Gassy Arctic, Melting Andes
& the Ongoing Sinking of Oahu
We’d hate to throw yet another bucket of stale water over the diminishing crowd of climate change skeptics. But even though humankind is already soaked with evidence (and bad water-based puns) of rising temperature and sea levels all over the world, there’s been almost no action about it.
In the meantime, change is beginning to impact some of Earth’s well-known landmarks, such as the age-old glaciers of the Arctic, in the North Pole, and South America’s Andes mountain chain, while in south Pacific, erosion and increasing flooding threaten the survival of Hawaii.
Just this past week, we had yet another sample of the destructive power of the natural world, specially if we sit on our behinds and choose not to act. But whereas an errant space rock hitting us is a random event, extreme weather is almost entirely our responsibility, and it’s imperative to minimize its effects.
As it is, though, tons of pollutants are thrown daily into the atmosphere, while we struggle to reign in on a powerful carbon-dependent energy industry, and on a wasteful society, that privileges comfort over ecologic awareness. Not even the agents of such a toxic mix can deny our role and obligation to reverse this process.
We remain as ineffective and paralyzed about the environmental decay that surrounds us, as we are about preventing one of those speeding heavenly bodies from sending us to oblivion. Yet the key to an environmental renascence lies, as it always has, with the way we relate to a limited but still plenty element: water.
SMELLY GASES HEADING SOUTH
One of the most acknowledged causes for global warming, in the restricted assertion of the word, is the action of greenhouse gases, capable of trapping heat under a cloudlike barrier. Its main culprit is carbon dioxide from vehicle emissions and widespread use of carbon-based fuels.
The second, guilty-as-charged, pollutant gas is methane, which is mainly originated in the agriculture and meat industries. Of course, some were eager to blame methane-rich cow farts for much of the environmental damage we see around, but the animals should be the least of their concerns about it here.
Now, a brand new, albeit ancient in age, source of the gas has been traced back to the Arctic, as warmer waters are melting the miles-deep permafrost covering the ground. As the ice layers melt, deposits of decaying organic matter get exposed to the elements, generating a buildup of yet another factor in the greenhouse effect on climate.
Researchers at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks found that such deposits are plenty in other places throughout the globe too, and their release may send the environment into an irreversible downward spiral that would render even the retirement of all oil, coal and other burning fuels irrelevant.
While we can blame the cows until they, well, come home, for too much greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, there’s a much better approach to overhaul nature’s switch off command: turn on the alternative (read, non pollutant) sources of energy and let’s be done with oil and coal already. That includes fracking too, Gov. Cuomo.
MELTDOWN IN SOUTH AMERICA
If Mount Everest, in Tibet, is the ceiling of the world, at almost 30,000 feet above sea level, the Andes down south is its observatory, only a few thousand feet short. It’s longer than the Himalayas though, and it shares its eternally snow covered peaks. Or so it’s been for thousands of years.
Enter the human presence in the picture of the planet, and even such inhospitable and high up place is adversely affected. According to a study led by France’s Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics scientist Antoine Rabatel shows that ‘the glaciers have shrunk anywhere from 30% to 50% since the 1970s.’
Worse. In the past three decades, the process sped up and reached unprecedented melting rates. The consequences can be as devastating to the seven countries the cordillera cuts through, as for the rest of the world. All those nations depend on the constant flow of fresh water to the many streams deep in the mountain.
Melting at the fast pace that it’s happening may overwhelm those streams and flood entire areas at the foot of the range, the study published on the online academic journal Crysophere indicates. Again, one way to put a halt on such a destructive process would be to retire all oil, coal, etc.
THE SINKING OF HAWAII ISLANDS
For the record: the biggest climate change-related problem that Hawaii, and in special Oahu, are facing now is erosion, not the long-term process of sinking, which is actually related to the islands’ own geological and tectonic configuration. Then again, even that process could be at least slowed down if the weather hadn’t become so harsh.
Besides, the word sinking has a much weightier marquee value, than long-term geological process, apart from earthquakes, of course. So we’re running with that. The south Pacific islands, though, which include Hawaii, are already facing severe consequences of rising sea levels: flooding and quick erosion.
Even though Hawaii is technically part of the group of hundreds of islands and island-states covering a vast region of the Pacific, the 50th state of the union does have some economic advantages over its poorer regional siblings. It does not have, however, the monopoly of good luck.
Brigham Young University geologist Steve Nelson and his team have spent years studying the geological composition of Hawaii, and concluded, with a guarded sense of alarm, that some of its islands will indeed sink into the ocean, but there’s no immediate need for evacuation. You still have a few million years to visit that American outpost.
‘More material is dissolving from those islands than what is being carried off through erosion,’ and at a faster rate too. Also add to that the fact that Hawaii, even though it’s not part of the Ring of Fire, does sit on an area particularly rife with geological activity.
Still, for all its natural beauty, Hawaii may have something ugly in store for itself in the decades ahead. For it and for a tiny group of islands in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by one the biggest extensions of water, the consistent loss of even small amounts of its land to the sea can be truly disheartening.