The Lungs of the Earth At a Tipping Point?

For decades now, environmentalists have raised concerns over the precarious outcome of global warming, caused mainly by the emission of greenhouse gases, deforestation and increased industrialization as well as commercialized farming of crops and cattle.

A study published recently in the research journal Nature suggests the outcome which most scientists feared – the Amazon Rain Forest is heading to become a part of the global warming problem, not the solution, with its increased Carbon Dioxide emissions adding to the deadly greenhouse gas.

A team of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research captured 590 air samples using small planes over a nine year period from 2010 to 2018.

The study suggests that the Amazon Rain Forest as a whole is emitting three times more Carbon Dioxide than it’s absorbing. The case is worst for the eastern section of the Rain Forest where there has been excessive deforestation and it is now emitting 10 times more CO2.

“We find that total carbon dioxide emissions are greater in the eastern of the rain forest than in the west, mostly as a result of spatial differences in carbon-monoxide-derived fire emissions. Southeastern Amazonia, in particular, acts as a net carbon source to the atmosphere,” the international team of researchers write in the paper.

Scientists Deeply Concerned About the Collapse of the Rain Forest:

The Amazon is home to the largest tropical rain forest on the planet. The climate within it is warming which will have a knock-on effect around the world.

The study has further raised concerns among environmentalists, encouraging them to raise awareness among global communities before the lungs of the world completely collapse.

John Schmoll, a professor of biology at Queen’s University is utterly disturbed by the findings of the study and says that with climate change, we are sleepwalking to disaster. “We keep getting wakeup calls but we are not waking up”, he remarks.

“We even have to cut out greenhouse gases even more which is a daunting task, because we already have enough trouble meeting any target that we have set for ourselves right now”, he adds.

Kerry Bowman, a researcher for the University of Toronto says that the Amazon is absolutely under siege on many fronts.

“There are a number of complex issues leading to the region moving from a site that captures Carbon Dioxide, to one that produces the greenhouse gas, including burning the rain forest to make room for crops and livestock,” says Bowman.

In addition to the general abuse of the Rain Forest by communities, there is a lack of environmental protection from some of the countries within the Amazon basin as well.

The Amazon was one once the largest CO2 Capture sites on the planet. Experts suggests that if changes aren’t made soon, it could become one of the biggest emitters in the near future, and one of the key causes of global warming.

Did Einstein make errors?

According to BBC reports, astronomers can map the existence of dark matter by observing the light traveling to Earth from distant galaxies, making the evaluation of the universe more effortless than the previously defined theories.

The research looked at almost a quarter of the southern hemisphere’s sky in the hope of understanding the concepts of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the cosmos.

The map researcher Niall Jeffery implies that there’s something weird in Einstein theories and says that “if this inequality is true, then Einstein was wrong, unlocking a door to new opportunities and research about the universe”.

The concept of dark matter:

Dark matter makes up 80% of the universe, and its gravitational force is enough to mesh the galaxies together in a mechanism known as the cosmic web.

We are aware that dark matter twists the light emerging from the faraway stars. Where the effect is greater, a higher concentration of dark matter exists. Scientists believe that it is still a great mystery because we can’t see it and barely understand its concepts. However, it shows its existence because of the influence it has on space.

The latest map was created by International researchers at the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration, by utilizing the data of almost 100 million galaxies.

The resulting map has evaluated that galaxies make a huge framework, and areas of dark matter are crafted with superclusters of galaxies. However, they have also spotted the location of diverse cosmic voids where the conventional laws of physics might not apply.

Prediction about the universe:

Jeffery excitedly told BBC about the structures of dark matters as he believes that for the first time gravity might behave distinctively internally. By recognizing their shapes and locations, the map provides an interesting point for further study.

Shortly after the Big Bang, astronomers made predictions using Einstein’s theories about how dark matter had extended over 13.8 million years of the universe. However, these predictions are not consistent with the latest observations made by The Dark Energy Survey.

“We might have revealed some mandatory facts of the universe, but even after years of persevering, we didn’t succeed. But my instincts say that all the measurements were correct and we must shore up to make it succeed”, said Prof. Carlos Frenk to the British broadcaster. 

Carlos Frenk doesn’t want to omit Einstein’s theory. Additionally, he has anticipated some tweaks in the astrophysics of galaxies.

