Your Order of Fish & Chips is Going Extinct

Open nearly any diner or local restaurant menu in New England and you’ll see fish and chips as a popular option. The fish in fish and chips is North Atlantic cod. So many people in New England and around the country enjoy fish and chips, but few people know the impact global warming and overfishing are having on New England’s cod population.

Global warming, as we know, is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A “side effect” of global warming that’s often referenced is rising ocean levels; however, it might not be clear that the rising ocean levels stem from the ocean becoming warmer. The ocean is naturally resistant to temperature changes because the hydrogen bonds in water form very stable bonds, so a large amount of heat energy is required to break them apart. This means that water can absorb a large amount of heat energy before its temperature rises. The rising temperature of the ocean illustrates how drastic global warming has become.

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Since the ocean’s temperature is normally very stable, aquatic species are largely accustomed to a specific temperature within their habitat and do not respond well to change. Specifically, the North Atlantic cod has been shown to have difficulty adapting to the warmer water. Cod generally migrate late in the spring and early in the fall; however, with warmer water, that migration pattern could shift to much earlier in the spring and much later in the fall to avoid the warm waters. Cod could also move permanently farther north, or even stop migrating if there is no sea ice left at all. Some populations, particularly those farther south such as in North Carolina and off the coast of southern New England, would become entirely extinct by 2100 if the ocean temperature projections for that time are true.

Not only do New Englanders love to eat cod, but cod fishing is also a massive industry across New England and the North Atlantic. In the mid-1990s, there was a massive drop off in cod population due to overfishing. Since the population was so endangered that the New England Fishery Management Council said they were headed “seemingly inexorably, to oblivion.” In January of 2013, Congress passed regulations on cod quotas in the Northeast: cuts as much as 80% for the next three years off the coast of Maine. While this will hopefully help to raise the population of cod in the North Atlantic, it hurts the local economy. Fishery is a massive industry in New England, and such a drastic cut to an already declining population and struggling industry means that life will become even more difficult to fishermen relying on the next catch. Also, the warming waters might mean that cod populations will not increase to their former abundance even with highly managed fishing quotas.

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Scientists know that the declining population of cod in the North Atlantic is due to both overfishing and climate change. However, they are not yet sure what the best course is to fix it. Although fishing quotas have been imposed, those also injure the local economy and make it difficult to justify continued cuts on quotas. Additionally, cod is only an indicator for other fisheries across the globe. If all species need to move farther north to avoid warmer waters, what will live in the southern waters? Northern waters do not provide the coral reefs that southern waters do, so a multitude of fish populations that rely on coral reefs could become extinct. All of these issues are just as important as the impacts of global warming on land. The ocean takes up so much of our Earth’s surface, and we depend so deeply on the ocean, from water supply, food, transportation, recreation, and industry. I think we need to pay a lot more attention to what’s happening everywhere in the ocean, from the sea caps to the coral reefs, and including the smaller indicators, like cod, that show us what’s happening in a wider scale.

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India’s Worst Air Pollution is Inside Its Homes

airpollutionindiaAir pollution in India is mainly comprised of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, PM 10, ozone, and CO__; outdoor air pollution, that is. India also struggles with indoor air pollution, an issue that does not necessarily produce the massive clouds of smog that are so iconic of outdoor air pollution. Yet indoor air pollution is actually an even larger problem than India’s outdoor air pollution. For perspective, Delhi, India is now the most polluted city in the world, tied only with Beijing. India’s outdoor Air Quality Index (AQI) measures at 153, well into the Unhealthy range that is highly dangerous to inhabitants’ health. For indoor air pollution to be even worse means that Indians are being exposed to extremely dangerous air pollution at all times every day.

Indoor air pollution can come from appliances such as toasters, refrigerators, and air conditioners; substances like asbestos, formaldehyde, and lead; and smoke from tobacco and cooking, among other sources. In most countries, indoor air pollution is regulated, appliances are required to be within certain standards, and clear guidelines are given for what levels of indoor air pollution are healthy and unhealthy. India, however, has none of these, which leads to the monstrous indoor air pollution plaguing the country. The chronic air pollution that Indians are subject to can lead to respiratory issues and even cancer.

In a recent study, outdoor air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India, while indoor air pollution was the second, behind only high blood pressure. In 2010, 1.3 million Indians died of indoor air pollution. Globally, indoor air pollution killed 4.3 million people. The issue is especially poignant in India, as there is very little public concern for the issue while it obviously continues to be a major health risk. In India, 27.5% of all infant deaths can be attributed to indoor air pollution. The WHO norm for indoor air pollution is 20 unit grams per cubic meter of air. India’s indoor air pollution is at 375 unit grams per cubic meter of air, almost 19 times the standard. indoorairpollution

India’s government has made no move to combat the serious problem of indoor air pollution. Most Indian women and children spend the majority of their time indoors, leading to these massive health risks. Like China with the Under the Dome documentary, India needs something to spark public attention and make a move towards change. India is still developing, so it has the opportunity to be the first country to develop in an environmentally friendly way.

A Green Antarctica?

There’s a bit of a dilemma happening in the Antarctic. That is, besides the fact that the glaciers are melting at a rate of 49 billion tons of ice each year. 

The issue is more of a moral one. Scientists largely agree that global warming is real, and it is a problem that will have catastrophic impacts on our world if left unchecked. The glaciers in Antarctica are certainly melting: it is entirely possible that in the next 200 years, the sea levels could rise up to 10 feet. In the past 200 years, sea levels rose by only 7 inches, and that was considered drastic. Coastal cities such as Venice, Boston, Miami, New York, and Mumbai would incur significant economic and physical damage, mostly stemming from a chronic flooding issue that would be difficult to control. Global warming, and therefore the melting of the glaciers, is caused by the greenhouse effect. The two major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane, and they form a layer of our atmosphere. As the light from the sun hits Earth, it reflects as infrared Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.02.40 PMradiation. Most of this then exits the atmosphere, but some of the energy is contained by the greenhouse gases and continues to warm our atmosphere. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more energy is contained and the warmer our atmosphere becomes. Obviously the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has become overwhelming, as the glaciers in Antarctica are melting at a pace over five times faster than was predicted by scientists, when they should not be melting at all. The glaciers melt from the bottom up: first the water beneath them warms from the general temperature increase in the atmosphere at large. This, in turn, warms the ice and causes portions to break off, which then continue to melt in the water. The newly exposed ice then makes contact with the warmer water, and the glacier continues to melt.

So what is the dilemma? Surely all scientists would prefer that the glaciers stopped melting, even refroze. However, for botanists and plant biologists, the melted glaciers and warmer climate have some other affects that might even make global warming a bit alluring: plants are growing more, and better. This provides an opportunity to study the plant life of Antarctica in a way that has been previously impossible. Therein lies the conundrum: melting glaciers would increase the plant and animal life in the Antarctic, an exciting prospect for scientists in that area. The repercussions, however, would devastate many heavily settled cities as well as the ecosystems of both the ocean and the coastal areas.

Antarctica Glacial MeltingI think that while the prospect of finding out more about the ecosystems that could arise in the melted absence of the Antarctic glaciers, the damages to our civilization and other ecosystems would be too great a blow to justify even hoping that the glaciers continue to melt. The fortuitous discovery of further information on the Antarctic plant life is possibly something to ease the pain of the devastation of global warming, but it certainly does not justify perpetuating our current cycle of CO₂ emissions and pollution. We must continue to work towards a greener, healthier, less melty world.

Americans’ Priorities Are Costing Us

If someone gave you the option today to make your home entirely energy efficient, would you do it?

What if it saved you a lot of money on your bills?

What if it cost you a lot of money?

Most people would initially answer yes to the first question. Becoming more energy efficient makes people feel better about themselves, and for good reason: If everyone in the U.S. used energy-efficient lighting alone, without even changing any other appliances or habits, we could retire 90 average size power plants. Helping the environment is usually something people see as desirable, yet it often takes second priority to other factors, like the cost of buying the appliances.

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When asked the second question, most people would likely say yes even more emphatically than they did to the first. If being more energy efficient is beneficial to people themselves, they’ll probably go ahead and do it. Maybe that’s why in a recent study done by Consumer Reports, 75% of Americans use CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps). CFLs can save consumers up to $60 per year on their energy bill— clearly a good enough reason for many to make the switch. CFLs are spiral-shaped bulbs with fluorescent coating, and inside they are filled with argon and mercury vapor. An electrical current excites the gases, which then produce ultraviolet light that interacts with the fluorescent coating to produce visible light. Unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, in which 90% of the energy required to produce the desired light goes to heat, CFLs are able to produce light efficiently.

While CFLs provide people with an attractive way to save both money and the environment, the situation becomes stickier with LED lights. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are semiconductors that produce light when electrons pass through them. They are more energy efficient than CFLs, but they cost more to buy. LEDs usually cost between 25 to 60 dollars each, whereas CFLs only cost between 1.25 to 18 dollars. However, LEDs last up to 50 times longer than incandescent and CFL bulbs, use 36 less watts than incandescent bulbs and 3 less watts then CFLs. Yet of the many Americans that use energy efficient lighting, 75% use CFLs.

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That brings us to the third question. If switching to a more energy efficient solution is possible but it costs more money than the less energy efficient alternative, the data shows that people will not make the switch. Clearly, Americans prioritize the costs of installing the LED bulbs over their environmental benefits. Interestingly, however, LEDs have some economic benefits over CFLs as well. LEDs could save people up to $130 per year on their energy bill, and cost less than CFLs to operate yearly. They do cost more than CFLs and take longer to gain back the investment, but only half a month longer.

Sadly, Americans prioritize their economic interests over environmental interests. I think we should all strive to hold the environment at a much higher priority than we do naturally. While economic benefits have an immediate impact on one’s life, environmental impacts have a much more widespread and have more longevity. We need to be concerned about saving every watt of energy possible, even if it means paying a little more money now. If we do not pay the extra money now to conserve the energy, we will likely have to pay a lot more money later in order to compensate for the damage we’ve caused.

If We Could See Our Carbon Emissions, Would It Affect the Way We Spend Energy?

The debate over whether global warming is real continues to rage on between scientists, the media, and the masses of wildly under-informed citizens of the world. Whether the sides ever come to an agreement is irrelevant: carbon emissions, the culprit behind global warming, are a reality and they have very real effects. Many of the effects, however, are completely invisible: increased acidity of ocean water, a depleted ozone layer, climate change, air pollution, and a list of others.

Carbon emissions are produced by so many activities we have deemed necessary for our everyday lives, yet they are completely invisible. When you turn on the lights in your room or turn up the heat, you do not suddenly see a column of smoke reminiscent of some particularly grisly trucks on the highway.

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Visible carbon emissions show the flow and concentration of carbon emissions.

The ocean absorbs a major part of the carbon in the environment, but the climbing CO2 emissions have caused the ocean to become more acidic. This damages coral reefs and food webs. Ozone depletion leads to more UVB rays leaking through to the Earth’s surface, instigating climate change and raising the risk of skin cancer. Air pollution can seriously affect health and agriculture. The impacts of climate change range from human health effects to an increase in pests as well as more frequent hurricanes in some places, yet decreased water availability in others. All of these are ramifications of carbon emissions. None of them are immediately visible to the human eye, yet over the span of a few decades, they will wreak major havoc on the environment.

This videosmokestack truck shows what Earth would look like from space if carbon emissions were visible to the human eye. If we could see carbon emissions in our daily lives, like the smokestack coming off a truck coming out of a wall socket when we leave our computer plugged in all night even after it is fully charged, would we use less energy and produce less carbon emissions? When the effects as well as the emissions themselves are invisible, it can be hard to save energy or even realize how much carbon you are emitting. Accurately calculating your carbon footprint can be a time consuming and confusing endeavor, especially because many of the activities that relate to your carbon footprint, such as how local the food you eat is and whether you eat a meat- or plant-based diet, do not seem to have obvious carbon ramifications. So if our carbon emissions were as obvious as the smoke coming off a truck, would there be such a struggle to move towards lowering carbon emissions? Whether such a change would make us realize the benefits to lowering our emissions ourselves or if a sense of public embarrassment– the idea that others can see just how much you are damaging the environment– would catalyze a change, there would likely be a great deal more accountability for our actions.

Could Energy Efficient Products Be Hurting The Environment?

By Erica Christensen

energy efficient lights

Energy efficiency: it is a well-known, highly discussed, often groan-inducing topic. Energy efficiency is a way of managing the growth of energy consumption. To have an energy efficient product, something must use less energy while providing the same service as the original product. Anyone living in developed countries knows it is an issue on a local, political, and global scale. Clearly, the issue is not as simple as it might seem: “saving energy” has its ramifications across economic and technological lines. Yet energy efficient technology is often less expensive and more profitable once it is in place. Packaging for products such as LED light bulbs and refrigerators often show something along the lines of “75% less energy used.” However, a concept called rebound shows that because these energy efficient technologies are less expensive and more profitable, the global use of these products increases. The rebound effect is about how energy efficient technology is used and whether its overuse negates its original energy-saving qualities. Due to this increase in technology, especially in relation to light, some scientists worry that the rebound will outweigh the benefits of the new energy efficient technology. This argument was recently reignited after the creators of the LED light were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that:

“A comprehensive review of 500 studies suggests that direct rebounds are likely to be over 10% and could be considerably higher (i.e., 10% less savings than the projected saving from engineering principles). Other reviews have shown larger ranges with Thomas and Azevedo (Thomas and Azevedo, 2013) suggesting between 0 and 60%. For household‐efficiency measures, the majority of studies show rebounds in developed countries in the region of 20-45% (the sum of direct and indirect rebound effects), meaning that efficiency measures achieve 65-80% of their original purposes.”

