Sharp rise in methane levels threatens world climate targets

Sharp rise in methane levels threatens world climate targets

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 17, 2019

SNIP: Dramatic rises in atmospheric methane are threatening to derail plans to hold global temperature rises to 2C, scientists have warned.

In a paper published this month by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. Urgent action is now required to halt further increases in methane in the atmosphere, to avoid triggering enhanced global warming and temperature rises well beyond 2C.

“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.” [Ed note: Perhaps these guys need to get together with these guys.]

During much of the 20th century, levels of methane, mostly from fossil fuel sources, increased in the atmosphere but, by the beginning of the 21st century, it had stabilised, said Nisbet. “Then, to our surprise, levels starting rising in 2007. That increase began to accelerate after 2014 and fast growth has continued.”

Studies suggest these increases are more likely to be mainly biological in origin. However, the exact cause remains unclear. Some researchers believe the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change.

However, other scientists warn that there could be a more sinister factor at work. Natural chemicals in the atmosphere – which help to break down methane – may be changing because of temperature rises, causing it to lose its ability to deal with the gas.

Our world could therefore be losing its power to cleanse pollutants because it is heating up, a climate feedback in which warming allows more greenhouse gases to linger in the atmosphere and so trigger even more warming.

Huge Land Loss Predicted for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta

Huge Land Loss Predicted for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta


DATE: February 16, 2019

SNIP: Nearly the entire Mekong Delta in Vietnam — an area that helps feed about 200 million people — will sink underwater by the year 2100 at current rates, a new study predicts.

The delta, which is home to almost 18 million people and produces half of Vietnam’s food, faces this potential humanitarian crisis largely because the heavy extraction of groundwater is causing land to sink as sea levels simultaneously rise, the study found.

When combined with rates of sea-level increase because of climate change, they found that no matter what action was taken the vast low-lying delta plain will be lost.

Fueled by Vietnam’s transition to a market-based economy in 1986, groundwater extraction had accelerated from practically nothing 30 years ago to the 2.5 million cubic liters now sucked out of the delta’s water table every day.

The loss of water … reduced pressure in the underlying geology, causing the delta to sink.

At the same time, he said, the sea level is rising at a rate of about 3 to 4 millimeters per year.

Loss of naturally replenishing sediment is another critical factor in the sinking of the delta.

Upstream dams on the Mekong, which flows more than 4,000 kilometers from the Tibetan plateau in China through Laos and Cambodia before discharging through the delta, had led to about a 40 percent loss in sediment flow, he said.

A 2018 study by the Mekong River Commission found a catastrophic 97 percent of sediment flow to the delta would be lost by 2040 if all planned dams on the Mekong and its tributaries go ahead.

Fossil Fuels (Not Wildfires) Biggest Source of a Key Arctic Climate Pollutant

Fossil Fuels (Not Wildfires) Biggest Source of a Key Arctic Climate Pollutant

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: February 15, 2019

SNIP: When soot from fossil fuel combustion and wildfires drifts onto the Arctic ice and snow, it helps feed a spiraling cycle of warming, melting ice and rising sea level.

New research carried out at remote locations across the Arctic shows that most of the soot—also known as black carbon—is coming from fossil fuel sources such as coal power plants, cars and trucks and factories. The findings could help countries begin to control this climate pollutant.

“Some people think it’s biofuels and wildfires, but our main takeaway is that fossil fuels are the main source of black carbon in the Arctic,” said Patrik Winiger of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the lead author of a study published today in the journal Science Advances.

His team found that about 70 percent of the black carbon in the Arctic currently comes from fossil fuel burning in Northern countries. They tracked changes in black carbon levels in the atmosphere through the seasons over five years and used chemical analyses to determine the pollution’s origins.

During winters, they found that emissions from fossil fuel burning made up the majority of black carbon accumulations.

During the summer, when overall black carbon concentrations are lower, emissions from wildfires and agricultural burning were bigger sources.

