How the Ancient Antarctic Explains Today’s Warming World
By Tim Radford
Glaciers in Patagonia and in New Zealand began to retreat. Lakes in the Bolivian Andes began to swell with meltwater. Rain fell in the desert of Australia, and the gusts of dust that normally leave a trace in polar snows began to diminish.
The ocean waters warmed, the sea ice retreated, and the westerly winds that normally circled the southern continent began to veer further south, towards the pole.
And 29 scientists from six nations have worked out why. A series of volcanic eruptions on the Antarctic continent that lasted for almost two centuries began to pump vast quantities of sulphates, and chloride and other halogen gases, high into the air, to create—long before humans were to do the same thing—a huge hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, bringing more intense radiation and rapid warming to a vast area of the frozen south.
The researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have identified the geophysical equivalent of a smoking gun: tiny traces of once-massive discharges in ice cores that tell a story of dramatic climate change long before humans had begun to smelt metal, or plough fields.
So while retreat of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets at that time could be linked to an increase in the sun's intensity as a consequence of shifts in orbit and planetary axis, other forces were at work far to the south.
The discovery in the mid-1980s of a hole in the protective ozone layer—it blocks ultraviolet radiation but is vulnerable to a class of gases known as chlorofluorocarbons, once used in refrigeration systems—shook the world, and triggered a global ban on such gases. But the evidence from the latest study is that such things have happened before, thanks to volcanic violence.
"We postulate that these halogen-rich eruptions created a stratospheric ozone hole over Antarctica that, analogous to the modern ozone hole, led to large-scale changes in atmospheric circulation and hydroclimate throughout the Southern Hemisphere," said Joseph McConnell, of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, who led the study.
"Although the climate system already was primed for the switch, we argue that these changes initiated the shift from a largely glacial to a largely interglacial climate state. The probability that this was just a coincidence is negligible."
Humans' role confirmed
In effect, the scientists have confirmed something everybody knew anyway: that climate change occurs naturally, and has done so throughout planetary history.
But the study illustrates why basic research is so vital: to be sure that humans are indeed precipitating potentially catastrophic climate change—driven by fossil fuel combustion that spills billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—geophysicists, oceanographers, glaciologists and atmospheric scientists need to identify those other mechanisms that must have been at work to change climate without human help in the past, or might be making contemporary climate change even more certain.
So in addition to understanding the ways in which human impact on the planet translates into shifts in temperature, wind and snow or rainfall, researchers have become increasingly interested in explaining some of the crises of the distant past.
And to do that, they have had to unravel the intricate shifts of wind and water, sunshine and cloud, dust and atmosphere, deserts and ice sheets over many millions of years, to understand what is a natural mechanism for climate change, and why human influence on the climate is of a different scale and kind.
Quest for detail
In recent years, they have confirmed the basic orbital machinery that drives Ice Ages and interglacial warm spells. They have established limits to how low planetary temperatures could fall: fortunately, the earth will never become a snowball.
Unfortunately, they have yet to set a limit to how hot the climate could become: in theory, at least, the notorious greenhouse effect linked to fossil fuel combustion could boil the oceans dry and make the planet uninhabitable.
They have used dramatic natural climate shifts in the past to confirm that oxygen levels in the ocean could fall, with dramatic consequences for marine life. They have evidence that ever-greater levels of carbon dioxide can make the seas more acidic, and once again threaten marine life.
They have confirmed that, because of human actions now, temperatures could rise and mammalian body sizes dwindle, because such things have happened in other warm spells.
The pressure is on, not just to measure the impact of humankind on modern climate, but to understand in fine detail all the mechanisms at work that could turn forest into grassland, or grassland into desert, or send the glaciers back uphill, or swell the sea levels and drown low-lying coasts.
So the latest evidence that Mt Takahe in Antarctica erupted repeatedly over a period of 192 years, dramatically changed the climate and sent the ice into retreat, and dumped trace evidence of heavy metals and hydrofluoric acid across 2,800 kilomters (approximately 1740 miles) of sea and ice, as far as South America, is just another piece in the mosaic of fundamental research.
The science behind such studies is testament to the care taken in exhuming the past. Scientists drilled 3,405 meters (approximately 2.11 miles) into the West Antarctic ice sheet to begin making a record of the evidence preserved in ice layers that preserved the annual falls of snow, in the form of 30 different elements and chemical compounds. Some of these existed in concentrations as low as one part in a million billion.
The result is a clearer picture of natural violence in a landscape far from any Stone Age human settlement. It is also a reminder that the Earth remains a dangerous place.
"Imagine the environmental, societal and economic impacts if a series of modern explosive eruptions persisted for four or five generations in the lower latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere where most of us live," said Michael Sigl, a Swiss scientist who worked at the Desert Research Institute.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
Is More CBD Really Better?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODQyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzYxMDMzN30.6B08i5QYW_Iq5bUf3qtm8oK8o6FKsRUZ74gdakgJ_TY/img.jpg?width=980" id="0ef5b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bac86abf3ce246742b18b0dc4052f4dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.