Sunday, 4 November 2012

Ocean Acidification, Corals and Ken Caldeira

Image credit: The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia
This is a spin-off post from the radio series for the BBC World Service I am currently producing, Discovery: The Age We Made.  Presented by science writer Gaia Vince, it consists four programmes looking at the notion that humans have launched a new geological time period on the planet, the Anthropocene.  

Further down,  I have posted the audio of a great interview we did with leading climatologist Ken Caldeira on the seemingly likely fate of the world's coral reefs, because of the geologically extraordinary alterations we are making to the Earth's atmosphere.

We talk to leading earth and environmental scientists about the changes to the global environment our species is making which are so profound that they will leave physical, chemical and fossil marks in the rock strata forming today.  Homo sapiends is creating an assemblage of geological evidence that would tell any geologist in the far flung future (millions of years from now) that something forced the Earth into a new state - or down "a different trouser leg of geological time," as one of our interviewees put it.

The second part of The Age We Made focusses on climate change and the other consequences of our fossil fuel emissions, notably ocean acidification and its likely impact on the world's reef building corals.

About one third of the 10,000,000,000 tonnes of carbon we now put annually into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide dissolves into ocean waters.  Simply put, it forms a weak acid, carbonic acid.  Humans have been building up to this 10 billion tonnes per year emission output since the Industrial Revolution.   The acidity of shallow seawater has been creeping up, in step.  The latest measurements show that ocean acidity in the top levels has increased by about 30% on the last one hundred years - apparently, the most rapid rise measurable in Earth history.

This is a grim development for corals, and the millions of fish and other marine species that live in the reef ecosystems which the colourful, mineralising ones build.  Coral organisms make their skeletons from minerals, also dissolved in seawater.  The more acidic the waters, the harder it is for them to do this.   Some reefs in the Great Barrier recently measured are actually dissolving, such is the pH of the water now.

The finding about the dissolving corals of Australia's Great Barrier Reef came up in one of the interviews we did with Prof Ken Caldeira of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford.  So too did the suggestion that coral reefs would not be sustainable anywhere in the global ocean by 2050.  Cramming everything we wanted to put in the broadcast radio programme was impossible, so here you can listen to part of Ken's conversation with Gaia at greater and compelling length.   Prof Caldeira puts our CO2 emissions (particularly the rate of them) and their effects on the oceans into a stark geological time perspective.

There's a couple of minutes towards the beginning in which Ken talks about the processes in the normal long course of geological time which have kept ocean pH levels relatively stable.  Stick with it!  Because it helps to explain why what's happening today is so "extreme" to quote Prof Caldeira.

The last time anything comparable happened to the planet's oceans was about 60 million years ago, during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum.  It was such a long time ago, that back then, horses were like the little one on the right.

This Google Earth video tour of ocean acidification is also excellent, in part because it shows graphically how acidification has increased and is projected to rise over the next few centuries.   It also nicely explains some of the basic science neglected by me here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Turkey - Moyy Hotel, Camlihemsin

An perfect 5 out of 5 hotel recommendation for Camlihemsin, gateway village to the Kackar Mountains.  This is Moyy Hotel.

The hotel is the last remaining old building in the main street of the village.  It was rescued from demolition a few years ago by the hotel owner Ozlem Erol.  She has done an amazing job in restoring the interiors and exterior of the 80 year old house.  It had been disused and was in rack and ruin for three decades.

Rooms come with two beds, or a double.

This double looks out on the Firtina River and mountains through which the river rushes.

Our two bed room cost about £60 per night, a price which included delicious breakfast on the balcony (also overlooking the river).

....including excellent local cheeses,

And these cakes and pastries. 

The dinners here were also superb and good value at about 30 Turkish lira, about £12.  If you ever come to this area, stay in this hotel for at least some of the visit - Moyy Miniotel.

The road north of Camlihemsin is overlooked from on high by other interesting old buildings.  18th century mansions - many derelict or decaying - which were built by locals who made stacks of money elsewhere.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Turkey - Kackar Mountains 2

The starting point for a beautiful but frustratingly short walk we did towards the central massif of the Kackars from a village called (Upper) Kavrun.  This was after we'd finished our four days trekking with guide Mehmet Demirci. 

At this point our base was the village of Camlihemsin, way down towards sea level.  To get to Kavrun, we took a minibus which took 1 hour and 15 minutes.  First 20 minutes to main tourist village of Ayder on a good tarmac road and the final 55 mins on steep switch-backing unmade track.  Bumpy but beautiful.

There were a handful of other tourists (Turkish) in the bus but they didn't strike out towards the mountains.  We didn't encounter any other walkers during the 3 hours we had to get as far as we could and back before the minibus headed back to Camlihemsin.

