Archive | December, 2012

MELT ZONE – Join Robert Spire in his third action-adventure thriller – April 21st 2013…

30 Dec

MELT ZONE COVER 9

In 1938 the German New Swabia Expedition left Hamburg for Antarctica aboard the MS Schwabenland. The secret expedition arrived at the Princess Martha Coast, in an area which had been claimed by Norway as Dronning Maud Land, and began charting the region. Nazi German flags were placed on the sea ice along the coast…75 years later, something very odd is discovered…

RAPID ANTARCTIC ICE MELT…

Just before Europe’s Envisat satellite malfunctions, it photographs a mysterious melt zone during a fly-over of Eastern Antarctica. Following analysis of the photographs, the UKs GLENCOM – Global Environmental Command – Unit, sends three of its climatologists to investigate, but as they analyse the site, a vast crevasse opens in the ice, swallowing them up. They survive the fall, but make a startling and lethal discovery.

A HUNT ACROSS EUROPE…

GLENCOM agent and environmental lawyer, Robert Spire, has his Austrian skiing holiday interrupted following the discovery and is tasked to investigate a Cologne-based company that appears to be linked to the events unfolding in Antarctica. Things soon take a sinister turn, as clues lead him to the discovery of a 70 year-old Nazi document. For Spire, the knowledge he now possesses can only lead to one thing – certain death, as he is pursued relentlessly across Eastern Europe.

A DECADES-OLD NAZI MYTH…

With Spire missing, and a second search and rescue operation to the melt zone going disastrously wrong, GLENCOM organise a third expedition to the region, this time with the assistance of cryoscientist and glaciologist Irina Loptinova. If Spire makes it back to England alive, he will face his most daunting challenge yet, an expedition to the melt zone to discover what lies buried beneath the ice.

RAPID ANTARCTIC ICE MELT…

A HUNT ACROSS EUROPE…

A DECADES-OLD NAZI MYTH…

MELT ZONE

PROLOGUE

BERLIN

4th August 1944

CAPTAIN OTTO BAUER hurried along the tree-lined bank of the Landwehrkanal toward the Bendlerblock, tightly clutching in his right hand, the dossier that had just been handed to him. The sun was low in the sky, leaving long shadows on the surface of the slow moving waterway and on the imposing stone building standing a short distance away on the opposite side of the canal, former headquarters to the Imperial German Navy.

Bauer stopped by a tree to catch his breath and mopped his forehead. He was certain someone had been following him, but there was no sign of anyone on the narrow path that ran alongside the canal. His heart was beating faster than it should be. He was only forty-five years old, and fit, but the contents of the dossier and the secrecy surrounding its delivery had scared the hell out of him. He was nervous and concerned for his safety, both factors no doubt causing his pulse to race.

He took a few deep breaths to try and calm himself, before continuing toward the bridge thirty metres further along the canal bank. He reached it safely and ran across and checked behind him. There was nobody there. He emerged from the trees on the other side of the bank and onto the main street, just as two armed guards marched past, MP44 assault rifles strapped to their shoulders.

Bauer checked the route was clear. One of the army’s latest tanks, a King Tiger was stationed some distance down the street, a visible show of security following last month’s failed attempt on Hitler’s life.

He approached the ministry building, which up until five weeks ago was occupied by the Wehrmacht officers who had plotted against the Fuhrer. Yellow light spilled out into the darkening evening from the building’s large square windows.

The ministry was under the control of the SS and housed the temporary office of SS Officer Erich Voss.

As he looked up at the imposing building, he wished the assassination attempt on Hitler had been successful. He secretly despised the man who was leading his great nation to destruction.

Otto Bauer raised his arm to the guard as he walked through the high rectangular door to the main entrance where a second armed guard greeted him and checked his papers. “Heil Hitler!” The guard said, allowing him through.

Bauer reluctantly returned the salute.

He walked briskly along the marble-floored corridor and up to the first floor where Voss’s office was situated. As he reached the landing he stopped to catch his breath again and ran his hand through his hair to tidy it. He glanced down at the manila folder in his hand. The words Streng Geheim; Top Secret – Deutsche Antarktis Basis, were emblazoned in red ink across the front.

He greeted another armed guard standing outside the door, knocked and walked into the room. “Heil Hitler!” He saluted Voss, who was sitting behind a large oak desk.

Heil Hitler!” Voss repeated calmly, looking up from some paperwork he was studying.

Bauer lowered his arm and handed the folder to his superior. “The information you requested Herr Voss. It doesn’t appear good, disaster has struck.”

Erich Voss raised his hand to silence him, remaining seated as he slowly scrutinised the documents that had been in the folder. “Has anyone else seen this information?” Voss asked, looking up.

Bauer shook his head. “Only my contact I assume Mein Herr.”

“Very well,” Voss said, inserting the documents back into the folder. “Your task is complete. I will inform Herr Himmler in the morning. The necessary orders will be given to resolve this matter.”

Bauer nodded. “Heil Hitler!” he said raising his arm.

Heil!” Voss replied, from behind his desk. “Guten abend Herr Bauer, I trust you will enjoy the rest of your evening. My guard will escort you out.”

Bauer nodded apprehensively and turned to leave the room. As he stepped into the corridor, the last thing he heard was a single gunshot, followed by the thud from his own body, as he hit the cold polished marble floor.

CHAPTER 1

Antarctica

Queen Maud Land

Present day

THE JANUARY SUMMER sun glared off the Antarctic ice sheet, making it difficult for the two-man, one woman team to see properly as they cautiously made their way across the expanse of white to the location locked into their hand-held GPS equipment.

Dr Adam Hancock raised the global positioning device nearer to his face and studied it through his tinted snow goggles to check their current position. “According to this, the area should be just eighty metres further on, over that elevated ridge,” he said, pointing.

