Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Cloud forests risk drying out by 2060

For the world’s cloud forests, the future is overcast. Some face fiercer storm and flood: they could even lose their unique clouds.

LONDON, 23 April, 2019 – Planet Earth may be about to lose a whole ecosystem: the cloud forests – those species-rich, high altitude rainforests found mostly in Central and South America – could be all but gone in 40 years.

Researchers warn that within 25 years, global warming driven by ever increasing use of fossil fuels could dry up 60-80% of the misty mountain forests of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, simply by dispersing the clouds that keep them ever moist, and rich with plant, insect and bird life.

And as the habitat alters, that could be it for the Monarch butterflies that migrate in their millions to the mountains of Mexico, the elfin woods warbler found only in Puerto Rico, and the other creatures that make their homes in forests so rich and wet that even the trees are home to yet more green habitat: ferns, lichens, mosses and other epiphytes nourished by year-round water and water vapour.

And the reason? The clouds will have dispersed, or moved uphill, or simply been blown away as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere continue to grow and temperatures creep ever higher, according to new research in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen. I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years”

And if nations go on burning ever greater quantities of coal, oil and natural gas to power economic growth, then the cloud and frost that keep the equatorial cloud forests unique homes to living things will have gone.

Nine-tenths of the cloud forests in the Western Hemisphere will have been lost by 2060, if the calculations funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are correct.

Researchers mapped cloud forest across the Western Hemisphere with data collected over the last 60 years and then used climate simulations to see how the habitat would change with time.

They found that indeed some regions would become even more immersed in cloud: this however would only add up to perhaps 1%. For the most part the clouds would thin, the steady supply of moisture would thin, and the forests would begin to change inexorably.

Trees head uphill

This is not the first research to suggest that ever higher temperatures would affect cloud patterns. Scientists using a different approach reported earlier this year that tropical cloud formation of the kind that damps down equatorial temperatures could be at risk.

Other researchers have used historic data to record the steady uphill march of characteristic trees in the Andean forests in response to average global temperature increases of 1°C in the past century.

And yet another team has warned that the increasingly violent winds that arrived in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria in 2017 would in any case change the make-up of forest species.

Devastating winds that uproot forest giants at all altitudes won’t be the only problem for the climate-hit forests and the region. Hurricane Maria dumped an unprecedented 1.029 mm of rain in a day on Puerto Rico.

Recurrence likely

A second study from the American Geophysical Union has confirmed that the extreme rainfall that accompanied Maria was not only the worst in the last 60 years, but has become much more likely to happen again.

Thanks to global warming, which increased the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture, such floods are now five times more likely, they write in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen,” said David Keellings of the University of Alabama, one of the authors.

“I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years.” – Climate News Network

For the world’s cloud forests, the future is overcast. Some face fiercer storm and flood: they could even lose their unique clouds.

LONDON, 23 April, 2019 – Planet Earth may be about to lose a whole ecosystem: the cloud forests – those species-rich, high altitude rainforests found mostly in Central and South America – could be all but gone in 40 years.

Researchers warn that within 25 years, global warming driven by ever increasing use of fossil fuels could dry up 60-80% of the misty mountain forests of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, simply by dispersing the clouds that keep them ever moist, and rich with plant, insect and bird life.

And as the habitat alters, that could be it for the Monarch butterflies that migrate in their millions to the mountains of Mexico, the elfin woods warbler found only in Puerto Rico, and the other creatures that make their homes in forests so rich and wet that even the trees are home to yet more green habitat: ferns, lichens, mosses and other epiphytes nourished by year-round water and water vapour.

And the reason? The clouds will have dispersed, or moved uphill, or simply been blown away as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere continue to grow and temperatures creep ever higher, according to new research in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen. I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years”

And if nations go on burning ever greater quantities of coal, oil and natural gas to power economic growth, then the cloud and frost that keep the equatorial cloud forests unique homes to living things will have gone.

