Seabird numbers ‘at risk due to fishing’ according to Aberdeen study

Seabird numbers ‘at risk due to fishing’ according to Aberdeen study


DATE: December 7, 2018

SNIP: A study said there has been a 70% decline in seabird populations due to a combination of the fishing industry, pollution and habitat destruction.

The University of Aberdeen team looked at 1970-1989 and 1990-2010 timeframes.

They were assessing the degree of competition seabirds faced for prey species such as anchovy, sardines, mackerel, squid, krill and crustaceans.

The team found that the total annual seabird consumption of these decreased from 70 million tonnes to 57 million tonnes, while annual fishery catches went from 59 million tonnes to 65 million tonnes.

“This enhanced competition, in addition to other factors such as pollution, predation by invasive species on chicks, the destruction and changes in their habitat by human activities and environmental changes caused by climate change, puts seabirds at risk, making them the most threatened bird group, with a 70% decline over the past seven decades.

From space, the ferocity of Queensland’s bushfires is revealed

From space, the ferocity of Queensland’s bushfires is revealed

SOURCE: ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

DATE: December 7, 2018

SNIP: In the face of an unimaginable bushfire threat, emergency agencies delivered a dire warning: evacuate now or burn to death.

For many, it was a signal that last week’s unfolding emergency would be unlike any fire Queensland had faced in recent memory.

In a perfect storm of extreme heat and fierce winds, fires erupted across a huge stretch of Queensland.

Properties were razed and entire towns were almost wiped off the map.

The fires were so intense they even penetrated rainforests — a phenomenal occurrence which has astounded and alarmed fire scientists.

Rainforests are non-burnable. That’s one of their distinguishing features. So if a rainforest is burning, that’s really significant,” said David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania.

But it’s hard to get a sense of just how massive the unfolding disaster was. That is, until you see it from the sky.

Satellite imagery and data captured over Queensland in recent weeks gives us a different perspective of the bushfires. It highlights not only the unprecedented nature of this natural disaster, but also the incredible role firefighters played in protecting vast numbers of properties.

To get a better sense of just how extraordinary the fire conditions were, David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania, and his colleague Grant Williamson analysed the fire danger rating of the past two weeks and compared that to the same period over more than a century.

The results were remarkable.

In the three areas he examined — Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone — the fire danger was above anything ever recorded in the previous 110 years.

Andrew Sturgess of QFES said the events of the last couple of weeks are evidence that the warnings of more frequent and more extreme fires caused by climate change had arrived.

“From a fire perspective, Queensland has changed. Australia has changed.”

Greenland is melting much faster than we thought

Greenland is melting much faster than we thought

SOURCE: Popular Science

DATE: December 6, 2018

SNIP: Greenland is losing its cool. That’s not much of a surprise—its mile-thick sheet of ice was not made for this epoch of climate change. But that cool is getting shredded faster than we think.

According to new findings published Wednesday in Nature, climate change has accelerated the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet to unparalleled levels, unseen in at least 350 years and likely in the past 7,800. The rate of melt and the resulting runoff falling into the ocean (and adding to a rising sea level) is speeding up over time, thanks to a motley of factors acting as a feedback loop.

“By using ice cores, we can literally ‘drill back in time,’ and we are able to extend the observational period back in time ten-fold,” says Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a coauthor of the new study.

In all, the team’s analysis suggests melt intensity in Greenland increased by a whopping 250 to 575 percent over just the last 20 years, relative to pre-industrial levels. In those same two decades, total ice sheet runoff has increased by 50 percent since the industrial age began, spiking up by 33 percent since the 20th century alone.

Multiple factors are coalescing to create multiple feedback loops, all exacerbating the ice and snow melt. One of these is the melt-albedo feedback, in which melting creates a more granular consistency of snow that absorbs more sunlight and melts faster. Melting also exposes darker ice to sunlight, which warms up and melts faster than lighter shades of ice. And when melting refreezes at higher elevations, it warms the surrounding snowpack, which means the following year it melts faster and more intensely. To twist the knife, that refreezing also makes the ice sheet more impermeable, which causes water to run off into the ocean rather that seep into the ice sheet’s spongy firn layer.

“What this means for the future,” says Das, “is that for every further degree of warming, we will lose much more ice, on the order of a doubling or more than we did for the same degree of warming in the past, leading to faster rates of sea level rise.

The ‘great dying’: rapid warming caused largest extinction event ever

The ‘great dying’: rapid warming caused largest extinction event ever

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: December 6, 2018

SNIP: Rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found.

The Permian mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period. The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.

Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared. The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.

The great dying event, which occurred over an uncertain timeframe of possibly hundreds of years, saw Earth’s temperatures increase by around 10C (18F). Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely oxygen-free. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a huge spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.

