Sea level rise could hit 2 metres by 2100 – much worse than feared

Sea level rise could hit 2 metres by 2100 – much worse than feared

SOURCE: New Scientist, Inside Climate News, and PNAS

DATE: May 20, 2019

SNIP: The world’s coastal cities have been warned to prepare for the possibility of a sea level rise exceeding 2 metres by the end of the century, with “profound consequences for humanity.”

As coastal communities prepare for the impacts of climate change, a new report warns that ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland could cause far more sea level rise than previously thought, and it says planners should not ignore that peril.

A new assessment found runaway carbon emissions and melting ice sheets could result in such a worst case scenario, potentially double the upper limit outlined by the UN climate science panel’s last major report.

Such big sea level rises so soon would lead to nightmarish impacts, says Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol. “If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.”

Around 1.79 million square kilometres of land could be lost and up to 187 million people displaced. “Many small island states, particularly those in the Pacific, will effectively be pretty much inhabitable. We are talking about an existential threat to nation states,” says Bamber.

In Antarctica, recent detailed satellite data analyses suggest that warming ocean water is influencing East Antarctic glaciers more than in the past and that they have been losing ice faster over the past decade. In West Antarctica, research published last week found nearly a quarter of that region’s ice is now thinning and the largest glaciers, Pine Island and Thwaites, are losing ice five times faster than they were in 1992. The discovery of a giant cavity expanding under the Thwaites Glacier has also raised new questions about how warming water will affect the ice. On the Greenland Ice Sheet, scientists are developing new understanding of melting feedback loops involving microbes, among other changes.

‘Earthworm Dilemma’ Has Climate Scientists Racing to Keep Up

‘Earthworm Dilemma’ Has Climate Scientists Racing to Keep Up

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: May 20, 2019

SNIP: Native earthworms disappeared from most of northern North America 10,000 years ago, during the ice age. Now invasive earthworm species from southern Europe — survivors of that frozen epoch, and introduced to this continent by European settlers centuries ago — are making their way through northern forests, their spread hastened by roads, timber and petroleum activity, tire treads, boats, anglers and even gardeners.

As the worms feed, they release into the atmosphere much of the carbon stored in the forest floor. Climate scientists are worried.

“Earthworms are yet another factor that can affect the carbon balance,” Werner Kurz, a researcher with the Canadian Forest Service in Victoria, British Columbia, wrote in an email. His fear is that the growing incursion of earthworms — not just in North America, but also in northern Europe and Russia — could convert the boreal forest, now a powerful global carbon sponge, into a carbon spout.

Moreover, the threat is still so new to boreal forests that scientists don’t yet know how to calculate what the earthworms’ carbon effect will be, or when it will appear.

“It is a significant change to the carbon dynamic and how we understand it works,” Cindy Shaw, a carbon-research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, said. “We don’t truly understand the rate or the magnitude of that change.”

The relationship between carbon and earthworms is complex. Earthworms are beloved by gardeners because they break down organic material in soil, freeing up nutrients. This helps plants and trees grow faster, which locks carbon into living tissue. Some types of invasive earthworms also burrow into mineral soil and seal carbon there.

But as earthworms speed decomposition, they also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As they occupy more areas of the world, will they ultimately add more carbon to the atmosphere — or subtract it?

Erin K. Cameron, an environmental scientist at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who studies the boreal incursion of earthworms, found that 99.8 percent of the earthworms in her study area in Alberta belonged Dendrobaena octaedra, an invasive species that eats leaf litter but doesn’t burrow into the soil.

In 2015, Dr. Cameron published the results of a computer model aimed at figuring out the effect on leaf-litter over time. “What we see with our model is that forest-floor carbon is reduced by between 50 percent and 94 percent, mostly in the first 40 years,” she said. That carbon, no longer sequestered, goes into the atmosphere.

Not only that, in a 2009 study she calculated that earthworms had already wriggled their way into 9 percent of the forest of northeastern Alberta, and would occupy half of it by 2049.

Olive production leads to bird killings on ‘catastrophic scale’

Olive production leads to bird killings on ‘catastrophic scale’

SOURCE: MSN

DATE: May 17, 2019

SNIP: Hundreds of thousands of legally-protected birds are killed in southern Europe every year after being sucked out of trees and into machines which are harvesting olives.

During the winter months from October to January, millions of birds from northern Europe, including the UK, flock to Mediterranean countries to escape the cold weather.

It is thought around 96,000 birds die every year in Portugal alone as a result of harvesting for olive oil production during the night-time.

France and Italy also carry out the practice, but specific numbers are not known.

The Andalusian government in Spain, where an estimated 2.6 million birds used to be vacuumed up annually, has now stopped the practice.

Other big olive-producing countries should follow their lead, say researchers.

The problem of birds being vacuumed from the bushes is on a “catastrophic scale”, according to the findings reported in the journal Nature.

Birds such as robins, goldfinches, greenfinches, warblers and wagtails are among those that suffer the biggest casualties.

