Category Archives: Nature

Greenhouse gases drive Australia’s bushfires

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Australia’s bushfires are feeding on heat from the climate change happening in the tropics, but its government doesn’t want to know.

NEW SOUTH WALES, 14 November, 2019 − Australia has earned a formidable reputation for being the driest and most agriculturally disappointing continent on Earth. Droughts and floods have followed each other like day and night, spawning a laconic and resilient breed of agriculturalists known for taking climatic adversity and variability in their stride.

Everyone in the industry believes both good and bad times are cyclical, each replacing the other. The continent is surrounded by three oceans which, depending on their temperature fluxes, deliver or deny precious rainfall, as moisture-bearing ocean winds blow either toward the continent or away.

A knowledge of the state of each ocean can help farmers to understand how long it will be before the situation changes. Preparation for the next drought in good times is a no-brainer and is supported with Government policy. Water supply augmentation systems, fodder storage and stockpiling money are modern tricks used by graziers to abate the ravages of drought.

That’s been the traditional pattern. This year, though, after three consecutive failed springs in eastern Australia, there’s a level of despair which is taking an enormous toll on families, businesses and ecosystems. Farming communities are suffering mental anguish as they run out of options.

We haven’t seen the usual cyclical return to wetter seasons. No-one has ever seen the likes of this drought and no-one knows when it will end. We are out of tricks, out of water and out of feed.

Livestock breeding herds  and flocks that have taken generations to build are now depleted because the only option is to send them to slaughter. It’s unclear anyway whether there’ll be sufficient fodder-grade grain to keep them alive.

Breadbasket on fire

Modern cropping systems are designed to store soil moisture until the next crop can be planted. But in the bread basket of the nation, soil moisture is now at record lows, and severe bush fires ravage the landscape.

As I write this in the second week of November, we’re in the third day of gale-force winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The sky is full of dust, smoke and fire-fighting aircraft, when we should be planning what to do with excess stock feed.

Yesterday the government announced further assistance to farmers, in the billions. But the problem is that the federal government will not acknowledge there is a climate problem at all, let alone a catastrophe.

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack aroused anger when he dismissed the possibility of climate change causing the crisis as the ravings of “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began”, he said.

Our understanding of the climatic drivers of this drought has been severely challenged. The Pacific Ocean is in a neutral phase, so ENSO is not a major issue. The Southern Ocean is in a negative mode, which should bring rain-bearing westerlies at least to southern Australia. But the Indian Ocean is in a phase which prevents tropical moisture inflow.

“The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases”

None of these by itself is enough to produce a drought as long and intense as this. In some places it is in its eighth year, and mostly at least the third. On our farm less than half of the annual rainfall of the previous worst year so far has been recorded. Apart from an intense La Niña in 2010-2011 there have been no significantly wet or average years this century.

In 2010 a report was released by a government agency, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, which showed conclusively that there has been a serious and persistent decline in rainfall in southwestern and more recently southeastern Australia. It is clearly visible, it is anthropogenic in nature, and its mechanism can be easily understood by non-scientists. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology published an update on this year’s drought in September.

Superimposed on the oceans’ tableau is a natural phenomenon known as the Sub-Tropical Ridge (STR). This is a belt of high atmospheric pressure which encircles the planet at about 35 degrees of latitude in both hemispheres, where many of the world’s deserts occur. This high pressure is caused by the descent of cool dry air at these latitudes.

This air originated in the tropics, rose, rained out and then descended, depleted of moisture. Meteorologists call this cycle the Hadley Circulation.

The trouble is that the dry high pressure cells are becoming more frequent and more intense because of growing heating in the sub-tropics, which are increasing in aridity.

Heat blocks rains

Until now, though, it was happening slowly enough for no-one to notice. However, recent analysis can now detect the signature as far back as the World War Two drought.

The STR is like a string of pearls under high pressure, with the gaps allowing rain-bearing systems to penetrate from either the tropics or the poles. But now the extra heat caused by climate change in the tropics is making the highs more frequent and more intense.

It is now a regular feature of Australian weather that rain-bearing fronts are pushed to the south and rarely penetrate the persistent highs. Similar changes have been seen in the northern hemisphere in southern Europe and California.