Dr Adam Hancock and Dr Greg Neilson stopped to rest and studied the low ridge of ice and snow ahead.

Professor Amy Martin, the youngest member of the group trudged on, pulling her equipment-laden sled. “Come on you two. I told you I wouldn’t be hanging around for you. That’s why I asked for younger and fitter team mates!” she shouted, only half joking.

The two men shrugged at each other, picked up the ropes attached to their sleds and continued on toward the ridge.

The team of climatologists had been assembled at short notice by the UK’s Met Office and GLENCOM – Global Environmental Command Unit – to go and visually inspect and take ice-core samples and measurements from a large melt zone that had appeared over a vast area of glacier in Queen Maud Land, some three-hundred kilometres inland from Antarctica’s Southern Ocean coast. Photographs taken by ESA’s Envisat Satellite just before communication had been mysteriously lost, had shown the area of rapidly melting ice to be in the region of 100 square kilometres, and inexplicable in terms of global warming in the region.

Professor Amy Martin ascended the gentle ridge, elevated some three metres above the surrounding glacier. The Antarctic sky was an incredible deep blue, the temperature fifteen below zero according to her wrist monitor. She felt privileged to be part of the UK’s new environmental unit, GLENCOM, established to monitor the globe’s environmental health and to deal with any threats against it and its inhabitants. Field trips like this, she thought, made all the hard training worthwhile.

She reached the top of the ridge, sucked in the sub-zero air and looked out over a vast shallow depression, the glacier clearly melting as if from some mysterious, invisible heat source. She shook her head as she stared out across the glacial plain. High above in the azure sky a loan contrail was just about visible, the airliner creating it, a tiny silver spec as it crossed the South Pole.

The glacial plain extended, it seemed, forever in all directions, but Amy knew it ended abruptly approximately three-hundred kilometres north of their position in thirty metre-high sheer ice cliffs, lapped by the Southern Ocean. What the hell could be causing this? she wondered.

She raised her binoculars and surveyed the vast sea of white through her goggles. Some five kilometres away, off to the right, she spotted a mountain ridge, the jagged peaks protruding through the ice must be part of the Wohlthat Mountains, she assumed.

“See anything interesting?” Hancock asked, as he and Greg Neilson reached the top of the ridge.

“Yes, a vast area of glacier which appears to be melting, just like the satellite data suggested.”

Hancock checked his GPS equipment. “Coordinates check. This is definitely the right location.”

“You don’t need the GPS to tell us that,” Neilson said, wiping his brow. He bent down and pulled a piton from the bag on his sled, hammered it into the ice and looped the end of the rope of their sleds around it, preventing the sleds and equipment from sliding back down the slope. “Let’s have a look then,” he said, raising his binoculars.

Hancock did likewise, standing in silence on the vast ice plateau, looking for any clues as to what might be causing the surface of the glacier to melt.

The team had been flown in by helicopter from the Halley Research Station after a flight from the UK via Buenos Aires four days previously. The satellite photographs had been delivered to GLENCOM’s London base, after a routine pass of the area by ESA’s Envisat Satellite. It transpired that a keen intern working at the European Space Agency had compared recent photographs with a set taken three months earlier and had noticed the difference in topography, which had in turn led to the group’s speedy dispatch to Antarctica as soon as weather had permitted. The fact that ESA had now lost their massive Earth-observing satellite after only a decade in orbit was very unfortunate, as no further images from the satellite were possible.

Hancock checked the time, it was approaching four p.m. “The light’s beginning to fade and the temperature will start dropping significantly in a few hours. I suggest we get some ice-cores from various locations, insert the temperature monitoring pods and return tomorrow to get the rest done. What do you say?”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Amy said.

“Let’s get on with it, I’m getting hungry,” Neilson added.

Hancock nodded and the two of them started unpacking the ice-core extraction equipment from the sleds.

“I’ll go and plant the temp sensor pods along the perimeter of the melt zone,” Amy said, making her way down the gently sloping ridge to the edge of the vast plateau of melting ice. She reached the level ground and started pulling the temperature sensor pods from her backpack. Each cylindrical device was about the size of a dumbbell, without the weights, and had a half-metre long ‘spike’ fitted with sensors that extended to secure it into the ice. Further sensors were fitted to the cylinder which rested above the level of the ice. The devices were designed to precisely measure the smallest variation in temperature above and below the surface of the glacier.

She made her way along the flat surface for three metres or so, following the edge of the ice bank that rose on her left and bent down and inserted the first sensor into the ice. The long stainless steel spike slid easily into the surface of the glacier, the ice making a dull squeak as its molecules were compressed as the spike was driven in.

She glanced up at the other two, still assembling the ice-core boring equipment at the top of the bank some ten metres away. She continued with her task and bent down to insert the second of the fifteen pods. As she forced the second sensor in, she heard a low distant rumble. She stopped what she was doing and listened, glancing up at the guys on the ridge. There was no reaction from them, they clearly hadn’t heard anything. Then she heard it again, but it couldn’t possibly be. The sound was coming from beneath the ice!

She knelt down and put the side of her head to the surface. The low rumble became louder, like a freight-train passing deep underneath. All of a sudden, a crack appeared, travelling out thirty metres from her position, accompanied by a sound like snapping tree branches. “What the hell?” she screamed, as the ice around her fractured into half-metre wide cracks, exposing the light blue compacted ice below.

“Guys, I’m in trouble,” she shouted, just as a twenty metre-wide chasm opened up beneath her.

Hancock and Neilson heard her screams. Neilson was the first to turn around to see what was going on. “What the hell? Amy… Amy!” he shouted.

