50 Global Warming News Articles
for February of 2018
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2-28-18 Europe freezes as 'Beast from the East' arrives
Much of Europe has been blanketed in snow as cold weather spreads as far south as the Mediterranean coast. The cold spell, nicknamed "the Beast from the East" in the UK, is carrying freezing winds across the continent, and temperatures as low as -30C (-22F). At least 10 people have died since Monday, including many who were sleeping rough in cities. Aid groups have opened shelters and are providing hot food and blankets for thousands of people. The cold weather - called the "Siberian bear" by the Dutch and "snow cannon" by Swedes - brought rare snowfalls to parts of Spain and Italy and to the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Capri. Dozens of roads were closed and trains and flights cancelled across the continent. Hundreds of schools suspended classes and some businesses advised workers to stay at home. Many regions were put on alert as the frigid temperatures were expected to continue until the end of the week. Emergency shelters have been opened by many authorities to cope with the needs of homeless citizens. In Belgium, police were allowed to detain people overnight if they refused to go to shelters. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies appealed to the public to check on at-risk neighbours. "Just knocking on someone's door to check they have everything they need can make a huge difference," its Europe director, Simon Missiri, said. "It could even be the difference between life and death."
2-27-18 Arctic hit by record high temperatures as rest of Europe shivers
The extreme warmth is likely to slow or prevent the formation of Arctic sea ice, which has been shrinking for decades due to climate change. WHILE western Europe copes with freezing temperatures and snow, the Arctic is experiencing record highs. At Greenland’s most northerly point, Cape Morris Jesup, Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth in California says temperatures are 35°C warmer than normal for the time of year – and that the site has already spent more time above 0°C this year than in any year on record. There is no weather station at the North Pole, but scientists suspect it, too, has risen above freezing this week. “The North Pole is warmer than much of Europe right now,” Rohde tweeted Monday. This is backed up by Zachary Labe at the University of California, Irvine, who tracks Arctic temperatures. His data suggests the Arctic is warmer than it has been at this time of year since at least 1958. A weakening of the polar vortex is to blame. This spinning loop of air normally keeps the cold Arctic air separate from the warmer air further south. The extreme warmth is likely to slow or prevent the formation of Arctic sea ice, which has been shrinking for decades due to climate change.
2-27-18 Diesel ban approved for German cities to cut pollution
German cities will be allowed to ban older diesel vehicles from some areas following a landmark court ruling. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig said the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf could legally ban older, more polluting diesel cars from zones worst affected by pollution. The ruling sets a precedent for other cities and analysts said it could lead to similar action across Europe. The government, which had opposed the bans, said they could still be avoided. The ruling by a top federal court came after German states had appealed against bans imposed by local courts in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf. The environmental group DUH brought the cases after about 70 German cities exceeded European Union limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx) last year. Diesel emissions containing nitrogen oxides can cause respiratory disease. The likelihood now is that the German government will rush to introduce some sort of national policy, to ensure at least some level of consistency across the country. It's not just about Germany either - cities across Europe are struggling to meet EU air quality standards, and may well see the German ruling as setting a precedent. New diesel cars won't be affected, but that's not really the point. Consumers are already moving away from the technology - and the prospect of city bans will only accelerate that process. So diesel's decline is likely to gather momentum. That's a problem for the industry, because while diesels produce high levels of nitrogen oxide - a major urban pollutant - they emit relatively low levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. So moves to control one environmental problem may end up undermining efforts to combat another - unless we all start driving electric cars very soon.
2-26-18 King penguins face warming challenge
King penguins are in deep trouble if nothing is done to constrain climate change, researchers say. The scientists have assessed the birds' fragmented population in the Southern Ocean and concluded that some island strongholds will become unsustainable. The problem is the continued movement away from key nesting sites of the penguins' favoured foraging grounds. And as the climate warms further, food will simply become too distant for many birds to fetch for their chicks. "Our work shows that almost 70% of king penguins - about 1.1 million breeding pairs - will have to relocate or disappear before the end of the century because of greenhouse gas emissions," said Dr Céline Le Bohec from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Strasbourg. Her team has just published its findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. The group has looked at the particular requirements of the king penguin and how shifts in the environment might affect the species' breeding success in the coming decades. It is a mixture of climate modelling but also uses genetics to understand population history, as well. The second largest of the 17 penguin species, Aptenodytes patagonicus are finicky about where they base themselves, preferring sub-antarctic islands that are free of sea-ice and that have smooth sandy or pebble beaches on which to rear chicks. But they also need a good supply of fish and squid, and in the Southern Ocean this is to be found along a feature known as the Antarctic Polar Front (APF). It is a nutrient-rich upwelling that supports abundant prey for the hungry predator. The issue is that the APF is heading poleward, and if global temperatures continue to rise as expected, the front is likely eventually to move out of the range of many foraging king penguins, the research suggests.
2-24-18 Approaching Day Zero
With Cape Town nearing "Day Zero," the world may be seeing a grim portent of a drier future. With Cape Town nearing "Day Zero," the world may be seeing a grim portent of a drier future. Here's everything you need to know:
- What is Day Zero? It is the date, currently set as July 9, when officials believe Cape Town will run out of water.
- Can it be prevented? Day Zero is by no means inevitable.
- Which regions are vulnerable? The Middle East and North Africa are most likely to suffer.
- Where is conflict likely? Flash points often occur where a river or aquifer stretches across national borders, raising questions over who owns the rights to the flow.
- How can shortages be alleviated? One deceptively simple solution is to fix old, leaky pipes, which account for about 40 percent of cities' lost water.
- Life under water rations: A hotline for snitching on water-guzzling neighbors.
2-22-18 Sea levels rising faster
Rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are speeding up the rate of global sea level rise, new research reveals. In future decades, scientists warn, coastal cities such as New Orleans, Boston, and Miami will be inundated unless they invest in costly strategies to mitigate the effects of flooding and erosion. The grim predictions are based on 25 years of satellite data and precise ocean measurements. The data show a total sea level rise of 2.8 inches since 1993. More worrying, researchers say, is that the rise is picking up speed as ice sheets melt, and will double by 2100 to about 0.5 inches per year. They estimate that on average, the world’s oceans will be 26 inches higher by the end of the century. This is actually a conservative estimate, and the total increase is likely to be higher, study author Steve Nerem tells CNN.com. “We are already seeing signs of ice-sheet instability in Greenland and Antarctica,” he says, “so if they experience rapid changes, then we would likely see more than 65 centimeters [26 inches].” The rising seas will cause major flooding in coastal cities, which may have to spend billions on sophisticated sea barriers in coming decades.
