Category Archives: Nature

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

Mountains rich in species still puzzle science

Life on Earth is ultimately a mystery. Even more of a riddle is why there are so many mountains rich in species.

LONDON, 16 September, 2019 − Danish ecologists have begun to wrestle with one of life’s great unsolved puzzles: why does the world have so many ranges of mountains rich in species?

This is not just a question for the intellectual high ground. As many as a million species of amphibian, fish, bird, reptile, mammal, insect or plant could be threatened by climate change and the destruction of forest habitat by human action this century.

But forests – if conserved and protected – could play a vital role in mitigating climate change, and researchers have repeatedly found that undisturbed forests hold the greatest levels of biodiversity, and conversely that biodiversity is important to the stability of the great forests.

But when biologists look more closely at the challenge of explaining biodiversity, they are confronted by something unexpected. The richest landscapes on the planet are the tropical and subtropical mountain chains. And the richest of all are the northern Andean chain.

This stretch of soaring peaks and woodland valleys is the most species-rich of all, with 45,000 kinds of flowering plant, 44% of which are found only in that region.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life”

There are huge concentrations of living things in the highlands of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan, the East African Highlands and the mountains of New Guinea. These contours of ridge and valley occupy only 25% of the inhabited continents, but they are home to 85% of amphibians, birds and mammals.

And of this population of vertebrates, more than half are found only in mountain ranges. To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt, scientists have dubbed this question “the Humboldt enigma”.

In 1799 Humboldt began a five-year voyage of discovery through Latin America, and made history by mapping the way vegetation changed with altitude on Mt Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“The challenge is that, although it is evident that much of the global variation in biodiversity is so clearly driven by the extraordinary richness of tropical mountain regions, it is this very richness that current biodiversity models, based on contemporary climate, cannot explain,” said Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, who led the research, published in the journal Science.

“Mountains are simply too rich in species, and we are falling short of explaining global hotspots of biodiversity.”

Search for principles

Professor Rahbek was one of a team that, five years ago, measured changes of colour in butterflies and dragonflies that could be linked to changes in European temperatures in a world of global heating.

That is, evolution seemed to be responding to environmental change. Scientists call this sort of research macroecology: the search for the principles behind change, rather than the details of change.

There could hardly be a bigger macroecological question than one that concerns the location of the richest concentrations of life’s variety. Climatic variation – including the shifts in temperature with altitude – is clearly a factor.

Geology – because mountains are where bedrock tends to be most exposed – emerges as another factor in the two papers in Science.

Open question

Professor Rahbek describes the studies as testament to the pioneering science of Humboldt more than two centuries ago. The Humboldt enigma, for the moment, remains an open question.

Conservation scientists know that climate change and habitat destruction driven by human behaviour threatens the bewildering richness of life on Earth. But they still don’t know quite why life on Earth is so bewilderingly rich, and especially why it is so rich in relatively confined hotspots.

“The global pattern of biodiversity shows that mountain biodiversity exhibits a visible signature of past evolutionary processes,” Professor Rahbek said.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life, as well as being cradles where new species have arisen at a much higher rate than in lowland areas, even in areas as amazingly biodiverse as the Amazonian rainforest.” − Climate News Network

Life on Earth is ultimately a mystery. Even more of a riddle is why there are so many mountains rich in species.

LONDON, 16 September, 2019 − Danish ecologists have begun to wrestle with one of life’s great unsolved puzzles: why does the world have so many ranges of mountains rich in species?

This is not just a question for the intellectual high ground. As many as a million species of amphibian, fish, bird, reptile, mammal, insect or plant could be threatened by climate change and the destruction of forest habitat by human action this century.

But forests – if conserved and protected – could play a vital role in mitigating climate change, and researchers have repeatedly found that undisturbed forests hold the greatest levels of biodiversity, and conversely that biodiversity is important to the stability of the great forests.

But when biologists look more closely at the challenge of explaining biodiversity, they are confronted by something unexpected. The richest landscapes on the planet are the tropical and subtropical mountain chains. And the richest of all are the northern Andean chain.

This stretch of soaring peaks and woodland valleys is the most species-rich of all, with 45,000 kinds of flowering plant, 44% of which are found only in that region.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life”

There are huge concentrations of living things in the highlands of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan, the East African Highlands and the mountains of New Guinea. These contours of ridge and valley occupy only 25% of the inhabited continents, but they are home to 85% of amphibians, birds and mammals.

And of this population of vertebrates, more than half are found only in mountain ranges. To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt, scientists have dubbed this question “the Humboldt enigma”.

In 1799 Humboldt began a five-year voyage of discovery through Latin America, and made history by mapping the way vegetation changed with altitude on Mt Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“The challenge is that, although it is evident that much of the global variation in biodiversity is so clearly driven by the extraordinary richness of tropical mountain regions, it is this very richness that current biodiversity models, based on contemporary climate, cannot explain,” said Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, who led the research, published in the journal Science.

