SOURCE: National Geographic
DATE: October 17, 2018
SNIP: Microplastics were found in sea salt several years ago. But how extensively plastic bits are spread throughout the most commonly used seasoning remained unclear. Now, new research shows microplastics in 90 percent of the table salt brands sampled worldwide.
Of 39 salt brands tested, 36 had microplastics in them, according to a new analysis by researchers in South Korea and Greenpeace East Asia. Using prior salt studies, this new effort is the first of its scale to look at the geographical spread of microplastics in table salt and their correlation to where plastic pollution is found in the environment.
“The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region,” said Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine science professor at Incheon National University in South Korea.
The new study, she says, “shows us that microplastics are ubiquitous.”
The density of microplastics found in salt varied dramatically among different brands, but those from Asian brands were especially high, the study found. The highest quantities of microplastics were found in salt sold in Indonesia. Asia is a hot spot for plastic pollution, and Indonesia—with 34,000 miles (54,720 km) of coastline—ranked in an unrelated 2015 study as suffering the second-worst level of plastic pollution in the world.
The new study estimates that the average adult consumes approximately 2,000 microplastics per year through salt. What that means remains a mystery.
SOURCE: Nexus Media
DATE: October 17, 2018
SNIP: Thirty years ago, the ocean waters surrounding British islands in the South Atlantic were near-pristine. But plastic waste has increased a hundredfold since then, and is ten times greater than it was a decade ago. These islands — part of the British Overseas Territories, which includes established or proposed Marine Protection Areas — are among the most remote on the planet. Yet they no longer are immune to the kind of pollution fouling industrialized North Atlantic coasts, a fact that portends dire consequences, according to new research.
The plastic is of many types and from many sources, including debris blown in from landfills, trash tossed out by thoughtless beachgoers, detritus from the shipping and fishing industries, and other bits and bobs carried off by severe storms or other accidents, according to Barnes. “Millions of microplastics can form from degradation of a single larger piece, such as a plastic bag,” he said.
[D]egrading plastics emit such greenhouse gases like methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight, further worsening climate change. “Climate change is tied up with plastic as a threat to biodiversity — life on Earth — in a number of different ways,” said Barnes, lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Current Biology.
Andy Schofield, a biologist with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and one of the researchers on the project, agreed. “These islands and the ocean around them are sentinels of our planet’s health,” he said. “It is heart-breaking watching Albatrosses trying to eat plastic thousands of miles from anywhere. This is a very big wake up call. Inaction threatens not just endangered birds and whale sharks, but the ecosystems many islanders rely on for food supply and health.”
The amount of plastic that has reached these regions increased at all levels, from the shore to the seafloor, according to the scientists. More than 90 percent of beached debris was plastic, and the volume of this debris is the highest recorded in the last decade, they said.
SOURCE: Los Alamos National Laboratory
DATE: October 17, 2018
SNIP: A new collaborative study has investigated Arctic shrub-snow interactions to obtain a better understanding of the far north’s tundra and vast permafrost system. Incorporating extensive in situ observations, Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists tested their theories with a novel 3D computer model and confirmed that shrubs can lead to significant degradation of the permafrost layer that has remained frozen for tens of thousands of years. These interactions are driving increases in discharges of fresh water into rivers, lakes and oceans.
“The Arctic is actively greening, and shrubs are flourishing across the tundra. As insulating snow accumulates atop tall shrubs, it boosts significant ground warming,” said Cathy Wilson, Los Alamos scientist on the project. “If the trend of increasing vegetation across the Arctic continues, we’re likely to see a strong increase in permafrost degradation.”
SOURCE: The Independent
DATE: October 17, 2018
SNIP: Declining Arctic sea ice is allowing phytoplankton blooms, made up of billions of microscopic plant organisms, to expand northwards into ice-free waters where they have never been seen before, scientists have discovered.
Research based on satellite images showing ocean colours reveals vast spring blooms of phytoplankton in the Arctic ocean where blooms were previously non-existent, which are expanding northwards at a rate of one degree of latitude per decade.
The team found overall primary production of the phytoplankton in the Arctic Ocean, which has previously been low, increased by 31 per cent between 2003 and 2013.
As climate change impacts levels of sea ice, less cover will allow the trend to increase further.
