Stairway to heaven?

Daily chart: Stairway to heaven | The Economist.

Although Mt. Everest is the most well-known of the 8000m+ Himalayan peaks, it is not the most deadly to climb.

Everest’s smaller and less well-trodden Himalayan sisters tend to be much deadlier. For every three thrill-seekers that make it safely up and down Annapurna I, one dies trying[.]

The chart from the Economist tracks summits and deaths on the world’s highest peaks.  Everest is definitely the most popular peak to climb.  In fact, it’s so crowded that people are complaining.  Nepal used to limit the number of permits, but not any more.  Anybody with enough money can hire guides to drag them up to the top.

National Geographic has an article in the June issue that deals with the crowded conditions on the Everest trek.  Not only does the crowd put people at risk, it is also causing pollution in a pristine, and fragile, environment.

Daily chart: Stairway to heaven | The Economist

Photograph by Mark Jenkins

Years of garbage clutters Camp IV, left behind by the 4,000 or so climbers who’ve passed through over the past 60 years. Although efforts to control pollution and haul out refuse have seen success at Base Camp, abandoned tents, food waste, empty oxygen bottles, and other types of junk continue piling up at higher elevations. Camp IV is at 26,000 feet.

Will Nepal limit the number of people allowed on the mountain?  Probably not, according to the article.  Climbers and their guides spent almost $12 million there last spring, with $3 million of that going to the government in permits.

Many people have put forth ideas on how to make things better, but nothing has happened yet.  Hopefully the government of Nepal can gain control of the situation, and restore some sanity to the “Stairway to Heaven.”

Photograph by Andy Bardon          A crowd of climbers slog up the Lhotse Face, heading toward Camp IV, last stop before the summit.

Slow Death of the High Plains Aquifer

High Plains Aquifer Dwindles, Hurting Farmers -

…when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

via High Plains Aquifer Dwindles, Hurting Farmers –

The Ogallala aquifer is running dry, after years of being used to make the US the “breadbasket” of the world.  The aquifer irrigates the plains of the central US, making the fertile land verdant and green.  Circles of corn, soybeans, and other crops bloom under the spray of center-pivot irrigation systems.

Invented in the late 1940s by a Colorado farmer, these monstrous contraptions enabled US farmers to provide us with more food than we could eat, and allowed the US to become the number one food exporter of the world.  But hidden away beneath the land, out of sight and out of most people’s thought, the aquifer was slowly being depleted.  One farmer, Mr. Yost, tracked a well his grandfather drilled in the 1960s:

from 1,600 gallons a minute in 1964, to 1,200 in 1975, to 750 in 1976.

When the well slumped to 500 gallons in 1991, the Yosts capped it and drilled another nearby. Its output sank, too, from 1,352 gallons to 300 today.

When the water is gone, that’s it.  It took thousands of years for the water in the aquifer to accumulate – from glacial melt and rain.  We’ve pumped it out much faster than recharge could occur.

In the last federal agriculture census of Kansas, in 2007, an average acre of irrigated land produced nearly twice as many bushels of corn, two-thirds more soybeans and three-fifths more wheat than did dry land.

As wells dry up, farmers are shifting to crops that use less water, such as milo instead of corn.  But with the demand for corn – for biofuels, livestock feed, and human consumption – at an all-time high, the lure remains.

Will we learn to be more conservative in our water use?  How much less food will be produced in the future?  What jobs will be lost as farmers cut back?  How will food prices be affected?  How will all of this impact you?

LIVE UPDATES: Massive tornado tears through Oklahoma City area – The Week


LIVE UPDATES: Massive tornado tears through Oklahoma City area - The Week

LIVE UPDATES: Massive tornado tears through Oklahoma City area – The Week.

A good friend and colleague teaches at Southmoore High School, just a few blocks south of the tornado’s path.  He and his students are ok physically.  Mentally it will be a long time.  Please keep the citizens of Moore, Oklahoma, in your thoughts, and if you are so inclined, in your prayers.

Cyclone Mahasen – Poor Bangladesh Just Can’t Catch a Break

Bangladesh is evacuating one million people with Cyclone Mahasen expected to hit its low-lying delta coast on Thursday evening, said the United Nations, which estimated 4.1 million people were at risk due to gale-force winds, heavy rain and flooding.

via Bangladesh Orders 1 Million Evacuated as Cyclone Nears –

Bangladesh Orders 1 Million Evacuated as Cyclone Nears -

Bangladesh Orders 1 Million Evacuated as Cyclone Nears -

Parts of Myanmar are also under threat,  from flooding and possible  mudslides in more mountainous areas.

How does such a poor country evacuate that many people?  Where will they go?  How will they be fed?  What will happen to the livestock they had to leave behind, which provide part of their livelihood?  How will they be able to begin again?  or Will they end up moving into the slums of Dhaka, providing more fodder for the factories?

Interesting Indian Demographics

India’s TFR is only 2.5—and falling steadily. This figure barely exceeds that of the United States. In 2011, the US fertility rate was estimated at 2.1, essentially the replacement level; a more recent study now pegs it at 1.93. Still, from a global perspective, India and the US fall in the same general fertility category, as can be seen in the map posted here.

via India’s Plummeting Birthrate: A Television-Induced Transformation? | GeoCurrents.

India’s Plummeting Birthrate: A Television-Induced Transformation? | GeoCurrents

The author relates the drastic (and relatively recent) decline to the advent of television, and in particular to soap operas.

Television depresses fertility because many of its offerings provide a model of middle-class families successfully grappling with the transition from tradition to modernity, helped by the fact that they have few children to support.

India’s Plummeting Birthrate: A Television-Induced Transformation? | GeoCurrents

400 ppm – Pliocene Levels of CO2

An instrument near the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii has recorded a long-awaited climate milestone: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere there has exceeded 400 parts per million ppm for the first time in 55 years of measurement—and probably more than 3 million years of Earth history.

via Climate Milestone: Earth’s CO2 Level Nears 400 ppm.

Its been at least 800,000 years since it was this high. This has serious, and scary, implications for the people, plants, and animals on earth.  We are already seeing shifting agricultural zones, pests, and flora.

How will changing climate zones impact food production, and the pests that go with them?  Will we be able to produce enough food?  Will the changing climate be drier where we need it to be wetter?  Will we be creative enough to cope with 9 billion people dependent on a steady food supply?

If anything, those numbers understate how different the Pliocene climate was. The tropical sea surface was about as warm as it is now, says Alexey Fedorov of Yale University, but the temperature gradient between the tropics and the poles—which drives the jet streams in the mid-latitudes—was much smaller. The east-west gradient across the Pacific Ocean—which drives the El Niño-La Niña oscillation—was almost nonexistent. In effect, the ocean was locked in a permanent El Niño. Global weather patterns would have been completely different in the Pliocene.

What was it like when camels roamed Ellsmere Island?

Beavers and camels on Ellesmere Island, instead of glaciers, might not be so bad.  But there was a lot less ice in general in the Pliocene. That means there was a lot more water in the ocean, which means sea level was a lot higher—how high exactly, no one knows.

“The estimates have been all over the map,” Raymo says. They’ve ranged from 10 meters (33 feet) to 40 meters (131 feet) higher than today. But even the conservative estimate, were it to recur today, would mean flooding land inhabited by a quarter of the U.S. population.

Where will these people go?  And more importantly, who will pay for it?  And that’s just the US.  Rising seas will impact cities all over the world.  What sort of global trade will take place if the ports are flooded?

What questions do you have about climate change?

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