SOURCE: National Geographic
DATE: January 8, 2020
SNIP: The Chinese paddlefish and its close relatives have been around for at least 200 million years. The species, reaching up to 23 feet in length, survived unimaginable changes and upheavals, such as the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs and marine reptiles like plesiosaurs that it swam alongside. In its time, flowering plants evolved, and came to populate the shores of its ancestral home, the Yangtze River, in modern-day China.
Much later, bamboo came on the scene, and well after that, giant pandas. In the last few thousand years, a blink in evolutionary time, the land filled with people, and China became the most populous country on Earth. In the muddy waters of the Yangtze, the paddlefish lived as it had for eons, using its special sword-like snout to sense electrical activity to find prey, such as crustaceans and fish.
But there’s one phenomenon this ancient species, sometimes called the “panda of the Yangtze,” could not survive—humans. A new paper published in the Science of the Total Environment concludes that the species has gone extinct, mainly due to overfishing and dam construction.
It’s “a reprehensible and an irreparable loss,” says study leader Qiwei Wei of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, who’s been looking for the animal for decades.
“It’s very sad,” adds Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a National Geographic Explorer who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s the definitive loss of a very unique and extraordinary animal, with no hope of recovery.”
Hogan says the paddlefish’s extinction should serve as a wake-up call to protect other freshwater species. Large fish, in which he specializes, are especially at risk: Most of the biggest freshwater animals are threatened with extinction, he says.
The species gradually declined over the last century thanks to overfishing; in the 1970s, 25 tons of paddlefish were harvested per year on average.
But what really did it in, the scientists conclude, were dams—specifically the Gezhouba Dam, built on the main stem of the Yangtze, a little over a thousand miles from the sea. This dam, which was constructed without a fish ladder or bypass, cut off the paddlefish from their only spawning grounds upstream, which had only been discovered in the late 1970s.
DATE: January 7, 2020
SNIP: Dominion Energy fired an oilfield worker in Rock Springs after the employee saved an estimated 50 waterfowl from wastewater ponds.
Adam Roich said he’s rescued about that many waterfowl in the last five years after they landed in tainted ponds at his worksite about 50 miles south of Rock Springs. He would take the oil-slicked birds to a company facility, wash them with Dawn household soap, warm them in his truck, then set them free on clean water, he told WyoFile in an interview.
“I got fired a couple days before Christmas for rescuing these guys throughout the years,” he posted recently on Facebook above many photographs of his avian patients. “I only did what I thought was right.”
Dominion terminated Roich on Dec. 19 for violating company policy, according to a letter obtained by WyoFile. His firing followed an internal investigation, the seven-sentence letter read.
Dominion wouldn’t say why it fired Roich, calling the issue “an internal matter.”
Roich described a sad scene at the water’s edge: “They’d get oil on their feathers,” he said. “They’d just go to the bank and sit there. They’d freeze to death if I didn’t grab them.”
Four ponds, the largest about the size of a football field, dot the Canyon Creek energy field complex along the southern border of the state, Roich said. “It’s really toxic water,” he said. “Slicks of oil on them accumulate over time.”
A net covers one of them, Dominion’s Porter wrote. A BirdAvert system uses radar to deploy plastic falcons, strobes and falcon screeches to scare waterfowl away from the others.
“The system doesn’t work that well,” Roich said. Dominion called the bird-scaring system “not 100% effective,” and wrote that some birds alight in the ponds anyway, landing in produced water from natural gas wells — contaminated groundwater that contains gas and other substances.
Oilfield workers at the Canyon Creek field employed their own rescue system, Roich said. “We had a net out there,” he said. “I would just net the duck or grab it.
“I would take into our facility,” he said. “I would wash it. They rode around with me in my truck loving the heat while I worked my ass off.”
At the end of the day, Roich would release the rehabilitated ducks in a freshwater pond nearby, he said. Most would fly off.
