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‘Zombie Fires’ fuel sky-high carbon emissions in the Arctic

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In early May, just as the spring thaw was beginning in the northern reaches of Siberia, Mark Parrington spotted something strange on images captured by instruments aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.

Lots of red dots stood out, indicating some kind of thermal anomaly on a vast white expanse. Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, quickly noticed that the hot spots were located in areas that had burned in last year’s epic Arctic fires.

“Whatever they are (land clearance? natural?) they were occurring at the same time last year,” Smith wrote, posting a picture of the same location from 2019. “Zombie fires?” Parrington replied.

And thus was born a new “catchier” name for what is usually called “holdover or overwintering fires” by fire managers. The name is synonymous with the real danger these fires are causing, though. Once the fires are extinguished at the surface, they can continue to smolder underground, burning through peat and other organic matter.

Fueled by methane and insulated by the snow – they can burn all winter long. As temperatures begin to climb in the spring and the soil dries out, the fires can reignite aboveground.

Copernicus Sentinel data shows a number of fires, producing plumes of smoke. The smoke has carried air pollution into the Kemerovo, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and Altai regions. (July 28, 2019)

European Space Agency

Monitoring the Arctic Circle

This has been the worst year on record for Arctic wildfires, dating back to when monitoring began 17 years ago. In the first half of July, as much carbon was released as a nation the size of Cuba or Tunisia releases in a year. The smoke plumes were so large, they covered the equivalent of more than one-third of Canada.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union, has been tracking the emissions and activity of more than 100 wildfires occurring across the Arctic Circle in the Sakha Republic of Siberia and Alaska for a number of months.

Besides Siberia and Alaska’s wildfires, another wildfire in Northern Alberta, Canada was impressive in its size and intensity. The Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta burned more than 1,351 square miles (350,134 hectares) and took three months to contain, according to Global News Canada.

“Obviously it’s concerning,” Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington told the BBC, according to Live Science. “We really hadn’t expected to see these levels of wildfires yet.”

“The destruction of peat by fire is troubling for so many reasons,” Dorothy Peteet, a a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said. “As the fires burn off the top layers of peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat.”

Copernicus estimates that between January and August of 2020, the fires released 244 megatonnes of carbon. That is more carbon than was released in Vietnam for the whole year in 2017.

Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2020] processed by Pierre Markuse Siberian wildfire wit...

Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2020], processed by Pierre Markuse Siberian wildfire within the Arctic Circle in the Sakha Republic, Russia (Lat: 68.50194, Lng: 132.60075) – May 19th, 2020 Image is about 18 kilometers wide.

Pierre Markuse (CC BY 2.0)

Parrington says, “We know that temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at a faster rate than the global average, and warmer/drier conditions will provide the right conditions for fires to grow when they have started. Data from our Global Fire Assimilation System shows that typically fires in the Arctic Circle occur in July and August, so it has been unusual to see fires of this scale and duration in June.”

“Our monitoring is important in raising awareness of the wider scale impacts of wildfires and smoke emissions which can help organisations, businesses and individuals plan ahead against the effects of air pollution.”

Source: – Digital Journal

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The detection of phosphine in Venus' clouds is a big deal – here's how we can find out if it's a sign of life – The Conversation US

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On Sept. 14, 2020, a new planet was added to the list of potentially habitable worlds in the Solar System: Venus.

Phosphine, a toxic gas made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms (PH₃), commonly produced by organic life forms but otherwise difficult to make on rocky planets, was discovered in the middle layer of the Venus atmosphere. This raises the tantalizing possibility that something is alive on our planetary neighbor. With this discovery, Venus joins the exalted ranks of Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa among planetary bodies where life may once have existed, or perhaps might even still do so today.

I’m a planetary scientist and something of a Venus evangelical. This discovery is one of the most exciting made about Venus in a very long time — and opens up a new set of possibilities for further exploration in search of life in the Solar System.

Venus as seen in the infrared by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft. The warm colors are from the hot lower atmosphere glowing through the cooler cloud layers above. Image credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic.
JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Atmospheric mysteries

First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.

Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.

However, the quantity of phosphine detected in the Venusian clouds seems to be far greater than those processes are capable of generating, allowing the team to rule out numerous inorganic possibilities. But our understanding of the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere is sorely lacking: Only a handful of missions have plunged through the inhospitable, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere to take samples among the global layer of sulfuric acid clouds.

So we planetary scientists are faced with two possibilities: Either there is some sort of life in the Venus clouds, generating phosphine, or there is unexplained and unexpected chemistry taking place there. How do we find out which it is?

A model of the Soviet Vega 1 spacecraft at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles International Airport. Vega 1 carried a balloon to Venus on its way to visit Halley’s Comet in 1985.
Daderot

First and foremost, we need more information about the abundance of PH₃ in the Venus atmosphere, and we can learn something about this from Earth. Just as the discovery team did, existing telescopes capable of detecting phosphine around Venus can be used for follow-up observations, to both definitively confirm the initial finding and figure out if the amount of PH₃ in the atmosphere changes with time. In parallel, there is now a huge opportunity to carry out lab work to better understand the types of chemical reactions that might be possible on Venus — for which we have very limited information at present.

Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The telescope was used to confirm the initial detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere.
ESO/C. Malin.