“It does terrify me to think we are on a trajectory similar to the Permian because we really don’t want to be on that trajectory,” Stanford University scientist Jonathan Payne said. “It doesn’t look like we will warm by around 10C and we haven’t lost that amount of biodiversity yet. But even getting halfway there would be something to be very concerned about. The magnitude of change we are currently experiencing is fairly large.”

Curtis Deutsch, an oceanography expert at University of Washington said: “We are about a 10th of the way to the Permian. Once you get to 3-4C of warming, that’s a significant fraction and life in the ocean is in big trouble, to put it bluntly. There are big implications for humans’ domination of the Earth and its ecosystems.”

E.P.A. Will Ease Path to New Coal Plants

E.P.A. Will Ease Path to New Coal Plants


DATE: December 6, 2018

SNIP: The Trump administration plans to eliminate an Obama-era requirement that new coal-fired power plants have expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

This latest administration effort to boost fossil fuel industries comes as leaders from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poland to discuss how to keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. And amid reports that CO2 emissions are rising again, as well as the administration’s own report that climate change is causing more severe weather more frequently and could eventually hurt the U.S. economy.

“This says we’re expecting more coal-fired power plants in the future, and we’re going to make it easier to get there,” said Richard J. Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University.

“This is just one more foolhardy move by a misguided administration that will be judged harshly by future generations,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Under the Trump administration’s rule, carbon dioxide emissions from new coal plants would not be allowed to exceed 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity, according to two people knowledgeable about the proposal. That’s compared to the Obama rule, which limited emissions to 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.

Freshwater Is Getting Saltier, Threatening People and Wildlife

Freshwater Is Getting Saltier, Threatening People and Wildlife

SOURCE: Scientific American

DATE: December 6, 2018

SNIP: Salts that de-ice roads, parking lots and sidewalks keep people safe in winter. But new research shows they are contributing to a sharp and widely rising problem across the U.S. At least a third of the rivers and streams in the country have gotten saltier in the past 25 years. And by 2100, more than half of them may contain at least 50 percent more salt than they used to. Increasing salinity will not just affect freshwater plants and animals but human lives as well—notably, by affecting drinking water.

When Sujay Kaushal, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland, College Park, who studies how salt invades freshwater sources, sampled the local water supply he found not just an elevated level of the sodium chloride, widely used in winter to de-ice outdoor surfaces, but plenty of other salts such as sodium bicarbonate and magnesium chloride.

How people use the land is another important factor. “Today, the saltiest streams are in the northern Great Plains,” scientist John Olson at California State University, Monterey Bay says. “Salinity is naturally high, and mining and oil and gas extraction are releasing more salt by exposing new rock and pumping out saline groundwater.” In those places, he adds, it is not unusual to find streams that are about half as salty as ocean water.

The largest predicted increases are in the arid Southwest, however. The combination of expanding agriculture and reduced rainfall there would require careful irrigation management, Olson says. In the Colorado River Basin, where several such projects are ongoing, the economic cost of salinization is estimated at $300 million per year, including damage totaling $176 million to crops and $81 million to households. In California salty water is costing the agricultural sector billions of dollars in yield losses annually.

The Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania has a long tradition of testing water quality impacts on mayfly larvae. According to entomologist John Jackson’s latest research, as the salt level approaches about a tenth that of seawater, which is not unheard of in some streams, at least three of four species tested are likely to die.

Insects are not the only life-forms that will suffer, adds ecologist William Hintz of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute in New York State, who has studied salinity effects on rainbow trout. “Adult fish are quite resilient, but the young are vulnerable,” he says. “High salt levels may slow down their growth, which has negative effects on their survival and reproductive capacity.”

DDT in Alaska meltwater poses cancer risk for people who eat lots of fish

DDT in Alaska meltwater poses cancer risk for people who eat lots of fish

SOURCE: University of Maine

DATE: December 6, 2018

SNIP: Children in Alaska whose diet includes a lot of fish from rivers fed by the Eastern Alaska Mountain Range may have a long-term elevated risk for cancer because of insecticides — including DDT — in the meltwater.

Even with low levels of organochlorine pollutants (OCPs) in glacial meltwater, the risk of cancer for youth and adults who rely on fish as a staple of their diet is above the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold limit.

As Alaskan glaciers melt in the warming climate, the gradual release of these OCPs may continue to elevate watershed concentrations above the current level.

DDT was used as a pesticide for insect control in the U.S. until the EPA banned it in 1972. Hexachlorocyclohexane, commonly called Lindane, has not been produced in the U.S. since 1976, but it’s imported for insecticide use and is in prescription creams that combat lice and scabies.

The OCPs deposited and stored near the surface of Jarvis Glacier in interior Alaska likely were transported there in the atmosphere — attached to snow and rain. In Asia, DDT is still used to try to prevent malaria.

Bulldozers to soon plow through National Butterfly Center for Trump’s border wall

Bulldozers to soon plow through National Butterfly Center for Trump’s border wall


DATE: December 6, 2018

SNIP: Bulldozers are expected to soon plow through the protected habitat of the National Butterfly Center along the Rio Grande to clear the way for President Trump’s border wall, which got a green light from the Supreme Court this week.

Hundreds of thousands of butterflies flit through the center’s 100-acre sanctuary in Mission. But 70 percent of the land will eventually be on the other side the wall, said Marianna Wright, the executive director.

Just like farmers get crop yield in acres and inches, we get butterflies based on what we have planted in acres and inches,” Wright said. “So having a wide swath of our property bulldozed is going to negatively impact the volume of the species and diversity of the species.”

The wall could be up to three stories tall, with 18-foot steel beams, called bollards, rising from a concrete base. Construction through the refuge could start in February.

The high court let stand an appeals ruling that lets the administration bypass 28 federal laws, mostly to protect the environment, to build the wall in the Rio Grande Valley. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and two other organizations had sued the government.

Some of the laws that were waived include the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Environmental activists argue the wall could lead to the extinction of endangered species such as the ocelot, contamination of drinking water and destruction of indigenous historical sites.

By waiving requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Trump administration will also be skipping over an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the wall. The federally regulated analysis also typically offers ways to lessen the harm of projects.

Researchers find plastic particles in every sea turtle tested for study

Researchers find plastic particles in every sea turtle tested for study


DATE: December 5, 2018

SNIP: Research published in the journal Global Change Biology revealed that more than 800 synthetic particles, including “microplastics,” were found in the digestive systems of 102 sea turtles examined from 3 ocean basins.

The fact that microplastics were found in all of the turtles tested by researchers — in oceans all across the world — highlights the impact of marine plastic waste and its potential effects on animals. The study estimated that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic waste could enter the world’s waters each year.

The sea turtles were pulled from seven species from across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea. They performed necropsies on the turtles, examining their “gut content.”

The samples extracted only provide a look at a portion of the turtles’ gut content, indicating that the actual synthetic particle content throughout a turtle’s whole gut is likely to be 20 times higher.

Global warming will happen faster than we think

Global warming will happen faster than we think

SOURCE: Nature

DATE: December 5, 2018

SNIP: In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report setting out why we must stop global warming at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and how to do so. It is grim reading. If the planet warms by 2 °C — the widely touted temperature limit in the 2015 Paris climate agreement — twice as many people will face water scarcity than if warming is limited to 1.5 °C. That extra warming will also expose more than 1.5 billion people to deadly heat extremes, and hundreds of millions of individuals to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, among other harms.

But the latest IPCC special report underplays another alarming fact: global warming is accelerating. Three trends — rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles — will combine over the next 20 years to make climate change faster and more furious than anticipated. In our view, there’s a good chance that we could breach the 1.5 °C level by 2030, not by 2040 as projected in the special report (see ‘Accelerated warming’). The climate-modelling community has not grappled enough with the rapid changes that policymakers care most about, preferring to focus on longer-term trends and equilibria.

Three lines of evidence suggest that global warming will be faster than projected in the recent IPCC special report.

First, greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising. In 2017, industrial carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to have reached about 37 gigatonnes. This puts them on track with the highest emissions trajectory the IPCC has modelled so far. This dark news means that the next 25 years are poised to warm at a rate of 0.25–0.32 °C per decade. That is faster than the 0.2 °C per decade that we have experienced since the 2000s, and which the IPCC used in its special report.

Second, governments are cleaning up air pollution faster than the IPCC and most climate modellers have assumed. Mainstream climate models had expected them to rise. Lower pollution is better for crops and public health. But aerosols, including sulfates, nitrates and organic compounds, reflect sunlight. This shield of aerosols has kept the planet cooler, possibly by as much as 0.7 °C globally.

Third, there are signs that the planet might be entering a natural warm phase that could last for a couple of decades.

These three forces reinforce each other. We estimate that rising greenhouse-gas emissions, along with declines in air pollution, bring forward the estimated date of 1.5 °C of warming to around 2030, with the 2 °C boundary reached by 2045. These could happen sooner with quicker shedding of air pollutants. Adding in natural decadal fluctuations raises the odds of blasting through 1.5 °C by 2025 to at least 10%. By comparison, the IPCC assigned probabilities of 17% and 83% for crossing the 1.5 °C mark by 2030 and 2052, respectively.

Various climate engineering options should be on the table as an emergency response. If global conditions really deteriorate, we might be forced to extract large volumes of excess CO2 directly from the atmosphere. An even faster emergency response could be to inject aerosols into the atmosphere to lower the amount of solar radiation heating the planet, as air pollution does. This option is hugely controversial, and might have unintended consequences, such as altering rainfall patterns that lead to drying of the tropics. So research and planning are crucial, in case this option is needed.