(Taken from The Huffington Post)

The study showed that LED lights, particularly, save more energy than their rebound. Additionally, the reason for the increased use of LED lights could be attributed to the fact that the world is more developed and wealthier than it has ever been, therefore sparking the need for more light.

The concept of rebound is definitely important to remember and consider when reviewing energy efficient products. If a reboundproduct saves energy on face value but it is overused, it might not actually benefit the environment. While LED lights are shown to be worth using even with rebound, some newer, less refined technologies may not be as energy efficient as they seem. For example, energy efficient washing machines are more cost-effective than any washing machines in the past. This could potentially give rise to more global use of washing machines. The increased use, even of an energy efficient washing machine, could lead to more excess water, energy, and chemicals being consumed. In that case, it’s possible that the technology that saves energy on a small scale could actually be detrimental on a large scale when all factors are considered. I think it is important that scientists are concerned and actively studying this topic. Clearly, developing new energy efficient technologies are good and necessary, but addressing the rebound factor for each new product will ensure that we are not making any more mistakes about our environmental impact and truly contributing to lessening our carbon footprint. I think that the only way to really help our environment is to stay conscious of every decision we make, not to simply accept whatever is happening at face value.

A Storm Three Times The Size of Earth

If Timmy throws a ball from his front yard in Boston towards the Equator in a straight line heading south, in what country will the ball end up?

Pull out your map and look at the country that is on the Equator directly south of Boston. The answer is Columbia, right?

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Wrong!

The question seems simple; a map and a ruler should be all we need to answer it upon first glance. However, there is something else happening to the ball once Timmy throws it that makes the answer a bit more complicated. It is called the Coriolis Effect.

The Coriolis Effect describes the way objects passing over the Earth respond to the Earth’s rotation. Since the Earth rotates as a whole, the speed of rotation at the Equator is faster than that at the poles. The combination of atmospheric convection currents with the Coriolis Effect create high and low pressure systems called Hadley, Polar, and Ferrel Cells. Earth’s air is pushed and pulled through these systems due to the four major properties of air: density, water vapor capacity, adiabatic healing and cooling, and latent heat release. Objects travelling over the Earth’s surface also appear to become displaced, such as Timmy’s ball. However, Timmy’s ball is actually still moving in a straight line, while the Earth rotates under it.

So instead of landing at the end of a straight line south, Timmy’s ball would actually appear curve along the surface of the Earth and end up somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

coriolis effect ball

The ball is thrown in a straight line, but the Earth rotates beneath it.

The Coriolis Effect also has an impact on large scale storms, such as hurricanes. The air in a hurricane is transformed into the telltale whirlpool image through high- and low-pressure systems created by the Coriolis Effect. High speed rotation at the Equator pushes the air towards the poles, then the low pressure at the Equator draws the air back in.

hurricanes coriolis

 Hurricane air systems are formed by air pushed from the more rapidly rotating Equator towards the poles.

However, Earth is not the only planet that experiences the Coriolis Effect. Jupiter, in particular, has an incredibly strong Coriolis Effect due to its immense size and high speed rotation. Since Jupiter has the fastest rotation in the solar system, the force Jupiter’s Coriolis Effect is magnified. It does not have three cells of high and low pressure systems like Earth. Instead, it has bands of air that whip around its surface, creating the striped look that can be seen from outer space.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has recently been shrinking.

Like Earth, Jupiter’s Coriolis Effect impacts storms. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, for example, is directly at the point at which two of Jupiter’s air bands meet, creating a pressure system so great that the Great Red Spot was approximately three times larger than Earth at its largest. Recently, however, the Great Red Spot has been shrinking. Now, it is only about the size of one Earth. One hypothesis is that some activity in Jupiter’s atmosphere is drawing energy away from the storm. I think it could potentially be due to a shift in Jupiter’s Coriolis Effect, which would interfere with the meeting place between the bands of high pressure air that caused the Great Red Spot in the first place. However, scientists are not sure why it is shrinking.

The Coriolis Effect impacts so many different things in our universe: storms, air patterns, convection currents, airplanes, missiles, and even rockets, not just on Earth but on other planets as well.