The Melting Ice Caps and How They Affect Us

There is plenty of evidence to confirm that the polar ice caps are indeed melting and that global warming is to blame. The most noticeable evidence is the fact that the ice caps have decreased drastically in size over the past 100 years or so. Figure 1 displays this visually.

Figure 1 from enviromatters.wikispaces.com

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This poses an incredibly dangerous threat to polar bears and other inhabitants of arctic regions, as well as to the ecosystems of the biome. However, the ecosystem disruption in the ice caps is only one of many drastic repercussions of the melting ice caps.  An article published by the National Academy of Sciences’ Research Council lists two other majorly destructive consequences of this crisis.

Growing scientific research heavily suggests that changes in the arctic regions are leading to changes in the weather of the mid-latitudes. The increasingly warmer air in the arctic regions is leading to a greater persistence in abnormal weather conditions such as intense snow, intense heat, intense cold, intense rain, essentially any other extreme types of weather, including dangerous storms. “The basic idea is that a warmer Arctic plays games with the jet stream, the stream of air high above us in the stratosphere that carries our weather and that is driven by temperature contrasts between the mid and high latitudes,” writes Chris Mooney of the Washington Post. “If the Arctic warms faster than the mid latitudes do, then the jet stream could slow down, goes the theory. It could develop a more elongated and loopier path, leading to a persistence of particular weather conditions.” Figure 2 shows the elongated, loopy jet stream patterns.

Figure 2 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/16/the-arctic-is-unraveling-due-to-global-warming-and-the-consequences-will-be-global/

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Another destructive side-effect of the meltdown of the ice caps is that it releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, thus increasing global warming. The ice and permafrost (frozen ground) in arctic regions contains massive stores of frozen carbon, “some 1,330 and 1,580 gigatons worth, and that may be a low end estimate,” says The Washington Post. How did carbon get inside the ice caps? The National Research Council explains that dead plants, which are essentially made of carbon, freeze and lock their carbon in place if the climate is cold, but decompose and release their carbon into the atmosphere in warmer climates. Should the ice caps melt and lose their freezing climate, “the volume of carbon emissions could be enough to set back worldwide efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning by adding an entire new source of greenhouse gases beyond the usual suspects, like fossil fuels and deforestation,” says the Washington Post.

Sources consulted:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/16/the-arctic-is-unraveling-due-to-global-warming-and-the-consequences-will-be-global/

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/PolarIce/polar_ice2.php

enviromatters.wikispaces.com

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Long Island’s Nitrogen Downfall

The earth carries out it’s cycles day by day without us even realizing. It revolves around it’s axis each day, concurrently revolving around the sun each year. It rains, the sky clears, it rains again. The earth seems to do what it pleases, without any respect to the measly human being. But we as a race have more power than we realize. Our actions change this earth, not always for the better.


fig. 1 Montaulk is an example of a beautiful beach in Long Island

Long Island is a beautiful region of the United States, popular for it’s breath taking beaches and serene oceanside environment. For years, tourists have flocked the sandy seashore, and fishermen have angled the plentiful amounts of crustaceans and aquatic creatures living underneath the surf for profit. But the seeming perfection of this environment has been shattered. New data and observations have shown that the Nitrogen levels of well known areas such as Westhampton Beach, Huntington Bay, Shinnecock and Flanders Bay have skyrocketed, forcing the oxygen levels toxically low. This increase in nitrogen has caused many sea creatures to either leave or die off. These aquatic animals need oxygen to survive. As the number of creatures in the area lowers, unrestrained algae takes over, turning oceans and bays an unsightly and unhealthy green.


fig. 2 In areas of countries like China, this algae increase has become extreme.

But why does this occur? The answer can be found in a lesser known, yet integral cycle of the earth: the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is required for life of all plants and animals. Without it, we could not survive. Seventy-eight percent of the atmosphere is made of nitrogen, as well as three percent of our own human body. Nitrogen can be found in proteins and nucleic acids, in other words, in foods, and in DNA. As you can now see, nitrogen, though invisible, is essential. But nitrogen in large amounts can be detrimental to our environment. Large amounts of nitrogen, in the form of pollution, have entered the Long Island waters by way of soil leaching and runoff. Leaching occurs when fertilizer added to the ground does not bind with the soil, due to the nitrate in the substance being negatively charged. Runoff includes that from the sewer and septic pipes.


fig. 3 The nitrogen cycle is a complex process, but is necessary to sustain life on earth.

