25 January 2016

This Week in Water

I'm sure no one on the U.S. East Coast needs to be told what's happening this week in water, but here goes:

A massive, historic winter storm (named 'Jonas') smacked the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard with snowfalls over 30 inches and blizzard winds up to 60 mph and coastal flooding affecting nearly 80 million people and leaving at least 27 dead. You might have heard about it.

In other news:

Hurricane Pali, an extremely rare winter hurricane, swept through the Pacific. Meanwhile, Hurricane Alex, the first January hurricane since 1958, formed in the Atlantic Ocean. More here.

The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the world's oceans has doubled since 1997.

Canada's ice roads are melting, resulting in food and water shortages to many of that country's remote northern First Nation communities.

Warming trends are affecting Greenland's ability to store excess water and, thus, more melting ice may be running off into the ocean than previously believed.

Research suggests that farmlands in more developed countries that rely on climate stability for high yield agriculture may be more vulnerable to changing conditions—such as increased drought—affected by climate change.

Drought conditions and water shortages are now a threat to what was once the world's wettest place—Cherrapunji in northeastern India.

Though El Niño storms are replenishing many California lakes and aquifers, some scientists fear the state may never fully recover from its historic drought.

Continuing winter flooding along the lower Mississippi River may prove to be among the costliest in history.

The toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, continues. Criminal investigations are being initiated and the National Guard has been summoned, yet people still do not have sufficient lead-free water to bathe and cook and drink. The ramifications of this colossal political miscalculation by Gov. Rick Snyder may continue for generations.

President Obama rejected an attempt by congressional Republicans to gut the Clean Water Act and overturn landmark federal regulation seeking to ensure that water used for drinking, bathing, recreation, and energy development is protected.

Some fear that by 2050 there will be more discarded plastic in the ocean than fish.

Restoration of coastal wetlands may play a crucial role in slowing climate change. Saltwater ecosystems of seagrass and marshes and mangrove promote healthy fisheries, sequester carbon in their soils, stave off erosion, and provide defenses to powerful storm surges.

Chile is attempting to harness seawater and solar power in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth.

Scientists still don't fully understand why water is such a unique liquid, e.g., why ice floats or how it absorbs and releases a large amount of heat without undergoing huge changes in temperature.

Is there water ice on Pluto?

09 January 2016

Wintry Afternoon in Atlanta

Le déluge: Flooding from November
Après moi, le déluge; après le déluge, le debris
15 Years a Trampoline
Apparently, this is why I can't grow fresh bananas here—just banana trees

Lo, how a rose ere blooming...

For the deadheads among you

Pondage in winter
Is it me, or does Niobe seem particularly forlorn?
TFW the tree says you really shouldn't have put the walk so close
Loropetalum never fails to delight

The winter difference between fescue (foreground) and Bermuda grass
The former trampoline deconstructed and set out for pick up
The mossy area from which I hope to harvest my pet Tardigrades for my new terrarium
Tardigrade: the most interesting animal in the world

07 January 2016

This Week in Water

Busy holiday and end-of-year 'real life' issues now past, it's time to kick off the new year, 2016, with another installment of #TWIW.

The full effects of the current powerful El Niño have yet to be felt.

Winter temperatures in the Arctic rose above the freezing point in December as a result of storms originating from El Niño, the same storms that brought historic rains to the southern U.S. and Great Britain.

The U.S. midwest experienced historic flooding of the Mississippi River over the holidays. As did parts of northern England.

For the first time in ten years, California's snowpack is above normal.

Flooding from Typhoon Melor in the Philippines resulted in the evacuation of 725,000 people.

The Florida Keys are experiencing increasingly regular street flooding during high tides, and as temperatures continue to climb so will sea levels around Miami.

Melting Arctic sea ice is associated not only with increased heat absorption but also with increased precipitation in the Arctic.

The North American Great Lakes are warming twice as fast the planet's oceans. So is Israel's Lake Kinneret and many others worldwide.

The most critical ecosystem of Europe's oldest lake, Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, one of the most biodiverse lakes in the world, is being paved over to accommodate increased tourism.

Bolivia's second largest lake, Lake Poopo in the Andes, has dried up.

Scientists have been significantly underestimating humanity's global water footprint by as much as 20%, and some believe we are fast approaching unsustainable levels.

Flint, Michigan has been declared a state of emergency after the state government changed up its water supply and toxic levels of lead and other toxic substances began showing up in the drinking water. You can (and should) follow the news here.

