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