Saturday, November 24, 2007

View From Angels 33

If any thrill approaches that of scientific discovery, it can be found in the cockpit. Flying over Earth puts many things in perspective. From 33,000 feet the weather over America’s West looks remarkably clear. Disappointing for Garrett Lisi and others, that has meant very little snow. Only two Lake Tahoe ski resorts are open: Northstar and Heavenly Valley. At Mammoth Mountain, only one of the 26 ski lifts is open. As pilots must read the daily weather report, Earth’s climate is always on our minds.

Among the many lakes near Mammoth, Horseshoe Lake conceals a submerged volcanic vent. Geologists have discovered that this lake alone emits 100 TONS of carbon dioxide each day! No one knows how much CO2 issues from Earth’s interior, which complicates our predictions of climate. Most immigrants to California don’t realise that those pretty mountains are volcanoes. For some reason the realtors don’t advertise that.

Seeing a clean sky is always a pleasure. It can’t be argued that humans put too much junk into the atmosphere. We use too much fossil fuel, even in aeroplanes. A future post will talk about methane-fueled aircraft.

Washington’s Mount Rainier is easily visible from Seattle. This volcano is about 1 million years old, barely older than our Big Island of Hawaii. On Mount Rainier’s summit is a lake full of sulfur dioxide. On Kilauea Volcano our sulfur vents are known for their yucky smell. Among other effects, an eruption of Mount Rainier would send clouds of poisonous sulfur into nearby towns.

Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is famous for geysers like Old Faithful. The park sits atop a magma chamber that begins about 3 miles beneath the surface. In the past 2 million years Yellowstone has seen 3 giant eruptions. The scale of these events is hard to imagine. A single super-eruption would blanket the entire region in clouds and drastically lower the temperature.

As this is written Kilauea’s continuing eruption has created a “River of Fire.” The rushing lava is easily visible from the surface. Much of Earth is vulnerable to volcanic eruptions. Earthrise photos taken from the Moon are a reminder of how tiny is our oasis in Space. The wantonness of Madame Pele reminds us just how precious life on Earth is.

The week's best Space news is at the new Carnival of Space!

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