Mexico City is actually disappearing into the earth

Mexico City is crumbling. We’re talking more than typical city terms of a crumbling infrastructure – the city itself is actually collapsing and sinking into the earth.

How can this be happening? Mexico City sits on a base of clay – the same clay on which the Aztecs built the first structures of the city. That clay is weakening fast as the city drills into it in a desperate quest for water.

The water shortage has become an increasing crisis in Mexico City. Drought and immense heat intensified by climate change is causing water stores to evaporate. This means that in neighborhoods like Iztapalapa, people never know what to expect when they turn the handle at their tap. This is the situation for almost 20% of the city’s residents.

The more Mexico City drills for water, the faster the city sinks. In some areas, the earth is dropping at an amazing rate of nine inches per year. This is causing a multitude of problems. One of them is cracking and crumbling buildings and sidewalks. More than a cosmetic problem, it’s extremely dangerous. In one incident, a crack in a sidewalk suddenly widened and swallowed a teenager. In total, 15 elementary schools have been affected by the sinking – either crumbling or collapsing entirely.

Another issue? As the city sinks, its wastewater is no longer properly draining into the Grand Canal. The canal was constructed to deal with tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater. However, it was designed so that gravity would drain the water from the city and pour it into the canal. With the city falling, drainage has been affected – causing a constant stench across the area.

A government fix for the problem seems unlikely, according to Claudia Sheinbaum. Formerly an environment minister, she developed Mexico City’s first climate change program.

“There has to be a consensus — of scientists, politicians, engineers and society — when it comes to pollution, water, climate,” Sheinbaum told the New York Times. “We have the resources, but lack the political will.”

Graphic showing Mexico City Subsidence; Source: Dr. Andy Sowter, Geomatic Ventures Limited.


By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer

Check out NASA’s cool new method for measuring snowfall

NASA technology gives us a bird’s – or rather, a star’s-eye view – of our planet from space. Using satellite imaging technology, scientists are able to view the Earth as a whole in order to understand how all of its systems work together. Of particular interest are the regions that spend large chunks of time buried underneath snowfall. As temperatures warm in those areas, melting snow provides water to those areas. Because of this, snowfall levels can affect how much water is available for drinking water, agricultural purposes, and hydropower programs.

However, it’s tough to measure exactly how much snow exists in a given area using traditional imaging technology. This led NASA to create SnowEx, a program that uses remote sensing measurements to tell not only how much snow is on the ground in an area, but also how much water is contained within that snow.

Edward Kim, a NASA scientist who specializes in remote sensing, explained the purpose of the program.

“”This is the most comprehensive campaign we have ever done on snow,” he said. “An army of nearly 100 scientists from universities and agencies across the U.S., Europe and Canada are participating. Our goal is to find and refine the best snow-measuring techniques.”

The program will utilize five aircraft that will carry a total of 10 remote sensors in order to take measurements. Jets will take off from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, as well as from Grand Junction, Colorado. Meanwhile, teams of 50 researchers will collect data on the ground that will be used to validate the measurements taken from the air.

Scientists hope that if the program, beginning later this month in Colorado, is a success, it will be used to upgrade existing satellites so that they can take measurements.

By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer

Source: NASA

Think the nonstop rain is killing CA’s drought? Think again

Get out your umbrellas. And your rain boots. And your kayaks? Southern California is bracing for a strong storm slated to hit the area starting Friday and continuing through Saturday. Officials say that it will bring heavy, nonstop rain and strong winds. As with most bad weather in California, it will also potentially cause flash flooding and dangerous mudslides.

Los Angeles and Ventura Counties are expecting as much as 6 inches of nonstop rain. South-facing foothills and coastal mountain areas could receive as much as 5 to 10 inches. The storm will create record-breaking rainfall totals for some areas of the state.

Some areas, such as neighborhoods in the Fish Fire burn area of the city of Duarte, have issued evacuation notices for their residents, who are increasingly nervous.

“I’m a little anxious knowing that we have pack up the house again, twice in one year to get out of our home. We got booted out when the Fish Fire hit, the fire department did a great job and kept us super safe, all of our homes were saved,” Jill Brainard said to KTLA. “But this is a little different, you can’t control mudflow and rain.”

Despite the overwhelming amount of rain that’s fallen in California over the past few months, experts say that the state’s five-years-long drought isn’t quite over. This is because the rainfall has been focused on the northern half of the state. In those areas, once-low reservoirs are brimming with water once again.

The middle and southern parts of the state, however, are still suffering from moderate to severe levels of drought. Experts say that it will take more than one rainy winter to correct the problem.

“Luckily, they got one record setting winter this year, which is great,” NOAA meteorologist David Miskus said to The Washington Post. “But what will happen next year? You don’t know what next winter will bring.”

