Tag Archives: Biodiversity

UK nuclear plants will exact heavy fish toll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate impunity

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

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

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

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

Not many fatalities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate impunity

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

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

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

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

Not many fatalities

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

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

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

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

Now ticks flee the heat by taking to the mountains

Higher temperatures are driving more creatures to climb higher for comfort. Now ticks flee the heat to stay cool.

LONDON, 30 April, 2021 – A warming climate means many fish species swim polewards in search of cooler waters. Warming can cause birds to change migration patterns, and the growing season of plants and trees also alters as temperatures rise. The latest refugees? Now ticks flee the heat by heading higher.

There’s mounting evidence that ticks – those bothersome blood-sucking creatures which take up residence on animals and humans – are changing their ways and spreading to new regions, encouraged by global warming.

Nicolas De Pelsmaeker of the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) has been leading a team of researchers tracking the spread of ticks in the mountains of southern Norway. He and his colleagues have found ticks at altitudes of 1,000 metres.

“Before this discovery ticks had not been found at altitudes higher than 583m above sea level,” De Pelsmaeker says in an article on the Science Nordic website.

“An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and the transmission of tick-borne diseases”

“A dramatic development has taken place over a short period of time and we do not know where it will stop. Further studies can tell us if ticks are present even higher up in the mountains.”

Ticks – there are believed to be 900 different species in the world – are amazingly resilient and tenacious. Experiments have shown that female ticks – they out-tough the males – can live without air, completely immersed in water, for up to 13 days with no sign of weakening.

Ticks can also adapt to different temperatures, and are at their most energetic in warmth. Some can live for seven years, while others have been found to go on drinking the blood of animals – and humans – for up to 20 years.

“They hibernate when the temperature falls below five or six degrees Celsius,” says De Pelsmaeker, who uses his fridge to monitor tick behaviour.

Risk to humans

“They virtually stop all their bodily functions. As soon as the temperature rises, they become active again.”

In the course of its fieldwork, the USN team captured 3500 small rodents in Norway’s southern mountains. More than 15,000 tick larvae were found on the animals.

Tick bites can be fatal for livestock. They can also spread disease among humans, causing borreliosis or Lyme disease, a debilitating condition.

“Many Norwegians spend a lot of time in the mountains,” says De Pelsmaeker. “An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and therefore also the transmission of tick-borne diseases.”

Potential uses

As temperatures rise in various parts of the world, the incidence of Lyme disease is increasing, as is evident particularly in parts of the US.

In Norway there are signs that more tick species are arriving in the country, hitching a ride on birds migrating from warmer parts of the world. In the past these ticks from more southern regions would not have survived, but as the climate in Norway warms the chances of their survival increase.

Ticks are not all bad. Scientists are analysing whether the substance which ticks use to glue themselves to their hosts could be used to bind human skin after operations, or on wounds and injuries.

Tick saliva might be used to treat skin diseases. “Because ticks often drink blood over the course of several days, they do not want to be detected by the host,” says De Pelsmaeker. “Therefore special molecules are also present in the saliva that prevent skin irritation and itching.” – Climate News Network

Higher temperatures are driving more creatures to climb higher for comfort. Now ticks flee the heat to stay cool.

LONDON, 30 April, 2021 – A warming climate means many fish species swim polewards in search of cooler waters. Warming can cause birds to change migration patterns, and the growing season of plants and trees also alters as temperatures rise. The latest refugees? Now ticks flee the heat by heading higher.

There’s mounting evidence that ticks – those bothersome blood-sucking creatures which take up residence on animals and humans – are changing their ways and spreading to new regions, encouraged by global warming.

Nicolas De Pelsmaeker of the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) has been leading a team of researchers tracking the spread of ticks in the mountains of southern Norway. He and his colleagues have found ticks at altitudes of 1,000 metres.

“Before this discovery ticks had not been found at altitudes higher than 583m above sea level,” De Pelsmaeker says in an article on the Science Nordic website.

“An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and the transmission of tick-borne diseases”

“A dramatic development has taken place over a short period of time and we do not know where it will stop. Further studies can tell us if ticks are present even higher up in the mountains.”

Ticks – there are believed to be 900 different species in the world – are amazingly resilient and tenacious. Experiments have shown that female ticks – they out-tough the males – can live without air, completely immersed in water, for up to 13 days with no sign of weakening.

