Category Archives: Nature

More carbon dioxide will dry world’s rainforests

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

Climate heat is changing Earth’s water cycle

Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier farmlands.

LONDON, 29 June, 2021 − Prepare for a hotter, drier world, even in monsoon country. As global temperatures rise, in response to greenhouse gas emissions, the northern hemisphere rainy seasons are likely to arrive ever later as Earth’s water cycle reacts.

And even though more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more fertility and more moisture in the atmosphere, in the last 30 years the world’s green canopy has become more and more water-stressed, according to an entirely separate study.

US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that humankind has, in effect, begun to alter the planetary hydrological cycle. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and falling emissions of aerosols from car exhausts and factory chimneys have together combined to affect the tropical rainy season.

The Asian monsoons are arriving four days later, along with the rains over the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa. By the century’s end the monsoons could sweep over India five days, and over the Sahel eight days, later.

“For monsoon regions, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations”

A warmer world should be a wetter one: standing water evaporates more swiftly, and with every degree Celsius temperatures rise, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also rises significantly. But, paradoxically, this extra atmospheric moisture is also the problem: ever more energy is needed to warm up the atmosphere as spring becomes summer.

The problem is compounded by cleaner air; industrial pollution had the effect of reflecting sunlight and damping down the global warming trend. As nations enforce clean air legislation − and create conditions for healthier lives − more sunlight gets through, to escalate both warming and rainfall delays. Later rains will mean later crop harvests, more extreme heat waves, and more intense wildfires.

“For monsoon regions, like India, with an agrarian economy, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations, unless farmers recognise and adapt to the long-term changes amidst highly variable monsoon onset dates,” said Ruby Leung, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And in a second study, in the journal Nature Communications, another US research team warns that vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been becoming increasingly (as they put it) “water-limited” over the last 30 years.

Inflexible limits

In what they say is a first-of-its-kind large-scale study, scientists analysed satellite and weather data from 604,800 locations each year over the three decades from 1982 to 2015. They identified a kind of vegetable go-slow overall: those areas where water supplies for plant growth were constrained had expanded, while those places where there was plenty of water tended to shrink.

In recent decades, plants have responded to extra atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing more vigorously to “green” the planet a little more measurably and slow the rate of climate change. This, however, looks as though it cannot last, because ultimately growth is limited by water availability.

“Without water, living things struggle to survive. Changes in vegetation response to water availability can result in significant shifts of climate-carbon interaction,” said Lixin Wang, of the University of Indiana, one of the authors.

“The results emphasise the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions. Without that, water constraints impacting plant growth − and the weakening of vegetation’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere − are unlikely to slow.” − Climate News Network

Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier farmlands.

LONDON, 29 June, 2021 − Prepare for a hotter, drier world, even in monsoon country. As global temperatures rise, in response to greenhouse gas emissions, the northern hemisphere rainy seasons are likely to arrive ever later as Earth’s water cycle reacts.

And even though more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more fertility and more moisture in the atmosphere, in the last 30 years the world’s green canopy has become more and more water-stressed, according to an entirely separate study.

US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that humankind has, in effect, begun to alter the planetary hydrological cycle. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and falling emissions of aerosols from car exhausts and factory chimneys have together combined to affect the tropical rainy season.

The Asian monsoons are arriving four days later, along with the rains over the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa. By the century’s end the monsoons could sweep over India five days, and over the Sahel eight days, later.

“For monsoon regions, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations”

A warmer world should be a wetter one: standing water evaporates more swiftly, and with every degree Celsius temperatures rise, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also rises significantly. But, paradoxically, this extra atmospheric moisture is also the problem: ever more energy is needed to warm up the atmosphere as spring becomes summer.

The problem is compounded by cleaner air; industrial pollution had the effect of reflecting sunlight and damping down the global warming trend. As nations enforce clean air legislation − and create conditions for healthier lives − more sunlight gets through, to escalate both warming and rainfall delays. Later rains will mean later crop harvests, more extreme heat waves, and more intense wildfires.

