You Know About Cow Farts, but How About Tree Farts? #nature #biology #climatechange #forest #trees

Over 100 years ago, a chemist in Kansas documented that cottonwood sap contained methane bubbles. He could light escaping gas and watch a blue flame flicker. Others discovered that not only cottonwoods produce the gas.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and today, thanks to global warming, we need to understand the ins and outs of methane in the atmosphere. New studies show:

Many instances in which trees produce their own methane—sometimes from microbes in the heartwood or other tissues and in other cases from a remarkable direct photochemical reaction thought to be driven by the ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight. NatGeo

Measuring methane emissions from tundra

Measuring methane and CO2 emisisons from arctic tundra

Life writes its name in methane, which is why methane on Mars is so exciting. On Earth, methane is released from fossil fuels, microbes in soggy soil like bogs and rice paddies, and (as you know) cattle. Human activities accelerate emissions – sometimes, we do in a year what nature does in centuries.

Methanotroph microbes also break down methane. The life expectancy of an average methane molecule is a few decades.

Trees emit methane and break it down by hosting the wily microbes and also on their own. The balance depends on the tree and soil conditions, but there are “forests where similar trees in similar soils have been measured with a fiftyfold difference in methane emissions… [Forests] in wet soils uniformly were net emitters of methane but those in drier conditions in some regions actually were net absorbers of the gas.”

One scientists said that what we know today is a third grader’s cartoon drawing of a forest.”

None of this means trees are bad! Trees good. Forests good. But learning more about Earth’s methane cycle will improve our models and, if we’re smart enough, help us hand a beautiful world to our progeny.

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Earth is Heating Up – Humans Cause It – Do We Dare to Take Action? #climateaction #Geoengineering #books

I ran across this freebie story: the tale of  an eco-warrior.

Sicfi Book Cover Last March for Planet Earth

Free for a limited time

Together with his fellow student activists, Ben traveled to London on Earth Day to take one last stand. To make a final plea for an environmental solution to save the planet. Time is up on combating climate change. Humanity’s choice is about to be made. And most are choosing to leave the fate of the world to a mysterious geoengineering experiment.

Goengineering is a fascinating and terrifying idea. Humanity’s been changing the Earth for eons, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, without any plan. Would we do better if we had a plan? What about the law of unintended consequences? And what if we addressed one aspect of Climate Change, like land surface temperatures, but ignored others, like ocean acidification? There are a lot of apocalyptic dystopian stories to be spun from here, and I don’t want to live in one of them.

Here’s an article Anna Kucirkova suggested to me on geoengineering. I can’t vouch for the story or the article, but this is a topic that deserves discussion. I don’t expect to find a silver bullet. No solution that would fit inside a one-hour TV episode (not even of Star Trek TOS.)

I don’t see anything that allows humanity to go merrily on its way with fossil fuels, land and animal use, and economic inequality as usual. What do you think of our precarious future?

Humans Slaughtered Mammoths But Can They Save Us from Climate Change? #globalwarming #rewilding #elephant #climatechange #nature #EndangeredSpeciesDay

Feral horse

Rewilding is “large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas.” In North America and Europe, projects are underway to protect and reintroduce large wildlife, including predators, and reverse habitat loss.

Pleistocene rewilding seeks to restore ecosystems from ten thousand years ago – for example, by introducing elephants, lions, and cheetahs to protected areas in the American Great Plains.

Rewilding aims to save animals and ecosystems, but a project now underway in Siberia is “a radical geoengineering scheme” with a human-centric goal: to slow climate change.

During the last Ice Age, vast areas of grasslands beyond the edges of glaciers locked up huge amounts of carbon in Siberia (not something universal in the Arctic.) As today’s permafrost melts, release of all that carbon dioxide threatens to create a positive feedback that would accelerate global warming and make climate change worse for you and me – and our progeny. But returning these areas to Pleistocene grassland could slow or prevent the change by keeping “permafrost frozen by giving it a top coat of Ice Age grassland.”

All we need are the animals that created that grassland ecosystem. Horses, bison, musk ox, and reindeer have already been moved into what was once a Soviet-era gulag of gold mining, but the project needs something bigger – mammoths.

Cloning may jump into your mind, but it’s not likely. DNA degrades even when frozen and we may never find a viable mammoth cell. But mammoths are closely related to elephants, and scientists from across the globe are working to resurrect the mammoth by turning on genes that will adapt elephants to the Arctic climate by giving them heavy coats, thick layers of fat, and smaller ears, among other changes.

That seems like the easy part. If embryos are eventually created, they can’t be placed in surrogate elephant mothers – Asian elephants are endangered. So artificial wombs are needed.

A womb isn’t just a bucket of fluid.

The mammalian mother–child bond, with its precisely timed hormone releases, is beyond the reach of current biotechnology. But scientists are getting closer with mice… [There are] hopes to deliver the first woolly mammoth to Pleistocene Park within a decade.

Even if the technical problems are solved, there’s still a cultural issue. A baby needs a mother. Elephants – and, no doubt, mammoths – are highly social animals.

Older mammoths would have taught the calf how to find ancestral migration paths, how to avoid sinkholes, where to find water. When a herd member died, the youngest mammoth would have watched the others stand vigil, tenderly touching the body of the departed with their trunks before covering it with branches and leaves. No one knows how to re-create this rich mammoth culture, much less how to transmit it to that cosmically bewildered first mammoth.