Ticks can also adapt to different temperatures, and are at their most energetic in warmth. Some can live for seven years, while others have been found to go on drinking the blood of animals – and humans – for up to 20 years.

“They hibernate when the temperature falls below five or six degrees Celsius,” says De Pelsmaeker, who uses his fridge to monitor tick behaviour.

Risk to humans

“They virtually stop all their bodily functions. As soon as the temperature rises, they become active again.”

In the course of its fieldwork, the USN team captured 3500 small rodents in Norway’s southern mountains. More than 15,000 tick larvae were found on the animals.

Tick bites can be fatal for livestock. They can also spread disease among humans, causing borreliosis or Lyme disease, a debilitating condition.

“Many Norwegians spend a lot of time in the mountains,” says De Pelsmaeker. “An increase of ticks at greater heights will increase the risk of being bitten and therefore also the transmission of tick-borne diseases.”

Potential uses

As temperatures rise in various parts of the world, the incidence of Lyme disease is increasing, as is evident particularly in parts of the US.

In Norway there are signs that more tick species are arriving in the country, hitching a ride on birds migrating from warmer parts of the world. In the past these ticks from more southern regions would not have survived, but as the climate in Norway warms the chances of their survival increase.

Ticks are not all bad. Scientists are analysing whether the substance which ticks use to glue themselves to their hosts could be used to bind human skin after operations, or on wounds and injuries.

Tick saliva might be used to treat skin diseases. “Because ticks often drink blood over the course of several days, they do not want to be detected by the host,” says De Pelsmaeker. “Therefore special molecules are also present in the saliva that prevent skin irritation and itching.” – Climate News Network

Many creatures of the deep face a stifling future

The oceans will go on warming and rising for five centuries. Some creatures of the deep will have less room to breathe.

LONDON, 22 April, 2021 − Even if humans stopped all use of fossil fuels immediately, and drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the oceans would go on warming. And as the waters warmed, their burden of dissolved oxygen would continue to dwindle, stifling many creatures of the deep.

This could continue for another 500 years, at the end of which oxygen loss in the seas would have multiplied fourfold. Since oxygen is vital to almost all complex life on Earth, and since the ocean − covering 70% of the globe and reaching in places to depths of almost 11 kilometres − provides by far the oldest and biggest breathing space for living things, that could commit many creatures to a slow, stifling end, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are soluble in seawater. The colder the water, the greater the capacity for dissolved gases, which ultimately is why polar seas are vastly and massively richer in life than tropical waters. But the latest study of the long-term consequences of carbon dioxide emissions offers a bleak picture for the future.

As the planet has warmed, so have the seas. As the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere has increased, so has the acidity of the ocean. And as the ocean waters have warmed, the levels of dissolved oxygen have fallen.

In the last 50 years, the ocean has on average lost 2% of its dissolved oxygen. That’s an average figure. In some parts of the water column, the loss has been much higher, directly as a consequence of global warming. And this loss will continue until around 2650.

“The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ will become reality for many centuries to come”

Andreas Oschlies of the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel in Germany used a climate model of the Earth system to work out what would happen to the ocean in the long term if all carbon dioxide emissions stopped right now.

He says: “The results show that even in this extreme scenario, the oxygen depletion will continue for centuries, more than quadrupling the oxygen loss we have seen to date in the ocean.”

Most of this loss will be at depths of 2000 metres or more, partly because ocean circulation is becoming more sluggish in response to climate change. So the deepest parts of the ocean could lose more than a tenth of all the oxygen it once held before the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the accelerated use of coal, oil and gas to drive national economies. And that would be bad news for the creatures that swim and replicate at depth: some of them could face a decline of up to 25%.

And if nations could achieve the impossible and halt all emissions now, surface air temperatures would stabilise rapidly. But the oceans would go on absorbing the extra carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Between now and 2650, according to the calculations of Professor Oschlies, the ocean would go on absorbing another 720 billion tonnes of the gas. This is larger than all the CO2 the oceans have taken up till now: an estimated 634 billion tonnes.

Too little air

But the atmospheric heat the oceans will absorb in the next five centuries is likely to be three times the heat already absorbed up till now. This warmth alone − because warm water is less dense than cold water − will mean another 16cms of unavoidable sea level rise. And as the waters warm, the oxygen levels in that water will continue to diminish: by 2650 it will have fallen by 7.4% compared with oxygen levels a century or more ago. And this is more than three times the loss that has already happened.

