Global Warming

First ship crosses Arctic in winter without an icebreaker

A ship has made a winter crossing of the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time during the coldest period of winter as global warming causes the region’s ice sheets to melt.

The tanker, containing liquefied natural gas, is the first commercial vessel to make such a crossing alone during the winter months.

The voyage is a significant moment in the story of climate change in the Arctic and will be seized on by those with concerns about thinning polar ice and its implications for the environment.

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Environment

A Ticking Time Bomb of Mercury Is Hidden Beneath Earth’s Permafrost

According to a new study published Feb. 5 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, theremay be more than 15 million gallons (58 million liters) of mercury buried in the permafrost of the Northern Hemisphere — roughly twice as much mercury as can be found in the rest of Earth’s soils, ocean and atmosphere combined. And if global temperatures continue to rise, all that mercury could come pouring out.

In geology, permafrost is defined as any soil that has been frozen for more than two years. In the Northern Hemisphere, permafrost accounts for about 8.8 million square miles (22.79 million square kilometers) of land — or roughly 24 percent of exposed Earth, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over time, naturally occurring compounds in the atmosphere, such as mercury and carbon dioxide, can bind with organic material in the soil and be frozen into permafrost, potentially remaining trapped underground for thousands of years before it thaws.

Using the mercury contents of 13 cores drilled in various sites across the North American permafrost as a springboard, the researchers estimated the total amount of mercury sealed away below North American permafrost to be roughly 793 gigagrams — or more than 15 million gallons.

Environment

‘Doomsday Clock’ Stands at 2 Minutes to Midnight

The “Doomsday Clock,” a hypothetical timepiece that measures humanity’s proximity to destruction by our own actions, hovers perilously close to midnight, the time that denotes global Armageddon.

Today (Jan. 25), the clock has crept even closer to the zero hour. This morning, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) — an organization of science and policy experts who assess human scientific advancement and risk — revealed the clock’s new “time,” with the hands now standing at 2 minutes to midnight.

The time has only ever been this close to midnight in 1953, following hydrogen bomb tests by both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., ushering in the era of the first nuclear arms race. In 2018, it reflects the breakdown of global efforts to reduce reliance on and risk of nuclear weapons; increased posturing and threats regarding the use of nuclear weapons; and an insufficient response worldwide to curb the impacts of climate change.

Environment

Hydro-Dams in Brazil may be Put On Hold

Brazil has flooded large swaths of the Amazon for hydro dams, despite opposition from Indigenous Peoples, environmentalists and others. The country gets 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower. Brazil’s government had plans to expand development, opening half the Amazon basin to hydro. But a surprising announcement could halt that.

In an interview with O Globo, Mines and Energy Executive Secretary Paulo Pedrosa said the government is reconsidering hydro construction in the face of societal pressure, environmental damage and increasingly competitive renewable energy options.

We can see parallels in Canada, where large hydro projects have been pushed through despite similar opposition and concerns.

Large-scale hydro also causes enormous environmental and social damage, including farmland and habitat destruction, changes to waterways and water tables, and displacement of Indigenous Peoples. Where large areas of land are flooded, mercury in fish increases several-fold, making this traditional source of protein risky to eat.

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Environment

Oil drilling plans for Arctic wildlife refuge

Alaska is a long way north and four time zones away from Washington. But there is one item folded into United States President Donald Trump’s tax reform package, whose effects will be profound at the very tip of the northern-most state – the proposed opening up of part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the oil and gas industry, leasing vast tracts of land in an area – believed to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 3.7 trillion cubic metres of natural gas.

Long eyed by the oil and gas industry, the ANWR has been jealously guarded by environmentalists and local indigenous people who, to a significant degree, still live off the land and on the herds of caribou that roam it.

The environmentally unfriendly Trump Administration appears to be quite unconcerned about the disastrous impact oil drilling will have on the ANWR, its wildlife and people, so long as the US President’s big business supporters can capture and exploit more natural resources – just to make a bit more profit.

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Environment

Global Cleansing Plan

Nations of the world have agreed to move toward a pollution-free planet, curbing contamination of the oceans, rivers, soil and air.

Every day, nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe in pollution that exceeds health guidelines, with 17,000 dying prematurely from it. Wildlife is also being poisoned.

Meeting at a U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi, members also called for a shift in how goods are produced and used, especially plastics that wind up in the world’s oceans.

But the non-binding declaration has no timetable and has not been signed onto by the United States.

Environment

World’s Oldest Organism is Dying

Pando, the world’s largest living organism — and possibly its oldest — is being destroyed by the voracious appetite of mule deer.

Pando is a colony of quaking aspen that spans 106 acres (43 hectares) of south-central Utah. Because of an explosion of mule deer in the area, new sprouts from Pando are eaten before they have a chance to mature, and the venerable organism is at risk of dying out altogether.

Though Pando has often been called the oldest living organism (with some estimates claiming the stand is upward of 80,000 years old), dating techniques for the colony are so imprecise that no one can say for sure how old the grove is.

To the casual observer, Pando looks like an ordinary forest. But each tree shares a common root system and is a genetically identical clone of its forest pals. It’s essentially a forest of one tree.

Mule deer, and occasionally cattle, are devouring the babies of the community before they have an opportunity to grow to maturity. The problem has been going on for decades. Every sprout that comes up — they’re technically called suckers — is eaten almost immediately as it comes out of the ground. Meanwhile, the older stems are almost all between 110 and 130 years old, which is about the typical life span of individual quaking aspen stems. The forest floor is covered with dead trees, and no new life is coming in to replace it.

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Environment

Groundwater CO2

Using water from underground aquifers faster than it is being replenished is releasing large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

While small compared to the burning of fossil fuels, this groundwater depletion in the U.S. alone could be responsible for 1.7 million metric tons of atmospheric CO2 pollution each year, scientists from Michigan State University estimate.

That would rank among the top 20 sources of carbon pollution outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We were somewhat surprised that this hasn’t been accounted for … in the [EPA and IPCC] evaluations,” said study hydrogeologist David Hyndman.

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.