Five greenreads to enjoy as you stretch World Oceans Day into a beach weekend.
Pete Spotts in Christian Science Monitor on a new discovery in the deep: Ever wonder what’s under the ice in the Arctic Ocean? Yes, cold water. But the less obvious answer -- and one downright shocking to scientists -- is a massive pea soup of phytoplankton. The recent find has astounded researchers because these microscopic organisms need light, and historically, only 1 percent of sunlight has penetrated the thick, snow laden ice sheet. Now, with thinning summer ice and meltwater pools that act as skylights, phytoplankton is not only blooming but could potentially become 10 times as thick as in the open ocean. This “hotspot of biological productivity” surely hasn’t escaped the attention of hungry marine animals, but we might finally have an answer to how the ocean has been able to absorb larger than expected amounts of CO2. “‘This is what you live for as a scientist,’ uncovering something ‘beyond unexpected,’” says geophysicist Don Perovich. "This is a new Arctic Ocean, full of surprises."
Stephen Trimble in High Country News on responsibility in the Anthropocene: Since life first appeared on Earth, organisms have regularly come and gone, with humans being just “one more entry in the evolutionary spiral.” But now as 7 billion people assert themselves on the biosphere, we are making the planet inhospitable to other species sharing our epoch. We have entered the Anthropocene. “We don’t just live within this geologic story, we shape it. With that power comes responsibility.” Now, Trimble writes, each of us can choose to spend our relatively short lifespans responding to the world with hubris and myopia, or restraint and respect.
Susan Freinkel in OnEarth on the secrets of shells: What can you see in your seashell collection? Now close your eyes and try. Using just his hands, a blind paleontologist has been unlocking the secrets of seashell evolution. A bump here, a smooth groove there ... they reveal multitudes to Geerat Vermeij. “Watching Vermeij handle a shell is like watching a dog turn his nose to the wind -- you know he’s absorbing a wealth of data that you are somehow missing,” writes Freinkel. That he is, and the ancient patterns of adaptation that he sees don’t just concern his discipline, the “history of life.” They have future implications of how we will (or won’t) thrive amidst an environment in flux. "To cope with radically new situations,” he says, “You have to change your criteria of what it means to be successful."
The Economist on nuclear waste: Now that we have 270,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste, what are we going to do with it and the 10,000 tons we add to the hazardous heap each year? The Economist tells us to forget about feeding the radioactive leftovers to a magma-filled volcano, and “firing waste into the nuclear fireball of the sun, meanwhile, would be astonishingly expensive.” That leaves three other options for scientists to consider: bury it, reprocess it, or sit around and wait for a new technology to handle it. Each approach comes with its own set of hurdles and drawbacks, along with the uncertain scenarios future wars and natural disasters may present. One thing is for sure, however, the problem is not going away -- Well, at least not for another 200,000 years.
An Environmental Health News series on equality and pollution: Meanwhile, modern-day societies are already dealing with toxic waste, but this pollution, everything from lead poisoning to contaminated water to asthma-inducing exhaust, hasn’t been affecting everyone evenly. Poor and multi-cultural communities often find themselves acting as buffers between richer areas and industry. In the first segment of EHN's 10-part series, we meet the Clarks, an African-American family who was unable to live in a white neighborhood during World War II. They were welcome, however, to move next to an oil refinery in Richmond, California. Now, they “live within a ring of five oil refineries, three chemical plants, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, ports, and marine terminals.” Unfortunately, the money inhabitants might save on property costs in places like this is often made up for with an environmental tax on their bodies.
Tired of reading yet? Watch this.
Alan Boyle at MSNBC on the 2012 Venus transit: Miss your chance to see Venus cutting in front of the sun on Tuesday? Don't worry, it will happen again in about 105 years. But wait! Our friends at NASA didn't space out. They made sure to capture images, create a video, and add a trippy soundtrack.
OnEarth is published by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The opinions expressed by its editors and writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more.