Scientists find evidence that Pluto’s surfaces are re-paved through convection every 500,000 years
The energy to power this activity comes from decaying radioactive elements
The movement of nitrogen ice layers helps power the planet’s atmosphere
The primary attraction of the photos that were sent back from NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft, which made a 2015 voyage around Pluto, was the huge heart shape on the planet’s surface. The heart shape is considered to be a plain named Sputnik Planum that has no visible craters that were detectable by New Horizons, leading to the conclusion that it is less than 2 million years old.
The heart-shaped Sputnik Planum undergoes a very interesting internal activity through which its surface is repaved every 500,000 years. This period may seem very slow on the human clock, but scientists say 500,000 years is rapid on the geographical timeline.
The process, called convection, replaces older nitrogen ice sheets with newer ones, with the help of reservoirs that are several miles deep. The newer layers of ice spread out on the surface and replenish any craters that might have formed, making the plain look perpetually youthful.
“We found evidence that even on a distant cold planet billions of miles from Earth, there is sufficient energy for vigorous geological activity, as long as you have ‘the right stuff,’ meaning something as soft and pliable as solid nitrogen,” noted William McKinnon, who is co-investigator on the New Horizons science team.
The energy to power the continuous processes revolving around convection has its source in the decaying radioactive elements embedded in the surface.
“Not only is it the heart of Pluto, it’s the beating heart,” says Bill McKinnon of Washington University in St Louis. “There are actually things happening. If we were to come back in 100,000 years, the pattern would be markedly altered.”
It is yet uncertain whether this feature is unique to Pluto’s surface, or it is also common to other planets found in the neighborhood of Pluto, such as Makemake or Eris. Celestial bodies in the Kuiper Belt could also possess these surfaces. The constant movement of nitrogen ice sheets is believed to help support Pluto’s atmosphere.
A new report has taken the results of thousands of papers on the impacts of climate change and put them together into a giant assessment detailing the multiple ways that climate change will impact humanity in the coming century.
Lead researcher Camilo Mora says the report shows what he calls a “massive domino effect” of bad news as climate change intensifies in the coming century if the world doesn’t mitigate the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere.
In the report being published Monday in Nature Climate Change, Mora says there is literally no place on the planet that’s safe.
Putting all the data in one place
The study is unique in that it doesn’t produce any new information, but is basically a mother of all spreadsheets that takes all of the predicted effects of climate change and puts them into one place.
Mora told VOA he and his team of dozens of researchers spent six months gathering and inputting data on climate change into their system and watching how all of these impacts would affect individual sites around the world.
What they came up with was exactly 467 ways that climate change is going to negatively impact the weather, from localized changes like more droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and storms, to the global changes like sea level rise, and changes in ocean chemistry.
Mora also looked at how climate change is expected to impact everything from food supplies, to increased susceptibility to disease, as well as more difficult to gauge effects like climate insecurity’s impact on mental health.
What he found was surprising, “I couldn’t stop being mind blown every single day,” he told VOA, mainly by the fact that the dangerous and damaging effects of climate change are already impacting humans all over the globe. “We think this is going to happen later,” he says, “but we found that this is already happening.”
“Last year, for instance, Florida recorded extreme drought, record high temperatures, over 100 wildfires, and the strongest ever recorded hurricane in its Panhandle: the category 4 Hurricane Michael,” Mora says. “Likewise, California is currently experiencing ferocious wild fires and one of the longest droughts, plus extreme heatwaves this past summer.”
And he says if carbon levels in the atmosphere continue to increase on pace there will no place on earth that isn’t affected.
Take New York, for instance. Mora lays out a future scenario in which in 2100 New York will be constantly dealing with the potentially devastating effects of four different climate hazards, including extreme weather and sea level rise.
All of these effects are measurable and in the future a city like Miami might be dealing with drought, extreme heat, sea level rise and more numerous and more powerful hurricanes. “Any coastal area in the tropics is going to be on fire” Mora says. Sydney, Los Angeles, Brazil and Mexico City are all at risk as the effects of climate change stack up.”
Mora’s study is impressive in its detail, noting, “Planes can’t fly during heat waves … wires short circuit during heat waves,” Mora says. And for people who work outdoors it can literally get too hot and “their livelihoods depend on their job ability to work out doors.”
All of these impacts add up and have a profound economic effect. Mora says they create stressed communities that have less economic ability to deal with change, plus higher financial costs thanks to the infrastructure damage and repair associated with predicted extreme weather events.
Is it too late?
But despite all of the bad news in this assessment, Mora is bullish on our ability to head off the effects of climate change.
“This is not game over,” he says. “We are not too late to turn this around and we have pathways to reduce emissions what we need to do is implement them.”
Mora says the solution to the world’s carbon problem will not come from the world’s leaders, despite agreements like the Paris Accord for which hundreds of the world’s leaders came together to commit to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.
He says the real change to mitigate climate change through gradual cutting of emissions will come from the public, and he points to efforts like Hawaii’s decision to become a carbon neutral state by 2045 and to shift to 100 percent renewable energy.
Mora is also involved with tree planting efforts in Hawaii that he says if done worldwide could help the planet actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, not just stop putting it in. He calls it one of “many simple steps to clean our footprint all together.” (VOA)