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.

Advertisements

Global Warming

Ocean acidification is global warming’s forgotten crisis

WOA05 GLODAP del pH AYool

Most of us are familiar with the climate change impacts we see and feel in our communities: heatwaves, storms, droughts, floods, and so on.

But a UN meeting this week about climate change and oceans reminds us a related crisis is unfolding largely away public attention: the one-two punch of ocean warming and acidification.

With record temperatures sweeping over continents year after year, it is easy to overlook that the ocean has absorbed some 90% of the heat trapped by the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution; and how much of that CO2 has dissolved into seawater as carbonic acid, altering its basic chemistry.

The UN meeting follows on the heels of a new secretary general report that investigates the impacts of these changes and the findings are concerning, to say the least.

The report describes record ocean temperatures pushing fish species toward cooler latitudes and out of reach of artisanal fishers; it documents widespread coral bleaching across the tropical belt and how most reefs could enter a state of permanent decline by 2040; it shows how ocean acidification has damaged a range of calcifying marine life, such as corals and shellfish; and it raises fears that the cumulative effects of the impacts are degrading phytoplankton, zooplankton, and krill, the foundation of the ocean’s food chain.

A sea snail shell is dissolved over the course of 45 days in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100.

Pterapod shell dissolved in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100

Environment

Trash Isn’t Just A Problem For Henderson Island, It’s Everywhere

The uninhabited Henderson Island has gained a lot of attention because of the fact that it has no people, but lots of trash.

A recent study determined that the island has become a dumping ground for plastic refuse. Unfortunately, it’s not alone. Here are just a few examples of seemingly pristine locales that have become polluted by humanity’s waste.

The Mariana Trench: The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean and, as such, one would expect it to be free from humanity’s touch, but that is not the case. A study has discovered that sea life living in the trench were found to have high levels of cancer-causing pollutants in their bodies.

Ironically, the isolated nature of the Mariana Trench is part of the reason that these pollutants often end up there.

“[These chemicals] don’t like water, and so they will stick to things in the water like plastic, and then that plastic will settle,” said the study’s co-author Stuart Piertney. “Because these deep-sea trenches are the very bottom of the sink for the oceans, there’s a sort of inevitability that they’re going to end up there.”

We know less about the depths of the ocean than we do the surface of the moon, but this serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences regardless of whether we are aware of them.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on Earth really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” said co-author Alan Jamieson.

Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands: Hawaii is a tropical paradise and one of the world’s top vacation spots, but it also has a string of uninhabited islands. Those islands serve as a wildlife refuge for many types of marine life, but, like Henderson Island, they too have became littered with trash.

The problem has gotten so bad that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has organized cleanup efforts. A recent expedition uncovered more than 57 tons of garbage. In addition to polluting the water and ruining the area’s natural beauty, the trash, which is mostly plastic, is dangerous to the local wildlife.

The debris, which includes lighters, bottle caps, and other hard plastic items, are often mistaken for food by seabirds, which will feed the trash to their offspring.

Smaller debris isn’t the only problem facing these islands. Despite the fact that fishing is prohibited in wildlife sanctuaries, lost nets and lines that often end up in the area can kill larger marine life such as dolphins or sea turtles.

Plastic Is The Problem: In the case of both Henderson and Hawaii, the bulk of the discarded trash is made of plastic. Every year, roughly 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up the in ocean. This waste is then caught up in gyres that carry the garbage to remote locations.

Global Warming

Climate Change Continues Unabated in the Arctic

Evidence continues to mount that climate change has pushed the Arctic into a new state. Skyrocketing temperatures are altering the essence of the region, melting ice on land and sea, driving more intense wildfires, altering ocean circulation and dissolving permafrost.

A new report chronicles all these changes and warns that even if the world manages to keep global warming below the targeted 2°C threshold, some of the shifts could be permanent. Among the most harrowing are the disappearance of sea ice by the 2030s and more land ice melt than previously thought, pushing seas to more extreme heights.

The findings, released Monday in the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment, come after a winter of extreme discontent for the region. Sea ice receded a bit in November, a rare occurrence, and hit a record-low maximum for the third year in a row. Temperatures averaged 11°F above normal, driven by sustained mild weather that was punctured by periods of almost unheard of heat when temperatures reached up to 50°F above normal.