Larger spring blooms mean phytoplankton will compete for light and nutrients with other species, hugely altering an ecosystem which has never been free of ice cover.
“If the ice pack totally disappears in summer, there will be consequences for the phytoplankton spring bloom,” said Sophie Renaut, a PhD student at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, and lead author of the study.
“We cannot exactly predict how it will evolve, but we’re pretty sure there are going to be drastic consequences for the entire ecosystem.”
SOURCE: MIT News
DATE: October 17, 2018
SNIP: The Beaufort Gyre is an enormous, 600-mile-wide pool of swirling cold, fresh water in the Arctic Ocean, just north of Alaska and Canada. In the winter, this current is covered by a thick cap of ice. Each summer, as the ice melts away, the exposed gyre gathers up sea ice and river runoff, and draws it down to create a huge reservoir of frigid fresh water, equal to the volume of all the Great Lakes combined.
Scientists at MIT have now identified a key mechanism, which they call the “ice-ocean governor,” that controls how fast the Beaufort Gyre spins and how much fresh water it stores. In a paper published today in Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers report that the Arctic’s ice cover essentially sets a speed limit on the gyre’s spin.
If global temperatures continue to climb, the researchers expect that the mechanism governing the gyre’s spin will diminish. With no governor to limit its speed, the researchers say the gyre will likely transition into “a new regime” and eventually spill over, like an overflowing bathtub, releasing huge volumes of cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic, which could affect the global climate and ocean circulation.
Marshall and Meneghello note that, as Arctic temperatures have risen in the last two decades, and summertime ice has shrunk with each year, the speed of the Beaufort Gyre has increased. Its currents have become more variable and unpredictable, and are only slightly slowed by the return of ice in the winter.
“At some point, if this trend continues, the gyre can’t swallow all this fresh water that it’s drawing down,” Marshall says. Eventually, the levee will likely break and the gyre will burst, releasing hundreds of billions of gallons of cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic.
An increasingly unstable Beaufort Gyre could also disrupt the Arctic’s halocline — the layer of ocean water underlying the gyre’s cold freshwater, that insulates it from much deeper, warmer, and saltier water. If the halocline is somehow weakened by a more instable gyre, this could encourage warmer waters to rise up, further melting the Arctic ice.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: October 15, 2018
SNIP: Humanity’s ongoing annihilation of wildlife is cutting down the tree of life, including the branch we are sitting on, according to a stark new analysis.
More than 300 different mammal species have been eradicated by human activities. The new research calculates the total unique evolutionary history that has been lost as a result at a startling 2.5bn years.
Furthermore, even if the destruction of wild areas, poaching and pollution were ended within 50 years and extinction rates fell back to natural levels, it would still take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover.
Many scientists think a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth has begun, propelled by human destruction of wildlife, and 83% of wild mammals have already gone. The new work puts this in the context of the evolution and extinction of species that occurred for billions of years before modern humans arrived.
“We are doing something that will last millions of years beyond us,” said Matt Davis at Aarhus University in Denmark, who led the new research. “It shows the severity of what we are in right now. We’re entering what could be an extinction on the scale of what killed the dinosaurs.
“That is pretty scary. We are starting to cut down the whole tree [of life], including the branch we are sitting on right now.”
There are still many mammal species left, but all of these would have to evolve for 5-7m years into the future to get back to the level of diversity present before modern humans arrived, the researchers estimated.
Prof Douglas Futuyma at Stony Brook University in the US, who was not part of the research team, said: “They have made a dramatic and convincing statement of how much evolutionary diversity has already been lost. The most important point is one that I believe is already widely recognised: humans are extinguishing not only many species, but many kinds of species.” He said that while overall evolutionary distinctiveness can be recovered over time, particular species – such as elephants – would never re-evolve if lost.
SOURCE: Washington Post
DATE: October 15, 2018
SNIP: Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.
In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.
The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.
“This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”
“Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss.
The food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom. It’s credible that the authors link the cascade to arthropod loss, Schowalter said, because “you have all these different taxa showing the same trends — the insectivorous birds, frogs and lizards — but you don’t see those among seed-feeding birds.”
“It’s bewildering, and I’m scared to death that it’s actually death by a thousand cuts,” Wagner said.