Florida’s Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Released

British biotech firm Oxitec has successfully begun its experiment of releasing genetically hacked mosquitoes in open air to reduce the population of disease spreading mosquitoes in the Florida Keys region. According to Oxitec, these genetically engineered mosquitoes can become an alternative to pesticides, reducing and ultimately eliminating the species of disease carrying mosquitoes. But releasing an artificially engineered mosquito species in the air? Naturally, this controversial action came with lots of backlash and protests. Will it even work?

Oxitec’s Aim: Curbing The Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes

The Florida Keys is a strip of islands off the Southern tip of Florida. The Aedes aegypti mosquito species make up about 4% of all the mosquito species of Florida, and this is the species that is responsible for diseases like Zika and Dengue. What is interesting about these insects is that only the female mosquitoes bite; according to Oxitec, they plan to reduce the population of female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by releasing male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with an additional OX5034 gene. When these mosquitoes mate with wild female mosquitoes, this artificial gene will pass on to their offspring.

The special characteristic of this gene is that female mosquitoes cannot survive. Hence, only male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will survive, dramatically reducing the population of biting and disease transmitting female mosquitoes. While this experiment, if it works, may be a great chemical free way to solve the mosquito related diseases problem in Florida, many experts, activists, and locals are sceptical of it.

Controversies Regarding Oxitec’s Experiment

For starters, people have been highly doubtful of the success of Oxitec’s experiment because of the lack of information and proof regarding the method. In fact, Oxitec has been fighting controversies for the past decade, and has only now proceeded to finally release the mosquitoes. The main issue is that Oxitec has no proof that the experiment will even work! Instead of experimenting in controlled lab conditions, they are releasing the genetically hacked mosquitoes in Florida Keys directly. If their idea doesn’t work, that is if the female mosquitoes born from the gene hacked mosquitoes survive, Florida’s mosquito problem will not be solved and instead a new problem will be created; a new species of mosquitoes flying wild in Florida.

But that’s not all; the locals of Florida Keys have also complained that Oxitec has been invading their privacy during the experiments, which, according to them, are not even for the betterment of the community but for Oxitec to test if their methods work. Some citizens have stated that Oxitec employees tricked and bullied them into participating in the experiment, which they did not even agree with after finding out what it actually was.

Activists and experts also disagree with Oxitec sabotaging nature, especially because there have been no caged trials-the company never proved that the trials are even safe! Oxitec has denied any allegations against its project, and is still confident that the experiment will work. Only time can tell whether Oxitec is right or not.

Interstellar ‘Hum’

In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 space probe to study space beyond the heliopause, which is the boundary that signifies the separation of the Solar System from interstellar space. Now, Voyager 1 is the most distant human made object ever in space! Ever since it crossed the Solar System to the interstellar medium, it has been providing researchers at the Deep Space Network with interesting data about space that has never been seen before. Interestingly, it recently detected a continuous ‘hum’ in the interstellar medium.

A Constant Hum of Interstellar Gas

According to research led by Cornell University, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has a Plasma Wave System that detects solar flares produced by the sun caused by a sudden release of energy from the sun’s magnetic field. However, it is interesting that apart from these outbursts, which according to the George Feldstein Professor of Astronomy, James Cordes, are like bursts of lightning in gentle rain, the detector also picked up a very faint but constant ‘hum’ like frequency of plasma waves. While the solar outbursts occur ‘loudly’ for a specific period of time, usually about 10 minutes, these interstellar hums are monotonous and continuous.

Because of the narrow frequency bandwidth, the sound was like a low background hum; but it signifies a shift in gases when the heliopause is crossed, according to Stella Koch Ocker, a Cornell doctoral student in astronomy.

The Heliosphere and The Interstellar Medium

Scientists had previously thought that this activity of interstellar gases, although still very low level, was lesser than what the Voyager 1 made evident. This opened up vast opportunities for researchers to study the plasma distribution in interstellar space, and hence its density. What intrigued astronomers the most is that the density of space is actually higher outside the Solar System than inside it!

This information could help scientists look into how the interstellar medium interacts with the heliosphere, which is a ‘bubble’ formed by the solar winds produced by the sun. Furthermore, scientists are also excited to find out how the shape of the heliosphere is affected not just by the solar winds, but also by the interstellar environment; this will now be possible to learn because of the hum of interstellar gases successfully detected by Voyager 1.

