Wildlife

Walrus Island

Rapidly retreating Arctic sea ice has driven several hundred Pacific walrus to an Alaskan barrier island weeks earlier than ever observed.

The marine mammals have historically conducted their “haulout” on sea ice, where they rest and feed.

But they began showing up instead on Point Lay along the Chukchi Sea coast in 2007 as global warming melted their icy habitat.

This year, they arrived two weeks before the previous earliest date in 2011.

Up to 40,000 of the marine mammals have crowded onto the narrow island in recent years, putting them at risk of deadly stampedes.

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Global Warming

Climate Change Is Causing Fish to Shrink

Fishermen over the past several years have noted that fish appear to be shrinking. That observation was validated in 2014 by research that found commercially important fish stocks in the North Sea, such as sole, herring, and haddock, have decreased in maximum body size over a 40-year period.

New research published in the journal Global Change Biology explains that these species and many others are ectotherms, meaning that their body temperature depends on environmental temperature.

As the oceans warm up, their bodies will do so as well. Higher temperature within the scope that the fish can tolerate generally increases the rate of biochemical reactions in the fish’s body and thus increases their body metabolic rate. Metabolic rate refers to an animal’s oxygen consumption, which also naturally increases as fish grow into adulthood because their body mass becomes larger.

One might wonder why fish and other marine ectotherms aren’t just taking in ever more oxygen to coincide with this natural growth due to maturation and the rise of ocean temperatures. They don’t because at a certain point they cannot keep up.

The researchers point out that the surface area of an animal’s gills — where oxygen is obtained — does not grow at the same pace as the rest of its body. This is because gills, in order to work, must function as a two-dimensional surface — width by height — and thus cannot grow as fast as the three-dimensional volume — width by height by depth — they have to supply with oxygen.

The reductions will be in the range of 20–30 percent if ocean temperatures continue to climb due to climate change. At the higher end of that range is one of the world’s most important commercial fish: tuna.

Tunas are active, mobile, and fast-swimming animals that need a lot of oxygen to maintain their lifestyle. They have to keep swimming non-stop in order to get more water through their gills to obtain sufficient oxygen. Thus, when temperature increases, they are particularly susceptible to not having sufficient oxygen to support their body growth.

For a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) increase in water temperature, which is approximately what is expected to occur in oceans around the world by the mid-21st century, tunas such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna will potentially decrease in body size by 30 percent.

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Global Warming

The Escalating Global-Warming Crisis, in One Chart

Last month tied July of 2016 for the hottest month on record, according to a new analysis from researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Sixteen of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century, including 2015 and 2016, both of which saw a temperature boost thanks to a strong El Niño event. (El Niños bump up surface temperatures by churning warm water to the ocean surface.) Record-setting temperatures in 2017 are especially concerning now that there is no El Niño; in other words, most of the excess heat this year is due to human-induced climate change.

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Global Warming

Study: Global warming alters timing of floods in Europe

Global warming is altering the timing of floods in Europe, making some rivers swell early and others later than usual, a phenomenon that impacts farming and daily life across the region, researchers said Thursday.

The report in the US journal Science is the largest European study of its kind, and spans 50 years and a vast trove of data from over 4,000 hydrometric stations from 38 countries.

“In the north-east of Europe, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States, floods now tend to occur one month earlier than in the 1960s and 1970s,” said lead author Guenter Bloeschl, a professor at the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien).

“At that time, they typically occurred in April, today in March. This is because the snow melts earlier in the year than before, as a result of a warming climate.”

Winter floods along the Atlantic coast of western Europe tend to occur earlier, almost in the autumn, because maximum soil moisture levels are now reached earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, floods in parts of northern Britain, western Ireland, coastal Scandinavia and northern Germany now tend to occur about two weeks later than they did two decades ago.

Storms hit later in the winter than before, a trend that is likely “associated with a modified air pressure gradient between the equator and the pole, which may also reflect climate warming,” said the report.

And as the Mediterranean coast warms, coastal flood events in some regions occur later in the season.

Global Warming

Climate Change is disrupting the ‘birds and the bees’

Over the last two decades, scientists have found that warmer temperatures are quietly spoiling the mood, making it harder for plants and animals to reproduce.