Nine-tenths of the cloud forests in the Western Hemisphere will have been lost by 2060, if the calculations funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are correct.

Researchers mapped cloud forest across the Western Hemisphere with data collected over the last 60 years and then used climate simulations to see how the habitat would change with time.

They found that indeed some regions would become even more immersed in cloud: this however would only add up to perhaps 1%. For the most part the clouds would thin, the steady supply of moisture would thin, and the forests would begin to change inexorably.

Trees head uphill

This is not the first research to suggest that ever higher temperatures would affect cloud patterns. Scientists using a different approach reported earlier this year that tropical cloud formation of the kind that damps down equatorial temperatures could be at risk.

Other researchers have used historic data to record the steady uphill march of characteristic trees in the Andean forests in response to average global temperature increases of 1°C in the past century.

And yet another team has warned that the increasingly violent winds that arrived in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria in 2017 would in any case change the make-up of forest species.

Devastating winds that uproot forest giants at all altitudes won’t be the only problem for the climate-hit forests and the region. Hurricane Maria dumped an unprecedented 1.029 mm of rain in a day on Puerto Rico.

Recurrence likely

A second study from the American Geophysical Union has confirmed that the extreme rainfall that accompanied Maria was not only the worst in the last 60 years, but has become much more likely to happen again.

Thanks to global warming, which increased the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture, such floods are now five times more likely, they write in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen,” said David Keellings of the University of Alabama, one of the authors.

“I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years.” – Climate News Network

Climate science supports youth protests

The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as over 6,000 scientists express their support.

LONDON, 19 April, 2019 – The global youth protests demanding action on climate change are having a marked effect.

In their thousands, concerned climate scientists, backed by colleagues from other disciplines, are voicing support for the school students and other young people who are staying away from lessons to urge more resolute political action to protect the climate.

The campaign to support the protesters has been launched by an international group of 22 scientists spanning a range of disciplines; several of them are renowned climate specialists.

They include Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, US, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, and Stefan Rahmstorf.

Reasons to protest

Climate News Network asked Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam, Germany, what he would tell a hesitant potential protester in order to allay his doubts.

He replied: “Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies that can still achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Time is running out fast.”

By mid-April the scientists who had signed the declaration numbered almost 6,300. The 22 original signatories  explained why they backed the protests in a letter to the journal Science headed Concerns of young protesters are justified.

Known as Scientists for Future International, they are linked to the website which co-ordinates the protests worldwide, Fridays for Future (the protests are held on Fridays).

Justified concerns

The letter starts with a ringing declaration: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

It includes a clear call to move from protest to action to tackle the multiple environmental threats now confronting the next generation: limiting global warming, halting the mass extinction of other species and safeguarding food supplies.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

In March the estimated worldwide number of protesters was around 1.5 million.

“Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies

In support of its declaration of backing for the protesters, Scientists for Future International says almost every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, agreeing to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

“The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible.

“It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage.

“For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming.”

Time is short

It says many solutions to the climate crisis already exist, and only bold action can avert the critical danger that threatens the protesters’ future. It adds: “There is no time to wait until they are in power.”

The statement ends: “The enormous grassroots mobilisation of the youth climate movement … shows that young people understand the situation. We approve and support their demand for rapid and forceful action. We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state [this] in no uncertain terms.

“Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.” –  Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anyone wanting to add their names to the Scientists for Future International declaration – and who meets its eligibility requirements – will find it here. It is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) and can be freely shared.

The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as over 6,000 scientists express their support.

LONDON, 19 April, 2019 – The global youth protests demanding action on climate change are having a marked effect.

In their thousands, concerned climate scientists, backed by colleagues from other disciplines, are voicing support for the school students and other young people who are staying away from lessons to urge more resolute political action to protect the climate.

The campaign to support the protesters has been launched by an international group of 22 scientists spanning a range of disciplines; several of them are renowned climate specialists.

They include Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, US, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK, and Stefan Rahmstorf.

Reasons to protest

Climate News Network asked Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam, Germany, what he would tell a hesitant potential protester in order to allay his doubts.

