Tag Archives: climate change

Migrant birds face risk in earlier springs

Spring in the high latitudes is arriving ever earlier. But migrant birds from the tropics may not realise that, and faulty timing could cost them their lives.

LONDON, 11 January, 2019 – Biologists have identified another tale of conflict and bloodshed as African migrant birds compete with European natives for resources in a fast-warming world.

Death rates among male pied flycatchers – African carnivores that migrate each spring to the Netherlands to breed – have risen in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, as winters have warmed and springs have arrived earlier.

And in some years, almost one in 10 of the male migrant flycatchers has been found pecked to death by great tits that have already taken up residence in nest boxes that both species favour.

Jelmer Samplonius, then of the University of Groningen and now at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a colleague report in the journal Current Biology that they became interested in the competition between the migrant Ficedula hypoleuca and the European garden bird Parus major because both compete for the same resources.

These are the spring explosion of the caterpillar population, and the nest boxes established by householders who like to encourage wildlife. Both species try to time their breeding calendar to coincide with the arrival of plentiful, nourishing food for their chicks, and both species have become accustomed to colonising available nest boxes.

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”

But, the scientists say, climate change driven by global warming, in turn fired by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought new challenges.

Climate change poses a hazard for many species that are precisely adapted to their immediate environment.
They become more vulnerable as their breeding timetable goes out of synchrony with the food supply, or they become more at risk from predation in once relatively secure nesting sites in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The northern hemisphere spring now arrives much earlier. Some migrant species have been able to adapt, and the great tit in particular has shown itself to be resourceful and ready to cope with new challenges.

It now gets to the nesting sites to breed on average 16.6 days earlier than the pied flycatcher which winters in West Africa, and therefore has no way of knowing the right moment to head for a breeding site so far to the north in Europe.

Growing violence

And the late arrival of the African competitor has meant a marked increase in conflict. When the researchers checked the nest boxes, they counted 86 male flycatchers dead from injuries delivered by great tits, and two killed by the smaller species, the blue tit.

“The dead flycatchers were all found in active tit nests and had severe head wounds, and often their brains had been eaten by the tits,” they write.

“This could exhibit a significant mortality cause on male pied flycatchers in some years, with up to 8.9% of all males … known to defend a nest box being killed in a single year.”

Some years there were almost no little feathered corpses: other years were marked by conspicuous slaughter, and the researchers put the variation in the kill count down to what they define as a problem of synchrony. Tits killed more flycatchers when the competitors turned up at the peak of the tits’ breeding season.

Powerful claws

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”, Dr Samplonius said. “The great tit is heavier, as the flycatchers are built for a long migration from Europe to Western Africa and back. Also, great tits have very strong claws.”

The finding doesn’t seem to mean that the flycatcher is in immediate danger of local extinction: the scientists say that most of the slaughter occurred among surplus males; those who turned up late were less likely to find a breeding partner, and more likely to die from competition with great tits.

A surplus of males acts as a “buffer” to protect the overall population. But in the long run, the flycatcher could lose the race for survival.

“If buffers are diminished,” the scientists write, “population consequences of interspecific competition may become apparent, especially after warm winters that are benign to resident species.” – Climate News Network

Spring in the high latitudes is arriving ever earlier. But migrant birds from the tropics may not realise that, and faulty timing could cost them their lives.

LONDON, 11 January, 2019 – Biologists have identified another tale of conflict and bloodshed as African migrant birds compete with European natives for resources in a fast-warming world.

Death rates among male pied flycatchers – African carnivores that migrate each spring to the Netherlands to breed – have risen in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, as winters have warmed and springs have arrived earlier.

And in some years, almost one in 10 of the male migrant flycatchers has been found pecked to death by great tits that have already taken up residence in nest boxes that both species favour.

Jelmer Samplonius, then of the University of Groningen and now at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a colleague report in the journal Current Biology that they became interested in the competition between the migrant Ficedula hypoleuca and the European garden bird Parus major because both compete for the same resources.

These are the spring explosion of the caterpillar population, and the nest boxes established by householders who like to encourage wildlife. Both species try to time their breeding calendar to coincide with the arrival of plentiful, nourishing food for their chicks, and both species have become accustomed to colonising available nest boxes.

