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The Amazon and Global Warming

23 Jan

THE 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! 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.

 

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 2006, 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.

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.

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 further considered in Chapter D, where the problem of deforestation is looked at.

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.

Enjoy this excerpt? If so, download your copy of THE A-Z OF GLOBAL WARMING(US) (UK) now on Kindle or available on paperback.

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Eco-Thrillers: A New Genre?

29 Oct

Perhaps it’s time to treat your Kindle to a new thriller? How about an Eco-thriller? This blog is devoted to the books currently out there which combine action, adventure and thrills, with a threat – either natural or man-made – to the environment, which causes local or even global disaster and destruction. Sound like a good recipe? Read on…

You don’t have to be a ‘Tree-hugger’ – no offence to trees or hugging intended – to enjoy these types of books. In fact, although these titles are all fictional, not only do you get a decent story and fast-paced read, but the books are quite often very informative and laced with science, so the reader also usually learns something in the process…What could be better?

Eco-thrillers have actually been around for a good while. The 1950s and 1960s were filled with “Our planet is getting mad” themes, which were told through the numerous science fiction films that came out during that period.

The Day The Earth Stood Still,” based on author Harry Bates’ short 1940s story, “Farewell To The Master,” which came with a message from outer space that Earth needed to be saved from mankind, is probably one of the most well-known of those films, but I dare say, not many people have heard of the book, or even the author.

More recently, movies such as  “The Day After Tomorrow,” about the sudden halting of the Atlantic Ocean Thermohaline Circulation, based on the 1999 book, “The Coming Global Superstorm,” by Whitley Strieber and Art Bell,  and Richard Matheson’s  last man on the planet, “I am Legend,” based on a book of the same title, actually written in 1954, brought environmental disaster movies to the masses.

These are great examples of the eco-thriller disaster genre, which are based on books from decades ago. We also have British authors like JG Ballard who, in 1962 wrote “The Drowned World,” a story about solar radiation melting the poles, causing soaring temperatures which leave Europe and North America submerged in tropical lagoons.

Another British author, Charles Eric Maine was writing eco-thrillers back in 1958 with “The Tide Went Out,” about mankind’s nuclear tests busting open the Earth’s crust which causes all the oceans to run into the planet’s interior, and you guessed it, environmental disaster ensues…great stuff!

So, it seems the eco-thriller genre is really a sub-genre which has been around for decades, just more usually dressed up as science fiction it would seem.

I have read a decent selection of eco-thrillers and have also written one myself. Below is a little information on my favorites in the genre. You can make your own minds up as to whether you think this genre is for you. There is also a list of the books that I haven’t yet read, but ones that are certainly on my Kindle download list!

I’m actually surprised that the eco-thriller genre doesn’t have its own niche on Amazon, but maybe that will change soon, as there’s plenty of great books out there. Whilst the world doesn’t face the same kind of threats as it did in the 1950s, one hopes, it does face mounting environmental ones, which should mean that the eco-thriller genre will be around for a long time to come.

Let’s just hope we’re all around long enough to read them…!

So, in no particular order then, here’s my list;

The Rapture by Liz Jenson.

The Rapture

When a wheel-bound psychologist is assigned to help a young girl locked up in an asylum to decipher her seemingly crazy rants and random scribbling’s of natural disasters, her first thoughts, naturally is that the girl is crazy. When certain events appear to come true however, it soon appears that the girl might not be deranged after all but have the ability to foresee a future global environmental catastrophe.

A well written, pacey novel with an interesting subject matter – 3.5 eco-stars

Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd.

Ordinary Thunderstorms


Not so much an eco-thriller, but included on the basis that the main protagonist is a climate scientist.  This book is about Adam Kindred who, following a fleeting meeting with a man in a restaurant has his life turned upside down after he has to go off radar in London whilst all the while trying to prove his innocence following a murder he didn’t commit.

A vividly written novel with simmering drama – 3 eco-stars

Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler.

Arctic Drift: A Dirk Pitt Novel, #20 (Dirk Pitt Novels)

The master of adventure novels pulls off another great adventure-thriller with a global warming/environmental theme. Dirk Pitt becomes involved with a search for a mineral which may be capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Expect science, thrills, adventure, action and good story-telling – 4.5 eco-stars

Tipping Point by Si Rosser – yes me!

Tipping Point: Action-Adventure Thriller

An action-adventure thriller with an environmental twist is the best way I could describe my book.  Robert Spire, the main character is an environmental lawyer, but little time is devoted in the book to any legal back-story, this is no legal thriller. Instead Spire is immersed in a global adventure following the mysterious deaths of two climatologists. Action and thrills take place in Wales, London, Paris, San Francisco and the Arctic as Spire goes on a quest in search of answers. Meanwhile global environmental disaster looms…

I won’t rate my own book, but here’s what the readers are saying;

“Tip top global adventure”

“Enjoyable action-thriller”

“Great yarn, couldn’t put it down”

“Well-crafted environmental thriller”

“Simmering suspense”

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child.

Terminal Freeze

This book I thought was a great read. Again, you could argue that this is a techno-thriller, but in my view it has all the elements of an eco-thriller. A team of scientists monitoring climate change near an old disused Artic base discover something – a prehistoric creature frozen solid in an ice cave. The sponsors of a nature programme funding the project fly in to film the creature as it is thawed from its ancient resting place. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose!

Fast-paced, scary, vividly written Arctic thriller – 4.5 eco-stars

IMPACT POINT by Si Rosser – Yep, mine again!

Robert Spire’s second adventure, takes him from Wales, London, the USA and the Bahamas in search of the cause of multiple blue whale deaths. When traces of the mineral olivine are found in the mammals blood, the mystery deepens. Meanwhile, a rare and valuable meteorite gets stolen from slain philanthropist Julian Smithies’ Californian mansion. Is there a connection? The more Spire finds out, the closer he comes to revealing a future cataclysm that may end all life on planet Earth.

Robert Spire’s latest adventure, might be the World’s last…

Here’s another bunch of great sounding eco-thrillers that are on my to read list; Enjoy!

Freezing Point and Boiling Point

I Am Legend

The Tide Went Out

Drowned World

Wet Desert

Thaw

The Wave

Wildfire

Vapor Trails

Melting Down

Ultimatum

Cold Earth

Flood

Hurricanes – Want To Know More?

28 Aug

As it’s 2011 Atlantic hurricane season until November, I have resurrected this article which explains what hurricanes are, how they form, and their relevance to global warming. Hurricane and typhoon are names given to a strong tropical cyclone. A ‘tropical cyclone’ is a generic term for a low-pressure system that has a definitive cyclonic surface-wind circulation.

Before considering the effects global warming may have on these weather systems, we will look at a few hurricane facts and figures. Depending where a cyclone occurs will determine whether it’s called a hurricane, typhoon or tropical cyclone. Hurricanes form in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans. Typhoons form in the Northwest Pacific area to the east of 160° longitude. Cyclones form in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, and the North and Southwest Indian Ocean. The Atlantic hurricane season, now underway, officially begins on 1st June and continues to the end of November each year. However, hurricanes do of course occur outside this time period. The seasons are different for Pacific and Indian Ocean areas, particularly the Northwest Pacific basin, where cyclones can occur all year round.

According to NOAA, hurricanes rotate in a counter-clockwise direction around a central ‘eye’, and a tropical storm will be classed as a hurricane only when wind speeds reach 74 mph (119 km/h) or more. Hurricanes can of course cause immense damage, especially if they hit land, where heavy rain, strong winds and especially strong waves – called the storm surge – can wreak destruction, as the unfortunate people of New Orleans found out during August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit with devastating consequences.

Hurricane strength is measured using the Saffir-Simpson scale, named after two engineers from the US National Hurricane Center, who developed it in 1969. The scale is used only to describe hurricanes that form in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific basins. The scale has five intensities depending on wind speed. For example, a category one hurricane has a wind speed of 74 mph (118 km/h) and a category five hurricane 156+ mph (251 km/h). Hurricane Katrina, mentioned above, was probably the most devastating storm in US history, causing an estimated $100,000,000,000-worth of damage. Katrina was a category five storm, but dropped to a three when it hit land on the eastern seaboard of the USA, in August 2005.

For hurricanes to develop, certain environmental conditions must be present, such as warm ocean water, high humidity and favourable atmospheric and upward spiralling wind patterns off the ocean surface. Atlantic hurricanes usually start off as a weak tropical disturbance off the West African coast, and intensify into rotating storms with weak winds called tropical depressions. It’s only when wind speeds reach at least 74 mph (118 km/h) that they are classified as hurricanes. NASA scientists and NOAA have been studying how winds and dust conditions from Africa influence the birth of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, using an armoury of NASA’s Earth observing satellites. It seems that NASA is on course to establish whether or not global warming is indeed influencing the weather. NASA’s AIRS instrument on board the Aqua satellite, which is short for Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, can measure very subtle changes in the Earth’s climate. Scientists from NASA and NOAA, as well as other scientists, have already demonstrated that AIRS data can lead to better forecasts about the location and intensity of ‘extratropical cyclones’, which are mid-latitude storms, often striking the east coast of the USA. This may enable the team to test the climate-weather hypothesis once more data is available. AIRS will also have the ability to test the hypothesis that climate change may be causing the water (hydrological) cycle to accelerate, by measuring the humidity distribution within the atmosphere.This will show with sufficient accuracy whether the water cycle is indeed speeding up. If so, as is suspected in a warmer world, there will be more water vapour and clouds in the atmosphere resulting in more rainfall. If so, AIRS will be able to establish a link between global warming and the weather, as a faster water cycle causes greater rainfall as a result of an accelerated hydrological cycle.

2005 was the most active hurricane season since reliable records began, with fifteen hurricanes, seven of which were major ones.

This article was taken from my book, THE A-Z OF GLOBAL WARMING. Download the book from Amazon USA or Amazon UK on Kindle for further information like this. Alternatively, for a fast-paced action-adventure thriller with an eco theme, try TIPPING POINT. US readers can go to Amazon USA, and UK readers Amazon UK.