“Mountains are simply too rich in species, and we are falling short of explaining global hotspots of biodiversity.”

Search for principles

Professor Rahbek was one of a team that, five years ago, measured changes of colour in butterflies and dragonflies that could be linked to changes in European temperatures in a world of global heating.

That is, evolution seemed to be responding to environmental change. Scientists call this sort of research macroecology: the search for the principles behind change, rather than the details of change.

There could hardly be a bigger macroecological question than one that concerns the location of the richest concentrations of life’s variety. Climatic variation – including the shifts in temperature with altitude – is clearly a factor.

Geology – because mountains are where bedrock tends to be most exposed – emerges as another factor in the two papers in Science.

Open question

Professor Rahbek describes the studies as testament to the pioneering science of Humboldt more than two centuries ago. The Humboldt enigma, for the moment, remains an open question.

Conservation scientists know that climate change and habitat destruction driven by human behaviour threatens the bewildering richness of life on Earth. But they still don’t know quite why life on Earth is so bewilderingly rich, and especially why it is so rich in relatively confined hotspots.

“The global pattern of biodiversity shows that mountain biodiversity exhibits a visible signature of past evolutionary processes,” Professor Rahbek said.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life, as well as being cradles where new species have arisen at a much higher rate than in lowland areas, even in areas as amazingly biodiverse as the Amazonian rainforest.” − Climate News Network

Moderate forest damage raises local temperature

Trees cool the world. They also cool themselves. Even moderate forest damage makes local temperatures soar.

LONDON, 13 September, 2019 − Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is bad news for the planet. It isn’t good news for the people, plants and animals of the region either. And even moderate forest damage raises local temperatures faster than it can affect the average global temperature.

British researchers used comprehensive and systematic sets of satellite data to test the local temperatures of both surviving tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, and of the surfaces cleared of canopy by fire, axe, drought and grazing.

They report that even if two-thirds of the tree cover survived, the local ground temperature increased. The more canopy that was lost, the more pronounced the effect.

Local thermometer readings went up by almost half a degree in the first 13 years of this century, compared with the original undisturbed forest. And in the dry season, over the areas most affected by severe deforestation, the average temperatures soared by 1.5°C compared with intact forest.

This figure of 1.5°C has almost iconic status. It represents what 195 nations in Paris in 2015 agreed should be the limit of global average warming by the end of the century.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems. But intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate”

Forests – and in particular the tropical rainforests – are part of the global strategy to constrain global heating driven by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, themselves the product of fossil fuel use and the destruction of grasslands and forests.

In a process called evapotranspiration, great tracts of canopy draw cascades of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, to lower local temperatures and at the same time absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But rainforests such as the Amazon are also at risk, directly from human assault and less directly from global heating as higher temperatures increase the hazard of longer droughts, which in turn intensifies the loss of canopy.

And political change in Brazil now means that the planet’s “green lungs” are more at risk than ever, as fires blaze over the region.

Jessica Baker from the University of Leeds and her co-author report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that almost one million square kilometres – an area the size of Egypt – of the Amazon has already been cleared: this is nearly a fifth of the original forest.

Damage increases heat

The researchers combed through local studies, satellite observations made by day and night, and other research to grade the forest as intact or no longer intact, and then as moderately or severely affected, and then started comparing averaged data from the three years 2001-2003 with that of 2011-2013.

They found that even if 70% of the canopy survived, the damaged forest was significantly warmer than the nearest intact forest. Towards the end of the dry season of August and September, heavily disturbed forest regions warmed by as much as 1.5°C compared to intact canopy.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” Dr Baker said. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate.”

And her co-author Dominick Spracklen said: “Evapotranspiration can be thought of as the forest ‘sweating’; when the moisture emitted by the forests evaporates it cools the local climate. Deforestation reduces evapotranspiration, taking away this cooling function and causing local temperatures to rise.

“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning.” − Climate News Network

Trees cool the world. They also cool themselves. Even moderate forest damage makes local temperatures soar.

LONDON, 13 September, 2019 − Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is bad news for the planet. It isn’t good news for the people, plants and animals of the region either. And even moderate forest damage raises local temperatures faster than it can affect the average global temperature.

British researchers used comprehensive and systematic sets of satellite data to test the local temperatures of both surviving tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, and of the surfaces cleared of canopy by fire, axe, drought and grazing.

They report that even if two-thirds of the tree cover survived, the local ground temperature increased. The more canopy that was lost, the more pronounced the effect.

Local thermometer readings went up by almost half a degree in the first 13 years of this century, compared with the original undisturbed forest. And in the dry season, over the areas most affected by severe deforestation, the average temperatures soared by 1.5°C compared with intact forest.

This figure of 1.5°C has almost iconic status. It represents what 195 nations in Paris in 2015 agreed should be the limit of global average warming by the end of the century.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems. But intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate”

Forests – and in particular the tropical rainforests – are part of the global strategy to constrain global heating driven by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, themselves the product of fossil fuel use and the destruction of grasslands and forests.

In a process called evapotranspiration, great tracts of canopy draw cascades of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, to lower local temperatures and at the same time absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But rainforests such as the Amazon are also at risk, directly from human assault and less directly from global heating as higher temperatures increase the hazard of longer droughts, which in turn intensifies the loss of canopy.

And political change in Brazil now means that the planet’s “green lungs” are more at risk than ever, as fires blaze over the region.

Jessica Baker from the University of Leeds and her co-author report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that almost one million square kilometres – an area the size of Egypt – of the Amazon has already been cleared: this is nearly a fifth of the original forest.

Damage increases heat

The researchers combed through local studies, satellite observations made by day and night, and other research to grade the forest as intact or no longer intact, and then as moderately or severely affected, and then started comparing averaged data from the three years 2001-2003 with that of 2011-2013.

They found that even if 70% of the canopy survived, the damaged forest was significantly warmer than the nearest intact forest. Towards the end of the dry season of August and September, heavily disturbed forest regions warmed by as much as 1.5°C compared to intact canopy.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” Dr Baker said. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate.”

And her co-author Dominick Spracklen said: “Evapotranspiration can be thought of as the forest ‘sweating’; when the moisture emitted by the forests evaporates it cools the local climate. Deforestation reduces evapotranspiration, taking away this cooling function and causing local temperatures to rise.

“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning.” − Climate News Network

Sand and dust storms pose global threat

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

French wines show hot dry years are now normal

Records have begun to topple for the world’s finest tipple. French wines can now count 664 years of vintage information in the east of the country.

LONDON, 6 September, 2019 − French wines tell a remarkable story: climate scientists and historians, with a new wine list to savour, have carefully reconstructed the harvest dates for Burgundy – one of the most important wine regions of France – to highlight the dramatic change in global climate.

Grapes in Burgundy are now picked 13 days earlier than the average for the last 664 years. And the advance in harvest dates has been dramatic: almost all since 1988.

The finding is based on painstaking study of data going back to 1354. From medieval times Burgundian growers and civic authorities had an unusual communal arrangement: they each year collectively considered the growing conditions and imposed a date before which no grapes might be picked.

And scientists from France, Germany and Switzerland report in the journal Climate of the Past that they worked through all surviving records to provide an accurate record of the harvest date around the city of Beaune.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present”

Since grapes are highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall, and the quality and reputation of Burgundy has been well-established for centuries, the researchers are confident that the data confirm a dramatic warming trend.

Even in a much cooler past, exceptionally early harvests were not unknown. The researchers counted 33 altogether, and 21 of these happened between 1393 and 1719, and five between 1720 and 2002. In the 16 years since 2003, there have been eight outstandingly warm spring-summer seasons, and five of those have happened in the last eight years.

“In sum, the 664-year-long Beaune grape harvest date series demonstrates that outstanding hot and dry years in the past were outliers, while they have become the norm since transition to rapid warming in 1988,” they write.

Historical reconstructions are not easy: data had been assembled before, but these records turned out to be riddled with copying, typing and printing errors. There were administrative changes (after 1906, city authorities in the Burgundian capital of Dijon ceased to set or record a harvest date).

Narrative verified

There were accounts kept by the dukes of Burgundy, and records of payments for grapevine labourers maintained by church authorities in Beaune, evidence of purchases of food for the harvesters, and records of sales to the King of France.

But those six centuries were also marked by the Little Ice Age, the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant states from 1618 to 1648, several epidemics of plague, and the arrival of the vineyard-destroying infection phylloxera.

So the researchers had to verify their proxy history of regional climate from tree-ring data, and from vineyard records kept in Switzerland, as well as temperature records from Paris.

The wine industry is vulnerable to climate change: researchers noted three years ago that harvests in Burgundy and in Vaud in Switzerland were up to two weeks earlier and that climate change had begun to warm southern England’s chalky soils to the a degree that made them yield sparkling wines to match qualities pursued in the Champagne region of France.

Inescapable conclusion

But the same soaring temperatures that for the moment have helped the grower have begun to impose costs on the grape pickers, who become less productive as the mercury rises.

So the confirmation that harvests are earlier is not in itself news. The data from Beaune and Dijon are best seen as another example of painstaking phenological research. Phenology is the science of when insects hatch, trees bud and birds nest, and in the Burgundian series climate scientists now have a continuous record stretching back 664 years. The story told by the series is unequivocal.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly,” said Christian Pfister of the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the authors.

“The exceptional character of the last 30 years becomes apparent to everybody. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present.” − Climate News Network

Records have begun to topple for the world’s finest tipple. French wines can now count 664 years of vintage information in the east of the country.