“For monsoon regions, like India, with an agrarian economy, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations, unless farmers recognise and adapt to the long-term changes amidst highly variable monsoon onset dates,” said Ruby Leung, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And in a second study, in the journal Nature Communications, another US research team warns that vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been becoming increasingly (as they put it) “water-limited” over the last 30 years.

Inflexible limits

In what they say is a first-of-its-kind large-scale study, scientists analysed satellite and weather data from 604,800 locations each year over the three decades from 1982 to 2015. They identified a kind of vegetable go-slow overall: those areas where water supplies for plant growth were constrained had expanded, while those places where there was plenty of water tended to shrink.

In recent decades, plants have responded to extra atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing more vigorously to “green” the planet a little more measurably and slow the rate of climate change. This, however, looks as though it cannot last, because ultimately growth is limited by water availability.

“Without water, living things struggle to survive. Changes in vegetation response to water availability can result in significant shifts of climate-carbon interaction,” said Lixin Wang, of the University of Indiana, one of the authors.

“The results emphasise the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions. Without that, water constraints impacting plant growth − and the weakening of vegetation’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere − are unlikely to slow.” − Climate News Network

Shape-shifting birds in US skies surprise science

The seasons are changing: American avian migrants are now increasingly shape-shifting birds. Their corpses tell an odd story.

LONDON, 25 June, 2021 − America’s migratory birds are setting off for the breeding grounds ever earlier. That’s not the only change. As global temperatures creep ever higher, the birds’ bodies are getting smaller − but their wings are getting longer. And, a little unexpectedly, the changes producing these shape-shifting birds may not be connected, according to new research.

“We know that bird morphology has a major effect on the efficiency and speed of flight, so we became curious whether the environmental pressure to advance spring migration would lead to natural selection for longer wings,” said Marketa Zimova, of the University of Michigan.

“We found that birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising.”

The study, in the Journal of Animal Ecology, is however a lesson for non-scientists and natural historians in the extraordinary value of museum collections, and a bleak reminder that humankind is casually but relentlessly reducing the numbers and variety of the living things that keep planetary ecosystems − and humans − in good health.

Migrants’ problems

The researchers arrived at their conclusion simply by examining the bodies of birds that had flown into the windows of tall buildings and died on the spot. The scale of this is alarming: between 1978 and 2016 the Field Museum in Chicago assembled 70,716 carcasses of migratory birds, all preserved and recorded with the date of death. Chicago, the researchers write, “is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States for building collisions driven by artificial light at night.”

Within this vast haul of accident victims they counted 11 families, 30 genera and 52 species. All but two of the species − a rail and a woodpecker − were passerines, perching songbirds. To make sure their specimens reliably told a tale of migration timing, the scientists selected only those species of which they had 100 or more individuals and, of those, there had to be at least 10 from each decade in the last 40 years.

Global heating has begun to impose change on the natural world: vulnerable species are at risk, and the sheer numbers of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals have fallen dramatically as human numbers and human economies have grown.

Climate change creates special problems for migratory birds because food supplies may not be in step with earlier seasonal shifts, and there has been repeated evidence of change either in bird numbers or bird behaviour as thermometer levels rise. And this is as true for North American birds as for those on any other continent.

“Birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising”

So the mere existence of a huge and growing reservoir of accidentally-killed specimens gave the researchers a chance to examine the links between physical change, higher temperatures and earlier springs in more detail.

On the evidence preserved in the Field Museum the earliest spring migrants are arriving five days earlier than 40 years ago, with the earliest fall migrants heading south 10 days earlier than once they did.

In a warming world, creatures tend to become smaller − because with a bigger surface-to-volume ratio it’s easier to keep cool − but the shift to longer wings is less easy to explain. It’s just possible that with earlier springs, birds flying north don’t need to stop so often.

