A VOICE DROWNED OUT: ISLAND NATIONS CALL TO ADDRESS RISING SEAS

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Senior Editor

With the United Nations Conference on Climate Change only a month away, countries the world over are preparing to discuss and hopefully find solutions to a variety of climate change issues. For some countries such as the island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the issues hit a lot closer to home. With sea levels rising worldwide as a result of global warming, island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu are calling for immediate action to mitigate the threat of rising seas, but their voice may not be enough; based on current warming and melting trends, the science behind rising sea level paints a grim picture for these low lying countries.

Rising sea level as a result of global warming is not a new phenomenon. Between 1901 and 2010, mean sea level rose by about 19 centimeters. Most if not all of this change is the result of melting land ice. Glaciers and ice sheets such as the ones that cover Greenland and Antarctica are melting at a drastic rate due to global warming and the greenhouse effect. This in turn is linked to the emissions of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.[1] Though global warming presents a wide range of threats to the earth and its inhabitants, sea level rise threatens entire countries situated at low elevations, hinting at a future immigration crisis as island populations flee to less at risk nations. However, the true extent of this threat is hard to accurately predict. One study that examines sea level rise using paleoclimate data applies its findings to modern times to determine that sea level could rise by between five to nine meters if current emission trends keep up and cause the two major ice sheets to melt.[2] According to estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea level will rise by around 0.81 meters in the next century. For countries like Tuvalu and the Maldives, which have an average elevation of two meters and one meter, respectively, the next century will indeed see atolls and island shores progressively swallowed into the ocean.[3]

These findings point to a grave future for populations at low elevations, but keep in mind that they were found using current trends and projections. The most straightforward solution would be a global effort to reduce emissions to prevent the atmosphere from getting warm enough to melt a bulk of the world’s land ice. This may be straightforward, but it is by no means an easy solution. This would entail massive reductions in emissions, which in turn calls for lifestyle changes. However, to do so would have limitless positive externalities for countries of at all elevations, not just reef based countries. At the other extreme end of the spectrum, these island nations can prepare for the worst and arrange to resettle in other countries. However, this poses a high cost and is a process that could take decades depending on how quickly those that relocate are able to assimilate into an adopted culture. Both of these solutions present an enormous challenge, but the former creates the most good for more people, at least in the long term. However, due to the demanding nature of these solutions, it is more likely that a middle of the road solution will be implemented. Sea level will continue to rise, but by how much depends on the efforts of individuals and the global community alike. And as it rises the Maldives, Tuvalu and other island nations will have to work against the rising tides or find a new home. The best hope for these nations to raise their voice to compel world into action comes at the end of November when the UN General Assembly will demonstrate whether the global community is ready to take serious steps towards addressing climate change or if it will show its complacency to watch the oceans rise.

Photo by Nattu

1. Henson, Robert, and Robert Henson. “Oceans: A Problem on the Rise.”The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change. Boston: American Meteorological Society, 2014. N. pag. Print.

2. Hansen, J., et al. “Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise And Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations That 2 °C Global Warming Is Highly Dangerous.” Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics Discussions 15.15 (2015): 20059-20179. Environment Complete. Web.

3. Henson, Robert, and Robert Henson. “Oceans: A Problem on the Rise.”The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change. Boston: American Meteorological Society, 2014. N. pag. Print.

SCIENCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD: WINTER IN ANTARCTICA

By Clifford Hoang
VP Finance and CEO

This summer, I was fortunate to be one of a small but growing number of international scientists to spend months at a stretch on the world’s most remote continent: Antarctica. As a science team member in NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division (AERD), our mission is to conduct research to fulfill NOAA’s mandate of providing scientific advice that supports interests related to resource management by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), of which the U.S. is a key member.

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Illustration by Katie Peek

Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) 

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My journey to the bottom of the world began at one of the most southern cities in the world, Punta Arenas, Chile. It’s a small but cozy port city, with all points of interest within reasonable walking distance. At the entrance to the largest pier in Punta Arenas there hangs a banner around a humpback whale’s tail, which appropriately reads, “Gateway to Antarctica”. The far end of the pier docks the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 308-foot icebreaker-equipped research vessel that will carry the AMLR team across the treacherous Drake Passage to the research area along the West Antarctic Peninsula.  We are in search of a two-inch crustacean species called Euphasia superba, generally referred to as krill.

Why krill?

