Wednesday, January 19, 2011

...and More Water

Over a week ago, I started this series of posts about water by talking about floods, especially the flooding in Queensland, Australia, and in Brazil. At that time, the death toll in Brazil was 13 people. Yesterday morning that number was estimated to be at least 665. . This morning’s estimate is over 700, with the number expected to rise as bodies are found and as the region remains at risk for fresh mud slides.

While no single weather event can be linked conclusively with global warming, the floods in both Brazil and Australia are linked to exceptionally high ocean temperatures which would be expected to result in above normal precipitation. In a Reuters article Matthew England of the Climate Change Rese

arch Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney notes that “the waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon”.

CNN reports from South Africa that at least forty people have died in flooding, more than 6,000 people have been displaced, and more heavy rain is expected. Most rivers and reservoirs in South Africa have reached their capacity, so more flooding is expected.

After a week in snowy Syracuse, New York (where there has been more than 100” of snow this season, putting them on track to break their seasonal record), we came home to more snow in Nebraska. A video found here from The Weather Channel’s Earth Watch does a good job of explaining the link between the cold and snow in much of the United States and global climate change.

Ocean Plastics

The news this month about plastics in the ocean comes in the form of good news / bad news. The good news is that the now-famous garbage patches, including the most well-known of them, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, don’t seem to be growing in size. These “garbage patches” are, in fact, not the dense and easily visible areas some reports have led the public to believe, but contain mostly small bits of plastic. Marcus Eriksen’s post on the 5 Gyres blog, Beyond the absurdity of a ‘Texas-sized Garbage Patch’ lies a larger menace of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans , says that while the idea of a big, almost solid patch of plastic real estate appealed to the sense that someone could go do something about it (or with it), the reality is “much worse”. What we have instead is a “thin plastic soup”, and that in a way is better news than a floating island of plastic trash. But the bad news is also that it’s not in a definite area; it’s everywhere. That means it’s not something we can go out and clean up. The only way to address the plastic pollution in our oceans is to quit adding to it, and clean up the bits that get spun out of the gyres and onto beaches.

Writing on the Discovery News website, Emily Sohn writes ‘Great Garbage Patch’ not so Great After All , noting that these small bits of plastic throughout the oceans pose a variety of threats, especially as fish ingest them and as they break down.

Waters of Baptism

Water, of course, still has all the characteristics it has always had, and holds all the same meaning for human beings. Water has always been both essential and potentially destructive. But with plastic pollution in the oceans and the prominence of worldwide floods brought about by torrential rains, our understanding of water as a metaphor is no doubt shifting in some way, adding perhaps some new aspects of meaning to a very traditional sign. That's the subject of the next post.