Reaching New Shores

Circular plot of migration flows of at least 170,000 people between and within world regions during 2005 to 2010. Tick marks show the number of migrants (inflows and outflows) in millions.  Click to enlarge.  Image courtesy of Abel et al., Science/AAAS via Co.Exist

Circular plot of migration flows of at least 170,000 people between and within world regions during 2005 to 2010. Tick marks show the number of migrants (inflows and outflows) in millions.
Image: Abel et al., Science/AAAS via Co.Exist

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report on the development of climate change and its effects on humans.

The 2600-page report is the result of three years work and the collaboration of 300 scientists.

It makes for mostly grim reading, with an emphasis on climate impact on food security (not positive), on extreme weather events (increasing), and on poverty (again, not positive).

The global migration patterns in the interactive graphic above illustrate twenty years of migration statistics from 196 countries. Created by the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Human Capital in Vienna, the graphic uses software lifted from the field of genetic research.

It’s interesting to note that the number of people who actually leave their country of birth for good has remained at more or less the same level across decades – a mere 0.6% of the population. As a long-term expat among many long-term expats, it often seems like the number must be much higher, but such is the power of subjective perception. What we think we see up close isn’t always what’s happening if seen at a distance.

Quoted in Co.Exist, the authors say, “These long-distance flows are effective at redistributing population to countries with higher income levels, whereas return flows are negligible.” So, migration has been for mainly economic reasons, or for reasons of security offered in higher-income countries.

Given the IPCC report and its sobering conclusions regarding food security and extreme weather events, I wonder how these migration patterns and numbers will develop over the next few decades – which areas will see more migration inflow. The higher ground countries as well as those with higher-income?

Will we as humans follow many animals, flee an ever-warmer planetary midsection, and migrate north?

And what about that migration number of people who permanently leave their home country, 0.6%, that’s been steady for so long? Should climate change redraw the coastlines of continents and the boundaries of nations, what will count as ‘migration’ and what will count as keeping one’s head above water?

The World - Rising Sea Level, first map of its kind on such a scale and level of complexity, depicts our planet as it would look without its polar ice caps, with sea levels 260 ft higher as they are today. Click map for a larger version. Artist: Jay Simons

The World – Rising Sea Level, first map of its kind on such a scale and level of complexity, depicts our planet as it would look without its polar ice caps, with sea levels 260 ft higher as they are today. This detailed map can be viewed in all its glorious cartographic futurism by clicking on the map or following the link of the artist, Jay Simons.
Click map for a larger version.
Artist: Jay Simons

 

 

 

Leaping Forward

The diminutive planthopper (Issus coleoptratus) is the only creature we know of besides ourselves that uses intermeshed gears for heavy, synchronized lifting. The gears, which look like a comic book model of miniature technology, form the ratchet joint between the planthopper’s back legs.

Gear-like joint of the planthopper (Issus coleoptratus) Photo: Matthew Burrows/National Geographic

Gear-like joint of the planthopper (Issus coleoptratus)
Photo: Matthew Burrows/National Geographic

They create a smooth response where the insect’s developing system is still incapable of carrying through the complex coordination required when the hopper wants to make one of its signature great leaps from one point to another. The tiny planthopper can jump a meter (3 feet) in a single bound.

The gears are only present while the animal is immature, for while the planthopper’s body is learning to leap forward, it puts such a strain on the joint that the tiny gear teeth tend to break off completely. No worry, the insect is still growing, and with each new molt it emerges with shiny, intact gears, regenerated for further leaps.

Once adult, the hopper develops a system altogether more mature and reliable, without all the breakables.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a final report this week stating that if humans can’t manage to collectively confront the issue of climate change immediately and on a massive scale, we may find ourselves in need of an as-yet-to-be-invented sucking technology to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and put them – where? Underground where we got them? Into outer space?

Abandoned coal mine gear. Photo: Sascha Burkard/123rf

Abandoned coal mine gear.
Photo: Sascha Burkard/123rf

Meanwhile, technologies for better ways to frack natural gas, extract oil from shale, dig deeper to find hidden oil reserves are developing apace.

We’re still in a developmental phases of our progress, still breaking the gear teeth when we want to make great leaps from one point to another.

Maybe the next sloughing phase will see us shed this immature skin, refine and improve our gears and coordination, and take a longer leap forward to where we put our collective minds towards solutions that won’t leave us without a safe place to land.

Planthopper (Issus coleoptratus) Photo: Matthew Burrows/National Geographic

Planthopper (Issus coleoptratus)
Photo: Matthew Burrows/National Geographic

Cloud Spelunking

Back when global exploration meant finding a place, discovery was fairly straightforward. A given group of people could send some intrepid souls in a direction where none of them had ever been before, be it a valley, a sea, an island or a continent, and then that new place was ‘discovered’. There were gaps between the discovered places, but after a while, most of the gaps were closed and we now have a pretty good idea of where most places are on the surface of our planet.

Exploration has gotten a bit more slippery since then, and filling the gaps can be an elusive undertaking.

Alps in morning cloud, New Year's Day 2014 Photo: PK Read

Alps in morning cloud, New Year’s Day 2014
Photo: PK Read

In the investigation of ongoing climate change, unexplored territory remains. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual fall meeting in December, three scientists who contributed to the most recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I report (released in September 2013) outlined three areas that need more intrepid spelunking if the climate change process and its impacts are to be understood.

One misty area is the full functionality of the carbon cycle, or how carbon makes its way between the soils, the plants, water bodies and the air.

Another is how the oceans themselves work at deeper levels. Specifically, how they absorb the increasing heat of the atmosphere.

But, as a card-carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, I am particularly keen to follow the research on the role played by clouds when it comes to climate change. How do airborne particles affect clouds? Also, apparently low level cloud cover is migrating to the north and south. What overall effect this will have is currently a foggy area on the map of knowledge.

Mont Blanc, New Year's Day 2014. Photo: PK REad

Mont Blanc, New Year’s Day 2014.
The Jet d’Eau in Lake Geneva is visible in the lower right corner.
Photo: PK Read

In my corner of the planet, ephemeral clouds and solid mountains share the skyline. Just because the clouds obscure parts of the jagged outline on some days doesn’t mean the mountain has moved or shifted shape. And, contrary to what climate change deniers might insist, just because we can’t see all the gears and workings of climate change yet doesn’t mean we never will.

It’s commendable that these scientists are exposing gaps in knowledge so that we can send forth more explorers, and reveal the general location of the obscured territories in our understanding of climate change.