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Krill set up the marine Antarctic food web. They represent the primary food source for a wide variety of animals including penguins, seals, whales, fish, and sea birds. Humans, too, rely on this food source approximated to be between 100 and 500 million tons. More comprehensive regional studies reveal that the krill population is subject to considerable fluctuations from year to year, linked to changing climate. After three decades of study, the question of how krill behave in the winter remains largely unresolved. Our work will advance understandings of krill patterns during bleak winters and help the United States manage the Antarctic krill fisheries.

Crossing the Drake

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To those prone to motion sickness, the Drake Passage is unforgiving. The trek to the southern continent took approximately three days–sailing from Punta Arenas through the Strait of Magellan (Estrecho de Magallanes) to the tail of the South American continent takes a day alone. The Drake boasted waves that rocked our vessel upwards 20 degrees from normal. While crossing the Drake Passage, we deployed expendable Bathythemographs (XBT) and surface drifters, instruments that collect various kinds of oceanographic data including temperature and salinity. Data in this region is scarce, and understandably so. Researchers have developed a network of autonomous instruments (e.g. Argo Floats, Global Drifter Program) to sidestep the dangers involved with collecting data in such inaccessible regions.

Frozen Breakfast

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I captured this image on the first morning nearing the end of our long voyage across the Drake Passage. I was on the back deck, just beginning to drop an XBT into the ocean for a temperature profile when a single white conglomerate floats across my line of sight. Having just dropped the instrument into the water, I anxiously waited for the radio call that the instrument reached a depth of 750 meters before I could cut the copper wire and see what was happening at the front of the vessel.  As the vessel continued on its course, more clusters of these icy chunks appeared. When I finally received the signal to cut the line, I dashed directly towards the ship’s bridge and found myself mesmerized by a vast calm sea covered in pancake ice!

Tip of the Iceberg

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It’s difficult to imagine the entirety of these majestic figures. Mind-bending even. Only a small fraction of an iceberg’s mass protrudes from the sea surface. Unlike sea ice which originate from freezing seawater at the surface, icebergs are masses of ice that formed on land and are detached from the terminus of a glacier or ice shelf and float in the open water.

Sunrise in Admiralty Bay

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Working the graveyard shift (12 a.m. to 12 p.m.) certainly had its perks. While I wasn’t awake to catch a single sunset at the bottom of the world, the sunrises were more than enough to make up for them. The sky and ocean would emanate a flaring intensity of red from the rising sun. From the west coast, the sunrises I’ve witnessed always crept up from behind a range of mountains. Watching the sun appear as a yolk on one side of the ocean was a new experience to me.

Penguin Isle

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To map the distribution of krill–which like to hide under the sea ice–we employed acoustic sounding equipment. Like with most research equipment, the data collected is only as valid as what the instrument is calibrated to. On the morning of this sunrise, we positioned ourselves in the calm waters nearby Penguin Island to calibrate the acoustic gear. In sum, the process consumed five hours of our day. Believe me, time passed in a blink of an eye! To the surprise of many, there were, indeed, penguin colonies living around Penguin Island. These adorable flightless birds topped the lists of many for “sights to see in Antarctica”.

Breaking Ice

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Compared to previous AMLR research cruises, this cruise had gone absolutely flawlessly. We were reaching all of the stations on our grid in record time–the ice we encountered until this point was too young or thin to put up a fight against our mighty icebreaker. This was one of the rare instances where we were forced to break ice to arrive at our next net tow station. Forced to fire up all four of the vessel’s engines, the engineering crew couldn’t wait to get out of the ice. I quite enjoyed this new and exciting experience. The unfamiliar sounds of crushing ice effortlessly drowned out the groans resonating from the overworked diesel engines.

 

Aside from taking in the sights, there are plenty of other ways scientists and crew spent their time.

Ice hockey

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Leave it to the crew to make even the most menial, unimaginative tasks entertaining! Interested in a little exercise, beautiful views, and helping the crew clear the back deck of residual ice chunks? Look no further.

Disco party anyone?

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There’s a long-standing tradition on these research cruises where we celebrate Hump Day, the midpoint of the month-long cruise. Following the installment of the disco ball, the Zooplankton team held once-a-tow (every four hours) spontaneous dance parties to inspire a bit of fun and boost morale amidst long 12-hour shifts.

