The Meaning of Life on Venus, and Other Climate Change Briefs

How you can do your part to save the oceans, and how humanity put volcanoes to shame

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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An artistic impression of Venus, where scientists have confirmed the detection of phosphine molecules in the atmosphere, a representation of which is shown in the inset.
An artistic impression of Venus, where phosphine has been detected in the atmosphere, represented in the insetCredit: M. KORNMESSER L. CALCADA - AFP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Women may not be the only thing from Venus

What is the meaning of life on Venus, if it’s there? For the faithful, after decades of theorizing about the possibility, the indication – albeit short of robust – of microbial life in the Venusian clouds is earth-shattering: Are they made in God’s image too? For science it’s a turning point: our biome may not be alone. For the rest of humankind it means zip. It’s interesting but we can’t go there so we’d better knuckle down and save Earth. So far, for all that we know perfectly well our planet is collapsing, our record is terrible. Here’s one way you can contribute...

Eat jellyfish ’n’ chips, not cod

The global fishing industry catches scores of endangered species, and neither provenance nor type need be labeled at the restaurant, University of Queensland researchers report in Nature Communications. You think you’re eating cod and maybe you are, or it could be a load of pollocks, as The Guardian quipped in 2013. How can one keep track when a trawler is flying the flag of one country, its crew is from another and it’s fishing in international waters and selling its catch in a third country? Solution: eat jellyfish. They’re proliferating madly as their predators diminish and there are no jellyfish rights organizations. Here’s a recipe for jellyfish salad in spicy sesame sauce.

The fried egg jellyfish. We have a great recipe.Credit: Fredski2013

World’s biggest lizard in peril

Climate change may drive the Komodo dragon to extinction by habitat loss, scientists from the University of Adelaide and Victoria’s Deakin University warn. Only about 4,000 Komodos remain in the wild, living on exactly five Indonesian islands. Solution? Manage their existing reserves better and carve out new, sustainable nature reserves. If not? The giant lizard unexpectedly discovered in plain sight in the Philippines could inherit the title: it’s over 6 feet (1.8 meters) long and has two penises to boot. Science was shocked, if not the local Filipinos.

Here’s a video of a Komodo dragon at the Ramat Gan Safari in Israel.

Volcanoes? We humans snort at their emissions

About 55 million years ago, the Earth underwent extreme warming – an event referred to as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Its postulated causes included destabilized frozen methane on the seafloor or even a collision with a comet. In fact, the terrible warming turns out to have been caused by massive volcanism involving vast carbon emissions, reports Columbia University’s Earth Institute, shoring up a theory from 2017. Dear planet, hold our beer. We’re now introducing carbon three to eight times faster than the volcanoes did, or possibly faster.

When the PETM began, Earth was warmer than it is today. The emissions raised the heat by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit). “The PETM is not the perfect analog, but it’s the closest thing we have. Today, things are moving much faster,” said lead author Laura Haynes.

Mount Sinabung spewing volcanic materials during an eruption, in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia, August 23, 2020.Credit: /AP

Mediterranean stands warned about hyper-aridity

One forecast for the Middle East is drought without end, literally, because of climate cycles overcome by our environmental haplessness. How dry is hyper-arid? We may yet find out: The University of Tokyo projects that aridification under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario is far worse than under the 1.5 degrees Celsius scenario, specifically in the Mediterranean and Sahel, Western Europe, northern South America and southern Africa. Yes, Israel is in that footprint. Australia at least should get more rain under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario.

Incessant emissions could raise seas 15 inches by 2100

Sea level rise is a thing, though where the land is also rising – for instance, because an overlying bed of ice is gone – it may not seem so. It’s incredibly hard to forecast because we have an embarrassing riches of parameters. Now, a new projection by a vast collaboration calculates that if greenhouse gas emissions persist unabated (which they have been, coronavirus be damned), the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets alone could raise levels by more than 15 inches (38 centimeters) by 2100. One caveat: Warmer air temperatures could lead to more snow in the Antarctic, causing the ice sheet to grow, which would constrain sea level rise.

Shrimp-sucking parasite moving north

It calls Russo-Asian waters home, but now scientists have found a vampire crustacean that parasitizes mud shrimp in the waters of Canada’s Calvert Island. Pretty in pinkish, it’s not welcome anyway: Orthione griffenis has been ruining life for mud shrimps along the western U.S. coast for decades, provoking local ecosystem collapses. And now it’s reached British Columbia, 180 miles north of its previous northern record. It was likely brought to North America in ballast water but the fact is, it swam to Calvert on its own and is projected to possibly reach Alaska. Was its spread caused by climate change? Almost certainly not! Will climate change affect its spread? Probably.

Upside: they’re sort of cute if you like pink arthropods that live in the gills and suck blood.

The cough drop-sized parasite Orthione griffenis, native to Asia and Russia. The one on the right is a female with the much smaller male attachedCredit: Amanda Bemis and Gustav Paulay/Florida Museum

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