Welcome to the Anthropocene – What now?

The current epoch of time is called by many the Anthropocene. The time of mans impact on the natural world.

This video shows how dramatically our impact on the world has changed since the industrial revolution.

This BBC News article introduces the effects we have had and the views of scientists as to whether we can survive this era.

The Earth system will stabilise again, but under a different set of conditions, which would be a lot less suitable for the whole range of nature that we find today – Professor Will Steffen

Mr G

Sources: BBC News, Vimeo.

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Blue Goo – best cleaning product ever?

Just like those stick on plaster thingies you use for unclogging your pores a Hawaiian company discovered by accident a material they call DeconGel. You pour it on, let it set and peel it off – along with all the microscopic dirt.

They are using it in Japan to clean up all the tiny radioactive particles that are coating surfaces.

I want some for my house!!

Mr G

Source: PopSci

Article 100… Came as fast as a Glacier

Not counting the welcome message – this is the 100th post to this blog… Starting on 8th Dec 2009 – that has been a pretty fast start to our blog.

But not quite as fast as this.

Glacial melting seems to be getting faster and faster.

Universities at Aberystwyth, Exeter and Stockholm looked at longer timescales than usual for their study. They mapped changes in 270 of the largest glaciers between Chile and Argentina since the “Little Ice Age”. Studies showed glaciers have lost volume on average “10 to 100 times faster” in the last 30 years.

Unlike sea ice, which as it melts stays in the sea so the level does not rise, the melting of land glaciers will increase sea levels, flooding low level areas such as the islands of Mauritius.

Mr G

Sources: BBC News, Coastal Risks and Sea-level Rise Research Group – University of Kiel, Mauritius Now

Japan – Nuclear Update

So things are going from bad to worse.

The problem is still no where near as bad as Chernobyl – where the reactor itself exploded. But it appears radioactive water has leaked.

This BBC webpage gives an update. For much more detail – have a look at the Wikipedia page.

But – how dangerous is this radation?

Source: World Nuclear Association – via this BBC webpage.

The level of radiation found at the power plant is enough to increase by 1% the likelihood of cancer, with over 4 times the yearly allowed radiation each hour. Only workers who stayed in the danger areas for more than a few hours were likely to get radiation sickness.

But further away, the risks were very low. Drinking water in Tokyo adds just 0.3 mSv a year – we get 2.5 mSv a year from our natural surroundings (and much more in some parts of the world) – but small children will be more affected.

To put it into perspective – the power plant has killed/injured/made ill a small number of people but for most in Japan there is little to worry about at all. But the earthquake/tsunami has killed at least 11,000 with hundreds of thousands homeless.

Mr G

Sources: BBC News Website

[Flashback] Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture 2010

Not very science – but some stunning photos of Matsushuma before the Tsunami. None of this is there now… 😦

[Flashback] Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture 2010.

Mr G

Japan… article updated.

Earthquake and tsunami

Unless you’ve been hiding under your pillow for the last few days you must have heard of the magnitude 8.9 9 Earthquake that happened under the ocean near Japan, causing a massive Tsunami that flooded much of the coast.

Here you can see footage of the

And here you can see pictures of the damage by sliding the bar to see the before and after pictures.

You can see from this diagram why the tsunami killed so many people – the earthquake was so close to the shore there was only minutes to warn and evaquate people.

The earthquake even reached the UK, my old university (Keele) recorded the earthquake using their seismometers, it was so big it still went off the scale half the world away.

The full details of the earthquake can be found here on the usgs.com website

The first episode of the new series of BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory was dedicated to the science behind the Japan earthquake and tsunami. You can watch it on iPlayer here.

Here is a clip from the episode showing how earthquake build up so much energy and how tsunami are formed when the seabed shifts suddenly.

Japan has a good record of designing buildings that can survive earthquakes, as can been seen in the video. Wooden buildings are generally good because they can flex without breaking. But a tsunami is a different proposition – with a large mass of water flowing through them few buildings can survive.

Nuclear Reactor

During the earthquake Japans nuclear reactors were shut down. Control rods moved in to stop the reactions, but nuclear reactors get very hot and it takes days and weeks to cool them down. Unfortunately it is the cooling of the reactors that has been the problem. Water pumps have been damaged, so the coolant inside the reactors has been boiling, needing releases of pressure that have taken small amounts of radioactive material with them. Some of these pressure releases exploded – the coolant water having split into hydrogen and oxygen. If the coolant falls below the level of the fuel rods, the fuel rods can over heat and start to melt – this is called a melt down.