Black carbon typically stays aloft for only a few days to weeks before falling. While airborne, it is a short-lived climate pollutant that is many times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere, though it has a far shorter lifespan.

Once it falls, black carbon darkens the surface of the ice and snow, where it absorbs energy from sunlight. That can cause melting on the surface while also reducing how well the ice reflects solar radiation back into space.

Killer Whales Are Expanding into the Arctic, Then Dying as the Ice Sets In

Killer Whales Are Expanding into the Arctic, Then Dying as the Ice Sets In

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine

DATE: February 14, 2019

SNIP: In February 2016, hunters from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut spotted two killer whales prowling around a group of beluga whales in southeast Hudson Bay. It was an unusual sight for the time of year—killer whales don’t usually show up there until the summer, and are rare even then. In June, residents of the Inuit community spotted two other killer whales. By July, all four killer whales were dead. Trapped in the bay by thick sea ice, they starved to death.

Hudson Bay is a geographically complex inland sea with just two entrances—or exits—both at the north. Most years, the bay freezes over completely from mid-November until mid-July. Killer whales are typically found in the open ocean, but in recent years they have been venturing into the bay during the ice-free summer in search of prey such as belugas or narwhals. As the ice forms across the bay’s entrances in the fall, the only escape for the whales is to swim north. But this goes against their normal instincts, says Steve Ferguson, an evolutionary ecologist from the University of Manitoba. In the open ocean, killer whales would head south, where there is typically less ice. The result is that the killer whales find themselves trapped long into the winter, and, soon after, begin to starve.

These killer whales may have been locals from the northeastern Canadian Arctic that were exploring Hudson Bay for the first time, or newcomers that moved into the region from afar—scientists aren’t sure. Either way, the lack of sea ice in the bay—which is setting in later, and over a smaller area, than in previous decades—was the fake floor hiding a deadly trap.

In fact, these four dead whales are just the latest in a rising tally. In 2011, a killer whale was found frozen in ice in the north of the bay. In 2013, an estimated 17 killer whales were seen swimming in the frigid water, their movements tightly constrained by the drifting pack ice. Most, if not all, of these whales are thought to have died. As far as scientists know, in the Arctic, more killer whales have died in the ice over the past decade than have suffered such a fate over the past century.

Read the rest of this incredibly sad story at Hakai Magazine.

Canada’s forests actually emit more carbon than they absorb

Canada’s forests actually emit more carbon than they absorb


DATE: February 12, 2019

SNIP: You might have heard that Canada’s forests are an immense carbon sink, sucking up all sorts of CO2 — more than we produce — so we don’t have to worry about our greenhouse gas emissions.

This would be convenient for our country, if it were real. Hitting our emissions-reduction targets would be a breeze. But, like most things that sound too good to be true, this one is false.

That’s because trees don’t just absorb carbon when they grow, they emit it when they die and decompose, or burn.

When you add up both the absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001. Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to our country’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years on record.

Canada emits roughly 700 megatonnes of CO2 each year.

This does not include any impacts from forests or other parts of our landscape, such as wetlands and farmland. Canada has historically excluded land-use-related emissions and absorptions in its official accounting, and with good reason, if the goal is to reduce emissions on paper.

That’s because our trees, in particular, have actually hurt our bottom line.

For the past 15 years, they’ve been “more of a source than a sink,” said Dominique Blain, a director in the science and technology branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Cases of deadly dirt disease melioidosis will increase as climate changes, expert warns

Cases of deadly dirt disease melioidosis will increase as climate changes, expert warns


DATE: February 12, 2019

SNIP: A senior tropical disease researcher is warning that cases of the potentially lethal soil-borne infectious disease melioidosis will increase due to climate change.

Melioidosis is caused by a soil-dwelling bacterium and can lead to pneumonia, blood poisoning and death.

Authorities in Townsville yesterday confirmed a person had died from the disease and several others were in intensive care following widespread flooding in the region.