While humans and many other animals determine sex genetically, many reptiles and some fish use the incubation temperature of the eggs to set the gender of their offspring. This means that changing global temperatures could alter the ratio of sexes produced, making it harder for these animals to find mates.

Eastern three-lined skunk females can partially compensate for temperature increases by digging deeper nests and laying earlier in the season. Nevertheless, according to a study published in 2009, their nests still warmed by 1.5C over 10 years. This shifted the sex ratio towards females.

Not every species is as badly affected. Australian water dragon females have been shown to buffer temperature differences of 4C by nesting in sunnier or shadier locations. When it comes to climate change, behavioural flexibility is often a big advantage.

In the plant world, temperature can influence sex ratios in more subtle ways. For example, the tobacco root plant, which lives in alpine meadows in North America, has been producing ever more male plants over the last 40 years. This may be due to reduced water availability, since females require more water to develop. So far, the extra males have actually boosted seed production, but if the trend continues, the lack of females could eventually leave male tobacco roots feeling a little lonely.

Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s sea turtles use temperature to set the sex of their offspring. “Embryos are laid with no gender,” says Graeme Hays of Deakin University in Australia. “They can develop into males or females.” Warmer eggs develop into females, cooler eggs into males. “Temperature during the middle third of incubation controls the sex,” says Hays, by switching on and off the genes that trigger development into either a male or a female.

The difference between male and female is just a couple of degrees. That means even slight changes in the climate could skew the sex ratio, making males harder to find. Incubation temperatures above 29C are predicted to produce increasingly female-biased clutches.

There is evidence that this shift is already underway. Over the last century, the sex ratios of green turtles, hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles have become increasingly sex-biased. By 2030, the percentage of male green turtles produced has been predicted to drop to just 2.4%. “All else being equal, a warming climate will produce more female sea turtle hatchlings,” says Hays.

One solution for sea turtles and other reptiles with temperature-based sex determination is to breed at different times of year. This is called a “phenological shift”. “Earlier nesting may mean that sea turtles avoid incubation conditions that are too hot,” says Hays.

Phenological shifts are common, because many animals use environmental cues like temperature and rainfall to time key events like migration, flowering and breeding. Climate change is changing the timing and strength of the seasons, and as these cues change, the annual ebb and flow of the natural world is being disrupted.

In fact, one of the first pieces of evidence for the effect of climate change on living things was the discovery that plants are flowering earlier and earlier each year. In 2002, a landmark study showed that 385 British plant species were flowering on average 4.5 days earlier than in the 1990s. The same story is playing out across the globe: a 2008 meta-analysis looked at 650 temperate plant species in Europe, Asia and North America, and found that spring flowering had advanced by 1.9 days per decade on average.

The biggest concern is that plants and their pollinators might respond differently to climate change, leading to a mismatch that could significantly affect plant reproduction. For instance, in Japan the flowering of the plant Corydalis ambigua has advanced faster than the emergence of its bumblebee pollinators, resulting in a mismatch that reduces seed production in years with an early spring. Such mismatches could have a major impact on certain crop plants.

Global Warming

Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they wrote.

Global Warming

A warming Antarctica will create new animal habitats.

As climate change continues to cause massive melting and ice loss in Antarctica, new habitats may begin to open up for wildlife across the thawing continent, scientists reported Wednesday. But while that may sound like a boon for plants, microbes, birds and other organisms, they caution that this is not necessarily a good thing for the fragile Antarctic ecosystem.

As more ice-free space opens up across the continent, previously isolated species may begin to spread out and come in contact with each other. And as they’re increasingly forced to compete for resources, some organisms may emerge dominant — and others may start to disappear, write a team of researchers in a new study, just published in the journal Nature.

While Antarctica is a largely frozen continent, isolated ice-free areas — including exposed mountaintops, cliffs, valleys and islands — are already scattered across the region and may range in size from less than a square mile to hundreds of square miles. They may be separated by anywhere from a few feet to dozens or hundreds of miles.

