Wildlife

Shorebirds in Peril

Across the planet, shorebirds are in serious trouble. In the past 50 years their well-documented North American populations are estimated to have plummeted by at least 70 percent on average, and shorebirds elsewhere are hardly doing better, if not worse.

Reasons are many—the shorelines and mudflats where the birds feed are polluted or disappearing, and many of the migrants among them struggle to find food and resting places in areas where they used to. Some are also targeted by hunters.

For a species to survive in the face of such an onslaught, a large number of healthy baby birds need to enter the population each year. Biologists have long believed this is one of the reasons many birds migrate north to breed; the challenging Arctic climate should keep them from being bothered by nest predators as frequently as birds in the tropics.

The results of a large analysis featuring data on 38,191 nests in 237 shorebird populations around the world that ornithologists have monitored during breeding seasons by looking for signs of predation such as broken egg shells, published last week in Science, are pretty clear: In the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s tropical shorebird nests were indeed suffering the most predation—but since then, as nests around the world have been losing more eggs to predators, the ones in the Arctic have been especially hard-hit. The tropics did see a statistically insignificant increase, but the numbers in the Arctic are staggering: Just a few decades ago only one Arctic egg in three would be lost to predators. Today two out of three are eaten.

The researchers believe climate change is a major culprit. “Our analysis shows that the faster the annual mean temperature has increased, the higher the predation on eggs has become.

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Global Warming

Germany – Drought

In Germany, a hot, dry summer has left water levels at near historic lows, and that problem is rippling across the entire economy. Scientists are blaming the effects of climate change for the extreme weather events causing the drought.

Declining shellfish – East Coast USA

Valuable species of shellfish have become harder to find on the East Coast because of degraded habitats caused by a warming environment, according to a pair of scientists that sought to find out whether environmental factors or overfishing was the source of the decline.

Global Warming

210 million people have been displaced by climate change, and that’s just the start.

The Earth, astronomers say, is a Goldilocks planet: not too hot, not too cold, plenty of water and with a hospitable atmosphere. It provides us with the perfect cradle for life. But even this vast, resilient system is struggling to cope with the demands of humans.

Recent headlines about our fast-degrading environment have been nothing short of apocalyptic. Humanity is causing a mass extinction event, with animal populations falling by an average of 60% since 1970, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report.

The equivalent decline in human population would empty North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania.

Although humans make up just 0.01% of all living things, we have wiped out 83% of all wild mammals and half of all plants since the dawn of civilisation. Even if the destruction was to end now, it would take at least five million years for the natural world to recover.

Worldwide, extreme weather events, violent storms, floods and wildfires are quickly increasing in frequency and severity because of the climate chaos our addiction to fossil fuels is causing.

These extremes have forced more than 21 million people from their homes each year since 2008 – around 59,600 people every day, 41 every minute.

Millions more have been forced from their homes, unable to access drinking water or grow food, because of so-called ‘slow onset events’ – rising sea levels or prolonged droughts.

It is the poorest nations on the frontlines of climate change, but there is no doubt that we will all suffer the impacts, and we have already begun to feel them.

In the UK, the Met Office has found that rising temperatures in our atmosphere are causing longer, hotter heatwaves and more erratic bursts of heavy rainfall – putting especially the elderly and weak at risk, and jeopardising agriculture, businesses and economic security.

Sweden this year was forced to call for international aid to tackle the wildfires that were raging within the Arctic Circle. Just last week, in Italy, storms flattened entire forests, washed away roads and devastated coastal towns.

These challenges are international in scope, scale and cause. We can’t solve them by operating alone either as communities or nations. We must work together to end our addiction to carbon and avoid massive global devastation.

Global Warming

Amazon forests failing to keep up with climate change

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A team of more than 100 scientists has assessed the impact of global warming on thousands of tree species across the Amazon to discover the winners and losers from 30 years of climate change. Their analysis found the effects of climate change are altering the rainforest’s composition of tree species but not quickly enough to keep up with the changing environment.

The team, led by University of Leeds in collaboration with more than 30 institutions around the world, used long-term records from more than a hundred plots as part of the Amazon Forest Inventory Network (RAINFOR) to track the lives of individual trees across the Amazon region. Their results found that since the 1980s, the effects of global environmental change – stronger droughts, increased temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – has slowly impacted specific tree species’ growth and mortality.

In particular, the study found the most moisture-loving tree species are dying more frequently than other species and those suited to drier climates were unable to replace them.

The ecosystem’s response is lagging behind the rate of climate change. The data showed that the droughts that hit the Amazon basin in the last decades had serious consequences for the make-up of the forest, with higher mortality in tree species most vulnerable to droughts and not enough compensatory growth in species better equipped to survive drier conditions.

