(TMU) — As global headlines continue to be inundated by a glut of tragic and maddening stories about the coronavirus pandemic’s grim march across the globe, some very good news has seemingly slipped through the cracks: Earth’s ozone layer is healing, and scientists are making note of a major recovery thanks to international cooperation.
In fact, the progress made in reducing ozone-depleting chemicals and emissions may be proof that humans can not only disrupt and harm the environment but can also heal the damage caused by human economic activities if the political will exists, scientists say.
The ozone layer is the layer in the Earth’s stratosphere that is responsible for absorbing the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the Sun, effectively filtering out radiation that causes skin cancer among humans, destroys crops, and disrupts marine ecosystems among other devastating effects on the planet.
The ozone layer faced decades of degradation thanks to the use of harmful chemical compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons, halons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other organic and synthetic (human-made) ozone-depleting compounds that are commonly used in refrigerators, aerosols, and a range of industrial processes.
The damage to the ozone layer was such that a “hole” above the south pole opened up, causing the southern jet stream—the powerful wind that determines the southern hemisphere’s weather patterns and ocean currents, especially in the summer—to begin shifting southwards toward the Antarctic, affecting storms and rainfall over South America, East Africa, and Australia.
The startling decline of the ozone layer became such a sharp matter of concern that in 1987, governments agreed to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty meant to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting chemicals.
A new study published in the journal Nature claims that the global agreement helped address and roll back the damage to the ozone in a “profound” manner.
Study lead author Antara Banerjee, a CIRES Visiting Fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder who works in the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said:
“This study adds to growing evidence showing the profound effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol. Not only has the treaty spurred healing of the ozone layer, it’s also driving recent changes in Southern Hemisphere air circulation patterns.
…The challenge in this study was proving our hypothesis that ozone recovery is in fact driving these atmospheric circulation changes and it isn’t just a coincidence.”
While the benefits to the ozone layer have been great, the scientists warn that complacency about other human-caused emissions, as well as human-caused climate change, could undo any positive gains.
Indeed, southern hemispheric weather patterns and the global climate in general still face further human-caused distortion due to continued industrial emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, Banerjee noted. She told the Guardian:
“There is a tug of war between ozone recovery and increasing CO2. That’s why we are seeing a pause. In the near future, the ozone factor could dominate and the jet stream will move back towards equator. But once the recovery is complete, CO2 could push it southwards again.”
Alexey Karpechko, who helped review the study and works for Finnish Meteorological Institute, remarked:
“This is good news, definitely. It shows our actions can stop climate change.
We can see coordinated action works. It is a strong message to us as emitters of greenhouse gases. This shows we can manipulate the climate both ways: in a wrong way and by reversing the damage we have done.”
As the pollution drastically falls over developed countries in Europe and industrial powerhouses like China due to the coronavirus lockdowns, one wonders if world leaders can or will take notice of the fact that the solution to environmental degradation and climate-disrupting pollution remains in their hands.
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.
Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.
The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.
Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.
While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.
“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”
“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.
It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.
The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.
“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.
The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.
Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.
However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.
Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.
The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.
To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.
The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.
“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.