Environment

Somalia Famine

The U.N. issued a special alert as the specter of famine rose in Somalia due to the failure of last fall’s rainy season as well as the one this spring.

More than 2 million people are threatened with severe hunger later this year, along with the many head of livestock the population depends upon for food and livelihood.

“Herders in the worst drought-affected areas, such as central Galgaduud and in northern Bari and Sanaag regions, have been forced to slaughter the offspring of their goats and sheep,” said U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Somalia representative Serge Tissot.

Plastic Houses

A Mexican engineer says he has an easy and useful way to recycle the untold tons of plastic pollution that now litter virtually every corner of the planet.

Ramón Espinosa says his company, Ecoplástico Ambiental, can convert the ubiquitous debris into strong sheets of “plastic wood,” which can be used to build homes, furniture and a variety of other objects.

He says the formed plastic not only insulates, it also doesn’t crack or degrade, meaning that homes made of it could last for 150 years.

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Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.2 degrees Celsius) in Bahariya, Egypt.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 103.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 75.0 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.

Global Warming

Global sea levels could rise faster than previously predicted

Global sea levels could rise by two metres (6.5 feet) and displace tens of millions of people by the end of the century, according to new projections that double the UN’s benchmark estimates.

The vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contain enough frozen water to lift the world’s oceans dozens of metres. The expansion of water as oceans warm also contributes to sea level rise. But predicting the rates at which they will melt as the planet heats is notoriously tricky.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report that under current emissions trajectories — a “business-as-usual” scenario known as RCP8.5 — would likely rise by up to one metre by 2100.

That prediction has since been viewed as conservative, as the levels of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year, and satellites showing accelerated rates of melt-off from massive ice sheets atop Antarctica and Greenland.

A group of the world’s leading ice scientists this week released a expert judgement on the situation, drawing on their own experience and observations. While there was still a significant margin of error, they found it “plausible” that under the business-as-usual emissions scenario, sea-level rises could exceed two metres by 2100.

The authors said the area of land lost to the ocean could be equivalent to that of France, Germany, Spain and Britain combined and would displace more than 180 million people.

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Environment

Scientists Went to One of the World’s Most Remote Island Atolls. They Found 414 Million Pieces of Plastic

The amount of plastic pollution previously thought to exist around the world may be a dramatic underestimate — because the vast majority of plastic pollution may actually be below the surface.

That’s the takeaway from a survey of plastic pollution on the beaches of Australia’s Cocos Islands, made up of two coral atolls.

An estimated 414 million pieces of debris are now littering the remote islands, and the vast majority of that waste is buried below the surface, according to a new study. But even that is likely an underestimate, a group of researchers reported May 16 in the journal Scientific Reports.

What’s more, because most of this plastic is buried below the surface, and most global surveys don’t look below the surface, the amount of plastic pollution worldwide may be way more than we previously thought, they reported.

The scientists surveyed seven of the 27 islands, which made up 88 percent of the total landmass of the islands, and estimated that they were littered with 262 tons (238 metric tons) of plastic. A quarter of those pieces of debris were single-use or disposable items such as straws, bags and toothbrushes (about 373,000 of them), The researchers also identified some 977,000 shoes.

Roughly 93% of the debris found, most of it tiny micro-debris, was actually buried below the surface. But because they only dug 3.94 inches (10 centimeters) into the sand, and couldn’t access some beaches that are known to have a lot of debris, these numbers are likely conservative.

The amount of debris buried up to about 4 inches (10 cm) below the surface of the beach is 26 times higher than the amount visible on its surface, the researchers wrote.

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Environment

Heavy metals and harmful chemicals ‘poison Europe’s seas’

Heavy metals and a cocktail of dangerous chemicals continue to poison Europe’s seas, with more than three-quarters of areas assessed showing contamination, according to a report.

The sea worst affected was the Baltic, where 96% of the assessed areas showed problematic levels of some harmful substances, according to the European Environment Agency. Similar problems were found in 91% of the Black Sea and 87% of the Mediterranean. In the north-east Atlantic, unsafe levels of chemicals or metals were found in 75% of assessed areas.

However, in most areas the situation was improving, as many of the toxic substances that have washed into the seas – such as the pesticide DDT and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – are now subject to bans or severe restrictions. The improvement in the breeding success of the white-tailed sea eagle in the Baltic, for instance, is attributed to the decline in DDT. A continuing problem is with flame-retardant chemicals, which are still used and still found in waterways, and DDT from Africa is still leaching into the Mediterranean.

Global Warming

Polar Sea Ice Levels

The sea ice in the Chukchi Sea to the north of Alaska and far eastern Siberia was at the lowest extent on record for early May, covering an area more typical of early June, according to data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice over the Arctic region as a whole on May 14 was at the second-lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979, and slightly above the 2016 record low.

The extent of the sea ice around Antarctica remained at the lowest on record.

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Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.8 degrees Celsius) in Matam, Senegal.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 98.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 72.2 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.

Global Warming

Australian islanders file landmark climate change complaint

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A group of indigenous people from low-lying islands off the coast of Australia on Monday lodged an unprecedented complaint against the country’s government, accusing it of insufficient action on climate change.

The eight Torres Strait Islanders filed the complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, claiming that rising sea levels were having a devastating effect on their communities.

Around 4,500 people live on the Torres Strait Islands, a group of more than 270 islands lying between the north coast of Australia and Papua New Guinea. The complainants say their homes, burial grounds and cultural sites could disappear underwater in their lifetimes.

Global Warming Is Fueling Growth Spurts in Some of China’s Oldest Trees

Climate change is causing old trees in northern China’s permafrost forests to grow faster, likely thanks to warmer soil temperatures, according to recent research. Older larch trees grew more from 2005 to 2014 than in the preceding 40 years. And the oldest trees, often 400-plus years, grew more rapidly than at any time in the past three centuries.

But scientists warn that these growth spurts are a temporary boon: As the region’s permafrost continues to melt, the soil will become wetter and soggier, almost wetland-like. Larch trees are not able to survive in that type of landscape, which will cause the entire ecosystem to shift.

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Global Warming

CO2 in the atmosphere exceeds 415 parts per million

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For the first time in human history carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million, according to sensors at the Mauna Loa Observatory, a research outpost of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency on 11 May 2019.

The increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is important because of its heat absorbing properties. The land and seas on the planet absorb and emit heat and that heat is trapped in carbon dioxide molecules. The NOAA likens CO2 to leaving bricks in a fireplace, that still emit heat after a fire goes out.

Ocean Acidification

Oceans have been such comfortable homes to approximately 2.2 million species since hundreds of thousands of years. Thanks to overfishing, warming, pollution, plastics and other human pressures, now they are turning inhospitable. Apart from all these, there is another major threat to the marine life called the ‘ocean acidification’. It refers to the decreasing pH of ocean water due to the conversion of absorbed CO2 into carbonic acid.

The first victims of ocean acidification are the marine calcifying organisms with shells. Coral reefs, which cradle almost a quarter of marine biodiversity, are also severely affected by acidification. These reefs are formed by the accumulation of calcium carbonate skeletons secreted by the colonies of corals over time over which algae and protozoans grow, imparting beautiful colours to the coral reefs. Due to increased acidification and other reasons, these symbiotic organisms are expelled by the corals, revealing their white calcium carbonate skeleton underneath.

Global Warming

Climate Change – The Basics

The term, climate change is used to describe a long-term change in global temperatures and weather patterns.

The earth’s temperature has changed drastically in its 4.5 billion year history, from the Huronian Ice Age that covered vast portions of the planet in ice for nearly 300 million years, to a period about 50 million years ago, when scientists believe that palm trees and crocodiles were native above the Arctic Circle.

Today, climate change is commonly used as a term to describe the effects of global warming that have occurred as a result of human activity following the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

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Earth’s atmosphere is full of gases. Some gases, including nitrogen and oxygen — that together accounts for 99% of the gas in the atmosphere do not absorb heat from the sun, allowing it to reflect back into space from the Earth’s surface.

Other gases, known as greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — absorb heat and make up roughly 0.1% of the atmosphere. When these gases absorb solar energy, they radiate it back towards the planet’s surface and to other gas molecules, creating the greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect plays an important role in naturally regulating the temperature of our climate. Without it the Earth’s average temperature would -18C. That’s roughly the temperature of a domestic freezer.

Since the industrial revolution the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been increasing as a result of human activities like burning fossil fuels, deforestation and modern farming practices. Which means more greenhouse effect, and more heating.

A 2013 report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body of climate scientists, found that the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration had risen by 40% since the industrial revolution, resulting in earth’s temperature increasing by 1C.

In 2018, the IPCC released a stark report on the effects of a 1.5C temperature increase. These include more extreme weather conditions, sea-level rising, the destruction of coastal ecosystems, loss of vital species and crops, population displacement and a huge cost to the global economy.

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In 2018, the United Nations warned that without urgent action global temperatures are set to rise above 3C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

At that temperature the outlook begins to look even worse — Entire cities could be swallowed by the rising oceans, species of plants and animals face extinction as their ecological systems fail to adapt to the heat, and hundreds of millions of people could be forced to migrate due to coastal flooding, longer-lasting draughts and depleting crop yields.