2-22-18 The global water crisis
With Cape Town nearing “Day Zero,” the world may be seeing a grim portent of a drier future. A hotline for snitching on water-guzzling neighbors. Signs in café bathrooms reading “When it’s yellow, let it mellow.” Radio stations playing only two-minute songs to help people time their showers. Cape Town’s residents are adapting to life under water rationing in innovative ways. Some wash their feet before going to bed, so they don’t have to wash their sheets as often. Others proudly write “I’m saving water” in the layer of dirt on their cars. Restaurants encourage customers to use hand sanitizers rather than soap and water, and provide paper towels so that they don’t have to launder linen napkins. And everyone, everywhere, uses buckets to collect and recycle much of the water they use. These measures have given some Capetonians a new perspective on their city. “There are many Cape Town residents in the poorer areas who are saying they’ve lived in Day Zero conditions all their lives,” says resident Suzanne Buchanan. “It is certainly giving us more privileged citizens pause for thought.”
- What is Day Zero?
- Can it be prevented?
- Which regions are vulnerable?
- Where is conflict likely?
- How can shortages be alleviated?
- Life under water rations
2-21-18 Rock dusting on farms could cool the climate, so let’s try it
Crushed basalt applied to agricultural land could soak up billions of tons of carbon dioxide and boost crops. Let's put it to the test, says Olive Heffernan. On the menu of geoengineering options, one has always stood out as a saner choice: enhanced weathering. No need to deploy giant mirrors in space to deflect sunlight or to risk food riots by converting crops to fuel. Just scatter crushed rock far and wide. It sounds simple: rock mops up carbon dioxide – it’s a slow but significant part of the carbon cycle – so if we speed up natural weathering we could get enough of this greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere to dampen climate change. Ordinarily, common silicate minerals react slowly with CO2 in air and water. In the process, much of the CO2 is bound up in stable alkaline compounds, which eventually wash into the oceans. It’s reasonable to assume that if silicates were spread more widely over Earth’s surface as crushed rock, more CO2 would bind to them more rapidly, offsetting emissions from human activities. This would have two benefits: the CO2 would be stored more or less permanently; and the end product is alkaline, so run-off has the added bonus of countering ocean acidification. But, like many other geoengineering ideas, enhanced weathering has been beset by problems. Most such propositions have suggested dusting cropland and other surfaces with olivine-rich rock, because it weathers quickly and can capture a tonne of CO2 per tonne of dissolved rock. The olivine, however, would need to be mined on a vast scale, with huge environmental and energy costs. And, as it weathers, olivine releases toxic metals like nickel and chromium that could get into the food chain. That limits its use on farms, which are ideal places to deploy this technique.
2-21-18 Green is the new black: Redesigning clothes to save the planet
The clothes on your back are responsible for huge amounts of pollution – but lab-grown fabrics and changes to our fashion habits can make a big difference. IT WAS a rookie error. Two decades ago, Gary Cass had just finished a degree in viticulture and was working at a friend’s winery in Western Australia when he forgot to add carbon dioxide to a vat of wine. Oxygen seeped in, feeding bacteria that caused a thick skin of sludge to form on its surface. Grateful not to be sacked, Cass threw it away in disgust. He couldn’t have guessed that, 20 years on, he would be using that same sludge to make more environmentally sound clothes. Dressing ourselves is a necessity that has spawned one of the most polluting economic activities on the planet. The clothing industry creates carbon emissions of 1.2 billion tonnes a year – more than aviation – and making and maintaining our clothes consumes shedloads of water, energy and non-renewable resources, too. Concern about clothing sustainability is suddenly in vogue. In November 2017, designer Stella McCartney spoke out against her industry following a report on clothing’s environmental impact by the sustainable economy think tank the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Cass is just one of many trying to respond to such concerns, finding ways to make clothes greener at all stages of their lives, from production and processing to washing and disposal. And although there is no single easy solution, it turns out there is quite a lot we can all do to help.
2-21-18 When it comes to climate change, a tantrum is just what we need
We can’t wait for the next generation to solve the problem of climate change but today’s kids can still be a big force for change, says Michael E. Mann. WHEN my daughter was five, I read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to her. Much of it is about unrestrained development and damage to nature. It is sad, and she cried at times. But it is also hopeful. Its message is that, in the end, we have a choice – an opportunity remains to save our environment, but it is up to us to act. My generation – in particular, our politicians – have so far failed to act sufficiently. We haven’t done what is necessary to avert the threat posed by climate change. If fossil fuel use continues as now, we will warm our planet to dangerous levels within a few decades, having released too much carbon dioxide to avoid this. We cannot, as some hope, wait for a more environmentally aware generation to follow and solve the problem, as in The Lorax. And yet children do have a role to play. They have the ability to influence the environmental attitudes of adults for the better. It is this potential to engage across the generations that helped inspire The Tantrum That Saved the World, a book I co-wrote with Megan Herbert, an accomplished children’s author and illustrator. We have tried to create a mutual learning experience for parents and children. Our hero is a girl called Sophia, who is upset by creatures appearing at her door. They have been displaced by the impact of climate change on their habitat and are searching for a new home.
2-21-18 Huge underwater landslides and tsunamis may be caused by ooze
Layers of ooze in the seabed may be responsible for submarine “megaslides” that dwarf ordinary landslides and can cause tsunamis. THE largest landslides on Earth happen in the oceans, and an ooze of dead plankton may be responsible. If so, it could help us predict the risk of devastating tsunamis triggered by these events. Far beneath the waves, huge “megaslides” can transport 3000 cubic kilometres of sediment at speeds of up to 80 metres per second. The largest such event on record was the Storegga Slide 8150 years ago off the coast of Norway. Dwarfing every slide known on land, it caused a tsunami that flooded coastlines around the North Sea by up to 20 metres. This may have been devastating for the prehistoric inhabitants of the area. Nobody knows what triggers megaslides. The one clue was that past events had a smooth surface underlying them, suggesting the sediment must have slid over some kind of layer of weakness. But there the trail went cold. “The problem has been that this weak zone vanishes with the landslide,” says Morelia Urlaub at the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany. Now Urlaub and her colleagues believe that the cause of the weak zone is ooze, a “fluffy” substance made of dead single-celled organisms called diatoms. It forms when diatoms – a major component of plankton – die and drift down to the seafloor. Urlaub’s team got lucky, she says, because a now defunct international research effort called the Ocean Drilling Program once collected a core from marine sediments off the north-west coast of Africa. It was right next to the site of the Cap Blanc Slide, a megaslide that happened about 149,000 years ago. This gave the team access to deep-sea sediments, where they discovered a 10-metre-thick layer of ooze (Geology, doi.org/ckng).
2-20-18 Ocean plastic tide 'violates the law'
The global tide of ocean plastic pollution is a clear violation of international law, campaigners say. They have been urging for a new global treaty to tackle the problem. But a new report - to be presented to a Royal Geographical Society conference on Tuesday - says littering the sea with plastics is already prohibited under existing agreements. The report urges those governments that are trying to tackle the issue to put legal pressure on those that are not. The paper (downloadable PDF) has been written by the veteran environment journalist Oliver Tickell. It has been produced as Irish scientists publish details of a study in which they found microplastics in three-in-every-four deep-water fish sampled in the northwest Atlantic. Mr Tickell's principal conclusion is backed by ClientEarth, the legal group that successfully sued the UK over failures to meet air pollution laws. The journalist says legal action against big polluters such as China, India and Indonesia can be taken only by a nation state. So he calls for governments and green groups to support small island nations suffering most from plastic pollution. Tickell maintains that marine plastic litter can already be controlled through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the London Convention; the MARPOL Convention; the Basel Convention; Customary Law, and many other regional agreements. Article 194 of UNCLOS, for instance, requires states to "prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source. "Measures shall include, inter alia, those designed to minimize to the fullest possible extent... the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent, from land-based sources… [and] shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life."