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”

But, the scientists say, climate change driven by global warming, in turn fired by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought new challenges.

Climate change poses a hazard for many species that are precisely adapted to their immediate environment.
They become more vulnerable as their breeding timetable goes out of synchrony with the food supply, or they become more at risk from predation in once relatively secure nesting sites in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The northern hemisphere spring now arrives much earlier. Some migrant species have been able to adapt, and the great tit in particular has shown itself to be resourceful and ready to cope with new challenges.

It now gets to the nesting sites to breed on average 16.6 days earlier than the pied flycatcher which winters in West Africa, and therefore has no way of knowing the right moment to head for a breeding site so far to the north in Europe.

Growing violence

And the late arrival of the African competitor has meant a marked increase in conflict. When the researchers checked the nest boxes, they counted 86 male flycatchers dead from injuries delivered by great tits, and two killed by the smaller species, the blue tit.

“The dead flycatchers were all found in active tit nests and had severe head wounds, and often their brains had been eaten by the tits,” they write.

“This could exhibit a significant mortality cause on male pied flycatchers in some years, with up to 8.9% of all males … known to defend a nest box being killed in a single year.”

Some years there were almost no little feathered corpses: other years were marked by conspicuous slaughter, and the researchers put the variation in the kill count down to what they define as a problem of synchrony. Tits killed more flycatchers when the competitors turned up at the peak of the tits’ breeding season.

Powerful claws

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”, Dr Samplonius said. “The great tit is heavier, as the flycatchers are built for a long migration from Europe to Western Africa and back. Also, great tits have very strong claws.”

The finding doesn’t seem to mean that the flycatcher is in immediate danger of local extinction: the scientists say that most of the slaughter occurred among surplus males; those who turned up late were less likely to find a breeding partner, and more likely to die from competition with great tits.

A surplus of males acts as a “buffer” to protect the overall population. But in the long run, the flycatcher could lose the race for survival.

“If buffers are diminished,” the scientists write, “population consequences of interspecific competition may become apparent, especially after warm winters that are benign to resident species.” – Climate News Network

Ocean warming speeds vary with depth

The world’s oceans are a vast reservoir of heat, a slow register of natural climate change − and ocean warming speeds differ widely.

LONDON, 10 January, 2019 − Climate scientists who have found a new way to chart temperature change in the world’s seas over time say ocean warming speeds are much slower in deep water than on the surface.

Planet Earth is mostly ocean. Human-linked changes have started to raise global temperatures to what could be alarming levels and, as the thermometer rises, so will sea levels. So detailed understanding of temperature and ocean is vital. But two separate studies confirm that the connection is far from simple.

One study of the Atlantic confirms that in the last 150 years, the oceans have taken up 90% of the excess energy released by the combustion of fossil fuels to drive human economic growth and power − and to fuel potentially-catastrophic global warming and runaway climate change.

But what the oceans will actually do with that colossal burst of heat has yet to be fully explored. And a separate examination of the deep history of the Pacific Ocean confirms that change may be inexorable, but it is also very slow: the deeper parts of the Pacific are still registering the onset of the so-called “Little Ice Age” several centuries ago.

“These waters are so old and haven’t been near the surface in so long, they still ‘remember’ what was going on hundreds of years ago”

Both studies are reminders that oceanography is still a relatively new science and researchers still have a lot to learn about the fine detail of the ways in which temperature, atmosphere and ocean interact to affect climate over the world’s continents.

But repeated research has confirmed that the oceans are warming in response to human-triggered changes on land, that this warming presents several different kinds of hazard  to marine life, and that there is a link between overall ocean temperatures and the behaviour of the ocean’s currents, a link that plays out in dramatic shifts in regional climates.

So the rewards for a more precise understanding are considerable. But understanding starts with accurate and comprehensive data, and systematic measurement of ocean temperatures began only with the voyage of the British research ship HMS Challenger in 1871.

So Laure Zanna, a physicist at the University of Oxford and her colleagues, report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they deployed sophisticated mathematical techniques to calculate the heat uptake of the oceans and the way the blue planet has responded since 1871.

Huge heat uptake

Altogether, in the last 150 years, the deep waters have absorbed 436 zettajoules: a joule is the unit of energy required to deliver one watt for one second and a zettajoule is a number followed by 21 zeroes. This is an enormous amount of heat, roughly 1,000 times the energy consumed by 7 billion humans in the course of a year.

