A Curious Green Partnership

With all of the terror related events that have recently occurred in France, one wouldn’t think that France and Iran would be synonymous with the word partnership. Well, the gringa tells her dear readers to think again. Once again the sophistication of the French people  and the deeply philosophical nature of Iranians have resulted in both nations magnanimously spanning cultural differences that should be an example for all of us to follow. We would do well to emulate their motives as well, committing to save this planet and the human race from extinction.

This month the Environment Minister of France, Segolene Royal, met with Iran’s equivalent of the same office, Massoumeh Ebtekar, leader of the Environmental Protection Organization of Iran. They have outlined a schedule of projects that should bloom to fruition by February of next year.

Both officials will be touring Iran for three days. Topping the list of places to visit in Iran is lake Orumiyeh in the northwest. This saltwater lake, the largest of its kind in Iran, is a UNESCO heritage site. Over the past twenty years it has shrunk by almost 90%. This has been caused by a combination of un-sustainable farming methods, the construction of dams and the effects of climate change.

They will be joined in their tour by influential businessmen from the energy industry representing companies that specialize in environmentally aware renewable energy. These companies focus on water conservation, minimizing the impact of pollution and designing structures that are energy efficient.  Of particular mention is the leader of the multinational company, Engie.

Engie’s claim to fame is that of an energy company that desires to make a difference throughout the world. Operating in the fields of electricity and natural gas, they seek to manage dwindling natural resources responsibly and create innovative technologies that could render use of non-renewable natural resources obsolete.

France chose to partner with Iran because they believe that the two nations are facing similar energy and climate challenges. Although French officials see this as a great opportunity for the two nations, French bankers are not so keen on the idea. It seems the financial movers and shakers in France have not caught up with the decision of July 2015 when the world lifted sanctions that had been upon the nation of Iran. That’s understandable considering that bankers are just trying to decipher the complicated mess of laws and rules that would govern a financial venture in Iran. The gringa totally understands wanting to cover your own patootie.

However, even if the environment department heads of France and Iran get impatient for funds to flow, the gringa trusts in the ingenuity and passion of the French to discover a solution. There has even been mention of turning to Italy for financing. But what exactly do they want to use all that money for?

The funding will be used to help each nation come into compliance with the decisions of the international climate accord that was signed in Paris by many nations last year. Paris and Iran want to work together to create two thriving green economies. The gringa wants to know just what the heck a green economy is.

Well, the United Nations has been using the term “green economy” since 1989 when a United Kingdom group of environmental economists wrote a blueprint presenting their case for sustainable development, or so one would think from the title of their work “Blueprint for a Green Economy”. The short tome actually contains no reference at all to what a green economy is. The world is left scratching its head as to the meanings of authors David Pearce, Anil Markandy and Edward B. Barbier.

It isn’t until, in 1991 and 1994, the same authors released sequels to their original greenless blueprint of green economies that mankind finally discovered what the heck they were trying to tell us. When all three are read together, these are the conclusions to be drawn:

  • By changing economies, countries can change the world’s climate condition for the better.
  • Purposeful action must be sponsored by world leaders to develop sustainable energy.
  • Governments must lead rather than wait on the private sector.
  • Economics and environmental policy must become intertwined in order to solve the problems of a global economy and entire world population threatened by the effects of climate change.

What forward thinking France and Iran are displaying. Their actions may very well be the catalyst for a shift in economic thinking and how countries approach climate change initiatives. It is not uncommon for a country to get an economic bail-out when suffering from a financial crisis. The movement of the future may very well be “green stimulus packages” offered by the United Nations as well as individual countries that can afford to help others. The gringa is feeling hopeful.






Image Credit: tse1.mm.bing.net



The Arctic & The Big Toot

Much of the talk about climate change centers around the word “carbon”. However, “methane” is a much more sinister contributor to climate change. Per molecule, methane, that stinky “fart” gas, is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide over the course of a century. One region where methane’s contribution to climate change is studied by NASA is the Arctic. “The Arctic?!” the gringa exclaims. Yes, I know, dear reader. You must be thinking the same thing. What the heck is in the Arctic to contribute to atmospheric pollution? I mean, what does it have, a population of a hundred or so? How could a population so small create a problem so big?