2-20-18 Cyclone Gita hits New Zealand after hammering Tonga
New Zealand has declared a state of emergency as Cyclone Gita struck the city of Christchurch, just days after causing devastation on the island nation of Tonga. CHRISTCHURCH and other districts on the South Island of New Zealand declared a state of emergency this week as Cyclone Gita tore through the country, leaving many without power. Last week, Gita reached wind speeds of 230 kilometres per hour and ripped through the Pacific island of Tonga. It was the worst cyclone to hit the country in 60 years, destroying or damaging an estimated 1400 houses. Arriving at New Zealand, the storm first hit the zone between the North and South islands, whipping up waves up to 9 metres tall. As Gita went south to Christchurch, it brought almost 30 centimetres of rainfall in places. Almost 200 schools were shut, and New Zealand’s national airline cancelled all flights to and from the capital, Wellington. “Even though the deep low pressure system moves away from us early on Wednesday, the effects of Gita will last a few more days, with further rain likely about central New Zealand until Thursday,” said Lisa Murray at MetService in Wellington.
2-20-18 Gita: State of emergency as storm hits New Zealand
The city of Christchurch and several other districts on New Zealand's South Island have declared a state of emergency after being hit by the remnants of Cyclone Gita. Dozens of schools have been shut and roads closed in the South Island as the storm made landfall on Tuesday. Air New Zealand has cancelled all flights in and out of the capital, Wellington, in the North Island. Residents were told to expect floods and winds of up to 150km/h (90mph). The Grey District, Buller District and Nelson Tasman are among the regions in the South Island to have declared a state of emergency, as has Taranaki in the North Island. "The full impact of the storm will be felt overnight and tomorrow morning," said Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel. She urged residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, saying: "We are expecting homes to be flooded." The Buller District Mayor Garry Howard said he expected high seas and strong winds in the West Coast region. "This is not a good situation for those in seafront properties," he said. Gita, which was downgraded on Tuesday from a tropical cyclone to a storm, is already causing flooding in parts of the South Island with waves up to 7m (22ft) high. Community halls in Christchurch and other districts are providing shelter for those affected by the weather.
2-18-18 Does bad air lead to bad behavior?
New research links air pollution to higher levels of crime and other unethical acts. Looking for an excuse the next time you get caught doing something unethical? If you live in a highly polluted city, you may be in luck. Recent research offers evidence that air pollution inspires unethical behavior, ranging from low-stakes cheating to criminal activity. It reports this is likely due to polluted air increasing personal anxiety, which can throw people's moral compasses out of whack. "This research reveals that air pollution may have potential ethical costs that go beyond its well-known toll on health and the environment," lead author Jackson Lu of Columbia Business School said in announcing the results. "Our findings suggest that air pollution not only corrupts people's health, but can contaminate their morality." Evidence of a link between pollution and crime has been growing for several years. A 2015 study found violent crimes were 2.2 percent higher in neighborhoods downwind of air pollution. Another released in December linked higher levels of particulate matter with higher rates of juvenile delinquency. In the first of their four studies, Lu and his colleagues add to this evidence. Using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Environmental Protection Agency covering the years 1999 to 2009, they compared air pollution levels and crime rates in 9,360 American cities. They found that, even after taking a variety of factors into account, including the poverty and unemployment rates and the numerical strength of the local police force, cities with higher levels of air pollution also had higher rates of seven major categories of crime, including murder, aggravated assault, and robbery.
2-16-18 Consumer products' air quality impact 'underestimated'
US research has found that chemicals in everyday household products are now a key contributor to city air pollution, rivalling some vehicle emissions. The study, led from Colorado University, focussed on so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are contained in petroleum-based products such as cleaning fluids and paints, and when they get into the air can form particles that affect health. The scientists say the sources of non-vehicle VOCs have been underestimated. This appears a somewhat surprising result because by weight, we use far more fuel than we do these other chemical products. About 95% of raw oil goes into the production of fuels, whereas roughly only 5% is refined for use in chemicals that are included in the likes of deodorants, pesticides, and adhesives. But Dr Jessica Gilman said it should not be seen as that remarkable because vehicle fuels are burned (to yield mostly carbon dioxide and water), whereas many of the household products are simply wafted into the air by design. "Most commonly, they're used as solvents - things like nail polish remover, the hairspray I used this morning; they are used in many cases as cleaning agents like carpet cleaners," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist told reporters. "It would be difficult to remove them because the alternative is to use straight water, which as you know doesn't work for all stains." One of Dr Gilman's colleagues, Dr Brian McDonald, did however suggest that reduced use would be helpful. "Use as little of the product as you can to get the job done," he said.
2-15-18 Shampoo is causing air pollution, but let’s not lose our heads
In Western cities, household products like deodorants and paints are a bigger source of air pollution than vehicle exhausts – so here’s what we need to do. Say air pollution and we tend to think of car exhausts, large factories and open fires. But in Western cities, the biggest source of air pollution is something else entirely: household items like your deodorant and shampoo. A team including Brian McDonald and Jessica Gilman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado examined data on air pollution from the US and Europe. Increasingly stringent regulations mean that pollution from cars and other vehicles has fallen. As a result, a larger proportion of pollution now comes from everyday consumer products that release a mix of carbon-based chemicals into the air. To identify the types of product responsible, the team calculated the flow of chemicals in and out of the air of Los Angeles. The largest source was personal care products like hair spray, shampoo, deodorants and lotions, says McDonald. Other major sources were “paint and other coating-related products, adhesives, and cleaning agents”, he says. “As many of these emissions occur indoors, and given the amount of time spent indoors, there are potentially important health implications,” says Frank Kelly of King’s College London. It is important to put these findings in context, however. They only apply to highly developed places like the US and western Europe, where air quality has generally been improving for decades, says Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia in Canada. In these places, emissions from consumer products are only significant because emissions from transport and industry have fallen so much.
2-15-18 Household products make surprisingly large contributions to air pollution
Consumer products might be next target for air pollution cleanup. To reduce your impact on air quality, you might expect to trade in your gas-guzzling clunker of a car — but you can also unplug those air fresheners. In urban areas, emissions from consumer goods such as paint, cleaning supplies and personal care products now contribute as much to ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere as do emissions from burning gasoline or diesel fuel. The finding is largely a sign of success, study coauthor Brian McDonald said February 15 during a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Steps taken to clean up car exhaust over the past few decades have had a huge effect, and as a result, “the sources of air pollution are now becoming more diverse in cities,” said McDonald, a chemist at Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colo. “When you have a big mountain in front of you, it's difficult to know what lies behind it,” says Spyros Pandis, a chemical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who wasn’t part of the study. Now, other sources of air pollution are becoming more visible.
