Environment

The difference between night and day is disappearing

The distinction between day and night is disappearing in the most heavily populated regions of the Earth, a rapid shift with profound consequences for human health and the environment, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

From 2012 to 2016, the artificially lit area of the Earth’s surface grew by 2.2 percent per year. Bright nighttime lighting only started becoming widespread about 100 years ago, meaning we have little idea how humans or other species adapt to it at an evolutionary level. Light has been introduced in places, times and intensities at which it does not naturally occur and [for] many organisms, there is no chance to adapt to this new stressor.

The past few years have seen the rapid adoption of highly efficient LED lights for indoor and outdoor use. The short-wavelength blue light emitted by most LEDs, because our eyes are particularly attuned to this type of light, it’s been implicated in sleep deficiencies and other human health problems. Last year, the American Medical Association issued a warning about health risks associated with this type of light.

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Global Warming

Warning to Humanity

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting.

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

Global Warming

Climate Change Is Destroying World Wonders

From the Everglades in the US to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, climate change is destroying the many of the greatest wonders of the natural world.

A new report on Monday from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals that the number of natural world heritage sites being damaged and at risk from global warming has almost doubled to 62 in the past three years.

Those at high risk include iconic places from the Galapagos Islands to the central Amazon and less well known but equally vibrant and unique sites such as the karst caves of Hungary and Slovakia and the monarch butterfly reserves in Mexico.

Coral reefs are particularly badly affected by rising ocean temperatures, from the Seychelles to Belize, where the northern hemisphere’s biggest reef is situated. Global heating is also causing mountain glaciers to rapidly shrink, from Kilimanjaro in Kenya to the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch – home to the largest Alpine glacier.

Other ecosystems being damaged are wetlands, such as the Everglades, where sea level is rising as the ocean warms and salt water is intruding. In the Sundarbans mangrove forest on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal, two islands have already been submerged and a dozen more are threatened. Fiercer storms are also increasing the risk of devastation.

Rising numbers of wildfires are damaging the beautiful Fynbos flowerscapes in the Cape region of South Africa and the Monarch butterfly site in Mexico. Elsewhere, warming is melting the permafrost in the newly declared Qinghai Hoh Xil heritage site, which is at 4,500m altitude in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.

Australia is especially exposed as it has 10 natural heritage sites where climate change damage is rated as high or very high risk, from its Gondwana rainforests to Shark Bay in western Australia and islands such as Fraser and Macquarie.

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Environment

Radioactive Cloud Over Europe

European authorities are providing new details about a cloud of mysterious radioactive material that appeared over the continent last month. Monitors in Italy were among first to detect the radioactive isotope ruthenium-106 on Oct. 3. In total, 28 European countries saw the radioactive cloud.

Based on the detection from monitoring stations and meteorological data, the mysterious cloud — which has since dissipated — has been traced to somewhere along the Russia-Kazakhstan border, somewhere in South Russia.

Authorities say the amount of material seen in Europe was small. It was a very low level of radioactivity and it poses no problems for health and the environment in Europe.

But modeling suggests that any people within a few kilometers of the release — wherever it occurred — would have needed to seek shelter to protect themselves from possible radiation exposure.

Environment

“Deadly’ Smog in Delhi, India

Visibility is poor as pollution levels reached 30 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit in some areas. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) declared “a state of medical emergency” and urged the government to “make every possible effort to curb this menace”.

The levels of tiny particulate matter (known as PM 2.5) that enter deep into the lungs reached as high as 700 micrograms per cubic metre in some areas on Tuesday.

The chief minister of Delhi has asked his education minister to consider shutting down schools for a few days. Delhi sees pollution levels soar in winter due to farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana states burning stubble to clear their fields. Low wind speeds, dust from construction sites, rubbish burning in the capital and firecrackers used in festivals also contribute to increasing pollution levels.

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Global Warming

Pollution Fuelling Climate Change

Climate change is already affecting the health of populations around the world, but things are set to get worse if adequate changes aren’t made, according to an international consortium of climate experts.

Fueling the impact is the fact that more than 2,100 cities globally exceed recommended levels of atmospheric particulate matter — particles emitted when fuels, such as coal or diesel, are burned and are small enough to get into the lungs — says a report published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet. In the UK alone, 44 cities exceeded levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

More than 803,000 deaths across 21 Asian countries in 2015 were attributable to pollution from coal power, transport and the use of fossil fuels at home, the report states.

Environment

Pollution Kills

Pollution is responsible for illnesses that kill one in every six people around the world each year, according to a new landmark report.

The Lancet, the world’s leading peer-reviewed journal on health, commissioned a study that found toxic air, water, soil and workplace environments kill at least 9 million people annually.

Study authors warn that the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies.” Philip Landrigan, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the scale of deaths from pollution surprised the researchers, as did the rate at which the fatalities were rising.

Global Warming

Cost of Global Warming Related Disasters – USA

A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise. The graphic below shows the billion dollar eSlide1 7vents that the U.S. has experienced this year alone.

Arctic sea ice may be declining faster than expected -study

Arctic sea ice may be thinning faster than predicted because salty snow on the surface of the ice skews the accuracy of satellite measurements, a new study from the University of Calgary said on Tuesday.