He replied: “Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies that can still achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Time is running out fast.”

By mid-April the scientists who had signed the declaration numbered almost 6,300. The 22 original signatories  explained why they backed the protests in a letter to the journal Science headed Concerns of young protesters are justified.

Known as Scientists for Future International, they are linked to the website which co-ordinates the protests worldwide, Fridays for Future (the protests are held on Fridays).

Justified concerns

The letter starts with a ringing declaration: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

It includes a clear call to move from protest to action to tackle the multiple environmental threats now confronting the next generation: limiting global warming, halting the mass extinction of other species and safeguarding food supplies.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”

In March the estimated worldwide number of protesters was around 1.5 million.

“Politicians are already starting to move in response to the school strikes around the world. Fridays for Future is perhaps our last chance to get meaningful climate policies

In support of its declaration of backing for the protesters, Scientists for Future International says almost every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, agreeing to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aiming to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

“The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible.

“It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage.

“For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming.”

Time is short

It says many solutions to the climate crisis already exist, and only bold action can avert the critical danger that threatens the protesters’ future. It adds: “There is no time to wait until they are in power.”

The statement ends: “The enormous grassroots mobilisation of the youth climate movement … shows that young people understand the situation. We approve and support their demand for rapid and forceful action. We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state [this] in no uncertain terms.

“Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.

“This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.” –  Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anyone wanting to add their names to the Scientists for Future International declaration – and who meets its eligibility requirements – will find it here. It is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) and can be freely shared.

Restoring forests rules out growing crops

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Termites show humans how to keep their cool

Scientists are studying the architectural skills developed by termites so we can keep cool, dry and well-ventilated in tall buildings without using fossil fuels.

LONDON, 2 April, 2019 − When humans were still living in caves termites were constructing tower blocks and tackling the difficult problems of keeping cool and dry in an adverse climate.

Now that humans, in a warming world, have the task of keeping skyscrapers comfortable and well-ventilated without the use of fossil fuels, scientists are turning to termites for advice. It appears that their architectural skills will help us solve our climate problems.

Termites live in colonies numbering thousands in inhospitable terrain in towers up to seven metres high. Inside the blocks is a complex social system of kings, queens, soldiers and worker ants living in a system of tunnels and passages, all self-ventilating, self-cooling and self-draining.

“There is a lot more to learn from Mother Nature when it comes to solving even the most important 21st century problems”

Using three-dimensional X-ray images, a group of engineers, biologists, chemists and mathematicians report in the journal Science Advances that they studied the mounds, as they are known, and found the secret lay in small holes or pores in the walls of the termite nests.

A network of smaller and larger pores helped an exchange of carbon dioxide from inside the nest to the outside. The ability of the pores to do this changed depending on the wind-speed outside, with the smaller pores sometimes taking over from the larger ones to keep the ventilation efficient. They worked regardless of the weather outside.

Lead author Dr Kamaljit Singh, from Imperial College London’s department of earth science & engineering,  said: “Termite nests are a unique example of architectural perfection by insects.

No mechanical aids

“The way they’re designed offers fascinating self-sustaining temperature- and ventilation-controlling properties throughout the year without using any mechanical or electronic appliances.”

The nests are usually found in hotter regions and the ones studied came from two West African countries, Senegal and Guinea. In the climate of these countries the mounds must be kept cool for the termites to survive. The pores also played a crucial role in this, the larger ones filling with air and reducing the heat entering the nest, a bit like the air in a double-glazed window can keep heat inside.

Remarkably the pores also had a role when it rained. Instead of getting blocked by rainwater and ruining the system the smaller pores, using capillary action, drained the larger ones, enabling the ventilation system to keep functioning.

Energy-efficiency too?

Dr Singh said: “Not only do these remarkable structures self-ventilate and regulate their own temperatures – they also have inbuilt drainage systems.”

The scientists say the newly found architecture within termite nests could help us improve ventilation, temperature control, and drainage systems in buildings – and hopefully make them more energy-efficient.