The chemicals in the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, are known to be associated with developmental and reproductive toxicity. The extent of their concentrations in groundwater supplies affected by fracking requires urgent further study.

The Australian government has given final approval to a giant coal terminal at Abbot Point in northern Queensland, just 12 miles from the Great Barrier Reef.

President Obama signed a new law banning the use of exfoliating plastic microbeads in soaps and shampoos and toothpaste beginning in 2017. These have been making their way into our waterways and water supplies for years.

Orange peels may be able to absorb excess mercury contamination in the water and soil.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and NOAA are crowd-sourcing tsunami sensors on cargo ships and other seafaring vessels to provide more accurate real-time data than current warning systems.

Scientists at Cornell University have developed a reusable polymer that can remove pollutants from flowing water within seconds.

Industry views on the state of water in 2015 here.

Dry ice rather than water could have sculpted those mysterious gulleys on Mars.

14 December 2015

This Week in Water

As we've been anticipating, nearly 200 nations signed an agreement to work to reduce the man-made sources of global warming. Details here. Many felt it did not go far enough because it specifies no specific actions and provides no mandatory sanctions, but it represents a step in the right direction and, by setting frameworks, goals, and intentions going forward, is far better than no agreement at all.

Meanwhile, in the real world:

Scientists are piecing together the data respecting ocean temperatures over the last 5 million years and their correlation with global climate.

Falling oxygen levels caused by warming oceans may prove to be a greater threat to the survival of life on Earth than flooding from rising seas. About two-thirds of the Earth's oxygen is produced by the process of photosynthesis in ocean phytoplankton, and this process is disrupted by warming seas. Scientists elsewhere, however, are at a loss to explain an unprecedented rise in the number of phytoplankton in the Northern Atlantic but believe it may result from increased acidification due to high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Stay tuned.

View a remarkable set of photographs documenting rapid coral bleaching caused by warming oceans here.

Rising oceans are threatening the Marshall Islands (among others) threatening a way of life. (Some brilliant photography from the The New York Times!)

Abnormally high tides in the Florida Keys have been flooding low-lying areas for months, threatening property values.

Southern India has been hit by floods caused by the heaviest rainfall in more than a century.

China's largest glacier is now retreating at a record pace.

Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated as Typhoon Melor struck the Eastern Philippines.

As a record-breaking Pacific cyclone season wraps up, Hawaii proved remarkably lucky in dodging no less than 15 major storms.

Scientists discovered a 100+ million year old underground ocean under the Chesapeake Bay.

Scientists have developed a new class of superhydrophobic nanomaterials to protect surfaces from water.

04 December 2015

For Zappadan

There really can be only one Zappa/Mothers tune fit to kick off this Zappadan season:

"The rest of their lives in San Ber'dino."

23 November 2015

This Week in Water

As noted, with the Paris Climate Conference aka COP21 coming up, it's been a very busy week in water. Let's get to the links:

Pingos, or huge mounds, off Siberia may presage a huge release of the dangerous super-greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere.

Some worry civilization may not survive upcoming water wars caused by climate change. Many are attributing the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis to unprecedented drought conditions from 2006-2010 that forced many rural subsistence farmers into overcrowded cities. At a minimum, water policy analysis is going to be a growth industry in the coming years and decades.

Nearly two billion people in the northern hemisphere rely on declining melting snowpack as a crucial source of water.

Sea level rise is attributed in part to runoff from human over-depletion of aquifers. Some are experimenting with flooding the farmland above aquifers in wintertime to see if they can replenish the aquifers without damaging crops or affecting drinking water. Though groundwater is not as renewable as people once thought.

Egypt's Nile River Delta, once the breadbasket of the Mediterranean,  is sinking into the sea.

Surprisingly, global sea levels actually fell in 2011 when ocean waters flooded Australia and couldn't find their way out.

Over 800 trillion microbeads of plastic enter U.S. wastewater daily. The city of Oakland, CA, is suing Monsanto for damages to help in mitigating PCBs, chemical pollutants, in storm drain runoff to San Francisco Bay. Researchers have developed a way to break down pharmaceuticals into harmless compounds so they don't contaminate drinking water.

Scientists have designed an artificial photosynthesis process that allows underwater solar cells to turn captured greenhouse gases into fuel.

Scientists are continually refining the processes for generating clean, inexpensive fuel from water. Some are focused on so-called "dragon water", super-heated water from beneath the earth's surface. There are six quintillion gallons of water hiding in the Earth's crust.