“And there might be other adjustments that allow birds to migrate faster that we haven’t thought about − maybe some physiological adaptation that might allow faster flight without causing the birds to overheat and lose too much water,” Dr Zimova said. − Climate News Network

The seasons are changing: American avian migrants are now increasingly shape-shifting birds. Their corpses tell an odd story.

LONDON, 25 June, 2021 − America’s migratory birds are setting off for the breeding grounds ever earlier. That’s not the only change. As global temperatures creep ever higher, the birds’ bodies are getting smaller − but their wings are getting longer. And, a little unexpectedly, the changes producing these shape-shifting birds may not be connected, according to new research.

“We know that bird morphology has a major effect on the efficiency and speed of flight, so we became curious whether the environmental pressure to advance spring migration would lead to natural selection for longer wings,” said Marketa Zimova, of the University of Michigan.

“We found that birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising.”

The study, in the Journal of Animal Ecology, is however a lesson for non-scientists and natural historians in the extraordinary value of museum collections, and a bleak reminder that humankind is casually but relentlessly reducing the numbers and variety of the living things that keep planetary ecosystems − and humans − in good health.

Migrants’ problems

The researchers arrived at their conclusion simply by examining the bodies of birds that had flown into the windows of tall buildings and died on the spot. The scale of this is alarming: between 1978 and 2016 the Field Museum in Chicago assembled 70,716 carcasses of migratory birds, all preserved and recorded with the date of death. Chicago, the researchers write, “is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States for building collisions driven by artificial light at night.”

Within this vast haul of accident victims they counted 11 families, 30 genera and 52 species. All but two of the species − a rail and a woodpecker − were passerines, perching songbirds. To make sure their specimens reliably told a tale of migration timing, the scientists selected only those species of which they had 100 or more individuals and, of those, there had to be at least 10 from each decade in the last 40 years.

Global heating has begun to impose change on the natural world: vulnerable species are at risk, and the sheer numbers of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals have fallen dramatically as human numbers and human economies have grown.

Climate change creates special problems for migratory birds because food supplies may not be in step with earlier seasonal shifts, and there has been repeated evidence of change either in bird numbers or bird behaviour as thermometer levels rise. And this is as true for North American birds as for those on any other continent.

“Birds are changing in size and shape independently of changes in their migration timing, which was surprising”

So the mere existence of a huge and growing reservoir of accidentally-killed specimens gave the researchers a chance to examine the links between physical change, higher temperatures and earlier springs in more detail.

On the evidence preserved in the Field Museum the earliest spring migrants are arriving five days earlier than 40 years ago, with the earliest fall migrants heading south 10 days earlier than once they did.

In a warming world, creatures tend to become smaller − because with a bigger surface-to-volume ratio it’s easier to keep cool − but the shift to longer wings is less easy to explain. It’s just possible that with earlier springs, birds flying north don’t need to stop so often.

“And there might be other adjustments that allow birds to migrate faster that we haven’t thought about − maybe some physiological adaptation that might allow faster flight without causing the birds to overheat and lose too much water,” Dr Zimova said. − Climate News Network

Let nature restore itself on its own for best results

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

Solve nature and climate together or not at all

Sink or swim as one, says science. Solve nature and climate together, or neither of the twin crises will be soluble.

LONDON, 11 June, 2021 − Two of the world’s leading scientific institutions have joined forces to arrive at a not very surprising conclusion: solve nature and climate together, or forget them both. If the world does not work to tackle the climate crisis and the extinction threat confronting millions of wild species together, it has little hope of solving either of them separately.

So says a report published by the snappily-titled Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), each respected for their commanding knowledge in their own fields.

The report, the IPBES/IPCC Workshop Report, which marks the first collaboration between the two bodies’ scientists, is not content simply to urge joint action on the intertwined problems threatening the world. It goes on to identify what it says are key options for solving them.

Both biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other, the report says.

While previous policies have largely tackled the twin crises independently of each other, addressing the synergies between the two simultaneously offers hope of maximising benefits and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives”

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions”, said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s scientific steering committee.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said. “The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions.

“Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature − such as moving away from the concept of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The authors also warn that narrowly-focused action to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature, and vice versa, but say there are many ways to benefit both areas.

Their suggestions include:

* Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean and restoring them. The authors say reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to lower human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

End damaging subsidies

* Increasing sustainable agriculture and forestry to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. The report estimates this improved management of cropland and grazing systems could offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3 to 6 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.

* Enhanced and better targeted conservation supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Global estimates of what the world needs range from 30 to 50% of all ocean and land surface areas.

* Eliminating subsidies that support both local and national activities harmful to biodiversity, such as deforestation, excessive fertilisation and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation. It can also help to change individual consumption patterns, reduce loss and waste and shift diets, especially in rich countries, towards more plant-based options.

The report also warns against climate mitigation and adaptation measures which it says can harm biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These measures, it says, include increasing irrigation capacity, a common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought which it says often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long- term soil degradation from salinisation. − Climate News Network

Sink or swim as one, says science. Solve nature and climate together, or neither of the twin crises will be soluble.

LONDON, 11 June, 2021 − Two of the world’s leading scientific institutions have joined forces to arrive at a not very surprising conclusion: solve nature and climate together, or forget them both. If the world does not work to tackle the climate crisis and the extinction threat confronting millions of wild species together, it has little hope of solving either of them separately.

So says a report published by the snappily-titled Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), each respected for their commanding knowledge in their own fields.

The report, the IPBES/IPCC Workshop Report, which marks the first collaboration between the two bodies’ scientists, is not content simply to urge joint action on the intertwined problems threatening the world. It goes on to identify what it says are key options for solving them.

Both biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other, the report says.

While previous policies have largely tackled the twin crises independently of each other, addressing the synergies between the two simultaneously offers hope of maximising benefits and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives”

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions”, said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s scientific steering committee.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said. “The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions.

“Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature − such as moving away from the concept of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The authors also warn that narrowly-focused action to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature, and vice versa, but say there are many ways to benefit both areas.

Their suggestions include:

* Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean and restoring them. The authors say reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to lower human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

End damaging subsidies

* Increasing sustainable agriculture and forestry to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. The report estimates this improved management of cropland and grazing systems could offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3 to 6 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.

* Enhanced and better targeted conservation supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Global estimates of what the world needs range from 30 to 50% of all ocean and land surface areas.

* Eliminating subsidies that support both local and national activities harmful to biodiversity, such as deforestation, excessive fertilisation and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation. It can also help to change individual consumption patterns, reduce loss and waste and shift diets, especially in rich countries, towards more plant-based options.

The report also warns against climate mitigation and adaptation measures which it says can harm biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These measures, it says, include increasing irrigation capacity, a common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought which it says often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long- term soil degradation from salinisation. − Climate News Network

Ecosystem sentinels sound alarm for the oceans

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

Polar cod face new threat from Arctic oil pollution

Already struggling to survive in warming Arctic seas, the polar cod are now at risk from rising oil pollution.

LONDON, 2 June, 2021 – They are small – on average around 25cm long. But polar cod (Boreogadus saida) are a vital part of the Arctic food chain, a major ingredient in the diet of seals, narwhals and a wide variety of seabirds.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet, and a study published in 2020 found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, were causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

The latest research indicates that the polar cod is now under threat not only from warming Arctic seas, but because of oil pollution as well, as the region’s rapidly diminishing ice cover allows more shipping traffic and commercial activity.

Morgan Lizabeth Bender is a researcher in the department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. Her research has found that when the polar cod is exposed to a combination of warmer waters and only very slight levels of oil pollution, its development is interrupted, with abnormalities common.

“Polar cod is a somewhat difficult species that hasn’t been researched that much,” Dr Bender told the Science Norway website. “The fish are a difficult species to find and to take care of in the lab. However, this species has a very important ecological role.”

“Increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure”

The fish, monitored during the breeding process, were sorted into aquariums – some at a current Arctic water temperature of 0.5°C, others at a warmer 2.8°C to mimic an Arctic affected by climate change.

