No known historical precedent

It’s an event researchers say has “no known historical precedent” and it is still unfolding.

In the six years since a massive tsunami struck Japan, at least 289 species of animals have travelled to the US on huge rafts of pollution.

Thousands of non-native marine crustaceans, fish, molluscs and anemones continue to land on the US west coast on rafts of plastic, fibreglass and other debris that was washed out to sea in 2011.

According to a paper describing the phenomenon, published today in the journal Science, as many as 65 per cent of the species are not native to US waters.

Study co-author Professor Jim Carlton from Williams College in Massachusetts fears if any are able to colonise, there could be devastating consequences.

“The immediate concerns are the potential economic and environmental impacts of any given invasion, like the North Pacific sea star in Australia,” he said.

Objects ranging from barges and fishing vessels to plastic bags and buoys were washed out to sea in a “massive debris field” during the 2011 tsunami.

This deluge of flotsam was then sucked into the Pacific trash vortex — a gyre of circulating marine rubbish that brushes the coast of Japan and circulates clockwise around the North Pacific Ocean.

Each spring, as offshore currents pushing off the US coast ease, “spring pulses” of trash wash ashore on the west coast.

The scientists say it is unclear yet whether any animals arriving on the rafts have been able to successfully colonise.

“We are in the establishment window. The lag time between their arriving and becoming established and detected can be a while,” Professor Carlton said.

The paper’s authors make the case that massive coastal development and climate change are converging to completely reshape the way species are dispersed around the globe.

“If we advance the climate change models that argue that hurricanes and typhoons and other storms will be increasing in frequency and size, then we enter an era in the 21st century where larger and more frequent storms are for the first time interfacing with the densest populations and infrastructure that we’ve ever had on [our] coastlines,” Professor Carlton said.

Professor Steven Chown from Monash University says the research will, “change our view of the world”.

“Their research is amazing in actually documenting this pulse event, and then demonstrating that we might have to expect more such large-scale events given the huge increase in infrastructure globally along with, of course, increasingly extreme weather events,” he said.

Text: Nick Kalvert, Tsunami ‘mega-rafts’ of debris ship hundreds of animal species from Japan to US, ABC News

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Cartesian Rigour

“…In order to feed, maintain and entertain ever-growing cities, the countryside is becoming a colossal back-of-house, organised with relentless Cartesian rigour. That system, not always pleasant, is proliferating on an unprecedented scale. The resulting transformation is radical and ubiquitous, and manifests itself in different ways around the world.

“In America, for example, a zone runs through the middle of the country where satellite information has a direct impact on agriculture. Deep knowledge of every square inch of the earth is transmitted to the laptop of the farmer. The laptop is the new ground. From the laptop, the farmer feeds the data to a robotised tractor. Each season, an armada of sophisticated harvesters so big and expensive that they need to be shared and work 24 hours a day, operates almost like a military campaign, moving slowly from south to north as the temperature increases to create a linear tabula rasa, dividing America in two halves.

“Russia offers a different example. With the embrace of the market economy, only a fraction of Aeroflot’s once-extensive network of air routes remains. Cities that were once connected are now condemned to return to the 19th century and have to find new purposes. The results surprised. Sometimes it has led to an increased sense of serenity: making the best of an involuntary off-grid condition, a proliferation of museums, where every provincial knick-knack is valued. Superimposed on all this is the impact of global warming: melting permafrost in the north, destroying structures and infrastructure, with new territories becoming suitable for agriculture and shifting a large area of farming to the north.

“Other examples of the countryside’s transformation range from the opportunities in Germany to channel refugees to revive moribund, half-abandoned regions to the impact of Chinese railways that transform the heart of Africa. Then there are the sweeping effects of grand political redesign, not just under dictators such as Stalin and Mao but also under the European Union’s common agricultural policy. In short, for better or worse (often both) the countryside has been completely involved in modernisation, on a global scale.”

Text: Rem Koolhaas, The Future is in the Countryside. The New Statesman.

Pic: Disney Epcot Center, concept art.

Creatures, human or otherwise

d-press-photo-h-bomb-can-destroy-city-new-york-march-31-1954

“Craters are not just vestiges of war. They are geographic testaments to the anthropogenic force of bombs. Research shows that when a bomb bursts, it alters long-term soil formation, vegetation growth, and hydrology. It also affects how people use the land in the future. It’s a phenomenon so disruptive that it has given rise to a new field of science with an evocative name: bombturbation.

“Simply put, bombturbation is the cratering of a land surface and “mixing the soil with an explosive device,” says Joseph P. Hupy, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the father of the field. The device can be an aerial bomb, a propelled explosive, or an “in situ” bomb such as a landmine.

“If you look at a cross-section of undisturbed soil, you’ll see horizons: surface vegetation and organic matter over topsoil, subsoil, parent material (partly weathered rock), and bedrock. A bomb blast shatters those horizons. It releases forceful energy that creates a supersonic shock wave, penetrating soil and rock, setting sediment in motion, and ejecting materials at high speed. A crater forms — its shape and dimensions dependent on the type and strength of the explosion, and the ground where it occurs. Explosions at or below the surface typically result in craters surrounded by a rim of ejected debris. Bedrock is often exposed in the bottom.

“If you look at a cross-section of undisturbed soil, you’ll see horizons. A bomb blast shatters those horizons.

“Each crater is unique, and its future depends on its environment. Over time, leaves and forest litter accumulate in the crater (if they are there), and water percolates through (or not). Organic matter seeps into the underlying bedrock, and microbes flourish (or not). Regardless of local conditions, the crater fosters a new soil environment that would not have evolved otherwise. Different plants take root. Runoff patterns shift. Creatures — human or otherwise — adapt to that new landscape in different ways. It’s not necessarily good or bad, but it’s changed — and that’s critical.”

Text: Karen J. Coates, Bombscapes: Of War and Earth, Undark