Thursday, August 4, 2016

Is our blue marble turning green? (8/4/2016)

"Far above the world, Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do" 

- David Bowie -

This was the view from our cockpit the other morning watching the sun come up over the horizon during an early morning sail on the Chesapeake Bay.  The water in the Bay this winter was remarkably clean and clear.

But here on earth there is a lot we can do to keep that water blue and healthy.  Although it seems to get more and more difficult.  This week's newspaper reported that the drinking water in our area stinks and tastes bad.  Our water works blames the hot weather and the algae bloom in the lakes that supply our water.  It seems that the algae give the water a bad taste and smell.

The next questions hot weather and algae bloom, what can we do about that?

By now we should have all heard about global warming; it is real and there is probably not much we can do about in the short term.  But in the long term, yes we can.  We need to get serious about energy efficiency and renewable energy; it is not only good for the planet, but also good for our pockets.  But yes it is an expensive investment in the short term and the returns are slow to materialize (it will pay you back in so many years).  For example, we are saving $15.00 every two months on our water bill since we installed two $180 low flow toilets.  This means it will take us 48 months or 4 years to break even.

The hot weather has warmed up that wonderful nutrient rich water and made it the perfect breeding ground for all those algae.  Note the words nutrient rich!  How does the water get nutrient rich?  Oh yes, blame those farmers!  Well, not so fast.  We are to blame as well.  We over-fertilize our yards, or put fertilizer where it does not belong; people don't pick up after their animals; don't maintain their septic systems; dump their fall leaves in a ditch or in the woods where they don't belong; wash their car in the street and not on the lawn or at a car wash; or poor chemicals down the storm drain.  All that stuff eventually ends up in the streams and rivers where we all get our drinking water from or that end up in the Bay.  And the algae love it!  Look for the word eutrophication that's what scientist call it.  It means enriching the water with nutrients.

Last September we went on an evening sailing trip to watch the algae at night in their phosphorescent state.  It was quite the adventure and I wrote about it in this blog posting.  Who knows, I promised a few friends to take them out if it happens again, and I secretly hope it does not, although I love to sail at night.

But lets get back to the question, is our blue marble turning green?  The earth was first called blue marble by the space program on December 7, 1972, by the Apollo 17 astronauts when they took a picture of the earth on their return trip from the moon.  Subsequently, other satellites that flew much further from earth also looked back home and took pictures of the blue marble floating in space.  (I learned about this term from Wallace Nichols' book "Blue Mind" he actually started the Blue Marble Project). 

This is a copy of the original photograph taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts.   Picture was downloaded from NASA.
My question is with global warming and eutrophication, will the blue marble stay blue or will it turn the oceans green with algae, or will it turn the world green with people who think green and want to help save and protect the environment?  

That choice is ours isn't it?

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