Those sea creatures that had adapted over a million years to one set of oxygen levels are going to face a problem: there won’t be enough oxygen dissolved in the deep seas to support all of them. Some regions of the ocean will slowly become “dead zones”.

Oceanography is a costly science, and most of the ocean is unexplored: humans have mapped the surface and plundered the coastal waters but have yet to explore the depths in much detail over vast tracts of the planet’s largest living room.

There’s a lot more research to be done, before researchers can be sure of the ways in which human action is about to irrevocably change the submarine world. But the outlook so far is ominous.

Professor Oschlies warns: “The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan of the American Lung Association − ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ − will become reality for many centuries to come.” − Climate News Network

The oceans will go on warming and rising for five centuries. Some creatures of the deep will have less room to breathe.

LONDON, 22 April, 2021 − Even if humans stopped all use of fossil fuels immediately, and drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the oceans would go on warming. And as the waters warmed, their burden of dissolved oxygen would continue to dwindle, stifling many creatures of the deep.

This could continue for another 500 years, at the end of which oxygen loss in the seas would have multiplied fourfold. Since oxygen is vital to almost all complex life on Earth, and since the ocean − covering 70% of the globe and reaching in places to depths of almost 11 kilometres − provides by far the oldest and biggest breathing space for living things, that could commit many creatures to a slow, stifling end, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are soluble in seawater. The colder the water, the greater the capacity for dissolved gases, which ultimately is why polar seas are vastly and massively richer in life than tropical waters. But the latest study of the long-term consequences of carbon dioxide emissions offers a bleak picture for the future.

As the planet has warmed, so have the seas. As the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere has increased, so has the acidity of the ocean. And as the ocean waters have warmed, the levels of dissolved oxygen have fallen.

In the last 50 years, the ocean has on average lost 2% of its dissolved oxygen. That’s an average figure. In some parts of the water column, the loss has been much higher, directly as a consequence of global warming. And this loss will continue until around 2650.

“The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ will become reality for many centuries to come”

Andreas Oschlies of the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel in Germany used a climate model of the Earth system to work out what would happen to the ocean in the long term if all carbon dioxide emissions stopped right now.

He says: “The results show that even in this extreme scenario, the oxygen depletion will continue for centuries, more than quadrupling the oxygen loss we have seen to date in the ocean.”

Most of this loss will be at depths of 2000 metres or more, partly because ocean circulation is becoming more sluggish in response to climate change. So the deepest parts of the ocean could lose more than a tenth of all the oxygen it once held before the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the accelerated use of coal, oil and gas to drive national economies. And that would be bad news for the creatures that swim and replicate at depth: some of them could face a decline of up to 25%.

And if nations could achieve the impossible and halt all emissions now, surface air temperatures would stabilise rapidly. But the oceans would go on absorbing the extra carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Between now and 2650, according to the calculations of Professor Oschlies, the ocean would go on absorbing another 720 billion tonnes of the gas. This is larger than all the CO2 the oceans have taken up till now: an estimated 634 billion tonnes.

Too little air

But the atmospheric heat the oceans will absorb in the next five centuries is likely to be three times the heat already absorbed up till now. This warmth alone − because warm water is less dense than cold water − will mean another 16cms of unavoidable sea level rise. And as the waters warm, the oxygen levels in that water will continue to diminish: by 2650 it will have fallen by 7.4% compared with oxygen levels a century or more ago. And this is more than three times the loss that has already happened.

Those sea creatures that had adapted over a million years to one set of oxygen levels are going to face a problem: there won’t be enough oxygen dissolved in the deep seas to support all of them. Some regions of the ocean will slowly become “dead zones”.

Oceanography is a costly science, and most of the ocean is unexplored: humans have mapped the surface and plundered the coastal waters but have yet to explore the depths in much detail over vast tracts of the planet’s largest living room.

There’s a lot more research to be done, before researchers can be sure of the ways in which human action is about to irrevocably change the submarine world. But the outlook so far is ominous.

Professor Oschlies warns: “The deep ocean appears committed to turning into an as-yet-unrecognised area where the slogan of the American Lung Association − ‘If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’ − will become reality for many centuries to come.” − Climate News Network

Invasive alien species exact huge ecosystem cost

At last, a global price on invasive alien species: it runs to billions of dollars and doubles every six years.