This was our turn-around point.  Actually we did see one other tourist.  A fat middle aged bloke in shorts with a fishing rod and in breach of the Kackar National Park rules.  A bit more enforcement of these rules wouldn't go amiss I reckon.  During the preceeding days I lost count of the number of spent hotgun cartridges I saw.

I think the run of weather we had on this day and the preceeding five was unusual for September in these parts.  Apparently September is the second wettest month usually in this part of Turkey and the northern side of the Kackars is notoriously cloudy and wet.  Mehmet did say they had an abnormally dry summer in 2012 so perhaps this was just an extension.

I would love to trek in this region again and this time focus on this central massif region, crossing from the north side to the south, and back again.  We missed out on the truly spectacular trails I now realise. 

Anyway we had to be back at the village within 3 hours although we had to wait an extra 1 hour while the dolmus driver faffed about with other errands in Kavrun.  While we waited, youths set off fireworks and a simple-looking man in a multi-coloured Biggins-Doing-Jackanory jumper repeatedly fired a pistol into the air next to the minibus. 

We returned to Camlihemsin with just locals, including this elegant woman who had a big white sack of something to take down the mountain.

Some of the Hemsin women look amazing with their trinket-adorned, coloured turbans.  The woman with the sack was particularly classy with this crimson and black number, plus 2 tone mauve paisley top.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Turkey - Kaçkar Mountains 1

A view to the greatest summits of the Kaşkar mountains where we've been for the past week.  Almost 4,000 metres above sea level, they are the highest peaks of the Pontic Alps which run from northeastern Turkey, parallel to the Black Sea, into Armenia.

MJC pauses to pose on our fırst walk on the Kotençur plateau where we were based for three days.  This is above a valley just to the west of the central Kaşkar granite massif.  Just to the right of his right shoulder is the tin shack that was our base camp.  Further to the right ın the distance is the derelict vıllage of our guide's great grandfather.

Here is our guide Mehmet - a native Hemşin, very interesting on local mountain culture and excellent on the plants, not so expert on the birds and a helluva fast walker.

The plateau pastures are strewn with these white crocuses.  They flower late summer and early autumn and signal to the mountaın folk that it's time to get ready to leave the highland villages or yaylas for their lower lying homes.

Here is our boutique mountain hut - interior shot to follow.

You can't move for gentians up here.  At least three species in this area.

MJC sups at the spring of the deserted Upper Amlakıt village.  The last inhabitant died ten years ago.  Photo taken just minutes before day 2 trek's most dramatic moment.

My skew-whiff cap may well be the result of my brush with mortality, climbing through the ruins of the village.  I lost my footing and fell backwards about two metres, landing in a bed of stingıng nettles and firmly wedged between two granite boulders.  Mehmet had to haul me out.

Even in mid September, the abundance and diversity of plants in flower was incredible.

These saffron crocuses were all over the place above about 2500 metres.  According to Mehmet, ın the wınter the bulbs are used to make a hot sweet drink called Sahlep, wıth boilıng water and some milk.

MJC is lurking to the left, attempting to blend in with the granite and lichen.

Ice 'lake' at 2700 metres.  I got knee deep but it was way too cold for full immersion.

One of the joys of walking here was pickıng and scoffing the wild raspberries.  Really sweet and not at all furry.  So much nicer than the ones ın Waitrose.

Some of Mehmet's lovely extended family who came up from the village below to have a picnic, chaın-smoke and gather bucket-loads of wild raspberries, blueberries and myrtleberrıes whıle chaın-smoking.

Interior of mountain shack with me packing and panıckıng ın search of something I'm convinced I've lost but haven't.  We all slept ın sleepıng bags on that pink seat.

About 300 metres lower, we spent the next night in the lower Amlakıt village in that dark brown pension you can just see on the left side of the photo.  During mid-winter, these houses are under about 5 metres of snow.

MJC at the village cafe with the best turkish coffee we've had on the holiday so far.  

Typical of the views from a forest path which apparently was one of the routes of the Silk Road.  We crossed a stream with flecks of gold (the largest full-stop size), in ıts sandy bed. It was the real thing - I am an ex-geologist.

MJC marches ahead into the lichen-strewn spruce.

The village of Hazındak comes into view as we break through the tree line again.

MJC tries to bond with some of the Hazındak elders.

Much more interestıng were these lovely ladies with their fantastic turbans and knitting.

The village imam makes an appearance, heading in the direction of the village mosque.  In most of the yaylas, the mosques are anonymous-looking tin or wood huts wıthout minarets.