It is believed there are around 100 dead birds in each harvest trailer during a night-time operation.

The trees are stripped of the fruits at night because cooler temperatures help to preserve the olives’ aromatic flavours.

But in the dark there is less chance of the birds spotting the machines because they are sleeping.

However, if the harvesting happened during the day they could see them and then escape.

Martin Harper from the RSPB told Sky News: “We do know that sustainably managed olive grows are not only possible but very beneficial to wildlife and we need to encourage those.”

He added: “More generally across Europe we know there are 421 million fewer birds today than there were 30 years.

“Agriculture is the biggest driver of change which is why the Common Agriculture Policy needs to be reformed to ensure public money supports farmers to provide space for nature on their farms.”

‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica

‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 16, 2019

SNIP: Ice losses are rapidly spreading deep into the interior of the Antarctic, new analysis of satellite data shows.

The warming of the Southern Ocean is resulting in glaciers sliding into the sea increasingly rapidly, with ice now being lost five times faster than in the 1990s. The West Antarctic ice sheet was stable in 1992 but up to a quarter of its expanse is now thinning. More than 100 metres of ice thickness has been lost in the worst-hit places.

A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would drive global sea levels up by about five metres, drowning coastal cities around the world. The current losses are doubling every decade, the scientists said, and sea level rise are now running at the extreme end of projections made just a few years ago.

“From a standing start in the 1990s, thinning has spread inland progressively over the past 25 years – that is rapid in glaciological terms,” said Prof Andy Shepherd, of Leeds University in the UK, who led the study. “The speed of drawing down ice from an ice sheet used to be spoken of in geological timescales, but that has now been replaced by people’s lifetimes.”

Total Catastrophe For U.S. Corn Production: Only 30% Of U.S. Corn Fields Have Been Planted – 5 Year Average Is 66%

Total Catastrophe For U.S. Corn Production: Only 30% Of U.S. Corn Fields Have Been Planted – 5 Year Average Is 66%

SOURCE: The Economic Collapse Blog [Take with a grain of salt, but the numbers are from the Department of Agriculture and are quite clearly problematic.]

DATE: May 15, 2019

SNIP: 2019 is turning out to be a nightmare that never ends for the agriculture industry. Thanks to endless rain and unprecedented flooding, fields all over the middle part of the country are absolutely soaked right now, and this has prevented many farmers from getting their crops in the ground. I knew that this was a problem, but when I heard that only 30 percent of U.S. corn fields had been planted as of Sunday, I had a really hard time believing it. But it turns out that number is 100 percent accurate. And at this point corn farmers are up against a wall because crop insurance final planting dates have either already passed or are coming up very quickly. In addition, for every day after May 15th that corn is not in the ground, farmers lose approximately 2 percent of their yield. Unfortunately, more rain is on the way, and it looks like thousands of corn farmers will not be able to plant corn at all this year. It is no exaggeration to say that what we are facing is a true national catastrophe.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop progress reports, about 11% of Illinois corn has been planted and about 4% of soybeans. Last year at this time, 88% of corn and 56% of soybeans were in the ground.

Sadly, global weather patterns are continuing to go haywire, and much more rain is coming to the middle of the country starting on Friday…

Any hopes of getting corn and soybean planting back on track in the U.S. may be washed away starting Friday as a pair of storms threaten to deliver a “one-two punch” of soaking rain and tornadoes across the Great Plains and Midwest through next week.

As much as 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) of rain will soak soils from South Dakota and Minnesota south to Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard

Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 15, 2019

SNIP: The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns.

Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.

This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday.

While plastic pollution in the oceans has become a high-profile concern, the effect on climate change of the ubiquitous use of plastic has not been a focus.

“After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says.

“With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse.”

The key actions which the authors say are required are:

Immediately end the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic.

Stop development of new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure.

Foster the transition to zero-waste communities.

• Implement a system where polluters pay for the impact of their products – known as extended producer responsibility.

Border wall along Mexico to go up in national monument, wildlife refuge

Border wall along Mexico to go up in national monument, wildlife refuge

SOURCE: Salt Lake Tribune

DATE: May 15, 2019

SNIP: The U.S. government plans to replace barriers through 100 miles of the southern border in California and Arizona, including through a national monument and a wildlife refuge, according to documents and environmental advocates.

The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday once again waived environmental and dozens of other laws to build more barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Funding will come from the Defense Department following the emergency declaration that President Donald Trump signed this year after Congress refused to approve the amount of border wall funding that he wanted.

Barriers will go up at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a vast park named after the unique cactus breed that decorates it, and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which is largely a designed wilderness home to 275 wildlife species. The government will also build new roads and lighting in those areas.

Environmental advocates who have sued to stop the construction of the wall say this latest plan will be detrimental to the wildlife and habitat in those areas.