In case you didn't know, bottled water is extremely wasteful.

New desalination systems are constantly being developed and refined. MIT engineers used an electrolytic shockwave to get the salt out of saltwater that is efficient and inexpensive. Others are using nanoparticles and ultraviolet light to extract man-made pollutants from soil and water. Drinkwell is an organization that supplies inexpensive filtration systems to poor communities.

Saudi Arabia insists that its nuclear power is primarily for the purpose of developing desalination processes.

As many as 139 countries may have the ability to get all their power from renewable resources by 2050.

Here's a picture of tidal channels flowing between small island cays in the Bahamas taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. Full disclosure: Several years ago on a scuba diving trip to Exuma, we dove one of these channels. The boat let us out on the upstream side of the channel and we swam with (or were carried by) the brisk currents through the cut where the boat gathered us up and took us back to the start. We did this about 6 or 7 times. It was like an exciting amusement park ride—but with sharks and rays and dolphins!

18 November 2015

This Week in Water

Lots of pre-Paris Conference on Climate Change activity—which is still happening despite the attacks of 11/13. So let's dive right in. Vive Generation Bataclan!

Many are dead and many more missing, and a quarter million Brazilians are without safe drinking water after two dams collapsed at an iron ore mine in Minas Gerais state.

Thousands of Wisconsinites are losing access to safe drinking water due to lax enforcement of industrial pollutant regulations.

To no one's great surprise (certainly not readers of TWIW here on WoW), damage to gulf coral from the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has turned out to be more extensive than previously thought.

A massive Greenland glacier which has sufficient mass to raise sea levels by nearly two feet is on the verge of collapse.

Scientists have solved a 40-year-old problem about how to measure sea ice volume and thickness.

Smith Island is sinking into the Chesapeake Bay thanks to climate change.

Charleston, SC's flooding "king tides" are getting progressively higher, propelled even further due to this years super strong El Niño.

While some areas of Antarctica are losing record amounts of glaciated ice, other areas are gaining.

For the first time in recorded history, two major hurricanes in the Arabian Sea were observed.

Four Republican U.S. Senators formed a Senate Energy and Environment Working Group to focus on environmental issues caused by climate change. They deserve mention: Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Another fossil fuel extraction company, Norway's state-owned oil and gas company Statoil, has announced it is pulling operations out of the Alaskan Arctic.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute has awarded a $100,000 prize to a commercial fisherman for a sustainable ocean farming plan designed to address overfishing, mitigate climate change, restore marine ecosystems, and provide jobs for fisherman.

Even more evidence of a watery past on Mars found.

15 November 2015

Meat Pies, Cicadas, Turkeys, Diwali

Fine fare at Highlands Games 
Green Cicada 
A Rafter of Heritage Turkeys
Wing Clipping
Me, in an Art Installation at the Atlanta Contemporary
Diwali Mural in Front of the Local Mandir
White Marble Mandir All Lit Up 
Fireworks + Light Show
The Temple All Lit Up

I shot the two videos below at the Diwali celebration last night at the local BAPS Mandir in the suburbs of Atlanta. The first is the initial chant, the second about a minute of music and fireworks and light show. Amazing celebration of the New Year.



28 October 2015

This Week in Water

After last week's change in format in which we laid out what may be two of the BIGGEST news items in human history (no joke: [1] an extinction event that may include us + [2] evidence of possible extraterrestrial life) plus one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the world, we return to aggregating links about our planet's most precious resource—and there are plenty!

Scientists are finding further evidence of how Greenland is melting. [The Times link has amazing drone video and remarkable graphics.] Why does this matter? Greenland's ice sheets sit on land, so when they melt they cause the oceans to rise—unlike, say, a melting iceberg which is the example climate change denialists always cite, claiming that melting ice is like an ice cube in a glass of water and does not contribute to rising sea levels.

Permafrost warming in Alaska is 'accelerating', threatening to release dangerous levels of the greenhouse gas methane into the environment. Researchers worry that this could cost the world's economies trillions of dollars more in damages.

This year's snowpack in the High Sierras was the worst in the past 500 years, and the snow's water content was only 5% of its historical average over the same period.

Hurricane Patricia, the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, struck land on the west coast of Mexico bringing torrential rainfall and flooding as far north as Michigan.

The recent flooding in South Carolina is the result of at least the 6th 1-in-a-1000-year rain event in the U.S. since 2010.

This year's 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico, a result of excess rainfall and nutrient runoff from the Mississippi River, is larger than average and much larger than expected.

Iran's Lake Urmia, once the planet's sixth largest salt lake (larger than Utah's Great Salt Lake) has dried up to a mere 10% of its size, similar to what happened to the Aral Sea in Central Asia, exposing a vast salt desert.

The Obama administration has created two new marine sanctuaries in the U.S., the first such in 15 years, one in a portion of Lake Michigan and the other in the Potomac River.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked U.S. efforts to keep its streams and wetlands clean.

U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, has launched a wide-ranging, open-ended inquisition into climate scientists' recent findings that global warming is not in some sort of pause or hiatus, subpoenaing email records and other communications of internal deliberations from NOAA and the National Centers for Environmental Information. There are currently no allegations of corruption or wrongdoing.

Oxybenzone, an ingredient in most sunscreen brands, is killing coral, causing DNA damage in both adults and larval stage animals. This only adds to the effects of warmer water temperatures on delicate coral marine life, i.e., "coral bleaching" that is happening world wide.

No one is quite sure how to solve the world's water problems, but there is much work to be done.

A Dutch company called Elemental Water Makers is working to use 100% renewable energy to desalinate seawater with a pilot project in the British Virgin Islands—the type of solution this blog has been advocating for years.

19 October 2015

This Week in Water

As the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris approaches, I want to change the format for this week's TWIW post and interject an argument and some editorial opinion. Normally, TWIW is a news aggregator replete with interesting links to issues and news about our planet's most important resource. If you want to take a look at past posts, simply click on the "This Week in Water" link in the "Labels" below.

Sometimes there is so much news that it becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees—or the ocean for the waves as the case may be. As with the last post about the discovery of evidence of flowing water on Mars, this week brings us three VERY BIG items and, in this instance, they deserve some discussion and thought.

Item #1—Exxon Evidence. Evidence has come to light that Exxon has had specific internal knowledge about the drastic, deleterious effects of man-made global warming since the 1980s—to wit, melting glaciers and polar ice and rising sea levels. Yet, internal documents show that the company used its vast marketing and political power not only to conceal this fact from the world but has been actively lying about it to its shareholders, the public, and regulators. In the meantime, it has used this knowledge to figure out how to improve its extraction of even more damaging fossil fuels from the earth. "Genocidal Behavior" and "Sociopathic Greed" hardly begin to describe this concerted series of potentially planet-murdering actions. In a truly free market with valid 'price discovery mechanisms', these costs would/should necessarily have to be borne by the company and figured into its balance sheet; yet Exxon-Mobil (and other fossil fuel extraction-based companies and their suppliers and supporters) continues to receive billions of dollars in U.S. tax breaks and subsidies and to profit from its criminally insane behavior while ignoring the public costs of their business. Questions about the viability of possible legal and/or political remedies are, hopefully, arising globally, though the damage may be irreparable. And the fact is there may be no specific laws to punish and remediate these companies' actions.

Item #2—Extinction Event. The planet is currently facing what scientists are calling its Sixth Great Extinction Event, and some are asking whether humans can survive this catastrophe. This results partially from a collapse of the food chain originating in our ocean ecosystems due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming global climate.

Item #3—Extra-terrestrials? Back in 2010 I posted a piece about so-called Kardashev civilizations. [Go on, read it; it's pretty cool. It'll open in a new window. Besides, this post isn't going anywhere.] Now, astronomers have discovered an anomalous star in our galaxy some 1500 light years away that shows some signs that might be indicative of an alien civilization approaching a Type II Kardashev civilization, namely one which is able to harness the energy of a star to fuel its development. (By contrast, earth's civilization is ~0.7 on the Kardashev scale because we are barely beginning to capture solar, wind, hydro, and tidal power) One explanation for the behavior of light from this star is that there are advanced life forms constructing a Dyson Sphere around their sun. Of course, there are plenty of other hypotheses to be eliminated before anyone can claim this for certain. Still, it's potentially HUGE news—I mean, the biggest news in human history. (How does this relate to water, you might ask? If there is such a civilization, they must certainly have some form of watery world resources. Okay, it's tenuous, but it's such a huge piece of news I couldn't resist.)

One fairly straightforward conclusion to draw from these Items is that our planet's continued reliance on fossil fuels (due, mostly, to the economic and political power of the extraction industries) is killing us, and if we want to advance and perhaps even to survive as a civilization and possibly a species we need to change our behavior radically, moving to sustainable energy practices before it's too late. How this can seem even remotely controversial continues to baffle me.