The decline of sea ice is well documented. It’s disappearing in all seasons with the fastest shrinkage in the summer months. Old ice, which has formed the bedrock of sea ice for decades, is also declining precipitously. That leaves new ice in its place and susceptible to melt.

The new analysis shows that the average number of days with sea ice cover has dropped by 10-20 days per decade since 1979. Some areas, such as the Barents and Karas seas, have seen even steeper declines. Disappearing sea ice means the darker ocean left in its wake absorbs more energy from the sun, speeding the warming in the region.

Arctic soil holds up to 50 percent of the world’s soil carbon. Rising temperatures are melting permafrost, causing it to release some of the carbon into the atmosphere.

While the carbon release so far has been relatively small, rising temperatures have the potential to rapidly reshape the landscape and speed the melt.

The biggest impact for the globe is the melt of land ice from Greenland’s massive ice sheet. It’s the biggest land ice driver of sea level rise, and it’s been melting at a quickening rate since 2011.

The SWIPA report uses new data and findings to update the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sea level rise estimates made just four years ago.

If carbon emissions continue on their current trends, the report indicates 29 inches would be the low end of sea level rise estimates by 2100, roughly 9 inches higher than the minimum IPCC estimate. And that’s just the low end, with more sea level rise possible as scientists untangle the web of melting in Greenland as well as the Antarctic.

The massive rush of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean is also reshaping ocean circulation and the ecology of the region. Researchers have seen a marked slowdown in North Atlantic circulation as cold, fresh water off Greenland’s southern tip has acted as a roadblock to the currents that steer water through the region. That has the potential to mess with ocean circulation as well as weather patterns, particularly in Europe.

Research shows global warming making oceans more toxic

Climate change is predicted to cause a series of maladies for world oceans including heating up, acidification, and the loss of oxygen. A newly published study published online in the April 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” demonstrates that one ocean consequence of climate change that has already occurred is the spread and intensification of toxic algae.

Toxic or harmful algal blooms are not a new phenomenon, although many people may know them by other names such as red tides. These events can sicken or kill people who consume toxin-contaminated shellfish and can damage marine ecosystems by killing fish and other marine life.

The problem is worsening.

The distribution, frequency and intensity of these events have increased across the globe and this study links this expansion to ocean warming in some regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.

Marine algae are so tiny—50 of them side by side span only the width of a single hair—that they may seem harmless. But when billions of toxic cells come together, they can poison humans, kill marine life, and economically harm coastal communities.

Environment

Atlantic Ocean invades the Arctic

The waters of the Arctic Ocean are becoming increasingly similar to those of the Atlantic as warm currents from the south flow in, according to a new report.

It says the intrusion of the warmer Atlantic currents is also contributing to the accelerated melting of sea ice. The increased Atlantic currents have removed a thick layer of cold surface waters that had previously insulated the polar ice cap, allowing it to thin.

“Rapid changes in the eastern Arctic Ocean, which allow more heat from the ocean interior to reach the bottom of sea ice, are making it more sensitive to climate changes,” said oceanographer Igor Polyakov.

Tree Massacre in Poland

Environmentalists say that changes to a Polish law have led to a “massacre” of trees across the country.

New legislation that went into effect on Jan. 1 removed previous requirements that private landowners who want to cut down trees must apply for permission, pay compensation, plant new trees or even notify authorities about the removal of trees.

“We used to receive around one telephone call a day from people concerned about trees being cut down in their area. But suddenly, we had two telephones ringing all day long,” said Pawel Szypulski of Greenpeace.

Freshly cleared spaces are now being reported around Polish cities and across the countryside.

Global Warming

Global warming, overfishing threaten Earth’s “super-zoos,”

The six ocean hot spots that teem with the biggest mix of species are also getting hit hardest by global warming and industrial fishing, a new study finds.

An international team looked at more than 2,100 species of fish, seabirds, marine mammals and even tiny plankton to calculate Earth’s hot spots of marine biodiversity.

These underwater super-zoos are in patches of ocean that are overfished and warming fast, and these pressures hurt the lush life there, according to a study appearing in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances.