Professor Bart Currie from the Menzies School of Health in Darwin said he expected the bacteria would increase in tropical regions due to the effects of climate change.

Melioidosis lives beneath the soil’s surface year-round in the tropics but comes to the surface — and poses a greater risk to humans — following heavy rain.

Dr Currie said predictions showed increased temperatures and a greater number of severe weather events in the future would provide conditions for the bacteria to thrive.

The permafrost bomb is ticking

The permafrost bomb is ticking

SOURCE: Yale Climate Connections

DATE: February 12, 2019

SNIP: About a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere landmass is permafrost, ground that has been mostly frozen for half a million years or more. Now there are signs of thaw appearing in many places across this vast landscape circling the Arctic, and at accelerated rates.

It is only a matter of time until the incremental thawing of the permafrost reaches a tipping point of no return, a state of accelerated and irreversible change, the side effects of which might well push other parts of the Arctic beyond their own tipping points. Quite possibly, we are poised to witness such a transformation within our lifetimes – ice sheet loss, increased frequencies of fires in the tundra and boreal forests, and complete habitat loss for marine mammals, to name just a few examples of the changes that could occur.

The major side effect of a thawing permafrost is that it will further enhance global warming with the release of large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The permafrost contains organic matter, and thawing will enable bacterial decomposition that will release methane as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration.

The last time there was a large-scale thaw of the permafrost was four interglacials ago. Evidence of this thawing event can be found in Siberian caves where stalactites and stalagmites growth last occurred at that time. Such deposits can only form when there is liquid water flowing. At the time of the thaw, about 450,000 years ago, the climate was about 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Today, the temperature is nearly as warm – 1°C hotter than in pre-industrial times. Even more worrisome is the rate of the current warming, unprecedented in over 50 million years of geological history.

However, it is possible that a tipping of the permafrost may not happen at a specific temperature threshold, but would rather depend on the rate of human-caused warming.

[T]he “Compost Bomb instability” model proposed in 2010 by a team led by mathematician Sebastian Wieczorek predicted that decomposition of that organic matter, once initiated, would become a source of heat itself, causing an explosive increase in soil temperatures, additional decomposition, and methane release. Crucially, the higher the rate of global warming, the sooner the tipping point could take place.

There are good reasons to suspect that this would also be true for the permafrost, which like the peatlands would have the same capacity to generate internal heat due to bacterial decomposition of organic matter. If so, we might expect a tipping before reaching the 1.5°C limit as was the case for the last thaw 450,000 years ago.

Thermokarst lakes, formed from the collapse of thawing ground, are appearing at accelerated rates in Alaska and in the Canadian Arctic. Large number of gas emission craters are appearing in Siberia. Methane emissions measured from degrading permafrost on land and subsea continental shelves are increasing.

The picture emerging is that the Arctic is full of positive feedback mechanisms that can work together to amplify warming.

While it is difficult to quantitatively pinpoint when a system is about to undergo tipping (though some studies have outlined definite criteria), it is likely a decent guess to speculate that the permafrost, and indeed the Arctic as a whole, is already at or very near a tipping point. The basis for such a claim is the simultaneous shift towards tipping points in a number of interconnected systems, many of which are positive reinforcing feedback mechanisms.

Flood-affected farmers witness entire cattle herds wiped out by catastrophic deluge

Flood-affected farmers witness entire cattle herds wiped out by catastrophic deluge


DATE: February 11, 2019

SNIP: Farmers who managed to keep their cattle alive for seven years, through one of Australia’s worst droughts in history, have watched their herds wiped out in a matter of days after unprecedented floods devastated much of Queensland.

If the cattle have not drowned or frozen to death in the elements, devastated farmers now face having to kill thousands of animals. The situation is so terrible that there are reports the farmers have run out of bullets.

Some farmers are estimating almost 100 per cent stock losses while the state’s cattle industry as a whole is expecting about 500,000 dead cattle.