One co-author, Professor Pierre Degond from Imperial’s Department of Mathematics, said: “The findings greatly improve our understanding of how architectural design can help control ventilation, heat regulation, and drainage of structures – maybe even in human dwellings.

Nature knows best

“They also provide a new direction for future research, and will eventually bring us one step closer to understanding mechanisms that could be useful in designing energy-efficient self-sustaining buildings.”

Another of those involved in the project, Dr Bagus Muljadi from the University of Nottingham, said: “We know that nature holds the secrets to survival. To unlock them, we need to encourage global, interdisciplinary research.

“This study shows that there is a lot more to learn from Mother Nature when it comes to solving even the most important 21st century problems.” − Climate News Network

Scientists are studying the architectural skills developed by termites so we can keep cool, dry and well-ventilated in tall buildings without using fossil fuels.

LONDON, 2 April, 2019 − When humans were still living in caves termites were constructing tower blocks and tackling the difficult problems of keeping cool and dry in an adverse climate.

Now that humans, in a warming world, have the task of keeping skyscrapers comfortable and well-ventilated without the use of fossil fuels, scientists are turning to termites for advice. It appears that their architectural skills will help us solve our climate problems.

Termites live in colonies numbering thousands in inhospitable terrain in towers up to seven metres high. Inside the blocks is a complex social system of kings, queens, soldiers and worker ants living in a system of tunnels and passages, all self-ventilating, self-cooling and self-draining.

“There is a lot more to learn from Mother Nature when it comes to solving even the most important 21st century problems”

Using three-dimensional X-ray images, a group of engineers, biologists, chemists and mathematicians report in the journal Science Advances that they studied the mounds, as they are known, and found the secret lay in small holes or pores in the walls of the termite nests.

A network of smaller and larger pores helped an exchange of carbon dioxide from inside the nest to the outside. The ability of the pores to do this changed depending on the wind-speed outside, with the smaller pores sometimes taking over from the larger ones to keep the ventilation efficient. They worked regardless of the weather outside.

Lead author Dr Kamaljit Singh, from Imperial College London’s department of earth science & engineering,  said: “Termite nests are a unique example of architectural perfection by insects.

No mechanical aids

“The way they’re designed offers fascinating self-sustaining temperature- and ventilation-controlling properties throughout the year without using any mechanical or electronic appliances.”

The nests are usually found in hotter regions and the ones studied came from two West African countries, Senegal and Guinea. In the climate of these countries the mounds must be kept cool for the termites to survive. The pores also played a crucial role in this, the larger ones filling with air and reducing the heat entering the nest, a bit like the air in a double-glazed window can keep heat inside.

Remarkably the pores also had a role when it rained. Instead of getting blocked by rainwater and ruining the system the smaller pores, using capillary action, drained the larger ones, enabling the ventilation system to keep functioning.

Energy-efficiency too?

Dr Singh said: “Not only do these remarkable structures self-ventilate and regulate their own temperatures – they also have inbuilt drainage systems.”

The scientists say the newly found architecture within termite nests could help us improve ventilation, temperature control, and drainage systems in buildings – and hopefully make them more energy-efficient.

One co-author, Professor Pierre Degond from Imperial’s Department of Mathematics, said: “The findings greatly improve our understanding of how architectural design can help control ventilation, heat regulation, and drainage of structures – maybe even in human dwellings.

Nature knows best

“They also provide a new direction for future research, and will eventually bring us one step closer to understanding mechanisms that could be useful in designing energy-efficient self-sustaining buildings.”

Another of those involved in the project, Dr Bagus Muljadi from the University of Nottingham, said: “We know that nature holds the secrets to survival. To unlock them, we need to encourage global, interdisciplinary research.

“This study shows that there is a lot more to learn from Mother Nature when it comes to solving even the most important 21st century problems.” − Climate News Network

Worse tropical winds will kill more trees

More greenhouse gases mean worse tropical winds and fiercer storms. That could mean more forest damage . . . and more greenhouse gas emissions . . .

