Archive | September, 2011

Spiders and Conkers!

22 Sep

Whilst writing my next Robert Spire thriller Impact Point, I noticed a large fluffy spider run across the lounge floor. I usually catch them and put them out, but this was a big critter, and worse, it disappeared into the shadows!

 With Northern Hemisphere Autumn now in full swing, anyone afraid of our hairy eight-legged friends might be starting to get a little bit nervous. Yes, spiders in all shapes and sizes will be invading our homes through open windows, bath plugs cracks and crevices. In the UK alone there are some 600 different species of spider. Even though our eight legged friends are harmless (Unless you happen to live in the USA, Australia or the Jungle) they are great for getting rid of insects and flies, but it doesn’t stop people being afraid of them.

 So, do conkers drive them bonkers? Well my dad swears by it! According to folklore, leaving strategically placed conkers around the house, on window sills, corners of the room and other places where you spot the creepy crawlies will scare the living daylights out of them, but is there any scientific basis for this?

 The Royal Society of Chemistry has carried out some experiments to try and find the answers. The most likely explanation is that the conkers may contain some kind of chemical repellent. Spiders it seems have conkerphopia!

 However, a junior school in Cornwall carried out a simple experiment which appears to dispel the spider-conker theory, so those strategically placed conkers may be a total waste of time, just eat them instead.

 So, if you have arachnophobia, place your conkers around the house, get the Kindle out, sit back, make yourself your favourite drink and relax on the sofa with a good book – an eco-adventure thriller like TIPPING POINT would be a good start.

 If you’ve purchased the paperback version and the conkers don’t do their job, you can always whack the hairy critter with it during a chapter break! Enjoy!

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No More Ice!

12 Sep

News is just out that Arctic ice levels may now be at their lowest ever level, following the 2011 summer melt season, beating the 2007 record. NSIDC will be confirming this sometime in October 2011. 

So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at how global warming is affecting the Earth’s coldest regions and ice sheets, collectively called the cryosphere, derived from a Greek word meaning frost or cold. It is used to describe the areas of the Earth’s surface where water is in a solid form, usually snow or ice. These areas include sea ice, freshwater ice, glaciers, permafrost and snow. 

The Earth’s polar icecaps, found at the North and South poles, contain the largest concentrations of ice on Earth. The North pole is home to the Arctic, and the South pole the Antarctic. Also in the north is the massive Greenland ice sheet. Both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets sit on top of continents or landmasses, whereas the Arctic is a frozen ocean. Sea ice however is found in both the North and South polar regions, and in total it covers an area about twenty times the size of Canada.

WHAT IS SEA ICE ?

Well, it is simply frozen ocean water. It forms and melts in the ocean. Icebergs, glaciers, ice sheets/shelves, however, all originate on land, and are formed with fresh not saltwater. Sea ice grows in the winter months and melts during the summer. Some ice remains all year round, and about fifteen per cent of the world’s oceans are covered during part of the year.

 WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT ?

 

Ice has a bright reflective surface, so as sunlight strikes it most of it is reflected back into space. As such, areas covered by ice don’t absorb much of the sun’s energy, allowing temperatures in the polar regions to remain cool. If higher temperatures melt the ice over time, as is beginning to happen, then more of the sun’s energy can be absorbed by the ice-free sea or land, allowing temperatures to rise further.

The term ‘albedo’ is used to determine how well a surface reflects solar energy. A surface with an albedo of zero means that it is a perfect absorber of the sun’s energy, such as a black surface. An albedo of one means that the surface is a perfect reflector, such as a white surface. Sea ice will reflect about fifty to seventy per cent of the sun’s energy. Open sea reflects about six per cent, whereas snow-covered ice about ninety per cent, simply because it’s white and therefore has a higher reflective surface.

Just as the Amazon regulates climate by absorbing and storing huge amounts of CO2, the ice-covered regions of Earth act much in the same way, by regulating temperature and reflecting large amounts of solar energy back into space. If these regions melt, then not only will ocean levels rise but temperatures will also increase.

HOW IS THE ARCTIC RESPONDING TO GLOBAL WARMING ?

 

The North pole sits right in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, which is fenced in by eight different countries. During the winter the ice extends over the entire ocean and onto the fringes of the land. During the summer, the ice retreats back into the ocean. Air temperatures in the region have, on average, increased by about 5°C (9°F) over the last 100 years, which is higher than anywhere else on the planet. This has caused Arctic sea ice to decrease by about fourteen per cent since the 1970s.

The local Inuit population have started to notice the warmer summers, the earlier break-up of the ice in spring, and extensive areas of melting permafrost in places like Alaska and Siberia. This in turn is affecting their hunting season, foundations of properties and other infrastructure in the region. Arctic sea ice has been measured by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) and NASA, using satellite data, and the findings are that massive reductions in sea ice are occurring at the end of the northern summer.

The sea ice extends to about 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,792,000 square miles) during winter, and down to an average 7,000,000 square kilometres (2,703,000 square miles) during the summer. It therefore loses just over fifty per cent of ice cover after the summer melt season. The annual average extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased by about three per cent per decade since about 1980, which is the equivalent of an area of about 750,000 square kilometres (289,575 square miles). The amount of ice left after the summer melt is also decreasing by about 7.7 per cent each decade.

