by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman

Global Warming — a Looming Catastrophe for Pakistan

The UN Secretary General has recently warned that the world is “heading towards an abyss”. Rising sea levels will inundate many coastal cities such as Karachi. Pakistan and some other south Asian countries are at extreme risk. With only a 2 to 3 degree rise in average global temperature over the next 50 years, most of Pakistan could become uninhabitable, and tens of millions could die due to mass famines caused by  failures of crops due to lack of water. The possibility of a nuclear confrontation between Pakistan and India over water disputes cannot be ruled out as large populations suffer from hunger and death.

India has wisely constructed a large number of dams over the last few decades but Pakistan seems to be bent on committing mass suicide due to criminal negligence by successive governments to construct large dams and reservoirs. Modeling studies predict that as the glaciers melt rapidly during the next 20 years, we will face vast flooding of rivers. This precious water must be captured and stored, not allowed to cause devastation and just go waste. After 20-30 years, as the rivers dry up, the country could face long periods of drought. We must therefore, over the next 10-15 years, create enough water storage capacity to meet at least 5-7 years of our national needs, to cope with these long periods of droughts.

We must act with a sense of urgency.

The Weather Time Bomb

The Arctic ice is melting rapidly, and scientists are worried. According to Dr. Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, some lakes in Siberia are now 5 times the size that they were only a couple of years ago. The catastrophic consequences could include the changing of ocean currents which in turn could seriously disrupt the monsoon rains, critical for growth of crops and survival of some 2 billion people. The South Asian region is particularly vulnerable.

The Arctic seems to be much more prone to climate change. The   permafrost (frozen soil, water and rock) contains vast quantities of organic carbon, derived from dead plants and animals frozen for over 10,000 years. Its rapid melting can release about 100 billion tons of the buried carbon in the form of carbon dioxide or methane to the atmosphere. Large amounts of methane, trapped as methane hydrates ( ice containing trapped methane) under the frozen seas  could also be released. Large releases of methane, a far more potent green house gas, could worsen global warming.

Researchers are trying to discover efficient carbon dioxide eating bacteria that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce organic fuels as a by-product. Artificial chemical dust storms that can absorb the heat are also being considered. However unless we control the burning of fossil fuels, particularly in the advanced world, it may already be too late. The weather time bomb is ticking: it may explode sooner than expected, affecting billions.

Brown clouds over Himalayas – Our Glaciers are melting!

Large quantities of soot-filled brown clouds hovering over a large area of the Himalayas are contributing to the much faster melting of our glaciers. This may lead to the eventual drying up of all the rivers in Pakistan, which are so crucial for agriculture and life. This haze of brown clouds can be up to 3 miles thick and covers an area from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, about the size of USA. These clouds of aerosols over India can enhance global warming by 50 percent. They are the direct result of soot-emitting industries in India where environmental controls are virtually non-existent. The particles of soot produced by burning coal and other organic materials absorb the sun’s energy, thereby contributing to the atmospheric warming, which in turn leads to the faster melting of glaciers. Studies carried out at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California and by NASA have confirmed the existence of this huge polluting “brown cloud”.

It is urgent for Pakistan to raise this matter at UN and other international levels so that countries in the region, particularly India, which are primarily responsible for these “brown clouds” over our sub-continent can install soot-removal devices in their factories. Otherwise we may face mass famines due to the much faster melting of glaciers resulting in the eventual drying up of all our rivers, turning vast areas of Pakistan into uninhabitable deserts.

Coastal Cities in Danger

Scientists are worried that we are heading towards an impending catastrophe due to global warming. The sea level rose by 17 cm in the 20th century and the rate at which it is rising is increasing rapidly. The sea level is likely to rise by as much as 1 to 2 meters, possibly more, in the next 90 years, causing huge devastation. The rise in sea levels is due to two reasons---melting of glaciers and thermal expansion of ocean water with increasing atmospheric temperatures. About 60 million people live in the coastal areas, and this number is expected to grow to 130 million by the end of this century. Most housing estates built near the sea will need to be abandoned. Parts of Karachi and coastal areas of Baluchistan will be submerged and become uninhabitable. Coastal areas in Dubai will also disappear under the sea. Maldives will be completely submerged, as will be much of Bangladesh. Five European countries will be badly affected, with Netherlands suffering the most. Devastating hurricanes and accompanying massive flooding, that presently occur once every 100 years, will start occurring much more frequently, probably every 4 years, making it necessary to abandon coastal cities rather than rebuild them. Scientists believe that it is already too late to reverse this situation---even if we stop pumping green house gases to the atmosphere today. 

