Sunday, November 16, 2008

Increasing Salp Populations Seen as Possible Natural Negative Feedback Mechanism

There has been a lot of talk about sequestering and storing the carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants, sometimes referred to by the term “clean coal” (an oxymoron?), but so far there has been little action. Nature, on the other hand, may really be stepping it up when it comes to carbon dioxide sequestering. Evidence comes from a report that salps, which are small jelly-like creatures that live in the ocean and survive by consuming algae, have increased markedly in abundance near Sydney, Australia since a salp survey was performed 70 years ago. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the results of a recent marine survey found that the salps have increased in number by a factor of 10. Previously there have been reports of increasing salp populations off Antarctica. After the salps consume algae, which take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the carbon dioxide eventually winds up on the ocean floor either in the feces from the salps or in the salps themselves after they die. Salps can consume tremendous amounts of algae because they reproduce very rapidly, in fact, more rapidly than any other multicellular organism. Their reproduction is so rapid that salps can double their population within a few hours.

It’s obviously too soon to know if salps are playing a role in stabilizing the climate. With global emissions of carbon dioxide still increasing about 3-4% per year despite knowledge on the implications of what this means for the planet it seems hard to believe that salps will matter. However, if because of political reasons we can’t stop global warming maybe the salp, with perhaps the most rudimentary of all nervous systems, can.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Maldives Preparing to Flee Rising Seas

While countries such as the US and China are pouring out the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide like there is no tomorrow, the leader of the island nation of the Maldives has come to realize that maybe there actually is no tomorrow, at least for his country. With scientific predictions that sea level might rise by several feet by the end of this century which is about the elevation of the islands, with the highest point of the nearly 1,200 islands being only about 8 feet, the recently elected Mohamed Nasheed told The Guardian that “We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades.” The plan is to buy land. Where? The most likely places according to Nasheed are Sri Lanka and India. Australia is another possibility. The money for land purchases would come from funds generated by tourism. If nothing else, this plan should get the issue of climate change more attention. Perhaps it will finally get the world leaders to take action on a scale that is meaningful. Like the melting Arctic icecap and the disappearing glaciers of Greenland this plan sends an alarm.