There is a direct linear relationship between these changes and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The only way the climate models can simulate the depleted rainfall observations is to include the effects of greenhouse gases.

This should have been front-page news at least in the agricultural press, but instead the news is about government handouts to needy farmers.

Worse in store

So it looks as if the plight of Australian agriculture is set to worsen because of the tropical oceanic heating. The strengthening STR is not an oceanic phenomenon, but an atmospheric one, so its effects are not as apparent to the casual observer. Nevertheless, it seems to be putting the already nasty changes of the oceans on steroids.

Somehow we need to persuade the government that as well as providing welfare, and mitigation strategies, we have to stop venting novel carbon dioxide and avoid exposing Australian agriculture to the ravages of an angry atmosphere.

Yet there are now two strong reasons why governments in Australia will not acknowledge that the drought is attributable to climate change. Firstly, at the last election, there was an enormous voter backlash against proponents of the closure of coal mining.

Secondly, there is political mileage to be grafted out of massive welfare payments to the agricultural community. There is no doubt that there is enormous hardship in the sector, but you need to wonder whether they can see a connection between budgetary pain and carbon policy, or whether any government has sought briefing on the matter.

Clearly courage and leadership matching that required in warfare is needed to address this dreadful situation. Instead we have cowardice and schizophrenia. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Burgess is a sheep farmer in New South Wales whose family has raised animals in the same area for more than a century. He has now sold his farm because he finds the drought has made his work and survival there impossible.

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

World’s species numbers stay much the same

Life is on the move. Everywhere, the mix of creatures is changing for better and worse. The world’s species remain diverse. But for how long?

LONDON, 30 October, 2019 – Biodiversity – that vital mix of the world’s species, insects, worms, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, microbes, plants and fungi that make up an ecosystem – is being reorganised. Change is happening almost everywhere on land and much faster in the seas that cover seven-tenths of the globe.

But when an international team of researchers looked at 239 studies that catalogued 50,000 changes in the living world over the decades, they arrived at a paradoxical puzzle.

The composition of an ecosystem is being altered, and altered sometimes at speed, by rising temperatures driven by human use of fossil fuels, by human colonisation of the grasslands, forests and wetlands, and by human disturbance of coral reefs, sea meadows, mangrove swamps and other submarine habitats.

But on average, the richness of life – the sheer numbers of species – in the world’s more closely studied ecosystems has remained much the same: that is, as some creatures or growths vanish from a cloud forest or an estuarine mudbank, the space they occupied is colonised by newcomers more comfortable with change.

Mixed picture

“Our study shows that biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere. Some places are recovering and adapting,” says Maria Dornelas of the University of St Andrews in the UK.

“When biodiversity is in the news these days, it is often because the Amazon is on fire, or there is a global mass mortality event in coral reefs,  and rightly so, because this is terrifying news.

“However there is a lot of recovery taking place silently in the background, and many places where not much is happening. Our study puts these things on the map and shows they are not contradictory.”

The finding seems to question two decades of scientific orthodoxy: that because of human action, species are being extinguished at an accelerated rate. Extinction is a part of evolution, but biologists calculate that it is now happening at least a thousand times faster than the average rate for the past 500 million years.

“A sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change”

And humans are to blame for the “sixth mass extinction” which threatens perhaps a million species and is likely to be made worse by global heating and the climate emergency. Species are vanishing from ecosystems at the local level, and globally.

The latest study, in the journal Science, suggests that the big picture is more complicated: as environments change, so does the mix of local species. Some migrate, some adapt, some invade. Overall, the richness of the local population may not change a lot.

But this finding may not be inconsistent with global alarm about species loss on a massive scale as human numbers go on rising, and levels of greenhouse gas continue to soar. Change is happening faster in the tropics, those regions with the greatest variety of life. The dangers have not evaporated.

Philip Martin, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, tells Climate News Network that any finding that, on average, 28% of species were being replaced each decade should be a worry.

Excluding complacency

It might be that local species with narrow ranges were being replaced by more resilient plants or animals capable of surviving a much wider range of conditions: if so, the numbers of species in any local ecosystem might remain stable but the variety of life overall could still be diminished.

“As such, a sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change,” he warns.

