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Issue 17
September , 2009
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* EDITORIAL

No time to chill!

Suparna Dutta
Source: From Editor's Desk, Date: September , 2009


It seems we really have no time to chill!

Reseraches confirm our worst fear.Although based on its long-term orbit, Earth should be heading into an ice age,global warming caused anthropogenetically has actually reversed the effect.Instead of continuing to cool—as it had been for at least the past 2,000 years the Arctic has started to warm.

In one of the recent studies reported in Scientific American magazine , geologist Darrell Kaufman of Northern Arizona University and his colleagues have reconstructed Arctic temperatures decade by decade over the past two millennia by pulling sediment cores from the bottoms of 14 Arctic lakes—backed up by records in tree rings and ice cores.The Earth has moved slightly further away from the sun;it is approximately estimated to be 600,000 miles further away now than in 1 C.E.. This means there are parts of Arctic which now receive lesser sunlight than in 1 C.E. That, ideally should lead to a higher cooling rate. But at some point in the 20th century, that trend stopped and reversed.Scientic American report says that in last ten years, summertime Arctic temperatures have been higher than expected .The northern-most latitudes are among the fastest-warming parts of the globe due toa number of reasons. For example, melting Arctic sea ice exposes more ocean, which in turn absorbs more of the sunlight's warmth and further increases warming.

U.K.'s Royal Society has published a new report that analyzes so-called geoengineering—"the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment," as an attempt keep global warming at bay.After a year spent examining various ideas, the Society panel split geoengineering into two camps—dubbed Carbon Dioxide Removal and Solar Radiation Management—and opted primarily for the former. Examples include artificial trees to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere or even real trees in restored forests.

It would be perhaps cheaper to manage solar radiation. Various curious mechanisms have been recommended for this .For example, pumping sulfate and other aerosols into the atmosphere, thus replicating the cooling blanket of a major volcanic eruption, and keeping that up continuously until the underlying problem resolves itself,finally. But This approach might have a few significant side effects, including, acid rain, the elimination of the ozone layer in the stratosphere, and years without summers.

Those of us who are not aware of the cooling blanket effect post volcanic eruptions the following are some of the famous historical precedences :

LAKI (1783) -- The eastern U.S. recorded the lowest-ever winter average temperature in 1783-84, about 4.8OC below the 225-year average. Europe also experienced an abnormally severe winter. Benjamin Franklin suggested that these cold conditions resulted from the blocking out of sunlight by dust and gases created by the Iceland Laki eruption in 1783. The Laki eruption was the largest outpouring of basalt lava in historic times. Franklin's hypothesis is consistent with modern scientific theory, which suggests that large volumes of SO2 are the main culprit in haze-effect global cooling.

TAMBORA (1815) -- Thirty years later, in 1815, the eruption of Mt. Tambora, Indonesia, resulted in an extremely cold spring and summer in 1816, which became known as the year without a summer. The Tambora eruption is believed to be the largest of the last ten thousand years. New England and Europe were hit exceptionally hard. Snowfalls and frost occurred in June, July and August and all but the hardiest grains were destroyed. Destruction of the corn crop forced farmers to slaughter their animals. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry. Sea ice migrated across Atlantic shipping lanes, and alpine glaciers advanced down mountain slopes to exceptionally low elevations.

KRAKATAU (1883) -- Eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatau in August 1883 generated twenty times the volume of tephra released by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Krakatau was the second largest eruption in history, dwarfed only by the eruption of neighboring Tambora in 1815 (see above). For months after the Krakatau eruption, the world experienced unseasonably cool weather, brilliant sunsets, and prolonged twilights due to the spread of aerosols throughout the stratosphere. The brilliant sunsets are typical of atmospheric haze. The unusual and prolonged sunsets generated considerable contemporary debate on their origin.They also provided inspiration for artists who dipicted the vibrant nature of the sunsets in several late 19th-century paintings, two of which are noted here.

Apart from trying to replicate this cooling effect artificially there are many more creative suggestions pouring in.One such is crewless ships spraying saltwater into the air to increase cloud cover. Others include the charcoal soil amendment known as biochar, fertilizing the ocean with iron to promote plankton blooms, and schemes to make Earth more reflective by putting mirrors across deserts and painting roofs white!

However all these measures are cost intensive. So the big Question remains how are green funds going to be raised.

As of now many believe that govts should perk up tax laws and introduce "green" tax to pay for the measures against climate change.

A case in point is the Maldives archipelago. It is already threatened by rising sea levels induced by climate change. A new environment tax is now planned to be levied on all its tourists. This green tax is awaiting Parliamentary approval and is seen as a first step towards mitigating climate change that might , if forecasts are to be believed,submerge most of its islands by 2100.

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