A huge crevasse had opened in the ice where Amy had been placing the temp pods. From his position on the ridge, the crevasse looked like a bottomless hole, snow-white at the top, with blue, green and finally cobalt-steel ice visible lower down in the glacier.

Hancock dropped the ice core extractor, raised his binoculars and studied the scene, just as another huge split in the ice travelled at breakneck speed up the ridge towards their position.

“Get the hell outa here,” Neilson shouted, as the crack opened wider and engulfed the both of them before they could react. They fell some three metres down to a ledge that formed a two-metre wide spiral ramp which appeared to drop into the depths of the glacier.

Hancock reached for his ice pick and rammed it into the ice.

Neilson who was positioned slightly lower than him held onto his waist.

Hancock had his arm extended forward, his hand clenching the handle of his ice pick. “OK, don’t move a muscle,” he said, quietly.

“Jesus Christ, its far worse than I thought,” Neilson said, his voice trembling.

“Amy, are you OK?” Hancock shouted.

A faint voice echoed up from somewhere beneath them. “I…I think my legs are broken.”

“Thank God, she’s still alive,” Hancock said. “Greg, have you got the GPS homing beacon on you?”

Neilson carefully reached down to his belt. “Yes, I think so,” he said, after a few moments.

“Good, turn it on, be careful.”

As he spoke, the ice ramp they were resting on let out a squeak, quickly followed by a resonating crack, before finally giving way. The two of them slid uncontrollably down into the crevasse, landing awkwardly with a dull thud in an ice cavern some thirty-metres below the surface. Chunks of ice and snow landed all around them.

“Ah shit,” Neilson said, “I’ve sliced my hand on something.” He pulled it from the loose pile of snow and ice piled around them. His hand was dripping in blood; his little finger had been severed from his palm, attached only by a sliver of ripped flesh. He strapped it up with a handkerchief, feeling no pain from the wound.

Using his good hand, he carefully reached into the mound of snow, found the object that had caused the damage and yanked it to the surface. “What on Earth?”

His hand was clasped around the top half of a rusty metal dart, approximately one metre in length. The sharp end had separated from the main body. He had sliced his hand on one of three sharp steel fins at the stabilizing end. Embossed into each fin was a German swastika.

“Jesus, you guys took your time!” Amy shouted, from behind a vertical column of ice.

Hancock had landed on his side. He moved his legs and then pushed himself up with his left arm and yelped in pain. “Shit, I think my arm’s bust,” he said, looking at Neilson.

Neilson shuffled over and helped Hancock to his feet. “I appear to be alright. Apart from this,” he said, raising his injured hand into the air.

They found Amy a few metres away, behind a thick column of ice, lying on the floor alongside the sheer vertical side of the crevasse, her right leg twisted at an unnatural angle beneath her.

“Shit, are you in pain?” Hancock asked her.

“Only when I try and move,” Amy replied, gritting her teeth in obvious discomfort.

Neilson looked up the vertical wall of blue ice to the surface. The ice was a stunning powder blue where the sunlight struck the sides of the crevasse above, becoming almost cobalt blue, even turquoise lower down. The large crack they had fallen through couldn’t be seen, although light was still penetrating from the opening way above them. “We must be at least thirty metres down here.”

“Have you turned the GPS transponder on?” Amy asked.

“I was just about to when the ledge collapsed,” Neilson said. “I’ll do it now.” He trudged back to the location of their fall and his backpack. He removed the transponder from his bag and picked up the large metal dart that had sheered through his hand to show his two colleagues. He walked back to where they were both lying and held it up. “What do you suppose this is?”

“Where did you find it?” Amy asked.

“It must have been in the ice. Cut clean through my hand when I landed on it. There’s a Nazi swastika on the fin here.”

A what?

A loud rumble resonated up through the ice, shaking the surface beneath them. Snow and chunks of ice rained down from above, narrowly missing the three of them.

“What the hell was that?” Neilson shouted.

Then, the vertical ice face in front of them started to crack. A large split travelled up some ten metres from the base of the cave, then moved horizontally the same distance and back down again, forming a large square in the solid ice.

What on Earth?” Amy said, as the other two dragged her away from the vertical wall.

Without warning the large square section of ice fell away, shattering on the cavern floor like a sheet of glass.

The stunned climatologists looked up in silence. Behind the wall of ice was a solid surface, steel-grey in colour and apparently man-made. A seam could clearly be made out running centrally up the middle of the structure, similar to the closed doors on an elevator.

The three of them looked at each other, momentarily lost for words. “OK guys, this is freaking me out. Please tell me what we’re looking at,” Amy said, taking out her TerreStar satellite phone.

“I got no God damn idea,” Hancock said, shaking his head. He slowly moved over to the solid steel wall, the only sound was a squeaking coming from the snow and ice as it compacted under his boots. “Look over here, there are markings, some kind of inscription,” he said.

Neilson moved forward to take a closer look.

Amy handed him the phone. “Get a photo of it.”

He took a photograph of the faint lettering, positioned at shoulder height on the far right hand side of the steel structure.

He handed the phone back to Amy. “Quick, send the image back to GLENCOM.”

Amy did as requested, her fingers trembling from the cold, and now fear. As she pressed the send button, the ground beneath them started to shake again, followed by a hydraulic groan which emanated from behind the steel structure. Then, the seam in the centre started to separate. Blocks of ice started falling down again, missing them by inches.

My God, it’s opening up!” Neilson shouted, moving back from the structure.

The massive steel door slowly parted, like elevator doors in slow motion. As it opened, they could see the door was made from at least thirty-centimetre thick steel, possibly coated in stainless steel, as no rust or corrosion was evident. The hydraulic whine got louder.