LONDON, 6 September, 2019 − French wines tell a remarkable story: climate scientists and historians, with a new wine list to savour, have carefully reconstructed the harvest dates for Burgundy – one of the most important wine regions of France – to highlight the dramatic change in global climate.

Grapes in Burgundy are now picked 13 days earlier than the average for the last 664 years. And the advance in harvest dates has been dramatic: almost all since 1988.

The finding is based on painstaking study of data going back to 1354. From medieval times Burgundian growers and civic authorities had an unusual communal arrangement: they each year collectively considered the growing conditions and imposed a date before which no grapes might be picked.

And scientists from France, Germany and Switzerland report in the journal Climate of the Past that they worked through all surviving records to provide an accurate record of the harvest date around the city of Beaune.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present”

Since grapes are highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall, and the quality and reputation of Burgundy has been well-established for centuries, the researchers are confident that the data confirm a dramatic warming trend.

Even in a much cooler past, exceptionally early harvests were not unknown. The researchers counted 33 altogether, and 21 of these happened between 1393 and 1719, and five between 1720 and 2002. In the 16 years since 2003, there have been eight outstandingly warm spring-summer seasons, and five of those have happened in the last eight years.

“In sum, the 664-year-long Beaune grape harvest date series demonstrates that outstanding hot and dry years in the past were outliers, while they have become the norm since transition to rapid warming in 1988,” they write.

Historical reconstructions are not easy: data had been assembled before, but these records turned out to be riddled with copying, typing and printing errors. There were administrative changes (after 1906, city authorities in the Burgundian capital of Dijon ceased to set or record a harvest date).

Narrative verified

There were accounts kept by the dukes of Burgundy, and records of payments for grapevine labourers maintained by church authorities in Beaune, evidence of purchases of food for the harvesters, and records of sales to the King of France.

But those six centuries were also marked by the Little Ice Age, the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant states from 1618 to 1648, several epidemics of plague, and the arrival of the vineyard-destroying infection phylloxera.

So the researchers had to verify their proxy history of regional climate from tree-ring data, and from vineyard records kept in Switzerland, as well as temperature records from Paris.

The wine industry is vulnerable to climate change: researchers noted three years ago that harvests in Burgundy and in Vaud in Switzerland were up to two weeks earlier and that climate change had begun to warm southern England’s chalky soils to the a degree that made them yield sparkling wines to match qualities pursued in the Champagne region of France.

Inescapable conclusion

But the same soaring temperatures that for the moment have helped the grower have begun to impose costs on the grape pickers, who become less productive as the mercury rises.

So the confirmation that harvests are earlier is not in itself news. The data from Beaune and Dijon are best seen as another example of painstaking phenological research. Phenology is the science of when insects hatch, trees bud and birds nest, and in the Burgundian series climate scientists now have a continuous record stretching back 664 years. The story told by the series is unequivocal.

“The transition to a rapid global warming after 1988 stands out very clearly,” said Christian Pfister of the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the authors.

“The exceptional character of the last 30 years becomes apparent to everybody. We hope people start to realistically consider the climate situation in which the planet is at present.” − Climate News Network

Worse US Atlantic floods need planned retreat

Its coasts are at ever-greater risk from rising seas, and US Atlantic floods will soon force people to move. Why not start planning now?

LONDON, 3 September, 2019 − What are now considered once-in-a-hundred-years floods are on the increase in the US. Later this century, they could happen to northern coastal states every year.

And even in the more fortunate cities along the south-east Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico coasts, the once-in-a-century floods will happen a lot more often: somewhere between every 30 years and every year.

In a second study, a team of distinguished scientists argues that the US should face the inevitable and begin to plan for a managed, strategic retreat from its own coasts.

At the heart of both studies is a set of new realities imposed by a rapidly-heating ocean and higher air temperatures worldwide. As the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melt, and as the glaciers of Canada and Alaska retreat, so sea levels have begun to rise inexorably.

But as the oceans increase in average temperature, thanks to an ever-warmer atmosphere driven by greenhouse gases from profligate combustion of fossil fuels, so the oceans have begun to expand: warmer waters are less dense, and thus higher.

“We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature”

And there is a third factor. With warmer seas there will be more frequent and more violent hurricanes and windstorms, more damaging storm surges and yet more torrential rainfall.

Researchers from Princeton University report in the journal Nature Communications that they considered all three factors to create a flood hazard map of the US. Simply because of rising waters, New England states can expect to see what were once rare events almost every year.

“For the Gulf of Mexico, we found the effect of storm surge is compatible with or more significant than the effect of sea level rise for 40% of counties,” said Ning Lin, a Princeton engineer.

“So if we neglect the effects of storm climatology change, we would significantly underestimate the impact of climate change for these regions.”

Growing Atlantic danger

Exercises of this kind are about planning for the worst: were the Princeton research the only such study, city chiefs could afford to relax. But it is not.

For years climate scientists and oceanographers have been warning of ever-greater hazard to Atlantic America. They have warned of ever more torrential rains and the hazards of ever more damaging floods even in disparate cities such as Charleston and Seattle; they have even warned of high tide floods on a daily basis in some cities, and they have proposed that an estimated 13 million Americans could become climate refugees, driven by the advancing seas from their own homes.

All of which is why a trio of researchers argue for the need to accept the inevitable and step back from the sea, and they say so in the journal Science. They argue that the US should start to prepare for retreat by limiting development in the areas most at risk.

“Fighting the ocean is a losing battle,” said A R Siders of Harvard and the University of Delaware. “The only way to win against water is not to fight. We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature.” − Climate News Network

Its coasts are at ever-greater risk from rising seas, and US Atlantic floods will soon force people to move. Why not start planning now?

LONDON, 3 September, 2019 − What are now considered once-in-a-hundred-years floods are on the increase in the US. Later this century, they could happen to northern coastal states every year.

And even in the more fortunate cities along the south-east Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico coasts, the once-in-a-century floods will happen a lot more often: somewhere between every 30 years and every year.

In a second study, a team of distinguished scientists argues that the US should face the inevitable and begin to plan for a managed, strategic retreat from its own coasts.

At the heart of both studies is a set of new realities imposed by a rapidly-heating ocean and higher air temperatures worldwide. As the icecaps of Greenland and Antarctica melt, and as the glaciers of Canada and Alaska retreat, so sea levels have begun to rise inexorably.

But as the oceans increase in average temperature, thanks to an ever-warmer atmosphere driven by greenhouse gases from profligate combustion of fossil fuels, so the oceans have begun to expand: warmer waters are less dense, and thus higher.

“We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature”

And there is a third factor. With warmer seas there will be more frequent and more violent hurricanes and windstorms, more damaging storm surges and yet more torrential rainfall.

Researchers from Princeton University report in the journal Nature Communications that they considered all three factors to create a flood hazard map of the US. Simply because of rising waters, New England states can expect to see what were once rare events almost every year.

“For the Gulf of Mexico, we found the effect of storm surge is compatible with or more significant than the effect of sea level rise for 40% of counties,” said Ning Lin, a Princeton engineer.

“So if we neglect the effects of storm climatology change, we would significantly underestimate the impact of climate change for these regions.”

Growing Atlantic danger

Exercises of this kind are about planning for the worst: were the Princeton research the only such study, city chiefs could afford to relax. But it is not.

For years climate scientists and oceanographers have been warning of ever-greater hazard to Atlantic America. They have warned of ever more torrential rains and the hazards of ever more damaging floods even in disparate cities such as Charleston and Seattle; they have even warned of high tide floods on a daily basis in some cities, and they have proposed that an estimated 13 million Americans could become climate refugees, driven by the advancing seas from their own homes.

All of which is why a trio of researchers argue for the need to accept the inevitable and step back from the sea, and they say so in the journal Science. They argue that the US should start to prepare for retreat by limiting development in the areas most at risk.

“Fighting the ocean is a losing battle,” said A R Siders of Harvard and the University of Delaware. “The only way to win against water is not to fight. We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war. We’re not winning or losing, we’re adjusting to changes in nature.” − Climate News Network

Tree loss brings more warming as world heats

Blazing forests cannot dampen climate change, tree loss will worsen it, and poorly nourished trees will make the next century more challenging.

LONDON, 27 August, 2019 − As global temperatures soar, tree loss will mean the world’s forests may no longer be able to function fully as safe stores for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Forests play a key role in the effort to contain climate change driven by human combustion of fossil fuels. But as the Arctic burns and fires race through the Amazon forest four new studies cast doubt on whether the planetary canopy can keep up.

The boreal forests of the north-west territories of Canada are home to vast tracts of spruce and other conifers: they cover soils so rich in carbon that a square metre could hold 75 kilograms of life’s most vital element.

But in 2014 wildfires made more probable by rising temperatures spread across more than 2.8 million hectares of Canada, turning at least 340,000 ha of the territories from a carbon sink into a source for more planet-heating greenhouse gas.

Limit to benefits

More carbon dioxide should fertilise more abundant growth in those forests not destroyed by fire and drought. But a new study from California and Spain warns that by 2100, the woodland world may reach breaking point. It isn’t clear that forests can go on benefiting from higher levels of carbon dioxide.

And new measurements from the Amazon, which in theory absorbs around a quarter of all human fossil fuel emissions each year, demonstrate why: the region’s soils are deficient in phosphorus. Without this vital element, the trees cannot take full advantage of the extra carbon fertilizer.

A fourth study presents an overall picture of change driven in some way by climate change. Fires, windstorms, insect outbreaks and other large disturbances account for more than a tenth of all tree death worldwide.

That the world’s forests are part of the campaign to mitigate climate change is not in doubt: one study even presents a picture of all waste land covered by new canopy as possibly the solution. There are an estimated three trillion trees on the planet, being destroyed at the rate of 15 billion a year. Losses are happening worldwide but nowhere with more devastating consequences than in the rainy tropics.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet. We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming”

But fire and drought are now more frequent even in the temperate and northern zones. Researchers from the US and Canada visited 200 different stands of scorched and incinerated spruce forest to sample the levels of carbon in the soils. They report in the journal Nature that as fires become more frequent, ever more of the rich legacy of carbon stored over hundreds of thousands of years of green canopy is being returned to the atmosphere.

“In older stands that burn, this carbon is protected by thick organic soils,” said Xanthe Walker, graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and now at Northern Arizona University. “But in younger stands that burn, the soil does not have time to re-accumulate. after the previous fire, making legacy carbon vulnerable to burning. This pattern could shift boreal forests to a new domain of carbon cycling, where they become a carbon source instead of a sink.”

Researchers wonder in the journal Nature Climate Change about the capacity of forests to go on indefinitely absorbing ever more carbon dioxide, given that to do so they will also need ever more nitrogen and phosphorus.

Losses already happening

Scientists from Stanford University in California and the Autonomous University of Barcelona took data from 138 experiments with heightened atmospheric carbon dioxide over cropland, grasslands, shrubs and forests and used computer models to peer into the future.

By the end of the century, this extra greenhouse gas could boost the biomass of foliage by 12% the equivalent of about six years of fossil fuel emissions. But the forests of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia will be crucial.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, which are the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet,” said César Terrer of Stanford University. “We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming.”

Now a study from an international team suggests that some forest capacity is already being lost. They report in Nature Geoscience that they used computer models to check the increasing uptake of carbon in the Amazon, given the finite levels of soil phosphorus, a condition current estimates have not properly taken into account. The news is not encouraging.

Multiple stresses

“In reality the ecosystem is millions of years old, highly weathered and therefore depleted on phosphorus in many parts of the Amazon,” said Jennifer Holm of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And even if there was a healthy supply of nutrients, the stresses linked to rising temperatures – greater extremes of flood, heat, drought and wind – will take their toll. Scientists from Europe and the US studied the satellite data to build up a picture of profit and loss in the wooded world and found that, along with harvesting, such upsets account for 12% of forest loss. And with the loss, the surrender of carbon continues, they suggest in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“This year’s large fires across the Arctic may be just an anomaly, they may be a sign that disturbances in the region are becoming more frequent relative to the historical norm,” said Thomas Pugh of the University of Birmingham in the UK, who led the research.

“If that’s the case, we can expect large amounts of carbon to be released from these forests over the coming century and perhaps wholesale changes in the mix of vegetation that make up the forests.” − Climate News Network

Blazing forests cannot dampen climate change, tree loss will worsen it, and poorly nourished trees will make the next century more challenging.

LONDON, 27 August, 2019 − As global temperatures soar, tree loss will mean the world’s forests may no longer be able to function fully as safe stores for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Forests play a key role in the effort to contain climate change driven by human combustion of fossil fuels. But as the Arctic burns and fires race through the Amazon forest four new studies cast doubt on whether the planetary canopy can keep up.

The boreal forests of the north-west territories of Canada are home to vast tracts of spruce and other conifers: they cover soils so rich in carbon that a square metre could hold 75 kilograms of life’s most vital element.

But in 2014 wildfires made more probable by rising temperatures spread across more than 2.8 million hectares of Canada, turning at least 340,000 ha of the territories from a carbon sink into a source for more planet-heating greenhouse gas.

Limit to benefits

More carbon dioxide should fertilise more abundant growth in those forests not destroyed by fire and drought. But a new study from California and Spain warns that by 2100, the woodland world may reach breaking point. It isn’t clear that forests can go on benefiting from higher levels of carbon dioxide.

And new measurements from the Amazon, which in theory absorbs around a quarter of all human fossil fuel emissions each year, demonstrate why: the region’s soils are deficient in phosphorus. Without this vital element, the trees cannot take full advantage of the extra carbon fertilizer.

A fourth study presents an overall picture of change driven in some way by climate change. Fires, windstorms, insect outbreaks and other large disturbances account for more than a tenth of all tree death worldwide.

That the world’s forests are part of the campaign to mitigate climate change is not in doubt: one study even presents a picture of all waste land covered by new canopy as possibly the solution. There are an estimated three trillion trees on the planet, being destroyed at the rate of 15 billion a year. Losses are happening worldwide but nowhere with more devastating consequences than in the rainy tropics.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet. We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming”

But fire and drought are now more frequent even in the temperate and northern zones. Researchers from the US and Canada visited 200 different stands of scorched and incinerated spruce forest to sample the levels of carbon in the soils. They report in the journal Nature that as fires become more frequent, ever more of the rich legacy of carbon stored over hundreds of thousands of years of green canopy is being returned to the atmosphere.

“In older stands that burn, this carbon is protected by thick organic soils,” said Xanthe Walker, graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and now at Northern Arizona University. “But in younger stands that burn, the soil does not have time to re-accumulate. after the previous fire, making legacy carbon vulnerable to burning. This pattern could shift boreal forests to a new domain of carbon cycling, where they become a carbon source instead of a sink.”

Researchers wonder in the journal Nature Climate Change about the capacity of forests to go on indefinitely absorbing ever more carbon dioxide, given that to do so they will also need ever more nitrogen and phosphorus.

Losses already happening

Scientists from Stanford University in California and the Autonomous University of Barcelona took data from 138 experiments with heightened atmospheric carbon dioxide over cropland, grasslands, shrubs and forests and used computer models to peer into the future.

By the end of the century, this extra greenhouse gas could boost the biomass of foliage by 12% the equivalent of about six years of fossil fuel emissions. But the forests of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia will be crucial.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, which are the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet,” said César Terrer of Stanford University. “We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming.”

Now a study from an international team suggests that some forest capacity is already being lost. They report in Nature Geoscience that they used computer models to check the increasing uptake of carbon in the Amazon, given the finite levels of soil phosphorus, a condition current estimates have not properly taken into account. The news is not encouraging.

Multiple stresses

“In reality the ecosystem is millions of years old, highly weathered and therefore depleted on phosphorus in many parts of the Amazon,” said Jennifer Holm of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And even if there was a healthy supply of nutrients, the stresses linked to rising temperatures – greater extremes of flood, heat, drought and wind – will take their toll. Scientists from Europe and the US studied the satellite data to build up a picture of profit and loss in the wooded world and found that, along with harvesting, such upsets account for 12% of forest loss. And with the loss, the surrender of carbon continues, they suggest in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“This year’s large fires across the Arctic may be just an anomaly, they may be a sign that disturbances in the region are becoming more frequent relative to the historical norm,” said Thomas Pugh of the University of Birmingham in the UK, who led the research.

“If that’s the case, we can expect large amounts of carbon to be released from these forests over the coming century and perhaps wholesale changes in the mix of vegetation that make up the forests.” − Climate News Network

Animals adapt to climate heat, but too slowly

Can animals adapt to climate change? And if so, can species adapt fast enough to ensure survival? Reports so far are not promising.

LONDON, 5 August, 2019 − German scientists have an answer to the great question of species survival: can animals adapt to climate change? The answer, based on close analysis of 10,000 studies, is a simple one. They may be able to adapt, but not fast enough.

The question is a serious one. Earth is home to many millions of species that have evolved – and adapted or gone extinct – with successive dramatic shifts in climate over the last 500 million years.

The rapid heating of the planet in a climate emergency driven by profligate fossil fuel use threatens a measurable shift in climate conditions and is in any case coincident with what looks like the beginning of a mass extinction that could match any recorded in the rocks of the Permian, or other extinctions linked with global climate change.

The difference is that climate is now changing at a rate far faster than any previous episode. So can those animals that cannot migrate to cooler climates adjust to changing conditions?

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence”

A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and more than 60 colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Communications that they examined whether creatures could change either their physiology, size or behaviour to accommodate a rise in temperature accompanied by a change in the timing of the seasons. Biologists call this kind of response “phenotypic change.”

Questions like these are not easily answered. To be sure, the biologists needed reliable local records of temperatures across a number of locations. Then they needed sure information about the timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation and other big events in the lives of their subjects over a number of years.

And then they needed to find case studies where data had been collected over many generations in one population of creatures in one space.

And having found changes in the traits of their selected creatures, the biologists had to work out whether such changes led to higher levels of survival, or more offspring. They found reliable information about 17 species in 13 countries.

Pessimism alert

In the end, most of their data came from studies of birds, among them common and abundant species such as the great tit Parus major, the common magpie Pica pica or the European pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.

The message is that even if bird populations can change with their environmental conditions, they may not be able to do so at the speed necessary to time migrations to coincide with ever-earlier spring flowering, or nesting to match the explosion of insect populations that provide food for nestlings.

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence,” said Alexandre Courtiol of the Leibniz Institute. And the data available apply to species that are known to cope relatively well with changing conditions.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analysed,” said his colleague and co-author Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, a Liebniz ecologist. “We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic.” − Climate News Network

Can animals adapt to climate change? And if so, can species adapt fast enough to ensure survival? Reports so far are not promising.

LONDON, 5 August, 2019 − German scientists have an answer to the great question of species survival: can animals adapt to climate change? The answer, based on close analysis of 10,000 studies, is a simple one. They may be able to adapt, but not fast enough.

The question is a serious one. Earth is home to many millions of species that have evolved – and adapted or gone extinct – with successive dramatic shifts in climate over the last 500 million years.

The rapid heating of the planet in a climate emergency driven by profligate fossil fuel use threatens a measurable shift in climate conditions and is in any case coincident with what looks like the beginning of a mass extinction that could match any recorded in the rocks of the Permian, or other extinctions linked with global climate change.

The difference is that climate is now changing at a rate far faster than any previous episode. So can those animals that cannot migrate to cooler climates adjust to changing conditions?

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence”

A team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and more than 60 colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Communications that they examined whether creatures could change either their physiology, size or behaviour to accommodate a rise in temperature accompanied by a change in the timing of the seasons. Biologists call this kind of response “phenotypic change.”

Questions like these are not easily answered. To be sure, the biologists needed reliable local records of temperatures across a number of locations. Then they needed sure information about the timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation and other big events in the lives of their subjects over a number of years.

And then they needed to find case studies where data had been collected over many generations in one population of creatures in one space.

And having found changes in the traits of their selected creatures, the biologists had to work out whether such changes led to higher levels of survival, or more offspring. They found reliable information about 17 species in 13 countries.

Pessimism alert

In the end, most of their data came from studies of birds, among them common and abundant species such as the great tit Parus major, the common magpie Pica pica or the European pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.

The message is that even if bird populations can change with their environmental conditions, they may not be able to do so at the speed necessary to time migrations to coincide with ever-earlier spring flowering, or nesting to match the explosion of insect populations that provide food for nestlings.

“Even populations undergoing adaptive change do so at a pace that does not guarantee their persistence,” said Alexandre Courtiol of the Leibniz Institute. And the data available apply to species that are known to cope relatively well with changing conditions.

“Adaptive responses among rare or endangered species remain to be analysed,” said his colleague and co-author Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, a Liebniz ecologist. “We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic.” − Climate News Network

Under-nutrition will grow in warmer world

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Tomorrow’s world will not just be hungrier: it will increasingly face under-nutrition. More carbon dioxide means harvests with lower protein, iron and zinc.

LONDON, 1 August, 2019 − Climate change driven by ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do more than just limit harvests. It will increase under-nutrition, making the planet’s staple foods less nourishing.

Put simply, the higher the use of fossil fuels, the greater the growth in the numbers of anaemic mothers, malnourished babies and stunted children, and the higher the count of overall deaths from malnutrition.

More than 2 million children of five years or less die each year from conditions associated with protein deficiency. Zinc deficiency is linked to 100,000 deaths a year, and iron levels to 200,000 deaths a year among young children.

And things will get worse. Over the next three decades, according to a new study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, the combination of shocks from a hotter, stormier, more extreme world and ever-higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will combine to make plant proteins, zinc and iron less available.

By 2050, levels of protein available per head could fall by 19.5% and of iron and zinc by 14.4% and 14.6% respectively. That is a fall of – for all three vital elements of survival – almost one fifth.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide”

Researchers warn that even though agricultural techniques have improved, even though markets are better at distributing food surpluses, and even though the extra carbon dioxide will act to add fertility to crops if atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise, dietary protein, iron and zinc will all fall by significant percentages in the harvests of 2050.

This will hold true for many of the world’s most important staples, among them wheat, rice, maize, barley, potatoes, soybeans and vegetables.

And many nations that already experience higher levels of malnutrition – in South Asia, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the former Soviet Union − will continue to be disproportionately affected.

“We’ve made a lot of progress reducing under-nutrition around the world recently but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increasing production of foods that provide sufficient nutrients,” said Timothy Sulser of the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the researchers.

Plant-based diet

“These findings suggest that climate change could slow progress on improvements in global nutrition by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”

The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished medical journals: it has at least twice comprehensively addressed aspects of climate change. At the start of this year it found that with a plant-based diet, it would be in theory possible to feed, and properly nourish, the 10 billion population expected later this century.

Late last year it also warned that, just in this century alone, extremes of temperature had threatened the health and economic growth of an additional 157 million people.

The latest study is a confirmation of earlier findings: other scientists have already warned that protein levels and micronutrient properties will be diminished in a greenhouse world.

Separate research has found that both the rice and wheat harvests of tomorrow could have less food value.

Famine threat

A third study has found that global fruit and vegetable production is already not enough to sustain a healthy population. And researchers have repeatedly warned that ever more-intense and frequent natural shocks that accompany global heating – floods, heat waves, drought, windstorm and so on – threaten food harvests worldwide and could even precipitate the kind of global famines last seen in the 19th century.

The researchers limited their horizon to 2050: they warn that, on present trends, problems with food nutrition levels are only likely to get worse in the decades beyond.

They also point out that the availability of nutrients is only part of the problem: the poorest also need access to clean water, sanitation and education to take advantage of any improved diet.

“Diet and human health are incredibly complex and difficult to predict, and by reducing the availability of critical nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to eliminate undernutrition worldwide,” Professor Sulser said. − Climate News Network

Elephants’ diets help forests to thrive

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network