Roich contacted state wildlife officials who told him what he was doing was probably OK, he said. But Dominion wrote that such rescues by employees are not allowed.
“When this happens, Dominion Energy follows federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act-related regulations, which forbid our employees from retrieving the fowl,” Dominion’s Porter wrote WyoFile.
Roich said other workers had been rescuing ducks during his five years with the company and beyond. “Before I was there they were doing the same thing,” he said. “Others did the same, but it all got pinned on me.”
Roich said he tried to work within the system. He believes Dominion could get a permit to handle the ducks and told supervisors as much.
Federal regulations allow licensed veterinarians to rescue migratory birds without a rehabilitation permit, but they must transfer the birds to an authorized rehabilitator within 24 hours after they are stabilized.
This fall a supervisor told Roich not to rescue any more waterfowl, Roich said. “He recently ordered me to let them die and not touch them,” he wrote on Facebook. After that, “I never touched another duck,” he told WyoFile.
Dominion put him on paid leave for almost two months, Roich said. “Like I’m some criminal,” he said. He called the episode a two-month ordeal that led up to his firing.
“Then I was terminated.” Ducks were at issue, Roich said. “An HR person told me that.”
Dominion’s Porter said the company is following federal regulations.
“We did not create these rules and regulations, but we are committed to adhering to them,” he wrote. “One of Dominion Energy’s core values is ‘ethics,’ which we take seriously — especially pertaining to government regulations concerning our business operations.”
Dominion fired him for violating the company’s code of ethics, Roich said he was told. “I don’t think there’s anything about ducks in the code of ethics,” he said.
Roich has another job in a Rock Springs auto shop in Rock Springs, he said, but isn’t making as much as he used to in the oil patch. He believes he’s made the right decisions.
“I don’t regret it,” he said.
SOURCE: University of Arizona News
DATE: January 6, 2020
SNIP: The increased freshwater from melting Antarctic ice sheets plus increased wind has reduced the amount of oxygen in the Southern Ocean and made it more acidic and warmer, according to new research led by University of Arizona geoscientists.
The researchers found Southern Ocean waters had changed by comparing shipboard measurements taken from 1990 to 2004 with measurements taken by a fleet of microsensor-equipped robot floats from 2012 to 2019. The observed oxygen loss and warming around the Antarctic coast is much larger than predicted by a climate model, which could have implications for predictions of ice melt.
“It’s the first time we’ve been able to reproduce the new changes in the Southern Ocean with an Earth system model,” said co-author Joellen Russell, a professor of geosciences.
The research is the first to incorporate the Southern Ocean’s increased freshwater plus additional wind into a climate change model, she said. The team used the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ESM2M model.
Previously, global climate change models did not predict the current physical and chemical changes in the Southern Ocean, said Russell, who holds the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science.
“We underestimated how much influence that added freshwater and wind would have. When we add these two components to the model, we can directly and beautifully reproduce what has happened over the last 30 years,” she said.
Now, models will be able to do a better job of predicting future environmental changes in and around Antarctica, she said, adding that the Southern Ocean takes up most of the heat produced by anthropogenic global warming.
“The robot floats can go under the winter ice and work all winter long collecting data. The robot floats are the revolution in how we can even imagine looking at the evolution of the ice and the ocean,” she said. “We had never seen the winter-time chemistry under the ice.”
The floats revealed how much Antarctic waters had changed in the last several decades – a development global climate models had not predicted.
The team also used the improved model to forecast conditions in the Southern Ocean. The forecast suggests that in the future, the Southern Ocean may not take up as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as previously predicted.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 5, 2020
SNIP: Russia has published a plan to adapt its economy and population to climate change, aiming to mitigate damage but also “use the advantages” of warmer temperatures.
The document, published on the government’s website on Saturday, outlines a plan of action and acknowledges changes to the climate are having a “prominent and increasing effect” on socioeconomic development, people’s lives, health and industry.
Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the planet as a whole, on average, and the two-year “first stage” plan is an indication the government officially recognises this as a problem, even though Vladimir Putin denies human activity is the cause.
It lists preventive measures such as dam building or switching to more drought-resistant crops, as well as crisis preparations including emergency vaccinations or evacuations in case of a disaster.
Possible “positive” effects are decreased energy use in cold regions, expanding agricultural areas and navigational opportunities in the Arctic Ocean.
Russia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, with vast Arctic regions and infrastructure built over permafrost. Recent floods and wildfires have been among the planet’s worst climate-related disasters.
Moscow formally adopted the Paris climate accord in September last year and criticised the US withdrawal from the pact.
Putin, however, has repeatedly denied the scientific consensus that climate change is primarily caused by emissions deriving from human activity, blaming it last month on some “processes in the universe”.
DATE: January 3, 2020
The ultimate Faster Than Expected (or perhaps Worse Than You Can Possibly Imagine) list to sum up the awfulness of 2019. READ IT!
+ There are fewer North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world than sitting members of Congress. They may well go extinct in our lifetimes.
+ The Arctic is now warming so quickly that 14,000 tons of melted ice is gushing into the oceans every second.
+ At least 305 wolves were killed in Montana in 2017-18, nearly 36% of the entire population. Now a pair of bills offering bounties to encourage people to kill even more wolves.
+ In 2018, USDA’s Wildlife “Services,” mercenaries for Big Ag, killed 22,000 beavers, 515,000 red-winged black birds, 19,000 mourning doves, 17,000 black tailed prairie dogs, 552 great blue herons, 357 wolves, scores of owls and much more.
+ At least 500,000 Texans live in communities with contaminated ground water.
+ 45 million gallons: the amount of water Nestle takes each from the San Bernardino National Forest.
+ $0: the amount of money Nestle pays for taking 45 million gallons of water each year from the San Bernardino National Forest.
+ By 2070, Joshua Tree National Park won’t have any Joshua trees and Glacier National Park won’t have any glaciers. But there’ll still be cannonballs and headstones at Gettysburg–if they don’t build condos over them
+ The loss of the reflective cover provided by Arctic Sea will accelerate the pace of global warming by at least 25 years: “Losing the remaining Arctic sea ice and its ability to reflect incoming solar energy back to space would be equivalent to adding one trillion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, on top of the 2.4 trillion tons emitted since the Industrial Age.”
+ Key West shatters record with 232 straight days with temps of 80 and above…
+ The Brazilian Cerrado loses an area the size of London in vegetative cover every three months…
+ A rhino is killed every 10 hours in Africa.
and much much more.
READ IT and weep.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 3, 2020
SNIP: Close to the Western River on Kangaroo Island, Pat Hodgens had set up cameras to snap the island’s rare dunnart – a tiny mouse-like marsupial that exists nowhere else on the planet.
Now, after two fires ripped through the site a few days ago, those cameras – and likely many of the Kangaroo Island dunnarts – are just charred hulks.
“It’s gone right through the under storey and that’s where these species live,” said Hodgens, an ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a not-for-profit conservation group. “The habitat is decimated.”
On Friday afternoon word came through that three other Land for Wildlife sites protecting dunnarts and other endangered species, including the southern brown bandicoot, had also been consumed by fire on the island off the South Australian coast.
Prof Sarah Legge, of the Australian National University, said the prognosis for the Kangaroo Island dunnart was “not good” and its plight was symbolic of what was happening all across the east coast of Australia.
“Many dozens” of threatened species had been hit hard by the fires, she said. In some cases “almost their entire distribution has been burnt”.
So far, the Australian bushfire season has burned through about 5.8m hectares of bush, known across the world for its unique flora and fauna.
Ecologists say the months of intense and unprecedented fires will almost certainly push several species to extinction. The fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades, they say, and, as climate heating grips, some species may never recover.
Climate scientists have long warned that rising greenhouse gases will spark a wave of extinctions.
Now ecologists fear the bushfires represent the catastrophic beginning of a bleak future for the country’s native flora and fauna.
“It feels like we have hit a turning point that we predicted was coming as a consequence of climate change,” Legge said. “We are now in uncharted territory.”
Bushfires don’t just burn animals to death but create starvation events. Birds lose their breeding trees and the fruits and invertebrates they feed on. Ground-dwelling mammals that do survive emerge to find an open landscape with nowhere to hide, which one ecologist said became a “hunting arena” for feral cats and foxes.
“It’s reasonable to infer that there will be dramatic consequences to very many species,” said Prof John Woinarski, of Charles Darwin University. “The fires are of such scale and extent that high proportions of many species, including threatened species, will have been killed off immediately.”
“We know that the species that can’t fly away – like koalas and greater gliders – are gone in burnt areas. Wombats may survive as they’re underground but, even if they do escape the immediate fire front, there’s essentially no food for them in a burnt landscape.”
Woinarski said the critically endangered long-footed potoroo was restricted almost entirely to East Gippsland, which has been devastated by this year’s fires.
In southern Queensland, much of the known range of the silver-headed antechinus “has been obliterated by fires”, he said.
He said fires had always been a feature of the Australian landscape but in normal circumstances extensive patches of unburnt areas were left, which helped species survive.
“There are no winners in fires like this,” he said. “These fires are homogenising the landscape. They benefit no species.
Prof Brendan Wintle, a conservation ecologist at the University of Melbourne, said the scale and timing of the fires was “terrifying”.
“If this is what we are seeing now are the beginnings of changes due to climate change, then what are we looking at 2C or 4C? I don’t think we can get our heads around what that could be like. This is not the new normal but it’s a transition to something we have not experienced before.
Three-quarters of threatened species in Australia are plants, many of which exist in only small pockets, such as the dark-bract banksia and the blue-top sun orchid.
“You can lose the lot in one big fire,” Wintle said. “If the timing is wrong, or the fire is too hot, you can also lose the seed bank and that’s then another species on the extinction list.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: January 1, 2020
SNIP: Snow and glaciers in New Zealand have turned brown after being exposed to dust from the Australian bushfires, with one expert saying the incident could increase glacier melt this season by as much as 30%.
On Wednesday many parts of the South Island woke up to an orange haze and red sun, after smoke from the Victorian and New South Wales blazes drifted east on Tuesday night, smothering many parts of the island for most of the day.
On Thursday, pictures taken from the Southern Alps showed the smoke haze carrying particles of dust had tinged snow-capped mountain peaks and glaciers a shade of caramel, with former prime minister Helen Clark expressing concern for the long-lasting environmental impacts on the mountains.
“Impact of ash on glaciers is likely to accelerate melting,” Clark tweeted. “How one country’s tragedy has spillover effects.”
There are more than 3,000 glaciers in New Zealand and since the 1970s scientists have recorded them shrinking by nearly a third, with current estimates predicting they will disappear entirely by the end of the century.
Professor Andrew Mackintosh is head of the school of earth, atmosphere and environment at Monash University, and the former director of the Antarctic Research Centre.
He said in nearly two decades of studying glaciers in New Zealand he had never seen such a quantity of dust transported across the Tasman, and the current event had the potential to increase this season’s glacier melt by 20-30%, although Mackintosh stressed this was no more than an estimate.
Mackintosh said the whiteness of snow and ice reflected the sun’s heat, and slowed melting. But when this whiteness was obscured the glacier could melt at a faster rate.
SOURCE: Barents Observer
DATE: December 31, 2019
SNIP: The development plan for the Northern Sea Route was signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev just few days before the start of the new decade. The document has been in the making for some time and it was considered of great importance that it was approved and signed before the end of 2019.
Medvedev put his signature on the document on the 21st of December and it was published on the government website on the 30th. Behind its development stands Rosatom, the nuclear power company with top responsibilities for the Northern Sea Route. The document builds on President Putin’s decrees from May 2018 and the request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route to 80 million tons by year 2024.
A massive development of natural resources is needed for Russian to meet its ambitions on the Arctic route and several of the country’s biggest companies are involved. Among them are oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition comes minerals and ores developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda.
A big number of new vessels are part of the plan. By year 2035, about 40 new vessels are to be built, several of them nuclear icebreakers. In addition to five LK60 icebreakers, the country will build three Lider-class vessels, the first one to be ready for operations in December 2027. The second and third ships are to be ready in late 2030 and 2032 respectively.
The Lider will be able to break through the thickest Arctic ice and open wide ship lanes across the region for escorts of commercial ships. It will be equipped with a 120 MW engine capacity.
In addition, at least 13 new hydrographical ships will be built, among them a very powerful ship with top ice-class Arc7. Also at least 16 various support and rescue ships are planned.
By December 2022, the government will decide on whether to proceed with the planning of the Belkomur railway line between Arkhangelsk, Syktyvkar and Perm, as well as a line from Sosnogorsk to Indiga on the Pechora sea coast.
By mid-2024, key decisions are to be taken on the development of a rail connection across the River Ob from Salekhard to Labytnangi and all the way to Nadym and Novy Urengoy.
Four regional airports, the ones in Amderma, Pevek, Chersky and Keperveem, are to get a major facelift.
The major dredging operations in the Gulf of Ob that is to pave the way for sailing with big vessels in the area is to be completed in December 2021.
Also the Murmansk Transport Hub, the project that includes a new 46 km long railway and port facilities on the western banks of the Kola Bay, is to be completed by December 2021.
[N]ew legislation is expected to be adopted in the first quarter of 2020 and include major incentives for natural resource developers. Five categories of projects will be entitled to major tax cuts, among them offshore petroleum projects, production of LNG, the petrochemical industry and mineral extraction.
It is all in line with the requests of President Putin and his desire for annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route to reach 80 million tons by year 2024.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: December 31, 2019
SNIP: Every year, 8m tons of plastic enters the ocean. Images of common household waste swirling in vast garbage patches in the open sea, or tangled up with whales and seabirds, have turned plastic pollution into one of the most popular environmental issues in the world.
But for at least a decade, the biggest question among scientists who study marine plastic hasn’t been why plastic in the ocean is so abundant, but why it isn’t. What scientists can see and measure, in the garbage patches and on beaches, accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total plastic entering the water.
So where is the other 99% of ocean plastic? Unsettling answers have recently begun to emerge.
What we commonly see accumulating at the sea surface is “less than the tip of the iceberg, maybe a half of 1% of the total,” says Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
“I often joke that being an ocean plastic scientist should be an easy job, because you can always find a bit wherever you look,” says Van Sebille. But, he adds, the reality is that our maps of the ocean essentially end at the surface, and solid numbers on how much plastic is in any one location are lacking.
It is becoming apparent that plastic ends up in huge quantities in the deepest parts of the ocean, buried in sediment on the seafloor, and caught like clouds of dust deep in the water column.
Perhaps most frighteningly, says Helge Niemann, a biogeochemist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, it could fragment into such small pieces that it can barely be detected. At this point it becomes, Niemann says, “more like a chemical dissolved in the water than floating in it”.
For the past two years, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have been using customised remote-control submersibles to take samples of the near-invisible plastic drifting far below the surface. “Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there” says Anela Choy, a professor of oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and the lead researcher on the project. Below what she calls the “skin surface” of the ocean, the submersibles carefully filter seawater and take a snapshot of what’s in it.
Her team found that at a depth of 200m, there were nearly 15 bits of plastic in every liter of water, similar to the amount found at the surface of the so-called garbage patches. The remote samplers were still finding plastic at their maximum depth of 1km. But it is just the start of the hunt. “After two to three years of work the honest truth is we have only one set of samples from one portion of the world’s entire ocean,” she says.
