Blue Marble - April 2007

Clear Need for Integrated Climate/Human Behavior Models

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 7:41 PM PDT

Adapting to global climate change will require humans to develop new tools. (Our specialty, right?) The new tools will need to integrate climate models with analysis of human behavior, reports the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, an international network of environmental scientists. "We need to continue discovering how the Earth system works in order to evaluate the numerous ways that humans can adapt to climate change," says Kevin Noone, executive director of the IGBP.

Human adaptation to a changing climate can take many forms, and can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. Small-scale, adaptation measures—for better or worse—might include more air conditioning, architectural changes for more efficient heating and cooling, better forecasting and warning systems for extreme events, and increased water usage. Large-scale adaptations might include switching to renewable energy sources or attempts at "geoengineering." Furthermore the large-scale migrations of refugees from frakked-up areas ruined by global warming and other environmental and socioeconomic stresses will also be a form of adaptation.

"The science needed to support decision making about adaptation requires a sophisticated understanding about how the Earth system works, but goes well beyond just that. We need new tools to help us develop robust 'what if' scenarios for different potential adaptation schemes, and their consequences," says Noone. He describes the new tools as new types of models that couple together active, predictive descriptions of human behaviour and choice with the kinds of models used to predict future climate. --Julia Whitty

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Thirty-Two Mile Cable Installed for First Deep-Sea Observatory

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 7:14 PM PDT

Oceanographers have completed an important step in constructing the first deep-sea observatory off the continental United States. Workers laid 32 miles of cable along the Monterey Bay sea floor that will provide electrical power to scientific instruments, video cameras, and robots 3,000 feet below the ocean surface. The link will also carry data from the instruments back to shore, for use by scientists and engineers from around the world, reports the National Science Foundation. The Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) observatory, due to be completed later this year, will provide ocean scientists with 24-hour-a-day access to instruments and experiments in the deep sea. The project is managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and funded by the National Science Foundation. Currently, almost all oceanographic instruments in the deep sea rely on batteries for power and store their data on hard disks or memory chips until they are brought back to the surface. With a continuous and uninterrupted power supply, instruments attached to the MARS observatory could remain on the sea floor for months or years.

The cable itself contains a copper electrical conductor and strands of optical fiber. The copper conductor will transmit up to 10 kilowatts of power from a shore station at Moss Landing, California, to instruments on the sea floor. The optical fiber will carry up to 2 gigabits per second of data from these instruments back to researchers on shore, allowing scientists to monitor and control instruments 24 hours a day, and to have an unprecedented view of how environmental conditions in the deep sea change over time. "After 5 years of hard work, we are thrilled to bring the age of the Internet to the deep ocean, so we can understand, appreciate and protect the two-thirds of our planet that lies under the sea," said MBARI director Marcia McNutt. --Julia Whitty

Trees Offset Carbon Footprint, But Which Trees?

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 6:47 PM PDT

Trees trap and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. That's how they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating or reducing global warming. But a new study from the Carnegie Institution and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggests the effectiveness of this strategy depends heavily on where these trees are planted. Because tropical forests store large amounts of carbon and produce reflective clouds, they are especially good at cooling the planet. In contrast, forests in snowy areas can warm the Earth, because their dark canopy absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space by a bright white covering of snow. "Tropical forests are like Earth's air conditioner," says Ken Caldeira of Carnegie's Department of Global Ecology. "When it comes to rehabilitating forests to fight global warming, carbon dioxide might be only half of the story; we also have to account for whether they help to reflect sunlight by producing clouds, or help to absorb it by shading snowy tundra." --Julia Whitty

Natural Wonders Of The World Face Destruction from Climate Change

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 12:39 PM PDT

Ten of the world's greatest natural wonders face destruction if the climate continues to warm at the current rate. The endangered wonders, warns the World Wildlife Fund, include the Amazon, Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs, Chihuahua Desert in Mexico and the US, hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean, Valdivian temperate rainforests in Chile, tigers and people in the Indian Sundarbans, Upper Yangtze River in China, wild salmon in the Bering Sea, melting glaciers in the Himalayas, and East African coastal forests. "From turtles to tigers, from the desert of Chihuahua to the great Amazon – all these wonders of nature are at risk from warming temperatures," says Dr Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme. "While adaptation to changing climate can save some, only drastic action by governments to reduce emissions can hope to stop their complete destruction." --Julia Whitty

