Originally published: May 1990
University 422 - Geology
B. Main Aspects of Prognostication.
C. Factors of Prognostication.
D. Global Ecology.
E. Future Changes in the Climate.
F. Be Fertile And Multiply; Fill The Earth And Subdue it."
G. Our Future (?).
The growing presence of human activity on the biosphere makes the interaction of its various elements and the structure of the Earth's surface increasingly complicated, with some parts of the earth showing signs of a coming ecological crisis. The seriousness of the problem is fully realized practically all over the world. It explains why world geoscience is mainly concerned with the social results of the man-nature relationship and with geographical prognosis. The latter is viewed as the prognosis of both the development of geoscience and the evolution of the Earth's surface, its individual components, and subsystems. Admittedly, geographical prognostication has fallen far short of society's needs for information. Nevertheless, geographers and geologists, increasingly, stand out in the field as it is noted at many international and national conferences.
The following essay deals with the geographic and geologic research in the field of forecasting about “THE FATE OF THE EARTH AND MAN.
B. MAIN ASPECTS OF PROGNOSTICATION.
The most important, and the most complicated scientific problem today, is the prognostication of the future, which we know nothing more that it is sure to come. The unknown is becoming scientifically predictable thanks to comprehensive research. The wider, the fuller, and the more comprehensive the forecasting, the more accurate it will be. It is precisely in our time, with the launching of major joint research projects, that accurate forecasting has become possible. Prognostication has become an area for special interests, for geoscientists, because geoscience is widely departmentalized and complex science, combining the elements of natural and social sciences. In many countries, hundreds of institutes have been set up to carry out prognostication for an extended period. The number of scientific works forecasting the future is growing, too. In most cases, these projections cover prospects for technological progress, for economic and social development over 15 - 20 (or even 25 - 30) years ahead.
The periods of prognostication (set at 15 - 30 years) are mostly connected to research potential for predicting scientific and technological progress. This prognostication serves as a barrier beyond which lie ill-founded, often fantastic speculations. As a rule, prognostication is supported by new discoveries which engulf "the sperm of the future," by new technology, by the continued development of the economy and new social phenomena. To forecast is to make a correct assessment of a new budding phenomenon and to establish which of the scientific ideas is more progressive and forward-looking.
Prognostication has many dimensions with geoscience playing no small part in it. Thus far, little has been done to put geographical forecasting on a solid footing. The year 2000 is still ten years away, but not too far to give us the license not to think about the future of geoscience over the remaining period of the 20th century. It seems that imagination, and, particularly, scientific imagination, is, in this case, a less dangerous thing than its absence. However, by posting the problem of geographical prognostication of the year 2000, we must turn to such formulations as "expected tendencies of development," "possible variants," "tentative deadlines."
Geographic prognostication could be dealt with in three main interconnected aspects:
1. Prognostication of the development of the earth's surface and the utilization of natural resources by society.
2. Development of methods of geographical prognostication.
3. Prognostication of the development of geoscience.
C. FACTORS OF PROGNOSTICATION.
The present state of the natural environment and of the economic growth of the world, the degree of which has been studied and the rate of their utilization has put the spotlight on the three principal factors that will dominate the ecological situation in the year 2000 -the hydroclimatic factor, the anthropogenic factor, and the natural resources factor.
All these factors are important for the following reasons:
THE HYDROCLIMATIC FACTOR creates the most significant regional distinctions in the state of the environment and has the greatest impact on natural phenomena over thirty years indeed, a short period by geological standards. In its hydrological aspect, this factor can be modified easier, and faster than other natural components. The water reserves tend to be more and scarcer, and the water itself more and more polluted, which increases not only the economic importance of the hydroclimatic factor but also its geographic importance. As it is known, the deficit and surplus of water lead to tremendous changes in the natural environment.
Other natural components will also change, even if man's activity is hypothetically counted out. However, these changes will not be so dramatic, as to transform the entire environment even in a small area. Suffice it to say that man's pressure upon a dynamic component such as vegetation will affect large parts only in several decades (a pine forest can be restored to its full size in some 25 to 30 years). However, it does not detract from the predictive role of other components of the natural environment. It seems that different elements of the environment are effective over periods.
It is why it is important to take into consideration not only certain individual tendencies and processes but also the entire complex of geographic conditions which may emerge in the future. The second important predictive factor which will loom large in the year 2000, namely THE ANTHROPOGENIC FACTOR, has been much spoken of and written about mostly in popular rather than precise forms.
That anthropogenically modified natural environment develops much faster than 'fundamental nature" is a well-known fact. The rapid acceleration of the modification of the environment, new correlations that emerge between the different rates of its many components, also new quantitative proportions of these elements causes the natural environment to rebel, to avenge itself, and lead to a significant number of "chain reactions" in natural complexes. Thus far such acceleration and dynamism of natural processes and the links between them have not been determined in real terms. These are· only approximate indicators of speed for different types of wind and water erosion and some other processes. The question of how man accelerates and modifies geochemical processes (technogenesis) has risen to prominence.
Man-made landscapes are also increasingly moving into the focus of scientific attention. The problem of discrepancy between the rapidly developing technical possibilities of mankind and profligacy about the natural environment (considering the poor and inadequate assessments of the natural conditions) is becoming gradually more acute. In the beginning, the problem of mineral resources gave most trouble to both scientists and practical workers. Now the question of mineral resources has been put aside, with priority given to the problem of quality and quantity of freshwater, to the problems of atmospheric pollution and a sharp increase in radioactivity in all spheres. Next in line is the issue of preservation and reproduction of biological resources.
Every second three people get born on earth - three highly organized creatures. Human activity is becoming not only comparable in size and scope to natural processes, but it is at times even more efficient in a limited area than the latter. The impact of nature transforming the activity of people is so high that it is becoming a source of concern increasingly, stirring them into action to protect the environment in which they live. In this connection, the geoscientists attach great importance to long, less apparent anthropogenic actions that might harmonize with the natural settings, such as the building up of vast areas leaving wide spaces between housing estates. It can also be achieved by "fitting" engineering structures in with the features of the local terrain, by introducing "special ways" of exploitation of natural resources. All that speaks for increasing the significance of indirect methods of environmental development, and particularly of geoscientific methods.
Moreover, finally, the third important becoming a more predictive factor is THE FACTOR OF "RESOURCES.” To prognosticate the utilization of natural, labor, material, and technological resources, it is necessary to follow the main directions of the growth and distribution of productive forces over a long term and primarily with an eye to the growing population and rapid scientific and technological progress. Besides, a crucial part in this prognostication will most likely be played by our ability to determine per capita indicators for extraction and consumption of natural resources in the country as a whole and its individual areas by the year 2000.
The territorial aspect of redistribution of different resources is paramount in geographical prognostication. It concerns the transportation of fuel, raw material, energy, water, food, synthetic and organic fertilizers, and so forth. Also increasing in importance are the so-called "geographic conveyors" which take stock of biological spatial distinctions and contrasts: climatic, biological and so on.
Conservation, reproduction, and management of natural resources is a complex problem, and it takes more than one way to resolve it.
With all the requirements of industrial production, power industry, farming, transportation, and housing construction taken into account, these must by no means be regarded as geared exclusively to the interests of production. Of similar importance is the prognostication of the role played by the environment in the life of man, in the protection of his health and in providing him with adequate conditions for recreation.
D. GLOBAL ECOLOGY
Human activity puts increasing pressure on the natural environment. It is clear that any precautionary measures and any effort, however small, to improve production only slightly relieve this pressure and do not completely remove the danger of environmental deterioration for the simple reason that even the most streamlined manufacturing process takes vast areas of land and water out of the natural cycle. This fact must be clear to anyone who gives it a serious thought. It does not follow from this that mankind should wind down production. The old thesis "back to nature" has always been reactionary and the struggle for raising the standard of living calls for steady industrialization and urbanization.
However, there is hardly any grounds for thinking that man's impact on the biosphere and individual biocoenosis will inevitably lead to deterioration of nature. To get a clear picture of this fundamental problem, one should try to understand what a “real” ecosystem is and what a "bad" ecosystem is, what a "good" biocoenosis is and what sort of biocoenosis could be considered a "bad" one. It is hard to answer this question, although intrusively we all understand the difference between the two. In my opinion, a good biocoenosis must meet the following basic requirements:
a) The biomass of all basic links of the food chains is significant. The excess of the phytomass over the zoomass typical of anthropogenic landscapes is not very much in evidence. It assures the synthesis of a large amount of oxygen and the synthesis of a vast number of products of both vegetable and animal origin.
b) The enormous amounts of biomass suggest high biological productivity. The result of "productivity multiplied by the biomass" tends to a maximum. It makes it possible to quickly recoup losses of the biomass at separate trophic levels as the result of accidental, or deliberate external influences. It is particularly important since a large quantitative biomass does not assure the high compensatory activity of biological systems.
c) The structure of the scheme as a whole and heterogeneity of individual trophic levels assure the stability of biocoenosis by a wide range of external conditions. The highest perfection of homeostatic is typical not only of the populations of dominant plant species but an ecosystem as a whole. The maintenance of a biocoenosis in the state of dynamic balance assures the homeostasis of its inanimate inhabitants, including the hydrological status of a given area, and the composition of the atmosphere.
d) Metabolism proceeds at a very rapid pace. Reduction draws into the natural cycle the entire biomass produced by a biocoenosis over several annual cycles. It assures maximum speed in the biological self-purification of the system.
e) The highest degree of productivity and stability of an ecosystem is characterized by its resiliences, by its ability to change the structure of the system rapidly and to effect quick evolutionary transformations of the populations of dominant species. It helps maintain the biocoenosis in an optimal state even when the environmental conditions change.
If the biocoenosis meets the above requirements, there is every reason to consider it “safe" regardless of whether it is developing in natural, or in simulated conditions. Thus it follows that the most important task of global ecology is to work out measures that would help develop good biocoenosis in the conditions of anthropogenic landscapes. On the other hand, this point of view makes it possible to assess the volume of permissible pressure on the environment. If the biocoenosis can sustain itself (as a system) in an optimal state, this means that the degree of anthropogenic pressure does not exceed the potentialities of biological systems, and does not undermine their homeostatic capacity. There are serious theoretical grounds for assuming that this system of assessments coincides in practical terms with medico-sanitary evaluations. The quality of a biocoenosis is a much more sensitive indicator of the state of the environment than any other indicator.
E. FUTURE CHANGES IN THE CLIMATE.
The research carried out by some climatologists and geologists over the past several years suggests a warming-up of climate within the 50 years in consequence of combined action of natural temperature fluctuations and the greenhouse effect of the growing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuel. The conclusion that the climate will warm up shortly is based on the idea of the high sensitivity of the thermal status of the earth to changing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is also contingent on the assumption that the present trend of the growing consumption of fossil fuel will continue present pace over the next several decades.
Natural temperature changes. The modern trend in natural temperature changes has been described with a high degree of accuracy. Measurements of meteoroidal elements give a detailed picture of fluctuations of climatic (including thermal) conditions in the northern hemisphere over the past 100 years. They show that the end of the 19th century was relatively cold and that warming marked the 20th century of which was at its peak in the 1930s and 1940s. After that, a cooling-down period set in to continue to this day. A study of meteorological data for the southern hemisphere shows that south of the equator climatic changes over the past 100 years have recurred with the same regularity and within roughly the same parameters.
These global temperature variations have been accompanied by an alternate rise and drop in the rate of glaciation. In all mountain lands and the Arctic islands, the end of the 19th century saw an expansion of glaciation.
The first half of the 20th century was marked by a recession of glaciers which were at their nadir in the 1930-1940s. In a later period, glacier alimentation began to improve, which led to their stabilization and expansion. In some mountain lands, most glaciers showed considerable growth.
Significantly, both the data yielded by meteorological observations, which can be applied globally and the data on the fluctuation of glaciers cover short periods of' extrapolation within the past hundred years. Most of the other methods of paleoclimatic reconstruction give but incomplete and at times confusing information in which local factors sometimes distort climatic tendencies.
Greenhouse effect. Another component of future temperature changes reflects the effect that anthropogenic factors have on the environment, and amongst them, according to the consensus of climatologists and geologists, the concentration of dust and CO2 in the atmosphere. Changes in the temperature of the air, which are linked to variations in the transparency of the air due to dust, stay within the range of 0.2-0.4° C. Simultaneously, the rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide has by now exceeded the average air temperature by 0.5o C. It is widely believed that the second factor is chiefly responsible for the anthropogenic rise in temperature.
F. "BE FERTILE AND MULTIPLY; FILL THE EARTH AND SUBDUE IT."
The forms and dimensions of man's geochemical activity attach tremendous significance to the future of new geochemical phenomena and processes connected with human endeavor. The human race has geochemically intervened in the environment, notably the problem of the cultural geochemical landscape.
The following are the principal types of such intervention:
1. Today mankind is extracting at an increasing rate colossal amounts of chemical elements totaling millions, or even billions of tons of useful minerals a year. In scope such activity is comparable to many natural geochemical processes).
2. Man's agricultural activities are rated, for the amount of matter drawn into circulation and for the output of goods, by a similar order of magnitude.
3. Worldwide activities linked to engineering work, mining and construction result in the dispersal and transportation of large masses of matter whose volume comes to no less than 1 cu. km. every year, which is comparable to denudation by rivers. ~
4. Numbers measure the transposition of matter linked to both irrigation and soil drainage in the same order of magnitude.
5. Humanity uses all the known chemical elements; Man concentrates and uses their radioactive isotopes and creates new transuranian elements which do not occur in nature.
6. Man changes the ways and forms of migration of atoms; accelerates their movement; creates substances charged with energy, and therefore unstable on the earth's surface.
7. The latter leads to a secondary dispersal of elements over the face of the earth and makes humanity extract and obtain new substances on a vast scale.
8. Some products of technogenesis are obtained and synthesized for secondary dispersal (fertilizers, toxic chemicals, and so on).
9. Various by-products and industrial waste (gas, smoke. sewage water) also enter the process of active dispersal. The radioactive fallout from atomic explosions gets dispersed worldwide. The concentration of radioactive strontium over the entire surface of the earth in the temperate and subtropical zones of the northern hemisphere has increased three-fold and even four-fold compared to its level in the southern hemisphere and the high (polar) latitudes.
10. In its total technogenesis forms technogenic industrial and agricultural landscapes. The expanding technogenic migration of elements is increasingly changing the face of our earth.
All this shows that technogenesis is a special, active and complex geochemical process which is manageable only in part.
G. OUR FUTURE (?)
The group of technogenic adjustments which includes processes of interaction between society and nature which at present lead to abrupt and mostly irreversible changes in landscapes. These processes are called constructional, technogenic readjustments. These readjustments are used in prognostication as an important indicator whereby ecological- economic regions are distinguished and mapped.
The following are constructional technogenic readjustments:
1. Desertification. It occurs in arid climates with recurring seasonal dry spells and even periods lasting several years. The total area affected by this process is significant and continues to grow at the annual rate of 50-70 thousand sq. km.
2. Destruction of landscapes by erosion. Prevalent in humid and semi-arid climates in woodless and deforested areas with dissected relief and loose deposits. Erosion has affected large areas; in the eastern parts of the United States, for example, erosion has set in over 13% of plow-land, in Argentina 22%, in Uruguay 15%, and so forth.
3. Deforestation. Occurs in areas that were originally woodland. The deforested area is growing all the time. In the equatorial forests of South America, about 4-5% of the total reserve of timber is cut down every year, threatening their destruction in some 20-25 years.
4. Atmospheric oxidation of landscapes. Prevalent in territories with a high concentration of industry, also in areas lying in the path of transfer of air masses. The oxidation of landscapes is a complex of processes linked to the technogenic emission of oxides of sulfur, nitrogen and other compounds created by the burning of fossil fuels. It is furthermore linked to their transport and precipitation in the form of acid rain which has an unhealthy effect on all components of landscapes (growing acidity of the soil and surface water, depression, and destruction of plants and aquatic life).
5. Photochemical smog: Occurs primarily in urbanized areas, also tropics, subtropics and in the southern regions of the temperate summer), especially in the northern Mediterranean, California and with similar climatic conditions.
6. Cryogenic processes. These are on the increase in permafrost areas as the result of the freezing and thawing out of perennially frozen grounds due to the destruction of soil and vegetation through mining operations, construction work and the use of industrial facilities, the building of roads and pipelines.
7. Oil pollution. Occurs primarily in the world oceans, in off-shore waters of the shelf zone. On land, it occurs at sites of oil extraction and transportation.
8. Pollution of streams. Widespread in countries with a high concentration of industry and intensive agriculture with a massive run-off from farm fields. The highest concentrations of pollutants occur in the lower reaches of big rivers, coastal areas, and static lakes. The pollution of streams and other water bodies is a very complex combination of physical and chemical processes linked to the migration, decomposition. Moreover, precipitation of a vast assortment of pollutants - domestic, industrial and agricultural waste - carried into streams.
9. Total technogenic effect. It is an indicator which shows the intensity of the combined effect of technogenic processes on the natural environment. It has been worked out by mathematical conversion of the amount of energy generated per unit of space into tons of reference fuel per 1 sq. km a year.
The types above of constructional readjustments do not cover the full range of problems. The shortage of factual material has prevented me from examining hydro-engineering and some other constructional readjustments (salination, urbanization, land subsidence, and so on). Whether something is going to be done timely to save our planet depends on how fast and how effectively the human race reacts.
Of course, this is only for the future!
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