The report from the Canadian university’s Cryosphere Climate Research Group published in the academic journal Geophysical Research Letters found satellite estimates for the thickness of seasonal sea ice have been overestimated by up to 25 percent.

That means the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free much sooner than some scientific predictions, which forecast sea ice will first disappear completely during summer months between 2040 and 2050, according to lead author Vishnu Nandan.

Ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean would impact global weather patterns by increasing the magnitude and frequency of major storms, and alter the Arctic marine ecosystem, making it harder for animals like polar bears to hunt.

Microwave measurements from satellites don’t penetrate the salty snow very well, so the satellite is not measuring the proper sea ice freeboard and the satellite readings overestimate the thickness of the ice.

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Environment

Large Hole Opens in Antarctica Ice

A mysterious hole as big as the state of Maine has been spotted in Antarctica’s winter sea ice cover. The hole was discovered by researchers about a month ago.

Known as a polynya, this year’s hole was about 30,000 square miles at its largest, making it the biggest polynya observed in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea since the 1970s.

The harsh winter in Antarctica makes it hard to find holes like this one, so it can be difficult to study them. This is the second year that a polynya formed, though last year’s hole was not as big.

The deep water in that part of the Southern Ocean is warmer and saltier than the surface water. Ocean currents bring the warmer water upwards, where it melts the blankets of ice that had formed on the ocean’s surface. That melting created the polynya.

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The blue curves represent the ice edge, and the polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack.

Global Warming

Carbon Released by Warming Soils

As soil warms up, it leaks carbon, and a new study suggests higher temperatures could release more carbon than we thought, potentially creating a dangerous feedback loop that would cause the planet to get hotter and hotter.

That’s based on experiments stretching back 26 years in a hardwood forest in Massachusetts, where researchers have been artificially heating certain sections of soil to see the effects.

The team from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of New Hampshire, says rising temperatures cause a two-stage cycle where carbon output increases for several years then levels off – probably due to soil microbes adjusting to the warmer conditions.

After that readjustment, carbon release levels start rising again. The worry is that warmer soil would cause a warmer atmosphere, in turn heating up the ground and perpetuating temperature rise we have no control over.

Every year we pump about 10 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, mostly through burning fossil fuels. About 3,500 billion tonnes are thought to be stored in the world’s soil. Not only does having carbon locked away in soil mean it’s kept out of the atmosphere, it also helps soil stay healthy by holding water and helping plants to grow.

Environment

Ocean meeting raises funds for marine protection

A global conference to better protect marine life has raised more than $7bn and won commitments to protect huge swathes of the Earth’s oceans.

The European Union, which organised the ‘Our Ocean’ conference in the Maltese capital of Valletta, its 28 member states and its EIB investment bank gave almost half those financial commitments, about $3.4bn.

Representatives from businesses, almost 100 countries and others pushed the total up to the unprecedented level.

The conference focused on funding and leading projects as varied as combating plastics pollution to countering illegal fishing and looking at the effects of climate change.

Environment

Ancient bristlecone pine forests are being overwhelmed by climate change

For thousands of years, wind-whipped, twisted bristlecone pines have been clinging to existence on the arid, stony crests of eastern California’s White Mountains, in conditions inhospitable to most other life.

Their growth rings provide a year-by-year account of the struggle to survive: It’s a tortuous cycle of dying off almost entirely, leaving only a few strips of bark that then continue to grow diagonally skyward or sideways along the ground.

But the world’s oldest trees may never have experienced temperature increases as rapid as those of recent decades. The climatic changes have triggered a struggle for dominance, in very slow motion, between the ancient bristlecones and the younger limber pines that have been able to charge up-slope as conditions become warmer and wetter. Will they cope with the intrusion of limber pines competing for sunlight, moisture, nutrients and room to grow?

Bristlecone pines — named for their bottlebrush-like branches with short needles — are found in other parts of the semiarid Great Basin, which extends from California’s Sierra Nevada east to the Rockies. But the ones found in the White Mountains are the oldest. The slow growers are only about 25 feet tall and expand about 1 inch in diameter every 100 years.

One of the oldest of the bunch is Methuselah, at about 4,768 years old. Its precise location is carefully guarded to avert vandalism.

According to Smithers, who led a study of ancient bristlecone pines published in the journal Global Change Biology, forests of limber pines have been steadily pushing up-slope over the past 50 years throughout the Great Basin.

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Environment

UK Smog Alert

A combination of polluted air blowing in from continental Europe and toxic air around London has created unhealthful levels of air pollution around the British capital. London’s mayor ordered an emergency air quality alert due to the hazardous smog.

“The shocking and illegal state of London’s filthy air means once again I am triggering a high air pollution alert today under my new comprehensive alert system,” said Sadiq Khan.

The government has come under increased pressure to improve the United Kingdom’s air quality.

Environment

Amazon Mining

An Amazon nature reserve created in 1984 by Brazil’s then-military government, and believed to be rich in gold and other minerals, was at least temporarily saved from being abolished.

A federal court in the capital of Brasilia blocked President Michel Temer’s decree that would have opened up about 30 percent of the area to mining.

The mining and energy ministry said that the reserve’s protected forest and areas inhabited by indigenous people in relative isolation would not have been affected.

Conservation groups and opposition politicians denounced the president’s attempt as “the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years.”

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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