LONDON, 8 April, 2021 − French scientists have put a value on the cost of ecosystem destruction by often almost invisible newcomers: the damage invasive alien species do, and the price of containing that damage, has already passed the US$1.28 trillion mark in less than 50 years.

That’s because the annual toll imposed by cats, rats and mice, boll weevils, gipsy moths, African bees, red imported fire ants and other unwelcome migrants has averaged $26.8 billion a year from 1970 to 2017, and has been doubling every six years, and trebling every decade.

Which is why the global economic losses in 2017 alone reached $162bn, and will go on rising, they warn in the journal Nature.

“This trillion dollar bill doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, with a consistent threefold increase per decade,” said Christophe Diagne of the Université Paris-Saclay, who led the research.

“Our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”

“Our annual global estimates signify the huge economic burden, with the average cost exceeding the gross domestic product of 50 countries on the African continent in 2017, and it’s more than 20 times higher than the total funds available for the World Health Organisation and UN combined.”

Displaced species − accidental stowaways such as the Norway rat and the malarial mosquito, or deliberate introductions such as coypu and mink
− can and do cause colossal damage to unique habitats fashioned by evolution and to the ecosystem services they provide.

African bees and boll weevils from Mexico present a potentially devastating threat to farm incomes worldwide; the larvae of gypsy moths from Europe − known to devour the foliage of at least 500 tree species − have caused devastation in US forests, and the colonies of the subterranean Formosan termite are now chewing their way through woodwork on mainland Asia and the US.

And, researchers warn, the expansion of global economic traffic, the degradation of natural habitat and the new opportunities delivered by climate change driven by global warming can only deliver more and more devastating opportunities for such invaders.

Models verified

Dr Diagne and his colleagues in Europe and Australia have been compiling a database of the economic costs of biological invasion, and a mechanism for calculating the scale of annual monetary losses. And these, the researchers warn, are probably much higher than $1.28 trillion in the last five decades.

They want to see the hazard of biological invasion taken seriously in the discussion of transnational projects. They also urge international co-operation to reduce the risks.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to ensure we were not exaggerating,” Dr Diagne said.

“As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs.” − Climate News Network

At last, a global price on invasive alien species: it runs to billions of dollars and doubles every six years.

LONDON, 8 April, 2021 − French scientists have put a value on the cost of ecosystem destruction by often almost invisible newcomers: the damage invasive alien species do, and the price of containing that damage, has already passed the US$1.28 trillion mark in less than 50 years.

That’s because the annual toll imposed by cats, rats and mice, boll weevils, gipsy moths, African bees, red imported fire ants and other unwelcome migrants has averaged $26.8 billion a year from 1970 to 2017, and has been doubling every six years, and trebling every decade.

Which is why the global economic losses in 2017 alone reached $162bn, and will go on rising, they warn in the journal Nature.

“This trillion dollar bill doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, with a consistent threefold increase per decade,” said Christophe Diagne of the Université Paris-Saclay, who led the research.

“Our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”

“Our annual global estimates signify the huge economic burden, with the average cost exceeding the gross domestic product of 50 countries on the African continent in 2017, and it’s more than 20 times higher than the total funds available for the World Health Organisation and UN combined.”

Displaced species − accidental stowaways such as the Norway rat and the malarial mosquito, or deliberate introductions such as coypu and mink
− can and do cause colossal damage to unique habitats fashioned by evolution and to the ecosystem services they provide.

African bees and boll weevils from Mexico present a potentially devastating threat to farm incomes worldwide; the larvae of gypsy moths from Europe − known to devour the foliage of at least 500 tree species − have caused devastation in US forests, and the colonies of the subterranean Formosan termite are now chewing their way through woodwork on mainland Asia and the US.

And, researchers warn, the expansion of global economic traffic, the degradation of natural habitat and the new opportunities delivered by climate change driven by global warming can only deliver more and more devastating opportunities for such invaders.

Models verified

Dr Diagne and his colleagues in Europe and Australia have been compiling a database of the economic costs of biological invasion, and a mechanism for calculating the scale of annual monetary losses. And these, the researchers warn, are probably much higher than $1.28 trillion in the last five decades.

