Surprise! Unexpected ocean heat waves are becoming the norm

Surprise! Unexpected ocean heat waves are becoming the norm

SOURCE: The Daily Climate and PNAS

DATE: August 6, 2019

SNIP: Ocean heat waves, which can push out fish, plankton and other aquatic life, are happening far more frequently than previously thought, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Based on historical and lived experience, people expect certain conditions to prevail in the ecosystems they depend upon. Climate change is now introducing strong trends that push conditions beyond historic levels,” the authors wrote.

Led by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, researchers looked at 65 large marine ecosystems around the world over the past 164 years to determine how frequently “surprising” ocean temperatures occur, with surprising defined as an event expected to occur about two times in 100 years, lead author and chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute Andrew Pershing told EHN via email.

Pershing and colleagues reported that over the past seven years, the planet averaged 12 ecosystems each year experiencing the kind of unusually warm temperatures that someone in the given region would expect to see only a couple times in a century. In 2016 alone there were 23 such events.

“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” Pershing said in a statement.

The results are in line with what scientists continue to warn: oceans are the Earth’s largest heat collector. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 90 percent of Earth’s warming over the past 50 years has happened in the ocean.

Alaska’s sea ice has completely melted away

Alaska’s sea ice has completely melted away

SOURCE: Mashable

DATE: August 5, 2019

SNIP: Alaska’s exceptional summer continues.

The most rapidly changing state in the U.S. has no sea ice within some 150 miles of its shores, according to high-resolution sea ice analysis from the National Weather Service. The big picture is clear: After an Arctic summer with well above-average temperatures, warmer seas, and a historic July heat wave, sea ice has vanished in Alaskan waters.

Alaska waters are ice free,” said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

“This is definitely an extreme year — even by more recent standards in a changed Arctic,” noted Walt Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Arctic sea ice has been either been at record lows or flirting with record lows throughout much of the summer. “I’m losing the ability to communicate the magnitude [of change],” Jeremy Mathis, a longtime Arctic researcher and current board director at the National Academies of Sciences, told Mashable in June, when sea ice levels were at their lowest point in the satellite record for that period. “I’m running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we’re seeing.

This tiny insect could be delivering toxic pesticides to honey bees and other beneficial bugs

This tiny insect could be delivering toxic pesticides to honey bees and other beneficial bugs

SOURCE: Science

DATE: August 5, 2019

SNIP: A common pesticide may be causing more collateral damage than thought. According to a new study, neonicotinoids can kill beneficial insects such as honey bees, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps by contaminating honeydew, a sugar-rich liquid excreted by certain insects.

Researchers already knew neonicotinoids could harm honey bees and other beneficial insects when applied to important crops such as cotton, potato, and citrus. A 2017 study, for example, found the chemicals can poison bees, causing symptoms like paralysis, vomiting, or death when they eat contaminated nectar or pollen, or even crawl over sprayed surfaces. Yet neonicotinoids still account for more than 20% of the world’s insecticide market.

In the new study, scientists wanted to see whether the chemicals could harm these and other insects more indirectly. They looked to the invasive mealybug (pictured), a 6-millimeter-long insect that eats plants typically contaminated with pesticides. As they nosh, the bugs excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which pollinating insects like hoverflies and parasitic wasps consume.

The scientists applied two of the most commonly used neonicotinoid insecticides (thiamethoxam and imidacloprid) to clementine trees grown in a greenhouse. They added the chemicals to the soil in one group and sprayed it on leaves in another, mimicking the ways farmers control pest infestations today. The team sprayed a third group of trees with distilled water as a control. Then they infested the trees with mealybugs and fed their resulting honeydew to hoverflies and parasitic wasps.

All of the hoverflies that ate honeydew from trees sprayed with thiamethoxam died within 3 days, while just 10% of the control group died, researchers report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the soil-treated trees, nearly 70% of the hoverflies died from the same chemical, compared with about 14% in the control group. More than half of the wasps also died after eating honeydew from the soil-treated and sprayed trees (with thiamethoxam), whereas less than 20% died in the controls.

The study suggests honeydew could be another way beneficial insects are exposed to deadly insecticides. This can devastate more insects across the food web than nectar contaminated with insecticides could, the team says, because honeydew is more abundant, especially in agricultural fields.

China coal mine approvals surge despite climate pledges

China coal mine approvals surge despite climate pledges

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: August 5, 2019

SNIP: Approvals for new coal mine construction in China have surged in 2019, government documents showed, with Beijing expecting consumption of the commodity to rise in the coming years even as it steps up its fight against smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

Long-term cuts in coal consumption are a key part of China’s energy, environment and climate goals, but the fivefold increase in new mine approvals in the first-half of 2019 suggests China’s targets still provide ample room for shorter-term growth.