The team also found that bigger trees – predominantly canopy species in the upper levels of the forests – are outcompeting smaller plants. The team’s observations confirms the belief that canopy species would be climate change “winners” as they benefit from increased carbon dioxide, which can allow them to grow more quickly. This further suggests that higher carbon dioxide concentrations also have a direct impact on rainforest composition and forest dynamics – the way forests grow, die and change.

In addition, the study shows that pioneer trees – trees that quickly spring up and grow in gaps left behind when trees die – are benefiting from the acceleration of forest dynamics.

The findings highlight the need for strict measures to protect existing intact rainforests. Deforestation for agriculture and livestock is known to intensify the droughts in this region, which is exacerbating the effects already being caused by global climate change.

Global Warming

Climate Change to Affect the Gulf Making Life “Impossible”

It has been suggested that the environment in and around the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea will soon “exceed a threshold for human adaptability.”

Life in the Arab Gulf region, Yemen, parts of Iraq and great swaths of Iran, in other words, will no longer be possible. This ominous scenario, posited in one of 6,000 papers referenced in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warrants only a single line and is easily missed.

The Middle East is already more vulnerable to climate change than most regions because of limited water supplies and long summers that are already very hot. Rising temperatures will only reduce the availability of water, stoking tensions already straining relations between neighboring states.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which once watered the flowering of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia, rise in the Armenian Highlands. Facing the rising threat of desertification, Turkey is increasingly diverting water from these rivers for its own agricultural needs and depriving its southern neighbor, Iraq, of supplies. Downstream in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, lack of fresh water has already led to a public health crisis and violent protests this year, raising the specter of a future blighted by water wars.

The body adapts to increases in environmental temperature through perspiration and subsequent evaporative cooling. As anyone who has waited in vain for a taxi in Abu Dhabi knows, extreme heat plus the proximity of a large body of water – such as the Gulf – equals high humidity, which prevents the body from regulating its internal temperature through evaporation. This is “wet bulb temperature,” or “TW” – a combination of temperature and humidity, or “mugginess.”

In the current summer climate experienced around the Gulf, when the actual temperature is at about 40 degrees, the wet bulb temperature is between 28 and an extremely uncomfortable 30 degrees. It has rarely exceeded 31

In the current summer climate experienced around the Gulf, when the actual temperature is at about 40 degrees, the wet bulb temperature is between 28 and an extremely uncomfortable 30 degrees. It has rarely exceeded 31.

The MIT scientists estimate that the maximum wet bulb temperature, or TWmax, at which even the fittest human being could not survive outdoors for more than six hours before suffering hyperthermia, or fatal overheating, is 35 degrees. If climate change is not checked, say the researchers, between 2071 and 2100 most of the territory bordering the Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea will experience wet-bulb temperatures permanently between 31 and 35 degrees.

By the end of the century, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Dhahran and Bandar Abbas will regularly exceed 35 degrees, at which point life in the region will, to all practical intents and purposes, be over.

Yes, air-conditioning – if it can still be afforded and, indeed, be politically justified in the face of impending global climate-change catastrophe – might be able to cope indoors and in cars. But no one would be able to work or even survive outside, which would mean an end to construction and the vital businesses of tourism, ports and airports, while the rate of deaths from heat-related illnesses among the young and the elderly would become intolerable.

Climate change is altering the Bavarian Alps

It’s unseasonably warm on Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Thirty years ago, September would have brought freezing temperatures and the first snow flurries. Today, tourists explore the bare, snowless, moon-like rockscape in T-shirts and shorts.

The glaciers have all but disappeared too. The Northern Schneeferner has shrunk to a mere 25 percent of its 1950 volume. On the Southern Schneeferner, it’s even worse as only 6 percent is left.

As temperatures increase, the permafrost — a layer of sediment, rock or soil that remains frozen for more than two consecutive years and that stabilizes the mountain rock — is retreating too. That and increased rainfall, have caused the rocks to lose their stability, leading to more than a thousand rockfalls in the Alps in the past year.

A number of Alpine huts have already begun to subside as the ground beneath them shifts, he said. Anchors for cable cars and other infrastructure will also need to be stabilized. Some traditional climbing routes have been closed for safety reasons too.

Global Warming

The Seafloor Is Dissolving Away – And Humans Are to Blame

Climate change reaches all the way to the bottom of the sea.

The same greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the planet’s climate to change are also causing the seafloor to dissolve. And new research has found the ocean bottom is melting away faster in some places than others.

The ocean is what’s known as a carbon sink: It absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. And that carbon acidifies the water. In the deep ocean, where the pressure is high, this acidified seawater reacts with calcium carbonate that comes from dead shelled creatures. The reaction neutralizes the carbon, creating bicarbonate.

Over the millennia, this reaction has been a handy way to store carbon without throwing the ocean’s chemistry wildly out of whack. But as humans have burned fossil fuels, more and more carbon has ended up in the ocean. In fact, according to NASA, about 48 percent of the excess carbon humans have pumped into the atmosphere has been locked away in the oceans.

The researchers found that most areas of the oceans didn’t yet show a dramatic difference in the rate of calcium carbonate dissolution prior to and after the industrial revolution. However, there are multiple hotspots where human-made carbon emissions are making a big difference.

The biggest hotspot was the western North Atlantic, where anthropogenic carbon is responsible for between 40 and 100 percent of dissolving calcium carbonate. There were other small hotspots, in the Indian Ocean and in the Southern Atlantic, where generous carbon deposits and fast bottom currents speed the rate of dissolution.

The western North Atlantic is where the ocean layer without calcium carbonate has risen 980 feet (300 meters). This depth, called the calcite compensation depth, occurs where the rain of calcium carbonate from dead animals is essentially canceled out by ocean acidity. Below this line, there is no accumulation of calcium carbonate.

Ozone Hole Recovering

The ozone layer that shields life from cancer-causing solar rays is recovering at a rate of one to three percent per decade, reversing years of dangerous depletion caused by the release of harmful chemicals, a UN study said on Monday.

The four-yearly review of the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 ban on man-made gases that damage the fragile high-altitude ozone layer, found long-term decreases in the atmospheric abundance of controlled ozone-depleting substances and the ongoing recovery of stratospheric ozone.

“The Antarctic ozone hole is recovering, while continuing to occur every year. As a result of the Montreal Protocol much more severe ozone depletion in the polar regions has been avoided,” the report said.

The Antarctic ozone hole was expected to gradually close, returning to 1980 levels in the 2060s, the report said.

Global Warming

New Research Finds Large Buildup Of Heat In The Oceans

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere — the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming is more advanced than scientists thought.

Wednesday’s study also could have important policy implications. If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, in the hope of limiting global warming to the ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by the end of this century.

Global Warming Is Messing with the Jet Stream

Greenhouse gases are increasingly disrupting the jet stream, a powerful river of winds that steers weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s causing more frequent summer droughts, floods and wildfires, a new study says.

The findings suggest that summers like 2018, when the jet stream drove extreme weather on an unprecedented scale across the Northern Hemisphere, will be 50 percent more frequent by the end of the century if emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants from industry, agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels continue at a high rate.

The study identifies how the faster warming of the Arctic twists the jet stream into an extreme pattern that leads to persistent heat and drought extremes in some regions, with flooding in other areas.

The researchers said they were surprised by how big a role other pollutants play in the jet stream’s behavior, especially aerosols—microscopic solid or liquid particles from industry, agriculture, volcanoes and plants. Aerosols have a cooling effect that partially counteracts the jet stream changes caused by greenhouse gases.

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Global Warming

Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier Just Lost Enough Ice to Cover Manhattan 5 Times Over

An enormous iceberg about five times the size of Manhattan broke off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier yesterday (Oct. 29), a mere month after a crack first appeared, satellite imagery shows.

At 115 square miles (300 square kilometers), the enormous amount of ice that calved off the glacier’s ice shelf is even larger than the mass that broke off last year. However, the newborn iceberg didn’t stay in one piece for long. Within a day, it had splintered into smaller pieces, with the largest piece measuring a substantial 87 square miles (226 square km) before it later broke apart even more.

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Global Warming

Glaciers in Canada’s Yukon territory are retreating faster than expected

Scientists in Canada have warned that massive glaciers in the Yukon territory are shrinking even faster than would be expected from a warming climate – and bringing dramatic changes to the region.

The rate of warming in the north is double that of the average global temperature increase, concluded the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its annual Arctic Report Card, which called the warming “unprecedented”.

In their recent State of the Mountains report published earlier in the summer, the Canadian Alpine Club found that the Saint Elias mountains – which span British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska – are losing ice faster than the rest of the country. Previous research found that between 1957 and 2007, the range lost 22% of its ice cover, enough to raise global seal levels by 1.1 millimetres.

The accelerating melt of the glacier has resulted in major shifts to water sources at lower elevations. In 2016, the meltwaters of the glacier shifted dramatically away from the Slims river, cutting off critical water supplies to Kluane Lake – a Unesco world heritage site. Since the diversion, water levels at the lake have dropped more than 6.6ft – stranding thousands of fish from their natural spawning rivers.

Dust storms have begun to flare up along sections of the well-travelled Alaska Highway – at times halting traffic, the result of a dry river bed covered in glacial silt. The events at Kluane Lake are a precursor of what can be expected elsewhere.

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Global Warming

Changing Plant Chemistry

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels are lessening the ability of plants to absorb and store that greenhouse gas.

A study by the University of Maryland of leaf chemistry in plants around the world between 1980 and 2017 also found that nitrogen is becoming less available to the plants.

Nitrogen is essential for the growth and development of plant life, and it is usually released into the soil by microbes when leaves and other organic matter decay on the ground. While trees normally absorb it back from the soil, the process is being hampered by the increased carbon pollution.

Global Warming

Climate Change is Pushing Tropical Cyclones Poleward

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Typhoons are becoming more destructive at northern latitudes, according to the first long-term study to document how the storms in East Asia are drifting toward the poles. As climate change expands the tropics and warms sea surface temperatures, those conditions are triggering cyclones to form further north, scientists say. That means devastating typhoons will increasingly threaten cities and towns once at the edge of the storms’ influence.

Sucking carbon dioxide out of the air could save us.

The Earth is warming so rapidly that most experts agree we’ll need to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine lays out a range of options for how to do that. But the authors say developing these negative-emissions technologies requires large-scale investment from the government — and the funding has to come immediately.

That carbon would then get concentrated and stored, perhaps by injecting it into pores in deep underground rock, which is essentially where it came from in the first place. There’s not much limit to how much CO2 these potential technologies could capture and store.

Global Warming

Climate change swelling Central American migration to US

Deepening climate change is swelling Central American migration to the United States, the region’s environment ministers and experts warned on Tuesday (Oct 23) as a caravan of mostly Honduran migrants trekked towards the US border in defiance of President Donald Trump.

Climate change had caused prolonged periods of drought and rain in the region, damaging or destroying the crops of poorer subsistence farmers who are often forced to leave with their families to search for new opportunities. Central America has had recurrent losses in agriculture, with populations increasingly faced with fewer opportunities for work and development.

Five Central American countries – Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic – are among the world’s 15 most vulnerable states in the face of extreme climate change events.

The impacts of climate change are part of the triggers of migration creating climate migrants.

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Global Warming

Could ‘rewilding’ help to tackle climate change?

As little as 14,000 years ago, lions roamed across most of Earth’s continents, including Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Though it is not possible to tell what caused the lions to go extinct, evidence taken from fossils and ancient cave paintings suggests that human hunting could have played a role in their downfall.

Now, some researchers say that large animals, ranging from lions and elephants to giant tortoises and donkeys, should be reintroduced to areas where they once thrived.

It is argued that this type of conservation, which is known as “rewilding”, could help to restore ecosystems to what they could have looked like before major human interference.

A special issue published today by the Royal Society explores how rewilding could help to tackle climate change and its impacts, as well as how future warming could affect the success of rewilding schemes.

Global Warming

Alpine Glacier Loss

Some of the hottest summer temperatures on record in Switzerland this year caused the country’s glaciers to lose 2.5 percent of their volume, according to the Swiss Academy of Science.

This year’s record heat came after an especially snowy winter that helped replenish some of the Alpine snowcap diminished by three previous consecutive years of little snow.

Climate change has caused Swiss glaciers to lose a fifth of their ice during the past decade.

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Wildlife

Global insect populations declining at alarming rate

An article in PNAS (National Academy of Sciences) has highlighted research from around the world that has found that insect populations are declining significantly.

A number of studies indicate that tropical arthropods should be particularly vulnerable to climate warming. If these predictions are realized, climate warming may have a more profound impact on the functioning and diversity of tropical forests than currently anticipated. Although arthropods comprise over two-thirds of terrestrial species, information on their abundance and extinction rates in tropical habitats is severely limited. Here we analyze data on arthropod and insectivore abundances taken between 1976 and 2012 at two midelevation habitats in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest. During this time, mean maximum temperatures have risen by 2.0 °C. Using the same study area and methods employed by Lister in the 1970s, we discovered that the dry weight biomass of arthropods captured in sweep samples had declined 4 to 8 times, and 30 to 60 times in sticky traps. Analysis of long-term data on canopy arthropods and walking sticks taken as part of the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research program revealed sustained declines in abundance over two decades, as well as negative regressions of abundance on mean maximum temperatures. We also document parallel decreases in Luquillo’s insectivorous lizards, frogs, and birds. While El Niño/Southern Oscillation influences the abundance of forest arthropods, climate warming is the major driver of reductions in arthropod abundance, indirectly precipitating a bottom-up trophic cascade and consequent collapse of the forest food web.

Research from 2014 estimated that in the last 35 years, populations of insects such as beetles and bees have decreased by 45%, and that the number of insects in Europe is in rapid decline. In a separate study published in 2017, flying insect numbers in German nature reserves were found to have decreased by 76% over 27 years.