Monthly Archives: February 2017

Mexico City…Parched and Sinking

mex2When Mexico City’s Grand Canal was completed in the late 1800’s it was a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride. At 29 miles long it could move tens of thousands of gallons of waste water per second. Flooding and sewage problems solved.mex5

…but no. The canal uses gravity to function and Mexico City at a mile and a half above sea level was and is collapsing in on itself. Always short of water the city keeps drilling deeper and deeper for more water, weakening the ancient clay lake beds the city is built on, causing them to crumble even further.


With climate change bringing more heat and more drought, there is more evaporation and more demand for water. The pressure is building to tap into more distant reservoirs at a large cost or further drain the underground aquifers, and speed up the city’s collapse. The world has heavily invested in cities…crowded capitols with many millions of people , large economies, and an ability to destabilize a region if things come unglued.mex4

There is a study that shows 10% of Mexicans aged 15-65 could try to emigrate north to escape rising temps, drought and floods…scattering millions of people. Given the emigration issues presently at work in North America serious consideration needs to be given.

Mexico City’s chief resilience officer says that climate change is the number 1 long term threat to the city’s future. Climate change is linked to water, health, air pollution, traffic disruption, housing vulnerability from landslides…so many linked issues that other real problems can not be addressed without dealing with the climate issue.

In 1325 the Aztecs established their capital, Tenochtitlan, here in the middle of a network of lakes. The expanded the city with landfill and planted crops on chinampas…floating gardens. The idea was to live with nature. When the Spaniards arrived they had different ideas creating streets and squares where the dikes and canals had been. They drained the lakes and cleared the forest land, suffering flood after flood. The city was even drowned for 5 straight years.

The Aztecs managed…but they had 300,00 people. There are now some 21 million.

mex1At a roundabout along the city’s wide downtown boulevard, the gilded Angel of Independence, looks over a sea of traffic from atop of a Corinthian column. The ribbon cutting for the monument was in 1910 with the 9 shallow steps leading up to it. In the hundred plus years since then the whole neighborhood around the monument sank requiring an additional 14 large steps to be added to the base for the monument to be connected to the street. Pedestrians walk up hills that were once flat lake beds, but have given away. Buildings are leaning in various directions, doors no longer align with their frames.


The government acknowledges that nearly 20% of Mexico City’s residents can’t count on getting water from their taps everyday or worse. The director of the water system thinks that climate change will mean more intense rains leading to flooding, and more intense droughts. If it stops raining in the reservoirs they will face a disaster as it would be impossible to truck in water for 21 million people.



Transplant Corral Reefs

brain-corralAt the Mote Tropical Research Lab thousands of tiny corals are growing. Dr. David Vaughan, a marine biologist and executive director of the lab gets a flat rock from the bottom of a tank. On the rock a brain coral is growing, and growing at a rate 25 times faster than if in the wild. Other species have grown from tiny coral seeds at up to 50 times their normal rate.

The quick grow technique is called microfragmentation. The technique may make it possible to mass produce reef building corals for transplanting onto dead or dying reefs, perhaps slowing or even reversing the alarming loss of corals in the Florida Keys and else where.



Other projects to help grow corals are out there , but this is the most promising. If successful this technique, can help us buy time until science has an understanding of what is happening to coral on a larger scale.


With ocean warming, pollution, and acidification we have lost fully 25% of the world’s coral reefs.

Dr. Vaughan has been studying the massive species of coral like brain, star, boulder and mounding corals. They seem to be less susceptible to outside influences…but grow very slowly. Quicker growing corrals like the staghorn have been successfully reproduce, but can been more easily affected by pollution, warmer water, and acidification.

Dr. Vaughan stumbled upon the idea of microfragmenting when by accident he was transferring a colony of coral, but by accident broke one into a few pieces. He thought he had just killed those pieces, but no, in a few days he noticed these pieces were growing back together and had doubled in size. The coral seems to want to repair itself quickly, and grow back over it’s lost ground before someone else takes up it’s territory.

Since then they have taken the efforts out into the open water and areas where there has been corral death. The results are encouraging. Other considerations are how to ward of corals eaters like the parrot fish, and the answers are slowly coming.



First Nations Water Woes

what is in it?

what is in it?

The Neskantaga First Nation of Ontario has had a boil water advisory going since 1995. They have not been able to drink the water from their taps or bath in it without getting rashes for over 20 years.


In the fall of 2016 there were 156 drinking water advisories in effect in first nation communities…normally we see an average of 100 advisories. In the last decade 2/3 of all the native communities had experienced a water advisory of some sort.