According to Cornell research scientist Shami Chatterjee, this space probe detects the density of space continuously, which becomes an advantage for scientists studying the density of interstellar space because without this data, they would have to wait for the occurrence of a sun related event to measure interstellar plasma. Now, they can obtain this data regardless of when the sun produces solar outbursts, because of Voyager 1, which is still regularly sending data back to Earth at the rate of 160 bits per second, even at a 14 billion mile distance.

Weaponizing Space

The competition between the world superpowers to dominate each other with nuclear weapons is something that makes headlines almost every week. Making its mark in the world of science and tech, China is now posing to be a threat to these powers, especially the US.

Recently, the US Intelligence community has warned the world about China making space weapons to increase its hold and terrorize the US. It has labeled the Asian giant as “the top threat” to the US in space and has accused the Chinese government of manufacturing weapons that could be used outside of Earth to threaten the superpower.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a new Global Risk Assessment report which highlights a huge increase in China’s military and commercial activities in the planet’s orbit. One of the primary concerns raised in the report is that China has developed the weapons to shoot down other satellites with missiles or disable them with high-speed lasers, according to Defence News Analysis. This points towards an extremely specialized industry and expertise of the Chinese military that might result in a potential danger to the US, which by far is the country that dominates space.

The threat of China as a potential contender for colonizing space has challenged the global order which was previously dominated by the US and the USSR. Right now, the US is the sole global authority in the world but by the use of well-planned economic, military and social reforms, China seems all set for world domination.

According to Defence News, ODNI Director Avril Haines told lawmakers, “I think there’s just no question, as a general matter, that China is focused on achieving leadership in space and has been working hard on a variety of different efforts in this area to try to contest what has been presumed our leadership.”

China has upped its game in science and tech and is making great investments in research and development. Even with a global pandemic that originated in the country, it has managed to pull itself out of the economic crisis and is adding a significant amount to the world GDP.

So with an impressive growth rate, China will be ready to construct its next space station in orbit quite soon and even though it is not a military action that threatens any state in particular, it is a statement on its own that the country is ready to compete with other superpowers. The International Space Station is going to retire soon and the United States is making a strong case to the committees about preventing Chinese supremacy that could potentially change the whole global order in favor of the East.

Cloud Seeding

As concerns of water scarcity in the wild west of the United States grow, scientists continue to resort to modern weather modification techniques to create rain in areas of the West Coast facing the worst drought in centuries. With limited rainfall and continuing droughts, the Colorado River and its water-banks are running dry, risking the water supply to over 30 million Americans.

To overcome the drought, in the snowcapped mountains of the West Coast, crushed particles of a chemical compound are being launched from the ground up into the sky or being directly injected into the clouds through airplane flares. The purpose of injecting these particles in the clouds is simple: encourage precipitation, in common terms, provoke rainfall.

While the idea of a cloud making machine may sound as if it’s out of a comic, this process is called cloud seeding, and it is very real. The technique uses particles of silver iodide injected in the clouds. The structure of silver iodide is very similar to ice and thus attracts droplets causing them to cluster and freeze eventually resulting in rainfall/snow. The snow melts during the warmer months and the water is added to the running streams increasing the supply to the population.

The concept of cloud seeding has been around for over 5 decades. It has been used not only to encourage rainfall, but to also reduce hailstone size and to cause clouds to precipitate earlier than when they are expected to.

The effectiveness of the process is still a point of huge discussion as most of the experiments done in the second half of the 20th century didn’t yield satisfactory results and no significant increase in precipitation was ever recorded. However, scientists working on the cloud seeding project believe that right now is the best time to address the issue as global temperatures continue to rise, posing an even greater risk of drought that could last for decades.

Scientists believe that in order to better manage the water supply across America, authorities have only two choices. The first is to reduce the demand by introducing conservation and recycling methods and the second is to somehow increase the water supply. “Cloud seeding is a relatively inexpensive proposition,” remarked Jeff French, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wyoming.

While Jeff French himself is doubtful about cloud seeding being a viable option to increase rain/snow in the regions, it is a technique worth trying to help regions prone to drought.

The states of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, among others are not holding back in their attempts to modify the weather of the region and induce rainfalls and have all introduced cloud seeding projects.

Research recently suggested a 5 – 15% increase in rain/snow fell in regions where the technique was implemented, but unfortunately, scientists haven’t been able to draw a concrete link between increased rain and cloud seeding.