Fighting Global Warming – with Roof Gardens!

A recent study carried out by Kristin Getter and colleagues in Michigan, USA, has shown that an excellent way to fight global warming as well as save air-conditioning costs is to have a roof garden. In a two-year study on measurements of carbon levels in plants and soil samples, they concluded that in a city inhabiting about 1 million people, if every house had a roof garden, some 55,000 tons of carbon could be captured in a year. This is equivalent to removing the carbon emission effects of 10,000 trucks from the roads.
Roof space is usually wasted. The construction of roof gardens would not only contribute to tackling the growing menace of global warming but also lead to putting empty, usually ugly, space to good use for leisure and for cooling the houses/buildings.

In Pakistan, an excellent roof garden has been built on the roof the environmentally friendly COMSTECH building opposite the Prime Minister’s Secretariat on main Constitution Avenue, a model that others should emulate.

Global Warming by Beef Burgers

Have you ever considered that the food you eat may contribute to global warming! The meat on your table has several global warming components in it, starting from the cows or goats themselves. The animals emit large amounts of methane from their rear ends as a result of the digestion process, and researchers are trying to develop new types of fodder that  would lead to a significant reduction of this potent green house gas from the animals. Cows produce 3 to 4 ounces of methane for every pound of meat, equivalent to about 5-6 pounds of carbon dioxide (since methane is 23 times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming). 

It has been estimated that the production of meat alone contributes to about 20% of the 36 billion tons of “carbon dioxide equivalent” green house gases produced annually. Pound for pound, producing beef contributes 13 times as much to global warming as producing chicken, or 57 times as much as producing potatoes.  It has been estimated in USA that the average annual beef consumption of a person can contribute as much greenhouse gas as driving a car for 1800 miles! So watch out when you eat a beef burger next time – you will be contributing to the process of global warming!

The Ozone Hole

In 1974 , Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, working at the University of California, Irvine warned that certain chemicals used as refrigerants (chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs) could break down in the stratosphere releasing chlorine which could destroy atmospheric ozone. Ozone protects the earth’s surface from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. It was not until 1985 that the world was put on high alert when a team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey discovered the ozone hole above the Antarctica. In 1987, under the Montreal Protocol, countries agreed to phase out the production of CFCs as well as the bromine containing compounds used in fire extinguishers. For the first time in human history, the world acted in unison to tackle a major environmental problem. Rowland and Molina shared the 1995 Nobel Prize with Paul Crutzen of Germany for unraveling the ozone chemistry involved. After peaking in the late 1990s, the concentration of ozone destroying compounds is declining in the stratosphere, and the holes in the ozone layer are gradually closing. Why are the holes above the poles? Outside the polar regions only a few hundred molecules of ozone are catalytically destroyed by each chlorine atom. In the polar stratosphere, however, the ice particles present in the stratospheric clouds provide the surface on which the chlorine atoms rapidly attack tens of thousands of ozone molecules, and the loss rate can reach up to 3% per day in the center of the ozone hole in Antarctica. It has been calculated that if no action had been taken in 1987, two-third of the atmospheric zone would have been destroyed by 2065, resulting in a dramatic rise in skin cancer.

Planet Earth – We are Losing Our Atmosphere!

Outer space is an almost perfect vacuum, exerting a huge suction force on our atmosphere. Fortunately the gravitational pull exerted by our planet prevents it from escaping --- the loss is very small. The gravitational force is weak in small objects --- an apple too exerts a very small gravitational pull but it is too small to be discernable. However when objects are of the size of our moon or our earth, the gravitational pull is considerable---fortunately for us. In order for atmospheric molecules to escape into space from the gravitational pull of the earth, they need to achieve a certain escape velocity. Our earth is losing hydrogen at about 3 kg of hydrogen and 50 grams of helium, the two lightest gases, each second. This can be significant in geological time scales. For instance Mars is red because all of its water vapour was broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen escaped from the planet, and the remaining oxygen reacted with rocks to form reddish oxidized materials. The escape of atmospheric molecules can occur by heating of the atmosphere by the sun, by the gas particles becoming ionised, and then escaping due to repulsion by electrical fields or magnetized “solar winds” or by bombardment of our planet by asteroids which can throw huge amounts of rocks and atmosphere into outer space.

As the sun gets hotter with time, the escape of hydrogen and other gases will increase. In about 2 billion years, the earth would have lost all atmospheric gases, leaving a barren piece of smoldering hot lifeless rock. Hopefully our children would have discovered another habitable planet by then.