Well, methane does not necessarily need a human created industrial complex to exist. In the Arctic, methane is created from decomposing microbes within the soil. While the Arctic tundra remains sealed by permafrost, the methane gas remains trapped within. As soon as Spring rolls around and this frozen layer of soil begins to thaw, the gas is released. This is a natural cycle. This was the thinking of the scientific community.

Based on models that depict this stable, natural cycle’s past methane gas release volumes, it has been determined that current methane levels that are escaping into the atmosphere are much higher than model estimates expected. Surprise, surprise! The research team conducting these studies have used specialized precision instruments to measure Arctic methane gas emissions during the summer months. They ignored gathering data during the brutal winter months on the assumption that because the ground was frozen solid, the methane would be sealed within the permafrost.

They are now discovering they have been terribly wrong.  From September until May, the Arctic winter, the wet, lowland tundra as well as the drier, upland tundra are very actively emitting methane gas. In fact, the Arctic winter emits just as much methane as the Arctic summer. Methane seepage is just much slower during the frozen conditions upon the tundra during the winter season. However, since the winter season is about eighty percent longer in duration than the short summer season, there is plenty of time for slow winter methane seepage to catch up to the amount of emissions that are released quickly during the warmer Summer months.

During winter, even though the temperature of the soil is below the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius), water that is trapped within the soil does not necessarily freeze completely. The active layer of Arctic soil, the top layer that thaws in summer and freezes in winter, experiences what scientists call a “sandwich effect” when it re-freezes. As the active layer begins to refreeze, there is a mid-section that is insulated by a frozen top and frozen bottom. This mid-section of the top, active layer does not completely freeze. Within this unfrozen strip of soil microorganisms do what microorganisms do, they break down organic matter which creates methane emissions. And this goes on all winter long in the Arctic.

The drier, upland Arctic tundra has also surprised scientists. Prior to these studies researchers believed that this area would produce less methane gas. However, what they have discovered is that the grasses and plants act like little chimneys, spewing higher volumes of methane into the atmosphere.

Although this may sound like bad news, the gringa says, “There, there. Do not dismay. Even if it seems like bad news at least it’s NEWS! Now we KNOW and now we can ACT.” And that is just what NASA plans to do. Now that they have this very important data, they can rearrange their climate models which are used to create predictions to calculate future methane budgets. And, if the dear reader is anything like the gringa, you know very well that any budget has to be adjusted, sometimes quite often, especially when new expenses are realized.

Since methane is a critical component to the warming of Earth’s atmosphere, it is vitally important to have correct data. Now NASA can develop better solutions to continue to improve life here on Earth and to safeguard the future of Earthlings. And the gringa is glad that they are on the job.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit:  http://biomesgroup2.wikispaces.com/Tundra



Isaac Newton By The Sea

NASA recently reported images of an X-ray tail (or, ribbon) of galactic gas. It has broken cosmic records with the extraordinary length of 250,000 light years. The published images are a composite from combined data that originated from the Chandra orbiting observatory and the Isaac Newton Group (ING) of Telescopes that are located in the Canary Islands of Spain.

ING consists of two telescopes. One is named William Herschel (WMT) and the other is Isaac Newton (INT). They are located on a seaside cliff of La Palma Island and command a breathtaking view of the sea as well as the night sky. Isaac Newton began serving astronomers in 1984 and William Hershel in 1987.

ING is a collaborative effort of scientists representing the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain. Their goals in serving the world community of astronomers and space related science is to provide world class telescope operations and programs that aid in research efforts. To encourage innovative methods in science and research, ING welcomes projects that involve novel instruments as “visitors”.  ING is committed to fostering original thinking as well as strongly supporting classical observing.

The Isaac Newton Telescope is open for visiting observers. New instruments are now being enjoyed with funding to provide more. One new instrument, the PAUCam, is a state of the art imaging device that creates prime focus capabilities for the William Hershel Telescope. A wide-field multi-object spectrograph is being developed for William Hershel and expected to become operational in 2017. This instrument will be part of a five year study to help understand how the Milky Way was “assembled”.

WEAVE is the name of the spectrograph developed for William Hershel. WEAVE was designed and built by a consortium of institutes from the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Although visitors will still have access to observe the heavens through William Hershel, much of the telescope’s time will be devoted to the study of three particular projects: 1. The archaeology of the Milky Way; 2. The evolution of the galaxy; 3. Dark energy and its nature. These projects create wonderful opportunities for the UK, the Netherlands and Spain to make important scientific contributions to the world community’s knowledge of outer space.

Resident student programmes are available with ING. Over the past decade, forty students have served in the position of INT support astronomers and have gained valuable hands-on experience and technical skills. In fact, since 2009, 53 PhD theses have been based on ING data. Announcements will be made in March 2016 about the details of the 2016/2017 programme which offers astronomy and astrophysics PhD’s, MSc’s. INT welcomes students who are interested in any field of astronomy or astronomical instrumentation.

Students stay in flats provided by ING and receive a modest monthly stipend. These are cozy abodes within walking distance to the observatories, however, ING also provides transportation back and forth. For one year students will have the opportunity to participate in supportive roles in the work performed by one of the world’s most scientifically productive and versatile telescope groups. They will become part of the professional astronomical family of La Palma.

To qualify for admission to the programme, students must be a European citizen or European student resident. Enrollment in an astronomy PhD or MSc program or in the final year of undergraduate astronomy or physics course is required. English is a must, Spanish is a plus. It is also helpful to have some experience with Linux/UNIX operating systems as well as IRAF astronomical data reduction software. While participating in the program, expect to work 37 hours weekly, day or night, as well as weekends and holidays. A valid driving license is expected as well as being able to pass a medical examination.

Four positions are available. Students report for duty in September. During the one year of service, students have a 25 day leave allowance.

Qualified students who are interested should prepare a cover letter presenting experience along with any other pertinent information to be considered. Two references are required. Applications must be received by May 1 via e-mail or snail-mail. E-mail contact is Ovidiu Vaduvescu, INT studentship program manager, ovidiuv@ing.iac.es. Snail mail contact info:

Studentship Programme Manager

Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes

Apartado de coreos 321, E-38700, Santa Cruz de La Palma, SPAIN

Fax: +34 922 425 401

And, if you are unqualified, like the gringa, but still interested in what goes on at ING, their website has an interesting feature that the gringa really likes. It’s called “Ask an Astronomer!”. You simply fill out the e-mail form and submit. It’s not just any ol’ email form, however. It also has lots of other information to pick and choose from. Click “send” and wait for an amazing scientist to school you on what you want to know.

Source: www.ing.iac.es

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org




The Breath of the Earth

The cover photo for this post depicts a NASA supercomputer generated model that simulates what carbon dioxide looks like in Earth’s atmosphere if climate change creates a situation where the land and ocean are no longer capable of absorbing fifty percent of the CO2 emissions that are currently produced. Things are going to start getting hot really fast.

The aim of the UN climate summit in Paris is to set future limits on human-produced carbon emissions. The research of NASA will play a critical role in briefing all nations who attend. The gringa is willing to put her trust in NASA. In my opinion it is an agency that is a-political and non-nationalistic. It has one goal: scientific truth. It does not care about a scientist’s nationality, religion or political persuasion. NASA only cares about discovering the truth and using it for the benefit of all mankind.

Whereas there are many political motivations to embrace or reject the science of climate change, the gringa will put her trust in NASA. Whereas there are many financial gain motivations that cause people to embrace or reject suggested technologies to help curb climate change, the gringa will put her trust in what NASA advises. So, what is it that they have to say?

First, NASA will present how the Earth is reacting to the rise of gases in the atmosphere that trap heat. These are the gases causing climate change. NASA’s OCO-2 mission (Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2) is a satellite designed for the purpose of measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Presently, as mankind burns fossil fuels around the world, the land and oceans absorb about half of the carbon dioxide emissions such action generates. But remember, the earth itself produces its own natural levels of CO2. Mankind is heaping its own contribution atop that. A full year of data collected by OCO-2 has been analyzed by NASA experts. The key question is whether or not the oceans, forests and ecosystems can sustain the current fifty percent absorption level of CO2.

Mankind is contributing to an atmospheric level of carbon dioxide that has reached a concentration point (400 parts per million) that is higher than it has ever been in over 400,000 years. This level continues to rise about 2 parts per million per year. In the years since the industrial revolution, the earth has experienced a 250% increase of carbon based emissions. It only took mankind about two hundred years to do that.

So, if nothing changes, it is a certainty that carbon emissions will increase. As the ecosystems continue their work as the lungs of the earth, will they be able to sustain their current efficiency? As warming of the earth continues, these ecosystems are affected and changed. Will these changes result in lowering the efficiency of the earth to breathe or increase its efficiency, causing the earth to gasp, or will it simply evolve to compensate and its ability to filter out these toxins from the atmosphere remain the same? Those are the only logical conclusions of our current environmental predicament. It has to be one of those three.

The deputy project scientist of the OCO-2 mission, Annmarie Eldering of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has stated that “… carbon dioxide is the largest human-produced driver of our changing climate…” That is actually good news. If dangerous levels of carbon emissions are not a natural condition but, rather, an artificially created condition by mankind, mankind can then make changes and lower these dangerous carbon emission levels. If we will only do it.

Life as we know it definitely has to change. Change is always uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. The largest contributors of carbon emissions are populations that are enjoying the benefits of the technologies that are creating the problems. Can spoiled, grown up children really be expected to give up some of their toys or, at the least, limit the amount of time they play with them?

Mankind not only has to consider its physical contribution of pollutants that end up directly in the atmosphere, but also the things that we do that harms the lungs of the earth. Can mankind really afford to upset the balance of the world’s oceans and ancient forests? If we don’t change our ways it’s essentially no different than a human continuing to smoke two packs a day even though their doctor has told them they have lung cancer.

As conditions created by mankind causes atmospheric temperatures to rise, the oceans warm. Phytoplankton is the first link in the ocean’s ecosystem chain. And now that link is showing evidence of change in reaction to warmer oceanic temperatures. Mike Behrenfeld, the principal investigator for NASA’s mission of studying the largest natural phytoplankton bloom, said: “Phytoplankton are not only influenced by climate, but they also influence climate.” Everything on earth is interconnected, co-dependent, if the phytoplankton goes, we all go.

So, as the climate warms and changes the ecosystem, what about carbon emissions? Will the changes result in a rise or fall in atmospheric levels? Will the delicate balance remain the same? According to NASA’s decade long investigation “Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment” scientists have determined that as warmer temperatures result in Arctic permafrost thaw and increase forest fires, atmospheric carbon levels will increase. The chain reaction will be that the natural features of earth that act as the lungs that breathe for our world, will slowly deteriorate and be destroyed. The breath of the earth will slowly disappear as lung capacity diminishes.

In fact, NASA researchers have established a definitive link between forest wildfires in the Amazon with powerful hurricanes in the North Atlantic. One natural disaster feeds another. Warm ocean water is the fuel needed for devastating hurricanes. Warmer ocean temperatures are created when the lungs of the world, ancient forests, are decimated. So, deforestation raises carbon levels which warms the ocean which feeds a massive hurricane which reduces atmospheric moisture which creates dry conditions which contributes to decimating forest fires which leads to…. Are you following the gringa’s logic here?

University of California Earth System Scientist James Randerson concluded, “Keeping fire out of the Amazon basin is critical from a carbon cycle perspective.” And yet the forests burn. The most irresponsible deforesters are big business, often the mining industry or petroleum companies. The indigenous people understand their inter-dependence on the forest. They tend to respect what feeds and houses them. Big business, however, is only there temporarily to exploit the natural resources. Hence, the irresponsibility.

