Archive | March, 2012

Blue Whales and Asteroids

25 Mar

An unlikely combination I appreciate, but nonetheless the title sums up the story line of IMPACT POINT Kindle Thriller. So, how can whales and rocks from space be connected?

Well for one, both blue whales and asteroids and comets are pretty rare, but unlike asteroids and comets, blue whales are unlikely to harm you, unless of course your name is Moby Dick. OK, so it wasn’t a blue whale that got him, but you know what I mean! On the other hand, if a large asteroid or comet strikes the Earth, we would all be vaporized, much like the dinosaurs were 65 million years ago.

First of all, some facts. The blue whale is the largest creature that has lived, yes, even bigger than any dinosaur that ever existed. There are estimated to be only around 5-12,000 blue whales left in the world’s oceans, down from around 200,000 – 250,000 back at the start of the Twentieth Century, before man hunted them to virtual extinction. Thankfully their numbers are now increasing, but they still face numerous threats from shipping, global warming, increasing levels of ocean noise and being attacked by its natural predator, the orca whale.

In IMPACT POINT, Robert Spire’s adventure is kick started after a blue whale beaches itself in front of him on his local stretch of Welsh coastline. A second whale is discovered in South Carolina in the USA. What is the connection? It transpires that both whales have ingested the mineral olivine, to discover why, you’ll have to read the book otherwise i’ll give away too many spoilers!  Suffice to say, Spire is helped in his task by marine biologist Dr Sally Rivea; her name is actually an anagram for Dr Sylvia Earle – American oceanographer and author of many a book on the world’s oceans and its lifeforms.

What about the space rocks? My fascination began long ago, when I first read about the massive comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. That comet is thought to have been 10 kilometers  wide and left an impact crater – the Chicxulub crater – 180 km in diameter and 10 km deep in the Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico, which just happens to be the ancient home of the Mayans, who just happen to foretell the end of the world in December 2012, but that’s another story…

Back to space rocks. First some facts.

Asteroids, leftovers from the formation of our solar system generally reside in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and there are millions of them.

Near Earth asteroids have orbits that take them close to the Earth. NASA has found 19,500 objects between 100 meters and 1000 meters in size to date. There are 981 over 1000 meters in size, with an estimated 70 objects over 1000 meters still undetected. In November 2011, an aircraft-sized asteroid 2005 YU55 passed by Earth at only 201,700 miles away, closer than the Moon!

The next closest approach that we know about will be Apophis, when on Friday, April 13th – yes, that’s the genuine date – it will pass by at only around 18,300 miles away, a very close shave. Needless to say, NASA are keeping a close eye on it!

Meteoroids are generally classified as space rocks less than 10 meters across – these are the shooting stars that people often spot streaking across the night sky.

Comets are icy bodies with nuclei – ranging from hundreds of meters to tens of kilometers across – comprised of ice, dust and rock. Just over 4000 are known about. The comet or asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was about 10 kilometers across.

Centaurs are objects that display characteristics of both comets and asteroids. They have unstable orbits that cross one or more of the giant planets. It is estimated there are about 44,000 of them with diameters over 1 kilometer.

Pholus, one such Centaur is thought to be partly composed of olivine.

So, if the above facts don’t scare you a little, try IMPACT POINT. Your thoughts when looking up at the night sky will never be the same again!

Melting Arctic; Geoengineering; Tipping Point Kindle Thriller.

18 Mar

An eminent UK engineer is suggesting building cloud-whitening towers in the Faroe Islands as a “technical fix” for warming across the Arctic.

Scientists told UK MPs this week that the possibility of a major methane release triggered by melting Arctic ice constitutes a “planetary emergency”.

The Arctic could be sea-ice free each September within a few years.

Wave energy pioneer Stephen Salter has shown that pumping seawater sprays into the atmosphere could cool the planet.

The Edinburgh University academic has previously suggested whitening clouds using specially-built ships.

At a meeting in Westminster organised by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (Ameg), Prof Salter told MPs that the situation in the Arctic was so serious that ships might take too long.

Credit – BBC news. Read the full article here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17400804

Interested? Try Kindle Eco-thriller TIPPING POINT, a Robert Spire thriller, which involves a race by French climatologist Francois Trimaud to get to the Arctic to test a geoengineering theory to seed the Arctic Ocean in order to prevent global warming in the area before the Earth is plunged into environmental disaster.

The Sun: What’s The Fuss Over Solar Flares?

9 Mar

THE SUN

With the Sun and Solar Flares currently in the news, i thought i’d update my blog by adding chapter S from my book The A-Z of Global Warming, which discusses the Sun’s impact of global warming, and gives some facts and figures on Earth’s nearest star…

Bear in mind the book was written in 2008 – but mentions the increase in Solar activity now in the news…

The sun is a star, which is located at the centre of our solar system.
It is only one of about 100 billion stars in our own galaxy, the
Milky Way, which in turn is one galaxy of literally billions in the
universe, each containing billions and billions of stars.
Our sun has been in existence for about 4,600,000,000 years,
and it will provide life support for planet Earth for another 5–
6,000,000,000 years, until it transforms into a red giant gas star
and finally dies.
The energy from our sun, in the form of sunlight, supports
life on Earth and is responsible for the Earth’s weather and climate
systems. The sun cannot be ignored in the context of global warming.

Earth’s power supply

The surface of the sun has a temperature of about 5,500°C (9,932°F),
and it’s even hotter on the inside! As you might expect, being
the only source of heat in our solar system, its effects on Earth’s
climate and temperature will be significant.
The total amount of radiant energy emitted by the sun that
reaches Earth is termed the total solar irradiance or TSI, and it
is measured in watts per metre squared.
Energy from the sun is measured both at the top of the Earth’s
atmosphere, called the solar constant, and at the surface of the
Earth, insolation.

Has the sun caused or contributed to global warming?

This is the question many scientists are trying to answer. NASA
satellites have measured total solar irradiance since 1978. Six
overlapping satellites have monitored TSI since 1978, and the first
records came from the Nimbus 7 Earth radiation budget (ERB)
experiment from 1978–1993. NASA’s ACRIM 1 satellite, which
is an acronym for Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitors,
also studied the sun, from 1980–1989, and ACRIM 2 from 1991–
2001. Finally ACRIM 3 from 2000–2005.
These satellites produced a wealth of information about the
sun. Richard Wilson, a researcher affiliated with NASA’s Goddard
Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute
in New York, compiled TSI records over the twenty-four-year
observation period by piecing together the records.
The results showed a 0.05 per cent decade upward trend of
TSI measured in watts per metre squared between solar minimum
solar cycles, 1978 to the present (solar cycles twenty-one to twenty-three).

What are solar cycles?

The sun goes through cycles, called solar cycles, every eleven years.
During this period the sun goes through a period of increased
magnetic and sunspot activity, called the solar maximum, when
solar-energy output increases, followed by a quieter period, called
the solar minimum, and back again. During a solar cycle, the
number of sunspots also varies with solar minimum and solar
maximum, with peak sunspot activity occurring at the solar
maximum.

What are sunspots?

Sunspots are basically dark and relatively cooler regions of the

sun, caused by concentrated magnetic fields. Sunspots can cause

decreases in TSI by about 0.2 per cent during say a week-long
passage of a large sunspot group across the ‘Earth facing’ surface
of the sun. These changes are insignificant however to the sun’s
total output of energy, but still equivalent to all the energy
mankind produces and consumes in one year!
So, when the sun is at solar maximum, irradiance and magnetic
activity are at their highest, which is proportional to solar activity.
Sunspot numbers are representative of the general level of solar
activity.
At present the sun is just coming out of a quiet period, which
is solar minimum of solar cycle twenty-three. The last solar
maximum was in about the years 2000–2002 (cycle twenty-three).
NASA scientists have recently discovered a new technique,
‘helioseismology’, which works in a similar way to ultrasound,
but in the case of the sun, not part of the human body!
The sun’s magnetic fields, plasma flows and magnetic
signatures left by fading sunspots are looked at by NASA’s solar
and heliosphere observation satellite (SOHO). This has led the
NASA team to predict that the sun’s next solar cycle will begin
with an increase in solar activity in late 2007 or early 2008, and
this will be thirty to fifty per cent more intense than the current
cycle, reaching its peak in about 2012 (cycle twenty-four).
This could affect space satellites and any technology that relies
on them, as the sun’s energy output increases together with
perhaps a temporary increase in the Earth’s temperature during
this period.

Has the sun affected the Earth’s climate in the past?

While NASA satellites have been monitoring sunspot activity and
TSI since 1978, scientists and astronomers have been looking at
the sun through telescopes for almost 400 years, since shortly after
the telescope was invented.
As we know from Chapter H, the Earth entered a cooling period
about 1350–1850, which was termed the Little Ice Age. Temperature
drops around the globe were noticeable. Glaciers in the Alps
advanced, canals in Holland regularly froze and the Thames in
London would freeze over every twenty years or so.
During the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, between about
1645 and 1715, very low sunspot activity was observed.10
This period is called the Maunder Minimum, after the English
astronomer who made the observation.
Scientists now consider there is a link between the Little Ice Age
and the low level of sunspot activity recorded during that time.
So, it would seem that from scientific studies of the sun so far
that the sun’s irradiance may be slightly increasing by 0.05 per
cent each decade, which may have an effect on climate change
over timescales of 100 years or more.
The sun’s energy output may be responsible for causing or
contributing to the Little Ice Age, as very low sunspot activity
was observed for seventy years during the coldest part of this
period.

Is it the sun, yes or no?

While there is little doubt about the fact that global temperatures
have increased during the last 100 years, there is continuing
scientific debate in respect of the sun’s contribution to current
global warming.
According to the 2007 IPCC report, changes in solar irradiance
since 1750 are estimated to have caused a radiative forcing of 0.12
(+0.6 to +0.30) watts per square metre.
This is compared to a total net anthropogenic (manmade)
forcing of 1.6 (+0.6 to +2.4) watts per square metre.
Manmade radiative forcing is therefore much greater than the
effect the sun has had warming the Earth since the year 1750.
Radiative forcing is basically the change in the balance between
radiation entering the Earth’s atmosphere and leaving it. Positive
forcing will warm the Earth and negative will cool it.
It seems therefore that while the sun does of course have an
effect on the Earth’s climate, and therefore potentially global
warming, such effects are nowhere near as great as those of
anthropogenic or manmade causes, the burning of fossil fuels etc.
However, much longer studies will have to be made, it seems,
to determine the answer for sure!

Key points

➢ Light energy emitted from the sun, solar
irradiance, has increased by about 0.05 per cent
each decade from 1978, which could affect Earth’s
climate over the long term.
➢ The sun goes through solar cycles, which occur
every eleven years.
➢ Sunspot numbers represent the general level of
solar activity, with peak sunspot activity occurring
during solar maximum.
➢ During the coldest part of the Little Ice Age,
sunspot activity was observed to be at its lowest.
➢ While the sun does of course have an effect on
Earth’s climate, solar irradiance has had a radiative

Interested in reading more? Try the book…