Once more unto the breach

But measurements on and from Earth can take us only so far. To really get to the heart of this mystery, we need to go back to Venus. Spacecraft equipped with spectrometers that can detect phosphine from orbit could be dispatched to the second planet with the express purpose of characterizing where, and how much, of this gas is there. Because spacecraft can survive for many years in Venus’ orbit, we could obtain continuous observations with a dedicated orbiter over a much longer period than with telescopes on Earth.

But even orbital data can’t tell us the whole story. To fully get a handle on what’s happening at Venus, we have to actually get into the atmosphere. And that’s where aerial platforms come in. Capable of operating above much of the acidic cloud layer – where the temperature and pressure are almost Earthlike – for potentially months at a time, balloons or flying wings could take detailed atmospheric composition measurements there. These craft could even carry the kinds of instruments being developed to look for life on Europa. At that point, humanity might finally be able to definitively tell if we share our Solar System with Venusian life.

A concept for an aerial platform at Venus. Two connected balloons could take turns to inflate, allowing the balloon to control the altitude at which it floats. An instrument package would then hang from below the balloons.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new dawn for Venus exploration?

Thirty-one years have elapsed since the United States last sent a dedicated mission to Venus. That could soon change as NASA considers two of four missions in the late 2020s targeting Venus. One, called VERITAS, would carry a powerful radar to peer through the thick clouds and return unprecedented high-resolution images of the surface. The other, DAVINCI+, would plunge through the atmosphere, sampling the air as it descended, perhaps even able to sniff any phosphine present. NASA plans to pick at least one mission in April 2021.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

I have argued before for a return to Venus, and will continue to do so. Even without this latest scientific discovery, Venus is a compelling exploration target, with tantalizing evidence that the planet once had oceans and perhaps even suffered a hellish fate at the hands of its own volcanic eruptions.

But with the detection of a potential biomarker in Venus’ atmosphere, we now have yet another major reason to return to the world ancient Greek astronomers called Phosphorus — a name for Venus that, it turns out, is wonderfully prescient.

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Municipalities look to Elon Musk for improved internet – Hanna Herald

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The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities’ board  of directors passed a resolution Sept. 15 in support of Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet project.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images


Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative

Internet access and remote/rural communities usually don’t go together well in a sentence, but Elon Musk’s satellite internet project  aims to fix that.
The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities’ board  of directors passed a resolution Sept. 15 in support of Starlink —  which is a low Earth orbit satellite system which can provide improved  upload/download speeds and response times for rural residents.
“We know today our citizens require greater connectivity than 50/10  megabits per second,” says Danny Whalen, president of FONOM. “FONOM  believes that the Starlink program is our best option.”
The resolution also calls on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to permit the company a basic international telecommunications service licence (BITS).
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is the parent company of Starlink and it applied for a BITS licence May 1.
On July 6, the CRTC published the procedural letter on  its website which states that it “received a number of  interventions, both in support of and in opposition” to SpaceX’s request  for a licence.
The letter further states that the CRTC provided SpaceX the opportunity to reply to these interventions.
The interventions and replies are available on the commission’s website under “closed BITS licenses.”
Discussions surrounding broadband and connectivity dominated much of  FONOM’s recent board meeting, according to a release issued Sept. 16.,  as the federation is looking to work with municipal organizations and  governments to bring improved internet services to its 110 communities.
SpaceX launched 180 satellites last month to grow the  “mega-constellation” and Starlink has allegedly begun private beta  testing.
A tweet from Musk on June 24 stated that, “Canada is a major priority for Starlink!”
Those interested in signing up for the potential to beta test Starlink can do so on the company’s website.
FONOM said it will not be communicating with its partners to seek additional support for the Starlink program.


Sarah Cooke is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with muskokaregion.com. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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Municipalities look to Elon Musk for improved internet – The North Bay Nugget

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The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities’ board  of directors passed a resolution Sept. 15 in support of Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet project.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images


Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative

Internet access and remote/rural communities usually don’t go together well in a sentence, but Elon Musk’s satellite internet project  aims to fix that.
The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities’ board  of directors passed a resolution Sept. 15 in support of Starlink —  which is a low Earth orbit satellite system which can provide improved  upload/download speeds and response times for rural residents.
“We know today our citizens require greater connectivity than 50/10  megabits per second,” says Danny Whalen, president of FONOM. “FONOM  believes that the Starlink program is our best option.”
The resolution also calls on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to permit the company a basic international telecommunications service licence (BITS).
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is the parent company of Starlink and it applied for a BITS licence May 1.
On July 6, the CRTC published the procedural letter on  its website which states that it “received a number of  interventions, both in support of and in opposition” to SpaceX’s request  for a licence.
The letter further states that the CRTC provided SpaceX the opportunity to reply to these interventions.
The interventions and replies are available on the commission’s website under “closed BITS licenses.”
Discussions surrounding broadband and connectivity dominated much of  FONOM’s recent board meeting, according to a release issued Sept. 16.,  as the federation is looking to work with municipal organizations and  governments to bring improved internet services to its 110 communities.
SpaceX launched 180 satellites last month to grow the  “mega-constellation” and Starlink has allegedly begun private beta  testing.
A tweet from Musk on June 24 stated that, “Canada is a major priority for Starlink!”
Those interested in signing up for the potential to beta test Starlink can do so on the company’s website.
FONOM said it will not be communicating with its partners to seek additional support for the Starlink program.


Sarah Cooke is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with muskokaregion.com. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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