiencing lower than normal temperatures, with sealevels 3 to 6 inches below normal. You can see that in the blue and purple areas.

The image was created with data collected by a US/French Space Agency satellite (the Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite) during 10 days this month.

Forecast: Everything gets wilder.

What Are We Waiting For?

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 8:47 PM EST

Leader People, watch this. Listen. Try it.

Then do the right thing at Copenhagen. It's all a dance: diplomacy, negotiations, compromise, agreement.

But first you gotta get on the dance floor.



Elephant Liberation: Step One

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 11:10 PM EST

The BBC reports the Central Zoo Authority in India has confirmed that zoos and circuses in the country will no longer be allowed to keep elephants.

That is good news. According to the BBC:

A spokesman for the authority said a binding directive had been issued by the authority for the animals to be sent to national parks and sanctuaries. It is estimated that there are about 140 elephants in zoos and circuses… The CZA says circus and zoo elephants can play an important eco-tourism role in national parks and animal sanctuaries, where they can be properly supervised by mahouts—or elephant handlers.

This doesn't free working elephants but it does promise to liberate those in cages or under the big top. I trust these transitions from captivity to pseudofreedom will be made as humanely and elephantely as possible.


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