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.

cod

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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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.

If It’s Sunny You’ll Save Money

Considering the fact that this blog is online, I am assuming that you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet to view this page. Now, I ask you to take a moment to reflect and think about how long you have been on this computer and how much electricity you have been using during the duration of this time. The average American spends about 5 hours a day on digital devices ( figure 1). Annually, that is a total of 1825 hours on digital media. Think about this, and think about how much it costs the average American to power their digital devices.  This means that the average American can spend up to 600 dollars just on electrical bills for their computer. However, what if there was a way to power your computer just using the environment around you?

Figure 1

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Using solar power is all the rage as individuals are discovering that they can cut back on electrical bills by using energy from the sun. Solar panels allow us to use , solar energy (a type of solar power) which comes from the sun. In doing so, solar energy can be converted into electrical energy, which can then be used to power things such as a computer and other devices which need electricity to work (figure 2).  Solar energy allows one to power devices with low cost renewable energy and using solar energy to power devices is a fairly simple process.

(Figure 2)

solar-energy-diagram

Companies such as Samsung and SOL have developed laptops that run solely on the energy from the sun. The computer developed by Samsung is powered by a solar panel embedded in the lid. In order to function the computer needs approximately 2 hours of sunlight to get 1 hour of working battery life. When fully charged, the computer battery can last up to 14 hours straight. This computer costs about $350 US dollars. Similarly the company SOL (known for developing devices using solar energy) developed a laptop which uses solar energy as well. This laptop is more efficient than the Samsung, as it is equipped with a detachable solar panel which can obtain 10 hours of battery life from just 2 hours of sun exposure (figure 3). This Laptop costs the exact same amount as the samsung computer, costing about $350 US dollars. By purchasing either of these laptops one would be purchasing a laptop $400 dollars less than the average computer and it is powered free of charge due to its solar panel technology.

Figure 3

samsung-nc215s-solar-powered-netbook

Converting to solar energy is 100% cost efficient and can end up saving you thousands of dollars (figure 4). Personally, I think that everyone should convert to solar power as it is a natural never ending resources that the earth has given us. Although one must pay for the initial cost of installing solar panels, in the long run solar panels save you up to 7 thousand dollars (figure 4). By using solar energy one can cut back on electrical bills and it makes for a more cost efficient lifestyle. Developing technology that allows computers to run on solar panels is truly revolutionary and I think that there is no better place to start converting people to using solar energy, than the devices we use on a day to day basis.

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Energy Production Gone Wrong… Surprised?

March 11, 2011, a major earthquake, followed by a 15-meter tsunami, destroyed the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plants at Fukushima were Boiling Water Reactors (BWR, shown in Figure 1.). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and uses the steam from the water to drive a turbine, which creates electricity. The steam then is cooled and condenses back into water until it is heated by nuclear fuel again. The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, a radioactive mineral.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

The devastation from Fukushima released unmanageable amounts of radiation, and about 80% of the radiation is still being released into the Pacific Ocean through ground water. Yet, why is this relevant to us? 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean every day, and it has started to affect the United States. According to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, radiation levels all over the U.S. are elevating, specifically the west coast. (Shown in Figure 2.). The total amount of radioactive material from Fukushima is increasing everyday in the U.S., and it is steadily building up in our food chain, which could cause radiation poisoning in innocent civilians all over America.

Figure 2.  Caution Symbols Key: Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

Figure 2.
Caution Symbols Key:
Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation
Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation
Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation
Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

With an increase of radioactive material in our food chain, people will have a high risk of developing cancer or other health problems due to the high exposure of nuclear radiation. These possible risks are already being foreshadowed by the effects the nuclear radiation is having on the ecosystems along the west coast. On the Alaskan coastline, polar bears, seals, and walruses are beginning to suffer from alopecia (loss of fur) and skin lesions, and along the California coastline there has been a tragic amount of sea-lion deaths. For example, 45% of the pups born during the summer have died, when usually pup deaths are below 33%. Also, many types of fish are being affected by the radiation. Along the Canada and Alaska coastlines, the population of sockeye salmon is at a “historic low.” Along the west coast of Canada, fish are suddenly bleeding from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs, and the cause is predicted to be nuclear radiation. A test in California found that 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima and plankton found in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast had very high levels of cesium-137 (radioactive metal). With these cases of death, disease, and illness within the ecosystems of the west coast of North America, soon enough, nuclear radiation may begin to affect innocent people.

It is a terrifying thought how the production of energy can cause such devastation. In fact, it is ironic   how the nuclear plants, which hurt the environment, have been destroyed by the environment (natural disasters), and in result will affect us, the people whom are using the energy. Fukushima is an example of how energy production cannot only directly affect the environment, but also can directly affect the health of humans. How can we prevent this is the future? We can produce energy with safer and more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, a simple, yet expensive method. Although using more efficient energy sources can raise the bills, when it comes down to it, what is more important, health or money?

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.

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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

Changing Ecosystems

What determines an ecosystem? The plants and animals, right? Not quite, yes those are what help to define one type of ecosystem from another, but there are other factors that cause ecosystems to develop the way they do.  Ecosystems develop in specific places based upon their geology, climate, and altitude. Over the past century the average temperature of the earth has risen 1.3°F. There are places in the world where the temperature has risen double that, and still others where is has barely risen at all. In both circumstances however, we can see it affecting the ecosystem.

The effect of the warming earth is more dramatic in northern parts of the world. An article in the Huffington Post addressed one area in particular where it is hard to tell whether or not the changing ecosystem is a bad or good thing.

fig1

 In Alaska there has been a population explosion of bark beetles, which have existed in Alaska for centuries, but lately their population has not been kept in check by the cold temperatures. This is an example of how the climate, a non-living thing, is effecting the life of an ecosystem, showing that everything plays a role in defining what an ecosystem is, not just the flora and fauna. Due to the warming weather the bark beetles were able to infect more and more trees, and within the past 20 years wiped out enough white spruces to cover the entire state of Connecticut. The effect of the bark beetle take over affected every living organism in Alaska. Fewer spruces caused for there to be less shade on the forest floors, allowing grasses to grow. This benefited herbivores such as moose and elk, and also changed the temperature of the soil allowing other forms of vegetation to move in. This essentially completely changed the makeup of the Alaskan forest.

While making the soil more friendly to other types of vegetation may sound like a good thing, the wipe out of most of the white spruces hurt many other organisms such as predatory birds. Voles, a small rodent, were both a key piece in spreading beneficial fungi throughout the forests and were prey for a number of predators. This has caused for several of the residing species to move out as the forest changes. Since we have looked at both the beneficial impacts and negative impacts of changing ecosystems how do we decide if it is overall a good thing or a bad thing for our ecosystems to be changing?

I personally believe that the changing of any ecosystem great or small is not a good thing. I experienced the changing of ecosystems first hand in Maine where the migration of lobsters and green crabs was hurting the economy of the Maine coast. Since the temperature of the water has been getting warmer and warmer up the eastern coast, lobsters have been migrating up toward the cold waters. Green crabs on the other hand have been following the warm water into the Maine Coast.

Green crabs eat the same foods as lobsters and other shellfish. The Maine coast relies upon the farming of lobster and scallops for a decent amount of their economy, and so in this case in particular the changing ecosystem is a bad thing. If in some areas the changing ecosystem benefits the people living in that area, then it can be classified as a good change. But is it really good? What if the change wipes out the last of a certain species? Do the pros of an ecosystem changing outweigh the cons?

Sources:

Images: http://www.plixer.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/lobster.jpg

Article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-lemonick/ecosystems-around-the-world_b_1723561.html