While scientists in the past have identified key areas of biodiversity, the new work is more detailed. Researchers found the liveliest ocean hot spot also happens to be where the science of evolution sprouted: the Pacific Ocean off the central South American coast. It includes the area around the Galapagos Islands.

Other hot spots include the southwestern Atlantic Ocean off Argentina; the western Indian Ocean off the African coast; the central western Pacific Ocean surrounding Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines; the southwestern Pacific off Australia’s southern and eastern coast; and the Oceania region of the Pacific around the international date line. Four of the six hot spots are in the Pacific; all are either in the southern hemisphere or just north of the equator.

Environment

Pacific Garbage Patch Survey

A new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch finds that the enormous floating mass of trash is far denser and larger than previously believed.

In a series of low-altitude, low-speed aerial flights over the plastic accumulation zone between Hawaii and California, the Dutch-based Ocean Cleanup foundation found chunks of garbage, mostly plastics. Many of the debris items measured more than half a yard in diameter.

The field also contains far smaller bits that were detected by experimental plastic- scanning equipment.

The foundation plans to soon begin testing a V-shaped rubber boom designed to “herd” the floating debris into a recovery cone.

Global Warming

Global warming making oceans ‘sick’

Global warming is making the oceans sicker than ever before, spreading disease among animals and humans and threatening food security across the planet, a major scientific report said on Monday.

The world’s waters have absorbed more than 93 percent of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean, he said.

The study included every major marine ecosystem, containing everything from microbes to whales, including the deep ocean.

It documents evidence of jellyfish, seabirds and plankton shifting toward the cooler poles by up to 10 degrees latitude.

The movement in the marine environment is “1.5 to five times as fast as anything we are seeing on the ground,” the Report said. “We are changing the seasons in the ocean.”

The heat also means microbes dominate larger areas of the ocean.

The study includes evidence that ocean warming “is causing increased disease in plant and animal populations,” it said.

Pathogens such as cholera-bearing bacteria and toxic algal blooms that can cause neurological illnesses such as ciguatera poisoning spread more easily in warm water, with direct impact on human health.

Meanwhile, the hotter oceans have killed off coral reefs at an unprecedented rate, reducing fish species by eliminating their habitats

Wildlife

Fish prefer to eat plastic over food – and it is killing them

Microplastic particles appear to be killing fish because their larvae prefer to eat them rather than their actual food, researchers have warned.

With fears that the amount of plastic in the oceans could soon equal the weight of fish in the sea, scientists have become increasingly concerned about the effects on the marine environment.

Now a study published in the journal Science has found that baby perch will actively choose to eat plastic over the plankton they would normally feed on. The researchers said this greatly increased mortality rates of the perch, stunting their growth and appearing to change usually innate behaviour. For example, they seemed to lose the ability to smell a predator that made them much more vulnerable.

When placed in a tank with a pike, perch exposed to microplastic were eaten four times more quickly than perch that had not been eating plastic. All the plastic-fed fish had been killed within 48 hours.

Microplastic is produced as larger pieces of plastic waste are broken down in the environment, but vast amounts of microfibers from synthetic clothes – things such as fleeces are essentially made of plastic – are produced each time they are washed and are small enough to pass through sewerage treatment plants and get into the sea. Cosmetics companies are also continuing to put plastic microbeads into their products.

Global Warming

Deoxygenation Due To Climate Change Threatens Marine Life

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

16 25 Deoxygenation

Global Warming

This is where 90 percent of global warming is going

Scientists have long known that more than 90 percent of the heat energy from man-made global warming goes into the world’s oceans instead of the ground. And they’ve seen ocean heat content rise in recent years. But the new study, using ocean-observing data that goes back to the British research ship Challenger in the 1870s and including high-tech modern underwater monitors and computer models, tracked how much man-made heat has been buried in the oceans in the past 150 years.

The world’s oceans absorbed approximately 150 zettajoules of energy from 1865 to 1997, and then absorbed about another 150 in the next 18 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To put that in perspective, if you exploded one atomic bomb the size of the one that dropped on Hiroshima every second for a year, the total energy released would be 2 zettajoules. So since 1997, Earth’s oceans have absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.