As long as the main case of the reactor is not damaged then the bulk of the radioactive material remains safe. Only tiny amounts have been released with the steam (still en0ugh to be over legal limits, but nothing like the dangerous levels seen after Chernobyl exploded). Keep updated

Updates…

  • This Telegraph article gives numbers that highlight the scale of the earthquakes effects
  • This BBC page shows the stages the nuclear power plant has gone through and answers some questions about the radioactivity – including discussing the risks and comparing it to Chernobyl
  • The video below illustrates what has been going on with the reactor

Mr G

Sources: BBC News, ABC News, MSNBC, BBC iPlayer, Hypocentral.com,  usgs.gov, Telegraph

Have we saved the whales?

Since 1986 there has been a world wide ban on commercial whaling (apart from small groups – such as inuit tribes in northern Canada, etc) some countries do continue to hunt these mammals.

Countries like Japan use a loophole in the regulations, allowing for “scientific” experiments. Iceland and Norway just ignore the ban and hunt whales to sell the meat/products.

Even buying products on sale in the UK with nothing to do with whales can be supporting the whaling industry in Iceland.

Japan says it continues to hunt for scientific research, while not concealing the fact that much of the meat ends up on dinner plates.

Roland Buerk

BBC – Tokyo

Now conservationist have prevented ships from whaling, forcing them to move away from their usual hunting grounds

One of our boats has been blocking the main ship’s stern loading ramp, preventing any harpooned whales from being loaded on to the ship.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Now, since all that was a bit depressing… here are some Fun Facts

  • The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth
  • The heart of a blue whale is about the size of a VW Beatle car
  • Blue whales are pregnant for almost 2 years!
  • The newborn calf is about 7.5 m long and weighs about 5.5 – 7.3 tonnes –nearly as much as 100 men
  • The sperm whale’s huge head, which is up to a third of its overall body length, houses the heaviest brain in the animal kingdom – up to 9kg
  • The southern right whale has the largest testes in the animal kingdom – each pair weighing around a tonne
  • An individual fin whale pees about 970 litres per day. That’s enough to fill up more than 3 bathtubs!
  • Bowhead whales spend their lives in cold Arctic waters. They may be the world’s oldest mammals and are the longest lived of all whales – possibly over 200 years!
  • In its lifetime – that’s about 40 years – a grey whale travels a distance that is equivalent to going to the moon and back!

See more here

Mr G

Source: BBC News, WCDS

Sunrise 2 days early?

Each winter the poles (North and South – during their own winters) have permanent night time. The angle of the Earth to the Sun prevents the Sun from rising at all.

The opposite happens in the summer – with permanent day light (even at “midnight”)

The movement of the planets is very predictable, so there are tables of sunset and sunrise times for everywhere.If anything changes this it must be on Earth. So people are worried that the sun rose 2 days early this year in the north, because it means something on Earth has caused it.

The atmosphere (like a prism) will bend (or PhysGeeks like me call it refract) light because of density changes. Oddly this means at “sunset” the Sun is actually already below the horizon – the atmosphere has bent the light so we can still see it.

Similarly sunrise the same can happen – so the atmosphere could be the cause of the early sunrise.

So – possible causes?

  • Tilt of the Earth changed? No – we’d see this by the stars at night being moved too.
  • Optical illusion?  Most likely – if the atmosphere had changed enough to bend the light more – temperature and a change in the gases – climate change
  • Lower land? Also likely – the ice caps are melting resulting in a lower horizon so the light gets through earlier – climate change

Worryingly the second and third option are more evidence of climate change -Greenland is now about 3 degress Celsuis above it’s average historic temperatures for much of the year.

Mr G

Sources: Livescience, Daily Mail

 

 

The beginning of the end???

The International Energy Agency reckons it just might be!!

Oil – the fuel everything we do runs on – hit peak production in 2006 they think. This means with an every increasing popluation (most of whom at the moment don’t use oil anywhere near as much as we do in Europe/America) the amount of oil to go around will stay the same, or even start to drop, sending prices upwards.

In this chart we can see what they expect over the next 25 years. The darkest blue is the oil we are currently pumping – that’s on a downwards trend.

Above that is oil we know about, but are not pumping yet – also on a downwards trend. To stay level we have to hope we find new reserves – oil we don’t even know about yet.

To top up the levels we need more Liquified Natural Gas and BioOil (oil from plants).

So – is this the end of Fossil Fuel Oil as we know it?

Mr G

Source: Yale University Environment 360

Will we lose 1/5 of all our plants?

It certainly seems possible, with 22 % of wild plants on the endangered list (along wiht 21% of mammals and 12% of birds).

A lot of the problem is down to the clearing of the rain forests.

If all the plants vanish, so will all animals and birds. – Eimear Nic Lughadha, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London

Mr G

Source: New Scientist