Secluded as they may be in some cases, these areas can be home to various species of vegetation, microbes, worms or insects and other small organisms, and may also serve as breeding grounds for animals like seals and seabirds. These species tend to be highly specialized for the extreme conditions in which they live. Some of them may be dormant throughout much of the year. Others may have developed specific adaptations that allow them to survive in conditions with high winds, little water or extreme low temperatures.

Additionally, some species are found only in very specific areas — in fact, a few have only been recorded in a single ice-free zone. Others may be more widespread across the continent, but may have developed different adaptations in different areas. In general, Antarctica is home to many diverse and fragile communities that may be highly susceptible to environmental change.

Global Warming

Antarctica is going green – not in a good way

Plant life is growing on Antarctica like never before in modern times, fueled by global warming which is melting ice and transforming the landscape from white to green.

Scientists studying moss in an area spanning 400 miles (640 kilometers) have found a sharp increase in growth over the past 50 years, said the report in the journal Current Biology.

Plant life exists on only about 0.3 percent of Antarctica.

Five moss cores — or column-like samples drilled from the Earth — showed evidence of what scientists called “changepoints,” or points in time after which biological activity clearly increased.

Areas sampled included three Antarctic islands — Elephant Island, Ardley Island, and Green Island — where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow, said the report.

The polar regions are warming more rapidly than the rest of the Earth, as greenhouse gasses from fossil fuel burning build up in the atmosphere and trap heat.

The Arctic is warming the fastest, but Antarctica is not far behind, with annual temperatures gaining almost one degree Fahrenheit (half degree Celsius) each decade since the 1950s.

“The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region,” said researcher Dan Charman, a professor at Exeter.

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Global Warming

Climate change causes huge Canadian river to vanish in four days

Slims River in Canada is no more as the water that once fed it now flows south, not north.

A river disappeared in just four days after a melting glacier retreated so much that it opened up an alternative route to the sea.

Such dramatic changes are known in the geological record but this is believed to be the first time in 350 years that an entire river has vanished.

The Kaskawulsh glacier in Canada has retreated about a mile up its valley over the past 100 years, researchers reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. Until last spring, it sent meltwater into the Slims River, which eventually flowed north to the Bering Sea.

However the glacier shrank back so much that the water was able to join the Kaskawulsh River, which flows south into the Gulf of Alaska. And that saw the Slims River turn into a long thin lake and gradually start to dry up.

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Wildlife

Climate Threat to Wildlife May Have Been Massively Underreported

More than 700 of the world’s threatened and endangered animal species may be directly affected by climate change, according to a new study — vastly more than the number of animal species scientists initially thought would face risks from global warming.

Scientists had previously determined that only 7 percent of mammals and 4 percent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” of threatened species are affected by climate change. However, a new study finds that the threat from climate change may have been massively underreported.

In a comprehensive analysis of 130 previous studies on the subject, researchers found that nearly half of the world’s threatened and endangered mammals and nearly a quarter of birds are already seriously impacted — more than 700 species total.

Most climate change studies focus on impacts in the future, but the researchers said the effects of global warming are being felt “here and now.” And research on present threats were focused on specific species and were spread across numerous journals, according to study co-author James Watson, director of the Science and Research Initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Primates, in particular, are threatened because they have specialized diets and their tropical homes are vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. In some cases, species can adapt to the changes, but others are facing dire consequences.

For instance, mountain gorillas live on top of mountains — they’ve got nowhere else to go if the climate changes,” Watson said. “They’re stuck on top of these mountains, so they might not survive climate change because they can’t move anywhere else.”

Though birds can fly from mountaintop homes, the researchers found that species that live at higher altitudes and experience little seasonal temperature changes are negatively affected by climate change. Animals that dwell in aquatic environments also face even higher risks because these ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to global warming, according to the scientists.

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Wildlife

Massive Whale Standing in New Zealand

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Rescuers were engaged in a race against time on Friday to save the lives of a large group of whales, after more than 400 of the animals swam aground along a remote beach in New Zealand.

About 275 of the pilot whales were already dead when Cheree Morrison and two colleagues found them on Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. Within hours, hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers engaged in a group effort to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in the nation’s history.