They want to see the hazard of biological invasion taken seriously in the discussion of transnational projects. They also urge international co-operation to reduce the risks.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to ensure we were not exaggerating,” Dr Diagne said.

“As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs.” − Climate News Network

Plants will be hit as a warming world turns drier

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

Nature left alone offers more than if we exploit it

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Longer summers will probably prove bummers

By the century’s end, longer summers could last for almost half the year − probably a bit too much for many of us.

LONDON, 18 March, 2021 − Summer’s lease, mourned William Shakespeare more than 400 years ago in one of his most quoted sonnets, “has all too short a date.” Not for much longer. Thanks to global heating, by the close of the century the longer summers arriving by then may have been extended to almost six months.

The lengthening of the northern hemisphere summer has already begun, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The four seasons are normally defined as calendar events, pinned to the progress of a tilted planet in its annual orbit of the sun.

But Chinese scientists took a simpler approach. They defined summer’s commencement as the onset of temperatures in the hottest 25% of the year, winter by the coming of the coldest 25%.

And then they looked at the temperature data to work out what had already happened, and what is likely to happen as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions linked to fossil fuel combustion and forest destruction.

They found that in 1952, summer could be counted as 78 days long; by 2011, this had stretched to 95 days in the northern hemisphere. Winter contracted from 76 to 73 days in duration. Spring had dwindled from 124 days to 115; autumn from 87 to 82 days.

Health risk

And if this trend continues, and humans go on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario, then by 2100 spring and autumn will go on diminishing, and winter will be over in just two months. Summer will however have been extended to nearly half the year.

“The changing seasonal clock,” the scientists write, “signifies disturbed agriculture seasons and rhythm of species activities, more frequent heat waves, storms and wildfires, amounting to increased risks to humanity.”

The findings will present no immediate surprise to farmers, nor to phenologists, those scientists who have spent a lifetime observing changes in the timing of the natural order: the first buds, the first leaves and flowers, the arrival of insects and migrating birds, all of them affected by the increasingly early arrival of spring.

The abbreviation of winter may not however make the natural world more fecund or productive: many crops and a very large number of deciduous trees rely for health and strength on a reliable period of winter chill, and a shorter winter is inevitably going to be a warmer one.

Conversely a long hot summer is unlikely to be particularly welcome: these will arrive with more intense, more enduring and more extensive heat waves, to pose a threat to both harvests and to human health for perhaps a billion or more people.

“The changing seasonal clock signifies disturbed agriculture seasons,  more frequent heat waves, storms and wildfires, amounting to increased risks to humanity”

The researchers warn that longer, hotter summers will affect the capacity to produce energy while at the same time accelerating demand for electricity to power air-conditioning systems.

Longer summers mean more stress for plants and for forests, more and larger wildfires and health hazards for outdoor workers.

Higher temperatures have been linked to high crime rates in some parts of the US and − the researchers warn − earlier and colder spring seasons can mean more “false springs” followed by severe frosts of the kind that, in 2012 in Michigan, cost fruit growers more than $500,000 in crop
losses.

In yet a further caution they say that virus-bearing mosquitos will have a wider range and longer breeding seasons, to produce sudden outbreaks of disease in regions once considered safe. Those sensitive to plant pollen will find the season of sneezes has suddenly got a lot longer.

“As global warming intensifies, the four seasons of a year no longer have equal months, and their onsets are irregular,” the authors write. This change of seasonal lengths, they add. can trigger a chain of reactions, and “policy-making for agricultural management, health care, and disaster prevention requires adjustment.” − Climate News Network

By the century’s end, longer summers could last for almost half the year − probably a bit too much for many of us.

LONDON, 18 March, 2021 − Summer’s lease, mourned William Shakespeare more than 400 years ago in one of his most quoted sonnets, “has all too short a date.” Not for much longer. Thanks to global heating, by the close of the century the longer summers arriving by then may have been extended to almost six months.

The lengthening of the northern hemisphere summer has already begun, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The four seasons are normally defined as calendar events, pinned to the progress of a tilted planet in its annual orbit of the sun.

But Chinese scientists took a simpler approach. They defined summer’s commencement as the onset of temperatures in the hottest 25% of the year, winter by the coming of the coldest 25%.

And then they looked at the temperature data to work out what had already happened, and what is likely to happen as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions linked to fossil fuel combustion and forest destruction.

They found that in 1952, summer could be counted as 78 days long; by 2011, this had stretched to 95 days in the northern hemisphere. Winter contracted from 76 to 73 days in duration. Spring had dwindled from 124 days to 115; autumn from 87 to 82 days.

Health risk

And if this trend continues, and humans go on burning fossil fuels under the notorious “business as usual” scenario, then by 2100 spring and autumn will go on diminishing, and winter will be over in just two months. Summer will however have been extended to nearly half the year.

“The changing seasonal clock,” the scientists write, “signifies disturbed agriculture seasons and rhythm of species activities, more frequent heat waves, storms and wildfires, amounting to increased risks to humanity.”

The findings will present no immediate surprise to farmers, nor to phenologists, those scientists who have spent a lifetime observing changes in the timing of the natural order: the first buds, the first leaves and flowers, the arrival of insects and migrating birds, all of them affected by the increasingly early arrival of spring.

The abbreviation of winter may not however make the natural world more fecund or productive: many crops and a very large number of deciduous trees rely for health and strength on a reliable period of winter chill, and a shorter winter is inevitably going to be a warmer one.

Conversely a long hot summer is unlikely to be particularly welcome: these will arrive with more intense, more enduring and more extensive heat waves, to pose a threat to both harvests and to human health for perhaps a billion or more people.

“The changing seasonal clock signifies disturbed agriculture seasons,  more frequent heat waves, storms and wildfires, amounting to increased risks to humanity”

The researchers warn that longer, hotter summers will affect the capacity to produce energy while at the same time accelerating demand for electricity to power air-conditioning systems.

Longer summers mean more stress for plants and for forests, more and larger wildfires and health hazards for outdoor workers.

Higher temperatures have been linked to high crime rates in some parts of the US and − the researchers warn − earlier and colder spring seasons can mean more “false springs” followed by severe frosts of the kind that, in 2012 in Michigan, cost fruit growers more than $500,000 in crop
losses.

In yet a further caution they say that virus-bearing mosquitos will have a wider range and longer breeding seasons, to produce sudden outbreaks of disease in regions once considered safe. Those sensitive to plant pollen will find the season of sneezes has suddenly got a lot longer.

“As global warming intensifies, the four seasons of a year no longer have equal months, and their onsets are irregular,” the authors write. This change of seasonal lengths, they add. can trigger a chain of reactions, and “policy-making for agricultural management, health care, and disaster prevention requires adjustment.” − Climate News Network

Europe has grown drier over the last two millennia

Global heating may be to blame for the fact that Europe has grown drier over the last 2,000 years to a new high in 2015.

LONDON, 17 March, 2021 − Europe has grown drier, an outcome shown by the continent’s last five summers, which have been marked by drought that has no parallel in the last two millennia.

Researchers studied two kinds of evidence delivered by 27,000 measurements taken from 21 living oak trees and 126 samples from ancient beams and rafters, to piece together a precise picture of the climate of Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic over the last 2,110 years.

They report, after 2015, that drought conditions intensified suddenly, in ways that were beyond anything over that entire 2000-year tract of time. And, they add, “this hydroclimatic anomaly is probably caused by anthropogenic warming.”

Europe is also getting hotter. In 2003, 2015 and 2018 it was hit by severe summer heat waves and spells of drought that damaged plantations, crops and vines; the damage from drought was intensified by more virulent attacks from pathogens, insect outbreaks and tree death.

“Extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole”

In the baking summer of 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died because of extremes of heat. And, the researchers say, “a further increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves under projected global warming implies a multitude of harmful direct and indirect impacts on human health.”

In other words, things are bad now and are likely to get worse, according to a report by 17 British, European and Canadian researchers in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Dendrochronologists can and do routinely build up a picture of bygone temperatures by measuring the growth rings in trees: enough old living trees, and reliable knowledge about the felling of oaks for chateaux, cathedrals, sailing ships, fortresses and stockades can help pinpoint seasonal change on an annual basis.

But trees are also living chronicles of changes in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios − tiny atomic variations in the plant’s biochemistry − which provide evidence of rainfall and therefore a more precise picture of any growing season.

Wandering jet stream

The trees delivered mute evidence of very wet summers in 200, 720 and 1100 AD, and very dry summers in the years 40, 590, 950 and 1510 of the Common Era. But overall the big picture emerged: for the years 75 BC to 2018, Europe has slowly been getting drier.

