And science never sleeps. Well almost.
Curiosity, research, new tools, and dollars provide more information and opportunities to help understand the way our planet works in all its complexities (natural, human, technological).
Here is a mosaic of some of those bits and pieces.
Take, for example, the Alvin, a deep-sea research vessel recently developed and modified by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in Massachusetts. The latest version can accommodate three people, a pilot and two controllers, and in 2022 it was certified to go to a depth of 20,000 feet. This covers about 99% of the ocean floor. See a photo of the support ship Atlantis recovering Alvin in its stern after a dive in November 2021.
(Photo by Ken Costel, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The ocean, as we know, plays a huge role in the climate system of our planet. It absorbs about 50% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and about 90+% of the excess amount of infrared heat from greenhouse gases (GHGs) it emits.
Much of this carbon dioxide is absorbed by phytoplankton which are microscopic marine algae or microscopic plants. These plants contain chlorophyll and, in sunlight, absorb dissolved gas and live and grow. Of course, as part of the food chain we also have zooplankton, which are small animals that love to browse phytoplankton. And then, in turn, they become food for larger organisms. You can get the picture.
When these creatures die, the carbon in their bodies is released and much of it, like rain, falls through the water column to the ocean floor. Here it can be stored for long periods of time effectively removed from the climate system. The total process, quantities, storage times, and more are not clearly known, and this is where Alvin comes in.
Experiments and dives are planned to better understand this process, its importance and how it impacts and influences the Earth’s climatic complexities.
And then things happen that are difficult to explain and understand: wars and human actions that are catastrophic for the Earth’s climate. This is not easily predictable.
The aerial photo here (provided by Danish Defense Command/dpa) of erupting bubbles half a mile wide from the ocean surface is bad, and very bad. The gas released from the Nord Stream pipeline or its lines is methane. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas with a strength of 20 or more times that of carbon dioxide. It is very combustible, and all charge was forced to remain pure.
With geopolitics appearing in the daily news (Russia, Ukraine and the West), sabotage is the likely culprit and the Swedish and Danish Defense Ministries detected explosions shortly before the bubbles appeared. The Baltic Sea is relatively shallow and has a depth of about 300 feet in this region. It is estimated that the pipeline(s) were full but were not carrying any gas at the time, but an estimated 330,000 tons of methane were released.
The pipeline is about 760 miles long, most of which is underwater and runs from Russia to Germany.
It is difficult if not impossible to predict these additional human actions, but they illustrate the need to move away from fossil fuels and their impact on Earth’s climate.
Then of course we have an unusual “natural” event. An underwater volcanic eruption in January 2022 in the western Pacific Ocean. In this case it was a surprise but the impact on the Earth’s climate is significant.
View image from the NOAA GOES-West satellite of the Tonga volcano eruption (NOAA / ZUMA Press Wire Service / REX / Shutterstock). In the photo, the appearance is almost similar to the explosion of a nuclear bomb. Molten lava over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit erupted about 500 feet below the ocean’s surface and evaporated about 160 million tons of water. It also caused shock waves around the world and tsunami waves that hit parts of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other island nations in the vicinity.
The concern from a climate point of view is that this massive amount of water vapor, a greenhouse gas, formed a cloud, along with ash and other volcanic gases, reaching an altitude of about 35 miles!
This massive amount of water vapor will change the chemistry of the atmosphere destroying the ozone that protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. The normal course will take a few years to re-establish itself. It is believed that in the meantime, water vapor with its heating properties of greenhouse gases will contribute to the warming of the planet.
Then there is the impact of technology on our climate.
See the image titled “10 Years of Global Electric Vehicle Sales”.
There are many pick-up points in the information here. First, the number of electric cars sold in 2011 was negligible globally; About 55,000. As we follow the bottom axis from left to right, we can see the massive change in electric vehicle sales over the past ten years.
When we look at electric vehicle sales figures (see vertical axis on the right), the global total in 2021 is about 6.8 million units. But more than that, note where most sales are: China. The United States has a small percentage of sales compared to China. If the electric vehicle boom is happening with all the implications of technology, computing, reduced use of fossil fuels and the resulting carbon dioxide emissions, and a healthier environment, then we’d better act.
And so it is.