31 August 2006

Global Warming

One of the most discussed subjects across the globe, apart from terrorism is that of global warming. While those on the political floor use it to accuse each of other of callousness, there are serious concerns among the scientists over the way things are proceeding across the globe.

Defined in simplest terms, global warming refers to the perpetual rise in the temperature of the surface of the Earth, arising out of human interference into the natural balance, that might lead to catastrophical results. At this point, it becomes necessary to understand a few terms that one encounters while discussing the subject.

Greenhouse effect
is a term used to describe the phenomenon observed in glass houses that experiment with the effects of temperature variation in presence of plants. While it is known that the photosynthesis helps in reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, while adding to the oxygen content at the same time, it is a point worthy of mention that even plants do respire. And it is all about the release of carbon dioxide during the nights. So much said about the green house effect, what are the implications? A similar phenomenon can be observed in the real life atmosphere. The levels of carbon dioxide keep increasing, not because of the animal metabolism (whose contribution is negligible), but the pollutants. Vehicular and industrial exhaust gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are termed as greenhouse gases. These gases have the property of trapping heat, thus preventing the heat from escaping the surface of the Earth.

Abledo is a unit used to measure the reflective capacity of surfaces. A perfect white matter has a albedo of 1.0 while a perfect black matter has an albedo of 0. It is a known fact the polar regions of the Earth are covered with ice caps. Ice has an albedo of nearly 1.0, while sea water has an albedo of 0.07. The heat trapped due to green house effect results in melting of the polar ice caps, thus reducing the ice cover on the surface of the planet. As understood, this results in lesser amount of sunlight being reflected back into space, thus adding to the heat trap.

Permafrost is the layer of permanently frozen soil that extends thousands of miles along the Tundras and polar regions. The layer holds millions of tonnes of green house gases, which, if released into the atmosphere, would result in major upheavals in the global climate. The rising temperatures run a risk of melting of this layer, which would be an opening of the Pandora's box. The climate is very much like a rowing boat. You tip it a little, it returns back to normal state. Tip it a little more, it might still return back with slight disturbance to the surroundings. Tip it a little too much, it capsizes. This is what is termed as a point of no return.

Melting icecaps result in the increase of the global water level. Low lying countries such as Netherlands, Bangladesh and Maldives are at an immediate threat of inundation if the phenomenon is not controlled. We have been crossing points of no return on many fronts when it comes to the global climate. But all is not lost. It is now left to the decision of the countries that contribute majorly to the phenomenon. Adherence to the Kyoto Protocol would be the first step in this direction. Countries should work towards usage of cleaner fuels, better engines and put in place rules and regulations to control pollution. It is our duty to save the life on Earth from the danger of extinction and make this place a better dwelling for the generations to come.

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