Advisories can come in different ways. There can be boil water, meaning boil it before you use it. Do not consume, meaning don’t drink it. Do not use is also a possibility. Water services on reserves is a federal government responsibility and in the governments own words is severely underfunded.

trudeauDuring the 2015 election the Liberals promised to end all the long term water advisory situations in 5 yrs. More money has been earmarked which is fine , but the system has to be addressed as well.david-suzuki-wordfest-2015-june-16

The David Suzuki Foundation and the Council of Canadians have published a report that looked at rating the governments progress in solving the nine worst water advisory situations in Ontario. In terms of the promise of solving these issues in the five year timeline, the glass is half full. It looks like three situations will be successfully managed, 3 are being worked on with some success , but there are doubts of meeting the deadline…and the last three are posing a greater problem and most likely will not meet the time line. LEAKY FAUCET

In a country where so many of us take for granted the abundance clean water  it is unacceptable that so many First Nation communities face real water issues. Clean water and sanitation is a human right recognized by the United Nations.

The report card concludes that the system for addressing unsafe drinking water is overly cumbersome and must be streamlined. First Nations must also have more direct involvement and say to address community specific drinking water issues, and the government must increase transparency with respect to progress and budget allocations.

The Safe Water Project is a great example of a federally funded program that is managed at the local level, training and certification of local water operators, with remote water quality monitoring technology.


Clean drinking water is not just and indigenous issue, but a human right and should concern us all.

Dry Farming….What is it?

dryfarm1Dry farming is growing food without irrigation. Dry farmers don’t irrigate their crops least beyond the seedling stage. This is a bit of a generalization as there are several regional and distinct generalizations on this theme. Dry farmers in the mid Atlantic rely on summer rains. Most of the grains from the breadbasket do as well. On the Pacific coast the follow a wet winter and dry summer schedule. dry-farm

To be sure dry farming provides a small percent of the overall food that is grown. With concerns of climate change and the draining of the aquifers practitioners believe this may be the way of the future. The dry farmers of California don’t want any rain in the summer as this would only cause enhanced weed growth. Surface water is of no use to the crops as dry farmed plants have root systems that run deep, sniffing out water that was left months ago. A by product of this is that the roots absorb”terroir”, adding a complexity, and earthiness to a crops flavour profile. dry-farm-3

Many characteristics of dry farmed crops …small size, thick skin, and juicy flesh are also characteristics of their wild relatives. Many dry farmed crops out last regular crops in the root cellar.With dry farming there are hardly any weeds, which amounts to huge labour savings.



California is wine country so what about the grapes? Dry farmed grapes are thought to wine with more intense flavour. Sugars get to develop in concert with the acids and tannins, as they would in a natural situation. The fruits are smaller, with more concentrated flavours, and a high ratio of skins to fruit.

The thing with irrigated farming is that you set the crop up to receive water on a regular basis, the roots don’t go deep. So without water for a few days the plants can become stressed and even die.


There are drawbacks to dry farming. Yields are usually lower and some dry farmed produce like melons must be picked ripe and therefore don’t handle shipping well.

Dry farming …perhaps we will see more of this technique before long.

How garbage patches form in the world’s oceans

bouysA new study out of the University of Miami shows how ocean currents transport floating marine debris,  and explains how garbage patches form in the oceans. Researchers have developed a mathematical model that simulates what small spherical objects would do on the surface of the ocean.


The model was fed information on wind and currents to simulate the movement of marine debris. The data was then compared to the information from satellite tracked surface bouys. Data from anchored bouys and unanchored bouys were used to see how each accumulated in the five  ocean gyres over a 20 yr period.bouys1


The unanchored drifting bouys over time were found at the center of the gyres , where the plastics are mostly found. The anchored drifters that are designed to mimic the motion of the water take a longer amount of time to reach the center areas.

The study takes into account the effects of wind and water induced drag on the objects, found the accumulation of the debris in the subtropical gyres happens to fast to be attributed to the trade winds that meet in these regions. The size and weight of the drifting object must be taken in to consideration to fully explain the accumulation.

Practical application of the mathematical model include tracking ship wrecks, airplane debris, sea ice , and pollution.



Sea bird die off triggered by warm ocean water

murre The Common Murre, an abundant North Pacific seabird, has been subject to a die off. Last year tens of thousands of these birds washed up on shores from Alaska to California…dead from starvation. Researchers have traced the cause to unusually warm waters that affected the tiny fish they eat. Elevated temperatures in sea water affected wild life in a pair of major marine ecosystems along the west coast of the U.S. and Canada.  murre1                         Tragically common murres are an indicator of a regions health. The die off was most likely caused by the birds not having anything to eat….no fish. The Common murre looks like a thin penguin. They can fly miles in search of schools of their finger length prey, diving on them, and swimming nearly 2 metres under water to capture them. They have a high metabolism and must eat 10-30% of their body mass daily, if not they will use up their fat reserves and drop to a critical threshold for starvation within 3 days. capelin1

The common murres eats capelin, a small forage fish from the smelt family, and juvenile polluck. both these fish were largely missing from the fish surveys conducted in 2015….and the murres paid the price.capelin

It is hard to decide how many birds actually died, but best estimates are up to 500,000, many deaths don’t reach shore. Nearly all the birds found were emaciated. Without enough food to keep up their body mass they consumed their fat and protein, and they could not stay warm.


