Friday, December 08, 2006
Our Beautiful Planet And The Little States Upon It
I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. We have to learn to live happily in the present moment, to touch the peace and joy that are available now.
---Thich Nhat Hanh
To fill the hour---that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval.
---Ralph Waldo Emerson
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: Humility is endless.
It's an unusually full and urgent Thursday for news. I don't know why but so many things are bursting forth on this Pearl Harbor Day. Yes, of course the necessary stories about Iraq, that Russian spy case, recent water on Mars (will some alien be looking for traces of water on Earth someday?), the tragic dad in snowy Oregon, Jennifer Aniston's happiness and all the new movies, poor Tony Blair deserve our attention. But there are a few beneath the surface that don't get headlines this morning and that we might miss---like the startling images that illustrate this message. What are they? The top is surface ocean temperature and the bottom is phytoplankton productivity. So what? Please read on~~~
Every day, more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide are drawn from the atmosphere into the ocean by billions of microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton during photosynthesis. In addition to playing a big role in removing greenhouses gases from the atmosphere, phytoplankton are the foundation of the ocean food chain.
For nearly a decade, the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS) has been making global observations of phytoplankton productivity. On December 6, 2006, NASA-funded scientists announced that warming sea surface temperatures over the past decade have caused a global decline in phytoplankton productivity. This pair of images shows changes in sea surface temperature (top) and phytoplankton productivity (bottom) between 2000 and 2004, after the last strong El Niño event, which occurred between 1997-1998. Places where temperatures rose between 2000 and 2004 (red areas, top image) are the same places where productivity dropped (red areas, bottom image). In general, the reverse situation was also true: where temperatures cooled, productivity rose. The sea surface temperature image is based on data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.
Why do warmer temperatures have a negative influence on phytoplankton growth? The most likely explanation is that the warmer the surface waters become, the less mixing there is between those waters and deeper, more nutrient-rich water. As nutrients become scarce at the surface, where phytoplankton grow, productivity declines. The effect is most obvious in the part of the world’s oceans that scientists describe as the permanently stratified ocean, bounded by black lines in the images. “Permanently stratified” means that rather than being well-mixed, there is already a distinct difference in the density of warmer, fresher water at the surface and colder, saltier water deeper down.
In this situation, with “lighter” (i.e., less dense) water on top, and “heavier” (denser) water below, there is little vertical mixing, and nutrients can’t move to the surface. As surface water warms, the stratification, or layering, becomes even more pronounced, suppressing mixing even further. As a result, nutrient transfer from deeper water to surface waters declines, and so does phytoplankton productivity.
“Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere play a big part in global warming,” said lead author Michael Behrenfeld of Oregon State University, Corvallis. “This study shows that as the climate warms, phytoplankton growth rates go down and along with them the amount of carbon dioxide these ocean plants consume. That allows carbon dioxide to accumulate more rapidly in the atmosphere, which would produce more warming.”
“The evidence is pretty clear that the Earth’s climate is changing dramatically, and in this NASA research we see a specific consequence of that change,” said oceanographer Gene Carl Feldman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It is only by understanding how climate and life on Earth are linked that we can realistically hope to predict how the Earth will be able to support life in the future.”
References: Behrenfeld., M., O’Malley, R., Siegel, D., McClain, C., Sarmiento, J., Feldman, G., Milligan, A., Falkowski, P., Letelier, R., and Boss, E. (2006). Climate-driven trends in contemporary ocean productivity. Nature, 444, 752-755. Images by Jesse Allen, based on data provided by Robert O'Malley, Oregon State University.
If such planetary developments urge you to action, consider joining MoveOn's campaign to organize house parties on Saturday, December 16th, to view An Inconvenient Truth and to talk by hookup with Al Gore and ask him questions. I guess the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters are joining other groups in this campaign as well. As this point MoveOn just is trying to get people to volunteer the homes for the project. The link to do that is here...I think, although it may be members only (there are 3.2 million of those right now)~~~
Then we have Robert Scheer's disturbing article and photo of Jose Padilla's confinement and torture, as further revealed by The New York Times this week. Mr. Padilla is a US citizen caught in the distorted web of "Terror War" confined in our network of detention centers and brigs for the last 3 1/2 years, and now declared so mentally ill he couldn't stand trial even if he were allowed one. Take a look at the comments as well that follow this TruthDig column...and maybe add one yourself. This is a very moving piece about freedom and liberty.
So moving in fact, that if you read next Jesse Jackson's reminder Tuesday about impeaching Bush, you may be ready to march. I know we've all read articles before about impeachment, but somehow Reverend Jackson's puts the case so precisely and concisely that it's among the best and briefest I've seen yet. The chronicle of this President's alleged crimes is becoming easier all the time to memorize and recite around the workplace. It's here~~~
And on the bright side of the news---yes, we want to end with a kicker---sincere congratulations to the happy couple expecting their first child after 15 years together. You know, it really helps to get to know each other well before you decide to have a baby. Best wishes Mary and Heather! and perhaps the LA Times' A Pregnant Pause In Right Wing tells it best~~~