China’s energy regulator gave the go-ahead to build 141 million tonnes of new annual coal production capacity from January to June, compared to 25 million tonnes over the whole of last year, Reuters analysis of approval documents showed.

Lauri Myllyvirta, senior energy analyst with environmental group Greenpeace, said many of the newly approved projects would likely replace small or depleted old mines.

“However, it is alarming that China’s energy planning seems to be driving at roughly maintaining current levels of coal output for the coming decade or two, which is very hard to reconcile with the goal of the Paris agreement (on climate change),” he said.

Chinese coal output rose 2.6% in the first-half of 2019 to 1.76 billion tonnes.

U.S. has lost 24 million acres of natural land in 16 years: independent report

U.S. has lost 24 million acres of natural land in 16 years: independent report

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: August 5, 2019

SNIP: The United States has lost the equivalent of nine Grand Canyon national parks, or 24 million acres (9712455.41 hectares) of natural area, between 2001 and 2017 due to agriculture, energy development, housing sprawl and other human factors, making the country more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to a report released Tuesday.

The study by progressive think tank Center for American Progress titled “How Much Nature Should America Keep” said the U.S. needs to set a goal to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030 to stem the rapid decline of natural areas, which will protect the country from the worst impacts of climate change and wildlife extinction.

The report attempted to calculate the rate of loss of natural lands by assessing the impact of oil and gas extraction, road construction, housing sprawl, agriculture and other human activities.

Currently, 12% of U.S. land area has been conserved as national parks, wilderness areas, and other types of protected areas while 26% of U.S. ocean territory is safeguarded from extractive activities like oil and gas drilling, the report said.

Europe’s record heat melted Swiss glaciers

Europe’s record heat melted Swiss glaciers

SOURCE: Science

DATE: August 5, 2019

SNIP: The sweltering heat wave that roasted much of Europe last month has since moved north, where it’s wreaking havoc on the Greenland ice sheet. But while all eyes are currently trained on the Arctic ice, scientists are finding that Europe’s coldest places have also suffered.

According to initial findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers experienced unusually high melt rates during the last heat wave, which occurred in late July, and an earlier heat wave that struck the continent in late June.

Matthias Huss, a glaciologist with Swiss University ETH Zurich and head of GLAMOS, tweeted last week that the nation’s glaciers lost about 800 million metric tons of ice during the two heat waves alone.

During the winter, the region received an above-average amount of snowfall, Huss pointed out. So the glaciers actually started the summer with a high level of snow cover and were doing “extraordinarily well” compared to the last few seasons, which have logged particularly strong losses, he noted. Scientists were hopeful that they’d end the season on a better note than the last few years.

But once the first heat wave struck, the snow began to rapidly melt away.

“Now, because of these two heat waves, we have tracked very fast downward,” Huss told E&E News. “And we are now at the average of the last 10 years, or even already a bit below.”

Summers like this one, marked by extraordinary heat waves and high levels of melt, only exacerbate the problem.

“Now we are really seeing almost every year another extreme year,” Huss said. “And this is what is actually a problem.”

Two Percent of All North Atlantic Right Whales Have Died in The Last Two Months

Two Percent of All North Atlantic Right Whales Have Died in The Last Two Months

SOURCE: Science Alert

DATE: August 2, 2019

SNIP: A Canadian surveillance plane was scanning the waters of Gulf of St. Lawrence when it made a grisly discovery: The carcass of a North Atlantic right whale, one of some 400 remaining in the world, was drifting in the current, much of its skin sloughed off.

From there, the news would only get worse. The next day, another dead right whale was spotted in the same body of water. And an 18-year-old right whale was entangled in fishing gear near Quebec, with a rope cutting into its head and over its blowhole.

It’s been a devastating summer for the endangered marine mammal. Since the start of June, eight North Atlantic right whales — or 2 percent of the global population — have been found dead in Canadian waters, alarming scientists, conservationists and government officials who had believed they had begun to make progress in protecting the imperiled species.

Necropsy results are still pending for most of the whales, but preliminary findings for three of them suggest ship strikes.

Particularly troubling about this year’s deaths is that four of the whales were breeding females, of which fewer than 100 remain. Calving rates have dropped 40 percent since 2010, according to scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, making the deaths of the females a major blow.

Many say the decline is linked to a change in the whales’ migratory pattern, possibly as a result of warming waters. They’ve been showing up in unanticipated areas, where there are few regulatory protections for them.

