Te Radar

Weigh less in Antarc­tica, en­joy droughte-nhanced wine, ride the business boom for roof painters – it’s not all bad news.

Element - - Contents - TE RADAR RADAR’S RANT

Clouds scare me. I don’t un­der­stand how so much wa­ter can re­main in the sky at any given time with­out fall­ing to earth. I re­alise that sci­ence ex­plains it, but sci­ence ex­plains a lot of other phe­nom­ena that also frighten me, like vi­ral mu­ta­tion, cheese and grav­ity.

Imag­ine then my con­cern when I read that the Euro­pean Space Agency has dis­cov­ered that the loss of ice in Antarc­tica has caused grav­ity to weaken over part of the con­ti­nent. What does that even mean? Will we be lighter there? Could we be flung off the planet? Will the earth ex­pand a lit­tle? It’s not inconceivable.

The mas­sive drought cur­rently be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced in western USA has caused so much ground­wa­ter to be lost that the land in some places has ac­tu­ally risen four mil­lime­tres. Cer­tain moun­tains are said to be 15mm higher. This is as­ton­ish­ing, although it’s prob­a­bly not enough to pro­tect low-ly­ing ar­eas from pre­dicted sea level rises.

Cal­i­for­nia’s lack of wa­ter is even adding to the stress on fault lines or, as one study said, it could have “sig­nif­i­cant but un­ex­plored po­ten­tial im­pacts on crustal de­for­ma­tion and seis­mic­ity.” This doesn’t worry me though, be­cause I have no idea what it means.

Still, the good news is that the drought is lead­ing to the pro­duc­tion of some ex­cel­lent Cal­i­for­nian wines this sea­son. It seems that ev­ery cloud has a sil­ver lin­ing. And that just may be the an­swer.

Promis­ing ex­per­i­ments with ‘cloud seed­ing’ – adding a sil­ver io­dide so­lu­tion to clouds to in­duce rain, have been con­ducted for years. The only prob­lem is that there has to be clouds there in the first place.

In some parts of the world sci­en­tists are now cov­er­ing glaciers with heat pro­tec­tive blan­kets over sum­mer to stop them melt­ing. When we have to put a glacier in a chilly bin to save it, things are cer­tainly awry. Like­wise when we have to con­sider mim­ick­ing the ef­fects of glaciers by paint­ing our roofs white to mit­i­gate tem­per­a­tures by re­flect­ing sun­light.

Stud­ies have shown that if ev­ery roof in a city were painted white it could lead to a re­duc­tion in over­all tem­per­a­ture in the area. Another more am­bi­tious claim is that if all of the roofs in the trop­ics and tem­per­ate zones were painted white it would off­set the emis­sions of 300 mil­lion cars for 20 years.

They didn’t men­tion the cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing the paint, the brushes, and rollers, or trans­port­ing it to the re­gions need­ing to be white­washed. And given the price of painters this might bank­rupt many economies. Imag­ine the bu­reau­cracy re­quired sim­ply to man­age the quotes.

“The good news is that the drought is lead­ing to the pro­duc­tion of some ex­cel­lent Cal­i­for­nian wines this sea­son. It seems that ev­ery cloud has a sil­ver lin­ing.”

I can hardly imag­ine how the idea would be treated here. If the brouhaha over shower-head reg­u­la­tion was any­thing to go by, the idea that we could en­cour­age ev­ery­one to paint their roofs white is laugh­able. Es­pe­cially as other stud­ies have shown that whiten­ing roofs could have the neg­a­tive im­pact of lim­it­ing the for­ma­tion of clouds. This re­duces rain­fall over an area and ac­tu­ally in­creases over­all tem­per­a­ture.

If white-wash­ing is there­fore green-wash­ing, what could ac­tu­ally work? Per­haps we should look to our own in­ge­nu­ity.

New Zealan­der George Munro moved to the Hawai­ian Is­land of Lanai in 1911 to man­age a farm. At the time the is­land lacked ad­e­quate rain­fall but iron­i­cally was of­ten shrouded in mist. Sit­ting un­der a pine tree he no­ticed a con­stant drip­ping of wa­ter from the tree when mist cov­ered the is­land.

His idea was sim­ple. Plant more pines, catch more mist, and ground mois­ture would be in­creased. It worked, and he was con­sid­ered the sav­ior of Lanai. Not bad for a man with his head in the clouds.

This Antarc­tic ele­phant seal used to weigh 3980kg. Now it’s feel­ing the ben­e­fits of only weigh­ing 3979.8kg

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