The researchers’ results so far show that roughly half the observed warming of the last 60 years – and the associated sea level rise – is linked to changes in ocean circulation. They were able to reconstruct two considerable bouts of warming, over the years 1920 to 1945 and between 1990 and 2015. What they have yet to do is sort out what this means for the behaviour of the oceans over the decades to come.

“The technique is only applicable to tracers like man-made carbon that are passively transported by ocean circulation,” Professor Zanna said. “However, heat does not behave in this manner as it affects circulation by changing the density of seawater. We were pleasantly surprised by how well the approach works. It opens up an exciting new way to study ocean warming in addition to using direct measurements.”

What the research also underlines is that the oceans have a long memory: so extensive and so deep are the five oceans that the surface waters may respond to 20th century greenhouse gas emissions while the deepest trenches contain water that last warmed more than 1,000 years ago in the reign of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Still adjusting

US oceanographers report in the journal Science that they matched predictions from computer models and modern data and ancient evidence with readings from the Challenger expedition to show that two kilometres under the waves, the Pacific Ocean is still adjusting to cooling that began with the onset of the Little Ice Age centuries ago.

Such studies count as basic research: as a way of testing techniques and establishing ground rules from which more discovery could follow. They also offer new ways to understand oceans as registers of climate change over long intervals.

“These waters are so old and haven’t been near the surface in so long, they still ‘remember’ what was going on hundreds of years ago when Europe experienced some of its coldest winters in history,” said Jake Gebbie, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“The close correspondence between prediction and observed trends gave us confidence that this is a real phenomenon.” − Climate News Network

The world’s oceans are a vast reservoir of heat, a slow register of natural climate change − and ocean warming speeds differ widely.

LONDON, 10 January, 2019 − Climate scientists who have found a new way to chart temperature change in the world’s seas over time say ocean warming speeds are much slower in deep water than on the surface.

Planet Earth is mostly ocean. Human-linked changes have started to raise global temperatures to what could be alarming levels and, as the thermometer rises, so will sea levels. So detailed understanding of temperature and ocean is vital. But two separate studies confirm that the connection is far from simple.

One study of the Atlantic confirms that in the last 150 years, the oceans have taken up 90% of the excess energy released by the combustion of fossil fuels to drive human economic growth and power − and to fuel potentially-catastrophic global warming and runaway climate change.

But what the oceans will actually do with that colossal burst of heat has yet to be fully explored. And a separate examination of the deep history of the Pacific Ocean confirms that change may be inexorable, but it is also very slow: the deeper parts of the Pacific are still registering the onset of the so-called “Little Ice Age” several centuries ago.

“These waters are so old and haven’t been near the surface in so long, they still ‘remember’ what was going on hundreds of years ago”

Both studies are reminders that oceanography is still a relatively new science and researchers still have a lot to learn about the fine detail of the ways in which temperature, atmosphere and ocean interact to affect climate over the world’s continents.

But repeated research has confirmed that the oceans are warming in response to human-triggered changes on land, that this warming presents several different kinds of hazard  to marine life, and that there is a link between overall ocean temperatures and the behaviour of the ocean’s currents, a link that plays out in dramatic shifts in regional climates.

So the rewards for a more precise understanding are considerable. But understanding starts with accurate and comprehensive data, and systematic measurement of ocean temperatures began only with the voyage of the British research ship HMS Challenger in 1871.

So Laure Zanna, a physicist at the University of Oxford and her colleagues, report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they deployed sophisticated mathematical techniques to calculate the heat uptake of the oceans and the way the blue planet has responded since 1871.

Huge heat uptake

Altogether, in the last 150 years, the deep waters have absorbed 436 zettajoules: a joule is the unit of energy required to deliver one watt for one second and a zettajoule is a number followed by 21 zeroes. This is an enormous amount of heat, roughly 1,000 times the energy consumed by 7 billion humans in the course of a year.

The researchers’ results so far show that roughly half the observed warming of the last 60 years – and the associated sea level rise – is linked to changes in ocean circulation. They were able to reconstruct two considerable bouts of warming, over the years 1920 to 1945 and between 1990 and 2015. What they have yet to do is sort out what this means for the behaviour of the oceans over the decades to come.