Even so, the evidence from 2015 to 2018 shows that drought conditions in the area from which the trees were taken far exceeds anything in the previous centuries. The mostly likely explanation is the impact of ever-rising temperatures, driven by ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-more profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

These temperatures are now considered high enough to affect the course of the stratospheric jet stream in ways that alter the long-term pattern of temperature and rainfall that defines a region’s climate.

“Climate change does not mean it will get drier everywhere,” said Ulf Büntgen, who holds research posts in the University of Cambridge, UK and the Czech Republic and Switzerland. “Some places may get wetter or colder, but extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole.” − Climate News Network

Global heating may be to blame for the fact that Europe has grown drier over the last 2,000 years to a new high in 2015.

LONDON, 17 March, 2021 − Europe has grown drier, an outcome shown by the continent’s last five summers, which have been marked by drought that has no parallel in the last two millennia.

Researchers studied two kinds of evidence delivered by 27,000 measurements taken from 21 living oak trees and 126 samples from ancient beams and rafters, to piece together a precise picture of the climate of Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic over the last 2,110 years.

They report, after 2015, that drought conditions intensified suddenly, in ways that were beyond anything over that entire 2000-year tract of time. And, they add, “this hydroclimatic anomaly is probably caused by anthropogenic warming.”

Europe is also getting hotter. In 2003, 2015 and 2018 it was hit by severe summer heat waves and spells of drought that damaged plantations, crops and vines; the damage from drought was intensified by more virulent attacks from pathogens, insect outbreaks and tree death.

“Extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole”

In the baking summer of 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died because of extremes of heat. And, the researchers say, “a further increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves under projected global warming implies a multitude of harmful direct and indirect impacts on human health.”

In other words, things are bad now and are likely to get worse, according to a report by 17 British, European and Canadian researchers in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Dendrochronologists can and do routinely build up a picture of bygone temperatures by measuring the growth rings in trees: enough old living trees, and reliable knowledge about the felling of oaks for chateaux, cathedrals, sailing ships, fortresses and stockades can help pinpoint seasonal change on an annual basis.

But trees are also living chronicles of changes in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios − tiny atomic variations in the plant’s biochemistry − which provide evidence of rainfall and therefore a more precise picture of any growing season.

Wandering jet stream

The trees delivered mute evidence of very wet summers in 200, 720 and 1100 AD, and very dry summers in the years 40, 590, 950 and 1510 of the Common Era. But overall the big picture emerged: for the years 75 BC to 2018, Europe has slowly been getting drier.

Even so, the evidence from 2015 to 2018 shows that drought conditions in the area from which the trees were taken far exceeds anything in the previous centuries. The mostly likely explanation is the impact of ever-rising temperatures, driven by ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-more profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

These temperatures are now considered high enough to affect the course of the stratospheric jet stream in ways that alter the long-term pattern of temperature and rainfall that defines a region’s climate.

“Climate change does not mean it will get drier everywhere,” said Ulf Büntgen, who holds research posts in the University of Cambridge, UK and the Czech Republic and Switzerland. “Some places may get wetter or colder, but extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole.” − Climate News Network

Lunar Noah’s Ark might help threatened species

Desperate times demand desperate measures. So just possibly a lunar Noah’s Ark might help to avert the threat of extinction.

CO. MAYO, IRELAND, 16 March, 2021 – What if a collision with an asteroid, a giant volcanic eruption – or runaway climate change – caused human civilisation to collapse and threatened the survival of life as we know it on Earth? What could be done to preserve the world’s wonderful biodiversity? A lunar Noah’s Ark?

Scientists and students at the University of Arizona have come up with a solution which might seem slightly fanciful to some, but feasible to the more space-minded.

Their proposal is for a modern version of Noah’s Ark, not bobbing about on the Earth’s oceans but hidden below the surface of the moon.

Jekan Thanga of the university’s College of Engineering described his project and what he refers to as a “modern global insurance policy” at a meeting of international aerospace experts.

The idea is to store frozen seed, spores, sperm and egg samples transported from 6.7 million species on Earth in caverns below the moon’s surface.

“It’s not crazy big. We were a little bit surprised about that”

If climate change accelerates and sea levels continue to rise, many of the Earth’s dry places will be under water, says Thanga.