2-15-18 Strong winds send migrating seal pups on lengthier trips
The animals may suffer higher rates of mortality in breezy years as a result. Native American fishermen in Alaska have long said that seal pups go with the wind rather than struggle against it. Now, a new study confirms that wisdom. Migrating northern fur seal pups travel hundreds of kilometers farther in blustery years than in milder years, researchers reported February 14 at the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences meeting. Those epic journeys may be linked to pup deaths. At 4 months old, the pups are weaned and begin a voyage from the Pribilof Islands of Alaska through the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean that can last for 20 months before they return to the islands. Physical oceanographer Noel Pelland and colleagues compared the migrations of 168 seal pups tagged in five different years from 1996 to 2015 with winds matching the pups’ first migration years. Winds were simulated using data from the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction. On average, the pups moved farther downwind when wind speeds were higher, and tended to move to the right of the wind direction — likely following wind-driven ocean currents. Tagging data lasted 130 days on average, but whether the pups died or the tags fell off is unknown. That makes it difficult to draw a definitive link to mortality, says Pelland of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Still, the lengthier, more physically challenging journeys in some years may explain why populations of these northern fur seals — considered “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act — have not rebounded in recent decades despite a hunting ban.
2-15-18 UK air pollutants continue decline
Total emissions from motor vehicles fell 12% from 2012 to 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, the UK remains in breach of European limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx) in 16 cities. Nonetheless, environmentalists have welcomed the overall drop in pollutants from cars and lorries. The reduction is thought to have been propelled by tightening restrictions. The one emission going in the wrong direction is ammonia from farming. Jon Bennett from the green group ClientEarth told BBC News: “We very much welcome the reduction in emissions. "But the concentrations of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) in towns and cities are at illegal and harmful levels. “So government policy needs to focus on bringing these down with clean air zones, diesel-scrappage and other initiatives.” The news is contained in the ONS annual national emissions data (PDF). This records a decades-long general trend downwards in all pollutants in the UK – except for ammonia. Emissions from ammonia – mostly from farming – actually increased over the year from 2015. The gas is produced by activities like muck-spreading from dairy farms, and causes a problem in cities as well as the countryside. When ammonia blows into urban areas it can react to form harmful particles that get breathed deep into the lungs. Air pollution is estimated to contribute to shortening the lives of 40,000 people a year in the UK. It undermines the health of people with heart or lung problems. The UK has been given a final warning from Brussels about its failure to bring down NOx levels in cities to acceptable levels. (Webmaster's comment: In the United States air quality has also improved. See https://www.epa.gov/air-trends)
2-14-18 Look to penguins to track Antarctic changes
Shifts in food webs and climate are written in penguin feathers and eggshells. Penguins preserve records of Antarctic environmental change. The birds’ feathers and eggshells contain the chemical fingerprints of variations in diet, food web structure and even climate, researchers reported February 12 at the American Geophysical Union’s 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting. The Antarctic environment has changed dramatically in recent decades. Overfishing has led to a decline in krill, small swimming crustaceans that are a key food source for birds, whales, fish and penguins in the Southern Ocean. Climate change is altering wind directions, creating open water regions in the sea ice that become hot spots for life. These changes have cascading effects on food webs and on the cycling of nutrients. “Penguins are excellent bioarchives of this change,” says Kelton McMahon, an oceanic ecogeochemist at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. Penguins are at the heart of the Antarctic food web, and their tissues are known to capture details about what they’ve eaten. Different food sources contain different proportions of carbon and nitrogen isotopes, forms of the elements with different numbers of neutrons. For example, food sources such as krill and fish have different amounts of nitrogen-15 relative to nitrogen-14. The tissues of penguins, such as feathers and eggshells, preserve these proportions.
2-14-18 Cape Town is about to run out of water – how did this happen?
Cape Town's water reserves are so low that it may soon have to turn off the taps. We’ve known for a decade that this could happen, but almost nothing has been done. AS I fly south towards Cape Town, I pass over hundreds of kilometres of parched land, with not a speck of green in sight. Closer to the city, green fields start to appear and the city itself is full of lush parks and gardens. If it wasn’t for the massive posters at the airport, you wouldn’t know that this is a city about to run out of water. In fact, the situation is so bad that, on 1 February, residents were told to use no more than 50 litres a day per person. If the rains don’t refill the city’s reservoirs, the taps will be shut off in May: Day Zero. Cape Town’s problems are partly down to bad luck. Rainfall in the area, which the city relies on for its water, is highly variable and the past three years have been among the driest on record. Climate change might have made this more likely, but no one knows for sure (see “Is climate change to blame?“). The underlying cause, however, is simple: in several parts of South Africa, the supply of water hasn’t increased in line with growing demand. It has been clear since at least 2002 that, if nothing was done to increase supply, there would be massive water shortfalls. Cape Town was going to run out of water sooner or later; the drought has just made it sooner. While politicians may be happy to blame climate change, the dire situation is much more a result of institutional incompetence and alleged corruption. Until now, the tight water restrictions have been a nuisance, but manageable. They mean having the shortest of showers and not always flushing the toilet. Many thousands of people have installed boreholes so they can water their gardens or top up swimming pools. But most groundwater isn’t drinkable without treatment – there is a distinct sulphurous odour to the borehole water from one of the homes I visit. The situation will worsen dramatically on Day Zero, when the city will start to turn off the taps to a million homes – currently estimated as 11 May. The idea is that places like hospitals and commercial districts will still get running water, but millions of people will have to pick up their 25-litre-a-day rations from just 200 collection points.
2-14-18 Dirty talk: How pollution is snuffing out plants’ scent messages
Plants use a fragrant language but filthy air is messing with their communication lines, which might explain why insects are in decline and roses are losing their scent. IN THE classic post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids, giant carnivorous plants terrorise humanity. Triffids can walk and are equipped with venomous stingers, but their real power lies in their ability to communicate and so plot against us. It sounds far-fetched, but since John Wyndham’s book was published in 1951, one aspect of this fiction has proved to be science fact: plants do talk to one another. If you stroll through a forest and take a deep breath, you can smell the “words” – complex volatile chemicals such as beta-pinene, which smells fresh and piney. Plants produce thousands of these, combining them to create “sentences”. However, this fragrant language is under threat. Air pollution is disrupting floral scents, turning their messages into gibberish. Not only is this having an impact on plants’ abilities to survive, it is also bad news for pollinating insects – and for us, because it affects everything from crop yields to the smell of our favourite flowers. Luckily, there is a way we can help our botanical friends fight back. It has long been known that insects such as pollinators and pests can distinguish between plants by the unique bouquet of chemicals they release. What’s new is the idea that plants use their emissions to talk among themselves. “Plants release volatile chemicals into the atmosphere – these can be viewed as a language in the sense that a plant releasing the chemicals can be viewed as ‘speaking’ and the plant receiving them as ‘listening’ and then responding,” says chemical ecologist James Blande at the University of Eastern Finland.
