Forecasting Dissolving Clams, and What Does Warren Buffett Know?

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The sunset clam
Sunset on a clamCredit: Ashley Delvento
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Predicting when shellfish will dissolve

As atmospheric carbon dioxide skyrockets, more of it gets dissolved into our oceans, making the water more acidic. Fossils from the Late Paleocene extinction 55 million years ago (when the average temperature above land rose by five to eight degrees, following a bump in atmospheric carbon dioxide much, much smaller than today’s) show that the acidifying waters eroded and dissolved carbonaceous shells of corals, clams and so on, which died en masse. So it’s important to know how acid our oceans are becoming and how fast the process is likely to happen. Now University of Colorado Boulder researchers report in Nature Communications on a method to predict ocean acidity change up to five years in advance, rather than months, as is possible now. This is expected to help fisheries plan ahead.

For more information on global warming and carbon dioxide today versus the Paleocene, here is a useful video from PBS Eons: The Last Time the Globe Warmed.

The Last Time the Earth WarmedCredit: PBS Eons, YouTube

An unexpected implication of coronavirus: Corn implosion

Leaving dissolving seafood aside, the pandemic has been a mixed bag for food prices. Price boosters include supply chain breakdowns and lockdowns preventing farm workers from cultivating and picking crops, and harvests from being transported. Breadbasket Russia is curtailing grain exports until June, and Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer, presciently snapped up as much as possible and halted bean exports, Foreign Policy reports. In some places produce is rotting in the fields and milk is being discarded. Meanwhile, corn prices in the U.S. are poised to implode, according to analysis of futures. Why this counter-intuitive reaction? Because much corn was being shunted to ethanol production instead of food stocks, and almost half the ethanol plants are now shuttered, Successful Farming warns farmers. 

Ethanol has been touted as a “renewable energy” and that it is, but how "green" it is depends on the direct and indirect environmental impacts from its production, delivery, and ultimate use, including any changes in land use, scientists have explained. It can be positively filthy. 

Coffee, tea or me in a hazmat suit?

Flying never did decrease as much as people thought because some passenger planes and quite a lot of cargo continued to cross the skies. Now passenger flights are starting to resume  and travelers are grousing that at least some airports and airlines – you know who you are – lost no time in dumping the social distancing screed, and crammed them into jets like masked sardines. And what are the flight attendants supposed to do? Waiters who feel at risk can walk away. But for aviation personnel, hazmat suits would be one way to go: Air India thought so, though is constraining their use for the needful. How comfortable hazmats will feel on long-haul flights is a pertinent question. In short, the coronavirus hiatus in jet exhaust probably won’t last – unless Warren Buffett knows something we don’t. He just dumped his stock in four U.S. carriers. Delta, one of the dumpees, sniffed that it remains “confident” in its strengths.

FILE PHOTO: Warren Buffett at a company annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 6, 2018.Credit: \ Rick Wilking/ REUTERS

Co2 reaches new record heights

Guess what? The concentration of co2 in the atmosphere continues to increase and break record highs, which isn’t surprising since emissions aren’t actually being curbed, despite the lamentations and the lip service. For roughly the last two million years, the co2 concentration was about 180 parts per million. On May 1, 2020 it had passed 418 ppm, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. It’s true that co2 isn’t the only driver of climate, but it’s also true that the last time co2 climbed super-high, sea levels were up to 20 meters higher than today, and there were crocodiles in the Arctic.

What can I do to make a difference?

Apropos the resumption of flights and emissions, it is now abundantly clear that global warming and ocean level rise cannot be halted in their tracks because they react at a lag to the increase in atmospheric co2 concentration, which has reached unprecedented heights, the coronavirus blip notwithstanding. Experts warn that the global number of flood victims could well double inside a decade. Can you personally do anything, aside from choosing wisely whom to vote for?

Step outside, mask on, and look up. If the sky and water are clearer than they have been in decades, it’s because humankind collectively, if unwillingly, stayed home. Look how nice it can be. Evidently the individual contribution isn’t impalpable when it accrues. Don’t rely on some futuristic technology that will save us all. You can eschew frivolous travel by plane or cruise liner – this isn’t a right – and while selling your SUV (you don’t live in rough terrain, do you?) also become a locavore, insofar as possible. Israel imports almost all its grains and has no natural resources to speak of, which is a problem. We do, however, grow our own loquats and many other lovely fruits and vegetables.

Epitonium scalare shell: The more acid the ocean water, the more friable the shell. Credit: Steve Jurvetson

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