“The technique is only applicable to tracers like man-made carbon that are passively transported by ocean circulation,” Professor Zanna said. “However, heat does not behave in this manner as it affects circulation by changing the density of seawater. We were pleasantly surprised by how well the approach works. It opens up an exciting new way to study ocean warming in addition to using direct measurements.”

What the research also underlines is that the oceans have a long memory: so extensive and so deep are the five oceans that the surface waters may respond to 20th century greenhouse gas emissions while the deepest trenches contain water that last warmed more than 1,000 years ago in the reign of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Still adjusting

US oceanographers report in the journal Science that they matched predictions from computer models and modern data and ancient evidence with readings from the Challenger expedition to show that two kilometres under the waves, the Pacific Ocean is still adjusting to cooling that began with the onset of the Little Ice Age centuries ago.

Such studies count as basic research: as a way of testing techniques and establishing ground rules from which more discovery could follow. They also offer new ways to understand oceans as registers of climate change over long intervals.

“These waters are so old and haven’t been near the surface in so long, they still ‘remember’ what was going on hundreds of years ago when Europe experienced some of its coldest winters in history,” said Jake Gebbie, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“The close correspondence between prediction and observed trends gave us confidence that this is a real phenomenon.” − Climate News Network

Swedes top climate change resisters’ league

Some governments take global warming seriously, while others defy the science and virtually ignore it. The climate change resisters’ league names names.

LONDON, 8 January, 2019 – There are countries that are in earnest about the way humans are overheating the planet, the climate change resisters; and there are others that give what is one of the most fundamental problems facing the world only scant attention.

Annually over the past 14 years a group of 350 energy and climate experts from around the globe has drawn up a table reflecting the performance of more than 70 countries in tackling climate change.

Together this group of nations is responsible for more than 90% of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In the just published index looking at developments in 2018, Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania are the top performers in combatting global warming. At the other end of the scale are Iran, the US and – worst performer by a significant margin – Saudi Arabia.

The analysis – called the Climate Change Performance Index, or CCPI – is published by German Watch and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany, plus the Climate Action Network, which has its headquarters in Lebanon.

“No country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C”

The CCPI compares the various countries’ performances across three categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. The index also evaluates the progress made by nations in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Morocco comes in for particular praise in the index. “With the connection of the world’s largest solar plant and multiple new wind farms to the grid, the country is well on track for achieving its target of 42% installed renewable energy capacity by 2020 and 52% by 2030.”

India has risen up the performance league and is praised for its moves into renewable energy, though concerns are expressed about the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UK and the EU as a whole score reasonably highly in the index, but the CCPI compilers issue several caveats and leave the top three places in the league table blank.

Poor Saudi record

“This is because no country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement,” they say.

Russia, Canada, Australia and South Korea all score badly in the CCPI, with the US just one place off the bottom spot.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the US being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has over the years repeatedly come bottom of the CCPI.

“The country continues to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator on emissions, energy use and renewable energy.”

Mid-East’s heightened risk

The Saudis are also strongly criticised for their obstructionist tactics at climate negotiations.

At a recent international meeting on climate change held in Katowice in Poland, Saudi Arabia – together with the US, Russia and Kuwait – was accused of holding up proceedings and of refusing to acknowledge the vital importance of taking action on global warming.

The Middle East, and North Africa and the Gulf region in particular, are considered by scientists to be among the areas which are likely to feel the most serious impacts of climate change in the near future.

Already the region is being hit by ever-rising temperatures; climate researchers say that before too long it’s likely that people working outside in the intense summer heat in population centres such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – including those repairing air conditioning and water systems, or overseeing emergency services – could be putting their lives at risk. – Climate News Network

Some governments take global warming seriously, while others defy the science and virtually ignore it. The climate change resisters’ league names names.

LONDON, 8 January, 2019 – There are countries that are in earnest about the way humans are overheating the planet, the climate change resisters; and there are others that give what is one of the most fundamental problems facing the world only scant attention.

Annually over the past 14 years a group of 350 energy and climate experts from around the globe has drawn up a table reflecting the performance of more than 70 countries in tackling climate change.