When the first rain started to fall in the state’s west two weeks ago, drought-stricken farmers felt they could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s been more than seven years since the region received a substantial downpour but the monsoon — which saw clouds dump three years worth of rain in 10 days — is expected to cripple farmers for decades.

“As we begin to access our paddocks we are being confronted with death and devastation at every turn. There are kangaroos dead in trees and fences, birds drowned in drifts of silt and debris and our beloved bovine family lay perished in piles where they have been huddling for protection and warmth,” grazier Jacqueline Curley wrote.

“This scene is mirrored across the entire region, it is absolutely soul destroying to think our animals suffered like this.

“The rain and wind was so intense they piled on top of one another for warmth. Many of these were still alive but we had to shoot most of them. We lifted the live ones out with helicopters to try saving them, but only a few survived,” Ms Curley captioned one of her heartbreaking pictures.

“They haven’t seen a live kangaroo. When the choppers go out everything is dead. Everything.”

The devastation brought Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services chief Katarina Carroll to tears last week when she was asked to compare the floods and Cyclone Debbie.

“From the fires that we experienced at the end of November, just the end of November to the first week of December, never in the history of this state have we seen anything like this.”

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten catastrophic collapse of nature’

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten catastrophic collapse of nature’


DATE: February 11, 2019

SNIP: Nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in rapid decline and a third could disappear altogether, according to a study warning of dire consequences for crop pollination and natural food chains.

“Unless we change our way of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” concluded the peer-reviewed study, which is set for publication in April.

“We are witnessing the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods,” the authors noted.

The Permian end-game 252 million years ago snuffed out more than 90 percent of the planet’s life forms, while the abrupt finale of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago saw the demise of land dinosaurs.

“At present, a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction. Only decisive action can avert a catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems,” the authors cautioned.

Restoring wilderness areas and a drastic reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertiliser are likely the best way to slow the insect loss, they said.

Moles, hedgehogs, anteaters, lizards, amphibians, most bats, many birds and fish all feed on insects or depend on them for rearing their offspring.

Other insects filling the void left by declining species probably cannot compensate for the sharp drop in biomass, the study said.

Insects are also the world’s top pollinators — 75 percent of 115 top global food crops depend on animal pollination, including cocoa, coffee, almonds and cherries.

A ‘mass invasion’ of polar bears is terrorizing an island town. Climate change is to blame.

A ‘mass invasion’ of polar bears is terrorizing an island town. Climate change is to blame.

SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: February 10, 2019

SNIP: Polar bears are typically born on land but live mostly on sea ice, where they hunt and feed on seals. But as Arctic ice thins, an occurrence linked to the acceleration of climate change, the animals move ashore, ravenous. They scavenge, sometimes coming into contact with human populations.

Novaya Zemlya is a Russian archipelago stretching into the Arctic Ocean. Officials in the Arkhangelsk region, where the archipelago lies, declared a state of emergency Saturday because of the marauding mammals. At least 52 bears were massed near Belushya Guba, the main settlement on the island territory.

Now, they could be selectively slaughtered if Russian authorities can’t figure out another way to keep them from menacing the residents of the remote island outpost, where they began to collect in December 2018. Warning of the “mass invasion of polar bears in residential areas,” local officials vowed action in response to “numerous oral and written complaints demanding to ensure safety in the settlement.”

Officials also said the situation was unprecedented.

“I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there have never been so many polar bears in the vicinity,” said Zhigansha Musin, a local administrative head, according to TASS, Russia’s state news agency.

So far, Russia’s environmental watchdog has withheld licenses for shooting the troublesome animals. Instead, a team of experts is being sent to the remote island community to try to protect residents. “However, provided that those measures do not help solve the situation, a cull will remain the only and forced answer,” TASS reported, suggesting that killing the animals as a means of population control is possible.

The polar bears are battling adverse conditions of their own, driven by changing conditions in the Arctic, which is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet.