Deadly virus spreads among marine mammals as Arctic ice melts

Deadly virus spreads among marine mammals as Arctic ice melts

SOURCE: National Geographic

DATE: November 7, 2019

SNIP: When sea otters in Alaska were diagnosed with phocine distemper virus (PDV) in 2004, scientists were confused. The pathogen in the Morbillivirus genus that contains viruses like measles had then only been found in Europe and on the eastern coast of North America.

“We didn’t understand how a virus from the Atlantic ended up in these sea otters. It’s not a species that ranges widely,” says Tracey Goldstein, a scientist at the University of California Davis who investigates how pathogens move through marine ecosystems.

Using 15 years of data from 2001 to 2016, Goldstein and her research team were able to see upticks in PDV that corresponded with declines in Arctic sea ice. This new range for the otters likely allowed infected animals to move west, into new territories where the virus had not appeared before. The results of the study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, shows how climate change may be opening up new pathways for disease to spread.

Phocine distemper virus was first detected in 1988 in northern Europe, where an estimated 18,000 seals died, most of them harbor seals. A similar outbreak occurred in 2002. It’s unclear where PDV originated. Some research has suggested it originated in the Arctic, but variations of distemper are found in dozens of animals. Local vets regularly vaccinate pet dogs against the canine version.

And in seals, as with dogs, symptoms of the virus include difficulty breathing, discharge from the nose and eyes, fever, and in marine mammals, erratic swimming.

To construct when and where PDV spread from northern Europe to the northern Pacific just off the coast of Alaska, Goldstein and her team searched studies and records of biological samples taken from 2,530 live and 165 dead seals of species that spend at least part of their years on Arctic ice. They then looked at data showing the reach of sea ice at a given time of year, called Arctic ice extent. In years when sea ice extent was low, the following years showed an uptick in PDV.

2016 was the last year from which the study took data. In the past three years, Arctic sea ice has continued to shrink.

Sea ice opens up new migration routes for marine mammals, allowing them to more easily cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of the Arctic Circle. Goldstein says the added stress of needing to forage farther for food can weaken the animals’ immune systems, making them easier targets for disease.

“They are traveling further looking for food. That will affect overall health, and they’ll be more susceptible to disease,” she says.

Because so many marine species annually migrate to the Arctic, it may be serving as a location for the disease to multiply and spread.

Humans Shipped an Awful Cargo Across the Seas: Cancer

Humans Shipped an Awful Cargo Across the Seas: Cancer

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: November 6, 2019

SNIP: Humans have spread a contagious form of cancer around the world.

Researchers reported on Tuesday that the cancer, which invades mussels, has spread across the Equator. Originating in one species in the Northern Hemisphere, the cancer has established itself in another species in the Southern Hemisphere.

“There’s no natural explanation for how that happened without human help,” said Michael Metzger, a biologist at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle and a co-author of the report, published in the journal eLife.

While working as a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, Dr. Metzger discovered that four species of shellfish — including soft-shell clams and bay mussels — had transmissible cancers of their own. It was the first time anyone had discovered contagious cancer in aquatic animals.

Dr. Metzger and his colleagues suspect that sick shellfish release cancer cells. The cells float along the currents until they are sucked up by healthy animals as they filter seawater for food. In one case, the researchers found, the cancer cells had moved from one species of shellfish into another.

The biggest surprise of the research came when the scientists combined their research on all three species of mussels from all three continents [Europe, S. America, N. America]. The cancer in the French blue mussels and the cancer in the Chilean mussels turned out to be practically identical.

The exact route of transmission is still unknown, but the journey must have been lengthy, since the Chilean mussels and blue mussels are separated by several thousand miles. Dr. Metzger and his colleagues argue that the cancer cells couldn’t have made the trip on their own.

For one thing, ocean currents would have prevented the cells from crossing the Equator. Instead, Dr. Metzger thinks, humans gave cancer cells a ride. Mussels and other shellfish readily grow on the sides of ships. In some cases, the ships have transported them to new ranges where they become invasive species.

One of these voyages may have delivered cancer to a new home as well. “All you’d need was one diseased animal,” Dr. Metzger said.

Scientists looked at sea levels 125,000 years in the past. The results are terrifying

Scientists looked at sea levels 125,000 years in the past. The results are terrifying

SOURCE: The Conversation

DATE: November 6, 2019

SNIP: Sea levels rose 10 metres above present levels during Earth’s last warm period 125,000 years ago, according to new research that offers a glimpse of what may happen under our current climate change trajectory.

Our paper, published today in Nature Communications, shows that melting ice from Antarctica was the main driver of sea level rise in the last interglacial period, which lasted about 10,000 years.

This research shows that Antarctica, long thought to be the “sleeping giant” of sea level rise, is actually a key player. Its ice sheets can change quickly, and in ways that could have huge implications for coastal communities and infrastructure in future.

Earth’s cycles consist of both cold glacial periods – or ice ages – when large parts of the world are covered in large ice sheets, and warmer interglacial periods when the ice thaws and sea levels rise.

The Earth is presently in an interglacial period which began about 10,000 years ago. But greenhouse gas emissions over the past 200 years have caused climate changes that are faster and more extreme than experienced during the last interglacial. This means past rates of sea level rise provide only low-end predictions of what might happen in future.

We examined data from the last interglacial, which occurred 125,000 to 118,000 years ago. Temperatures were up to 1℃ higher than today – similar to those projected for the near future.

Our research reveals that ice melt in the last interglacial period caused global seas to rise about 10 metres above the present level. The ice melted first in Antarctica, then a few thousand years later in Greenland.

Sea levels rose at up to 3 metres per century, far exceeding the roughly 0.3-metre rise observed over the past 150 years.

The early ice loss in Antarctica occurred when the Southern Ocean warmed at the start of the interglacial. This meltwater changed the way Earth’s oceans circulated, which caused warming in the northern polar region and triggered ice melt in Greenland.

Why did the turtles cross the highway? They didn’t, but they still might be impacted

Why did the turtles cross the highway? They didn’t, but they still might be impacted

SOURCE: Science Daily

DATE: November 6, 2019

SNIP: Roads define the very fabric of our civilization, and very few places in North America remain road-less. As an integral part of the landscape, roads and their vehicle traffic also have unintended consequences for wildlife: many animals die as a result of vehicle strikes, and some strikes pose a risk to human lives. Think about the consequences of hitting a moose, bear or deer on the highway at 70 mph.

These types of events capture a lot of attention, and management agencies work hard to minimize the chance of wildlife-vehicle strikes through mitigation structures such as wildlife fences and overpasses.

However, the effects of roads are not limited to animals dying on roads. Roads may affect the way animals use their habitat. They may bisect important connections between habitats and populations, or they may deter animals altogether and increase their stress levels because of traffic noise, light or vibration.

These types of effects are what former Ohio University Biological Sciences graduate student Marcel Weigand in Dr. Viorel Popescu’s Conservation Ecology Lab sought to investigate and have recently been published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.

With a passion for reptiles, Weigand asked how new high-traffic roads affect the ecology, behavior and physiology of Eastern Box Turtles, a species of concern in Ohio, threatened by road mortality. Weigand found the perfect study setting, the new Nelsonville Bypass (U.S. 33), cutting through Wayne National Forest, and opened to vehicle traffic in 2013. Several other wildlife studies have been under way in the same location, investigating the success of mitigation structures to reduce road mortality for deer, snakes, and amphibians, so focusing on turtles would paint a more complete picture on the effects of the new highway on road-naïve wildlife.

Weigand also scouted a roadless study site, not far from the Bypass, on the Hocking College and Wayne National Forest lands; this would serve as a control test site, against which any potential effects of the Bypass could be compared.

For two years (2017-18), Weigand, aided by a horde of undergraduate OHIO and Hocking College students, tracked 30 Box Turtles (15 along the Bypass and 15 at the roadless site) via VHF telemetry on a daily basis between March, when turtles come out of hibernation, and October, when they dig down deep for their long winter sleep.

However, the researchers discovered something rather puzzling — while many turtles used the open roadside habitat created by the new highway for thermoregulation and nesting, with several female turtles spending many weeks during summer within a few feet of the pavement, no turtles attempted to cross the road.

“We were confident that we would see crossing attempts, as Box Turtles crossing roads are a common sighting in this part of Ohio. Instead, the new highway acted as a complete barrier to turtle movements; so, in the absence of crossing structures, such as underpasses, the highway has the potential to completely separate the local Box Turtle population,” Popescu says. “Interestingly, a four-foot wide culvert underneath the highway was available to Bypass turtles for reaching the other side, but no turtle accessed this mitigation structure. Cutting gene flow may have long-term negative impacts on the viability of turtle populations and decrease their ability to cope with other threats.”

Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report

Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: November 6, 2019

SNIP: Lost and abandoned fishing gear which is deadly to marine life makes up the majority of large plastic pollution in the oceans, according to a report by Greenpeace.

More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.

The report, which draws on the most up-to-date research on “ghost gear” polluting the oceans, calls for international action to stop the plastic pollution, which is deadly for marine wildlife.

About 300 sea turtles were found dead as a result of entanglement in ghost gear off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, last year. And in October, a pregnant whale was found entangled in ghost gear off the Orkney coast. The fishing gear was jammed in the animal’s baleen, the filter-feeder system inside its mouth, and scientists said the net would have hugely impaired the minke whale’s feeding and movement.

The report said abandoned fishing gear a particularly deadly. “Nets and lines can pose a threat to wildlife for years or decades, ensnaring everything from small fish and crustaceans to endangered turtles, seabirds and even whales,” it said.

“Spreading throughout the ocean on tides and currents, lost and discarded fishing gear is now drifting to Arctic coastlines, washing up on remote Pacific islands, entangled on coral reefs and littering the deep seafloor.”

Ghost gear is estimated to make up 10% of ocean plastic pollution but forms the majority of large plastic littering the waters. One study found that as much as 70% (by weight) of macroplastics (in excess of 20cm) found floating on the surface of the ocean was fishing related.

A recent study of the “great Pacific garbage patch”, an area of plastic accumulation in the north Pacific, estimated that it contained 42,000 tonnes of megaplastics, of which 86% was fishing nets.

Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’

Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’

SOURCE: The Guardian and BioScience

DATE: November 5, 2019

SNIP: The world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, according to a stark warning from more than 11,000 scientists.

“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”

There is no time to lose, the scientists say: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”

The statement is published in the journal BioScience on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The statement was a collaboration of dozens of scientists and endorsed by further 11,000 from 153 nations. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating.

Other “profoundly troubling signs from human activities” selected by the scientists include booming air passenger numbers and world GDP growth. “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle,” they said.

As a result of these human activities, there are “especially disturbing” trends of increasing land and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather events, the scientists said: “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have have largely failed to address this predicament. Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.

Mass dismantling of old wind turbines could overburden Germany’s recycling capacities

Mass dismantling of old wind turbines could overburden Germany’s recycling capacities

SOURCE: Clean Energy Wire and Cowboy State Daily

DATE: November 4, 2019

SNIP: The expected dismantling of thousands of old wind turbines in Germany could overburden the country’s recycling capacities and lead to financial difficulties for the turbines’ operators as reserves set aside might have been calculated too low, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has found in a study. “The federal government and the states quickly ought to come up with guidelines for turbine deconstruction,” UBA head Maria Krautzberger said. “We need clear rules for the scope and procedures to protect people and the environment and to recycle the valuable materials.” While the turbines’ steel and concrete can be disposed of without greater problems, the UBA found that the rotor blades will pose particular problems as the materials they are made of are difficult to separate properly. By 2024, about 70,000 tonnes of old blades could pile up annually in Germany alone. Moreover, the reserves set aside by operators could fall short of covering the financial needs by hundreds of millions of euros by 2038, which is why the UBA recommends reviewing the reserves’ calculation base and have them reviewed by independent experts on a regular basis.

There are currently nearly 30,000 onshore wind turbines operating in Germany. The first installations will reach the end of their 20-year guaranteed remuneration period by 2021, meaning that many turbines will likely be taken offline. Operators are looking for ways to keep their turbines operational by pursuing other funding models, such as power purchase agreements (PPA). However, as land becomes increasingly scarce for new renewable installations, replacing old models with newer ones through repowering is often seen as the more desirable solution when a turbine reaches the end of guaranteed support.

Via Cowboy State Daily:

The average lifespan of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years. The only materials not recycled are the fiberglass blades and motor housings. Nationwide, there are nearly 50,000 wind turbines, with 2,700 being decommissioned since the energy boom of the 1970s.

Each turbine blade will need between 30 and 44.8 cubic yards of landfill space, using a total of 448,000 cubic yards of the 2.6 million yards set aside for construction and demolition material.

Researchers at Washington State University are looking for ways to reuse the fiberglass components of aged-out turbines, but no practical commercial applications have yet been found.

Flood of Oil Is Coming, Complicating Efforts to Fight Global Warming

Flood of Oil Is Coming, Complicating Efforts to Fight Global Warming

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: November 3, 2019

SNIP: A surge of oil production is coming, whether the world needs it or not.

The flood of crude will arrive even as concerns about climate change are growing and worldwide oil demand is slowing. And it is not coming from the usual producers, but from Brazil, Canada, Norway and Guyana — countries that are either not known for oil or whose production has been lackluster in recent years.

This looming new supply may be a key reason Saudi Arabia’s giant oil producer, Aramco, pushed ahead on Sunday with plans for what could be the world’s largest initial stock offering ever.

Together, the four countries stand to add nearly a million barrels a day to the market in 2020 and nearly a million more in 2021, on top of the current world crude output of 80 million barrels a day. That boost in production, along with global efforts to lower emissions, will almost certainly push oil prices down.

Lower prices could prove damaging for Aramco and many other oil companies, reducing profits and limiting new exploration and drilling, while also reshaping the politics of the nations that rely on oil income.

The new rise in production is likely to bring economic relief to consumers at the gas pump and to importing nations like China, India and Japan. But cheaper oil may complicate efforts to combat global warming and wean consumers and industries off their dependence on fossil fuels, because lower gasoline prices could, for example, slow the adoption of electric vehicles.

Years of moderate gasoline prices have already increased the popularity of bigger cars and sports utility vehicles in the United States, and the probability of more oil on the market is bound to weigh on prices at the pump over the next few years.

The oil-supply outlook is a sharp departure from the early 2000s, when prices soared as producers strained to keep up with ballooning demand in China and some analysts warned that the world was running out of oil.

Then came the rise of hydraulic fracturing and drilling through tight shale fields, which converted the United States from a needy importer into a powerful exporter. The increase in American production, along with a choppy global economy, shaved oil prices from well over $100 a barrel before the 2007-9 recession to about $56 on Friday for the American benchmark crude.

Like the shale boom, the coming supply surge is a sudden change in dynamics. Guyana currently produces no oil at all. Norwegian and Brazilian production has long been in decline. And in Canada, concerns about climate change, resistance to new pipelines and high production costs have curtailed investments in oil-sands fields for five consecutive years.

Production of more oil comes at a time when there is growing acknowledgment by governments and energy investors that not all the hydrocarbons in the ground can be tapped if climate change is to be controlled. But exploration decisions, made years ago, have a momentum that can be hard to stop.

“Legacy decisions keep going,” said John Browne, BP’s former chief executive. “Things happen in different directions because decisions are made at different times.”

The added production in Norway comes despite the country’s embrace of the 2016 Paris climate agreement, which committed nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Its sovereign wealth fund has cut investments in some oil companies, and its national oil company, Equinor, has pledged to increase its investments in wind power.

Equinor, which recently changed its name from Statoil to emphasize its partial pivot to renewable energy, nevertheless defends the new field on its company website, asserting, “The Paris Agreement is quite clear that there will still be a need for oil.”

In Brazil, after years of scandal and delays, new offshore production platforms are coming online. Production has climbed over the last year by 300,000 barrels a day, and the country is expected to add as much as 460,000 more barrels a day by the end of 2021. In the coming days, Brazil is scheduled to hold a major auction in which some of the largest oil companies will bid for drilling rights in offshore areas with as much as 15 billion barrels of reserves.

In Canada, the 1,000-mile Line 3 pipeline that will take oil from the Alberta fields to Wisconsin, is near completion and awaiting final permitting. Energy experts say that could increase Canadian production by a half million barrels a day, or about 10 percent.

And the most striking change will be in Guyana, a tiny South American country where Exxon Mobil has made a string of major discoveries over the last four years. Production will reach 120,000 barrels a day early next year, rising to at least 750,000 barrels by 2025, and more is expected after that.

At the same time, new pipelines in Texas are expected to increase United States exports to 3.3 million barrels a day next year, from the current 2.8 million.

Why are birds and seals starving in a Bering Sea full of fish?

Why are birds and seals starving in a Bering Sea full of fish?

SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: November 3, 2019

SNIP: [A]s climate change warms the die-offs of seabirds and marine mammals have been on the rise. The grim tally includes a nearly fivefold increase in ice-seal carcasses spotted on shore, strandings of emaciated gray whales, and near the St. Lawrence Island village of Savoonga, a discouraging spectacle: auklets abandoning seaside nests as their chicks succumb to hunger.

The animal die-offs offer the world a stark example of the perils of rising ocean temperatures, which already are upending parts of the Bering Sea ecosystem as climate change — driven by greenhouse-gas pollution from fossil fuels — unfolds in Alaska at a breakneck pace. For the past two years, the winter ice has largely disappeared, and this fall, ice formation in some of the northern waters has been at historic lows.

Federal and university scientists are trying to better understand why some birds and marine mammals have been unable to find enough food, and whether toxic algae blooms — increasing as the water warms — could have contributed or caused some of the die-offs.

The struggles of Alaska’s seabirds grabbed scientists’ attention in 2015, when hundreds of thousands of dead and dying common murres washed ashore along state’s south-central coast during a period of unusually warm water temperatures.

That Alaska seabird die-off was thought to be the biggest on record and could be devastating if repeated, according to a National Park Service publication. It was followed by a series of other die-offs.

Scientists have sent more than 220 seabird carcasses found along different parts of Alaska’s shoreline to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, for necropsies.

More than 80% of the birds were found to have died from a lack of food, according to Robert Dusek, a government biologist in Madison.

Why can’t the seabirds find a meal?

In some areas, the answer may be simple: a food shortage.

Many of these seabirds eat tiny shrimplike creatures such as krill and copepods, whose numbers — according to federal marine surveys — have declined as the water off Alaska has warmed.

Others, such as the murres, dine on small fish such as smelt, which in the northern Bering Sea have suffered a 98% population drop in eight years, according to federal surveys. And as seabirds search for these fish, they may face increased competition for their prime food sources from Pacific cod and pollock that — as the winter ice has faded — migrated here from waters farther south.

The seabird’s difficulties finding food were on painful display this summer near Savoonga, a St. Lawrence Island village in the northern Bering Sea, where a poster on the wall in the local tribal building urges people to not eat birds found dead along the beaches, to handle them with gloves and to report those locations to scientists in Nome or Anchorage.

As the winter ice has faded — and waters have warmed — seal deaths also have been on the rise.

During the past two years, 282 seal carcasses have been spotted on the northern Alaska’s shoreline, and a lack of food appeared to play a role in one major die-off Sheffield investigated.

In June 2018, she tallied 45 carcasses of bearded, ringed and spotted seals on a half-mile stretch near the village of Wales, north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula.

These were all ice seals, which during the winter and spring months depend on the frozen sea to help them find food, bear their young and escape predators. They were mostly pups and young adults, and during this summer season they should have been foraging for small fish and other marine life in coastal waters.

Toxic algae may have played a role in the deaths of 39 walruses that in the summer of 2017 washed up on the shores of Northwest Alaska. Analysis found moderate levels of saxitoxin in samples taken from some decaying bodies.

Algae toxins may be involved in some of the bird die-offs.

So far, the USGS scientists have looked for traces of saxitoxin in more than 100 dead Alaska seabirds. More than 30% tested positive, including many that were determined to have died from starvation.

This finding raises the possibility that some birds are disoriented and weakened by ingesting the toxins to the point where they can’t forage for food.

‘Guardian of the Forest’ ambushed and murdered in Brazilian Amazon

‘Guardian of the Forest’ ambushed and murdered in Brazilian Amazon

SOURCE: MongaBay

DATE: November 2, 2019

SNIP: A young indigenous Guajajara leader was murdered reportedly by loggers Friday in the Brazilian Amazon, raising concerns about escalating violence against forest protectors under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, 26-years-old, was shot in the head and killed in an ambush in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve, in the Northeast state of Maranhão, indigenous chief Olímpio Iwyramu Guajajara confirmed to Mongabay. The murder was also confirmed on Friday night by Mídia Índia, a collective of indigenous communicators of various ethnicities.

Paulo was a member of “Guardians of the Forest,” a group of 120 indigenous Guajajara that risk their lives fighting illegal logging in the Araribóia reserve, one of the country’s most threatened indigenous territories. The Guardians also act to protect the Awá Guajá people, an uncontacted group of hunter-gatherers described by NGO Survival International as the most threatened indigenous group on the planet.

Indigenous leader Laércio Guajajara, also a “Guardian,” was hit by two grazing shots in his back and his arm during the ambush, but was able to escape the scene and was later taken to a hospital, the chief said. According to Olímpio, all three have been threatened by loggers over the past several months.

Violence against indigenous peoples has escalated in Brazil over recent years, making it one of the most dangerous nations on earth for indigenous and environmental activists: 135 indigenous people were murdered in 2018, an increase of almost 23 percent from 2017, according to a report released last month by Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI).

The report also included preliminary data for 2019, noting 160 cases of land invasion, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and damage to property in 153 indigenous territories during the first nine months of the Bolsonaro administration. These figures mark a significant increase from 2018, when 111 incidents of these types were reported in just 76 indigenous territories over the entire year, according to CIMI.

The Guardians group was established late in 2012 and has since destroyed some 200 illegal logging camps within the indigenous reserve, according to Olímpio. He said the situation in Araribóia has worsened under the new government.