LONDON, 28 March, 2019 − Worse tropical winds will spell worse danger to forests, in a cycle that feeds on itself. Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 slammed into Puerto Rico, shut down the electricity supply for the entire US island of 3.3 million people, and claimed almost 3,000 lives. And it also killed or damaged at least 20 million trees, or possibly 40 million.

If what happened in the track of Maria is a pointer to the future, then hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones will join drought, wildfire and men with chainsaws as a new threat to the world’s tropical forests, the biggest absorbers of carbon on the terrestrial surface.

Living forests absorb carbon. Dying and decaying trees release greenhouse gases. The damage by Maria has already been estimated to have released 5.75 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. This is about one-fortieth of all the carbon taken up by all the forests in the US.

“The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin”

Hurricanes are linked with rising sea surface temperatures. Researchers have been warning for decades that in a warming world, extremes of heat, drought, flood and windstorm will become more destructive. So Hurricane Maria could be a taste of things to come.

“These hurricanes are going to kill more trees,” said Maria Uriarte, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. “They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply. Forests will become shorter and smaller because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”

Maria blew into Puerto Rico in October 2017, with winds of up to 250 kms an hour. It dropped 500 mm of rain to become the island’s worst storm for 90 years.

To make their estimate of the destruction, Professor Uriarte and colleagues surveyed a 16-hectare plot of the island’s El Yunque national forest near the capital, San Juan: a plot that has been monitored after violent windstorm assault in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo and then in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.

Much fiercer impact

They report in the journal Nature Communications that Hurricane Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and snapped more than three times as many trunks. Some species experienced breakage rates of up to 12 times that of previous hurricanes. Among them, and unexpectedly, were some of the slowest-growing, most valuable hardwoods. About half of all trees with broken trunks are expected to die within two or three years.

Some species survived well: among them the sierra palm, a tree able to bend with the wind, and if stripped sprout again from the top. Such species could be the inheritors of future hurricanes and grow quickly to take advantage of cleared forest space. So future forests could be dominated by shorter, and less diverse, foliage.

And the future is unpromising. Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are rising, and climate simulations predict that by 2100 the highest sustained hurricane winds could increase by 15%. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so rainfall near storm centres could increase by 20%. Extreme winds fell trees; rain destabilises soil and makes uprooting easier.

“Maria transformed tropical forests across the island into leafless tangles of damaged and downed trees,” the researchers write. And they warn: “The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin.” − Climate News Network

More greenhouse gases mean worse tropical winds and fiercer storms. That could mean more forest damage . . . and more greenhouse gas emissions . . .

LONDON, 28 March, 2019 − Worse tropical winds will spell worse danger to forests, in a cycle that feeds on itself. Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 slammed into Puerto Rico, shut down the electricity supply for the entire US island of 3.3 million people, and claimed almost 3,000 lives. And it also killed or damaged at least 20 million trees, or possibly 40 million.

If what happened in the track of Maria is a pointer to the future, then hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones will join drought, wildfire and men with chainsaws as a new threat to the world’s tropical forests, the biggest absorbers of carbon on the terrestrial surface.

Living forests absorb carbon. Dying and decaying trees release greenhouse gases. The damage by Maria has already been estimated to have released 5.75 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. This is about one-fortieth of all the carbon taken up by all the forests in the US.

“The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin”

Hurricanes are linked with rising sea surface temperatures. Researchers have been warning for decades that in a warming world, extremes of heat, drought, flood and windstorm will become more destructive. So Hurricane Maria could be a taste of things to come.

“These hurricanes are going to kill more trees,” said Maria Uriarte, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. “They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply. Forests will become shorter and smaller because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”

Maria blew into Puerto Rico in October 2017, with winds of up to 250 kms an hour. It dropped 500 mm of rain to become the island’s worst storm for 90 years.