The aquariums contained either pure water or water contaminated by minuscule amounts of crude oil. “The pollution level would be the equivalent of about five drops of oil in an Olympic-size swimming pool,” says Dr Bender.

Though the study found that polar cod eggs in the warmer water hatched much faster than those in the colder water, at first there was little difference between survival rates in the various aquariums.

But then something strange started happening to the fry – the young fish – that were exposed to oil.

“When they first hatched, there wasn’t much difference,” says Dr Bender. “But as their jaw, face and eyes started to develop, we saw very clearly that they weren’t forming properly.”

Lower survival rates

The research found that the fry were very sensitive to even the slightest amount of oil pollution: death rates were highest among fry exposed to both warmer water and oil.

When the fry became large enough to start feeding, only 8% survived in the contaminated warmer water and 23% in the contaminated cold water.

Marine scientists say that polar cod numbers have shown a downward trend since 2010, despite the fact that they are not a fished species.

Sonnich Meier, of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, has been examining the impact of both global warming and oil pollution on Arctic fish species for a number of years.

“Polar cod is one of the fish species that is hardest hit by climate change in the Arctic,” he says. “The study shows that increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure.” – Climate News Network

Already struggling to survive in warming Arctic seas, the polar cod are now at risk from rising oil pollution.

LONDON, 2 June, 2021 – They are small – on average around 25cm long. But polar cod (Boreogadus saida) are a vital part of the Arctic food chain, a major ingredient in the diet of seals, narwhals and a wide variety of seabirds.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet, and a study published in 2020 found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, were causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

The latest research indicates that the polar cod is now under threat not only from warming Arctic seas, but because of oil pollution as well, as the region’s rapidly diminishing ice cover allows more shipping traffic and commercial activity.

Morgan Lizabeth Bender is a researcher in the department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. Her research has found that when the polar cod is exposed to a combination of warmer waters and only very slight levels of oil pollution, its development is interrupted, with abnormalities common.

“Polar cod is a somewhat difficult species that hasn’t been researched that much,” Dr Bender told the Science Norway website. “The fish are a difficult species to find and to take care of in the lab. However, this species has a very important ecological role.”

“Increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure”

The fish, monitored during the breeding process, were sorted into aquariums – some at a current Arctic water temperature of 0.5°C, others at a warmer 2.8°C to mimic an Arctic affected by climate change.

The aquariums contained either pure water or water contaminated by minuscule amounts of crude oil. “The pollution level would be the equivalent of about five drops of oil in an Olympic-size swimming pool,” says Dr Bender.

Though the study found that polar cod eggs in the warmer water hatched much faster than those in the colder water, at first there was little difference between survival rates in the various aquariums.

But then something strange started happening to the fry – the young fish – that were exposed to oil.

“When they first hatched, there wasn’t much difference,” says Dr Bender. “But as their jaw, face and eyes started to develop, we saw very clearly that they weren’t forming properly.”

Lower survival rates

The research found that the fry were very sensitive to even the slightest amount of oil pollution: death rates were highest among fry exposed to both warmer water and oil.

When the fry became large enough to start feeding, only 8% survived in the contaminated warmer water and 23% in the contaminated cold water.

Marine scientists say that polar cod numbers have shown a downward trend since 2010, despite the fact that they are not a fished species.

Sonnich Meier, of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, has been examining the impact of both global warming and oil pollution on Arctic fish species for a number of years.

“Polar cod is one of the fish species that is hardest hit by climate change in the Arctic,” he says. “The study shows that increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure.” – Climate News Network

Fossils show oblivion’s malign impact on nature

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

UK nuclear plants will exact heavy fish toll

Environmental groups are alarmed at the heavy fish toll which two new British nuclear plants will inflict on stocks.

LONDON, 4 May, 2021 − The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” − Climate News Network

Environmental groups are alarmed at the heavy fish toll which two new British nuclear plants will inflict on stocks.

LONDON, 4 May, 2021 − The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” − Climate News Network