“This is incredible,” Hancock said, looking at each of his colleagues in turn.

The doors continued opening, retracting, it appeared into the ice, but obviously into the solid structure now visible within the glacier.

They all stared into the dark void, which seemingly stretching into the depths of the glacier. A rectangular tunnel, ten metres square, constructed from virtually seamless steel panels disappeared into the darkness. At the base of it, a deep central groove, like an inverted monorail track was visible.

In the darkness a pin-prick of light blinked on, glowing deep red and gradually getting larger.

The three climatologists shielded their faces as a blast of hot air rushed out of the tunnel. Before they could comprehend what was happening, the ball of light grew to fill the shaft, glowing brighter, becoming hotter.

A resonating and low frequency hum filled the ice cave. The heat from the red glowing object became unbearable. Then, a red orb emerged from the tunnel, engulfing Hancock and Neilson in flames.

Amy closed her eyes, her hair now charged with static and standing on end, the searing heat burning into her for an instant. The pain was excruciating, the intense red light visible through her eyelids like a furnace and then…darkness again.

The flight attendant on the Qantas A380 Airbus en route to Los Angeles lent over the sleeping passenger seated in the aisle seat of the rear upper Premium Economy cabin. “There you go sir, enjoy,” she said, in a soft Australian accent, handing the passenger his vodka and tonic.

“Thank you,” Anthony John said, straightening his seat. He stirred his drink and glanced out of the window at the glistening glacial ice eleven thousand metres below.

John relaxed back into his seat, thinking about the meeting he’d had the day before in Sidney, negotiations to expand his LA based architectural practise into one of Sidney’s up and coming suburbs. His thoughts drifted from building design to the design and engineering of the aircraft he was on. The last time he’d flown to Australia was on a 747, but this plane was incredible, he could barely hear any sound from the four massive Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines.

Most of the passengers in the quiet cabin appeared to be dozing. He sipped his drink and looked out of the window at the coastline of Antarctica below. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something, a pin-prick of red light against the white. It appeared to be the afterburner from a fighter jet.

He sat up in his seat and pressed his face to the window. The red glow was getting brighter, larger. What the hell was it? John glanced around the cabin; no one else appeared to have noticed. The woman beside him was still sleeping.

He estimated the object to be some five-thousand feet below the plane, perhaps two miles behind. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before. Stories of UFO sightings he’d read about flashed through his mind. He couldn’t think what he could be looking at. The red glow became brighter. He looked for the flight attendant, but she was way down the opposite end of the aisle. He looked back out of the window. The object was now almost level with the aircraft, still some distance behind, off the starboard side. Had the pilots seen it?

The cabin’s LED lights faded, blinked out and flickered on again. John stared aghast as the truck-sized glowing orb flew level with the aircraft, like a ball of plasma, which appeared to be under intelligent control. His drink slipped through his hand, spilling over his neighbour, waking her with a start. John was oblivious to her protestations as he watched the object accelerate toward the front of the aircraft.

Captain James Hunter tapped the Primary Flight liquid crystal display screen in front of him. “That’s never happened before,” he said, glancing at First Officer Roger Stapleton. “Have you noticed that happening on any other flight?”

“Never,” Stapleton said, frowning at the flickering display.

Suddenly the aircraft’s flight management system registered an overload in the electrical power supply to the electro-hydrostatic actuators controlling the ailerons. Red lights blinked on the console in front of them. The interconnecting wing ailerons tilted, one up, one down sending the aircraft into a roll. The FMS instructed the four Trent engines to reduce power in response.

“Christ, disengaged the autopilot,” Captain Hunter shouted as the A380 started to stall.

As Hunter and Stapleton yanked the four engine thrust levers back they were blinded as the cockpit was bathed in a powerful red light.

“What the hell is that?” Captain Hunter shouted, wrestling with the Airbus’s controls as the A380 went into a steep rolling dive; dropping through the air like a stone toward the vast white continent of Antarctica below.

A light on the console confirmed the cabin’s oxygen equipment had been deployed; the two pilots had already donned theirs. The digits on the altimeter were going crazy – they had already dropped thirteen thousand feet.

Through the flight-deck windows the pilots watched the glowing orb track the aircraft as they descended. Then, in an instant the red glow blinked out as quickly as it had appeared. Three seconds later engine thrust returned to normal and the electrical fault with the ailerons appeared to correct itself.

Captain Hunter shook his head and wiped his brow as the A380 levelled off at 5,875 feet.

“Mayday, mayday,” the first officer shouted into his headset. This is Qantas flight F-WWSK AIB–SK on route to Los Angeles, requesting an emergency landing.”

There was a pause in the static, and a clear voice said; “This is Mount Pleasant ATC, Falkland Islands, please confirm current status and reason for request?”

“Electrical fault. We just dropped twenty-five thousand feet. Problem appears to have rectified itself for now. Repeat request for emergency landing, over.”

There was a further pause. “Permission granted. You are cleared to land at Mount Pleasant Airport, over.”

Captain Hunter exhaled a sigh of relief. “I’d better reassure the passengers. I don’t know what the hell that thing was, but I’m not going to hold anything back in the debriefing.”

Stapleton nodded. “I need the toilet,” he said, unbuckling himself.

CHAPTER 2

Cologne, Germany

January 30th

BAREND HUBER SPLASHED cold water onto his face and looked at his tired reflection in the bathroom mirror. He grabbed a handful of paper towels to dry himself. He felt like he’d done a full cycle in a washing machine. He was exhausted from sleepless nights, anxiety and fear. Fear from what he’d discovered last Sunday afternoon when he’d been working overtime, trying to finish a report before his planned two weeks leave which was due to commence tomorrow.

