DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions
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DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions
Intended to provide support materials relevant to the topic of Biophysical Interactions in Preliminary Geography.
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Growth of underwater cables that power the web

Growth of underwater cables that power the web | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it

"The map above, created with data from Telegeography, shows how those cables have developed since 1990. Most existing cables were constructed during a period of rapid growth in the mid-2000’s. This was followed by a gap of several years during which companies steadily exhausted the available capacity. Over the last few years, explosive new demand, driven by streaming video, has once again jumpstarted the the construction of new cables."


Via Seth Dixon
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Great images for Interconnections.


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Sally Egan's curator insight, October 26, 5:58 PM
Interconnections
ROCAFORT's curator insight, October 28, 2:48 AM
Growth of underwater cables that power the web
Lee Hancock's curator insight, November 1, 5:42 PM

Telecommunication linkages between continents, regions and cities. Note the strength of the trans-atlantic connections. These communication linkages enable communication between these areas.

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Utah's Great Salt Lake is shrinking

Utah's Great Salt Lake is shrinking | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
Human activity is playing a role in the dwindling size of Utah's Great Salt Lake, according to new research.While the research group acknowledged the role that climate fluctuations, such as droughts and floods, have played in the shift of the lake's water levels over time, the decrease in the lake's size is predominantly due to human causes. According to the report, the heavy reliance on consumptive water uses has reduced the lake level by 11 feet and its volume by 48 percent.

 

Tags: physical, Utah, environment modify, environment, water.


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Another great example of human activities changing the biophysical environment.
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Seth Dixon's curator insight, April 6, 12:15 PM

The railroad causeway that creates the color difference between the northern and sotuhern portions of the Great Lake is as the Union Pacific plans to change the causeway; the proposed bridge would allow for the two distinct salinities to intermingle more.  Environmentally, this lake is not exceptional.  Like many lakes in dry climates with growing populations, the people are using the freshwater flow into the lakes more extensively than they have in the past.  The Great Salt Lake, the Aral Sea, Lake Chad, Lake Urmia, and the Dead Sea are all drying up.  

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GCSE Geography Revision Quiz - Rivers | Geography | tutor2u

GCSE Geography Revision Quiz - Rivers | Geography | tutor2u | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
This GCSE geography quiz looks at the topic of rivers. Each time you take the quiz, ten questions are drawn from our database - so you get a different revision
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A test yourself quiz on rivers which selects a set of questions each time you play the quiz. Provides immediate feedback to the questions.
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River profiles | Geography | tutor2u

River profiles | Geography | tutor2u | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
Rivers can be described as having two distinct profiles: long profile and cross-valley profile. As geographers, we need to be able to describe and explain the f
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Informative description of the long river and cross-section profiles of a river.
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Rivers: Lower Course Processes and Landforms | Geography | tutor2u

Rivers: Lower Course Processes and Landforms | Geography | tutor2u | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
By the time a river reaches the lower stretches of its long profile – and gets closer to base level (usually sea level, though possibly a lake) – the channel ca
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A succinct summary of the lower river landforms and the processes operating at the end of the stream profile.
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Changes in Three Gorges Dam

NASA's animation of China's Three Gorges Dam construction over the years.

Via Seth Dixon
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Great outline of the impacts of River Regulation of Three Gorges Dam in China. Provides positive and negative impacts.

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Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, October 19, 2015 6:32 PM

Inland water - environmental change 

Benjamin Jackson's curator insight, November 9, 2015 5:40 PM

The impact of the Three Gorges Dam on the residents upstream is amazing. I cannot imagine anything like this happening in the US, mostly because of the impact on the people both upstream and downstream. Ecological damage from this dam may not phase the Chinese government, but I think any North American or European government would shudder at the thought of the backlash among their citizens this would create.

Matt Ramsdell's curator insight, December 14, 2015 9:27 PM

Three Gorges damn in China is the largest dam ever constructed. This was created to save on power by creating hydroelectric power for the people of the land. One of the issues with this was the the flooding of the land up streams displacing millions of people. It created a larger up stream area and very small down stream. A lot of the people that lived up stream had to be relocated further inland and faced changing climatif weather. The banks of the river are carved out between what seems like mountainous regions so as you move more uphill the weather and temperature will be a whole new category of life (Depending on how far you relocated).

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Alien fish boom shows difficulty of replenishing Murray-Darling

Alien fish boom shows difficulty of replenishing Murray-Darling | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
Wetlands and rivers need water – not least in the case of Australia’s biggest river system, the Murray-Darling Basin, which has been the target of an “environmental watering” plan designed to preserve…

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Pangaea and Plate Tectonics

The supercontinent Pangaea, with its connected South America and Africa, broke apart 200 million years ago. But the continents haven't stopped shifting -- the tectonic plates beneath our feet (in Earth's two top layers, the lithosphere and the asthenosphere) are still traveling at about the rate your fingernails grow. Michael Molina discusses the catalysts and consequences of continental drift.


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Most relevant for study of Lithosphere.

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Jessica Rieman's curator insight, February 11, 2014 2:03 PM

Plate tectonics have alot to do with the world and how the world will evolve and in which way it will tranform in specific places. Pangaea involves not only Africa but also South America and how they broke away from the rest of the contenents about 200 million years ago. This idea involves the reality that the continents never stop shifting and the top two layer's of the Earth still grow at the rate of our finger nails grow. Divergent and Convergent boundries are apparent in the Earths ability to shift and eith come together or dive apart.

Edelin Espino's curator insight, November 26, 2014 4:55 PM

Very interesting that the earth has changed and continues to change. The continents have been separated over time and the example is there as Michael Molina explains that the continents of Africa and South America were once united as they have found remains of dinosaurs in eastern South America and West Africa.

April Howard's curator insight, February 13, 2015 1:36 PM

Visual Explanation of Pangaea and Plate Tectonics

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Why don't trees grow above a particular altitude? › Ask an Expert (ABC Science)

Why don't trees grow above a particular altitude? › Ask an Expert (ABC Science) | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it

Via gina lockton
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This is a great article to explain biophysical interactions and the resulting diverse ecosystems of the World.

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gina lockton's curator insight, September 18, 2013 7:29 PM

this is a really interesting article - relevant to the Biosphere

Sally Egan's curator insight, October 9, 2013 6:58 PM

Great article explaining biophysical interactions that result in diverse global ecosystems.

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Drainage Patterns

Drainage Patterns | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it

"The incredible fractal pattern rivers (now dried out) were made as they spread into the salt flats of the arid Baja California Desert in Mexico."


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Great image for drainge patterns in biophysical geography.

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Victoria McNamara's curator insight, December 12, 2013 1:22 PM

This picture shows the drainage patterns and how the water drifted in many directions and not just in a single line. Water does not stay in a perfect straight line it flows and drifts in many directions. This is what the image is showing, how this particular water flows in many directions and branches off from one stream to another. 

Jess Deady's curator insight, April 17, 2014 10:46 AM

The Earth is an incredible place, we all know that. To see something like this form by itself is a wonder on its own.

Sid McIntyre-DeLaMelena's curator insight, May 29, 2014 12:15 PM

The photographs of the salt flats in the Baja California Desert reveal dried out rivers that may have once fertilized the area to be able to sustain life.

Human-Environment Interaction speeds up desertification and makes once fertile lands useless.

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Life In Biosphere 2 - The Awesomer

Life In Biosphere 2 - The Awesomer | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
The Avant/Garde Diaries spoke with two of the eight people who lived inside Biosphere 2 from 1991 to 1993. Biosphere 2 was designed to be a closed ecological system, thus the crew was isolated from the rest of the world for 2 years.
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Account of life in the Biosphere II dome by one of teh Biospereans.

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Biosphere 2: Good Science, or Bad Sense?

Biosphere 2: Good Science, or Bad Sense? | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
This Retro Report video revisits Biosphere 2, whose goal was to see if humans could sustain themselves in a sealed environment. What was deemed a fiasco had a surprising afterlife.

Via Maria Nunzia @Varvera
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6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You

6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
From the food we eat to the energy, transportation, and water we all need, a warmer world will bring big changes for everyone.

 

B Sinica: This article touches every aspect of geography from culture to climate [considering] how the growing population plays the biggest role in determining the future of life on Earth.  People need to recognize the problems and potential future issues with global warming and the rapidly changing environment.  Though not many issues can be prevented or even solved, the least we can do is try to lessen the severity of devastation and prolong the current conditions as much as possible before the world becomes too extreme to manage.


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Brianna Simao's comment, April 30, 2013 10:22 PM
It is kind of a scary thought that global warming could greatly disrupt the way we live. Everyone is affected by it especially businesses like farms. The production of crops declines because of the excessive heat. Changing climate affect the length of each season which hurts the process of growing and harvesting crops. There would also be a change in the production, storage and transportation. It will cost more money to properly manage these businesses. This change will not only affect companies and how we handle our food but also our way of life and health. We would all have to adapt to such drastic changes in the environment which may be a struggle for some. Health wise, if it is too hot and people are not well adapted then it could lead to hospitalization and increased health risks. I don’t think there is much we can do to lessen the severity because it is a natural cycle of earth. I do think we may have sped up the process a little bit, for example car exhaustion and greenhouse gasses. But we are so dependent on such technology we can’t just make it disappear.
Dillon Cartwright's comment, May 3, 2013 4:04 PM
It's crazy that something like a little climate change can change the affect the entire world. Not just in one way either, it affects the world in many ways, like the 6 mentioned above. I don't think people realize the frailty of the environment they live in. Something as small as someones car exhaust becomes kind of a big deal when there are hundreds of millions of cars in the world.
In addition to that, I think it's great that life expectancy has gone up with cures to diseases and advances in modern medicine. It's a good thing that people are living longer lives, but it's a problem when these people aren't environmentally conscious. If there is going to be a consistent increase in population, there should also be an increase in environmental awareness so everyone can work together in slowing down this destructive process.
Victoria McNamara's curator insight, December 12, 2013 1:03 PM

Climate change is going to affect how we live in the future. It will cause lack of food, energy sources, health risks, climate changes, drought etc. It is because of our growing population and the amount of people the world has to take care of for all of us to survive. We are also using too many of its resources too quickly. What could we do now to try to slow down the process of it happening? 

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NSW flooding triggers mass waterbird breeding event

NSW flooding triggers mass waterbird breeding event | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it

Tens of thousands of waterbirds flock to internationally recognised wetlands in the NSW far west, as floodwaters fill marshes for the first time in four years.

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Recent flood event in Macquarie River and other western river systems create ideal conditions for bird breeding in the Macquarie Marshes.
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Sally Egan's curator insight, October 26, 12:18 AM
Recent flood events have resulted in benefits for bird breeding in the Macquarie Marshes.
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River Floods | Geography | tutor2u

River Floods | Geography | tutor2u | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
A flood is when a river bursts its banks on to normally dry land.
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Brief summary of the floods and their causes.
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A River Forms - Time Lapse | Geography | tutor2u

A River Forms - Time Lapse | Geography | tutor2u | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
This is a great time lapse video showing how a river's course changes over time.
Sally Egan's insight:

A fabulous time lapse video which illustrates the change of a river over time and the development of new landforms such as meanders and oxbow lakes.

 

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Middle Course of a River - Processes and Features | Geography | tutor2u

Middle Course of a River - Processes and Features | Geography | tutor2u | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
In the middle course of a river the gradient decreases (it
flattens out) and the discharge increases. This is due to the fact that many
more tributaries have
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In the Middle course of a river a new balance of energy is established and the processes of both erosion and deposition result in a range of landforms. this is a succinct summary of the processes and landforms in the middle course of a river.

 

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The mysterious case of the disappearing lakes: What happened to Broken Hill's water?

The mysterious case of the disappearing lakes: What happened to Broken Hill's water? | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
Who let the plug out? Who stole Broken Hill's water? Who drained the lakes? Was it mismanagement, theft or bad policy or simply evaporation? Can ongoing droughts carry all the blame?
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Issue of River Regulation in the Murray Darling Basin is the focus of this recent article, which explores the impact on Broken Hill's water supply.

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An earthquake felt across South Asia

An earthquake felt across South Asia | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it

"The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday morning destroyed parts of Kathmandu, trapped many people under rubble and killed more than 2,500 people. It was the worst to hit the country since a massive 1934 temblor killed more than 8,000."


Via Seth Dixon
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Fabulous images and great for study of this disaster.

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Joshua Mason's curator insight, April 29, 2015 11:04 AM

It's absolutely devastating what happened to Nepal. Any loss of life is a tragedy but loss of this scale is unimaginable. It's going to be a difficult rebuilding process for the Nepalese whether that's coping with the loss or physically rebuilding the nation.

 

Watching footage of shakes, what struck me the most was hundreds of year old temples crumbling. Those just aren't something you can easily rebuild. The building can eventually be replaced but the significance of it is almost lost. 

 

Those temples, like the homes in the area, were most likely not built up to a standard that could withstand earthquakes or at least earthquakes of this magnitude. It's easy to see how destruction on this scale can occur in large urban populations that were not designed to stand against such a dramatic event.

Kristin Mandsager San Bento's curator insight, May 1, 2015 3:59 PM

I've experienced earthquakes more times than I've ever felt the need.  We used to get them all the time it seemed in Japan.  My bed would role across the room.  It got to the point where I just slept through them.  If I had even felt a shake half as violent as what Nepal went through I could not even imagine the fright.  I wonder how long the India and Eurasia tectonic plates will stay on top of each other?  Or if a few more earth quakes will split the area?  

Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, June 1, 2015 1:52 AM

Australian Curriculum

The causes, impacts and responses to a geomorphological hazard (ACHGK053)


GeoWorld 8

Chapter 4: Hazards: causes, impacts and responses

(4.5 - 4.6 Earthquakes)

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Pangaea and Plate Tectonics

The supercontinent Pangaea, with its connected South America and Africa, broke apart 200 million years ago. But the continents haven't stopped shifting -- the tectonic plates beneath our feet (in Earth's two top layers, the lithosphere and the asthenosphere) are still traveling at about the rate your fingernails grow. Michael Molina discusses the catalysts and consequences of continental drift.


Via Seth Dixon
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Jessica Rieman's curator insight, February 11, 2014 2:03 PM

Plate tectonics have alot to do with the world and how the world will evolve and in which way it will tranform in specific places. Pangaea involves not only Africa but also South America and how they broke away from the rest of the contenents about 200 million years ago. This idea involves the reality that the continents never stop shifting and the top two layer's of the Earth still grow at the rate of our finger nails grow. Divergent and Convergent boundries are apparent in the Earths ability to shift and eith come together or dive apart.

Edelin Espino's curator insight, November 26, 2014 4:55 PM

Very interesting that the earth has changed and continues to change. The continents have been separated over time and the example is there as Michael Molina explains that the continents of Africa and South America were once united as they have found remains of dinosaurs in eastern South America and West Africa.

April Howard's curator insight, February 13, 2015 1:36 PM

Visual Explanation of Pangaea and Plate Tectonics

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Irrigators unhappy with Basin river strategy

Irrigators unhappy with Basin river strategy | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority's strategy to deliver more water to the environment could lead to major changes in river rules.
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Management of Murray- Darling Basin applicable to Case study of issue of river regulation. 

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We'll resist enviro flows, says MP

We'll resist enviro flows, says MP | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
LIBERAL MP Sharman Stone wants irrigators to rally against proposals to increase environmental flows in the Murray-Darling system.
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A new article for Management of teh Murray Darling Basin water.

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Lithosphere | Global Warming, Environment and Climate Change

Lithosphere | Global Warming, Environment and Climate Change | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
Lithosphere. .....Lithosphere besides compositional classification, the Earth is separated into layers based on mechanical properties. The topmost layer is called the lithosphere, composed of tectonic plates that floa...
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Good Science, or Bad Sense? - New York Times (blog)

Good Science, or Bad Sense? - New York Times (blog) | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
Good Science, or Bad Sense?
New York Times (blog)
In the fall of 1991, eight men and women marched into a glass and steel complex that covered three acres in the Arizona desert and was known as Biosphere 2.
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A look back at the Biosphere II project - its goals, successes and difficulties. This relates to the work in Week one of the Preliminary course.  

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Wonder Worm to the rescue | OurWorld 2.0

Wonder Worm to the rescue | OurWorld 2.0 | DSODE Preliminary Geography Biophysical Interactions | Scoop.it
‘VermEcology’ expert Rob J. Blakemore argues that earthworms are key to saving the planet for a number of very compelling reasons.

Can worms help save the planet? I think so and, before arguing my case, please let me state my position from the start: I am an ecologist. Not just the type of trendy person who faithfully recycles — although I am fashionably green and a semi-vegetarian who tries to recycle as many beer bottles as possible. No, I am also the other, scientific kind.

The science of ecology is generally defined as a study of organisms and their environment, i.e., everything! However, I would be somewhat more categorical and say that it is “The study of organisms, their products whether alive or dead, and their environment” — i.e., even more of everything, including fossil fuels and human endeavour!

An ecologist then, is someone who considers holistic workings of a natural ecosystem in all its complexity and diversity throughout its time-cycle while breaking it down into its component parts and honing in on its few key, controlling entities. Simultaneously practicing as a generalist and as a multi-faceted specialist.

Deeds of the dirt

The experience of growing up in rural England alongside my grandfather, the village farrier who was also a bee keeper and gardener, as well as my weekend work with farmers and gamekeepers, immersed me in general natural history. This education was formalized by academic degrees in terrestrial and aquatic biology and, for me the key to life, soil ecology. The main movers and shakers in the soil are the living organisms, paramount amongst which is the humble, hidden earthworm.

Here I must air my strong objections to marine biologists such as Sylvia Earle who pointed out after winning the TED 2009 Prize that the oceans make up 70% of the surface of the Earth and the rest is just “dirt”.

Approximately 99.4% of our food and fibre is produced on land and only 0.6% comes from oceans and other aquatic ecosystems combined, according to FAO. The calorific value obtained from ocean catches, freshwater fishing and aquaculture adds up to just about 10-16% of the current human total. (These figures are slightly skewed for maritime countries like Japan and Iceland but still, more than 80% of our nutrition is terrestrial in origin).

Leonardo da Vinci’s observed 500 years ago that 'We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot' and this still rings true today.

Furthermore, I am sure Dr. Earle accepts that the oceanic ecosystem is wholly dependent upon dissolved nutrients washed down or blown from the soil and is similarly affected by pollution mainly from activity on the land. Her survival depends as much as anyone’s on the “just dirt” part.

Thus it is abysmal that scientific knowledge of the oceans is infinitely deeper than for terrestrial ecosystems. Moreover, Leonardo da Vinci’s observed 500 years ago that “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot” and this still rings true today. The journal Science, realizing that our knowledge is so scant, produced a special 2004 issue entitled Soils — The Final Frontier.

Why waste precious funds and brain resources on the vain discovery of useless planets overhead or new deep-sea species that will still be there tomorrow, while vital unrecognized organisms literally beneath our feet disappear at an increasingly alarming rate and to our peril?

Why are we not concentrating our efforts and valuable resources on protecting and preserving the tangible deeds of our earthly home patch for current and future generations of Earthlings? Where on earth is our Soil Ecology Institute?

Global worming

We talk of greenhouse gasses and global warming yet it is the lithosphere, not the oceans nor trees, that acts as the major global carbon sink. This is especially so following the discovery just over a decade ago of glomalin, a tightly bound organic molecule accounting for an extra 30% of stored soil carbon. (The energy crisis too can be cured by simply tapping freely into subterranean geothermal energy, as recounted in an Our World 2.0 article on this ‘ red hot power’.)

Atmospheric carbon is entirely recycled via the soil from plants in around 12-20 years — all of this being processed through the intestines of worms.

Proper management of our arable, pastoral and forest soils is the most practically feasible mechanism to sequester atmospheric carbon without any adverse effects. Atmospheric carbon is entirely recycled via the soil from plants in around 12-20 years — all of this being processed through the intestines of worms.

Vermicomposting of organics and encouraging soil biodiversity by rebuilding humus provides a natural closed-system remedy with neither waste nor loss of productivity.

Down-to-Earth soil species

All manner of dirt and disease always ends up in the sod and consequentially its ecology is naturally robust. Yet, the soil suffers the most profound and significant effects from over-exploitation and faces the greatest threat from erosion, destruction and pollution with artificial chemicals and/or transgenes.

Despite its importance, soil biodiversity is so poorly known that even obvious organisms like the relatively large worms are mostly unclassified. On each field trip I find new species and, of the 10,000 that have been given scientific names thus far (perhaps less than a third of the total), we know something of the ecology about a dozen species.

But what we do know doesn’t look good. Unprecedented loss of species abundance and diversity combined with high extinction rates are bringing Earth into new and uncharted territory. We urgently need triage.

Laboratories crammed with scores of ecologists could study just worms for their whole careers and still we would only progress slightly from our current poor state of knowledge, but our gain would be justifiable and have tangible effects on resolving pressing environmental issues. But this is not the current situation.

Despite its importance, soil biodiversity is so poorly known that even obvious organisms like the relatively large worms are mostly unclassified.

Fundamentally we can justify study of soil ecology because it affects all our lives and is a crucially important issue for immediate survival of humans and all other terrestrial organisms. Whereas earthworm specialists are an endangered and rapidly declining breed, some scientists attempt to defend their studies that look at a single crop or pest. In contrast, I would argue that without earthworms there would be no healthy soil in which any healthy crop could develop in the first place.

If we ask “Which group of organisms would cause the most disruption to life support systems on the Earth if lost?” My answer would be that — rather than fish, birds and bees, or humans — it is the earthworms. They are key links in food chains (not just for fish and fowl), they act as hosts and vectors for diverse symbionts and parasites, and they are the major detritus feeders responsible for soil mineralization and recycling of organic matter. Can other scientists, outside of medicine, claim such importance for their study subject?

Looking forward to the past

One of the main predictions, highly optimistic, in the revolutionary move into our post-industrial era (see Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave for details) was that genetic engineering would provide new production methods and have profound effects on future development. In many ways this has been borne out in medical use and microbial ‘manufacture’ with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that provide some potential benefit and serve some purpose, albeit at huge cost.

But there are equally large risks. Rather obviously, the main characteristic of life is to reproduce and disperse. The architects of the modified corn, cotton, soy, wheat, rice and spuds are often of exactly the same companies (or at least profit-driven mind-sets) that produced the toxic chemicals that they are now telling us their new GMO technology will replace — just as chemical engineers promised solutions to all our problems previously.

Surprisingly and shamefully, almost zero funding is available for research on organic production 'alternatives' that are dismissed as impractical fads.

In 1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring first alerted us to risks of agricultural chemical pollution, exacerbated by bioaccumulation in body tissue (especially of invertebrates such as earthworms) and bioconcentration further up the food-chain. But whatever the problem, these chemicals will eventually disperse and decline once production halts.

With biology the reverse is true. Design a plant to be herbicide or insect resistant and it will increase and spread by its own means, by cross-pollination or genetic drift. Case in point is the illegitimate escape in Japan of feral oilseed rape ( Brassica napus) genetically modified to resist herbicide that, as with any similar calamity, will continue in an uncontrollable fashion.

Rather than addressing immediate environmental issues per se, much of scientific resources are diverted into molecular studies, mostly for industrial agricultural production, that are inordinately expensive, or into agronomic trials of effective toxic biocide applications. Mostly this is not requested by informed consumers nor by farmers who must rely on the advice of often industry-funded ‘experts’ and extension officers (hopefully not advertisers).

Surprisingly and shamefully, almost zero funding is available for research on organic production ‘alternatives’ that are dismissed as impractical fads. Yet it is their implementation, since the start of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, that has brought us this far.

Let’s not let topsoil slip through our fingers

Topsoil is the most valuable resource upon which civilizations depend. Its rapid loss combined with soil fertility and soil health decline are of greatest immediate concern.

How important is loss of topsoil? Basically without fertile topsoil there is no plant growth and no life on land. How big an issue is loss of topsoil? The 1991 UN funded Global Survey of Human-Induced Soil Degradation Report showed significant problems in virtually all parts of the world. Just 11% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is cultivated and of the total available, approximately 40% of agricultural land is seriously degraded, according to the UN’S 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA).

Loss of topsoil has been due to the combined effects of desertification, salinization, erosion, pollution and urban/road or other development activities. In the United States alone it is estimated to cost about $125 billion per year. The MEA, which despite its scope did not consider ‘Soil Systems’ separately, nevertheless ranked land degradation among the world’s greatest environmental challenges, claiming it risked destabilizing societies, endangering food security and increasing poverty. Among the worst affected regions are Central America, where 75% of land is infertile, Africa, where a fifth of soil is degraded, and Asia, where 11% is now unsuitable for farming.

The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment ranked land degradation among the world’s greatest environmental challenges, claiming it risked destabilizing societies, endangering food security and increasing poverty.

In addition to those pollutants commonly recognized as originating from biocides and fertilizers, there are many other sources — such as antibiotics associated with intensive animal production, plus a ‘cocktail’ of human-processed pollutants like drugs, solvents and synthetic hormones from birth control pills — that all make their way into the environment in an infinite variety of unforeseeable combinations.

Suggested remediation to soil decline and agricultural production are to use GMO crops and other high-tech applications, because there is an assumption that topsoil formation is a centuries-old process that is essentially non-renewable and thus is gone forever. This view is false and there are several examples of methods that can be applied to restore fertile topsoils to farms, and in a time frame as short as a matter of a few years.

Feed the worm

“When the question is asked, ‘Can I build top-soil?’ the answer is ‘Yes’, and when the first question is followed by a second question, ‘How?’ the answer is ‘Feed earthworms’,” so wrote Eve Balfour in the introduction to Thomas J. Barrett’s book, Harnessing the Earthworm.

Indeed there are many instances of organic farms around the world preserving or restoring healthy soils. Organic farming has many approaches, with Rudolph Steiner’s biodynamics being one manifestation. All these solutions comfortably find a home under the wide umbrella of permaculture, as defined by Bill Mollison. This philosophy and approach to designing our natural environment for efficient and effective production and for comfortable living under prevailing conditions is well known and widely adopted by national and local communities and individuals worldwide.

William Blake urged us “[t]o see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower”. Soil survey of the abundance and diversity of earthworms in a soil will provide a good measure of natural fertility, as these are the monitors and mediators of soil health. That some of our honourable predecessors appreciated the worm’s role is manifest by one translation of the Chinese characters for ‘earthworms’ being ‘angels of the earth’.

In the Classical world, the ‘father of biology’, Aristotle, called earthworms the 'soil's entrails' and it is reported that Cleopatra decreed them sacred.

Seeing a worm turned up by the plough and eaten by a bird started Prince Siddhartha (Gautama Buddah) on his contemplative path to understanding the Cycle-of-Life. In the Classical world, the ‘father of biology’, Aristotle, called earthworms the “soil’s entrails” and it is reported that Cleopatra decreed them sacred.

Charles Darwin, British naturalist and father of evolution, also had an interest in earthworms. In 1881, the year before he died, his 40 year study culminated in publication The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. As a founder of soil ecology, he was one of the first scientists to give credence to conventional wisdom from earlier civilizations about the beneficial effects of earthworms on soils and plant growth, and thus on human survival.

Believing his worm work one of his most crucial contributions, Darwin stated:

“It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures…

“The vegetable mould [humus] which covers, as with a mantle, the surface of the land, has all passed many times through their bodies.”

Hopefully it will continue thus.

In 1981, as a centennial tribute to Darwin’s seminal work, I completed a survey on Lady Eve Balfour’s Haughley experimental farm that showed organic methods encourage healthy soil and an earthworm abundance. Significantly higher maintenance of temperature, moisture and organic matter in the soil equated with double the carbon content. In this way we could readily fix runaway CO2 in the atmosphere. Moreover, crop production was equable between organic and non-organic management regimes, even without factoring in the cost savings in chemicals and environmental degradation. (Details are presented here.)

Look up to the worm

My thesis is that each of the three major interlinked influences on our world – mass extinction of species due mainly to human activity, global warming from excessive anthropogenic generated carbon, and risk of social and political dysfunction from impending resource and food shortages caused by population pressure — can all be redressed by educating people (and politicians!) about restoring soil health and fertility. One way to start is to re-process organic ‘wastes’ via worms, for a natural compost fertilizer.

Sensible and appropriate technological utilization of the soil habitat will secure human resources, ameliorate global warming and, most importantly, help preserve the richness of all ultimately interdependent species.

Society’s increasing reliance on technology offers new risks and opportunities. We need to adopt and adapt the best and beneficial parts of our transition into this bio-cyber-techno age (such as constant satellite monitoring, instantaneous communication, and use of networked computers to analyse and recommend/implement activities for integrated pest management, transportation and logistics), then we can farm and build efficiently and sustainability on a case-by-case basis to comfortably accommodate an increasing human population. If highly crowded Tokyo-Yokohama megalopolis with 33 million people can be made liveable, why not elsewhere?

Sensible and appropriate technological utilization of the soil habitat will secure human resources, ameliorate global warming and, most importantly, help preserve the richness of all ultimately interdependent species.

However, there is a concomitant need to block those new technologies and social structures that are hazardous and unnecessary. Thus we can reject, or at least postpone, off-the-planet ideas of space or ocean colonization, along with broad scale GMO farming.

We should only object to a system if we can propose viable and economic alternatives. In this regard I personally have seen little of substance to oppose healthy organic production, especially since industrial agriculture is responsible for so much of the world’s pollution and depletion of natural resources due to its use of both fossil fuels and precious fresh water as well as underemployment of the rural population that crowds into cities. Industrial agriculture is a finite oil-based production system and its days are numbered.

Permanent so(i)lutions

There is a need to accept less than 100% exploitation of a resource. Some preservation is needed and one of the concepts of permaculture is to return or donate our excess production. Just like taxes, Nature extracts a tithe whenever insects, birds or mammals eat part of our crops, or when the leech (the darker cousin of the earthworm) sucks our blood.

Although earthworms are not as charismatic as some furred or feathered beasts, and lacking the public relations support of ocean or space agencies, their wonder is of a more subtle and modest kind.

The practical philosophy of permaculture may in due course be replaced by new structures and systems of intelligent organization — hopefully of something similarly more refined than the crude offerings of the failed policies that lie on the extreme ends of the political and economic bell curves.

A solution that I recommend to you personally is to contemplate and re-evaluate the earthworm. Although not as charismatic as some furred or feathered beasts, and lacking the public relations support of ocean or space agencies, their wonder is of a more subtle and modest kind. To test this, become a ‘soilonaut’ and take a backyard safari yourself.

In conclusion, we should consider the humble earthworm who — as Aristotle, Buddha, Cleopatra and Darwin, amongst others, realized — works tirelessly night and day, unseen and almost totally under-appreciated for our benefit. All the more appropriate then that ‘human’ and ‘humus’ have the same word origin, and that this planet, on whose narrow shoulders it is borne, should be named ‘Earth’ after our wonderful Worm.

 


Via Giri Kumar
Sally Egan's insight:

What an interesting view of the role of the soil in the balance of teh environment .... and the role of worms within it.

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