Information about Planet Earth from human sources
Page update: 27.05.06
>> In May 2006, the US National Marine Fisheries Service ruled that two species of coral - elkhorn and staghorn - must officially be registered as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. Under US law, the USA Government is now obliged to take action to reduce the pollution that is causing the coral-threatening climate changes. Elkhorn and staghorn coral species in Florida and Caribbean waters — ecosystem anchors for nearly 500,000 years — are at risk of extinction. The coral species have suffered a 97 percent decline in areas off the Florida Keys and in the Caribbean since 1985.
Global warming is to blame. The warmer waters cause the symbiotic algae that provide food for the coral to die and turn white. If coral remains bleached for more than a week, the chance of death soars. Other stresses on coral include sewage and storm damage. The U.S. Virgin Islands have been particularly hard hit. Of more than 460 elkhorn colonies in the Virgin Islands National Park monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey, 45 percent were found to be bleached, 13 percent had some die-off, and 8 percent were completely wiped out.
Sources: The Coral Reef Alliance (San Francisco) - 05.05.06 and The Independent on Sunday newspaper (London) – 14.05.06
>> Oil was the substance that defined the century just ended; ice will define the one just begun. Frozen in the ice sheets of the globe's high latitudes and the glaciers of its high altitudes are more than 33m cubic kilometres of fresh water. And as the Earth's atmosphere warms, so the cryosphere - that part of the planet constituted by ice - dwindles.
Ice does not go quietly. In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, a plate of floating ice the size of Luxembourg, suddenly shattered into thousands of vast icebergs, which then dispersed into the south Atlantic. In the Andes and the Himalayas, glacial meltwater lakes are filling to their capacity, and then bursting. In Spitzbergen, the glaciers howl as they calve into the ocean.
Source: Robert Macfarlane in The Guardian newspaper (London) 22.04.06
>> Concealed miles below the Antarctic ice are at least 150 lakes containing liquid fresh water. They are connected by flowing watercourses the size of the River Thames. The sub-glacial lakes are thought to have been sealed off from the surface for millions of years. The largest subglacial lake discovered so far in Antarctica is Lake Vostok. This is 250km (155 miles) long, 40km (25 miles) wide and 400m (1,300ft) deep – about the size of Lake Ontario in North America.
Source: BBC (London) Science News 19.04.06
>> The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. September 2005 saw the lowest extent of sea ice cover for more than a century. Scientists say the temperature there could rise by a further 4C-7C by 2100. The Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer by the year 2060.
Source: The Guardian newspaper (London) 18.04.06
>> There is a useful slide-sequence called “Pretty Blue Planet” available online here. This document is a PowerPoint presentation showing various photographs of Earth taken from space. The speed of the slideshow can be controlled by left-clicking the mouse.
>> The carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the atmosphere has risen considerably since the Industrial Revolution, but we are talking of a change from 0.030 per cent (300 parts per million) to 0.038 per cent (380ppm). Whether this small amount of CO2 is the reason for the average temperature rise (global warming) is open to doubt. We are still a long way from the heady levels of 6,000-7,000 years ago, when the average near-surface temperature of the northern hemisphere was more than 16C (currently 15.4C) yet CO2 levels were around 200ppm. (Interestingly, the level by the late 1700s was already 280ppm.)
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the world's population has risen by about 5 billion (about 4 billion of which has been since 1950). Each person's exhalations are about 4 per cent CO2 (about 1 litre per minute on average) so that today people themselves contribute to the carbon in the atmosphere to the tune of around 1.84 billion tonnes per year (fossil fuels are said to contribute around 7 billion tonnes a year). In February this year world population passed 6.5 billion. Curbing population growth could serve to reduce global warming, if that is a real threat, as well as alleviate poverty.
Source: Letter from M.C.Gilbert to the Sunday Telegraph (London) 02.04.06
>> Of the 1.3 billion people worldwide in extreme poverty, 70 per cent of them are women or girls. Gender discrimination is a major cause of poverty and, in many poor countries, women still have great difficulties in getting a basic education, finding a job, or having fair control of household income. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, yet own less than one per cent of the world’s property; they hold only 14 per cent of parliamentary seats worldwide; and gender-based violence causes more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war put together.
Source: Oxfam Generation Why (Oxford) 31.03.06
>> 6,500 Africans are dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs which can be bought at any Western drug store. In South East Asia 150,000 lives were lost in the Tsunami. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. It’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.
Source: Rockstar Bono on Data.org (London and Washington) 02.02.06
>> Speaking about the possible forthcoming bird flu pandemic, Dmitry Lvov, the Director of the Russian Academy of Science’s Virology Research Institute said that one-third of the world’s population might become infected with the virus in a short period of time. “Bird flu is a very serious infection, which has existed among birds for millions of years. In 1918, the Spanish influenza killed about 50 million people all over the world. The history of fighting a pandemic shows that quarantine measures are unable to hold in check the circulation of the virus."
The H5N1 virus has killed more than 90 people since 2003, mostly in Asia. It may mutate into a form which can pass between humans. The world’s population is about 6.5 billion at present. According to Lvov’s projection, if a third of these were to succumb, it might mean 2,170,000,000 human cases. Not all of these would die if a good vaccine were made available.
Source: MosNews.com (Russia) 07.03.06
>> 80% of global warming is due to atmospheric pollution and 20% is due to the Earth moving closer to the Sun.
Source: Share International Magazine (London) March 2006.
>> 90% of Planet Earth’s ice is contained within the Antarctic ice sheet. 36 cubic miles of this ice are melting every year. A modern city the size of Los Angeles uses one cubic mile of fresh water every year. Antarctica is the Earth's fifth largest continent and contains 70% of its total fresh water resources. The ice sheet covers 98% of the continent and is, on average, 2,000 metres thick.
Source: The Guardian newspaper (London) 03.03.06
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