And the paper’s authors make a parallel point: there is no case for complacency. “If these trends are maintained, this could lead to a dramatic restructuring of biodiversity, with potentially severe consequences for ecosystem functioning,” says Shane Blowes of the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Halle-Jena-Leipzig in Germany.

And Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University in Canada says: “The Earth is going through a great geographic reorganisation of its biodiversity in response to human activities and climate change. Given what we know it is likely this will continue for decades to come.” – Climate News Network

Life is on the move. Everywhere, the mix of creatures is changing for better and worse. The world’s species remain diverse. But for how long?

LONDON, 30 October, 2019 – Biodiversity – that vital mix of the world’s species, insects, worms, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, microbes, plants and fungi that make up an ecosystem – is being reorganised. Change is happening almost everywhere on land and much faster in the seas that cover seven-tenths of the globe.

But when an international team of researchers looked at 239 studies that catalogued 50,000 changes in the living world over the decades, they arrived at a paradoxical puzzle.

The composition of an ecosystem is being altered, and altered sometimes at speed, by rising temperatures driven by human use of fossil fuels, by human colonisation of the grasslands, forests and wetlands, and by human disturbance of coral reefs, sea meadows, mangrove swamps and other submarine habitats.

But on average, the richness of life – the sheer numbers of species – in the world’s more closely studied ecosystems has remained much the same: that is, as some creatures or growths vanish from a cloud forest or an estuarine mudbank, the space they occupied is colonised by newcomers more comfortable with change.

Mixed picture

“Our study shows that biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere. Some places are recovering and adapting,” says Maria Dornelas of the University of St Andrews in the UK.

“When biodiversity is in the news these days, it is often because the Amazon is on fire, or there is a global mass mortality event in coral reefs,  and rightly so, because this is terrifying news.

“However there is a lot of recovery taking place silently in the background, and many places where not much is happening. Our study puts these things on the map and shows they are not contradictory.”

The finding seems to question two decades of scientific orthodoxy: that because of human action, species are being extinguished at an accelerated rate. Extinction is a part of evolution, but biologists calculate that it is now happening at least a thousand times faster than the average rate for the past 500 million years.

“A sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change”

And humans are to blame for the “sixth mass extinction” which threatens perhaps a million species and is likely to be made worse by global heating and the climate emergency. Species are vanishing from ecosystems at the local level, and globally.

The latest study, in the journal Science, suggests that the big picture is more complicated: as environments change, so does the mix of local species. Some migrate, some adapt, some invade. Overall, the richness of the local population may not change a lot.

But this finding may not be inconsistent with global alarm about species loss on a massive scale as human numbers go on rising, and levels of greenhouse gas continue to soar. Change is happening faster in the tropics, those regions with the greatest variety of life. The dangers have not evaporated.

Philip Martin, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, tells Climate News Network that any finding that, on average, 28% of species were being replaced each decade should be a worry.

Excluding complacency

It might be that local species with narrow ranges were being replaced by more resilient plants or animals capable of surviving a much wider range of conditions: if so, the numbers of species in any local ecosystem might remain stable but the variety of life overall could still be diminished.

“As such, a sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change,” he warns.

And the paper’s authors make a parallel point: there is no case for complacency. “If these trends are maintained, this could lead to a dramatic restructuring of biodiversity, with potentially severe consequences for ecosystem functioning,” says Shane Blowes of the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Halle-Jena-Leipzig in Germany.

And Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University in Canada says: “The Earth is going through a great geographic reorganisation of its biodiversity in response to human activities and climate change. Given what we know it is likely this will continue for decades to come.” – Climate News Network

Warming forces world of ice into retreat

warming

New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the speed of change in the frozen world.

LONDON, October, 21, 2019 – Just as Scottish scientists deliver dramatic visual evidence of the retreat of Europe’s most famous glacier over the course of a century because of global warming, German scientists have mapped an even more devastating retreat of Andean glaciers in just 16 years.

In another demonstration of the impact of warming on what had always been considered the cryosphere, the world of ice and snow, Swedish scientists have shown that the chemistry of the northern forests has begun to change in ways that could even accelerate rising temperatures.

And in the US, researchers have shown that winter is on the wane and the snows in retreat – with dramatic consequences for wildlife, water supplies and human wealth and health.