Getting the large animals back out to sea proved to be a major challenge. As many as half of the 100 refloated whales managed to strand themselves again, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The adult and baby whale carcasses were strewn three or four deep in places for hundreds of yards, often rolled over on the sand with their tail fins still up in the air.

Morrison’s group alerted officials, and volunteers soon began arriving in wetsuits and carrying buckets. Dressed in her jeans and sandshoes, Morrison waded into the water and did what she could to try to maneuver the surviving whales upright so they could breathe more easily.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, and Friday’s event is the nation’s third-biggest recorded stranding.

The largest was in 1918, when about 1,000 pilot whales came ashore on the Chatham Islands. In 1985 about 450 whales stranded in Auckland.

Endangered penguins hunting for fish in wrong place

Endangered penguins are hunting for fish in the wrong place because climate change has prompted sardines and other prey to move to another part of the ocean, researchers have discovered.

The plight of the African penguin – found in Namibia and South Africa – highlights the dangers to wildlife of the sudden rise in temperature caused by human-induced global warming.

For the penguins have learned to look for places with lower sea temperatures and large amounts of a type of chlorophyll. These are tell-tale signs of plankton and, in turn, the fish that feed on them.

These once sure-fire ways to find large shoals are now leading the penguins into an “ecological trap” that is pushing them closer to extinction.

And the situation has been made worse by industrial-scale fishing and a raft of other problems, mostly caused by humans.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are about 80,000 adult African penguins left. But oil slicks in 1994 and 2000 killed some 30,000 birds and the death toll “may increase” if planned harbour developments go ahead, the IUCN says.

In the new study, researchers from Exeter and Cape Town universities tagged 54 juvenile birds from eight different colonies to find out where they go to look for fish.

The areas they chose were once rich hunting grounds for sardines and anchovies.

But changes in water temperature and salt content have prompted the fish to move hundreds of kilometres away.

The problems in finding food have produced low survival rates among juvenile African penguins, previously known as jackass penguins.

It is thought breeding numbers are about 50 per cent lower than they would be if the birds were able to find enough to eat.

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Environment

Climate Change Killing the World’s Oldest Trees

Bristlecone

These ancients were around when ancient Sumerians scratched their cuneiform on clay tablets, and they were standing when Alexander the Great swept across Asia. They bore witness to both the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, survived Columbus’ colonization of the New World, and saw the birth and expansion of the United States.

But now, because of climate change, the oldest trees on the planet may be facing their eventual extinction, a new study suggests.

Ancient bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva), which thrive in the upper reaches of the White Mountains in California, could be supplanted by younger trees from an upstart species as temperatures warm and baby trees begin to grow higher on the mountain.

The world’s oldest genetically unique trees reside just below the tree line, where the scant rainfall, frigid air, and rocky limestone soil eliminates all but the hardiest of species. From about 9,500 to 11,500 feet (2,900 to 3,500 meters), bristlecone pines dominate the landscape. In the few patches with sandier, more granite-like soils, native limber pine trees (Pinus flexilis) cluster, according to the statement.

The oldest individual tree in the world is a 5,062-year-old P. longaeva in the White Mountains, and the second-oldest tree, dubbed Methuselah, is also a Great Basin bristlecone pine living nearby.

Above the tree line, temperatures are too cold to support trees, but global warming has shifted the tree line higher up the mountain. Because temperature typically governs where trees live, that would ordinarily mean that trees such as the bristlecone pine would simply start growing at higher altitudes.

Most of the baby trees colonizing the higher altitudes above the tree line appear to be limber pines, the researchers found. It turns out that limber pines got an assist from the Clark’s nutcracker, a local bird that munches on and disperses the trees’ seeds. This process speeds up how quickly limber pines can colonize new locations, the study found.

Global Warming

Climate change is ‘beyond point of no return’

Global warming is beyond the “point of no return”, according to the lead scientist behind a ground-breaking climate change study.

The report, by an exhaustive list of researchers and published in the Nature journal, assembled data from 49 field experiments over the last 20 years in North America, Europe and Asia.

It found that the majority of the Earth’s terrestrial store of carbon was in soil, and that as the atmosphere warms up, increasing amounts are emitted in what is a vicious cycle of “positive feedbacks”.

