SOURCE: New York Times
DATE: September 16, 2019
SNIP: Chinook, or king salmon, are huge, powerful fish, the largest member of the salmon family in North America. Spring-summer Chinook make an epic migration thousands of miles through the Columbia River to the waters surrounding Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, and then back to the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains.
Before the 20th century, some 10 million to 16 million adult salmon and steelhead trout are thought to have returned annually to the Columbia River system. The current return of wild fish is 2 percent of that, by some estimates.
While farming, logging and especially the commercial harvest of salmon in the early 20th century all took a toll, the single greatest impact on wild fish comes from eight large dams — four on the Columbia and four on the Snake River, a major tributary.
The four Snake River dams are used primarily to create reservoirs for the barging of Idaho’s wheat to ports. But the dams raise water temperatures and block travel migration routes, increasing fish mortality.
Climate change also has raised both river and ocean water temperatures, which can be deadly to fish. In 2015, for example, unusually warm water killed an estimated 250,000 sockeye salmon.
For decades, experts have tried to ameliorate the loss of the Columbia’s wild fish by installing ladders that allow the fish to swim around the dams, and by placing them in barges and trucks for transport around the dams. The massive efforts have not stemmed the decline, despite the fact that more than $16 billion has been spent on recovery over the last several decades.
Now most scientists come down on the side of removing the dams.
Always a gauntlet, the migration of the salmon now is far more deadly. The eight large dams along the Snake and Columbia rivers created 325 miles of slack water in reservoirs. The average speed of the water flowing downstream has dropped to less than 1.5 miles per hour, and it takes the fish far longer to reach the sea.
When the parrs reach a reservoir on the way, they must swim instead of being pushed by the current, and often become disoriented and are more susceptible to predators. Delayed, they may go through smoltification at the wrong time.
The young salmon eat plankton and insects. But the waters of the Pacific along the West Coast have experienced unusual warming — the so-called blob — which reduces the available food supply.
Before the Snake River dams were built, three to six of every 100 fish that left their natal streams returned home, a ratio called smolt-to-adult return. Today that number is just under one. Biologists say it must reach four to rebuild the fisheries.
It is not just orcas that are suffering because of the decline of salmon. An estimated 137 species rely on the surge of protein brought upriver by millions of fish each year. The salmon also provided phosphorous, nitrogen and other nutrients that nourish the great forests of the Northwest. Three-quarters of the nutrients in some trees in Alaska and British Columbia are derived from salmon.
As Bering Sea ice melts, Alaskans, scientists and Seattle’s fishing fleet witness changes ‘on a massive scale’
SOURCE: Seattle Times
DATE: September 15, 2019
SNIP: For two years, the Bering Sea has been largely without winter ice, a development scientists modeling the warming impacts of greenhouse-gas pollution from fossil fuels once forecast would not occur until 2050.
This ice provided a giant platform for growing algae at the base of the food chain, and has been a significant contributor to the remarkable productivity of a body of water, stretching from Alaska to northeast Russia, that sustains some of the biggest fisheries on the planet.
Much of U.S. seafood – ranging from fish sticks to king crab legs – comes from the Bering Sea, which generates income for an arc of communities that reaches from Savoonga to Seattle, where many of the boats that catch and process this bounty are home-ported.
For Native people such as Akeya, who is Yup’ik, the ice also has shaped their culture, helping them to hunt the walruses, whales, seals and other marine life that have long formed a crucial part of their diet.
Researchers now are uncertain when and to what extent the ice may return, and have scrambled to better understand the consequences of back-to-back years of its loss.
This summer, the pace of change also quickened on shore as a record-shattering heat wave contributed to the deaths of salmon before they could spawn, to wildfires that shrouded the city of Anchorage in smoke, and to the further melting of permafrost, which causes ground to shift and can create problems for buildings and roads.
Offshore, temperatures in some spots at the bottom of the northern Bering Sea this summer measured more than 12 degrees Fahrenheit higher than nine years earlier.
The warming supports the spread of toxic algae blooms, which have been found not only in the northern Bering Sea but in Arctic waters. Scientists aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in August detected the toxins at surprisingly high levels in two spots in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, raising concerns about the impacts on marine life.
The Bering Sea changes brought about by the lack of winter ice represent “the ecosystem of the future,” said Phyllis Stabeno, a Seattle-based oceanographer with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory who has studied this body of water for 30 years. “As a scientist, I’m fascinated by it. But as a human being, I’m depressed.”
In harsh winters – full of winds from the north – the ice used to extend south from the Bering Strait almost to the Alaska Peninsula. Even in milder years, it typically stretched for hundreds of miles.
The ice froze through the fall and winter, shedding very cold, very briny seawater that – due to its density – would sink and eventually form a frigid layer down deep. Pollock, cod and many other species avoided the cold pool, and it often kept them from swimming north.
As the ice melted in the spring, it gave marine life a big boost.
Blooms of the ice algae — known as phytoplankton — spread through a less-salty band of water close to the surface, which also was rich in other forms of algae. All of this was a buffet for zooplankton, tiny creatures such as copepods and krill that are rich in fats and are key food sources for young fish, birds and some marine mammals.
When there’s no ice, there are still later blooms of phytoplankton. But they support less-fatty zooplankton.
The consequences for fish appear serious.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: September 13, 2019
SNIP: Construction of a 30ft-high section of Donald Trump’s border barrier has begun in the Organ Pipe Cactus national monument in southern Arizona, a federally protected wilderness area and Unesco-recognized international biosphere reserve.
In the face of protests by environmental groups, the wall will traverse the entirety of the southern edge of the monument. It is part of the 175 miles of barrier expansion along the US-Mexico border being funded by the controversial diversion of $3.6bn from military construction projects.
This will include construction in Texas, New Mexico as well as Arizona where, according to a government court filing, some 44 miles of new barrier construction will pass through three federally protected areas. These are the Organ Pipe wilderness, Cabeza Prieta national wildlife refuge and San Pedro Riparian national conservation area, the location of Arizona’s last free-flowing river.
The Trump administration has deemed the new structures necessary due to a “national emergency” of unauthorized immigration into the US.
“What is being proposed is bulldozing one of the most biologically diverse regions of the entire United States,” said Amanda Munro of the Southwest Environmental Center. “Walling off these precious places would be a colossal mistake and a national tragedy.”
Organ Pipe, located south-west of Tucson, Arizona, is a 330,000 acre wilderness home to mountain lions, javelinas, the endangered pronghorn and “more bird species than can be listed”, according to the National Park Service website. It is also a deeply significant area for the nearby Tohono O’odham nation which has long opposed Trump’s border wall on their ancestral lands.
“This unneeded, expensive blight will use precious water for its construction, cut off wildlife species from their habitat; and its all-night lights will destroy the clear night skies,” said Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association.
The new construction will replace pedestrian fences and vehicle barriers, which can easily be traversed by animals, with a 30ft tall bollard wall and accompanying infrastructure. There are fears it will impede migration, cut animals off from water supplies and increase flooding.
DATE: September 13, 2019
SNIP: It’s the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, and emissions have risen rapidly in recent years, the BBC has learned.
Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6, is widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents.
But leaks of the little-known gas in the UK and the rest of the EU in 2017 were the equivalent of putting an extra 1.3 million cars on the road.
Levels are rising as an unintended consequence of the green energy boom.
Cheap and non-flammable, SF6 is a colourless, odourless, synthetic gas. It makes a hugely effective insulating material for medium and high-voltage electrical installations.
It is widely used across the industry, from large power stations to wind turbines to electrical sub-stations in towns and cities. It prevents electrical accidents and fires.
However, the significant downside to using the gas is that it has the highest global warming potential of any known substance. It is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). It also persists in the atmosphere for a long time, warming the Earth for at least 1,000 years.
Where once large coal-fired power stations brought energy to millions, the drive to combat climate change means they are now being replaced by mixed sources of power including wind, solar and gas.
This has resulted in many more connections to the electricity grid, and a rise in the number of electrical switches and circuit breakers that are needed to prevent serious accidents.
Collectively, these safety devices are called switchgear. The vast majority use SF6 gas to quench arcs and stop short circuits.
Researchers at the University of Bristol who monitor concentrations of warming gases in the atmosphere say they have seen significant rises in the last 20 years.
“We make measurements of SF6 in the background atmosphere,” said Dr Matt Rigby, reader in atmospheric chemistry at Bristol.
“What we’ve seen is that the levels have increased substantially, and we’ve seen almost a doubling of the atmospheric concentration in the last two decades.”
The most important means by which SF6 gets into the atmosphere is from leaks in the electricity industry. Electrical company Eaton, which manufactures switchgear without SF6, says its research indicates that for the full life-cycle of the product, leaks could be as high as 15% – much higher than many other estimates.
Concentrations in the atmosphere are very small right now, just a fraction of the amount of CO2 in the air.
However, the global installed base of SF6 is expected to grow by 75% by 2030.
Another concern is that SF6 is a synthetic gas and isn’t absorbed or destroyed naturally. It will all have to be replaced and destroyed to limit the impact on the climate.
Developed countries are expected to report every year to the UN on how much SF6 they use, but developing countries do not face any restrictions on use.
Right now, scientists are detecting concentrations in the atmosphere that are 10 times the amount declared by countries in their reports. Scientists say this is not all coming from countries like India, China and South Korea.
One study found that the methods used to calculate emissions in richer countries “severely under-reported” emissions over the past two decades.
DATE: September 12, 2019
SNIP: Bottlenose dolphins in the English Channel have some of the highest levels of toxic mercury in their skin and blubber ever recorded among the species, scientists have found.
They being poisoned by chemicals banned as far back as the 1970s and 1980s because of the risk they posed to wildlife and humans. The chemicals, known as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), were commonly used as a refrigerant and are extremely durable, remaining in ecosystems for decades and passing up the food chain.
‘These organic compounds are able to dissolve in fats and oils, and consist of the by-products of various industrial processes and pesticides, among others,’ said Dr Krishna Das. ‘Bottlenose dolphins are often used to study levels of environmental pollutants, as the organic compounds accumulate within their thick layer of fatty tissue.’
Dr Krishna Das, a zoologist at the University of Liege, Belgium, said toxic organic pollutants can be detected even in the deepest dwelling marine life. The dangerous chemical accumulates at the top of the food chain and has a disastrous impact on an animal’s fertility and immune system. Recent research has suggested the long-lasting man-made pollutant could wipe out half of the world’s killer whale population in the next 30 years.
DATE: September 12, 2019
SNIP: A historic global agreement aimed at halting deforestation has failed, according to a report.
An assessment of the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) says it has failed to deliver on key pledges.
Launched at the 2014 UN climate summit, it aimed to half deforestation by 2020, and halt it by 2030.
Yet deforestation continues at an alarming rate and threatens to prevent the world from preventing dangerous climate change, experts have said.
The critique, compiled by the NYDF Assessment Partners (a coalition of 25 organisations), painted a bleak picture of how the world’s forests continue to be felled.
“Since the NYDF was launched five years ago, deforestation has not only continued – it has actually accelerated,” observed Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, which co-ordinated the publication of the report.
The report says the amount of annual carbon emissions resulting from deforestation around the globe are equivalent to the greenhouse gases produced by the European Union.
On average, an area of tree cover the size of the United Kingdom was lost every year between 2014 and 2018.
SOURCE: New York Times
DATE: September 12, 2019
SNIP: The Trump administration on Thursday announced the repeal of a major Obama-era clean water regulation that had placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands and other bodies of water.
The rollback of the 2015 measure, known as the Waters of the United States rule, adds to a lengthy list of environmental rules that the administration has worked to weaken or undo over the past two and a half years.
The repeal of the water rule, which is expected to take effect in a matter of weeks, has implications far beyond the pollution that will now be allowed to flow freely into streams and wetlands from farms, mines and factories. With Thursday’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to establish a stricter legal definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, a precedent that could make it difficult for future administrations to take actions to protect waterways.
Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at the University of Vermont, said that, for conservative states and leaders who hold the view that the Clean Water Act has been burdensome for farmers and industry, “this is an opportunity to really drive a stake through the heart of federal water protection.”
But environmentalists assailed the move. “With many of our cities and towns living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
The Obama rule, developed under the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act, was designed to limit pollution in about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water, protecting sources of drinking water for about one-third of the United States. It extended existing federal authority to limit pollution in large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, to smaller bodies that drain into them, such as tributaries, streams and wetlands.