This has made them susceptible to fatal blows from fast-moving ships or entanglement in fishing lines, which can cut through flesh and bone, slowly and painfully killing the whales by drowning, starvation or infection.

Researchers found that 88 percent of right whale deaths for which a cause was determined in the past 15 years were the result of either vessel strikes or entanglement. None of the deaths, they reported in a study published last month in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, were the result of natural causes.

Bolsonaro Fires Head of Agency Tracking Amazon Deforestation in Brazil

Bolsonaro Fires Head of Agency Tracking Amazon Deforestation in Brazil

SOURCE: NY Times

DATE: August 2, 2019

SNIP: President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on Friday fired the head of a government agency that had revealed a big increase in deforestation in the Amazon, with the dismissal inciting protests from environmental organizations and public workers.

The sacking of Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, a well-respected physicist, came a day after Mr. Bolsonaro angrily claimed that people within the government were damaging the country’s image abroad by disclosing the rate at which the world’s largest tropical rain forest is withering.

Mr. Bolsonaro and his minister of the environment, Ricardo Salles, on Thursday had held a news conference during which they cast doubt on his own government’s figures, which are routinely released monthly, that showed a steep rise in deforestation in the Amazon this year.

“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Mr. Bolsonaro told reporters, speaking alongside Mr. Salles.

Mr. Bolsonaro often makes spurious statements.

Brazil’s portion of the Amazon lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover during the first six months of this year, a 39 percent increase over the same period last year.

Since Mr. Bolsonaro took office in January, the main agency that enforces environmental laws has taken considerably fewer enforcement actions.

Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right former Army captain, has said protected indigenous territories should be opened up to mining and other industries. Last week, he called concerns about the environment overblown, saying the issue mattered solely to “vegans, who eat only plants.”

July Was the Hottest Month in Human History

July Was the Hottest Month in Human History

SOURCE: Rolling Stone

DATE: August 1, 2019

SNIP: July 2019 is now the hottest month in recorded history, the U.N. confirmed on Thursday.

At a press conference in New York, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres announced that the month of July had reached 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a figure that “at least equaled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history,” according to data released by the World Meteorological Organization. Temperature information from July is still streaming in, but preliminary data show last month’s warmth is roughly on par, or perhaps slightly warmer than the previous record of July 2016.

In cities and towns around the world, record high temperatures outpaced record low temperatures on nearly a 3-to-1 basis during July, underscoring the fact that this crisis is being felt almost everywhere, by almost everyone.

But there’s an added madness to this crisis. In its annual Statistical Review of World Energy released a few weeks ago, the global oil giant BP confirmed that in 2018 the world burned the most fossil fuels of any year in history. In short: Our addiction to fossil fuels is getting worse and worse even as the planet gets hotter and hotter.

The world’s current climate policies point to an unlivable future. Scientists are increasingly convinced that if warming rises above 1.5 degrees, cascading ecological and meteorological tipping points could threaten the stability of human civilization. The current level of action, if sustained, would result in global warming of about 3.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and surpass 1.5 degrees as soon as 2030.

The new record is especially concerning to scientists because it happened in the absence of a strong El Niño, a periodic natural warming of the Pacific Ocean that tends to boost temperatures worldwide. The previous record, during July 2016, was set during one of the strongest El Niños ever measured.

That a new record was achieved without these extreme conditions “further demonstrates the relentless march upward of global temperatures driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the University of California-Berkeley, which maintains an independent global temperature record to that of the WMO.

The hottest month in history should make the stakes of our time crystal clear: Either we change everything, or the consequences of planetary warming will do that for us.

Russia’s army called in as Siberia wildfires engulf area nearly as big as Belgium

Russia’s army called in as Siberia wildfires engulf area nearly as big as Belgium

SOURCE: EuroNews

DATE: August 1, 2019

SNIP: President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian army to take part in fire-fighting efforts in Siberia as environmentalists describe the blazes raging across the region as an ecological catastrophe.

The government claims the fires pose no danger to communities, but people are starting to suffer from the effects of smoke.

A series of enormous wildfires have spread across Russia’s eastern region of Siberia, prompting states of emergency to be declared and sparking outrage from locals who say authorities aren’t responding enough.

The fires, which have been burning for several weeks, have spread across almost 3 million hectares of land, the Federal Forestry Agency has said.

That’s an area almost the size of Belgium.

States of emergencies have been declared across five regions in response to the fires, which have burned more than a million hectares each in the worst-affected areas of the Sakha Republic and Krasnoyarsk.