He picked up his glasses from the white melamine counter and put them back on, a slight tremor evident in his right hand. He checked the time; 3.30 p.m., only another thirty minutes and he could leave.

He was still planning on taking a two week holiday, but the discovery he’d made last Sunday now changed things. The information he possessed meant he couldn’t return to work, certainly not after the involvement of the press and the cash offer he’d received for the information from a local reporter, who’d agreed to publish the story anonymously in Der Tagesspiegel.

The bathroom door opened and a man he hadn’t seen before walked in. “Guten tag,” the man said, disappearing into one of the cubicles.

Huber wasn’t entirely surprised he didn’t recognise the employee. The ZVB Korporation employed about three hundred people and new employees seemed to come and go all the time. Older staff retired or just seemed to disappear, new staff recruited.

Huber had been employed for three years as part of a small research team, specialising in bionics – computer neuron control systems. His was a niche department within the corporation, whose work primarily focussed on the biofuel sector. At least that’s what he’d thought until last Sunday.

He left the bathroom, the palms of his hands already feeling sweaty, and walked along the burgundy carpeted corridor to his office which he shared with three other colleagues, none of whom he particularly trusted.

He sat down at his desk and started packing up and making sure his computer had been wiped clean of all personal records and e-mails.

“Looking forward to your vacation? Lake Starnberg isn’t it?” Sandra Hoch asked, whilst continuing to type in program code for a new bionic horse limb the team had been working on.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to the break. My eyes need a rest from these screens,” he replied, forcing a smile. As he spoke, he glanced down at his locked drawer containing the folder of information and felt his forehead perspiring. He’d come across the data hidden on an obscure file buried in one of the company’s seldom-used hard drives. The folder had been given the name ‘ZVB Korporation Original Building Plans 1972.’ Intrigued, Huber had overridden the secure password and opened the folder. Amongst the plans for the building that would eventually house the corporation, were a series of grainy black and white photographs, memos and documents marked Streng Geheim – Top Secret. The secret nature of the folder had proven to have been too tempting to ignore. The contents of it had taken him a while to digest, and even now a shiver ran down his spine as he thought about the material.

Huber finished deleting the last of his personal messages and set his ‘Out Of Office’ assistant and closed down the computer.

“That’s me done; no more computers for two weeks,” he said, his stomach churning over at the thought of removing the printed secret documents from the premises.

“Anything you need us to take care of while you’re gone?” Hoch asked.

“Everything should be fine. I’ve completed the final report on the motor-neuron connectors for the equine limbs. The third generation human bionic arm program doesn’t start until a week after I get back, so everything should be fine.”

“Very well,” Hoch said, smiling. “Enjoy your vacation.”

Huber nodded and reached down to unlock his desk drawer, pulled the A4 folder out and quickly shoved it into his ruck sack. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief, smiled again at Sandra Hoch for the last time and stood to leave the room.

As he went to leave, one of the office cleaners entered the room. “Guten tag Barend,” he said.

“Guten tag,” Huber replied. “I’m just leaving, getting out of here for two weeks, a well-earned vacation,” he said to Hans Klein, whom he was on speaking terms with. Klein was one of the only cleaners who’d managed to keep his job the entire time Huber had been there. Most had gone; it seemed, within six months or so. Klein appeared to be quite a bright man, and Huber wondered why he was working as an office cleaner, his intellect was clearly wasted here.

“Anywhere fancy?” The cleaner asked.

“Not really, just Lake Starnburg for two weeks.”

“Ah, good. Enjoy,” the cleaner said, placing his right arm around Huber’s shoulder momentarily, before gently slapping him on the back.

Huber hadn’t noticed the cleaner being quite so tactile before. Nice chap, he thought, as he hurried along the corridor to the elevator that would take him down to the foyer.

The elevator’s doors pinged open. Huber’s stomach immediately turned over as he stepped out and saw the metal detector and X-ray scanner every employee and visitor needed to go through when entering the premises. Sometimes, when it was quiet, the guards would also check people leaving the building, and to Huber’s concern, the foyer was looking very quiet right now. As he approached the exit, both guards, dressed in their official dark-blue trousers and white shirt uniforms were leaning against one of the desks behind the X-ray scanner, talking. He sensed them watching him as he approached the exit and he glanced towards them briefly.

The guard with a blonde buzz cut caught his eye and nodded, pushed himself off the table and started walking towards him.

Huber felt a wave of panic come over him as he thought about the file in his rucksack, his pulse started racing.

At the same moment, three Japanese businessmen walked into the building, each carrying black briefcases. The guard with the buzz cut glanced at Huber, nodded as if to say, you’re OK and went to greet the three men, ushering them toward the security area.

Huber quickly exited through the revolving glass doors onto the street and breathed a sigh of relief. He’d made it. He pulled his collar up against the biting wind. The sky was grey and it looked like it was about to snow at any time. He didn’t fancy the thirty minute walk and headed for the U-Bahn to take the underground three stops northwest to a discreet café where he’d arranged to meet the reporter. It was then only a stone’s throw to his apartment where Hannah, his partner of six years would be waiting for him.

On the sixth floor of the ZVB Korp building, the cleaner looked out of the window to the street below and watched Gerand Huber walk briskly east.  He turned off the vacuum and closed the office door. Sandra Hoch had just left.

He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a small smartphone which had just four round black buttons on it and a screen. He depressed button 3 and spoke quietly into the phone. “Target has been tagged and has just left, heading towards the U-Bahn station. He has the papers in his rucksack. Viel gluck.”

The cleaner calmly removed the miniature camera he’d hidden some weeks back from the potted cactus plant on the window sill behind Huber’s desk, brushed the dry earth off the white plastic sill onto the floor and resumed vacuuming.

