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a problem with methane

a problem with methane

by Chris ~ 11 October, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Radiant energy from the sun falls on the Earth; some of this energy is absorbed by the planet and its atmosphere.  Some of the energy is radiated back into space.  The balance between the absorbed and radiated energy determines global temperature.  This balance is changed by a number of factors - the intensity of the solar energy, cloud reflectivity, the absorption of energy by various gases or surfaces.

The reflectivity of the Earth’s surface  (the albedo) influences the amount of light energy that is reflected back into space. Snow has a high albedo, that is, it reflects much of the light back out into space.  Dark objects (like conifer plantations) reflect less light / radiation and absorb more thereby trapping heat that would otherwise be reflected back into space. The amount of energy that is ‘retained’ is also influenced by the presence of particular gases in the atmosphere - the so-called 'greenhouse gases', notably carbon dioxide and methane.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased dramatically from 280 ppm during the 10,000 years up to the mid-18th century to 415 ppm (as of 2019).  This increase has certainly contributed to the changes in climate that we have witnessed in recent years - extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding.   Read more...

Tree planting - is it always a good thing?

Tree planting – is it always a good thing?

by Lewis ~ 19 September, 2019 ~ comments welcome

A number of initiatives both national and inter-national have focused on the possibility of large scale tree planting as a means of reducing the effects of climate change and keeping global warming below the critical 2oC threshold.  Indeed, some researchers have estimated that restoring and creating forests could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 25%, ‘sucking out’ some (extra) 200 gigatonnes of CO2 and locking it away in wood.  

However, there are problems with this approach.

    • Some estimates suggest that human activities have added a massive 600 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere over the millennia
    • Restoring or establishing forests is not a ‘simple matter’ of planting some trees (albeit millions of them); there are technical and financial challenges (see * below, for exmple).

Read more...

Forest and grassland fires

Forest and grassland fires

by Lewis ~ 6 September, 2019 ~ comments welcome

In early Spring this year, both Norway and Sweden reported wild fires in their forests, due in part to a run of dry weather. More recently, fires have been reported in many parts of the world - particularly in the Amazonian Forest,  parts of Africa, Siberia,  Canada and even within the Arctic Circle.

A few years back, the Russian authorities initiated a policy of allowing remote forest fires to burn - unless the trees / areas were of economic importance.  However, the fires this summer affected thousands of square miles of boreal forest and strong winds spread the smoke and ash across the country; it affected cities such as Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk (each home to a million people). Read more...

Changing phenologies and climate change

Changing phenologies and climate change

by Chris ~ 16 July, 2019 ~ one comment

Phenology is about the observation of natural events, recording when things happen, for example, when horse chestnut and ash trees come into leaf, or when the first swifts or bumblebees are seen. These timings vary from year to year. Through the recording of natural events over many years, one can look for trends and see if they are correlated with changes in the weather or other phenomena.

Recent studies by researchers at Rothampstead, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the British Trust for Ornithology suggest that a number of different phenologies are changing.   They looked at various insect and bird populations in a variety of different habitats (urban gardens, agricultural systems, sand dunes, grassland, woodlands etc).  The broad conclusion was there was a trend towards earlier phenologies for UK bird, moth and butterfly species across habitat types” . For example, aphids (which breed rapidly and can adapt to changing temperature quite quickly) now take flight some 30 days earlier in the year than fifty years ago.   Such phenological changes have ‘knock on’ effects.  For example, the earlier arrival of aphids can affect potato crops.  Aphids spread plant viruses and young potato plants are more susceptible to viral disease than older, more mature plants. Read more...

Insect Pollinators in decline

Insect Pollinators in decline

by Lewis ~ 13 April, 2019 ~ one comment

The science journal Nature has published the results of another insect survey, specifically of pollinating insects.   The UK pollinator monitoring scheme looked at some 353 species of bees, bumblebees and hoverflies.  The survey analysed 700,000+ sightings of pollinating insects over thirty years or more (1980 to 2013).  The survey yielded information about the changes in the range of these different pollinators - that is the different parts of the countryside that these insects were found in.  The survey did not attempt to determine actual numbers of bees etc in an area.   There were “winners and losers’ in the survey but the overall picture was somewhat depressing. Read more...

The loss of big trees

The loss of big trees

by Chris ~ 10 August, 2018 ~ 2 comments

The world's larger and older trees are dying at in unprecedented numbers, according to Professor David Lindenmayer (Australian National University). One of the first clues to this phenomenon was a Swedish study of their forestry records - dating back some 150 years.  Then an Australian study of (their) Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forest confirmed that the bigger and older trees were not only dying in forest fires, but were also dying at a higher rate (than normal) in non-fire years.

There has been a similar loss of large, old pines in the forests of (western) North America - partly through selective logging but also through very severe wild fires.    Read more...

Solid fuels and wood burning stoves,

Solid fuels and wood burning stoves,

by Lewis ~ 30 April, 2018 ~ 3 comments

During the last decade, a market has developed for wood burning stoves. and sales have soared to 200,000 a year.   Wood burning stoves are marketed as ‘eco friendly’, ‘low emission’ and as offering ‘savings on fuel costs’.   Indeed, not only has the woodlands blog written about the pros and cons of different woods in stoves, but Angus has written enthusiastically about the installation of his wood burning stove (it keeps the house warm and reduces carbon emissions).

However, some are beginning to question the wisdom of installing wood stoves.    The market for wood fuel has grown in parallel with the installation of these stoves.   To meet the demand for wood fuel, even some areas of natural woodland have been felled.    For example, mature oaks from Ryton Wood near Coventry were felled to provide fuel for log burning.   Indeed, more wood from British woodland is being burnt now than at any time since the industrial revolution.     Read more...

Woodlands and biodiversity

Woodlands and biodiversity

by Lewis ~ 29 March, 2018 ~ one comment

Most regard woodlands as a beautiful and important part of our countryside, and feel that they can exert a profound and positive influence on our emotional state.    Time spent wandering through the woods can have a relaxing and calming effect. Woodland only forms a small percentage of our countryside (about 13%), and some of that is dominated by conifers planted in the post-war period for timber production; however, the area covered by broad leaved trees is now increasing.    Despite this, our woodlands do harbour a wonderful variety of wildlife (think of the red squirrel, the nightingale, the dormouse) but there is concern that woodland plants and animals face a number of threats - many species are in decline.   Why is this ? Read more...

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