How Climate Change Affects Vacation Priorities


So, when the climate change poop hits the fan, who is going to be in for the worst ride? What parts of the world should I vacation at now because they will be uninhabitable in the future? Exactly where will be the safest place for the gringa and the caveman to diddle away their golden years?

Well, we better get busy and visit all the beach hotspots that are alive and kicking right now. With sea levels rising, the coastal cabanas of today will be reef material tomorrow. And, considering that climate change creates erratic and extreme weather patterns such as: heavy rain here, drought there, devastating tornadoes everywhere; well, there is no uniform model of what’s going to change where or when. The only concrete expectation right now is what models predict about low elevation islands and coastal beachlands. They are pretty much going to be history, some maybe within my lifetime.

Other areas scientists expect to change dramatically are regions that have a delicate ecosystem balance and are already experiencing hyper-sensitivity to environmental stressors. These areas include:

  • Arctic, specifically the tundra region
  • Boreal forest belt – This is the conifer forest that stretches across North America, particularly dense in the Pacific Northwest
  • Tropical Rainforest
  • Alpine regions
  • Steppes of Asia and the Americas
  • Prairies of Asia and the Americas
  • Deciduous forests of South America and Australia

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. The permafrost layer is melting. Glaciers are getting smaller and sea ice is disintegrating. The wildlife of the Arctic will probably be a loss to the world. They depend on a habitat that is going to grow too warm to support their needs. The indigenous people of this region will experience a loss of their culture that is strongly dependent on the wildlife and natural geography. The humans will have the adaptation advantage that the wildlife and fauna do not have. But the loss of their culture is still something to mourn over.

The boreal forests of North America are important carbon sponges for the earth. What will a degree or two warmer mean? As temperatures warm the center of the United States, the boreal forest will shift northward. Predictive models sees the United States losing its boreal forest as it relocates to Canada and Alaska. So, we won’t lose them, they will relocate. That’s good news in the aspect that at least the Earth will retain a critical carbon filter.

Researchers in tropical rainforests mark trees and track them for years, measuring them to see how they are responding to climate change. A group in the Bolivian Andes are studying a swath of diverse trees and plants that thrive in a limited temperature range. As temperatures rise, so do the trees. New, baby trees are growing uphill. Just as the North American model predicted a forest migration, the same is expected of the tropical rainforests. They will abandon the lowland jungle regions and migrate up the mountainsides, seeking cooler temperatures.

Alpine regions are going to experience the same forest creeping phenomena. As glaciers continue to recede, alpine plants will continue to move upwards looking for cooler temperatures and water. However, eventually, when all the glacier water has melted and run off or evaporated, this critical component of the annual water budget will be gone forever. Plants and trees dependent upon it will eventually be extinct. So Alpine ecosystems will not only migrate, they will migrate to a slow death.

The upside of forest migration is that the Earth is trying to compensate and save herself. The downside is that the migration process is slower than the warming process. This means there will still be catastrophic loss of tropical rainforest and alpine habitat. This will affect the wildlife dependent on these ecosystems as well as their indigenous people.

Experts predict the possibility of losing over half of the steppe habitats due to the effects of climate change. They are not modeling a migration of fauna, but a loss. Steppes are critical grazing areas. As the steppes experience habitat loss, growing smaller, overgrazing occurs on the remaining areas. The effects then are coupled: climate change related drought and overgrazing. Things look dire for the future of the steppes and the animals and shepherds and ranchers who depend on them. The steppes could become the Earth’s future Sahara’s.

Unlike a conifer boreal forest or tropical rainforest that are green year round, a deciduous forest becomes barren in the winter season as the trees lose their leaves. Deciduous forests exist in tropical and temperate climates. Climate change models predict warmer winters affecting deciduous forests. This could lead to tree loss from pests and disease. In regions where devastating drought occurs, there will be higher tree loss. When a tree dies in the forest it also becomes fuel. In regions experiencing drought related tree loss, the dry conditions and increased fuel of more dead trees makes conditions ripe for voracious wildfires. So, if the drought or the bugs don’t wipe out the deciduous forests, the wildfires probably will.

The gringa thinks the list of vacation priorities should go something like this:

  • Arctic expedition
  • Steppe pack-mule trip
  • Deciduous and Alpine forest camp outs
  • Beach parties around the world
  • Tropical rainforest excursion
  • Bigfoot safari in the boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest

I don’t think climate change is going to sound the death knell for planet Earth and mankind. The gringa does believe it will be the end of many species of animals and plants that are with us today. It is also highly likely that entire cultures will be wiped out when they lose the habitats they rely upon. And usually species loss does not mean a gaping hole is left behind. Usually, another species fills the gap or a species evolves and adapts. So, the key word to focus on is “change”. It’s climate “change” not climate “loss”. But the change is as significant as the past disappearances of entire civilizations such as the Maya or entire animal classes like the dinosaurs.