It’s an amazing, overwhelming undertaking. But there are people out there working on it. Perhaps we’ll see reconstructed, de-extincted mammoths in our lifetime.

Thanks to theatlantic.com for their article, with some help from wikipedia.org.

Citizen Scientists from 1400s to Today #tech #globalwarming #climatechange #science #datascience

I’m used to seeing climate data from satellites, ships, and

Shinto priests

Shinto priests

weather stations – from Victorian to modern times – documenting global warming since the Industrial Revolution. But I hadn’t expected centuries of data from these sources:

In 1442, Shinto priests in Japan began keeping records of the freeze dates of a nearby lake, while in 1693 Finnish merchants started recording breakup dates on a local river. Together they create the oldest inland water ice records in human history and mark the first inklings of climate change.”

The data show climate changes pre and post industrial revolution, documenting the sharp increase in warming’s rate.

Our findings not only bolster what scientists have been saying for decades, but they also bring to the forefront the implications of reduced ice cover.”

Today’s citizen scientists join a distinguished group of observers.

Thanks to phys.org.

True North – whatever that means #science #space #climate #northpole

Wandering magnetic North Pole

Wandering magnetic North Pole

To find the North Pole, you travel north, right?

It depends on which North Pole you’re after.

Earth turns around an axis like a giant spinning top. The places where that invisible axis intersects with the planet’s surface are the north and south rotational poles. Due to Earth’s wobble on its axis, these spots drift in roughly decade-long cycles… [and are] completely separate [from] the planet’s magnetic poles, which also reverse periodically over the course of millions of years… the geographic north and south poles [are] the long-term averages of those rotational positions.

Now, as global warming melts ice and pumping drains aquifers, Earth’s distribution of mass is changing—and so are the rotational poles. Earth’s northern pole is drifting rapidly eastward.

Well, “rapidly” in geologic terms.

The change isn’t fast enough for the average person to notice – you don’t need to replace your maps and globes today – though you could write a poem about it. For science, understanding what’s happening could lead to “more accurate predictions of changes in climate in the future.”

It all reminds me of the old joke-question asking if all the people in China jumped at the same time, could they change the Earth’s spin? Instead the joke should be, if all the people in China (and everywhere else) burn fossil fuels at the same time, can they change the Earth’s spin? Now the answer is “yes” and it’s not nearly as funny.

Thanks to nationalgeographic.com

Last #Bumblebee ?- #Haiku by Kate Rauner

bumblebees and Mrs_tittlemouse

Bumblebees sometimes colonize rodent burrows.

Too hot in the south
Not enough spring flowers bloom
To move farther north

Thanks to cbc.ca for this sad news.

Colony On Mars – First Step for Who? Or What? #Mars #explore #space #solar #sun

 

Hallucigenia_sparsa (200x156)

Wonderful Hallucigenia of the Burgess Shale fossils.

“Eventually we’ll have to get out of this solar system because our Sun is dying. If humans want to survive as a species they’ll have to get out.” Stephen Petranek, award-winning science writer – see his TED talk on the end of the world.

Many people want a colony on Mars as insurance against human extinction on Earth – usually from nuclear war to asteroid impacts.

But from the Sun dying?

In 5 billion years or so the Sun will expand and swallow the inner planets before collapsing into a white dwarf.

But in only 2.8 billion years life on Earth will end when the last of the hardiest microbes die off in the Sun’s brutal solar output. Humanity’s progeny will be gone long before then.

Two new modeling studies find that the gradually brightening Sun won’t vaporize our planet’s water for at least another 1 to 1.5 billion years. Earth will suffer a “runaway greenhouse” in 600 million to 700 million years when we’d probably be best off living in undersea cities.

Realistically, how long have we got? Let’s choose a nice, round 500 million years. Let’s say all goes well – we adapt to global warming, we refrain from exterminating ourselves, and we grow into an admirable species. That species will not be Homo sapiens.

Five hundred million years is a long time. Looking backwards at history, the Cambrian explosion of life was well underway 500 million years ago when various fascinating wormy creatures lived in Earth’s oceans. It took over 400 million years for primates to originate (85 million years ago) and another 65 millions years for the Hominid family to emerge (20 million years ago). Another 15 million years passed before our own genus, Homo, emerged (3 million years ago – there’s no point in being too specific on timing – just round the numbers off), and you still wouldn’t want to bring Homo habilis home.

What does this mean? Five hundred million years from now, our descendants will be as different from us and we are from Hallucigenia.

How much do you care about these strange future creatures?

I once read a science fiction story where nuclear war destroyed most of the world, and a few people survived on barren Pacific atolls where they evolved into something like walruses. How much effort would you put into preserving that species?

Go to Mars, go to Europa or Titan. Aim for the stars. But don’t worry about the Sun exploding.

Where are we going? Life, the timeless, mysterious gift, is still evolving. What alien_wizard_fenn_03.svg.medwonders, or terrors, does evolution hold in store for us in the next ten thousand years? In a million? In six million? Perhaps the answer lies in…the Outer Limits,” The Sixth Finger episode.