Because the oceans are so vast and cold, the absorbed heat raises temperatures by only a few tenths of a degree, but the importance is the energy balance, Gleckler and his colleagues said. When oceans absorb all that heat it keeps the surface from getting even warmer from the heat-trapping gases spewed by the burning of coal, oil and gas, the scientists said.

The warmer the oceans get, the less heat they can absorb and the more heat stays in the air and on land surface, the study’s co-author, Chris Forest at Pennsylvania State University, said.

This image shows Pacific and Atlantic meridional sections showing upper-ocean warming for the past six decades (1955-2011). Red colors indicate a warming (positive) anomaly and blue colors indicate a cooling (negative) anomaly

Screen Shot 2016 01 19 at 12 23 57 PM

Global Warming

Warming oceans are releasing methane

Warming oceans are creating a whole host of problems. From driving schools of fish closer to shores, to disrupting fragile ecosystems, the gradual increase in water temperatures could spell trouble for Planet Earth. Now, long-frozen methane is bubbling up from the ocean depths, adding more greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere.

The most recent discovery of so-called methane plumes is off the coast in the Pacific Northwest. This is no small matter as methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and could potentially accelerate global warming.

Besides the West Coast, research last year found a huge increase in methane plumes off the East Coast. Given that methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, this could spell trouble for a planet many already believe is warming.

Methane is 23 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Methane is suspected for previously causing big and often sudden swings in the Earth’s climate. Much of the methane on Earth is actually trapped, frozen in the ocean, but as oceans warm up, this powerful greenhouse gas could be released. Global warming could thus accelerate.

Essentially, the methane at the bottom of the ocean mixes with sediments and forms a substance called methane hydrate. Methane is able to exist in this form due to high water pressure levels and the cold-temperatures.

A sonar image shows a bubble plume rising from the seafloor off the coast of Washington state.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 2 56 00 PM

Environment

Diatom Numbers Dwindling in Some of World’s Oceans

Populations of the largest phytoplankton in the ocean declined by more than 1 percent per year between 1998 and 2012, possibly reducing the amount of greenhouse gas being removed from the atmosphere, a new NASA study says.

Diatoms are at the base of most marine food chains. They also play a major role in pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and depositing its carbon on the deep ocean floor.

Using a complex computer model to examine satellite observations, NASA was able to single out the chlorophyll of diatoms from other phytoplankton blooms.

Writing in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Goddard Space Flight Center researchers say they don’t know exactly why the diatom populations have declined, mostly in the northern Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

But they have linked the decline to a more shallow mixing layer of the upper ocean, where sunlight from above and nutrients churned up from below provide the best environment for phytoplankton growth.

They believe changing ocean and wind currents could be involved.

When diatoms die, they carry carbon from the atmospheric carbon dioxide they have absorbed to the deep ocean floor, where it remains in a reservoir called a “carbon sink.”

Ew151002c

Environment

Scientists Want Loud Ocean Noise Regulated

A team of researchers argues that high-decibel noise from explosive seismic testing for oil and gas in the world’s oceans should be regulated and monitored like pollution.

Scientists from leading universities and conservation groups warn that new regulations are urgently needed because of pending government approval of oil and gas exploration as little as three miles from the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, they caution that blasts from seismic tests are loud enough to harm whales and other marine life that rely on natural sounds to find food, communicate, navigate and avoid predators.

Lead author Douglas P. Nowacek of Duke University says that less intrusive technology, including a “marine vibrator” that uses low-pressure sound waves to conduct seismic surveys, will soon be available.

A new study recommends that ocean noise be considered globally as a pollutant — something the European Union already recognizes.

Ew150904d

Environment

Garbage Islands Are Swamping Oceans

Polluted waters

In the oceans, you can find eight million tonnes of garbage, which is enough to choke five carrier bags for every foot of coastline in the world. As these are carried by ocean currents, they pile up to five giant ‘garbage islands’ that swirl around the world’s major ocean gyres.

Annually, the planet spews between 8 million and 12.7 million tons of plastic bottles, bags, toys and other plastic rubbish into the oceans.

Nasa has now created a “visualisation of this pollution” showing how humanity is degrading the oceans. Scientists are releasing some buoys into the oceans to track the progress of the garbage.

Visualisation can be watched here .