2-14-18 World without sand: The race to save a precious resource
From electronics to concrete, modern life depends on sand. With supplies running low and mines harming the environment, it’s time to use it smarter. LIKE stars, snowflakes and blades of grass, sand is one of those things that seems to be in infinite supply. It has been a symbol for quantities beyond counting since ancient times. When the biblical hero Joseph faces an impending famine in the book of Genesis he “stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure”. Fast forward a few thousand years and things have changed: we are running out of the stuff. “Sand is a lot like oil,” says Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University. “It takes a lot of time to make and it can’t be renewed.” That’s more than a little troubling, for sand is literally the foundation of modern civilisation. It is a crucial ingredient in concrete, bricks, plaster, glass and microchips. What’s more, efforts to mine ever more sand are damaging ecosystems around the world. We can’t do without it, and yet now might be the time to stay our shovels. Increasingly, the world is waking up to the sand crisis and trying to tackle it. Learn to use less sand in a smarter way, and we might just stop this most precious of resources from slipping through our fingers forever. Think of sand and you probably picture the golden-brown stuff on the beach, which is largely made of silicon dioxide. Yet sand is defined not by its composition, but by the size of its grains, which are smaller than gravel and larger than silt. Roughly speaking, that means between 2 and 0.06 millimetres. Within that range there is a huge variety – from the translucent pink stuff found on dunes in Utah to the black volcanic grains of some Hawaiian beaches.
2-14-18 The world beneath the permafrost
As cold weather grips a majority of the country, it may be easy to think that all life is dead when the ground is frozen, at least until spring breathes new life into the plant systems and surrounding environments. On the contrary, says Matthew Wallenstein, associate professor of ecosystems science and sustainability at Colorado State University. Wallenstein has spent many years researching the microbes, bacteria, fungi, and other soil organisms that continue on with their normal processes underneath permafrost. By measuring the amount of carbon dioxide, Wallenstein can "measure, essentially, their breathing." "We can see that they're actually transforming that soil and making nutrients available so that when the plants start coming to life in the spring, there's actually nutrients available for them," he says. Wallenstein says that the microbes in the soil are actually aquatic organisms that live on water films. They are able to maintain well below zero Celsius (the point of freezing) due to the high amounts of salt in the water. As the water concentrates down due to freezing, the solutes become more concentrated, lowering the freezing point of water, he says. Roots are also able to thrive in extremely cold climates, says Colleen Iversen, a senior staff scientist and ecosystems ecologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She specializes in the study of climate change's effects on the root-soil interface. Iversen gives the example of Barrow, Alaska, in the summertime with a maximum temperature of only 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In such a setting, one can see a "green seashore" barren of trees but teeming with smaller plants that stay close to the ground to avoid harsh winds, she says. "So really, all the action in the tundra is below ground," Iversen says. "There can be five times as much plant biomass beneath the ground surface compared to above."
2-13-18 BBC to ban single-use plastics by 2020 after Blue Planet II
The BBC is to ban single-use plastics by 2020, after TV series Blue Planet II highlighted the scale of sea pollution. More than eight million tonnes of plastic enters the world's oceans every year. First, throwaway plastic cups and cutlery will be scrapped by the end of this year, followed by plastic containers in canteens by 2019. By 2020, the BBC hopes to be free of single-use plastic across all sites. Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, said he had been "shocked" by the plastic waste featured in last year's nature documentary. Two million plastic cups are currently used by BBC visitors and staff annually. The decision comes after the Queen backed efforts to reduce single-use plastics on Britain's royal estates. The Scottish Parliament also announced plans to ban plastic straws, following similar announcements by restaurants including Pizza Express, Wagamama and JD Wetherspoon. Announcing its three-step plan on Tuesday, the BBC said some of its kitchens had already started replacing plastic cups with glasses. A trial will be launched at its site in Salford later this month to remove plastic containers from canteens and test a coffee cup recycling scheme. Any new contracts which come up for tender will also include a requirement to cut single-use plastic. Lord Hall said: "Like millions of people watching Blue Planet II, I was shocked to see the avoidable waste and harm created by single-use plastic. "We all need to do our bit to tackle this problem, and I want the BBC to lead the way. "Scrapping throwaway plastic cups and cutlery is the first step, and with our plan I hope we can have a BBC free of single-use plastic altogether."
2-12-18 Australia’s deadly 1800s storms help us predict future extremes
Meteorologists cannot currently predict the monster storms that occasionally strike Australia, but decades of newspaper accounts suggest there may be a pattern. “It was blowing a perfect hurricane, the squalls coming down in regular gusts… the sea at this time running mountains high, and very broken.” That was one of the last things written in the logbook of a ship called the Catherine Hill, before a giant storm drove it aground north of Sydney, Australia, on 21 June 1867. That storm and others like it are now being studied to help weather forecasters predict future recurrences. Australia’s eastern seaboard is lashed by monster storms called “extreme east coast lows” about once every 10 to 20 years. Their infrequency makes them notoriously difficult to predict. For example, meteorologists failed to foresee the severity of the 8 June 2007 storm, which caused the Pasha Bulker coal ship to run aground 100 kilometres north of Sydney. “Most forecasters would only see one such event during their careers, and nobody working on the forecast desk at the time had ever seen anything like it,” says Stuart Browning at Macquarie University in Sydney. Most of what we know about these storms is based on satellite data, which only goes back to 1979. To build a more comprehensive picture, Browning and his colleague Ian Goodwin pieced together data going back almost two centuries.
2-12-18 UK team set for giant Antarctic iceberg expedition
Scientists will set out in the next week to study an Antarctic realm that has been hidden for thousands of years. A British Antarctic Survey-led team will explore the seabed ecosystem exposed when a giant iceberg broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula in 2017. The organisation has also released the first video of the berg, which covers almost 6,000 sq km. Its true scale begins to emerge in a shot filmed from an aircraft flown along its edge. British Antarctic Survey marine biologist Dr Katrin Linse, who is leading the mission, said that the calving of the iceberg, which has been named A68, provides researchers with "a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change". "It's important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise," she explained, adding that the mission was "very exciting". Prof David Vaughan, science director at BAS stressed that it was a treacherous journey but said the team needed to "be bold". "Larsen C is a long way south and there's lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science, so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be," he said. "The calving of A68 offers a new and unprecedented opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary scientific research programme in this climate-sensitive region. Now is the time to address fundamental questions about the sustainability of polar continental shelves under climate change."
2-12-18 Ancient ozone holes may have sterilized forests 252 million years ago
Barren trees could have collapsed food webs, leading to Earth’s greatest mass extinction. Volcano-fueled holes in Earth’s ozone layer 252 million years ago may have repeatedly sterilized large swaths of forest, setting the stage for the world’s largest mass extinction event. Such holes would have allowed ultraviolet-B radiation to blast the planet. Even radiation levels below those predicted for the end of the Permian period damage trees’ abilities to make seeds, researchers report February 7 in Science Advances. Jeffrey Benca, a paleobotanist at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues exposed plantings of modern dwarf pine tree (Pinus mugo) to varying levels of UV-B radiation. Those levels ranged from none to up to 93 kilojoules per square meter per day. According to previous simulations, UV-B radiation at the end of the Permian may have increased from a background level of 10 kilojoules (just above current ambient levels) to as much as 100 kilojoules, due to large concentrations of ozone-damaging halogens spewed from volcanoes (SN: 1/15/11, p. 12). Exposure to higher UV-B levels led to more malformed pollen, the researchers found, with up to 13 percent of the pollen grains deformed under the highest conditions. And although the trees survived the heightened irradiation, the trees’ ovulate cones — cones that, when fertilized by pollen, become seeds — did not. But the trees weren’t permanently sterilized: Once removed from extra UV-B exposure, the trees could reproduce again.
2-11-18 The 11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water - like Cape Town
Cape Town is in the unenviable situation of being the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running out of drinking water. However, the plight of the drought-hit South African city is just one extreme example of a problem that experts have long been warning about - water scarcity. Despite covering about 70% of the Earth's surface, water, especially drinking water, is not as plentiful as one might think. Only 3% of it is fresh. Over one billion people lack access to water and another 2.7 billion find it scarce for at least one month of the year. A 2014 survey of the world's 500 largest cities estimates that one in four are in a situation of "water stress". According to UN-endorsed projections, global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030, thanks to a combination of climate change, human action and population growth. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that Cape Town is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are the other 11 cities most likely to run out of water.
- Cape Town
- São Paulo
- Mexico City
2-9-18 Viewpoint: The Indian state to become a global leader in clean energy
India's southern state of Tamil Nadu is poised to become a global leader in wind power, according to a new report. But first the state must overcome its addiction to coal, writes Nityanand Jayaraman. The report - by the US-based Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis - predicts that by 2027, more than half of Tamil Nadu's power will be generated by "zero emissions" technologies - notably solar and wind. The state's current capacity to generate wind power - 7.85 gigawatts (GW) - is already impressive considering it is higher than that of Denmark or Sweden. But the report estimates that it could double over the next decade, and that solar installations too could increase six-fold to reach 13.5GW. If that happens, clean, renewable energy would account for 67% of Tamil Nadu's capacity, which could revive the state's debt-ridden utility. But in order to harvest that potential, Tamil Nadu needs to transform its power sector. Tamil Nadu's population is three times that of Australia and its per capita GDP is on a par with Sri Lanka and Ukraine. It could prove to be an example of how emerging economies can grow while slashing their carbon emissions. Assuming Tamil Nadu's GDP will grow at an annual rate of 7%, the report suggests that much of this growth can be driven by renewables. Installation and operating costs for wind and solar power have dropped low enough to compete with established but dirty sources of power such as coal. But that is where reality tempers the possibilities. The report argues that not only does Tamil Nadu not need coal or nuclear power, but that these projects are financially fraught.
2-8-18 A surge in oil and gas production
Eight years after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, British oil giant BP reported a $6.2 billion profit in 2017, more than double that of 2016. A surge in oil and gas production and the launch of seven new fields helped fuel the turnaround.
2-8-18 Plastic harming reefs
It is well established that coral reefs are being destroyed by rising temperatures, acidic waters, and overfishing. Now new research suggests these vital marine ecosystems face another dire threat: plastic dumped in the ocean. Marine biologists examined more than 124,000 corals from 159 reefs in Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. Based on their findings, they estimate there are at least 11 billion pieces of plastic caught in these important habitats. They also found that this plastic pollution raises corals’ risk for infection from 4 to 89 percent. The debris blocks out light and oxygen, which stresses corals, and cuts from plastic shards make them more vulnerable to disease-causing germs. “Corals are animals just like me and you—they become wounded and then infected,” Cornell University’s Joleah Lamb tells The Guardian (U.K.). “Plastics are ideal vessels for microorganisms, with pits and pores, so it’s like cutting yourself with a really dirty knife.” Coral reefs house about 25 percent of marine life and serve as a buffer that protects coastal regions from storms and floods. The researchers expect plastic pollution across the Asia-Pacific region to surge 40 percent by 2025.
2-8-18 Sweden: A nation of travelers has a climate guilt trip
My conscience is bugging me, said Jonas Mosskin in Dagens Nyheter. Like most Swedes eager to escape our nation’s dark winters, I spend much of my six weeks of vacation a year abroad, often in sunny Spain or Thailand, and I fly to get there. In any given year, fully 2 percent of the population—some 200,000 Swedes—take a Thai vacation. But a trip to Thailand for one person generates about 2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, as much as an average passenger car spews in a whole year. Wealthy Stockholmers who shun plastic and “insist on vegetarian food” at their children’s kindergartens give nary a thought to the impact air travel has on climate change, but they should. The number of foreign flights taken each year by the average Swede has more than doubled since the early 1990s, and by 2040 our foreign-flight emissions will surpass all of our other carbon emissions combined. “Our collective denial, which borders on obscene, is no longer possible.” We can’t continue to “cry about that viral clip of a polar bear starving on an ice sheet and the next minute search for hotels for our summer vacation.” We must make “better moral choices.”
2-8-18 Record snowfall
Storms dumped 22 inches of snow on Moscow this week in just 36 hours, bringing a city with plenty of experience in winter weather to a standstill. It was the city’s biggest single snowfall since record keeping began. Moscow schoolchildren were given an unheard-of day off for snow, prompting an avalanche of tsking tweets from disapproving parents. “There is no reason to give children a break,” said one. “Schools are usually close to home.” Snowplows couldn’t push the snow to the roadside without burying buildings, so they trucked it to a central dump near a railway station, creating an artificial snow mountain. The epic snowfall toppled some 2,000 trees around the city; at least one person was killed by a falling tree.
2-8-18 Plastic waste 'building up' in Arctic
Plastic waste is building up in the supposedly pristine wilderness of the Norwegian Arctic, scientists say. Researchers are particularly concerned about huge concentrations of microplastic fragments in sea ice. They say they've found plastic litter almost everywhere in the Arctic they have looked. Norwegian fishermen are worried that their fish stocks may lose their reputation for being untouched by pollution. Most of the large plastic waste there comes from discarded fishing gear. And boat owners admit it will take hundreds of years to overcome a few reckless decades of using the sea as a dump. Norway's environment minister says politicians in the past haven't fully registered the extent of the problem. A synthesis report from the Norwegian Polar Institute to the recent Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø says there's a great need for more research into the extent of possible harm from plastic. It says effects have been monitored so far on zooplankton, invertebrates, fish, seabirds, and mammals. Research shows that up to 234 particles have been found concentrated into just one litre of melted Arctic sea ice. That's much higher than in the open ocean. Researchers explain that sea ice forms from the top. By unfortunate coincidence, plastic particles also float at the surface, so they get bonded into the ice as it freezes.