At this point, I believe the consensus among scientists is that we have passed the tipping point. There is no going back and “fixing” things. We simply have to ride the lightning and deal with it. So, if a person is able and so inclined, they need to enjoy the world as we know it today and document it for the children of the future.

 

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit: http://www.notenoughgood.com

 

Insomnia & Astronauts


I don’t know about you, my dear readers, but, from time to time, the gringa has some very nasty bouts of insomnia. Whether it’s my hormones, my epilepsy, the caveman’s snoring or the business of my crazily creative mind, it matters not. All that matters is that when it happens I am miserable the next day. Perhaps I’m more like an astronaut than I realize. It seems that sleep deprivation is a standard side effect of microgravity.

Poor, little astronauts, like the poor, little gringa, suffer disruptions of their circadian rhythms (fancy word for biological clock). What are astronauts and astronaut hopefuls to do? Why the heck does this happen? Can it be stopped?

The biological clock of Earthlings is synchronized to a 24 hour cycle. The orbiting astronaut gets a clock reset every 45 minutes. That’s how often they experience a sunrise or sunset. Can you imagine the horror? The gringa would make an incredibly grumpy astronaut. But, then again, maybe not, not if I’m taking some good meds. The astronauts do. They have to use sleep-promoting medication (techno-speak for sleeping pills).

When the gringa breaks down and takes a sleeping pill (usually at the urging of the caveman, or the ninos, who beg me to get a good night’s sleep so I will not be a possessed, crazy person), I often wake up the next day and feel like I have a brain wrapped in gauze. I can’t think straight. My energy level is flat. I eye you suspiciously as you carry on an intelligent conversation. I pad back and forth to the kitchen for coffee refills. I pout because my old, cheerful, trouble-making self has retreated to the very dark recesses of my drug-fogged mind. How in the heck do the astronauts manage a dangerous spacewalk and intricate equipment repair under the influence? The gringa is baffled.

This is a very delicate health and security situation that NASA studies like mad. A recent study gathered data on over twenty astronauts for a period spanning over eight years. Scientists studied astronauts sleep patterns beginning with eleven days before launch and the sleep logs maintained during missions which recorded sleep medication usage and sleep quality. Astronauts who participated wore monitors that also collected data about their wakefulness: how often they woke when sleeping, how long they remained awake, and why they were awakened.

Some of the things the study determined affected sleep quality:

  • Rapid schedule changes (the gringa likes a rut so, yes, I agree)
  • Exposure to natural light during sleep cycle (yes, the gringa and her caveman prefer to sleep in a cave)
  • Exposure to unnatural light (yes, the gringa often resists her body’s signals to go to sleep because she has just GOT to win that last darn hand of Spider Solitaire)

On average, astronauts sleep about six hours per night when aboard the ISS (good grief, IF ONLY! Six hours? The gringa would die for such a nightly average!). One interesting finding was that sleep patterns were also affected by where the launch originates from. When launching from Kazakhstan, astronauts slept better than when launched from Florida. The gringa ponders the possibility of going away parties involving copious amounts of Russian vodka? Hmmm, maybe the gringa should recreate a Russian tundra scene in the boudoir. Wonder how the caveman would like it?

It seems that NASA has probably spent millions to discover things the gringa could have told them (big sigh, why am I NOT an astronaut, yet?). So, it seems that apart from maintaining my no-drama rut, the gringa needs to focus on exposure to lighting for the best case scenario for a good night’s sleep. This is actually very important because the caveman works the night shift. Our sleep cycle is from around 4am until about noon. We are very sexy sleepers, the caveman with his snore strip across his nose, looking like a prize-fighter, and me with my supersonic, hot pink earplugs poking out my ears, looking like some freakishly hip female Frankenstein.

The window will surely be our death in case of fire. The blinds are always down, then there’s a layer of those hideous light blocking curtains covered up with a gorgeous and colorful hand-made quilt from my auntie. Yes, no escape there in case of fire. But, it does make it the perfect, pitch black cave for the gringa and her caveman. And the rule in our house is that there are no computers or televisions allowed in the bedroom.

It seems I have all the bases covered where lighting is concerned. Why the heck do I still get insomnia? It can only be one thing. The problem is all in my head. Yes, literally in my head. In my busy, can’t stop thinking, must be creating, little head. Perhaps a lobotomy? Methinks not. I’ll stick with the hot toddies, all alone, curled up on the couch, pouting while the caveman is enjoying the bliss of REMs. Maybe I’ll step out on the patio and shake my little fist at the stars, toward the astronauts I am so envious of who are probably enjoying their darn six hour average snooze.

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

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