Other polluting contributors include an outdated waste water system, the use of pesticides, and emissions from power plants and vehicles. As these factors add up over time, nitrogen levels heighten, oxygen levels decrease, and the sea creatures dissipate. But the fish and animals aren’t the only things to disappear. The increase in nitrogen affects more than just the wildlife. It can negatively affect the economy, as it is doing now in New York. Tourists are slowly disappearing, disliking the polluted water, that is steadily becoming greener with algae. The pristine, once picture-perfect beaches may soon be a thing of the past. The fishing industry suffers as well, as their copious supplies run low, and what animals that remain will be sickly and oxygen-deprived. The main economic frame of the area is bending and shifting, all due to too much nitrogen.


fig. 4 Seen in this image is an example of runoff. This runoff is coming directly from the sewers and has many negative affects on the environment.

It seems like there is not much that can be done. Big factories and corporations will not soon change their polluting ways, and nor will ordinary humans, most living their lives oblivious to the the existence of the nitrogen cycle and its importance. Though I usually try to see the bright side in situations, the future does not look promising for Long Island, and possibly other beaches around the country, and world. I believe that pollution, though promoted extensively in a negative light, will not decrease anytime soon. Fertilizers and pesticides are an everyday tools for farmers; they will not risk the health of their crops and cease to use these things. The world takes their white sand and blue rolling surf for granted, but if people do not soon learn of the nitrogen cycle, all will soon turn green… with algae.

Changing Biomes in South Africa and it’s Negative Effect

Could it be possible for a region to experience a change of it’s biome? If you think that this is absolutely ridiculous, I hate to break it to you, but you are wrong. It is completely possible for a region to have a change in it’s biomes overtime. But first, you may be wondering what a biome is, so here is a little refresher. A biome is a large area on the earth’s surface, which is defined by it’s abiotic factors such as climate, precipitation, geology, soil, and vegetation. In each of the biomes, the animals and plants have to learn to adapt to the environment. A common misconception is that a biome is an ecosystem, but that is actually not true. Although it may seem that a biome is a large ecosystem, in a biome the plants and animals have adaptive qualities and because of this you will also find multiple ecosystems in a biome. More specifically, the grassland biome is predominant with different species of grass, with a few trees and bushes scattered across. There are two types of grasslands, the Savanna Grassland and the the Temperate Grassland. The grassland biome can be considered the medium or the in-between of a desert biome and rainforest biome. Because of it’s temperatures, it can be considered to be either, and because of it’s lond dry season, it can be classified as a desert.

Now back to what I was saying, an example of changing biomes is currently happening in South Africa. Because of the increasing temperature, which has to do with climate change, and the change in precipitation, South Africa is facing the challenge of trying to preserve the grassland biome. The grassland biome is getting reduced in size, which is leading to an increase in the desert biome. You can see in figure one, that even though there are several different types of biomes in South Africa, there is a large difference in the size of the grassland biome from several years ago to now.

Figure 1.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 1.17.15 PM

The reason that this is such a big deal is because if the grassland biome begins to decrease, it will affect all of the animals and plants that have adapted to the certain biome. Some of these animals may not be abel to make the transition, which will cause them to die. This in turn can have a drastic impact on the ecosystems in the biome and the food web. For instance, if a zebra is unable to find grass, which it’s main source of food, then the number of zebra’s will decrease. This will then effect the cheetahs, which feed on the zebras.

Another reason that this is harmful is because of the increase in aridity, which refers to the dryness of the atmosphere. Because of the aridity, the area of the atmosphere can shrink. If you look at figure 2, as of 2002, the area highlighted in blue was rather large, but as the years progress, the area has shrunk because there is double the amount of CO2 emissions.

Figure 2.

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All in all, the changing of biomes is extremely hazardous to the environment and the ecosystems in these environments. The excess levels of CO2 in the atmosphere area result of humans; therefore, with less CO2 emissions, the changing of biomes can hopefully come to an end.

Resources: 

http://www.grida.no/publications/vg/africa/page/3120.aspx

http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/grasslands.htm