Becoming scarce… where has all the topsoil gone?

Friday, 25 January, 2013

Climate change, peak oil, rising sea levels, we have more than a few challenges ahead of us if the world our grand children will be living in is to be anywhere near habitable. Now I read topsoil, where crops and the like, or the sources of much of the food we eat, looks to be running out:

A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded – the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished. Even the well-maintained farming land in Europe, which may look idyllic, is being lost at unsustainable rates.

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Reports of the world’s end have been greatly exaggerated

Thursday, 13 December, 2012

The world isn’t going to end on 21 December as per misguided understandings, or otherwise, of the Maya Calendar, but I can tell you that I will be suspending posting here at disassociated.com while I take a two-week break from writing over the year-end holiday.

And even though – barring some unknown, totally left-of-field happening beforehand – we’ll still be here on 22 December, it has to be said the ways some people saw the world ending were colourful to say the least… if nothing else there’s likely some sound inspiration for sci-fi writers amongst it all:

However, if we (wrongly) assume that 12/12/2012 is the end of the world, then how will it supposedly happen? Most of the “theories” I’ve seen involve a lot of nonsense about (1) alignment of planets and the galactic center; (2) the close pass of some dark star or large planet to Earth (e.g., Nibiru); (3) complete random rubbish. So, as to try to quell some of the rumors out there, I thought I’d do a brief Q & A about the Maya Apocalypse because a lot of the ways the world ends involves earthquakes and volcanoes.

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Earth, the black marble of our eyes, and maybe those of others…

Monday, 10 December, 2012

Images collected by NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite, taken over a 22 day period, have been weaved together to produce this video of Earth’s night side, and it is a sight to behold.

Who else gets the feeling, especially when listening to the accompanying music, that we’re being watched, and I don’t mean not just by the Suomi NPP satellite?

Not to sound too ominous or anything, of course.

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Only the sound of silence is heard after mystery noise is identified

Tuesday, 27 November, 2012

Like an old wooden house that makes odd noises when the wind picks up speed, Earth resonates with a few of its own strange sounds. While many have evaded explanation so far, one, a blooping sort of sound, has now been accounted for:

The broad spectrum sounds recorded in the summer of 1997 are consistent with icequakes generated by large icebergs as they crack and fracture. NOAA hydrophones deployed in the Scotia Sea detected numerous icequakes with spectrograms very similar to “Bloop”. The icequakes were used to acoustically track iceberg A53a as it disintegrated near South Georgia Island in early 2008. Icequakes are of sufficient amplitude to be detected on multiple sensors at a range of over 5000 km. Based on the arrival azimuth, the iceberg(s) generating “Bloop” most likely were between Bransfield Straits and the Ross Sea, or possibly at Cape Adare, a well know source of cryogenic signals.

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Who on Earth could have known we were looking at our own planet?

Friday, 14 September, 2012

Shiveria by Chris Wayan

How might Earth look if it were far warmer, or far cooler, than it actually is? What if the surface were covered with more water, or the planet was much drier?

Chris Wayan has created a gallery of alternate such bodies – together with other worlds capable of supporting life – that give us idea of how things might, or who knows, could be.

The above alternate Earth is called Shiveria, and as the name suggests, is a world trapped in a permanent ice age.

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I love the way the light of Earth’s twin moons shine in your eyes

Tuesday, 7 August, 2012

What if the Earth had two, or more, moons? While the prospect may appeal to science fiction writers and romantics, life on the surface, to put it mildly, would be far less stable than it is now. If there were life on the surface in the first place, that is.

If we had a second moon show up, things would change in a hurry. Our tides would go haywire and cause massive storms, volcanoes and earthquakes to pop up from the added forces put on the Earth’s crust. Unfortunately for most things alive on Earth at the time, this would mean chaos, death and possible extinction. That includes us, but maybe not the bacteria or cockroaches. The second moon would also cause chaos on our first moon, causing similar geologic changes, although not as severe since Moon #1 is a lot more dormant on the inside.

And here’s another reason to be thankful Earth has only the one natural satellite. Like many of the other planets in the solar system, Uranus has several (27 actually) moons, or at least it does for now. At some point the future though a number of them are slated to collide with each other, events that will cause all sorts of chaos:

In the first act, Cupid smacks into the larger moon Belinda sometime between 1000 and 10 million years from now, depending on initial conditions. What happens next depends a lot on the moons’ as-yet-unknown compositions. They could bounce off each other, stick together or break apart into tiny pieces. In some settings, French and Showalter assume Cupid and Belinda will merge to form a single moon called CupBel. From there, the next pair of doomed moons is Cressida and Desdemona, fated to crash in 100,000 to 10 million years. If those moons merge, the resulting body, Cresdemona, takes out the moon Juliet, and CupBel collides with Perdita.

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To see the city of today you need to look at the city of 40 years ago

Wednesday, 1 August, 2012

Since 1972 seven orbiting Landsat satellites have taken turns to photograph the Earth’s surface. Needless to say if they could talk they’d be able to tell a few stories, as seen by this series of then and now photos, showing how cities such as Tokyo, Chicago, Istanbul, and Santiago have changed over the last forty years.

The image of Santiago (move the centre dividing slider back and forth to see the contrasts) is especially interesting. Note the presence of what looks to be snow/ice in the bottom right-hand corner of the 1985 image and then compare the same region with the 2010 photo.

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The art of Earth preserved for an eternity in the graveyard orbit

Thursday, 26 July, 2012

Place a satellite into a geosynchronous orbit above the Earth, being 36,000 kilometres or so up, and it will, all things remaining equal (a big ask at the best of times, but that’s another story), remain there perpetually. As it is there are hundreds of such probes, many no longer functioning, floating in this zone, giving rise to the term “graveyard orbit”.

What better place then to store a record of artworks created on Earth that will still be about long, long, after life on the surface has disappeared?

That’s the thinking of behind US artist Trevor Paglen’s “The Last Pictures” project, that will see trillions of images depicting artworks from across the globe, stored on very long life discs, aboard a satellite that will be launched into a permanent graveyard orbit this September.

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What if Earth did not have a moon?

Monday, 25 June, 2012

The answer is pretty simple really, for one thing you wouldn’t be here reading this right now:

Life would be: Migratory and on shorter day-night cycles, if existent at all. Huge tides generated by the moon – which orbited much closer to Earth when it formed – washed the chemical building blocks for life from land into the oceans and helped “stir up the primordial soup,” said Neil Comins, a professor of physics at the University of Maine.

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How would Earth fare if it were engaged in a war of the worlds?

Friday, 8 June, 2012

And coinciding with the release of Prometheus, during which the threat of an attack was posed to Earth, a Foreign Policy article assessing the ability of military technology across the planet to fend off an actual alien invasion.

Everyone knows that alien spaceships don’t have to clumsily lumber down a runway before takeoff – they lift off vertically with perfect balance and then propel in whatever direction they choose. Helicopters have the vertical takeoff aspect down, but even the best designs can be foiled by ground landings, as was the stealthy MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. A Discrotor helicopter is actually a helicopter/airplane blend that can take off and land vertically, but also enter into high-speed flying mode by retracting its rotating blades and relying on fixed wings, allowing it to move like a plane. Will that help against aliens? We certainly hope so.

A difficult question to address really, considering we’d likely have no idea at all as to what we were up against.

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