Tag: earth

Mountain Forest Growth Has Established The Earth’s Climate For Millions Of Years

The Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide has remained remarkably stable over the past 24 million years.

And scientists believe they have now solved part of the mystery as to why this has been the case, despite changing geological conditions.

They believe that ancient tree roots in the mountains may play an important role in controlling long-term global temperatures acting as a type of natural ‘thermostat’.

When CO2 levels became too low for plants to grow properly, forests in mountains appear to have kept the climate in check by slowing down the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.




This study shows how trees can act as brakes on extreme climate change, and the roots of trees in tropical mountains such as the Andes play a disproportionate role,” Yadvinder Malhi, professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University said.

However, these responses take thousands to millions of years and cannot do much to slow the rate of global warming we are experiencing this century.

Researchers from Oxford and Sheffield Universities discovered that temperatures affect the thickness of the leaf litter and organic soil layers, as well as the rate at which the tree roots grow.

In a warmer world, this means that tree roots are more likely to grow into the mineral layer of the soil, breaking down rock which will eventually combine with carbon dioxide.

This process, called weathering, draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and cools the planet.

The theory suggests that mountainous ecosystems have acted like the Earth’s thermostat, addressing the risk of ‘catastrophic‘ overheating or cooling over millions of years.

In their research paper, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers carried out studies in tropical rain forests in Peru.

They measured growth of the tree roots across different sites of varying altitude – from the warm Amazonian Lowlands to the cooler mountain ranges of the Andes- every three months over several years.

At each of the sites, they also measured the thickness of the organic layer above the soil.

This information was then combined with data of monthly temperature, humidity, rainfall, and soil moisture to calculate the likely breakdown process of the basalt and granite rocks found in the mountain ranges of Peru.

Using this model, scientists were able to scale up their results to calculate the likely contribution of mountain forests worldwide to global weathering rates.

The researchers then calculated the likely amount of carbon to be pulled out of the atmosphere through weathering when the Earth became very hot.

They looked at the volcanic eruptions in India 65 million years ago, known as the Deccan traps.

The model also allowed them to calculate the weathering process and carbon feedback after the Earth’s cooling 45 million years ago, when great mountain ranges like the Andes and the Himalayas were first formed.

The paper suggests that mountainous regions may play a particularly important role in drawing carbon out of the atmosphere because they have abundant volcanic rock which is highly reactive to weathering when it disintegrates.

This is a simple process driven by tree root growth and the decomposition of organic material,” said lead researcher Chris Doughty, from Oxford University.

Yet it may contribute to Earth’s long-term climate stability. It seems to act like a thermostat, drawing more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere when it is warm and less when it is cooler.

A series of climatic events over the last 65 million years ago have resulted in global temperatures rising and falling.

However, the weathering process that regulates carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be buffered by forests that grow in mountainous parts of the world.

In the past, this natural process may have prevented the planet from reaching temperatures that are catastrophic for life.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

How Climate Change Is Increasing Forest Fires Around The World

WILD FIRE

Have wildfires increased globally over recent years? And if so, is global warming to blame?

Research has illuminated this, along with what wildfires do to us and our environment, and which areas are most vulnerable.

Unusually large wildfires ravaged Alaska and Indonesia in 2015. The following year, Canada, California and Spain were devastated by uncontrolled flames.




In 2017, massive fires devastated regions of Chile and now, a deadly blaze in Portugal has claimed dozens of lives.

Science suggests that over the past few decades, the number of wildfires has indeed increased, especially in the western United States.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), every state in the western US has experienced an increase in the average annual number of large wildfires over past decades.

Extensive studies have found that large forest fires in the western US have been occurring nearly five times more often since the 1970s and 80s. Such fires are burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer.

WILD FIRE

What’s more, wildfire season – meaning seasons with higher wildfire potential – has universally become longer over the past 40 years.

This trend is something Jason Funk, senior climate scientist with UCS, is very worried about.

According to Funk, not only US forests are endangered by increasing wildfires – the trend has been that wildfires are burning more area around the world.

Projections by the UCS suggest that wildfires could get four, five and even six times as bad as they currently are within this century.

WILD FIRE

Funk has been researching the impact of climate change on landscapes in the US, and says there is very well documented scientific evidence that climate change has been increasing the length of the fire season, the size of the area burned each year and the number of wildfires.

Wildfires are typically either started accidentally by humans – such as a burning cigarette carelessly tossed out of a window – or by natural causes like lightning.

These “ignition events” don’t have a major effect on the scale of the fire, says Funk. But what does affect scale are prevailing climate conditions. And these have become warmer and drier – due to climate change.

WILD FIRE

Greenhouse gas emissions, via the greenhouse effect, are causing the global temperature to increase and the climate to change. This enhances the likelihood of wildfires.

Why? Because warmer temperatures increase evaporation, which means the atmosphere draws more moisture from soils, making the land drier.

A warmer climate also leads to earlier snowmelt, which causes soils to be drier for longer. And dry soils become more susceptible to fire.

WILD FIRE

Drier conditions and higher temperatures increase not only the likelihood of a wildfire to occur, but also the duration and the severity of the wildfire.

That means when wildfires break out, they expand faster and burn more area as they move in unpredictable ways. “They really take off and get out of control more frequently than in the past,” said Funk.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA Is Hiring A Planetary Protection Officer To Protect Earth From Alien Harm

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Want to save planet Earth? You could apply for NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer role.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is currently looking for someone with a secret security clearance to ensure alien life, or “organic-constituent and biological contamination” doesn’t make it’s way back in a space ship.




More than that, this person is “responsible for the leadership of NASA’s planetary protection capability, maintenance of planetary protection policies, and oversight of their implementation by NASAs space flight missions,” according to the job listing.

alien

Candidates must have “advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection,” experience overseeing nationally significant space programs and have demonstrated “skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussion.” After all, protecting the planet is sure to present challenges.

Requirements include frequent travel. Could business trips include intergalactic travel? That’s a lot of responsibility for one person, which is why the job comes with a six-figure pay: $124,406 to $187,000 annually.

Thanks for keeping us safe, NASA.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Astronomers Discover The Biggest Object in The Universe So Far

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Astronomers have recently announced the discovery of the BOSS Great Wall, a group of superclusters that span roughly 1 billion light-years across and represents the largest structure ever found in space.

The BOSS Great Wall, which sounds aptly named for its size but actually stands for the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, is a string of superclusters connected by gases lying roughly 4.5 to 6.5 billion light-years away from Earth.




Thanks to gravity, these superclusters stay connected and swirl together through the void of space. The megastructure discovered by a team from the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics is composed of 830 separate galaxies and has a mass 10,000 times greater than the Milky Way.

To put the scale of this structure into perspective, we orbit one single star, the Sun. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has over 200 billion stars, just like our Sun, in it alone with an unknown amount of planets orbiting them.

galaxy

Now, multiply that insane thought by 10,000 and you have the BOSS Great Wall. To our limited scope, it is effectively infinite.

However, not everyone agrees that the super structure should even be considered a structure at all. The argument is that these superclusters are not actually connected.

galaxy

Instead, they have dips and gaps between them that are sort of linked by clouds of gas and dust. This loose connection causes a debate every time ‘great wall-like’ structures are found.

In the end, the arguments seem to boil down to personal definitions of what constitutes a single structure with most researchers agreeing that they are one.

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Pass it on: New Scientist