Giant Ice Chunks from Clear Skies!

In February 2007, 20 pound chunks of ice fell from clear blue skies in Madrid, Spain and crashed through the roof of an industrial warehouse. More than 50 such events have been reported in different parts of the world in the last 7 years, according to the astrobiologist, Jesus Martinez-Frias at the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid. Climate experts have been predicting extreme weather events such as powerful hurricanes or droughts but no one ever thought that huge chunks of ice could appear suddenly from clear skies, shattering wind shields and destroying roofs of houses and buildings. Such monster ice chunks, called “megacryometeors”, can weigh up to 200 pounds. They are believed to be formed in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) due to atmospheric turbulence. This results in repeated coating of the ice crystals as they are thrown about in the turbulence and progressively grow to monstrous sizes. This is thought to be the direct result of climate change which has resulted in increased humidity and turbulence in the troposphere.

Can Bacteria Cause Rain?

Swedish scientists have proposed that certain surfactants released by bacteria may influence the formation of clouds and lead to rain. Barbara Naziere at the University of Stockholm has shown that certain powerful surfactants secreted by some bacteria have been found to stimulate water droplet formation. A study of clouds above Brazil, Sweden and Finland has shown that they containing tiny amounts of substances resembling the structures of the known surfactants secreted by bacteria.

Auroras – What causes them

Did you know that the sun is responsible for the spectacular bright lights in the night sky seen near the two poles of the earth? The sun throws a magnetic hurricane, comprising a hot gas of charged particles, with associated magnetic fields and electric currents, in the direction of the earth. This hurricane blows over the earth at a terrific one million miles per hour. However we hardly feel it because it is largely defected by the earth’s magnetic field (“magnetosphere”). However it does cause distortions in our magnetosphere causing a shower of high energy particles which light up the night sky. When there is a high intensity storm the sky lights up  brightly with many colours, the green and red light being produced by the collision of the cosmic particles with oxygen, while blue light appears due to the interaction of the cosmic particles with nitrogen. Fortunately for us the magnetosphere acts a protective shield, protecting us from the cancer-causing cosmic rays.

Venice Flooding Caused by Sun Spots!

David Barriopedro and co-workers working at the University of Portugal have found a direct relationship between the periods in which the sun spots are at a maximum with floods in Venice. Venice experiences frequent flooding each year, which occurs commonly between October and December. The scientists compared hourly sea levels during a 61 year period from 1948 to 2008, and found that such floods remarkably occurred when the sun spots were most abundant. The extreme tides followed the same 11 year cycle as the solar cycle of sun spots, showing peak flooding when the sun spots were at a maximum (Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, DOI: 10.1029/2009JD013114). So the next time you are planning a trip to Venice, check the abundance of sun spots first!

For Flood Affected Populations: Purifying Water -with Sun Light!

There are some 4 billion cases of diarrhea each year and about 2 million deaths, mainly of children under the age of 5, according to WHO. The problem is particularly serious after floods, such as in Pakistan, where the break-out of diarrhea has been reported from several regions. Science can now offer a cheap and easy way to make the dirty water available safe for drinking?  The technology known as “SODIS” (Solar Water Disinfection) requires only a one liter transparent plastic (PET) bottles and sun light! These commonly found plastic bottles allow the UV light to pass through, killing the germs and making the water drinkable. If the water is muddy, it should be filtered through a piece of cloth in order to remove the dirt particles. One liter bottles work best, but 2 liter bottles may also be used. The bottle is placed for a minimum of 6 hours in sun light and the water can then be drunk directly from it. The bottles must not be old or heavily scratched and any labels should be removed in order to allow the light to pass through unobstructed.
This easy way of purifying water was discovered by Prof. Atfim Acra at the American University of Beirut in the 1980s. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) in collaboration with the Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (Sandec), has already implemented projects in 33 countries. The clinical control trials demonstrating the efficacy of the process were carried out by Professor Ronan Conroy of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, in collaboration with Michael Elmore-Meegan before it was recommended by WHO as a safe method for water treatment.

The disinfection process involves three different mechanisms. Firstly the solar radiation (UV-A) attacks the bacteria directly, killing them by interfering with their metabolic processes. Secondly the UV-A radiation reacts with the oxygen dissolved in water, producing highly reactive oxygen species and peroxides that kill bacteria. Thirdly the infra-red light heats up the water, and if the temperature rises above 50 degrees Centigrade, then there is a three-fold  increase in the rate of disinfection.
The Government of Pakistan agencies and NGOs involved in aid distribution should distribute clean PET bottles along with instruction pamphlets so that the flood affected persons could save themselves from diarrheal diseases.