Starting in 2014, the temp in the upper 91 metres of water was 2.5 degrees warmer than normal. This led to a “blob” of warm water. Forage fish feed on zooplankton, and cold water develops the best eating plankton. With the blob of warm water producing low quality food for the capelin and juvenile polluck, the effects were felt up the food chain.

Warm ocean temps also affect the big North Pacific game fish, such as halibut,cod,polluck, and flounder. As the water they live in increases, their metabolism increases and they have to eat more. What do you think these fish eat……that’s right capelin and juvenile polluck. These fish are in direct competition with the sea birds and tend to eat a large amount more of the little fish. murre2

Common murres have 230 cliff colonies in Alaska, all the colonies in the Gulf of Alaska showed widespread breeding failures. The Arctic and Aleutian colonies all bred as normal.


The ultimate cause of the die off was the warm waters. The birds died of starvation because there was no food, there was no food because there was no fish, there was no fish because there was not much food for them

Republicans and Coal Mining Near Streams

coal2During the recent American elections Trump said he would revitalize the coal mining industry. The Republicans has begun to dismantle the Obama era environmental regulations by easing restrictions on coal mining.

The Stream Protection Rule, which sought to protect America’s waterways from debris generated by surface mining, has been reversed by a vote in Congress. The Interior Dept. has stated the rule would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest by keeping coal mining debris away from the nearby waters. coal3

The Republican Rep from Ohio, Bill Johnson, sponsored the move to reverse the Rule because he feels the rule was not designed to protect streams, but is in fact an effort to regulate the coal mining industry right out of business. coal4

The Stream Protection Rule which would require companies to restore mined areas to their original physical and ecological state and to monitor for environmental effects, would have made mountain top removal uneconomical….especially with depressed coal prices and competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.


coal5The reality is the American coal market is shrinking, with or without new regulations. Utility companies has drastically reduced their reliance on coal. Since 2008, 300 coal fired power plants have shut down, many of them won’t be coming back on line no matter what the policy of the moment will be coming out of Washington.


Meanwhile in Charleston, W. Virginia the Keystone Dev. No.2 mine has released debris and chemicals into 2 creeks that run nearby. After intense lobbying from environmental groups the mine was shut down and the operator ordered to restore the site. Now the mine could reopen. Locals state that many rivers in W. Virginia run orange from contamination. They care about miners jobs…but orange is not the color of water.



…..and so the Trump era begins.

The Sabatier System…Drinking Water in Space.

sabatier1 Drinking water is one of the most basic elements we need for survival. When planning a trip at sea or in space planners must take fresh water into consideration. Physical space on voyages always comes at a premium, space in space really comes at a premium. So how does the International Space Station and it;s resupply vehicles handle water considerations.

The solution presently at work in the ISS is the Sabatier System that helps minimize the size and weight of life support system. The process by which it works was originally designed by a Nobel prize winning chemist, Paul Sabatier, in the early 1900’s. A catalyst is used that reacts with carbon dioxide and hydrogen- both by products of current life support systems on board the space station – to produce water and methane. This interaction closes the loop in the oxygen and water regeneration cycle. For us simple folks it means the space station can produce it’s own water without having to transport it from Earth.sabatier

The base technology for the Sabatier system has been in development for the past twenty years, the overall hardware production was actually done in the last two years. The system contains a furnace , a compressor, and a condenser/ phase separation system. The real bonus is that the feeds into the system were already on board, all that was required was something to plug into the system….but located in outer space. sabatier-2

The Chief Technologist Jason Crusan states that” Being able to demonstrate innovative new methods to acquire technical capabilities is one of the corner stones the space station can serve for future missions and approaches to those missions.’ Using developing technologies and productive systems enables the station to squeeze every drop from the resources they have, improving their resupply capabilities and frees up storage space. sabatier3

Currently in operation on the station, Sabatier is the final piece of the regenerative environmental control and life support system. Prior to the system the Oxygen Generation System vented excess carbon dioxide and hydrogen overboard. These valuable chemicals are no longer wasted , but used to generate additional water for the space station, while saving space that was once required for water storage that is now used for more science facilities and engineering equipment.