NSIDC measures Arctic sea-ice extent, or the area of ocean that is covered by at least fifteen per cent ice, which typically reaches its minimum in September, at the end of the summer melt season. 

In 2007, NSIDC data reveals that Arctic sea ice during the 2007 melt season plummeted to the lowest levels since satellite measurements began in 1979. The September sea-ice minimum went down to 4,130,000 square kilometres (1,594,000 square miles), the lowest September on record, shattering the previous record for the month, set in 2005, by twenty-three per cent. Computer models however have predicted the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer months from 2080 if the overall warming trend continues.

In March 2007, a fire onboard the British nuclear submarine HMS Tireless forced it to the surface. Two sailors died in the explosion. The Navy had been conducting tests under the Arctic and the data retrieved indicated that the summer Arctic sea ice may actually be gone by as soon as 2020. This however appears to be a worst-case scenario.

Arctic sea ice is about 2 to 3 metres (6.5 to 9.8 feet) thick on average, so a loss of 7,000,000 square kilometres (2,703,000 square miles) times 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) (thickness) is a considerable amount of water. Melting sea ice however does not necessarily add much to sea-level rise when it melts, much like melting ice cubes in a glass do not cause the glass to overflow. Melting glaciers and ice-covered continents however are a different matter and when they melt, sea levels will rise.

A new NASA-led study found a twenty-three per cent loss in the extent of the Arctic’s thick year-round sea ice cover during the past two winters. The scientists discovered less perennial sea ice in March 2007 than ever before. This drastic reduction is the primary cause of this summer’s fastest-ever sea-ice retreat on record and subsequent smallest-ever extent of total Arctic coverage.

Record summer melting has also meant that the usually frozen Northwest Passage waterway, which connects the Atlantic to the Pacific, has become fully navigable, a fact that may raise tensions between Canada, which maintains that the waterway lies in its territorial waters, and other countries in the region. The race is now on to exploit the Arctic’s natural resources as oil companies drill for oil there. A disaster along the lines of the Deepwater-Horizon spill, would be cataclysmic.

For a recent news article showing stark photographic differences over time between Himalayan glaciers, click here.

For more information, check out THE A-Z OF GLOBAL WARMING, the above article is taken from chapter N – No More Ice!

Alternatively for a fast paced eco-thriller, involving a race to prevent the Arctic from melting, try TIPPING POINT.

         

Global Warming – A brief Introduction.

9 Sep

The term Global Warming has been in common usage for some time now and refers to recent warming of Earth’s atmosphere,which also implies a manmade or human influence.

Earth’s atmosphere comprises many gases: oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (hereafter abbreviated to CO2) and water vapour, to name a few. These gases are collectively called greenhouse gases and they keep the Earth’s temperature at a comfortable 15°C. Without them Earth would be a chilly -18°C.

Since pre-industrial times, usually taken to be before 1750, we know from ice-core records that CO2 levels were about 280 ppm,that’s 280 parts of CO2 per million parts of air. As industrialisation got underway humankind started to farm the land more intensely than ever before, which included deforestation for agriculture and settlements. Later – since about 1850 or so – the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transport has added considerably to greenhouse gas levels, particularly CO2.

This has resulted in CO2 levels increasing to about 390 ppm, a rise of about thirty-nine per cent from pre-industrial levels – mainly as a result of burning fossil fuels.

How do we know this?

Well, data from ice-core records that go back at least 650,000 years now show us that CO2 levels have fluctuated naturally during this time between 280 and 300 ppm. CO2 levels have also been measured accurately from the top of Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii since 1958, and results show an increase in CO2 levels from 315 ppm to 390 ppm since that time.

Therefore CO2 is now at ninety ppm more than it has been for at least 650,000 years of Earth’s history, and increasing. It is a known scientific fact that higher levels of greenhouse gases will lead to higher temperatures, which appears to be happening now. The world has warmed by an average of 0.74 degrees during the last 100 years or so. As a result of this warming, polar ice has started to decrease and melt, and so have Earth’s land-based glaciers. This in turn is causing sea levels to rise, which is putting low-lying islands at risk of flooding or total submersion, and will eventually threaten more and more of the world’s coastal cities and regions.

Things may get worse, however, because once Earth’s atmosphere starts to warm, the warming itself may cause further positive feedback mechanisms to kick in. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour, which is itself a powerful greenhouse gas. This will in turn cause further warming, and so on.

Melting ice results in more sunlight being absorbed by the surrounding ‘darker’ water and land, and that results in further warming, and more melting ice. Methane deposits currently held in a frozen but stable state under the sea and under the permafrost may be released as the oceans warm and permafrost melts, which will cause further warming. This is very worrying as methane is a potent greenhouse gas and around twenty times more powerful than CO2 when talking about it’s ability to warm the Earth’s atmosphere.

This is global warming in a nut shell, however there are of course far more complex issues involved as global warming will not affect the whole planet in the same way at the same time. Some parts will experience more drought, some parts more rainfall, and some parts more extreme weather such as floods and heatwaves.

One thing is for sure,as the world warms, we will all know about it…

For more information on the subject check out THE A-Z OF GLOBAL WARMING. Or visit my website SIROSSERTHRILLERS.