Controlling World Climate/Agriculture - with HAARP?

The European Union expressed its concern officially about a secret US program, jointly funded by the US Air Force, the US Navy, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the University of Alaska. HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) is a highly controversial US programme which aims at manipulating the ionosphere. This is a layer of the earth’s atmosphere which extends from about 70 kilometers to about 300 kilometers above the earth’s surface, a region where the atmosphere is very thin so that UV and X-rays can penetrate it easily. However there still many gas molecules around to react with these rays so that ions are readily generated – hence the name “ionosphere”. It has been alleged that the programme aims to control the weather by manipulating the ions in the ionosphere, and thereby control the world – for food is dependent on weather. It may also affect plate tectonics causing earthquakes, cause floods through torrential rains and trigger tsunamis. The experiments involve using electromagnetic frequencies to fire powerful pulsed energy beams to excite a certain region of the ionosphere. Energy directed by powerful lasers can heat up the ionosphere and may control weather, making it a potentially devastating war weapon.
The European Union resolution was a serious blow to attempts by US agencies to portray HAARP as a harmless research project . It proved that there was a real world threat being felt even by European countries, and that HAARP was not just an imaginary figment of empty conspiracy theories. “The EU resolution stated 24, considers HAARP by virtue of its far-reaching impact on the environment to be a global concern and calls for its legal, ecological and ethical implications to be examined by an international independent body before any further research and testing; regrets the repeated refusal of the United States Administration to send anyone in person to give evidence to the public hearing.”

The main instrument used by HAARP is known as the “Ionospheric Research Instrument” (IRI) which is a powerful high frequency radio-transmitter comprising 180 antennas over a rectangular area of 33 acres at a US Air Force site in Gaskona, Alaska. The project aims at sending pulsed or continuous 3.6 MW signals to the ionosphere. The main goal of HAARP is stated to be scientific research on the ionosphere. It is difficult to study the ionosphere by conventional means since air is too thin for weather balloons to reach it. Satellites are also unable to operate there because the air is too thick.

Prof. Michel Chossudovsky, Professor at University of Ottawa in an article entitled “Washington’s New World Order Weapons have the Ability to Trigger Climate Change” writes “Recent scientific evidence suggests that HAARP is fully operational and has the ability of potentially triggering floods, droughts, hurricanes and earthquakes. From a military standpoint, HAARP is a weapon of mass destruction. Potentially, it constitutes an instrument of conquest capable of selectively destabilising agricultural and ecological systems of entire regions.”

Scientist Dr. Nicholas Begich describes HAARP as: "A super-powerful radiowave-beaming technology that lifts areas of the ionosphere (upper layer of the atmosphere) by focusing a beam and heating those areas. Electromagnetic waves then bounce back onto earth and penetrate everything-living and dead." Eminent scientist Dr. Rosalie Bertell confirms that "US military scientists are working on weather systems as a potential weapon. The methods include the enhancing of storms and the diverting of vapor rivers in the Earth's atmosphere to produce targeted droughts or floods."

The mass flooding in Pakistan has confounded scientists. In his video report entitled “Turbo-Charged Monsoon Confounds Forecasters” Tom Clarke, Britain’s Channel 4 science correspondent, states:| “Normally the jet stream is a giant loop of high speed winds that whip round the upper atmosphere. – But what’s happening over Pakistan is even stranger. The southern arm of the Jet stream has looped down so far it has crossed over the Himalayas into north western Pakistan. Experts at the Met Office tell me this is very unusual. And the result is that the fast moving jets stream winds high up has helped suck the warm, wet, monsoon air even faster and higher into the atmosphere – and that has caused rains like no-one can remember. It has turbo charged the monsoon if you like. They’re not sure that’s ever happened.
The Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez accused the United States of causing the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti by using HAARP. He asserted that US was "playing God" by testing devices capable of creating catastrophes.

Is HAARP a harmless research tool – or a weapon of mass destruction far more lethal than nuclear weapons? We may never know.

Too Hot to Survive!

As global warming heats up world temperatures due to the burning of fossil fuels, our very survival may be at stake. Our body is designed to function within certain temperature limits. The normal core body temperature is about 37°C, but if it rises above 42°C, we die. Our skin has pores from which sweating can lead to a cooling effect through evaporation, but if the humidity rises, the evaporation (and the corresponding cooling effect) is reduced, resulting in stress on our body. Our skin temperature should not increase above 35°C for more than a few hours. In dry hot weather, we can tolerate atmospheric temperatures of up to 50°C or even above for short periods, because of the cooling effect from our skin.