MELT ZONE – AVAILABLE 21st APRIL 2013.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION VISIT SIROSSERTHRILLERS

A-Z of Global Warming: 2012 Edition. C – Carbon Dioxide.

22 Dec

C – CARBON DIOXIDE

 

Okay, so we are now well into our alphabetic A–Z journey throughglobal warming. C for Carbon Dioxide is one of the main playersin the global-warming problem. Carbon dioxide, chemical symbolCO2, is a chemical compound composed of one carbon and twooxygen atoms.1

CO2 is present in the Earth’s atmosphere at a low concentration, about 0.038 per cent by volume, and is one of many gases that make up Earth’s atmosphere (see Chapter G). CO2 is measured in parts per million by volume of air (ppmv). Atmospheric CO2 derives from many natural sources, including volcanic eruptions, the combustion of organic matter, the respiration of living aerobic organisms, and unfortunately from manmade (anthropogenic) sources, which we all know from the news is being linked to global warming and climate change.

Since the Industrial Revolution, particularly the mid – nineteenth century, the burning of fossil fuels for energy to provide electricity, power factories and homes, and for all our transport needs, has released massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Not only the burning of fossil fuels, but changes in the use of the land for agriculture and deforestation (looked at in the next chapter), have further added to global manmade CO2 levels.

According to the WWF some twenty-nine gigatons, which is 29,000,000,000 metric tons of CO2, were, in 2004 alone, added to the atmosphere from burning coal, oil and gas. If we go back 250 years or so, to pre-industrial times, usually taken to be approximately 1750, CO2 levels in the atmosphere stood at about 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv). However, levels of the gas have been increasing steadily ever since.

How do we know this?

 

Well, pioneering scientist Charles Keeling (1928–2005) started taking atmospheric CO2 measurements in 1958 from Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Those measurements have been recorded and are now known as the Keeling curve. Charles Keeling was the professor of oceanography at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO), in San Diego, USA. He followed the work of another eminent scientist and director of the SIO, Roger Revelle. Dr Revelle was instrumental in creating the Geophysical Year in 1958, and SIO’s first programme looking at atmospheric CO2 back in 1956.

Monthly CO2 measurements were collected from a height of 3,397 metres (11,140 feet) at the Mauna Loa Observatory situated on the slopes of Earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, which was

chosen for its remoteness from populations and vegetation, so as not to skew the readings.

Measurements have been taken over a fifty-nine-year period, between 1958 and present, and show an increase in CO2 levels of 70 ppmv from about 315 ppmv to approximately their current level of 385 ppmv. The effects of CO2 in the atmosphere can even be measured on a cyclical basis, and this can be seen in the saw-toothed Keeling graph. Because there is a greater land area, and thus far more plant life in the northern hemisphere (as mentioned in Chapter A) compared to the southern hemisphere, there is an annual fluctuation of about five ppmv peaking in May and reaching a minimum in October. This corresponds to the northern hemisphere growing season. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere drops towards spring, when uptake by the plants and trees by photosynthesis is greatest. The opposite occurs in winter when the plants die off and CO2 levels rise again.2

Continuous readings in this way have been taken only since 1958. However, scientists have discovered that prior to the industrial era, circa 1750, CO2 levels stood at about 280 ppmv, and this data has been revealed from air trapped in ice core records, taken from both the Antarctic and Arctic.3 Perhaps most startling is the fact that CO2 levels are now about eighty-five ppmv higher than at any time during the last 650,000 years. Records from ice-core records go back that far and have shown atmospheric CO2 levels to range from 180-300 ppmv during that period. The level of CO2 in our atmosphere now stands at 385 ppmv, and is increasing steadily.4 , 5 , 6

The Keeling curve has become one of the most recognisable images in modern science, as it shows with no uncertainty the effects of humankind’s fossil-fuel pollution of Earth’s atmosphere.

CO2 levels have increased by thirty-seven per cent since preindustrial times and have been increasing by an average of almost 1.4 ppmv a year since measurements began in 1958 – although some months the figure has been higher, sometimes lower. In the last ten years, the average increase appears to be about 1.9 ppmv each year, which indicates the rate of increase is increasing. This is looked at further in Chapter I.

Where does all the CO2 go?

 

It is estimated that about fifty per cent is absorbed by the oceans and land (soil, plants, trees etc.) in equal amounts, and fifty per cent remains in the atmosphere. The oceans absorb vast amounts of CO2 and act as a major sink/store for the gas, just as do the forests of the Amazon. However, the oceans take a relatively long time to absorb the CO2 that is pumped into the atmosphere, and

therefore the effects of current CO2 levels may not be reflected by the oceans for some time to come. The oceans can sustain many times more CO2 than the atmosphere can. According to NOAA the oceans have taken up about 118,000,000,000 metric tons of CO2 from human sources (anthropogenic CO2) between 1800 and 1994. This equates to about forty-eight per cent of all manmade CO2, which would be enough to push atmospheric CO2 up by an additional fifty-five ppm.

Why is carbon dioxide such a problem?

 

Basically global-warming theory predicts that increasing amounts of CO2 (and other gases) in the atmosphere tend to enhance the greenhouse effect and thus contribute to global warming. Despite

CO2 being present in the atmosphere in small concentration, natural CO2 levels are a very important component of Earth’s atmosphere. As mentioned earlier, CO2 is one of Earth’s natural

greenhouse gases and it helps the Earth maintain its temperature by trapping some of the sun’s heat, which would otherwise escape back into space. If this did not happen the Earth would be some 30°C (54°F) cooler and have an average temperature of about -18°C (-0.4°F) – pretty chilly, unless of course you are a penguin!