Together this group of nations is responsible for more than 90% of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In the just published index looking at developments in 2018, Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania are the top performers in combatting global warming. At the other end of the scale are Iran, the US and – worst performer by a significant margin – Saudi Arabia.

The analysis – called the Climate Change Performance Index, or CCPI – is published by German Watch and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany, plus the Climate Action Network, which has its headquarters in Lebanon.

“No country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C”

The CCPI compares the various countries’ performances across three categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. The index also evaluates the progress made by nations in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Morocco comes in for particular praise in the index. “With the connection of the world’s largest solar plant and multiple new wind farms to the grid, the country is well on track for achieving its target of 42% installed renewable energy capacity by 2020 and 52% by 2030.”

India has risen up the performance league and is praised for its moves into renewable energy, though concerns are expressed about the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UK and the EU as a whole score reasonably highly in the index, but the CCPI compilers issue several caveats and leave the top three places in the league table blank.

Poor Saudi record

“This is because no country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement,” they say.

Russia, Canada, Australia and South Korea all score badly in the CCPI, with the US just one place off the bottom spot.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the US being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has over the years repeatedly come bottom of the CCPI.

“The country continues to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator on emissions, energy use and renewable energy.”

Mid-East’s heightened risk

The Saudis are also strongly criticised for their obstructionist tactics at climate negotiations.

At a recent international meeting on climate change held in Katowice in Poland, Saudi Arabia – together with the US, Russia and Kuwait – was accused of holding up proceedings and of refusing to acknowledge the vital importance of taking action on global warming.

The Middle East, and North Africa and the Gulf region in particular, are considered by scientists to be among the areas which are likely to feel the most serious impacts of climate change in the near future.

Already the region is being hit by ever-rising temperatures; climate researchers say that before too long it’s likely that people working outside in the intense summer heat in population centres such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – including those repairing air conditioning and water systems, or overseeing emergency services – could be putting their lives at risk. – Climate News Network

Soil and water carbon stores puzzle science

Under the ice, and deep in the soil, carbon stores maintain a lively traffic. Researchers are teasing out the complexities of greenhouse gases and global warming.

LONDON, 7 January, 2019 − Two new studies have highlighted yet more unexpected findings in the epic story of the Earth’s carbon stores: how the world’s waters and soils accumulate and discharge them.

One team of researchers has found, to their surprise, that the meltwaters of Greenland are washing measurable quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

And another has looked more closely at the way carbon is stored in the world’s soils, and come to the conclusion that even the minerals in the bedrock play a role: with help from rainwater, they can capture and hold potentially vast quantities of carbon in the soils of planet Earth.

Neither discovery changes the big picture of global warming driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels during the last two centuries. But both are reminders that climate scientists still have a lot to learn about precisely how the trafficking of carbon between life, rocks and atmosphere really happens.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around”

And both will prompt a fresh look at the great unresolved question facing climate science: how much of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity can be absorbed naturally by the rocks and living things on the planet?

British, Canadian, US, German, Czech and Danish researchers report in the journal Nature that they camped for three summer months on Greenland to take continuous samples of meltwater from a 600 square kilometre icesheet.

They found what they term “a continuous export” of methane: six tons of it from this site alone, or roughly the equivalent of what might be belched from 100 cows. Busy microbes, at work below kilometres of ice, are producing a greenhouse gas many times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast-flowing rivers before it can be oxidised to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse potency,” said Jemma Wadham, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation.

Sizeable challenge

Climate scientists have been worrying for decades about the carbon locked − for the moment − in the Arctic permafrost. But the discovery that even the ice sheets are a source of atmospheric carbon accentuates the scale of the challenge facing those researchers who are trying to settle the great questions of the carbon budget: how much more fossil fuel can humans burn before planetary temperatures reach catastrophic levels, and how much of this build-up of greenhouse gases will be absorbed naturally by oceans, forests and soils?

Attention has repeatedly centred on the role of vegetation,  and in particular the great forests, in soaking up some of this carbon.

But huge questions remain about the roles played by flowing water and by soils as bankers of the planet’s atmospheric carbon. A second study in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a fresh insight into the obscurities of carbon storage underfoot.