Tropical forests ’empty’ as illegal hunting slashes large mammal populations, study warns

Tropical forests ’empty’ as illegal hunting slashes large mammal populations, study warns

SOURCE: Independent

DATE: May 14, 2019

SNIP: Illegal hunting is causing catastrophic declines in mammal populations living in the world’s remaining tropical forests, a new study has warned.

Jaguars, leopards, elephants and rhinos have seen population declines of 40 per cent in just 40 years and the study warned that hunting – half of which is done illegally – has left many tropical forests “empty” of wildlife.

Even the world’s most pristine jungles are having their ecosystems damaged as key species are wiped out by hunters looking to collect valuable horns and bones, an international team of researchers lead by the Radboud University in Holland, found.

Within the tropics, only 20 per cent of remaining habitats are considered intact.

The biggest declines were seen in Western Africa, with more than 70 per cent population reductions. Researchers found primates and pangolins were most at risk.

Declines have largely been caused by increased human accessibility to remote areas.

The decline of mammals may have profound implications for ecosystem functioning.

Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe

Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe

SOURCE: Science Daily

DATE: May 14, 2019

SNIP: Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one kind of bacteria in the ocean. Now laboratory tests have shown that these bacteria are susceptible to plastic pollution, according to a study published in Communications Biology.

“We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria,” says lead author and Macquarie University researcher Dr Sasha Tetu.

“Now we’d like to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on these microbes in the ocean.”

In the first study of its kind, the researchers looked at the effects these chemicals have on the smallest life in our oceans, photosynthetic marine bacteria.

These microbes are heavy lifters when it comes to carbohydrate and oxygen production in the ocean via photosynthesis.

In the lab, the team exposed two strains of Prochlorococcus found at different depths in the ocean to chemicals leached from two common plastic products — grey plastic grocery bags (made from high-density polyethylene) and PVC matting.

They found that exposure to these chemicals impaired the growth and function of these microbes — including the amount of oxygen they produce — as well as altering the expression of a large number of their genes.

Yellowstone’s Grizzlies Wandering Farther from Home and Dying in Higher Numbers

Yellowstone’s Grizzlies Wandering Farther from Home and Dying in Higher Numbers

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: May 14, 2019

SNIP: Wally MacFarlane calls them ghost forests. You can tell they didn’t burn because the needles are still intact, the branches flawless except for the gray where there used to be green. When MacFarlane flew over Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding area 10 years ago, the forests were a sea of red, hundreds of thousands of acres lit up by mountain pine beetle infestations, the magnitude of death only visible from above.

“The level of destruction is hard to even fathom until you take people up to see it,” said MacFarlane, a senior research associate at Utah State University who conducted aerial surveys of whitebark pine trees in the region in 2009 and again in 2018. “It’s the deforestation of this ancient forest, arguably something in the order of one of the greatest losses of old-growth forests in the United States, in just the scale.”

Over the past 200 years, these forests provided a last refuge for grizzly bears in the contiguous U.S. from the westward expansion of towns, farms and ranches. In the high-altitude forests, the bears could rely on squirrels’ caches of whitebark pine seeds as an abundant and important food source.

Today, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of just two places—along with Glacier National Park—where large populations of grizzly bears can be found in the Lower 48.

But those dying forests signaled trouble for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears and their already diminishing food supply.

As warmer winters allowed the beetles to spread and devastate the whitebark pines, the bears have been increasingly wandering out of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s high-altitude forests and into more human environments, and they are dying in greater numbers than they have in decades, federal data show.

Government officials say the population is stable. But over the past four years, the number of grizzly bear deaths has risen, the majority of them because the bears became a threat to people or livestock and were euthanized. Almost 250 bears have died over that period in the ecosystem, a swath of land larger than the state of West Virginia that comprises parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Grizzly bear researchers and advocates fear the higher number of annual deaths may be putting into doubt the future in the region of one of the slowest reproducing terrestrial mammals.

“I think it’s serious,” said Barrie Gilbert, a retired biologist who spent more than 40 years studying bears. If more bears die than are born, the population will be in trouble, he said. A new international report warns that worldwide, human activities, including those that drive climate change, have put 1 million species of animals and plants on the brink of survival.

A 2018 federal report acknowledged the impact the diminished food supply can have in raising the death toll for the bears: “Historically, grizzly bear-human conflicts and management actions were reduced during years with good food production, including whitebark pine. In areas with widespread whitebark pine mortality, this effect may now be diminishing.”

As grizzly bears wander farther in search of food, they are increasingly encountering humans—drivers, hunters, ranchers—and winding up dead.

More bears died in 2018 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem than in any other year in at least four decades, according to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Last year’s 69 deaths more than doubled the average in the decade from 2000 to 2010, when about 27 bear deaths were reported each year.

In the Yellowstone area, the loss of whitebark pine followed the decline of other grizzly bear food sources.

The cutthroat trout population has been decimated by disease and non-native lake trout, which are outcompeting the native species. Plus, the streams where they used to spawn have seen lower water levels because of a declining snowpack.