gorgeous glimpses of calamity



jan 10, 2013 – haze below the himalayas blankets northern india and bangladesh – result of fires, urban & industrial pollution, and temperature inversion

beautifully presented, if shockingly impacting, article by michael benson, new york times sunday review / opinion pages – exposures, august 16, 2013. click on caps txt above NASA’s satellite shot for richly illustrarted, orig nyt article


greenhouse gasses soar

. . . No signs warming is slowed

terse, shocking update by AP reporter seth borenstein

WASHINGTON (AP) — Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe.

New figures from the U.N. weather agency Monday showed that the three biggest greenhouse gases not only reached record levels last year but were increasing at an ever-faster rate, despite efforts by many countries to reduce emissions.

As world leaders meet next week in South Africa to tackle the issue of climate change, several scientists said their projections show it is unlikely the world can hold warming to the target set by leaders just two years ago in Copenhagen.

“The growth rate is increasing every decade,” said Jim Butler, director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Division. “That’s kind of scary.”

Scientists can’t say exactly what levels of greenhouse gases are safe, but some fear a continued rise in global temperatures will lead to irreversible melting of some of the world’s ice sheets and a several-foot rise in sea levels over the centuries — the so-called tipping point.

An artist specialised in aerial art, John Quigley, travelled to the region on board a Greenpeace ice breaker and reproduced da Vinci's most famous drawing -- depicting a man in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart -- some 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the North Pole. The artwork, which Quigley entitled "Melting Vitruvian Man", measures the equivalent of four Olympic-size swimming pools. The man's two arms and one leg have been cut off, symbolically melting into the sea to illustrate the disappearing ice. Quigley used copper strips normally used to create solar panels to recreate the 500 year-old drawing. "Literally climate change is eating into the body of our civilisation," the artist explained in a video clip published by Greenpeace.

The findings from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization are consistent with other grim reports issued recently. Earlier this month, figures from the U.S. Department of Energy showed that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 jumped by the highest one-year amount ever.

The WMO found that total carbon dioxide levels in 2010 hit 389 parts per million, up from 280 parts per million in 1750, before the start of the Industrial Revolution. Levels increased 1.5 ppm per year in the 1990s and 2.0 per year in the first decade of this century, and are now rising at a rate of 2.3 per year. The top two other greenhouse gases — methane and nitrous oxide — are also soaring.

The U.N. agency cited fossil fuel-burning, loss of forests that absorb CO2 and use of fertilizer as the main culprits.

Since 1990 — a year that international climate negotiators have set as a benchmark for emissions — the total heat-trapping force from all the major greenhouse gases has increased by 29 percent, according to NOAA.

The accelerating rise is happening despite the 1997 Kyoto agreement to cut emissions. Europe, Russia and Japan have about reached their targets under the treaty. But China, the U.S. and India are all increasing emissions. The treaty didn’t require emission cuts from China and India because they are developing nations. The U.S. pulled out of the treaty in 2001, the Senate having never ratified it.

While scientists can’t agree on what level of warming of the climate is considered dangerous, environmental activists have seized upon 350 parts per million as a target for carbon dioxide levels. The world pushed past that mark more than 20 years ago.

Governments have focused more on projected temperature increases rather than carbon levels. Since the mid-1990s, European governments have set a goal of limiting warming to slightly more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) above current levels by the end of this century. The goal was part of a nonbinding agreement reached in Copenhagen in 2009 that was signed by the U.S. and other countries.

Temperatures have already risen about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since pre-industrial times.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Ron Prinn, Henry Jacoby and John Sterman said MIT’s calculations show the world is unlikely to meet that two-degree goal now.

“There’s very, very little chance,” Prinn said. “One has to be pessimistic about making that absolute threshold.” He added: “Maybe we’ve waited too long to do anything serious if two degrees is the danger level.”

Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria, Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University and Gregg Marland of Appalachian State University agreed with the MIT analysis that holding warming to two degrees now seems unlikely.

“There’s no way to stop it. There’s so much inertia in the system,” Morgan said. “We’ve committed to quite a bit of warming.”

Prinn said new studies predict that if temperatures increase by more than two degrees, the Greenland ice sheets will start an irreversible melting. And that will add to sea level rise significantly.

“Over the next several centuries, Greenland slowly melts away,” Weaver said.
World Meteorological Organization’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin: http://bit.ly/vu04vB
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/

closer look: sara’s view from magnetic north

a world on top

getting down to the business at hand
so much these new books have to say
starting where three little maids left off

OK, not much little or maid-like here
sara’s epic winds eastward around the circle
starting & ending in russian siberia

best in your own words sara
as they strike home w/ such force
your TIPS ABOUT ICEBERGS one fine intro ( excerpted . . . )

The Arctic has been the locus of Armageddon two generations in a row now. It was the front line of the Cold War, with both sides pouring money into long-range nuclear bomber installations and lone figures crouching on floes straining to hear enemy subs ( or was that a ringed seal scratching its back? ). Nuclear holocaust, then apocalyptic climate change: something about the region attracts millennial anxiety. I picked up a scent among the Lappish reindeer and pursued it through the journeys described here. What does the Arctic tell us about our past? What does it reveal of the future?

. . . THE MAGNETIC NORTH  describes the semi-inhabited fringes of the Arctic: the transition zone. ” It’s not about polar bears, ” says Mary Simon, head of the Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada’s forty-five thousand Inuit. ” It’s about people. “

Although the beauties and intractable problems of the contemporary Arctic framed my journeys, I could not ignore generations of explorers. Like the scientists who succeeded them, they went north to unlock secrets. Their adventures frequently descended into a tragic farce of shoe-eating ( when they ran out of food ) and poetic death, but still, heroic individual struggle is a theme of this book.

. . . I hit on the idea for a structure for my upcoming voyage. I would make a circular, counterclockwise journey – Siberia to Alaska to Canada to Greenland to Spitsbergen to Lapland and back to Russia, to the White Sea. The ends would not quite meet up. This would be a series of small journeys spread over two years, each planned to shed some dim light on the enigmas of the Arctic. Russia was a natural starting point, as it has more Arctic territory than any other country – five thousand miles of coastline that unspools from Europe to the Pacific, and a wilderness of tundra in which everything has evolved in response to cold.

. . . Twenty-six different ethnic peoples have herded and fished the Russian Arctic for centuries, yet they are invisible in most versions of the national past – unlike the dashing horsemen of the southern steppe or the turbanned anglers of Lake Baikal.

. . . Pollution, plunder, the gleeful killings of the Norse sagas – the Arctic is not a white Garden of Eden. All kinds of degradations crop up in the Inuit past: these pages contain a story of the deliberate, slow starvation of an orphan. And there is epic cruelty in the North.   ( Nevertheless ) . . . there was something indefinably redemptive folded up in the layers of Arctic mystery. Explorers, scientists, rogue writers – we were all on its tail.

In Ittoqqortoormiit, a municipality the size of Great Britain with a population of 562, a girl in Wrangler jeans and Nike sneakers drinks Coca-Cola with her sealskin-clad grandmother. Uncluttered polar landscapes reveal differences lost in the south. Semi-subsistence marine-mammal hunters still harpoon walrus in northwest Greenland, and if the solitary Inuit no longer stands motionless over a seal hole for twenty-four hours at a stretch, his father did.                    (   Compare the Comanche taming bison on the Plains. He is as remote as Odin. )  Above all else, the stripped-down Arctic exposes the way each country has treated its indigenous peoples. Every nation devastates native cultures, even if it doesn’t actually kill everyone off. Russians did it with bureaucracy, Americans with money, Canadians ( in the end ) with kindness. Swedes and Finns did it with chainsaws that chopped down forests. And everyone did it with booze and syphilis. Acculturation is a theme of  THE MAGNETIC NORTH.  It is a grim story, but I was not looking for a pretty picture. I was looking, in the words of T. S. Eliot, ” to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory. “

. . . Both polar regions appeal to something visceral in the spirit, especially in an era when we have lost contact with the natural world. But in the Arctic, unlike its southern counterpart, there is a figure at the center of the picture. The Arctic is an image of the real world in all its degradation and beauty, and it is intimately connected to us – to our future, our crises, and our dreams. John Davis, the most sympathetic of Elizabethan navigators and a pioneering scientist in an era before science was partitioned off from everyday life, called the Arctic ” the place of greatest dignitie. ” As soon as I read that phrase, Davis entered my select group of polar heroes. I love the pared-down existence of polar lands and the grace of their peoples under pressure. 

the pared down existence of polar lands and the grace of their peoples under pressure . . .   you bring us along with such grace and forcefulness yourself, sara. I for one am not the same after accompanying you on your brave two-year round-about atop our world.