Iron- and aluminium-bearing minerals in the soils cling to a lot of carbon. How much varies according to rainfall and evaporation, but it could be that between 3% and 72% of organic carbon found in soils is retained by reactive minerals. And, the researchers think, in all, this could add up to 600 billion metric tons worldwide, most of it in the rainforests.

Long-term uncertainty

“When plants photosynthesise, they draw carbon out of the atmosphere, then they die and their organic matter is incorporated in the soil,” said Oliver Chadwick of the University of Santa Barbara, one of the researchers. “Bacteria decompose that organic matter, releasing carbon that can either go right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or can get held on the surface of soil minerals.”

What the finding means in the long term is not certain: as the researchers say, the capacity of mineral soils to cling to carbon suggests what they call “high sensitivity to future changes in climate.” That is, with yet more warming, the same mineral soils could release their imprisoned carbon. Nobody knows at what point this would happen.

So there is a need for further research. For more than a decade,scientists have debated the challenge of capturing carbon dioxide and burying it underground, as a way of limiting climate change. The discovery seems to suggest it can be done. But it also suggests ways in which that entrapment could be undone.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars,” said Marc Kramer of Washington State University, as co-author.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around. This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.” − Climate News Network

Under the ice, and deep in the soil, carbon stores maintain a lively traffic. Researchers are teasing out the complexities of greenhouse gases and global warming.

LONDON, 7 January, 2019 − Two new studies have highlighted yet more unexpected findings in the epic story of the Earth’s carbon stores: how the world’s waters and soils accumulate and discharge them.

One team of researchers has found, to their surprise, that the meltwaters of Greenland are washing measurable quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

And another has looked more closely at the way carbon is stored in the world’s soils, and come to the conclusion that even the minerals in the bedrock play a role: with help from rainwater, they can capture and hold potentially vast quantities of carbon in the soils of planet Earth.

Neither discovery changes the big picture of global warming driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels during the last two centuries. But both are reminders that climate scientists still have a lot to learn about precisely how the trafficking of carbon between life, rocks and atmosphere really happens.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around”

And both will prompt a fresh look at the great unresolved question facing climate science: how much of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity can be absorbed naturally by the rocks and living things on the planet?

British, Canadian, US, German, Czech and Danish researchers report in the journal Nature that they camped for three summer months on Greenland to take continuous samples of meltwater from a 600 square kilometre icesheet.

They found what they term “a continuous export” of methane: six tons of it from this site alone, or roughly the equivalent of what might be belched from 100 cows. Busy microbes, at work below kilometres of ice, are producing a greenhouse gas many times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast-flowing rivers before it can be oxidised to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse potency,” said Jemma Wadham, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation.

Sizeable challenge

Climate scientists have been worrying for decades about the carbon locked − for the moment − in the Arctic permafrost. But the discovery that even the ice sheets are a source of atmospheric carbon accentuates the scale of the challenge facing those researchers who are trying to settle the great questions of the carbon budget: how much more fossil fuel can humans burn before planetary temperatures reach catastrophic levels, and how much of this build-up of greenhouse gases will be absorbed naturally by oceans, forests and soils?

Attention has repeatedly centred on the role of vegetation,  and in particular the great forests, in soaking up some of this carbon.

But huge questions remain about the roles played by flowing water and by soils as bankers of the planet’s atmospheric carbon. A second study in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a fresh insight into the obscurities of carbon storage underfoot.

Iron- and aluminium-bearing minerals in the soils cling to a lot of carbon. How much varies according to rainfall and evaporation, but it could be that between 3% and 72% of organic carbon found in soils is retained by reactive minerals. And, the researchers think, in all, this could add up to 600 billion metric tons worldwide, most of it in the rainforests.

Long-term uncertainty

“When plants photosynthesise, they draw carbon out of the atmosphere, then they die and their organic matter is incorporated in the soil,” said Oliver Chadwick of the University of Santa Barbara, one of the researchers. “Bacteria decompose that organic matter, releasing carbon that can either go right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or can get held on the surface of soil minerals.”

What the finding means in the long term is not certain: as the researchers say, the capacity of mineral soils to cling to carbon suggests what they call “high sensitivity to future changes in climate.” That is, with yet more warming, the same mineral soils could release their imprisoned carbon. Nobody knows at what point this would happen.

