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An overnight train view of China’s Anthropocene – Part 1

An overnight train view of China’s Anthropocene – Part 1

The nighttrain from Shanghai to Beijing is a comfortable affair. The train is new and clean. My travel partner and I can charge our phones and relax on soft beds. The railway is almost frictionless, and overall the experience is similar to any ride in the West. But outside, as the vehicle roars through the early night, things become increasingly hazy. As we reach further out from the Shanghai metropolis there is a slow realisation that the urban air-polluted luminous glow would not be left behind.

For those who have yet to visit China, it’s hard to truly convey the extent of the air pollution problem. During our time in Shanghai the smog was all encompassing; we could feel it settle on our skin and invade our lungs with every breath. Outdoors there was no escaping it. The Chinese air pollution forecast designated the risk level ‘moderate,’ and we wondered what ‘high’ would entail.

Inside the train we lay on opposite bunks. I fixed the window blind ajar to keep a sleepy eye on nighttime tree tops and apartment blocks as we dart by. We passed endless residential towers as we edged by cities we would never become familiar with, some of which appear desolate, almost entirely unlit, but I can’t imagine for long. Once we passed directly under a giant coal fired power station and by countless fields illuminated in the haze by nocturnal agriculture. There are trucks loading at 3 a.m. Along this 1200 km stretch – think Paris to Madrid – the foggy dim light rarely ceded.

This true-color image over eastern China was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), flying aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite, on Oct. 16, 2002. The scene reveals dozens of fires burning on the surface (red dots) and a thick pall of smoke and haze (greyish pixels) filling the skies overhead. Credit: NASA (via Wikimedia Commons)

My traveling companion is a children’s doctor. She raised her concerns: what chance do children born in these cities today have of living long healthy lives? Will they live full lives breathing in this industrial gunk? She explained to me that respiratory diseases kill because of chronic inflammation in the lungs, similar to that experienced from exposure to cigarette smoke. Such inflammation can in time lead to reduced lung function and, consequently, increased pressure on the heart due to less oxygen intake. Then, as the heart works harder to introduce the oxygen the body needs, it can fail, leading to premature death.

Estimates on health issues relating to long-term exposure to air pollution in China are hard to come by. It’s also hard to assess how dangerous such exposure is, but it’s likely China will experience an epidemic of respiratory related illnesses in the near future. One recent study reported that the Chinese population will suffer about 1.6 million premature deaths each year due to air pollution. As well as the human cost of lost loved ones, these air pollution related health risks will become a tremendous financial burden on the national health system. In 2007, The World Bank estimated that the annual health cost of outdoor urban air pollution in China for 2003 was between 157 and 520 billion Chinese yuan, around 1-3% of China’s gross domestic product.

However, this year China announced it would, for the first time, introduce a human health air pollution watchdog. According to Chinese officials, this is the first attempt by the national government to address how pollution affects public health. One day, scientists will be able to report on how generations born today can benefit from such endeavours. But for now, the future remains uncertain.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the impact of air pollution in China and the country’s steps to usher a clean era for the 21st century. Keep an eye out for Part 2, appearing next week on Geolog.

By Conor Purcell, a Science & Nature Writer with a PhD in Earth Science

Conor Purcell is a science journalist with a PhD in Earth Science. He is the founding editor of www.wideorbits.com and can be found on twitter @ConorPPurcell and some of his other articles at cppurcell.tumblr.com.

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Getting involved with EGU!

Imaggeo on Mondays: Getting involved with EGU!

Today’s featured photo comes from the 2017 General Assembly. Did you enjoy this year’s 666 unique scientific sessions, 68 short courses and 294 side events? Did you know that EGU members and conference attendees can play an active role in shaping the scientific programme of the conference? It’s super easy!

You can suggest a session (with conveners and description), and/or modifications to the existing skeleton programme sessions. So, if you’ve got a session in mind for the 2019 conference, be it oral, poster or PICO, be sure to submit it before 6 September. Have a great idea for a Union Symposium or Great Debate? Make sure to submit your proposal by this Wednesday, 15 August!

But helping us prepare the next General Assembly is not the only way you can have a say in EGU activities over the coming weeks. The EGU’s Autumn Elections are coming up too and we need your help to identify suitable candidates for EGU’s next Treasurer. Until 15 September you can nominate candidates for the position. Think you’ve got it takes to have a go at the role? Then you are also welcome to nominate yourself!

Do you need funding to organise a training school in the Earth, planetary or space sciences? EGU training schools offer early career scientists specialist training opportunities they do not normally have access to in their home institutions. But hurry and submit your application before the deadline this week, 15 August.

In addition, we welcome proposals for conferences on solar system and planetary processes, as well as on biochemical processes in the Earth system, in line with two new EGU conference series we are launching that are named in honour of two female scientists. The Angioletta Corradini and Mary Anning conferences are to be held every two years with their first editions in 2019 or 2020. The deadline to submit proposals is also 15 August.

For other EGU related news, why not visit our news pages, or catch up on the latest via our monthly newsletter?