How plastic descends to the deep ocean is, for the most part, a mystery. Because of its low density, most commercial plastic floats. It needs help to get below the surface. Plastic can become attached to ocean detritus that sinks, or fragment under the sun or waves, or find its way into something’s stomach.
Choy’s team identified two kinds of animals, red crabs and translucent, filter-feeding creatures called giant larvaceans, which consume plastic and moving it to deeper water – either by eating it near the surface and expelling it lower down, or in the case of the larvaceans, in a layer of mucous they periodically discard and let sink.
This sort of unwitting animal transit has been observed in many species. A 2011 study examining plastic in fish in the north Pacific Ocean estimated that they ingested around 12,000 tons a year. In a later paper Van Sebille’s group noted that if the number held across the entire ocean, 100,000 tons of plastic could be inside animals at any one time.
The search for the missing maritime plastic has opened new frontiers of research. A decade ago the discovery of microplastics sparked a radical shift in the conception of plastic pollution. Scientists revealed the existence of billions of pieces of plastic almost too small to see, definitely too small to catch, and easily eaten by the tiniest sea creature. Now they are making startling new discoveries about the extent of plastic pollution.
On a cool, gray June day in London, Alexandra Ter Halle, a researcher with Paul Sabatier University, in France, was on a sailboat just below Tower Bridge taking samples of water from the Thames. It was the crew’s first stop on a tour of 10 European estuaries, and the other scientists on board were doing familiar work, counting microplastic particles with microscopes, and characterising the bacteria in the samples.
Ter Halle’s samples, though, would have to wait until she was back at her university, where she has specialized equipment for the detection of nanoplastistics – plastics that have broken down to sizes below a thousandth of a millimeter, smaller than a single cell.
Two years ago her group was the first to detect these particles in seawater. Ter Halle employs techniques similar to those used by forensic scientists to detect chemicals at crime scenes: the samples are ignited into a gas, bombarded with electrons, and separated across an electric field to measure their weight and charge. They can’t be conventionally seen, only detected.
Nanoplastic research is still in its infancy. But laboratory tests show that unlike microplastics, nanoplastics are small enough to accumulate within the bloodstreams and cell membranes of a range of organisms, even passing the blood-brain barrier in a test on Japanese medaka fish, and cause various toxic effects, including neurological damage, and reproductive abnormalities.
“This question of where is all the plastic in the sea … For 40 years we sought out plastic we could see. Now we reach the nanoscale, which is very particular, very reactive, and we have to begin again,” says Ter Halle.
The huge amounts of plastic on the ocean surface were what originally sparked public and scientific interest in the plastic problem. In this way, they acted like a buoy, pointing the way to something much larger beneath the surface. The deep ocean is, as Choy puts it, “the world’s largest habitat”. We’re just beginning the accounting of how much of our plastic has ended up there.
SOURCE: Yale e360
DATE: December 30, 2019
SNIP: As deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon soars under President Jair Bolsonaro, a new study warns that the regrowth of logged Amazon forests, and the amount of CO2 they store, is far less than previously believed.
The study, published in the journal Ecology, said that after 60 years of regrowth, the secondary Amazon forests studied by researchers stored only 40 percent as much carbon as undisturbed woodlands and had only half as much biodiversity. The study — conducted by scientists at the Federal University of Pará, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, and Lancaster University in the United Kingdom — also showed that secondary forests absorbed less carbon dioxide during droughts than undisturbed forests.
The scientists said it could take more than a century for the logged Amazon forests to begin sequestering as much CO2 as untouched forests and that the ability of these disturbed forests to store carbon dioxide may have been greatly overestimated. “We must be cautious about the ability of secondary forests to mitigate climate change,” said lead researcher Fernando Elias.
The study underscores a growing consensus among forestry experts and climate scientists of the key role that preserving intact forests can play in the fight to slow global warming.