2-7-18 Humans are overloading the world’s freshwater bodies with phosphorus
Poorly treated sewage and fertilizer runoff are main sources of the nutrient. Human activities are driving phosphorus levels in the world’s lakes, rivers and other freshwater bodies to a critical point. The freshwater bodies on 38 percent of Earth’s land area (not including Antarctica) are overly enriched with phosphorus, leading to potentially toxic algal blooms and less available drinking water, researchers report January 24 in Water Resources Research. Sewage, agriculture and other human sources add about 1.5 teragrams of phosphorus to freshwaters each year, the study estimates. That’s roughly equivalent to about four times the weight of the Empire State Building. The scientists tracked human phosphorus inputs from 2002 to 2010 from domestic, industrial and agricultural sources. Phosphorus in human waste was responsible for about 54 percent of the global load, while agricultural fertilizer use contributed about 38 percent. By country, China contributed 30 percent of the global total, India 8 percent and the United States 7 percent.
2-7-18 The survivors: Is climate change really killing polar bears?
Rapid global warming is said to be ringing the death knell for polar bears, by melting their icy hunting grounds. But the reality is more complex. FOOTAGE of a poorly polar bear went viral in December. Emaciated, it stumbled across a green Arctic landscape without a speck of snow or ice in sight (see picture below). Media outlets seized on the video as an example of how climate change is killing its poster child. But behind the headlines is an awkward question: have climate change activists chosen the wrong mascot? The International Union for Conservation of Nature has long considered polar bears (Ursus maritimus) “vulnerable to extinction”. In May 2008, the US raised its own listing to threatened. The decision made international headlines and helped the polar bear achieve its iconic status in climate change campaigns. Both listings rested on forecasts that Arctic sea ice would rapidly melt during the first half of the 21st century as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. Polar bears are expected to suffer the consequences. They spend most of the year cruising the fringes of sea ice, hunting ringed seals. The two play a game of Arctic cat and mouse: the seals pierce breathing holes in thin ice; the bears hang around the holes looking for lunch. Even though polar bears can survive on dry land for part of the year, they ultimately depend on the ice to hunt. The rationale for concern is sound. In the past decade, Arctic temperatures have risen faster than models predicted and the ice has vanished faster. Logically, the polar bear population should have crashed. It hasn’t.
2-7-18 The US agency that guards the environment is going to be hobbled
Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has talked up his mission to scale back its powers. It's so shortsighted, says Ian Graber-Stiehl. Federal overreach is a phrase beloved of Scott Pruitt, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency. It was a central theme in his recent high-profile interview with the New York Times. Since his appointment, Pruitt, infamous for suing the agency he now runs on 14 occasions while he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General, has set the ethos of a new, post-fact EPA, one he packaged compellingly in Friday’s interview as “back to basics”. Pruitt is always quick to hearken back to the EPA’s origins as President Nixon’s focused fix for pollution, before the Obama administration began liberally interpreting statutes to regulate greenhouse gases. He wants to return the EPA to the narrower mission he romanticises. Part of that means handing power back to states. However, in his haste, Pruitt seems to have forgotten a few things: chief among them is that the EPA was created not just to reduce pollution, but to curtail states competing to lower the bar on environmental protections to attract business. Pruitt himself was accused of doing this in 2014, when contesting EPA rules that might hinder Oklahoma’s Devon Energy. As someone beholden to state interests at the time, lobbying and lawsuits on behalf of businesses under the banner of “state’s rights” made sense. But as head of the EPA, he should acknowledge that neither pollution nor the EPA’s purview stop at state lines.
2-5-18 It may be impossible to live comfortably without trashing Earth
A study of 151 nations shows that the ones that do the most damage to the planet also give their citizens the best lives. Does this mean modern life is unworkable? No countries manage to live well and sustainably. Of 151 nations that have just been rated, not a single one achieves the Goldilocks feat of doing it just right – creating a good life for its inhabitants without overusing natural resources. “We didn’t really find a good role model of any country doing things sustainably,” says Daniel O’Neill of the University of Leeds, UK. “Our analysis is a wake-up call that we need to do things in a radically different way if we are to have any hope of achieving a good life for all people on the planet.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst offenders for plundering nature unsustainably are rich nations. Countries like the US provide good lives for their citizens, but break multiple environmental limits. Meanwhile, poorer countries like Vietnam tend to overuse fewer resources, but don’t meet all the well-being targets for their people. O’Neill and his colleagues rated each country’s sustainability by totting up how it used, produced or affected seven things. These were water, phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon dioxide emissions, material consumption, ecological footprint and land-use change. The team’s analysis built on a 2009 study that defined nine “life support” systems for Earth. That study concluded that we had breached the limits for three of the systems: climate change, nitrogen and loss of biodiversity.
2-5-18 Plastic pollution: Scientists' plea on threat to ocean giants
Scientists say there needs to be more research into the impact of plastic pollution on sharks, whales and rays. A study, in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, says the creatures may be swallowing hundreds of tiny bits of plastic a day. Microplastic pollution has the potential to further reduce the population sizes of the large filter feeders, they say. Yet, there is very little research being carried out into the risks. Researchers from the US, Australia and Italy looked at data on threats to large filter feeders from microplastics. These small plastic pieces less than five millimetres long can be harmful to the ocean and aquatic life. The Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Coral Triangle are priorities for monitoring, according to a review of studies. "The full magnitude of risks of ingesting microplastics are yet to be fully investigated," said Elitza Germanov of Murdoch University, Australia, and researcher at the US Marine Megafauna Foundation. Possible risks include reduced nutritional uptake and damage to the digestive system when microplastics are ingested, she said. In addition, toxin exposure through plastic ingestion could affect many biological processes, such as growth and reproduction, putting filter feeding populations "under even more strain", she added.
2-2-18 Space lasers to track Earth's ice
With new space missions come new and improved capabilities. And for those interested in what's happening to the ice on Planet Earth, we have two ventures this year that are going to make a major contribution to our understanding. Ice is the "climate canary". The loss, and the rate of that loss, tell us something about how global warming is progressing. In the Arctic, the most visible sign is the decline of sea-ice, which, measured at its minimum extent over the ocean in September, is reducing by about 14% per decade. At the other pole, the marine floes look much the same as they did in the earliest satellite imagery from the 1960s, but land ice is in a negative phase. Something on the order of 160 billion tonnes are being lost annually, with most of that mass going from the west of the White Continent. The two 2018 missions of interest that will pick up these trends and extend them into the future are Grace Follow-On and IceSat-2. The former is the successor to the highly successful US-German gravity spacecraft that operated from 2002 to 2017. Grace is actually a pair of satellites that pursue each other around the globe in formation with a separation of 220km. They accelerate and decelerate in turn as they pass over variations in the local gravity field. It is a very small effect - a change in distance equivalent to the thickness of a human hair - but discernible to the microwave ranging instrumentation carried on the satellites. Because the gravity variations are a function of changes in mass, the pair are able, literally, to weigh the ice sheets sitting below them on land as they pass overhead. Its from the first Grace mission's observations, for example, that we know Greenland is currently losing about 280 billion tonnes of ice to the ocean every year. It's a significant contribution to the 3.4mm per annum rise in global sea levels.
