Anaesthetic agent major contributor to global warming: Study

WASHINGTON: Inhaled anaesthetics widely used for surgery-particularly the anaesthetic desflurane – are a major contributor to global warming, according to a new study.

Dr. Susan M. Ryan of University of California and computer scientist Claus J. Nielsen of University of Oslo said that sevoflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane are recognized greenhouse gases.

Using desflurane for one hour is equivalent to 235 to 470 miles of driving.

The anaesthetics “usually are vented out of the building as medical waste gases and remain in the atmosphere for a long time,” the researchers write.

Ryan and Nielsen suggest some “simple, knowledge-based decisions” that anaesthesiologists can follow to minimize their environmental impact unless there are medical reasons to use it and avoiding unnecessarily high anaesthetic flow rates, especially with desflurane.

The study is published in the July issue of Anaesthesia & Analgesia.

From TOI

Flamingoes descend on Agra: Is this a global-warming phenomenon?

AGRA: What are flamingoes doing in Agra at this time of the year? This is the question plaguing environmentalists here after nearly 500 of the gregarious wading birds descended on Agra’s Keitham lake last week.

“I think the flamingoes have lost their way. This is the first time that so many of them have come to Agra. And at this time of the year, it raises some perplexing questions. Is this a global warming-related phenomenon, or has the winter advanced in north Europe? So many questions needing answers,” says Dr KS Rana, environmentalist and a professor of natural sciences.

Ravi Singh, a green farmer and eco-activist of the Barauli Aheer block sees a disturbing trend. “These birds have come looking for nesting spots. Keitham provides good food, the wetland has enough algae to provide plankton for the birds. But why Agra and at this time of the year?” Singh asked.

The forest department’s Uttham RB, in charge of the Keitham lake, said: “The lake provides the right ambience and nesting environment with enough soft mud and adequate feed, but I doubt if they would nest here or stay for long, because the lake’s water level is set to go up once the rain starts. Their nests would be destroyed,” Singh told IANS.

“These birds prefer the Rann of Kutch for nesting. But why are they not going there? Do they fear any problem?… there are no answers at the moment,” he added.

Experts also surmise that these could even be migratory birds, from across the Himalayas or from Gujarat and Rajasthan.

“But if the birds have come from distant shores, it could mean an early winter in the north,” conjectures a researcher in environment, Swabha Takshak, associated with TERI and now conducting a survey on pollution in the Yamuna river near the lake.

Dr R.P. Bharti, chief zonal forester, thinks “it’s the level of humidity and the stable temperature that suits these birds, that has attracted them to the lake. The birds usually come from Afghanistan. Some birds have also been sighted in Bharatpur’s Keoladeo Ghana wildlife sanctuary.”

“Such freak patterns would become more frequent in future. Till some years ago, there used to be more cranes (Saras) in Mathura, but now Mainpuri district has many times more cranes,” he added.

Farmers around the Keitham reservoir, 20 km from the city, however, feared the flamingoes were harbinger of bad news: a poor monsoon this year.


Global Warming Impacts

1.) Local climate change: Regional effects of global warming vary in nature. Some are the result of a generalised global change, such as rising temperature, resulting in local effects, such as melting ice. In other cases, a change may be related to a change in a particular ocean current or weather system. In such cases, the regional effect may be disproportionate and will not necessarily follow the global trend.

2.) Water crisis: Semi-arid and arid areas are particularly exposed to the impacts of climate change on freshwater. With very high confidence, it was judged that many of these areas, e.g., the Mediterranean basin, western USA, southern Africa, and north-eastern Brazil, would suffer a decrease in water resources due to climate change.

3.)Spread of disease: As northern countries warm, disease carrying insects migrate north, bringing plague and disease with them. Indeed some scientists believe that in some countries thanks to global warming, malaria has not been fully eradicated.

4.)Sea level is rising: During the 20th century, sea level rose about 15 cm (6 inches) due to melting glacier ice and expansion of warmer seawater. Models predict that sea level may rise as much as 59 cm (23 inches) during the 21st Century, threatening coastal communities, wetlands, and coral reefs.

5.)Economic consequences: All these effects spell one thing for the countries of the world: economic consequences. Hurricanes causes do billions of dollars in damage, diseases cost money to treat and control and conflicts exacerbate all of these.

How Early Earth Got Warm and Hospitable

Hyperactive Sun - Magnetic Arches - Sunspot 798 has an impressive magnetic field. It is captured in this photo taken by Jack Newton of Osoyoos, British Columbia, on Sept 7. Credit: Jack Newton.

Our planet might have kept warm in the super-ancient past when the sun was substantially dimmer than it is today because of a complex brew of global warming gases much like that now enveloping Saturn’s moon Titan, scientists reveal.

These new findings could also shed light on how the building blocks of life might have formed on Earth.

When the sun was young, models suggest it was just 70 percent as bright as it is now. However, during the first two billion years or so of Earth’s history, the surface of the planet was warm enough for glaciers to not form and early life to emerge.

Scientists including Carl Sagan have proposed a number of possible solutions to this apparent “faint young sun paradox.” These generally involve atmospheres with greenhouse gases that trap heat to insulate the Earth, ones far more powerful than the carbon dioxide and water vapor that help keep our planet warm today.

However, these ideas have had various drawbacks — ultraviolet rays would quickly destroy the greenhouse gas ammonia, for instance, making it irrelevant, while a nitrogen-methane mix seemed to prevent enough visible light from substantially heating the Earth.

”]Now researchers propose that a haze of nitrogen and carbon-loaded organic compounds similar to that currently seen on Titan might have done the job if a significant portion of the organic particles clumped together into larger, complex structures. The smallest, spherical particles would interact with the shortwave, ultraviolet radiation, while the larger, fluffy structures made out of the smaller particles would affect longer, visible wavelengths.

The end result of this arrangement, dubbed a fractal size distribution, would be an aerosol haze opaque enough to block the shortwave ultraviolet radiation that would have hindered or prevented life from arising. At the same time, it would have proven transparent enough in longer, visible wavelengths to let them keep the atmosphere warm and the planet wet enough for life to emerge.

“It’s surprising that molecules with complex shapes could make such a difference,” said researcher Eric Wolf, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The smaller particles, by shielding against ultraviolet rays, would also end up protecting ammonia, which could then serve as a potent greenhouse gas. Intriguingly, ammonia could also play an important role in creating the primordial soup from which life originated — experiments nearly 60 years ago revealed that when ammonia and methane were exposed to electric sparks, amino acids and other building blocks of life could form.

NASA Takes Best Look at the Sun Ever

“This idea fell out of favor because ammonia is unstable in the presence of ultraviolet rays, and astrobiologists have in the last 15 to 20 years been looking more at hydrothermal vent systems for the creation of complex organic compounds and thus life,” Wolf said. “Our model allows ammonia to exist, which could have permitted interesting organic chemistry to take place in the atmosphere.”

“The idea of ammonia in the atmosphere to help solve the faint young sun paradox goes back almost 40 years now, and this research suggests it is still a viable idea,” said planetary scientist Christopher Chyba at Princeton University, who did not take part in this study. “The fact that it took us until 2010 to model the nature of the organic haze carefully is a little sobering, and it’s a reminder that a little humility is in order here if we think we’ve got the theory down now. There are probably some other theoretical surprises in store for us.”

Another model that could help explain the faint young more of the early Earth’s surface was covered with ocean

“When it comes to the big picture, this is a reminder of the value of planetary exploration, since a better understanding of Titan and its haze could help provide a model for the early Earth,” Chyba noted.

Wolf and his colleague Brian Toon detailed their findings in the June 4 issue of the journal Science.


No global warning processes in Antarctic: Explorer

ST PETERSBURG: Allegations about global warming processes in the Antarctic have nothing to do with real facts, a Russian polar explorer has said.

“They are of opportunistic and time-serving character, and have nothing to do with the real weather and climate on the southern continent,” Head of Russia’s 54th Antarctic expedition Viktor Venderovich told Itar-Tass.

“The past summer on the south pole was cold and windy, and ice floes in the offshore water failed to melt over the entire season.

“The atmospheric air temperature near the Vostok station deep on the continent reached the customary minus 70 degrees Centigrade in the summer, and near the Novolazarevskaya station it never exceeded minus 6-8 degrees,” he said after staying at the Novolazarevskaya station for a year.

The previous winter in the Antarctic, he said, “was remarkable for its unusual severity, with blizzards and snowstorms.”

The average air temperature was 0.5 degrees lower than usual, and there were too much snow, he said, adding that a “slight warming was registered only on the Antarctic peninsula, while the rest of the continent has not been affected by the global warning and is not going to be.”

From TOI

Sulabh toilets can help reduce global warming

WASHINGTON: An Indian innovator who plans to promote cheap toilet technology in 50 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East region says his technologies could also help developed nations reduce global warming.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the Sulabh movement, told the World Environment and Water Resources Congress at Providence in Rhode Island last week how his technologies could help achieve the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation to provide toilets to half of the 2.6 billion people who are without toilets by 2015 and to all by 2025.

Only India has been able to make a difference because “no country except India has appropriate, affordable, indigenous and culturally acceptable technology which could replace the need of a sewerage system for the disposal of human waste,” Pathak said in an interview.

Sulabh technologies could also be helpful to developed nations because they reduce global warming and save an enormous quantity of water required for flushing and also to provide bio-fertiliser to use for agricultural purposes, Pathak said.

Pathak said he planned to open Sulabh Sanitation Centres in 50 countries in the next five years and to train the local people and engineers so they can implement the programmes in their own countries.

The process has already begun in Ghana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Laos, and Cambodia. Besides maintaining more than 7,000 public toilets in India, Sulabh has also built public toilets in Bhutan and Afghanistan.

The engineers attending the Congress “were amazed to see how simple and affordable technologies of Sulabh could help to solve the problems of defecation in the open and manual cleaning of night soil in India”, he said.

For the first time they came to know about the decentralised system of human waste and wastewater treatment in lieu of the sewer system to save rivers and water bodies from pollution due to sewage, he said. “So they were all unanimous to join hands with us to solve the global sanitation problem.”

“In the 60s when I came on the scene in India, no house and no school had a toilet in rural India. In urban areas, 85 percent of people had bucket toilets in their homes cleaned manually or they used to go for defecation in the open,” Pathak said.

Today, thanks to Sulabh, 63 percent people in urban areas and 57 percent in rural areas have access to toilet facilities, he said, describing it as “a significant achievement of the nation”.

Pathak was confident his visit to the US would go a long way in showing the path of simple and sustainable technologies advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and British economic thinker Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher, best known for his proposals for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies.

Pathak said the Sulabh technologies that he developed for household and Sulabh Public Toilets linked with Biogas and Effluent Treatment Plant are free from patents.

“Therefore there is no cost involved in the transfer of these technologies. Everyone is free to adopt them and they do not have to pay any money to Sulabh for transfer of technology.”

Addressing criticism at going global, while vast regions of India still remain uncovered, Pathak said “as an inventor of technologies I want to serve humanity and mankind throughout the world”.

He agreed that “we have to go miles before we achieve the target because still 600 million people in India need toilet facilities. But what is favourable to us is now we have appropriate and affordable technologies which other counties do not have”.

“Along with assisting India, I am planning to go global because 2.6 billion people (without toilets) are not only from our country but from half of the world,” he said. “Therefore my message and technologies going global will not create any hindrance in achieving the goal in my home country.”

From TOI

Global warming unlikely to expand range of malaria

Opposing a widespread assumption, two University of Florida researchers have found that global warming is unlikely to expand the range of malaria because of malaria control, development and other factors that are at work to corral the disease.

Activists hold net during a rally for Malaria awareness in Indonesia. File Photo: AP

Scientists and public policy makers have been concerned that warming temperatures would create conditions that would either push malaria into new areas or make it worse in existing ones. But the team of six scientists, including David Smith and Andy Tatem, analysed a historical contraction of the geographic range and general reduction in the intensity of malaria — a contraction that occurred over a century during which the globe warmed.

They determined that if the future trends are like past ones, the contraction is likely to continue under the most likely warming scenarios. “If we continue to fund malaria control, we can certainly be prepared to counteract the risk that warming could expand the global distribution of malaria,” Nature quoted Smith as saying.

The team, part of the Wellcome Trust’s multinational Malaria Atlas Project, noted that malaria control efforts over the past century have shrunk the prevalence of the disease from most of the world to a region including Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, with the bulk of fatalities confined to Africa. This has occurred despite a global temperature rise of about 1 degree Fahrenheit, on average, during the same period.

“The globe warmed over the past century, but the range of malaria contracted substantially. Warming isn’t the only factor that affects malaria,” said Tatem. The reasons why malaria has shrunk are varied and in some countries mysterious, but they usually include mosquito control efforts, better access to health care, urbanization and economic development. “There is no one tale that seems to determine the story globally. If we had to choose one thing, we would guess economic development, but that’s kind of a cop out” because the specific mechanisms may still remain unclear, and controlling malaria might also help to kick-start development, said Tatem.

In any case, current malaria control efforts such as insecticide-treated bed nets, modern low-cost diagnostic kits and new anti-malarial drugs, have proved remarkably effective, with more and more countries achieving control or outright elimination. Unless current control efforts were to suddenly stop, they are likely to counteract the spread of mosquitoes or other malaria-spreading effects from anticipated temperature increases, said Smith.

Simon Hay, an author of the paper, noted that modern malaria control efforts “reduce transmission massively and counteract the much smaller effects of rising temperatures.” “Malaria remains a huge public health problem, and the international community has an unprecedented opportunity to relieve this burden with existing interventions. Any failure in meeting this challenge will be very difficult to attribute to climate change,” he said. The study was published in the journal Nature.