Warming faster

All four studies are further confirmation of what climate scientists have already shown – that the high latitudes and high altitudes are warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with ominous consequences.

In August 1919, pioneer aviator Walter Mittelholzer flew near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe in a biplane to photograph Europe’s highest peak and the Mer de Glace glacier, one of the great tourist attractions and celebrated by artists and poets for two centuries

Exactly one century later, researchers from the University of Dundee in Scotland used global positioning satellite guidance and digital help to take a helicopter to exactly the same position and altitude of 4,700 metres to repeat the 1919 aerial study.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades”

Kieran Baxter, aerial photographer, digital media practitioner and researcher at the University of Dundee, says: “The scale of ice loss was immediately evident as we reached altitude, but it was only by comparing the images side by side that the last 100 years of change were made visible.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

Glaciers store rainy season ice and snow, and release it as meltwater in the hot dry summers. They keep the rivers flowing, the crops growing, and the hydroelectric turbines turning.

Scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany report in the The Cryosphere journal that they used satellite imagery to calculate glacier loss in Peru this century.

Almost three-quarters of all tropical glaciers and 90% of their area of ice are concentrated in the Peruvian Andes, at around 4000 metres or more.

At the beginning of this century, there had been a count of 1,973 rivers of ice in the region. Of these, 170 have vanished altogether, while the others have retreated uphill, and their accumulated area has dwindled by around 550 square kilometres.

Loss of ice mass

Eight billion tonnes of ice have melted away, and at an ever-faster rate. The loss of ice mass between 2013 and 2016 was around four times higher than in the previous 12 years, perhaps because of local climate changes triggered by a periodic climate phenomenon known worldwide as an El Niño.

Glaciers are an important part of the climate machine, but the great forests that flourish in the snows below them are even more important.

They add up to 14% of the planet’s vegetation coverage, they absorb atmospheric carbon to cool the climate in one way, and counter the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming in another, subtle way. The conifers exude terpene aerosols – the pine-fresh fragrance from their resins – that have a cooling effect on the air over the forests.

But scientists from Sweden report in Nature Communications journal that, thanks to atmospheric pollution driven by global agriculture and industrialisation, the terpene particles from the forests are getting smaller in diameter – some smaller than a wavelength of optical light.

That means that the same particles are now less effective at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Ammonia and sulphur dioxide discharged by humankind have changed the chemistry of the forests: there are now more aerosols, but their diameter is dwindling.

Study leader Pontus Rodin, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, says: “The heavily-oxidized organic molecules have a cooling effect on the climate. With a warmer climate, it is expected that forests will release more terpenes, and thus create more cooling organic aerosols.

“However, the extent of that effect also depends on the emission volumes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia in the future. It’s very clear, though, that this increase in organic aerosols cannot by any means compensate for the warming of the climate caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Weather station data

And while European scientists examined the detail of loss, scientists in the US looked at 100 years of weather station data from the forests of the US and Canada.

They report in Ecological Applications journal that they found a significant decline in the number of “frost days” when the temperature dropped below freezing, and “ice days” in which the thermometer stayed below freezing.

Snow and ice sustain ecosystems by preventing disease spread and reducing beetle and aphid numbers. Deep snow insulates tree roots, provides wildlife habitat, and promotes soil nutrient recycling.

“Winter conditions are changing more rapidly than any other season, and it could have serious implications,” says Alexandra Contosta, assistant professor in the Earth Systems Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.

“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a big difference, whether you are talking about a forest stream, a snowshoe hare, or even a skier.” –Climate News Network

New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the speed of change in the frozen world.

LONDON, October, 21, 2019 – Just as Scottish scientists deliver dramatic visual evidence of the retreat of Europe’s most famous glacier over the course of a century because of global warming, German scientists have mapped an even more devastating retreat of Andean glaciers in just 16 years.

In another demonstration of the impact of warming on what had always been considered the cryosphere, the world of ice and snow, Swedish scientists have shown that the chemistry of the northern forests has begun to change in ways that could even accelerate rising temperatures.

And in the US, researchers have shown that winter is on the wane and the snows in retreat – with dramatic consequences for wildlife, water supplies and human wealth and health.

Warming faster

All four studies are further confirmation of what climate scientists have already shown – that the high latitudes and high altitudes are warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with ominous consequences.