Under the rule, farmers using land near streams and wetlands were restricted from doing certain kinds of plowing and from planting certain crops, and would have been required to obtain E.P.A. permits in order to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that could have run off into those bodies of water. Those restrictions will now be lifted.
SOURCE: The Hill
DATE: September 12, 2019
SNIP: The Trump administration announced a key step toward opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration Thursday, rolling out a plan that would see lease sales occur by the end of the year.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its finalized Environmental Impact Statement, which favors the option to offer lease sales across 1.56 million acres of Alaska’s coastal plains.
“After rigorous review, robust public comment, and a consideration of a range of alternatives, today’s announcement is a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.
Under law, the BLM now has a 30-day waiting period before it can open up calls from fossil fuel companies for tracts to bid on and file its finalized Notice of Decision. Officials say they anticipate holding lease sales before the end of the year.
Critics warn that oil and gas development in ANWR would wreak havoc on populations of Porcupine caribou, polar bears and migratory birds.
SOURCE: Center for American Progress
DATE: September 10, 2019
SNIP: The Trump administration is quietly leading one of the largest liquidations of America’s public lands since the late 19th century. If fully implemented, this effort could result in the transfer, sale, or private exploitation of more than 28.3 million acres of public lands in Alaska, including old-growth forests, subsistence hunting areas for Alaska Native communities, habitats for polar bears, salmon spawning streams, and other backcountry areas. It would affect millions of acres in the Tongass National Forest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge alone.
The work to liquidate national public lands is a shortsighted and inadequate response to the state of Alaska’s worsening budget crisis, a result of the state’s overdependence on revenues from oil drilling. As the Alaska Oil and Gas Association notes on its website, “Alaska is the only state in the Union that is so dependent on one industry to fund its government services.” Since 1977, oil revenues have accounted for an average of 85 percent of the state’s annual budget.
Recently, however, the production and profitability of Alaska oil fields have been in steep decline, causing the state’s collection of oil and gas production taxes to fall from nearly $6.9 billion in 2008 to $806 million in 2018. For the past eight years, Alaska’s elected officials have struggled to find the resources to pay for emergency responders, schools, and other basic services for residents. In fact, the state faced a budget deficit of $2.5 billion going into fiscal year 2019.5
This growing budget crisis is presenting Alaska with one of its most consequential choices since voting to become a state in 1958. On the one hand, Alaska can start to solve its budget problems by broadening its funding sources, encouraging economic growth in nonextractive industries, and safeguarding the natural resources that power its $7.3 billion outdoor recreation economy and support the nation’s most valuable fisheries. Unfortunately, Alaska politicians—led by Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) and the state’s congressional delegation—have opted to pull the state in the opposite direction, doubling down on Alaska’s reliance on extractive industries.
In June 2019, Gov. Dunleavy attempted to cut more than $440 million from the state operating budget while increasing direct payments to state residents and preserving subsidies for the oil industry. His newest cuts would, among other things, reduce Medicaid benefits for Alaskans, end a study on sexual assault and domestic violence in rural Alaska, and effectively bankrupt the University of Alaska system.
Gov. Dunleavy’s budget proposal has been widely—and rightly—criticized, but the parallel effort to bolster the state’s finances through a massive liquidation of national public lands is moving ahead with little scrutiny. The Trump administration’s effort represents one of the largest disposals and privatizations of national public lands since the late 19th century, when the U.S. government, under the Homestead Act of 1862, deeded more than 160 million acres of federal lands in the West to private citizens. The public land liquidation currently being pursued in Alaska could result in an area of land that combined is as big as the state of Georgia being privatized, privately developed, or transferred to state or corporate ownership.
SOURCE: Glacier Hub
DATE: September 10, 2019
SNIP: The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer monitoring the response of North Cascade glaciers to climate change. This long term monitoring program was initiated partly in response to a challenge in 1983 from Stephen Schneider to begin monitoring glacier systems before and as climate change became a dominant variable in their behavior.
The field team was comprised of Clara Deck, Ann Hill, Abby Hudak, Jill Pelto, and myself. All of us have worked on other glaciers. The bottom line for 2019 is the shocking loss of glacier volume.
Ann Hill, University of Maine graduate student observed, “Despite having experience studying glaciers in southeast Alaska and in Svalbard, I was shocked by the amount of thinning each glacier has endured through the last two and a half decades.”