To make their estimate of the destruction, Professor Uriarte and colleagues surveyed a 16-hectare plot of the island’s El Yunque national forest near the capital, San Juan: a plot that has been monitored after violent windstorm assault in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo and then in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.

Much fiercer impact

They report in the journal Nature Communications that Hurricane Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and snapped more than three times as many trunks. Some species experienced breakage rates of up to 12 times that of previous hurricanes. Among them, and unexpectedly, were some of the slowest-growing, most valuable hardwoods. About half of all trees with broken trunks are expected to die within two or three years.

Some species survived well: among them the sierra palm, a tree able to bend with the wind, and if stripped sprout again from the top. Such species could be the inheritors of future hurricanes and grow quickly to take advantage of cleared forest space. So future forests could be dominated by shorter, and less diverse, foliage.

And the future is unpromising. Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are rising, and climate simulations predict that by 2100 the highest sustained hurricane winds could increase by 15%. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so rainfall near storm centres could increase by 20%. Extreme winds fell trees; rain destabilises soil and makes uprooting easier.

“Maria transformed tropical forests across the island into leafless tangles of damaged and downed trees,” the researchers write. And they warn: “The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin.” − Climate News Network

Writer’s notes show climate impact on plants

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

China and India are making a greener Earth

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Ocean heatwaves drive more fish north

As sea water warms, sub-tropical fish swim north. They may do so more often as ocean heatwaves add to the sweltering.

LONDON, 22 March, 2019 – With a little help from ocean heatwaves, the world’s seas are changing. Researchers in California can now name 37 species that have shifted their range further north than ever before in response to unusually hot summers in the eastern Pacific.

In the years 2014-2016, the pelagic red crab Pleuroncodes planipes was spotted off Agate Beach, Oregon, a full 595 kilometres further north than ever before. A deepwater invertebrate called the black-tipped spiny dorid Acanthodoris rhodoceras also made it to Oregon, 620 kilometres from what had previously been its most northerly range.

Both were joined by an assortment of snails, sea butterflies, pteropods, nudibranchs, red algae, sea anemones, siphonophores, fish, dolphins, sea turtles and other citizens of the sub-tropical seas in making the great trek north to what had once been cooler waters, the researchers record in the journal Scientific Reports.

They collected their data in the wake of two significant changes in water temperatures. One involved a mysterious “blob” of warm water that made the journey south from the Gulf of Alaska, the other a blister of warm water on the way north associated with a natural phenomenon known as El Niño in 2015.

“Just as atmospheric heatwaves can destroy crops, forests and animal populations, marine heatwaves can devastate ocean ecosystems”

Altogether they recorded 67 rare, warm water sightings off California and Oregon: of these 37 had never been observed so far north.

“Against a backdrop of climate change, we hope southern species will track northward because that’s necessary for their persistence and survival,” said Eric Sanford, an ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who led the study.

“It’s perhaps a glimpse of what northern California’s coast might look like in the future as ocean temperatures continue to warm.”

And just in case anyone thinks the temperatures in 2014-2016 were a freak – a response to an unprecedented pattern of weather events – a second set of scientists has uncomfortable news.

Extreme heat increases

Not only were the oceans in 2018 hotter than at any time  since records began, but periods of extreme heat on the high seas – that is, marine heatwaves – are on the increase around the globe.

Between 1987 and 2016, the number of heatwave days per year was 54% higher than for the years 1925 to 1954. And this is true not just for the eastern Pacific but for many regions in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well.

This is likely to be bad news for individual species, bad news for ecosystems and bad news for the key species – kelps, corals, sea grasses and so on – that provide vital habitats for marine life, they report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers define marine heatwaves as episodes in which sea surface temperatures exceed the seasonal norm for at least five consecutive days.

Marine threat

Increasing heatwaves over land have already been identified as potentially a threat to human life. They will menace marine life as well, the scientists say.

“Ocean ecosystems currently face a number of threats, including overfishing, acidification and plastic pollution, but periods of extreme temperatures can cause rapid and profound ecological changes, leading to loss of habitat, local extinctions, reduced fisheries catches and altered food webs”, said Dan Smale, of the UK Marine Biological Association, who led the research.