Environment

Nuclear Legacy

Radioactive carbon from nuclear bombs detonated in the atmosphere during the 1950s and 1960s has reached the deepest corners of the world’s oceans, where scientists say the creatures living at those depths are eating it.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Guangzhou found that carbon-14 has entered the food chain at the bottom of the Mariana, Mussau and New Britain trenches in the western tropical Pacific.

The isotope was carried there by marine life near the surface that had consumed it, died and fallen to the deepest ocean floors.

“Although the oceanic circulation takes hundreds of years to bring water containing bomb [carbon] to the deepest trench, the food chain achieves this much faster,” said lead researcher and geochemist Ning Wang.

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Environment

Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.8 degrees Celsius) in Jacobabad, Pakistanl.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 73.3 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Vostok base, Antarctica.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.

Environment

A Single Thundercloud Carries 1 Billion Volts of Electricity

Using an array of sensors designed to measure electric fields and the intensity of muons — heavy particles that constantly rain down from Earth’s upper atmosphere, decaying as they pass through matter — the team measured the voltage of a large thundercloud that rolled over Ooty, a town in India, for 18 minutes on Dec. 1, 2014. The researchers found that, on average, the cloud was charged with about 1.3 gigavolts of electricity, which is 1.3 times 10^9 volts — roughly 10 million times more voltage than is supplied by a typical power outlet in North America.

Armed with this knowledge, the researchers were finally able to calculate that the thunderstorm carried about 2 gigawatts of power, making this single cloud more powerful than the most powerful nuclear power plants in the world.

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Global Warming

U.N. Secretary-General Warns of ‘Total Disaster’ If Global Warming Isn’t Stopped

The United Nations secretary-general said the world must dramatically change the way it fuels factories, vehicles and homes to limit future warming to a level scientists call nearly impossible.

That’s because the alternative “would mean a catastrophic situation for the whole world,” António Guterres told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.

Guterres said he’s about to tour Pacific islands to see how climate change is devastating them as part of his renewed push to fight it. He is summoning world leaders to the U.N. in September to tell them “they need to do much more in order for us to be able to reverse the present trends and to defeat the climate change.”

That means, he said, the world has to change, not in small incremental ways but in big “transformative” ways, into a green economy with electric vehicles and “clean cities.”

Guterres said he will ask leaders to stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Burning coal, oil and gas triggers warming by releasing heat-trapping gases.

He said he wants countries to build no new coal power plants after 2020. He wants them to put a price on the use of carbon. And ultimately he wants to make sure that by 2050 the world is no longer putting more greenhouse gases into the air than nature sucks out.

Global temperatures have already risen about 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) since the industrial age began. The issue is how much more the thermometers will rise.

Global Warming

Shock report about life on Earth: We’re in deep trouble

The United Nations Special Report on Global Warming in 2018 sounded a sharp warning few could disagree with: Earth has a problem. A new UN report on Biodiversity released this week revealed the size of that problem.

In Paris at 13h30 on Monday (6 May 2019), United Nations geographer Eduardo Brondizio outlined how humans are unravelling the fabric of life on Earth. His message: If we don’t act as a species and make major changes to our lifestyle soon, our future is going to be extremely grim.

He wasn’t speculating. In his hand at its delivery was a 1,800-page assessment produced by about 500 top scientists in collaboration with representatives from 130 countries.

The report underlines our dependency on nature and our effect on it. More than 75% of food crops rely on animal pollination. Marine and land ecosystems extract 5.6 gigatons of carbon a year and without them, the planet would fry through global warming. We rely on clean air and water produced by natural processes.

However, since 1900 the abundance of native species has declined by 20% and a further 25% are threatened, with about a million species facing extinction. Half a million of those are insects. This impacts on all human life.

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Our current extractive economic narrative has mapped itself on to the planet’s surface. Three-quarters of the Earth’s land surface was found to have been significantly altered, 66% of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts and more than 85% of wetland areas have been lost.

Humans, say the scientists, are also fast-forwarding biological evolution — so rapidly that effects can be seen within a few years rather than over millennia. Many of these changes are among pathogens that affect our health. The rate of this change, they say, is unprecedented in human history.

The main drivers are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasions of alien species (nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s surface is at risk of plant and animal invasions).

Crop production has increased threefold since 1970 and timber harvest by 45%, but land degradation is reducing productivity, with crops now at risk from pollinator loss, floods and hurricanes.

Globally, local varieties and breeds of even domesticated plants and animals are disappearing, says the report. This loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.

The report maps out solutions, but notes that goals for conserving nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories. Because of ongoing rapid declines in biodiversity, ecosystem functions and many of nature’s contributions, goals are unlikely to be met if we continue on our present course.

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