In August 1919, pioneer aviator Walter Mittelholzer flew near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe in a biplane to photograph Europe’s highest peak and the Mer de Glace glacier, one of the great tourist attractions and celebrated by artists and poets for two centuries

Exactly one century later, researchers from the University of Dundee in Scotland used global positioning satellite guidance and digital help to take a helicopter to exactly the same position and altitude of 4,700 metres to repeat the 1919 aerial study.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades”

Kieran Baxter, aerial photographer, digital media practitioner and researcher at the University of Dundee, says: “The scale of ice loss was immediately evident as we reached altitude, but it was only by comparing the images side by side that the last 100 years of change were made visible.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

Glaciers store rainy season ice and snow, and release it as meltwater in the hot dry summers. They keep the rivers flowing, the crops growing, and the hydroelectric turbines turning.

Scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany report in the The Cryosphere journal that they used satellite imagery to calculate glacier loss in Peru this century.

Almost three-quarters of all tropical glaciers and 90% of their area of ice are concentrated in the Peruvian Andes, at around 4000 metres or more.

At the beginning of this century, there had been a count of 1,973 rivers of ice in the region. Of these, 170 have vanished altogether, while the others have retreated uphill, and their accumulated area has dwindled by around 550 square kilometres.

Loss of ice mass

Eight billion tonnes of ice have melted away, and at an ever-faster rate. The loss of ice mass between 2013 and 2016 was around four times higher than in the previous 12 years, perhaps because of local climate changes triggered by a periodic climate phenomenon known worldwide as an El Niño.

Glaciers are an important part of the climate machine, but the great forests that flourish in the snows below them are even more important.

They add up to 14% of the planet’s vegetation coverage, they absorb atmospheric carbon to cool the climate in one way, and counter the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming in another, subtle way. The conifers exude terpene aerosols – the pine-fresh fragrance from their resins – that have a cooling effect on the air over the forests.

But scientists from Sweden report in Nature Communications journal that, thanks to atmospheric pollution driven by global agriculture and industrialisation, the terpene particles from the forests are getting smaller in diameter – some smaller than a wavelength of optical light.

That means that the same particles are now less effective at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Ammonia and sulphur dioxide discharged by humankind have changed the chemistry of the forests: there are now more aerosols, but their diameter is dwindling.

Study leader Pontus Rodin, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, says: “The heavily-oxidized organic molecules have a cooling effect on the climate. With a warmer climate, it is expected that forests will release more terpenes, and thus create more cooling organic aerosols.

“However, the extent of that effect also depends on the emission volumes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia in the future. It’s very clear, though, that this increase in organic aerosols cannot by any means compensate for the warming of the climate caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Weather station data

And while European scientists examined the detail of loss, scientists in the US looked at 100 years of weather station data from the forests of the US and Canada.

They report in Ecological Applications journal that they found a significant decline in the number of “frost days” when the temperature dropped below freezing, and “ice days” in which the thermometer stayed below freezing.

Snow and ice sustain ecosystems by preventing disease spread and reducing beetle and aphid numbers. Deep snow insulates tree roots, provides wildlife habitat, and promotes soil nutrient recycling.

“Winter conditions are changing more rapidly than any other season, and it could have serious implications,” says Alexandra Contosta, assistant professor in the Earth Systems Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.

“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a big difference, whether you are talking about a forest stream, a snowshoe hare, or even a skier.” –Climate News Network

India builds homes to resist climate-linked floods

floods

Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can withstand the impact of recurring floods.

Chennai, October 18, 2019 – The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

In two years, one-sixth of the state’s 35 million population was affected by the floods, and 1.4 million of those had to abandon their homes. Many flimsy houses were destroyed and are being rebuilt from scratch.

Realising that floods are going to be an increasingly regular occurrence in the future as climate change continues to make the weather more extreme, the state’s plan is to design and build homes that can withstand the floods. And, according to pioneering architects, they should be built of local materials such as bamboo, lime and mud.

Severe rains

These new houses will be sited, where possible, in places that will avoid inundation, but even if they are flooded in severe rains they are designed to survive the impact of the water.

The Kerala government has announced it has signed a loan agreement with the World Bank for $250 million to enhance resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is spreading awareness of the need to construct flood-resistant houses.