CO2 is also essential for life on Earth. Photosynthesis, the process by which plants and trees absorb CO2 and produce oxygen, could not occur without it. In the distant past volcanoes were the main source of Earth’s CO2, and there are still lots of active volcanoes on Earth, such as Mount Etna and Stromboli in Italy, which have been erupting continuously for thousands of years. Erupting volcanoes are just part of Earth’s natural CO2 cycle, and the CO2 they emit will eventually be absorbed back into the oceans and the land.

CO2 is only one of the gases that make up the Earth’s atmosphere that are collectively referred to as greenhouse gases. As we shall see in later chapters, the higher the level of greenhouse gases of which manmade CO2 is a component, the higher the Earth’s temperature is likely to be. The effects of higher temperatures could be catastrophic, as we shall be reminded throughout this book.

We will now look at deforestation, which is a continuing problem, and which destroys the Earth’s rainforests ability to soak up CO2. The rainforests  destruction also adds to CO2 levels as dead and decaying trees release their stores of carbon back into the atmosphere that were taken out over many decades of growth.

CARBON DIOXIDE 2012 UPDATE.

 

So, what’s the position with CO2 levels now? Well, they have continued to increase and now stand at 393 ppm. Click on the following link to be taken to the  NOAA website which gives a graph taken from the Mauna Loa data. An increase of 10 ppm in the four years since this book was first written.

A record-setting 30.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere in 2010. That’s a 45 per cent increase in the global annual release of carbon dioxide by humans since 1990, reports the International Energy Agency.  According to the Guardian report, Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. “These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] projections, such a path would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,” he said. “Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

In 2011, reports Reuters, global CO2 emissions rose a further 3.2 per cent to 34.83 billion tons, with China making the largest contribution to the rise.

In 2012, CO2 emissions were again forecast to rise to 35.6 billion tonnes – ScienceDaily.

Many scientists have long suspected that rising levels of carbon dioxide and the global warming that ended the last Ice Age were somehow linked, but establishing a clear cause-and-effect relationship between CO2 and global warming from the geologic record has remained difficult.

A new study, funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Nature, identifies this relationship and provides compelling evidence that rising CO2 caused much of the global warming.

Despite biofuels being developed for jet-engines, recent predictions for aircraft CO2 emissions show they will double or triple by 2050. Currently global aircraft emissions contribute around 2-3 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. More worryingly, global emissions are set to increase by 43 per cent by 2035 as fossil fuels remain the number one energy source and coal becomes the number one fuel. Carbon capture and storage technology is unlikely to keep up with the pace of coal burning energy production.

The bad news is that CO2 levels are continuing to rise, forcing Earth’s temperature up as they do. Greenhouse gases, of which CO2 is just one, will be looked at further in chapter G.

Key points

 

➢ CO2 is just one of Earth’s greenhouse gases and makes up just 0.038 per cent by volume of atmospheric gas.

➢ Levels of CO2 have increased from 280 to 393 ppmv since circa 1750, an increase of thirty seven per cent, mainly as a result of burning fossil fuels.

➢ CO2 is a global-warming gas and current levels are higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

Professor Charles Keeling started taking measurements of CO2 from Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, and they show an increase from 315 to 393 ppm since 1958.

1 Wikipedia (carbon dioxide).

2 NASA, http://www.visibleearth.nasa.gov, the Keeling curve.

3 Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change, Part I.

4 Ibid.

5 Real Climate, http://www.realclimate.org.

6 Mongabay.

images (2)

A-Z of Global Warming: 2012 Edition – A for AMAZON

17 Dec

A – AMAZON

 

We start our A–Z journey on global warming with the Amazon rainforest, which has an incredibly important role to play in maintaining balance in the Earth’s climate, in ways that are only just being understood. The Amazon is inextricably linked to the issue of global warming and therefore a very good place to start our inquiry into what may be the biggest threat to our existence on this planet.

Amazon facts

 

The Amazon river basin contains the largest rainforest on Earth and covers approximately forty per cent of the South American continent. The rainforest is located in eight countries. Brazil has sixty per cent, with Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana between them containing the rest. The Amazon forest is a natural reservoir of genetic diversity, containing the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest that exists. The Amazon contains an amazing thirty per cent of Earth’s species. One square kilometre can sustain about 90,000 tons of living plants! It’s also amazing to consider that one in five of all the birds in the world make the rainforest their home. The Amazon basin is drained by the Amazon River, the world’s second longest after the Nile. The river is essentially the lifeline of the forest. It is the most voluminous on Earth and its daily freshwater discharge into the Atlantic is enough to supply New York City’s freshwater needs for nine years!1 New measurements recently taken by scientists, however, suggest that the Amazon may actually be the longest river in the world. No doubt this will be confirmed if true, at some point in the future!

A few thousand years ago tropical rainforests covered as much as twelve per cent of the Earth’s land surface, but today the figure is below five per cent. The largest stretch of rainforest can be found in the Amazon river basin, over half of which is situated in Brazil.2

Why is the Amazon so important in the context of global warming?

 

The rainforest acts as a major store of carbon and produces enormous amounts of oxygen. The Amazon has been referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ because of its affect on the climate. The way this is achieved is of course through photosynthesis, the process by which green plants and trees use the energy from sunlight to produce food by taking CO2 from the air and water and converting it to carbon. The by-product of this is oxygen. The Amazon therefore helps recycle CO2 by turning it into oxygen, and it is estimated that the Amazon produces about twenty per cent of this essential gas for Earth’s atmosphere.