Good Behavior, Religiousness May Be Genetic

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 12:25 PM PDT

A new study shows that selfless and social behavior is not a product of religious environment. After studying the behavior of adult twins, researchers found that, while altruistic behavior and religiousness tend to appear together, the correlation is due to both environmental and genetic factors. The Journal of Personality, via Blackwell Publishing, reports that the popular idea that religious individuals are more social and giving because of behavioral mandates set for them is incorrect. According to study author Laura Koenig, religiousness occurs beside altruistic behaviors because there are genes that predispose them to it. "There is, of course, no specific gene for religiousness, but individuals do have biological predispositions to behave in certain ways," says Koenig. --Julia Whitty

Weird Weather Watch: Apocalypse, Soon

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 6:23 PM PDT

The Los Angeles Times reports that the same U.N. body that released the sense-knocking report in January, released a second part of the study, which enumerates the likely consequences of global warming, if it continues at its current pace.

Not good news, people. Not at all:

North America can expect more hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, the report said, and the coasts will be flooded by rising sea levels. Crop production will increase initially as the growing season gets longer, but climbing temperatures and water shortages will ultimately lead to sharp reductions...

Africa will suffer the most extreme effects, with a quarter of a billion people losing most of their water supplies. Food production will fall by half in many countries and governments will have to spend 10% of their budgets or more to adapt to climate changes…

Rising temperatures and drying soil will replace the moist rain forest of the eastern Amazon with drier savannah, eliminating much of the habitat that now supports the greatest diversity of species in the world.

At least 30% of the world's species will disappear if temperatures rise 3.6 degrees above the average levels of the 1980s and 1990s...

Honestly, I don't know what to say, and will just repeat to you what Al Gore says at the end of An Inconvenient Truth: Stop driving, and start making environmental regulations your top political—and personal—priority.

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Weird Weather Watch: Massive Climate Change in American Southwest

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 6:08 PM PDT

The Nation, the New York Times, and other reputable papers reported this week that the American Southwest is not experiencing a drought, as previously thought, but rather shifting to a significantly drier climate on a permanent basis. As a consequence of human activity, temperatures will increase by as much as 9 degrees (and if you've ever been to Phoenix, you can imagine how hot that will really be). Think major water problems, species extinction, likely large-scale human migrations, and certain animal migrations.

So see New Mexico while you still can. It's exquisitely beautiful, even to this water-loving Yankee.

High Deductible Health Plans Penalize Women

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 12:52 PM PDT

A recent Harvard study has found that having breasts and a cervix may cost women an arm and a leg when it comes to healthcare.

Women enrolled in high deductible health plans pay up to three times more in medical costs than men. High deductible plans, pushed by Bush as a way to reduce costs, require the insured to pay at least $1,050 and up to $5,000 out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in.

The Harvard researchers found that women's (age 18-64) healthcare costs were, on average, $1,844, while men's were $847. The reason for the disparity, the study found, is that women's yearly routine health costs--pap smears, breast exams, birth control prescriptions--are more than men's.

"High deductible plans punish women for having breasts and uteruses and having babies," the study's lead author, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, told the Washington Post. "When an employer switches all of his employees into a consumer-driven health plan, it's the same as giving all the women a $1,000 pay cut."

According to Hillary Clinton's recent speech, that's not something that women can afford: working full-time, year-round, they still only make 77 cents to a man's dollar.

--Jen Phillips

Humpback Whales Make Longest Mammal Migration

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 4:25 PM PDT

Humpback whales in the Atlantic have been tracked making the longest migration on record. New Scientist reports that seven individual whales swam 5,160 miles between Antarctica and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. One mother and calf made the trip in 161 days. While some researchers claim that gray whales hold the record for longest mammalian migration—from Mexico to the Arctic, at 4700 miles—no individual gray whale has been documented travelling the full extent of their migratory range, and it's possible that no individual makes the entire migration. Kristin Rasmussen at Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, says the new humpback data are important in light of proposals to hunt humpbacks, including Japan's decision to catch 50 humpbacks each year as part of its [bogus] scientific whaling program. "Whales don't respect political boundaries," she says. "Killing whales in one area could potentially impact their population half way around the world."--Julia Whitty

Mushrooms Now Grow Longer And Fruit Twice As Often

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 4:01 PM PDT

Mushroom season in Great Britain has more than doubled in length since the 1950s. Nature reports the season has increased from 33 days to 75, with some species fruiting twice a year, in both autumn and spring. This is a clear response to rising temperatures, says Alan Gange of the University of London. Although it's been shown that climate change is making birds nest and flowers bloom earlier, he knows of nothing else that has added a complete extra breeding season to its life cycle. Will fungi come to rule the world? They have before. --Julia Whitty