By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer

Scientists’ crazy idea to tackle the Arctic ice melt

In recent years, scientists have sounded the alarm that the ice in the Arctic is melting at rates faster than previously expected. As the Arctic ice melts, seas will rise, causing a litany of problems throughout the globe, from a shorter hunting season for polar bears to a loss of the salt marshes that protect coastal areas. Now, scientists have come up with a plan that sounds like it’s out of a science-fiction fantasy: use giant pumps to thicken and refreeze Arctic ice.

The idea comes from physicist Steven Desch and a team from Arizona State University. They tailored a plan to pump sea water and spray it over the top of the ice. The ice would naturally freeze during the long Arctic winter night, so no giant freezer would be required (thankfully).

The project is a huge undertaking, as 1.4 meters of seawater would need to be pumped to the surface and applied to the already-existing ice. The pumps would exist on a network of buoys that would include the mega-hose, as well as windmills to power the pumps. Each pump would cover an areas of ice spreading approximately 15 football fields.

In order to be effective, more than a couple of windmills would be needed to get the job done. In fact, the project would require about 10 million windmills to power the ice restoration.

Of course, the price tag would be astronomical, as well. Researchers expect the project to cost $50 billion each year over the ten-year expanse of the restoration. The pumps wouldn’t be a 100% fix; they would only work to reduce current losses or someone slow a future decline in ice levels.  

Research on the proposed mega-pump project was published in the journal Earth’s Future.

By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer

Source: Steven Desch, Arizona State University

Do you like to ski? You won’t like this story.

Swiss skiers aren’t pleased this winter. While some parts of the Alps are covered in gloriously soft and powdery snow, their side of the mountains remains largely bare. This is because December 2016 was the driest in history. In fact, it was the most dry since record-keeping started more than 150 years ago. Ski buffs did not have a very merry Christmas, as there was very little snow for the third year in a row.

Unfortunately, this picture isn’t likely to change in the years to come. Researchers have published a study in the journal The Cryosphere suggesting that man-made snow may be the key to ski resort survival in the future.

The discouraging news comes from those who know snow best: scientists with the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) and the Cryos Laboratory École Polytechnique Fédérale in Switzerland. They predict that a whopping 70% of the snow cover on the Alps could disappear within the next 100 years.

They also predict that the Alpine winter season will become shorter. This means less time for people to ski, snowboard, and snowmobile their way through the beautiful Alps. In fact, if current trends continue, the season could start anywhere from half a month to an entire month later than it currently does.

Some of this disaster may possibly be averted, however, if humans can maintain global temperatures and ensure that they don’t rise beyond 2°C. In that case, the snow cover reduction could be limited to 30% by 2100.

“The Alpine snow cover will recede anyway, but our future emissions control by how much,” explained Christoph Marty, the lead author of the study.

“The majority of the climate models used project slightly increasing winter precipitation towards the end of the century. However, since temperatures are clearly increasing simultaneously we may experience increasing rainfall and not snow fall,” Marty said. “We hope our results convincingly show that even increasing winter precipitation cannot compensate for the effect of the strongly increasing temperatures.”

By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer
Source: Christoph Marty, Cryos Laboratory École Polytechnique Fédérale

Unbelievable! Global warming is trashing ocean oxygen levels

Breathe in and breathe out. Don’t take those breaths for granted – all of the life that’s walking around on this planet needs oxygen in order to survive. It’s not just land-dwelling creatures, though. Sea life also needs oxygen, and scientists are increasingly worried that global warming may be affecting ocean oxygen levels.

We know, we know… Another bit of bad news about how global warming threatens to ruin everything. How does it even affect ocean oxygen levels, anyway?

First, warmer surface waters absorb less oxygen than cold water. Second, warm water toys with the stratification of the ocean. This refers to the way that ocean waters have layers – with certain ones being warmer or colder and some having a more oxygen-rich supply than others.

When the top layer of ocean water is incredibly warm, it weakens the circulation cycle of water to the surface, which means that less oxygen is transported into deep sea waters where it’s badly needed. All of this adds up to a total decrease in global oceanic oxygen inventory – and it’s due to global warming.

The study, published in the journal Nature, is bad news for marine life. Dunke Schmidtko of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel explained how less oxygen will possibly affect the fish population.

“Since large fishes in particular avoid or do not survive in areas with low oxygen content, these changes can have far-reaching biological consequences, he said. A drop in the number of fish will also have an impact on the fishing industry and the economy of coastal areas.

The team used measurements from the entire ocean to note how oxygen levels have dropped during the period of time included in their investigation. Although the researchers believe that natural processes may have caused the decrease, the results point to an overall increase in concentrations of carbon dioxide and higher temperatures.

By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer

Source: Dunke Schmidtko, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel