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.

29 September 2015

This Week in Water

Really, there is only one piece of water news this week:

NASA has discovered evidence of flowing salt water on Mars.

Dark lines indicate where water flows on Mars


22 September 2015

This Week in Water

I've been away and been distracted; apologies. A lot has happened in our watery world in my absence so let's get to it, focusing this week on the threats to our oceans.

Scientists are claiming the upcoming Paris climate talks are paying insufficient heed to the dangers posed by global warming to the world's oceans.

Scripps oceanographers have found the fourth lowest Arctic sea-ice minimum ever recorded this year and surprising turbulence under the surface.

As reported here many times over the years, rising seas threaten U.S. coastal cities such as San Francisco in the near- to mid-term future.

Long-term warming trends coupled with this year's super strong El Niño are causing unprecedented bleaching and death of Hawaii's coral, and the outlook is not good.

This year's dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, at approximately 6,474 square miles, is significantly above average and larger than forecast even in June.

The impact of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound has been far greater than anyone thought, including heart defects in salmon and herring due to exposure to crude oil toxins in the seawater.

A newly discovered underwater volcano in the Pacific Ocean is spewing carbon dioxide, thereby further acidifying the ocean and turning vibrant coral gardens to carpets of algae.

A pristine underwater ecosystem of ocean life has been discovered off the south coast of Australia at unexpected depths.

The U.S. Navy has agreed to reduce underwater explosive testing and mid-range sonar training off the coasts of California and Hawaii that have killed a number of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions and adversely affected the hearing abilities of many others.

The Everglades Foundation of Palmetto Bay has announced a $10 million prize to entrepreneurs who come up with a solution to the world's growing algae populations. The algaefication of the oceans and freshwater ways (including so-called dead zones) is caused by phosphorus and nitrogen and other chemical runoff from fertilizers and from sewage treatment.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (aka HURL) has been exploring the deep seas since the 1980s. [Great article from the NY Times about HURL's important work.]

31 August 2015

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Maui Wowee!

Adventure time on the Valley Isle (click pics to embiggen slide show):

Old Japanese cemetery—but why on a sand dune?
Sunset in Lahaina
Hiking in the West Maui mountains: Waihee Ridge Trail. Yes, it's a sheer drop on either side
The footing was, to say the least, tricky
You can't be afraid to get your feet wet or use your hands to scramble
But, wowee! Worth it it was: OVER the rainbow, volcano, + ocean. Yes, OVER the rainbow
Then turn 180º for this paradisal view as the clouds lifted: We counted 14 waterfalls from this vantage, many over 1000'. Magical Maui!
Post-hike. Sore feet.
View on the Hana Road
Muddy Bamboo Forest hike past Hana
Can't even see the top!
Don't like wet hiking? Try a caldera in an extinct volcano above the clouds
Silver Sword—a plant unique to Haleakala at 10,000' 
Selfie with trail across the volcano visible. Approx. 11 miles across (for scale)
That's all uphill on the way back
A rainbow 'round the sun!
"Slow down, Daddy. There's a turn up ahead you don't want to miss!" "Doesn't anyone want to play 'Thelma & Louise?'"
"Y'know, I think that's where all our information is stored now." "Really, Daddy? Really?"
Maui sunset from our friends' lanai in Kula at 3000'
Does your Thai restaurant menu look like this? It should!

28 August 2015

I'm Back

And I have pics! Enjoy.

(click pics to embiggen slide show)

Is it me, or does the Red River seem dry?
Narrow band of green + parched land around the Colorado River
Leaving the continent. Hurricane Delores lurking out at sea.
Why isn't your airplane painted like a salmon?
Iconic view of Diamondhead from Waikiki
Honolulu from Diamondhead with western mountains as backdrop. (Because it was there)
The East-West Institute at UH at Manoa 
Stand of rare yellow bamboo
I have no idea what this portends. (Above Kailua)
For your Japanese bluegrass listening pleasure
Searing my mackerel sashimi at Izakaya Naru
Humuhumunukunukuāpua'a, (Try saying that. No Singing. See below.) aka Hawaiian Reef Trigger fish: the beautiful State Fish
Scorpionfish, also seen while diving off Oahu. There were some cool white-tipped reef sharks and large sea turtles there, too!
How do you say swimming pool in Hawaiian? Waimea Valley, North Shore, Oahu
Farewell Indian feast at Cafe Maharani, our favorite.

[Sorry about that, folks. Maybe this will get that saccharine taste out of your mouth.]

08 August 2015

The Next Two Weeks in Water

Once again, my lovelies, I must away—this time to visit son Wisdomie. It's doubtful I'll be posting for the next couple weeks. I may have the opportunity to tweet (if you're following me look for pics!). If you notice a pin drop on your blog's hits stats map somewhere out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, never fear! it will most likely be mine. So, it will be the next two weeks in water for Jim H. Until then, there are plenty of links in my previous "This Week in Water" post to keep you worried. And let's hope we don't make news like we did a couple years back when we dove Lehua off Ni'ihau.

And not to worry, Bruno, Lily, and Sasha have will have plenty of company here to look after them while we're away.