“The major concern is that the oceans have warmed significantly as a consequence of manmade climate change, so that marine heatwaves have become more frequent and will likely intensify over the coming decades.

“Just as atmospheric heatwaves can destroy crops, forests and animal populations, marine heatwaves can devastate ocean ecosystems.” – Climate News Network

As sea water warms, sub-tropical fish swim north. They may do so more often as ocean heatwaves add to the sweltering.

LONDON, 22 March, 2019 – With a little help from ocean heatwaves, the world’s seas are changing. Researchers in California can now name 37 species that have shifted their range further north than ever before in response to unusually hot summers in the eastern Pacific.

In the years 2014-2016, the pelagic red crab Pleuroncodes planipes was spotted off Agate Beach, Oregon, a full 595 kilometres further north than ever before. A deepwater invertebrate called the black-tipped spiny dorid Acanthodoris rhodoceras also made it to Oregon, 620 kilometres from what had previously been its most northerly range.

Both were joined by an assortment of snails, sea butterflies, pteropods, nudibranchs, red algae, sea anemones, siphonophores, fish, dolphins, sea turtles and other citizens of the sub-tropical seas in making the great trek north to what had once been cooler waters, the researchers record in the journal Scientific Reports.

They collected their data in the wake of two significant changes in water temperatures. One involved a mysterious “blob” of warm water that made the journey south from the Gulf of Alaska, the other a blister of warm water on the way north associated with a natural phenomenon known as El Niño in 2015.

“Just as atmospheric heatwaves can destroy crops, forests and animal populations, marine heatwaves can devastate ocean ecosystems”

Altogether they recorded 67 rare, warm water sightings off California and Oregon: of these 37 had never been observed so far north.

“Against a backdrop of climate change, we hope southern species will track northward because that’s necessary for their persistence and survival,” said Eric Sanford, an ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who led the study.

“It’s perhaps a glimpse of what northern California’s coast might look like in the future as ocean temperatures continue to warm.”

And just in case anyone thinks the temperatures in 2014-2016 were a freak – a response to an unprecedented pattern of weather events – a second set of scientists has uncomfortable news.

Extreme heat increases

Not only were the oceans in 2018 hotter than at any time  since records began, but periods of extreme heat on the high seas – that is, marine heatwaves – are on the increase around the globe.

Between 1987 and 2016, the number of heatwave days per year was 54% higher than for the years 1925 to 1954. And this is true not just for the eastern Pacific but for many regions in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well.

This is likely to be bad news for individual species, bad news for ecosystems and bad news for the key species – kelps, corals, sea grasses and so on – that provide vital habitats for marine life, they report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers define marine heatwaves as episodes in which sea surface temperatures exceed the seasonal norm for at least five consecutive days.

Marine threat

Increasing heatwaves over land have already been identified as potentially a threat to human life. They will menace marine life as well, the scientists say.

“Ocean ecosystems currently face a number of threats, including overfishing, acidification and plastic pollution, but periods of extreme temperatures can cause rapid and profound ecological changes, leading to loss of habitat, local extinctions, reduced fisheries catches and altered food webs”, said Dan Smale, of the UK Marine Biological Association, who led the research.

“The major concern is that the oceans have warmed significantly as a consequence of manmade climate change, so that marine heatwaves have become more frequent and will likely intensify over the coming decades.

“Just as atmospheric heatwaves can destroy crops, forests and animal populations, marine heatwaves can devastate ocean ecosystems.” – Climate News Network

Rivers gain legal protection from misuse

Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.

LONDON, 21 March, 2019 − So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.

There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.

The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.

Two individuals, one from the government and the other from the indigenous Whanganui people, have been appointed to serve as the river’s legal custodians, acting for its health and well-being. They work in the same way that legal guardians represent children in loco parentis (in place of a parent).