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

 

Help shape the conference programme: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sessions at the 2019 General Assembly

Help shape the conference programme: Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sessions at the 2019 General Assembly

Do you enjoy the EGU’s annual General Assembly but wish you could play a more active role in shaping the scientific programme? Now is your chance! But hurry, the session submission deadline is fast approaching. You’ve got until September 6th to propose changes.

As well as the standard scientific sessions, subdivided by Programme Groups, EGU coordinates Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sessions (ITS) at the conference.

Now, you may be asking yourself: what exactly are ITS?

  • Interdisciplinarity looks for links between disciplines in a coordinated and coherent effort, with the aim of creating new approaches that would not be possible if handled separately.
  • Transdisciplinarity transcends traditional boundaries of disciplines by reaching out to, for example, social, economic, and political sciences.

The Earth, oceans, space and society are interconnected in many different ways; rarely can one system be perturbed without others being affected too.

The aim of ITS is to foster and facilitate exchange of knowledge both across scientific divisions. These sessions should either link disciplines within the geosciences in a novel way to address specific (and often new) problems (interdisciplinary sessions) or link the geosciences to other disciplines, in particular from the humanities, to address societal challenges (transdisciplinary sessions).

If inter- and transdisciplinarity is important to you and your work, know that you too can co-organise your session as an Inter- and Transdisciplinary Session. Read on to discover how!

The skeleton programme for the 2019 General Assembly currently features three ITS themes and a general open call for ITS sessions:

  • ITS1: History of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences
  • ITS2: Resources and the energy transition
  • ITS3: Contributions of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences to changes in society
  • ITS4: Open call for ITS sessions

Sessions within each of these ITS themes will be scheduled closely together, to foster cross-division links and collaborations.

To propose a session in one of the planned inter- and transdisciplinary themes, follow these simple steps:

  • Visit the ITS pages on the EGU 2019 website
  • Suggest a new session (within one of the four ITS options)
  • Choose a Programme Group that will be the scientific leader. For example, if you choose BG, your session will be listed in the programme as ITS/BG
  • Suggest more Programme Groups for co-organisation in the comment box

Wondering whether your session would fit as an ITS? Just ask ITS Programme Group Chairs, Peter van der Beek (its@egu.eu) or Susanne Buiter (programme.committee@egu.eu).

Peter and Susanne, are looking forward to a strong inter- and transdisciplinary programme at the 2019 General Assembly. But they need your help to achieve this!

You can also find more information about the call for sessions (and the organisation of the scientific programme in general) on the EGU 2019 website.

The EGU’s 2018 General Assembly, takes place in Vienna from 7 to 12 April, 2019. For more news about the upcoming General Assembly, you can also follow the official hashtag, #EGU19, on our social media channels.

Imaggeo on Mondays: The Gower Peninsula, a coast marked by time

Imaggeo on Mondays: The Gower Peninsula, a coast marked by time

The Gower Peninsula in South Wales, United Kingdom, is a spectacular site to view a sunset. However, to geologists, the shore is also a prime spot to find artifacts from Earth’s ancient and recent past.

“The limestone coastline is dotted with caves that are rich in Quaternary flora and fauna,” said Mike Smith a visiting researcher at Plymouth University (UK) and photographer of this featured image. “Including the famous Red Lady of Paviland, the oldest known ceremonial burial in Western Europe, at 30,000 years before present.”

The peninsula is also known for its “dramatic and visible evidence of climate change over a range of temporal scales,” according to Smith.

A solifluction terrace on the Rhossili Bay in the Gower Peninsula.
Credit: Stephen Codrington. Planet Geography 3rd Edition, 2005 (distributed via Wikimedia Commons).

For example, at the peak of Earth’s most recent glacial period, when the northern ice sheets had made their greatest advances southward, the Gower Peninsula was one of the southern most regions overcome by ice.

Though the last glacial period ended more than 11,00 years ago, you can find evidence of this tundra environment today, if you know what to look for.

For instance, much of the Peninsula’s coastlines are lined by small steeply sloping ridges, separating the coast’s green hillslopes from its sandy beaches. These structures are often referred to as solifluction terraces, and are formed when frozen ground thaws, causing soil, rock and other debris to move downslope.

Additionally, the Gower Peninsula is also host to remnants of our very recent history.

Pictured above are the remains of the shipwrecked Helvetica, a cargo vessel from the late 19th century that had been transporting 500 tons of timber before meeting its untimely end on the banks of Worm’s Head, a small rocky island just a few kilometres long, visible from the peninsula’s shores.

On 1 November, 1887, strong gales just off the coast had taken a hold of the ship, leaving it unable to dock at Swansea Harbour. Instead, the forceful winds blew the vessel into the sandbank of Helwick Sands and then dragged the ship to its final resting place, the shores of Worm’s Head. Helvetica’s captain and crew were forced to abandon ship, and after its cargo was relocated and salvageable parts stripped away, the ship settled deep into the sand.

“The Helvetica is now permanently buried in the beach on a coastline that is bordered by extensive sand dune systems,” remarks Smith.  With each year since, the Atlantic has reclaimed more of the ship, and now just the bare bones of the wreckage remain.

References

Helvetica (Explore Gower)

Hall, Adrian. Cairngorm Landscapes [Edinburgh, Scotland], Solifluction, 2002