However, when it is humid, survival at such temperatures becomes difficult. In France alone about 13,800 per sons died of heat stroke in 2003 and worldwide, the annual death numbers due to hot weather are in tens of thou sands. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable. The 'wet-bulb' temperature (the temperature recorded by a mercury thermometer wrapped in a wet cloth) is, therefore, considered more relevant when considering stress on human bodies. Even healthy per sons won't survive sustained wet-bulb temperatures of above 35°C for more than a few hours. The maximum wet bulb temperatures presently almost never exceed 31°C but as global temperatures rise, the level of humidity is also increasing due to increased evaporation from the oceans, and the wet bulb temperatures are also rising.

Steven Sherwood at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and collaborator Matthew Huber of Purdue University conclude that many parts of our planet will become uninhabitable within a century due to the increased heat and humidity. According to the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) the doubling of world carbon dioxide levels are likely to increase the average global temperatures by 3°C. With increasing humidity levels, if we carry on burning fossil fuels as we are doing presently, many parts of our planet will become uninhabitable within the next 10 decades.

Buildings – that Clean the Environment

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is in the process of setting up an outdoor architectural project at Queens in New York that will pluck pollutants from the air while providing shade, shelter and water. The technology has been developed by the US architectural firm HWKN. The project, known as Wendy, employs a fascinating architecture with spikes protruding at different angles with an external fabric skin treated with nano-particles of titanium dioxide that capture and neutralise pollutants. It has been claimed that each such installation would be equivalent to removing the pollution caused by 260  cars on the roads. Such "environmentally friendly shelters'  installed along the roads may be tomorrow's answers to reducing road pollution.

Sind Floods – Is Worse to Come?

There has been a significant increase in natural disasters on our planet in the last few decades, and the trend is truly alarming. This applies to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, heat waves and other natural disasters. Natural disasters have caused millions of human deaths and tremendous financial losses throughout the human history. According to Swiss Re, economic damage from natural disasters amounted to US$ 222 billion during 2010 alone. The Katrina Hurricane of 2008 caused a loss of $ 80 billion while the Pakistan earthquake caused a loss of 80,000 lives and of billions of US dollars. The floods in Sind last year caused a loss of an estimated $43 billion while the losses this year may be of similar magnitude. The Japanese earthquake earlier this year caused a staggering loss of $ 200-240 billion.

Scientists are alarmed at these developments, particularly the increasing incidence since 1998. At the Geocataclysm 2011 world congress held in Istanbul recently, that was co-Chaired by me, leading world authorities gathered to present their findings. The trends, the underlying causes and preventive measures to minimize the losses were discussed in detail. The evidence presented, showing the alarming increase in such disasters with year-wise graphs for the last hundred years, was convincing. Something very worrying is going on.

Both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial factors are involved. The increase in frequency and intensity in weather related disasters is attributed, at least in part, due to global warming that has occurred in the last few decades. This is connected with human activities involving massive burning of fossil fuels and depletion of forest cover. Another major factor seems to be our sun. The solar flares, sun spot cycles, incoming solar luminosity and ultra-violet radiation all affect our climate. Variations in the sun’s magnetic field can create huge storms that result in billions of tons of particles being ejected from the sun (“Coronal Mass Ejections”, CMEs). These can have a profound effect on our planet. In 1989, a huge CME slammed into our atmosphere, dumping about 1,500 Gigawatts of electricity on the northern hemisphere. This burnt out the Canadian grid system and six million people suffered from long power failures. Our climate is also affected by the geometry and orbital variability of our solar system, by the wobbling (precession) in the axis of rotation of the earth as well as by the changes (eccentricity) of its orbit around the sun. The rise in the average temperatures of the ocean of about half a degree Centigrade is also having a significant effect as are the ocean tide cycles and ocean currents.

Another factor could be the reversal of the earth’s magnetic field that occurs periodically. It last happened 780,000 years ago and it seems to be happening again as there has been a reduction of about 8% in the earth’s magnetic field in the last 150 years. The methane burp, release of methane gas from under the oceans where it exists as liquid state in the form of methane hydrates, may further aggravate the global warming. The Sind floods and the earthquake in Northern Pakistan appear to be just the beginning of a rough ride ahead for all of us.

Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman has 910 publications in several fields of organic chemistry including 701 research publications