Antarctica was the last place on earth where I expected to spend my summer. It is undeniably one of the most remote and beautiful places in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world. However, this experience helped me put into perspective that winter is rapidly coming to an end in Antarctica. Summers are becoming longer and winters are more confined, threatening the seasonal cycles that these fragile ecosystems have grown accustomed to. Climate change is, by far, the most pressing issue facing the world today. It is not an issue pertaining to any one particular country but rather, it is an issue that transcends national borders and geographic boundaries. While the implications of warming oceans remain unclear, in the coming decades and century, sea ice is expected to continue rapidly changing. These alterations will have major impacts on both the physical and biological environment at the global and regional levels.

To view more photographs from his time in Antarctica, check out Clifford’s album.

All photographs by Clifford Hoang, VP Finance and CEO.

COOKING UP A STORM: EXAMINING THE EFFECTS OF REDUCING BLACK CARBON EMISSIONS FROM THE STOVES OF SOUTH ASIA

Prayer Flags on Nepalese Mountains

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

The Institution of International, Comparative, and Area Studies (IICAS) at UCSD recently hosted two speakers, Nithya Ramanathan from UCLA and Alex Zahnd from UCSD, to speak about their efforts in “High and Low Tech Solutions that Improve Health and Combat Climate Change in South Asia”. Both speakers hail from impressive engineering backgrounds, and currently work on developing stoves in India and Nepal to reduce emissions of black carbon, which is both a health hazard and impacts our climate through the formation of brown clouds.

It was interesting to compare Ramanathan and Zahnd’s approaches to similar problems. They both want to solve the stove issue in South Asia, however, Ramanathan wanted to control black carbon emissions to ensure the safety of the environment whereas Zahnd is more concerned with the implications of the black carbon on the health of local residents. Both individuals have recognized one key factor that has distinguished their work from the work of other NGOs and non-profit organizations in the area. Instead of changing the lifestyle and customs of the towns and villages that they work with, Ramanathan and Zahnd have centered their studies around making the solutions fit into the existing culture of the different cities they work in. This was, by far, the most impactful part of their talk; understanding the areas in which the people live and tailoring solutions to the resources available and the present conditions should be by far the most important priority for NGOs involved anywhere. As Zahnd said, “If I design an excellent piece of machinery but the native people can’t use it, then I have failed.” Throughout the talk, both speakers emphasized their efforts to battle the black carbon emissions caused by stoves and other energy needs and keeping these efforts in the context of where they came from and where they would be used.

An engineer with a social purpose, Nithya Ramanathan’s drive to help and better the lives of residents in India is evident as soon as she begins her presentation. Her willingness to combine her humanitarian efforts with the empirical process of a research study is a testament to her success with past work in developing sensors to measure black carbon levels in homes. In developing new stoves for the residents of Khairatpur in Uttar Pradesh, India, Ramanathan’s first priority was to ensure that the reduced emission stoves would be fueled by already available sources instead of introducing new goods and products that would be too expensive for the townspeople. While this may have been more work on Ramanathan and Project Surya’s part, it is actually more beneficial for their endeavor, because it means that the people will actually use their modified devices, instead of letting all the work lay to waste because it wasn’t usable in the community that it was developed for.

When Zahnd was narrating his story in Nepal and the work that he has done there to contribute to the community, he emphasized the concept of “Holistic Community Development”, which really means focusing on the overall development of the area, not just on one aspect. This is important because while each area of development is important and has its virtues individually, the development of these ideas as a whole means more to the community. The four characteristics of HCD that Zahnd emphasized were pit latrines, stoves, access to drinking water, and lighting. Together, he and his NGO believe that these elements will improve the overall quality of life as well as increase the availability of electricity in remote areas of Nepal. He also wanted to design more efficient equipment that would use the native energy sources available in the area, while performing the work in a better way than before. According to Zahnd, the time it takes for the village women to obtain all the wood from the neighboring jungle is an entire day’s work, and the families use on average 20 to 30 kilograms of wood a day. This is because not only are they burning wood for energy to make meals, but also to keep warm in subzero temperatures. Because this talk was coupled with Ramanathan’s, the focus was on stoves and how they were improved. Zahnd developed a stove that could minimize the amount of wood needed for cooking, by incorporating several different components into one master stove, which has now been accepted as a government standard in Nepal. However, problems are arising regarding the integrity of these stoves and manufacturers mimicking Zahnd’s stove, but with cheaper materials, which makes these stoves less durable and less expensive. However, if a family has to buy one 2000-rupee stove, it’s a lot cheaper than having to buy five knock-offs at 1000 rupees. The corruptibility of the Nepali government is to blame, because they are allowing more elementary stoves to be comparable to the national standard, effectively cheating its citizens of limited resources.

Image by Nick Kenrick