The study found that 55bn tonnes in carbon, not previously accounted for by scientists, will be emitted into the atmosphere by 2050.

“As the climate warms, those organisms become more active and the more active they become, the more the soil respires – exactly the same as human beings,” said Dr Crowther, who headed up the study at Yale Climate & Energy Institute, but is now a Marie Curie fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

“Our study shows that this major feedback has already certainly started, and it will have a significant impact on the climate in the coming decades. This information will be critical as we strive to understand how the climate is going to change in the future. And it will also be critical if we are to generate meaningful strategies to fight against it.”

Dr Crowther, speaking to The Independent, branded Donald Trump’s sceptical stance on climate change as “catastrophic for humanity”.

Global Warming

How Climate Change is Drastically Changing All Life on Earth

A new study reveals that human-induced climate change, which results in temperature changes worldwide, have drastically affected the genes and ecosystems of lifeforms on Earth.

According to a study published in the journal Science, the study from the Wildlife Conservation Society, found that from the 94 ecological processes that serve as the foundation of healthy ecosystems on earth – from sea to land – 80 percent of which shows signs of distress due to climate change.

Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are rapidly moving to keep track of suitable climate space, and there are now signs of entire ecosystems under stress.

The study notes that this distress in ecosystems and species could greatly affect humans. These impacts from climate change include disease outbreaks, reduced fish and agricultural harvests, as well as increased pests.

Drought

Global Warming

What Climate Change is doing to our Lakes

A new study has found that global warming is resulting in rapidly increasing temperatures in lakes worldwide, an alarming find that means freshwater supplies and ecosystems are being threatened by climate change.

The study, conducted by NASA and the National Science Foundation, is the largest study of its kind, using satellite temperature data and long-term ground measurements to examine 235 lakes.

The result were stunning: there was an increase of 0.34 degrees Celsius on average each decade for lakes worldwide, which would have massive effects on drinking water and the habitat for animals and fish.

The 235 lakes the study examined represents half the world’s freshwater supply.

The 0.34 degree increase is greater than the warming rate for both the ocean and the atmosphere. That can mean only one thing: more algal blooms, which can suck up oxygen and water. The study suggests that such blooms will increase 20 percent over the next century, and the kind of blooms that are toxic to wildlife would jump 5 percent.

It would also result in a 4 percent increase in methane emissions. That’s concerning because methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

But rapid changes in temperature like this are more than just bad in terms of creating algal blooms or resulting in methane releases. A quick change in temperature can dramatically alter the survival rate of life forms in a lake, causing some species to suddenly disappear from the Earth. That can upset the balance of an ecosystem, causing further havoc in the wildlife kingdom — which will certainly have ripple effects for mankind.

Lake

Arctic air temperature highest since 1900 — Report

The Arctic is heating up, with air temperatures the hottest in 115 years, and the melting ice destroying walrus habitat and forcing some fish northward.

Air temperature anomalies over land were 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 degrees Celsius) above average, “the highest since records began in 1900,” said the 2015 Arctic Report Card, an annual peer-reviewed study issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meanwhile, the annual sea ice maximum occurred February 25, about two weeks earlier than average, and was “the lowest extent recorded since records began in 1979.”

“Warming is happening more than twice as fast in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world. We know this is due to climate change, and its impacts are creating major challenges for Arctic communities,” said NOAA chief scientist Rick Spinrad at the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.

The average annual air temperature was measured over land between October 2014 and September 2015. It marked a 5.4 degree F (3 degree C) increase since the beginning of the 20th century.

The minimum sea ice extent, measured on September 11, 2015, was the fourth lowest in the satellite record since 1979. “Arctic minimum sea ice extent has been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade” relative to the 1981-2010 average, said the findings.

In the 1980s, older, thicker ice made up about half of the ice sheet, but now, what is known as “first year ice” dominates the winter ice cover and made up 70 percent of the March 2015 ice pack. This thinner, younger ice is more likely to melt in the summer than thicker ice, said the report.

Snow cover across the Arctic has also been declining and is down 18 percent per decade since 1979.

This year, Greenland experienced its first significant melting event since 2012, and lost more than half of its surface area.

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