Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Economic Recession Counters Global Warming

In 2007, scientists revealed that human-made carbon dioxide emissions were increasing beyond what's been predicted. In the 1990s, it was only at 1.3% annually, but in the next decade moving into the 21st century, this figure went up to 3.3%. It was a dramatic increase that was blamed on growing industries. The results of the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) journal.

The NAS identified the sources of the carbon dioxide emissions as part of the economic boom experienced in that time worldwide. According to study author Josep Canadell of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, this boom resulted in the increase of greenhouse gas contributors such as coal-burning electricity plants. Canadell said this is reflected in carbon intensity, which measures the amount of carbon needed to produce $1 for the economy.

The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has been known for a long time to be steadily increasing. As a greenhouse gas, this can trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere which can increase average temperatures worldwide and cause climate change, specifically global warming.

Now, scientists are saying that CO2 emissions have tapered off. A recent study (2009) conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) concludes that the dip in CO2 emissions over the last year will be greater than any dip in the last forty years. The reason for the drop, as identified by the IEA, is the current economic recession as well as the imposition of stricter environmental policies signed into law by governments like the United States.

Canadell said efficient technologies mean more wealth generated for the same level of emissions. While this is offset by growing economies which still use old fashioned energy sources, the belt-tightening of countries and a more environmentally-conscious populace means there's a trend to use less energy. It's now felt in the form of less CO2 emissions. The IEA research came one year after the start of the global economic meltdown.

What does this mean for global warming? For one, it simply shows that with concerted effort (and this does not mean working together to bring down the economy), it is possible to make a change that could very well keep the Earth from plunging into a very warm future that could devastate civilization as we know it with extreme environmental changes. The debates on global warming may continue, but any change that may take place as a result of the physical conditions around us will have to be either dealt with or claimed. In the meantime, this news will allow a little breathing room until the economy picks up again.

This post is for Blog Action Day, October 15, 2009.

Participate in the International Day of Climate Change Action on October 24, 2009

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Subsurface Ice Found Near Martian Equator

In a study in 2008 relating to recent impact craters on Mars, researchers have found that subsurface ice exists underneath the Martian surface soil. The ice was discovered when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's (MRO) Context camera team was looking for blemishes on Mars which could be recent meteorite impacts. They are usually dark and are not in older images.

The team found a few and so had these sites imaged by high-resolution cameras. What they saw was a surprise because instead of seeing dark material from under the surface exposed by the impacts, they saw something that was bluish white. Team member Shane Byrne said they found it when they followed up on the first of three craters. He said it looked a lot like water ice. The MRO Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer took a peek at the spectrum of the material and it showed the signature of water ice.

As expected in the thin Martial atmosphere, the ice changed over time and disappeared. Ice on Mars do not last long exposed to air because it sublimates like dry ice does, turning directly into water vapor and never turning to flowing water. The image at the top shows what happens to the Martian landscape when ice vaporizes from underneath.

The discovery of subsurface ice will help a lot in the quest to learn more about the past of Mars, which is believed to have gone through a wet period. It's possible that microbial life once existed or still exists trapped in the ice. Current studies on Mars are a prerequisite to the first Mars astronauts on the red planet. Next to the Moon, Mars is likely the second body beyond Earth where people would set foot on.

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