2-3-18 How children are fighting to save tortoises from climate change
Kids and teens are an important force in conservation efforts on the Galapagos Islands. e teens are huddled, hushed, peering at a motionless giant tortoise that lies at their feet. Is it alive? The tortoise's shell glistens, but it doesn't move. No one dares to talk. And then, ever so slowly, the huge creature begins to lift its scaley, elongated head, and exhales — an incongruously loud gushing sound — and the students squeal with relief and shock. They've found their first tortoise, and it's time to get to work. The students are from Cazares High School on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz. As part of their studies they are working with the Galapagos National Park and an NGO, Ecology Project International (EPI), to collect data on the land tortoise population of the Santa Cruz highlands. It's part of a program that is embedded in the Galapagos school system to involve youth in the critical environmental conservation work that is most often the terrain of adults. EPI trainers, María Fernanda Sevallos and Andres Holguín, have spent two days with the teens up in a highland camp building their knowledge base about tortoise ecology and its importance to the Galapagos Islands. Now it's time to meet the creatures and begin the work of finding, tracking and counting them. Careful notes are being taken at every step. Is the tortoise male or female? Does it already have a little implanted tracking chip? What are its measurements and its weight? It's not work for the faint of heart, nor does the GNP allow anyone except its own people to actually touch a tortoise. But the Cazares students are with a national park ranger who is overseeing and helping with every step of the process.
2-2-18 Tropical plants are blooming as they gorge on our pollution
We are pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating the planet, but some plants are using the excess carbon dioxide to make more flowers. Every year, the amount of carbon dioxide in our air increases. This is causing dangerous climate change, but it’s also giving plants a little extra carbon to work with – and some tropical plants are turning it into flowers. “Plants can convert CO2 to energy during photosynthesis,” says Stephanie Pau at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “This study suggests that they are allocating that energy to flowers and reproductive activity.” Pau works with scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who have been monitoring the forests of Barro Colorado Island in Panama since 1987. They noticed that they were gathering more flowers in their traps every year. At first, they thought warmer temperatures were responsible. But to be sure they compared the relative impacts of rainfall, light, temperature, carbon dioxide and El Niño activity. It turned out that carbon dioxide had the largest effect on long-term changes in flower production. El Niño activity also causes bursts in flowering, because it results in warm and sunny weather, but the effects are temporary. “It is easy to forget that the entire Earth is experiencing a drastic chemical change in our atmosphere,” says Pau. “We don’t see it or feel it, like we do for heat waves or droughts.” She says plants can benefit from higher levels of carbon dioxide, but only “if other resources like water and nutrients are not limited”, which is only rarely the case.
2-2-18 Record temperatures, again
In yet another worrying sign of how much our planet is warming, NASA scientists have reported that 2017 was the second-hottest year on record. A strong El Niño—the weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean that tends to temporarily increase global temperatures—helped make 2016 the warmest year since reliable record-keeping began in 1880. Because 2017 was not an El Niño year, climate scientists expected it to be notably cooler; instead, NASA found that global average surface temperatures dipped only slightly from 2016, and were a substantial 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the mid-20th-century average. A separate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which uses a different methodology, ranks 2017 as the third-hottest year on record, at 1.51 degrees above the previous century’s average. Both reports indicate that the planet’s long-term warming trend, which is being driven mainly by human activity, shows no sign of slowing down, reports The New York Times. “This is the new normal,” says NASA’s Gavin Schmidt. “In 10 years we’re going to say, ‘Oh look, another record decade of warming temperatures.’”
2-2-18 Clean Energy Jobs
The U.S. clean energy sector employed 3.38 million people in 2016, 10 percent more than the 2.99 million employed in fossil fuels, according to the Department of Energy.
2-2-18 Energy: Exxon Mobil expands shale investment
Exxon Mobil this week announced it will triple oil and gas production in “the nation’s hottest shale field,” said Clifford Krauss in The New York Times. The Permian Basin, which straddles West Texas and New Mexico, is approximately the size of South Dakota and includes “multiple layers of thick shale, easing the costs of exploration, drilling, and production.” The oil company, the nation’s largest, will eventually aim to produce 600,000 barrels per day by 2025. Exxon cited “the recent reduction in the corporate tax rate as one reason for its increased interest in investing more” in the Permian.
2-2-18 Oil spill shows need for crisis team
The oil leaking from the sunken tanker Sanchi will pollute Japanese waters for years, said The Japan Times. The Panama-registered supertanker was carrying nearly 1 million barrels of ultralight, highly flammable condensate oil from Iran to South Korea, as well as about 1,000 tons of its own, more toxic bunker fuel, when it collided with a freighter in the East China Sea in early January. The Sanchi burst into flames, killing all 32 crew members, and drifted into Japan’s exclusive economic zone before it exploded and sank. A massive spill now covers more than 100 square miles and could reach the Japanese coast in a month. It has already poisoned waters that are “an important spawning ground for fish and crab,” crucial to the Japanese fishing industry, “as well as a migratory pathway” for whales. New rules requiring vessels traveling through our own waters to have stronger hulls or to stay farther away from other ships won’t prevent such disasters, because collisions occur on “what is technically the high sea,” subject only to lax rules based on whatever “flag of convenience” a ship flies. That’s why Japan must partner with China and South Korea to create “up-to-date oil spill recovery plans” as well as fishery protections. “No country can or should have to tackle these incidents alone.”
2-2-18 Fumes scandal
Germany’s auto industry was locked in another scandal this week after it was revealed that the country’s three biggest carmakers had supported a research institute that tested potentially dangerous fumes on humans and monkeys from 2013 to 2016. Funded by Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW, the institute had 25 human volunteers breathe in nitrogen dioxide, the toxic particle found in diesel emissions. The institute, which has since been disbanded, said no one was injured in the test. In another experiment, monkeys were forced to inhale diesel exhaust from a Volkswagen Beetle and another car for hours. The tests provoked condemnation from German leaders, with a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel saying they “cannot be justified ethically in any way,” In 2015, Volkswagen admitted that millions of its diesel cars were rigged with devices to beat emissions tests.
2-2-18 Where drought has caused bloodshed
Climate change has sparked a bloody conflict in southeastern Nigeria, said Chiagozie Udeh. For the past three years, Fulani herders, who normally move just a bit southward in the winter to graze their animals, have drastically altered their migration. Because of “expansive desertification, drought, and unchecked deforestation in northern Nigeria,” these nomadic tribespeople have been forced to search for foliage and water farther south in territories where they normally don’t venture. But subsistence farmers in those areas accuse the herders of “wanton destruction of their crops,” and hundreds have been killed in the ensuing clashes. Nigerian states have banned open-field grazing, but the herdsmen, desperate to feed their cattle and goats, ignore the law. With millions of people being displaced from increasingly arid northern Nigeria, the government must take action to resettle these climate refugees peacefully. It’s time for Nigeria to start encouraging cattle ranching instead of nomadic grazing—by offering federal grants for land and access to high-yield grasses that will allow animals to be raised year after year in the same fields. The nomadic way of life can’t be sustained when it encroaches on others’ livelihoods. The climate is changing—Nigerians will have to change with it.