Award-winning architect Gopalan Shankar is one of those building a variety of innovative new homes from traditional local materials that will withstand the floods.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century. We construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters”

He says his aim is to help the fishermen, slum dwellers and the marginalised and tribal people who suffer most from the floods a mission that has already earned him the nickname “the people’s architect”.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century,” he says. “Our organisation is involved in constructing climate-resistant shelters, residential colonies and individual houses. People can pay through the nose for a house, but we construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters.

“Interlocking mud bricks, pillars made out of treated bamboo, mud and concrete are used. For plastering, we have used coconut shells, treated bamboo and mud tiles. Bamboo is a significant replacement for steel and would match its strength.’’

Shankar started his not-for-profit business, the Habitat Technology Group, in Kerala in 1987 as a one-man band.

It took him six months to get his first commission, but he now works with 400 architects, engineers and social workers, and has 34 regional offices and 35,000 trained workers across India.

In Kerala, he has just completed construction of 250 climate-resilient homes for flood victims.

Prone to floods

“Cost-effective buildings are the need in areas prone to floods,” he says. “Construction starts with good planning and choosing the place where the house would be constructed.

“In flood-prone areas, when there is necessity to reside there, we build the house with locally-available material that would be efficient. Damage from floods would not affect the resident, physically and financially, in a big way.’

The government has a scheme giving people a subsidy to repair their homes after a flood, but encourages them to build in ways that make the homes more able to withstand future impacts.

Sandhini Gopakumar is among many house-owners who, under this scheme, are repairing and rebuilding their homes as climate-resilient structures.

He had not fully recovered from the 2018 floods before the next one came. “Even before we could cope with the damage, flood waters occupied our house next year also,” he says. “We were worried about investing in the house. As of now, we have raised the frontage of our house to avoid floodwaters next year.”

He consulted experts to help make the house strong enough to resist floodwaters in the future, so saving money on future repairs if it happens again. Now, he says, his house would withstand the onslaught even if they suffered floods and disasters every year. – Climate News Network

Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can withstand the impact of recurring floods.

Chennai, October 18, 2019 – The southern India state of Kerala, having lost almost a million homes in two disastrous floods in 2018 and 2019, is trying to adapt to climate change by building homes for the poor that are flood-resistant.

In two years, one-sixth of the state’s 35 million population was affected by the floods, and 1.4 million of those had to abandon their homes. Many flimsy houses were destroyed and are being rebuilt from scratch.

Realising that floods are going to be an increasingly regular occurrence in the future as climate change continues to make the weather more extreme, the state’s plan is to design and build homes that can withstand the floods. And, according to pioneering architects, they should be built of local materials such as bamboo, lime and mud.

Severe rains

These new houses will be sited, where possible, in places that will avoid inundation, but even if they are flooded in severe rains they are designed to survive the impact of the water.

The Kerala government has announced it has signed a loan agreement with the World Bank for $250 million to enhance resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority is spreading awareness of the need to construct flood-resistant houses.

Award-winning architect Gopalan Shankar is one of those building a variety of innovative new homes from traditional local materials that will withstand the floods.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century. We construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters”

He says his aim is to help the fishermen, slum dwellers and the marginalised and tribal people who suffer most from the floods a mission that has already earned him the nickname “the people’s architect”.

“We have to live amidst natural calamities in this century,” he says. “Our organisation is involved in constructing climate-resistant shelters, residential colonies and individual houses. People can pay through the nose for a house, but we construct homes as low-cost efficient structures to escape from damage during disasters.

“Interlocking mud bricks, pillars made out of treated bamboo, mud and concrete are used. For plastering, we have used coconut shells, treated bamboo and mud tiles. Bamboo is a significant replacement for steel and would match its strength.’’

Shankar started his not-for-profit business, the Habitat Technology Group, in Kerala in 1987 as a one-man band.

It took him six months to get his first commission, but he now works with 400 architects, engineers and social workers, and has 34 regional offices and 35,000 trained workers across India.

In Kerala, he has just completed construction of 250 climate-resilient homes for flood victims.

Prone to floods

“Cost-effective buildings are the need in areas prone to floods,” he says. “Construction starts with good planning and choosing the place where the house would be constructed.