This would include the global seed vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard which holds hundreds of thousands of seed samples in order to protect the world against loss of biodiversity.

Professor Thanga and his team say that if seed and other samples were stored on a celestial body separate from our own planet, then there would be less likelihood of biodiversity being completely lost if and when an event happened causing total annihilation on Earth.

“Earth is naturally a volatile environment”, he says. “As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a thousand-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity.

Lava tubes

“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative, cascading effect on the rest of the planet.”

The lunar storage facility would make use of about 200 giant lava tubes located beneath the moon’s surface. Formed between three and four billion years ago, these underground caverns would provide shelter from solar radiation, micrometeorites and surface temperature changes, says Profesor Thanga.

He and his colleagues admit that constructing the lunar ark would not be easy, but might not be as overwhelming as it could seem.

Transporting about 50 samples from each of the 6.7 million species on Earth would require 250 rocket launches. It took 40 rocket launches to build the international space station.

“It’s not crazy big”, says Thanga. “We were a little bit surprised about that.”

‘Please try later’

The model of the ark sketched out by the Arizona team includes a set of solar panels on the moon’s surface to provide electricity.

Two or more lift shafts would lead down into the facility where seeds, cooled down to temperatures of minus 180°C, would be preserved in a series of petri dishes.

Professor Thanga and his team admit that a lot more research needs to be carried out on the building and operation of the proposed lunar ark. There’s the question of how the preserved seeds might be affected by the lack of gravity on the moon.

And then there’s the issue of establishing communications with a base on Earth – if, of course, there is anyone left to receive calls. – Climate News Network

Desperate times demand desperate measures. So just possibly a lunar Noah’s Ark might help to avert the threat of extinction.

CO. MAYO, IRELAND, 16 March, 2021 – What if a collision with an asteroid, a giant volcanic eruption – or runaway climate change – caused human civilisation to collapse and threatened the survival of life as we know it on Earth? What could be done to preserve the world’s wonderful biodiversity? A lunar Noah’s Ark?

Scientists and students at the University of Arizona have come up with a solution which might seem slightly fanciful to some, but feasible to the more space-minded.

Their proposal is for a modern version of Noah’s Ark, not bobbing about on the Earth’s oceans but hidden below the surface of the moon.

Jekan Thanga of the university’s College of Engineering described his project and what he refers to as a “modern global insurance policy” at a meeting of international aerospace experts.

The idea is to store frozen seed, spores, sperm and egg samples transported from 6.7 million species on Earth in caverns below the moon’s surface.

“It’s not crazy big. We were a little bit surprised about that”

If climate change accelerates and sea levels continue to rise, many of the Earth’s dry places will be under water, says Thanga.

This would include the global seed vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard which holds hundreds of thousands of seed samples in order to protect the world against loss of biodiversity.

Professor Thanga and his team say that if seed and other samples were stored on a celestial body separate from our own planet, then there would be less likelihood of biodiversity being completely lost if and when an event happened causing total annihilation on Earth.

“Earth is naturally a volatile environment”, he says. “As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a thousand-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity.

Lava tubes

“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative, cascading effect on the rest of the planet.”

The lunar storage facility would make use of about 200 giant lava tubes located beneath the moon’s surface. Formed between three and four billion years ago, these underground caverns would provide shelter from solar radiation, micrometeorites and surface temperature changes, says Profesor Thanga.

He and his colleagues admit that constructing the lunar ark would not be easy, but might not be as overwhelming as it could seem.

Transporting about 50 samples from each of the 6.7 million species on Earth would require 250 rocket launches. It took 40 rocket launches to build the international space station.

“It’s not crazy big”, says Thanga. “We were a little bit surprised about that.”

‘Please try later’

The model of the ark sketched out by the Arizona team includes a set of solar panels on the moon’s surface to provide electricity.

Two or more lift shafts would lead down into the facility where seeds, cooled down to temperatures of minus 180°C, would be preserved in a series of petri dishes.

Professor Thanga and his team admit that a lot more research needs to be carried out on the building and operation of the proposed lunar ark. There’s the question of how the preserved seeds might be affected by the lack of gravity on the moon.

And then there’s the issue of establishing communications with a base on Earth – if, of course, there is anyone left to receive calls. – Climate News Network

Alpine plants face risk from growing climate heat

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network