By Charlotte Ford
Planet Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago and is the only planet in the universe, that we know of, to host life. From the Northern Lights to the Great Barrier Reef, Earth has many wonders but how much do we actually know about the planet we live on? As a new student of environmental science, I thought I would share some of the fun facts I have learned about this big blue planet we call home.
72% of Planet Earth is covered by water
The total volume of water on Earth is estimated at 1.386 billion km3, 97% of which is found in the worlds oceans and is therefore too salty for human use. 2.5% of the fresh water is found in the atmosphere, in glaciers, polar ice caps, and soil (which is either too polluted or too far below ground) and so not accessible. This leaves only 0.5% of the Earth’s water available to us. According to the United Nations, water shortage already affects 4 in 10 people and by 2025, 1.8 billion people are expected to live in regions of water shortage, with two thirds of the global population under water stress conditions. In Britain, solutions for water shortages in the future are being suggested including but not limited to; building more reservoirs to store water, converting salt water into drinking water (a process known as desalination), drinking sewage water (after passing through a treatment plant!) and moving populations from water shortage areas.
The Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down
As you may know, the Earth spins on an axis which runs through the Poles. Back in the dinosaur times, a day was 1 hour shorter than it is today. This slowing rotation is due to the tidal forces between the earth and the moon. Most people may be unaware that the moon is slowly moving further away from the Earth (3.82 cm a year) and as it does this, it causes the earth’s rotation to slow down resulting in the days becoming longer. What is alarming is that researchers Roger Bilham and Rebecca Bendick believe that this slowing of the earth’s rotation could be causing more major earthquakes. As Bilham describes it; “The basic idea is that as the Earth’s spin slows slightly, the equator shrinks”. This, readers, is due to the struggle between the Earth’s own gravitational force and weakening momentum. The way I understand it is that as the Earth slows it becomes more spherical in shape, ressembling an orange more than a flat peach – and so the equator shrinks. “However, tectonic plates don’t shrink as easily, meaning the edges of the plates gets squeezed. This puts added pressure on plate boundaries that are already under stress, where earthquakes are more likely”.
The largest volcanic eruption in recorded history led to the creation of Frankenstein
On 5th April 1815, Mount Tambora (Indonesia) erupted with such force that the volcanic gasses reached the earth’s atmosphere affecting global climate systems. This led to a long period of extreme weather with people across the globe living through abnormal changes in temperature and rainfall including heavy snow and deadly frosts in the summer months. People died from starvation and disease, and many were displaced from their homes. During this time, Mary Shelley and her party were vacationing in Switzerland for the summer (1816), when they witnessed numerous storms of “manic intensity”. To entertain themselves during these storms, Lord Byron created a ghost story contest which led Mary Shelley to create Frankenstein.
The colonisation of the new world is thought to have led to the famous “Little Ice Age”
Though highly controversial in the scientific community, some researchers believe that when Europeans encountered the new world (i.e. the Americas), not only did they bring disease which led to the deaths of many indigenous peoples but they also altered the global climate! The indigenous people developed a lot of land for agricultural use and therefore as the population began to collapse, farms were abandoned and consequently reverted back to forests. Scientists from Stanford concluded that this reforestation led to huge amounts of carbon being pulled from the atmosphere causing global cooling resulting in Europe’s Little Ice Age which lasted from 1500 – 1750.
There are 43,000 species of spiders across the globe
Yet, despite the many species, only a small number – 30 to be precise – are responsible for any human deaths. In fact, more people die from bee stings in Australia, than they do from spider bites. Whilst being bitten by a spider is often unpleasant and can be deadly, spider’s venom has been shown to have some benefits. Researchers have reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that the venom from the deadly Banana Spider could be used to treat Erectile Dysfunction in men who do not respond to Viagra. Scientists, studying the venom of a spider related to the tarantula family (Haplopelma doriae), have also found a compound that could help treat chronic pain1
More than 80% of our Oceans have yet to be explored and we have discovered less than 15% of living things on the Earth. Likewise, more than 100 tribes across the world still live in total isolation, away from society. What’s clear to me is how much there is left to explore on this marvellous planet! Exciting times lie ahead!
- Seven novel modulators of the analgesic target NaV 1.7 uncovered using a high-throughput venom-based discovery approach.