Plant Particles Slow Global Warming (and Smell Great)
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A European beech tree contributes particles that could slow warming.
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Wide, Wild World
With everything that progress has brought in our modern world, it's refreshing to know that there are still places on the planet that are virtually untouched -- places where humans haven't completely tainted the environment. Some areas may be on the fringe of impurity, but fortunately there are several lucky locations have been designated as conservancies, so that future generations can remember them as we have. Here are ten of these places of our wide, wild world:
Northern Territories of Canada
Sparsely populated mostly by people of native North American Indian and Inuit descent, Canada's three northern territories -- Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut -- still retain lifestyles before European colonization of the New World. Sure there is a Western influence, but locals still fish, hunt, and gather in the pristine, forested wilderness as they have been for centuries.
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Above the 50th parallel on the other side of the world lies Siberia, a place almost synonymous with desolation. Like the Canadian North, this wild expanse is also mostly comprised of taiga forest on former glaciated territory -- areas that are blanketed white during harsh, long winters.
Credit: Erik R. Trinidad
Tourism may be a huge draw to this Ecuadorian archipelago in the Pacific, but a lot of money collected here goes towards the conservation of its numerous islands-land its wildlife. It is here that animal species are specialized on each island's unique environments -- including marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and frigatebirds -- that research about them became an integral part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
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The Seychelles may be a well-sought out islands beach destination, but tourism hasn't completed tainted them. In fact, this archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean has the largest percentage of land under conservation by law, of any country in the world -- about 50 percent -- which is good news for the over 2,000 endemic species that live there.
Credit: Erik R. Trinidad
Being on the bottom of the world brings forth the coldest, windiest, and driest conditions on the planet. It's no wonder most of it is untouched by man. Besides a few research bases scattered sparsely around the icy continent, Antarctica is virtually uninhabited -- except by the iconic penguins of course, who might want to leave themselves if only they had the ability to fly -- and if they hadn't been adapted for the extreme conditions already.
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The Sahara may be the second largest desert in the world -- Antarctica, with only 2" of rain per year is technically the world's biggest desert but it certainly is the biggest one you think of when you conventionally think about the desert ecosystem. With 3.5 million square miles of barren land full of wind-carved sand dunes, it brings forth daytime heatwaves and harsh dry conditions unappealing to most civilizations; it's wild because most people couldn't live there.
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7. The Gobi Desert
Situated in Mongolia, the largest desert in Asia is actually growing, with sands overtaking grasslands in northern China -- which isn't good news for Chinese farmers. Perhaps it's Mother Nature's way of taking back her sandy wilderness, making conditions uninhabitable for humans.
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It it believed that the cures for many of mankind's diseases could be found in the Amazon Rainforest -- the world's largest -- which encompasses most of northern inland South America. Plenty of conservancies want to keep it this way, for the Amazon is under constant threat of deforestation for the timber industry and cattle ranching, amongst other consequences of progress.
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Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea's environment is also its defense mechanism. Its rugged terrain of rolling volcanic hills and thick tropical rainforest have made it difficult for outside companies to exploit its natural resources. It's also made it hard to establish a transportation network, leaving the wilderness for the most part, undisturbed.
The Briny Deep
It's astounding that with everything humans have done to inhabited a lot of the landmass on the planet, about 70% of it remains uninhabited because it is water. The oceans, vast and seemingly limitless, are an innerspace full of many things that we probably don't even know about yet. It's taken centuries for humans to actually explore the deepest part of the ocean, Mariana's Trench, and we only saw a mere fraction of it. There's a whole wild world within our world, yet to be explored-or remain untouched?
The warming global climate is causing plants to emit chemicals that lead to more climate-cooling clouds, say researcher in a new study. The cooling effect of more clouds could dampen the warming trend a bit in some remote parts of the world where there are not already ample human-made particles in the air already seeding more cloud formation.
"It's not that much," said Pauli Paasonen of the University of Helsinki in Finland and one of the authors of the study, published in the April 28 issue of Nature Geoscience. But it's another step towards sorting out the roles of small particles -- called aerosols -- in future climate change, he said. It's also one of the very few negative feedbacks found in the current warming world.
Most of the feedbacks to climate change have been positive, meaning they tend to exacerbate the warming as, for instance, melting sea ice does when it allows sunlight to warm sea water rather than reflecting that sunlight back into space; or when permafrost melts, it releases carbon dioxide, which adds to the overall greenhouse gas problem.
Paasonen and his colleagues came to their conclusions about the plant aerosols after gathering and analyzing temperature and aerosol data from a number of sites in the mid and high-latitudes sites -- in both remote, clean locations and highly polluted locations -- around the world. They found that the abundance of aerosols soared when the temperature increased, probably because plants increase their production and release of the sticky compounds that clump together to make particles large enough for water to condense on.
"Everyone knows the scent of the forest," said Ari Asmi, also a University of Helsinki researcher on the study. "That scent is made up of these gases."
Previous research had predicted the plants would do this, but this is the first study to show that it is happening across continents.
Among the implications of the work is that as some places clean up the human-made aerosols, plants could take over as things get warmer. In polluted areas there are so many aerosols that the plant contributions make no difference, Paasonen explained. In either case, the cooling effects of clouds is very regional, not global, and only masks warming, rather than eliminates it.
"It's important to note that the cooling effect by aerosols is one of the unknowns right now in assessing the impact of climate warming," said aerosol researcher James Smith of the national Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. "Some parts of the world will be more affected than others."
Smith also notes that the amped-up emissions by plants will probably max out as the temperature continues to increase and carbon dioxide reaches levels that not even plants like. That suggests the cooling effect could be very limited and even reverse in the future, further unmasking the full effects of global warming.