“In flood-prone areas, when there is necessity to reside there, we build the house with locally-available material that would be efficient. Damage from floods would not affect the resident, physically and financially, in a big way.’

The government has a scheme giving people a subsidy to repair their homes after a flood, but encourages them to build in ways that make the homes more able to withstand future impacts.

Sandhini Gopakumar is among many house-owners who, under this scheme, are repairing and rebuilding their homes as climate-resilient structures.

He had not fully recovered from the 2018 floods before the next one came. “Even before we could cope with the damage, flood waters occupied our house next year also,” he says. “We were worried about investing in the house. As of now, we have raised the frontage of our house to avoid floodwaters next year.”

He consulted experts to help make the house strong enough to resist floodwaters in the future, so saving money on future repairs if it happens again. Now, he says, his house would withstand the onslaught even if they suffered floods and disasters every year. – Climate News Network

Cocaine traffickers fuel climate change

cocaine

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Penguins in peril as winds change and heat rises

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

Rebellion grows against climate emergency

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Drought may hit half world’s wheat at once

Wheat yields could be hit by severe drought across half the world at once, driving up prices and making problems for global markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2019 − The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write. − Climate News Network

Wheat yields could be hit by severe drought across half the world at once, driving up prices and making problems for global markets.

LONDON, 2 October, 2019 − The planet’s daily bread could be at risk as the global thermometer creeps up and climates begin to change. New research has warned that almost two thirds of the world’s wheat-growing areas could face “severe, prolonged, and near-simultaneous droughts” by the century’s end.

Right now, 15% of the world’s wheat producing regions are at risk of severe water scarcity at the same time. Even if the 195 nations that agreed in Paris to stop global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5°C by 2100 keep that promise, the chance of simultaneous water stress across continents would still double between 2030 and 2070.

But if nations fail to mitigate the climate change and extremes of heat and rainfall that would inevitably follow runaway global heating, then the chances of devastating failure of wheat harvests in both Europe and North America, or both Europe and Australia, or Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, begin to soar.

Wheat provides one-fifth of all the calories for humankind. It is the world’s largest rain-fed crop and the global wheat trade matches the traffic in rice and in maize combined. Ten regions account for 54% of the planet’s wheat fields, and 57% of the world’s wheat.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate”

Scientists from Europe, the US and China report in the journal Science Advances that they worked with computer simulations to model the future global weather for water scarcity with changes in temperature for the next eight decades.

Wheat is a successful crop partly because its water needs are relatively low, but it can’t flourish without reliable rainfall before and during growth. And the new simulations confirm earlier fears: that extremes of heat and devastating drought could happen in more than one continent at the same time.

When this happened in the 19th century, global famine followed. Forecasts already warn that with each 1°C rise in temperature, global wheat yield will fall by between 4% and 6.5%. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat can slash yields and limit the vital nutrients in cereal harvests. Other teams have found that climate change may already be making this happen.

Worse could follow as one heat wave is pursued promptly by another. And all this could happen in a world in which, as population grows, demand for wheat could increase by at least 43%.

Continued checking

Scientists tend not to take the research of others for granted: they keep on checking. The latest simulation analysed 27 different climate models, each with three different scenarios.

The scientists looked at evidence from the near-past to find that between 1985 and 2007, the impact of drought on world wheat production was twice that between 1964 and 1984.

They included developing countries and low-income nations in eastern and southern Asia in their survey, because these are where half of the already hungry and under-nourished live, and where bread is an important part of people’s diet.

“The results indicate a severely heightened risk of high-impact extreme events under the future climate, which would likely affect all market players, ranging from direct influences on subsistence farmers to price-mediated changes in international markets”, they write. − Climate News Network

US bird numbers drop by nearly 3bn in 48 years

In the last five decades US bird numbers have plummeted by 29%. As populations dwindle, so do the chances of species survival.

LONDON, 22 September, 2019 − America’s birds have taken wing. Ornithologists calculate that in the past 48 years, total US bird numbers, reckoned together with Canada’s, have fallen drastically. There are now 2.9 billion birds fewer haunting North America’s marshes, forests, prairies, deserts and snows than there were in 1970. That is, more than one in four has flown away, perhaps forever.