“Unfortunately, we have deaf ears in Washington,” Schowalter said. But those ears will listen at some point, he said, because our food supply will be in jeopardy.
The loss of insects and arthropods could further rend the rain forest’s food web, Lister warned, causing plant species to go extinct without pollinators. “If the tropical forests go it will be yet another catastrophic failure of the whole Earth system,” he said, “that will feed back on human beings in an almost unimaginable way.”
SOURCE: Rolling Stone
DATE: October 12, 2018
SNIP: Hurricane Michael, the third most intense storm on record to make landfall in the U.S., has caused widespread destruction, turning places like Mexico Beach, Florida, into a hellscape of broken homes and overturned cars. It will be a while before we learn the full extent of the damage — and the human suffering and death — caused by the storm’s 155 mph winds and the 14-foot storm surge that swamped the coastline.
Bad as the hurricane was, imagine the damage and destruction if that storm surge had been 15 feet or so higher. And if instead of receding, that wall of water never went away. That is what we could be facing in the not-so-distant future if we don’t dramatically cut fossil-fuel pollution.
If that sounds alarmist, watch this short video. In it, you’ll see a scientist named Richard Alley in a Skype discussion with students at Bard College, as well as with Eban Goodstein, director of the Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard. It would be just another nerdy Skype chat except Alley is talking frankly about something that few scientists have the courage to say in public: As bad as you think climate change might be in the coming decades, reality could be far worse. Within the lifetime of the students he’s talking with, Alley says, there’s some risk — small but not as small as you might hope — that the seas could rise as much as 15-to-20 feet.
To judge how radical this is, compare Alley’s numbers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released on Monday. That report basically argued that if we don’t get to zero carbon emissions by 2050, we have very little chance of avoiding 1.5 Celsius of warming, the threshold that would allow us to maintain a stable climate. The report projected that with 2 Celsius of warming, which is the target of the Paris Climate Agreement, the range of sea level rise we might see by the end of the century is between about one and three feet.
So why is Alley arguing that the risk of catastrophic sea-level rise is so much higher than the report that is often cited as “the gold standard” of climate science?
For one thing, IPCC reports are notoriously conservative. They are written in collaboration with a large group of scientists and are often watered down by endless debate and consensus-building.
Alley simply has a broader understanding of ice dynamics than many scientists, who tend to be highly specialized in their research. Alley’s analysis includes not only geology and paleoclimatology, but also a big dose of physics and engineering — which is especially helpful when it comes to understanding the possibility of rapid ice sheet collapse.
Alley is not the only one who has suggested that the risks of rapidly rising seas are higher than this IPCC reports acknowledges. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the top science agency in the U.S., says the seas are likely to rise by between one and eight feet by 2100.
DATE: October 11, 2018
SNIP: In the deep middle of the remote Arctic Ocean, things are amiss.
With the passage of summer, the ice — diminished by the warm season — is expected to regrow as frigid temperatures envelope the Arctic.
But, this year, it’s not.
Specifically, sea ice in the Central Arctic basin — a massive region of ocean some 4.5 million square kilometers in size — hasn’t started its usual rapid expansion, and unusually warm temperatures in both the air and the ocean are largely to blame.
“For the most part, Arctic sea ice normally begins rapidly refreezing this time of year,” Zack Labe, a climate scientist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of California Irvine, said over email.
In mid-October, the temperatures here should be plummeting. But they’ve gone up.
“Both the ocean and atmosphere are warmer than usual,” said Lars Kaleschke, an Arctic scientist at the University of Hamburg’s Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability.
SOURCE: Science Alert
DATE: October 10, 2018
SNIP: Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier could soon lose another massive chunk of ice, with signs of a 30 kilometre (19 mile) long crack appearing along its surface.
Only a year ago a 260 square kilometre (100 square mile) iceberg split free from the glacier – the fifth large calving event this century. That makes this one a potential number six, reflecting an alarming trend that could eventually have an impact on rising sea levels.
There are still roughly 10 kilometres of ice connecting the prospective iceberg to the end of the glacier; once that breaks free in the coming weeks or months, it will be a monstrous 300 square kilometre (115 square mile) island adrift in the Antarctic’s oceans.
These types of iceberg calvings are also starting to happen more often than we’d expect, in line with a rise in the rate of melting ice in West Antarctica.