So, the predicted increase of a two parts per million annual increase of carbon dioxide could end up being much, much more. The earth could see a chain reaction event, a snowball effect, a runaway train rise of greenhouse gases that gets way beyond mankind’s ability to affect any manner of control or reversal of effects. That is the tipping point, the point of no return. That does not mean Armageddon and the destruction of all mankind. It does mean life as we know it will be over.

A runaway train event of global climate change would mean areas that once were agricultural breadbaskets could become deserts. Areas that are richly inhabited coastal areas could become reefs. Areas that were ancient forested Amazonian jungle could become barren and unable to sustain the indigenous populations that lived off the land.

A runaway train event of global climate change will mean mass migrations of humanity to areas that are capable of providing crops and freshwater. Cartography will become big business as coastlines change and borders move. In fact, borders could very well become a thing of the past as a global population undergoes a migrational shift such as has never been seen before.

NASA’s plans for the future:

  • A 2016 atmospheric carbon emission study over the skies of the United States
  • Coral Airborne Laboratory mission in 2016 to study the world’s coral reefs and changing pH levels of the oceans as they absorb increasing levels of carbon emissions
  • Pre-Aerosol, Clouds and Ocean Ecosystem satellite deployment to measure phytoplankton from orbit
  • Integration into the International Space Station of the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation and ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment which will observe plants and forests

NASA’s contribution to solving our world’s environmental issues is critical. However, just as you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, NASA can educate the world on the facts and that’s it. Mankind must make the determination to act upon those facts. And the gringa thinks that sooner is better than later.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov





The Real Cassini of the Stars

The name “Cassini” is a bit of a give away that this mission is a cooperative project with NASA and Italy’s space agency. It is actually called the “Cassini-Huygens” mission, involving also the European Space Agency (ESA). And, no it has nothing to do with high space fashion for Hollywood stars in honor of ol’ Oleg. This Cassini is a photographer of the stars, or, I should say, moons, the moons of Saturn to be exact. The mission is managed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA in California although the images for the mission are handled at the Space Science Institute in Colorado. The Cassini spacecraft has returned some fantastic images from Saturn’s moon “Enceladus” this past October. Although this cold, icy moon may look like a dead globe of dust, it actually has an active southern polar region.

The probe passed as close as 30 miles from the moon’s South Pole and transmitted data for several days. What sort of data? Most of it will be geological analysis of gas and dust. Cassini captured samples from a plume of gas and ice particles when it made its close fly by. The above image from Cassini was taken when sunlight was at an angle so as to make some of the spray from the South Pole geysers visible. Scientists know that there is an ocean beneath the frozen surface of Enceladus and these samples should help to determine if there is any hydrothermal activity going on down below.

And, if there is an active ocean on Enceladus, why would that matter? Because Saturn’s moon would then become a candidate for exploration to study its potential as a future habitable environment.  Although it seems incredible enough that NASA has colonization ambitions for Mars, the space agency would love to add other locales to their list.

Scientists have learned that Enceladus is basically divided into two separate geographical hemispheres. The northern hemisphere is pock marked by impact craters with much less being visible in the southern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere terrain features fractured terrain with linear, ropy features.

Scientists believe the moon’s core to be solid rock and enveloped by an ocean that is sealed under an icy, frozen crust. The southern hemisphere has active jets which vent oceanic spray. This hypothesis is based on the finding that the moon has a bit of a wobble when it orbits Saturn. The presence of a global ocean underneath but not frozen to the icy crust would explain this wobble. It would also account for the plumes of icy spray that have been observed venting at the southern pole.

Scientists suspect that the ocean of Enceladus may also experience tidal type activity which could be the reason why the crust has not frozen solid to the surface of the water. If this is the case, it would be an indicator that Saturn’s gravity keeps the core of Enceladus warmer than was expected. Scientists have been studying Saturn and its moons for over seven years. Cassini will have a final close-up photo shoot of Enceladus in mid-December. Its task is to measure the heat emanating from the interior of the moon. The gringa is hoping for a tropical paradise hidden beneath that frigid surface. I can imagine living like a beach mole never seeing the sun but picnicking beach side in a sauna like atmosphere and catching space fish that have no eyeballs.