Trees, plants and CO2

 

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been measured since 1958, from a monitoring station located on Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. They show sharp annual increases and decreases in CO2 levels, similar to the tooth on a saw. The readings seem to mimic a breath of air being taken in and out, almost as if the Earth is breathing. They correspond to the amount of vegetation on the

planet (most of which is in the northern hemisphere, as the landmass there is greater), taking in CO2, and giving out oxygen. During summer in the northern hemisphere, when the Earth is tilted towards the sun, Earth’s vegetation is able to photosynthesise, resulting in an uptake of CO2, causing worldwide CO2 levels to drop. In winter in the northern hemisphere, when Earth’s axis is tilted away from the sun, the opposite happens, causing CO2 levels to rise again.

When one becomes aware of the correlation between the Earth’s vegetation and CO2 levels, it is easy to understand why the Amazon, and rainforests in general, are such an important part of Earth’s ecosystem. The problem is, however, that although the measurements taken at the volcano in Hawaii show sharp up and down annual readings, the measurements also show a simultaneous steady upward trend in CO2 levels. The importance of CO2 in relation to global warming will be a recurring theme throughout this book, and will be looked at further in Chapter C.

What has been happening in the Amazon?

A worrying trend is the Amazon having experienced two consecutive years of drought, in 2005 and 2006. The drought in 2005, which left rivers dry, stranded thousands of villagers, and put regional commerce at a standstill, was the worst on record. A second year of drought is of great concern to researchers studying the Amazon ecosystem. Field studies by the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Research Centre in the USA, suggest that Amazon forest ecosystems may not withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without starting to break down. Severe drought weakens forest trees and dries leaf litter leaving forests susceptible to land-clearing fires set during the July-October period each year. According to the Woods Hole Research Centre, it also puts forest ecosystems at risk of shifting into a savannah-like state.3

A recent experiment carried out by a team of researchers suspended 5,600 large plastic panels between 1 and 4 metres (3.2– 13.1 feet) above the ground to mimic severe drought conditions, where as much as eighty per cent of a one-hectare plot is deprived of eighty per cent of rainfall. Measuring rainfall, soil moisture, leaf and canopy characteristics over time, it was found that after

four years the rainforest trees began to die while leaf litter dried and became tinder for wild fires.4

Another factor is the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, a climatic phenomenon that influences much of the climate in the region, particularly Northeast Brazil, and the northern Amazon. ENSO brings with it dry conditions in the above areas, and manmade climate change is thought to increase this naturally occurring phenomenon in the future. ENSO is further looked at

in Chapter W.

Some climate models have suggested that temperatures in the Amazon may increase by 2 to 3°C (3.6–5.4°F) by the year 2050, together with a decrease in rainfall during the dry period. If the drought continues, based on the results of the aforementioned experiment, 2007/8 could be a turning point for the forest, which may mean that a tipping point will be reached where the forest will start to die, with catastrophic consequences for Earth’s climate.

If this trend continues, according to the WWF, between thirty and sixty per cent of the Amazon rainforest could become dry savannah, rendering the forest a source of CO2 instead of a sink/ store of it, which it currently is. There are ways in which we can all help try and sustain this vast and ecologically important expanse of rainforest, and these will be discussed in Chapter Y.

The Amazon will be considered further in Chapter D, where the problem of deforestation is looked at.

We will now consider the importance of biofuels as an alternative source of fuel, and how biofuels may help in the fight against global warming. Ironically, this is also causing problems for the Amazon and other rainforests, as areas of forest are cleared for the planting of crops for biofuel production.

AMAZON: 2012 UPDATE.

So, what’s been happening in the Amazon over the last four years? The “one-in-100” year drought that struck the Amazon in 2005 returned in 2010, this time possibly releasing more than the 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the 2005 drought did. Experts fear that if such extreme droughts become more frequent – which appears to be the case – the Amazon may cease to provide a natural buffer to man-made carbon emissions.

Dr Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds reported in the Journal of Science, “Having two events of this magnitude in such close succession is extremely unusual, but unfortunately consistent with those climate models that project a grim future for Amazonia.” – Mongabay.

Global climate simulations suggest that further droughts, such as the ones in 2005 and 2010 could eventually turn the Amazon from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter. Researches now fear that the apparent increase of severe droughts – caused by a combination of climate change, fragmentation and deforestation – could cause the collapse of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem. The UK’s Guardian newspaper covered the story well, here and here.

A new study on its way to being published shows that the Amazon rainforest suffered greatly from last year’s drought. Employing satellite data and supercomputing technology, researchers have found that the Amazon was likely hit harder by 2010’s drought than a recent severe drought from 2005. The droughts have supported predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) that climate change, among other impacts, could push portions of the Amazon to grasslands, devastating the world’s greatest rainforest. “The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation—a measure of its health—decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010,” explains the study’s lead author Liang Xu of Boston University – Mongabay.

According to Mongabay, scientists, using climate simulation models at the UK’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research, have forecast significant “die-back” of the Amazon rainforest by mid-century and a virtual collapse of the ecosystem by 2100. So, it would seem that if the current trend continues, the future of Earth’s largest rainforest looks bleak.

Click on the following photograph from the National Geographic website, taken in November 2010, which shows the Negro River, a tributary of the Amazon coming to an abrupt end.

The Amazon is further looked at in chapter D in terms of deforestation.

Key points

 

➢ The Amazon rainforest contains about thirty per cent of Earth’s species.

➢ World rainforest cover has over thousands of years decreased from twelve per cent to five per cent.

➢ The Amazon helps to recycle CO2, a gas which contributes to global warming and while doing so produces about twenty per cent of Earth’s oxygen.

➢ CO2 levels rise and fall with the seasons. There is greater landmass and hence vegetation in the northern hemisphere, which means that when Earth is tilted towards the sun during northern summertime, CO2 levels drop as a result of there being greater uptake of CO2 from photosynthesis. During the winter, the opposite happens and CO2 levels rise again.

images (2)