Birds are one of the better observed species. Enthusiastic amateurs and trained professionals have been carefully keeping note of bird numbers and behaviour for a century or more.

A flock of avian scientists reports in the journal Science that they looked at numbers for 529 species of bird in the continental US and Canada to find that while around 100 native species had shown a small increase, a total of 419 native migratory species had experienced dramatic losses.

Shorebirds are experiencing consistent and steep population losses. Sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches are down in numbers.

Swallows, swifts, nightjars and other insectivores are in decline, almost certainly because insect populations are also in trouble.

“People all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

Grassland birds are down 53%: more than 720 million fewer. Radar records of spring migrations suggest that these have dropped by 14% just in the last decade. More than a billion birds have deserted the American forests.

The 529 species studied were spread across 67 bird families, and of these 37 were less abundant than they had been. Where there had been concerted efforts at bird conservation, numbers were on the increase, especially for waterfowl and some of the raptors, such as the bald eagle, but while the gains are measured in millions, the losses are counted in billions.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenburg of Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, who led the study.

“We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

That America’s birds are in trouble is not news. Nor is the loss of the planet’s living things confined to the US: researchers have warned that, worldwide, a million or more species of plant and animal face extinction.

Pest control

Climate change creates unexpected hazards: as northern hemisphere springs get ever earlier, migrant birds may arrive too late to take full advantage of supplies of  caterpillars, aphids or other foods. Birds have an important role in ecosystems: they control pests, they disperse seeds and they are themselves food for other predators.

The researchers argue that all is not lost: conservation action and legislation has been shown to work, but as ever more natural habitat is destroyed, as sea levels rise to damage coastal wetlands, as global temperature rises begin to change local climates, there needs to be much more urgency in response.

“These data are consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said Peter Marra, one of the authors, once of the Smithsonian Museum and now at Georgetown University in the US.

“It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effect can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods – and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?” − Climate News Network

In the last five decades US bird numbers have plummeted by 29%. As populations dwindle, so do the chances of species survival.

LONDON, 22 September, 2019 − America’s birds have taken wing. Ornithologists calculate that in the past 48 years, total US bird numbers, reckoned together with Canada’s, have fallen drastically. There are now 2.9 billion birds fewer haunting North America’s marshes, forests, prairies, deserts and snows than there were in 1970. That is, more than one in four has flown away, perhaps forever.

Birds are one of the better observed species. Enthusiastic amateurs and trained professionals have been carefully keeping note of bird numbers and behaviour for a century or more.

A flock of avian scientists reports in the journal Science that they looked at numbers for 529 species of bird in the continental US and Canada to find that while around 100 native species had shown a small increase, a total of 419 native migratory species had experienced dramatic losses.

Shorebirds are experiencing consistent and steep population losses. Sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches are down in numbers.

Swallows, swifts, nightjars and other insectivores are in decline, almost certainly because insect populations are also in trouble.

“People all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

Grassland birds are down 53%: more than 720 million fewer. Radar records of spring migrations suggest that these have dropped by 14% just in the last decade. More than a billion birds have deserted the American forests.

The 529 species studied were spread across 67 bird families, and of these 37 were less abundant than they had been. Where there had been concerted efforts at bird conservation, numbers were on the increase, especially for waterfowl and some of the raptors, such as the bald eagle, but while the gains are measured in millions, the losses are counted in billions.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenburg of Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, who led the study.

“We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

That America’s birds are in trouble is not news. Nor is the loss of the planet’s living things confined to the US: researchers have warned that, worldwide, a million or more species of plant and animal face extinction.

Pest control

Climate change creates unexpected hazards: as northern hemisphere springs get ever earlier, migrant birds may arrive too late to take full advantage of supplies of  caterpillars, aphids or other foods. Birds have an important role in ecosystems: they control pests, they disperse seeds and they are themselves food for other predators.

The researchers argue that all is not lost: conservation action and legislation has been shown to work, but as ever more natural habitat is destroyed, as sea levels rise to damage coastal wetlands, as global temperature rises begin to change local climates, there needs to be much more urgency in response.

“These data are consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said Peter Marra, one of the authors, once of the Smithsonian Museum and now at Georgetown University in the US.

“It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effect can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods – and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?” − Climate News Network