Crucial difference

Legal rights are not the same as human rights, which include civil and political rights. And conferring legal personhood on non-humans already happens with many organisations.

But the Rapid Transition Alliance, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, says: “Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer.

“Accepting a non-human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world.”

The New Zealand example spread fast. On the day in March 2017 when it recognised the rights of the Whanganui river, the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after a battle to stop it being polluted.

Growing pressure

The Indian court, treating the river system as a minor, appointed specific government posts in the state of Uttarakhand to act in loco parentis. But it is now being challenged because the river flows across state borders where local government has no jurisdiction.

Other countries which have explored the idea of rights for nature include Ecuador, Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature maintains a comprehensive list of similar worldwide initiatives; they include groups such as Lawyers Responding to Climate Change (LRI) and ClientEarth.

Two years after New Zealand and India, the concept had reached the US: in February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, which forms part of the border between the US and Canada and was heavily polluted, rights normally associated with a person.

The pressure in Toledo came partly from an insistence on an urgent clean-up of the lake’s toxic water. But it drew as well on an older tradition, kept alive by indigenous groups who still retain a folk memory of how things had been before the industrial revolution.

“Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer”

The vote excited comment. One critic saw it as an anti-capitalism plot and cited in his support a plan to give an orang-utan in Argentina the legal right to leave a zoo. But the Australian Centre for the Rights of Nature took a more positive view, saying that recognising the rights in law meant rejecting “the notion that nature is human property.”

Another influence on the spread of the idea of rights for nature is likely to be the concept of critical biodiversity,  which argues that species diversity is needed for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Progress on that and on rights for nature has so far been tentative and exploratory, and there are many obstacles ahead.

But if they could reinforce each other in safeguarding species like the great apes, the forest fauna of south-east Asia and areas under pressure such as the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonia, the gains could be immense. − Climate News Network

*  *  *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.

LONDON, 21 March, 2019 − So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.

There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.

The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.

Two individuals, one from the government and the other from the indigenous Whanganui people, have been appointed to serve as the river’s legal custodians, acting for its health and well-being. They work in the same way that legal guardians represent children in loco parentis (in place of a parent).

Crucial difference

Legal rights are not the same as human rights, which include civil and political rights. And conferring legal personhood on non-humans already happens with many organisations.

But the Rapid Transition Alliance, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, says: “Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer.

“Accepting a non-human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world.”

The New Zealand example spread fast. On the day in March 2017 when it recognised the rights of the Whanganui river, the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after a battle to stop it being polluted.

Growing pressure

The Indian court, treating the river system as a minor, appointed specific government posts in the state of Uttarakhand to act in loco parentis. But it is now being challenged because the river flows across state borders where local government has no jurisdiction.

Other countries which have explored the idea of rights for nature include Ecuador, Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature maintains a comprehensive list of similar worldwide initiatives; they include groups such as Lawyers Responding to Climate Change (LRI) and ClientEarth.

Two years after New Zealand and India, the concept had reached the US: in February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, which forms part of the border between the US and Canada and was heavily polluted, rights normally associated with a person.

The pressure in Toledo came partly from an insistence on an urgent clean-up of the lake’s toxic water. But it drew as well on an older tradition, kept alive by indigenous groups who still retain a folk memory of how things had been before the industrial revolution.

“Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer”

The vote excited comment. One critic saw it as an anti-capitalism plot and cited in his support a plan to give an orang-utan in Argentina the legal right to leave a zoo. But the Australian Centre for the Rights of Nature took a more positive view, saying that recognising the rights in law meant rejecting “the notion that nature is human property.”

Another influence on the spread of the idea of rights for nature is likely to be the concept of critical biodiversity,  which argues that species diversity is needed for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Progress on that and on rights for nature has so far been tentative and exploratory, and there are many obstacles ahead.

But if they could reinforce each other in safeguarding species like the great apes, the forest fauna of south-east Asia and areas under pressure such as the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonia, the gains could be immense. − Climate News Network

*  *  *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

The day the Earth’s climate went berserk

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.