So there is a need for further research. For more than a decade,scientists have debated the challenge of capturing carbon dioxide and burying it underground, as a way of limiting climate change. The discovery seems to suggest it can be done. But it also suggests ways in which that entrapment could be undone.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars,” said Marc Kramer of Washington State University, as co-author.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around. This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.” − Climate News Network

China’s cities face sobering cooling costs

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

Permian era die-off may be warning for today

The mass annihilation that was the Permian era die-off has lessons for climate science today. They’re not encouraging.

LONDON, 24 December, 2018 – Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10°C.

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

Flee or perish

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. “It was either flee or perish.”

And his co-author and colleague Justin Penn sees a warning for today – in which temperatures have begun to rise in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels – in a desperate moment long ago. He said:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

This latest study is unlikely to close the case: carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere has been proposed before, but other teams have suggested dramatic ozone loss in the upper atmosphere as a prime cause of death. Other candidate killers include increasingly acidic oceans, the mass release of metal and sulphide toxins, or the complete lack of oxygen.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian”

Geologists work on the principle that the present is key to the past: it follows that what happened in the past could also be a guide to what might happen in the future, which is why climate scientists, in particular, attach huge importance to research into ancient atmospheres.

So to build up a picture of what may have happened, Penn and his colleagues report in the journal Science that they matched computer models of animal metabolisms and ocean conditions with the fossil evidence from the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. And they claim the first computer-based prediction that could be directly tested against the evidence from the shells and bones of creatures preserved in strata laid down 252 million years ago.

From that, they were able to reconstruct the pattern of obliteration. Massive volcanic lava flows in what is now Siberia deposited colossal volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rose, the seas began to lose up to 80% of their dissolved oxygen. About half of the deep ocean seafloor became completely anoxic (without oxygen). What is now known as “the Great Dying” began.

The researchers checked their temperature and oxygen readings on what they knew of 61 modern marine species – sharks, crustaceans, corals, molluscs and bony fish – all classes of creature that evolved under conditions similar to the Permian.

No certain parallel

Those hit the hardest were the most sensitive to oxygen that lived far from the tropics. Tropical species were already adapted to high temperatures and low oxygen, and had somewhere to move to: they fared better.

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the US, in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.” – Climate News Network

The mass annihilation that was the Permian era die-off has lessons for climate science today. They’re not encouraging.

LONDON, 24 December, 2018 – Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10°C.

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

Flee or perish

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. “It was either flee or perish.”

And his co-author and colleague Justin Penn sees a warning for today – in which temperatures have begun to rise in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels – in a desperate moment long ago. He said:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

This latest study is unlikely to close the case: carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere has been proposed before, but other teams have suggested dramatic ozone loss in the upper atmosphere as a prime cause of death. Other candidate killers include increasingly acidic oceans, the mass release of metal and sulphide toxins, or the complete lack of oxygen.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian”

Geologists work on the principle that the present is key to the past: it follows that what happened in the past could also be a guide to what might happen in the future, which is why climate scientists, in particular, attach huge importance to research into ancient atmospheres.

So to build up a picture of what may have happened, Penn and his colleagues report in the journal Science that they matched computer models of animal metabolisms and ocean conditions with the fossil evidence from the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. And they claim the first computer-based prediction that could be directly tested against the evidence from the shells and bones of creatures preserved in strata laid down 252 million years ago.

From that, they were able to reconstruct the pattern of obliteration. Massive volcanic lava flows in what is now Siberia deposited colossal volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rose, the seas began to lose up to 80% of their dissolved oxygen. About half of the deep ocean seafloor became completely anoxic (without oxygen). What is now known as “the Great Dying” began.

The researchers checked their temperature and oxygen readings on what they knew of 61 modern marine species – sharks, crustaceans, corals, molluscs and bony fish – all classes of creature that evolved under conditions similar to the Permian.

No certain parallel

Those hit the hardest were the most sensitive to oxygen that lived far from the tropics. Tropical species were already adapted to high temperatures and low oxygen, and had somewhere to move to: they fared better.

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the US, in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.” – Climate News Network

Global warming ‘pause’ never happened

Claims of a global warming ‘pause’ in observed temperatures early this century are unfounded and lack statistical significance, researchers say.

LONDON, 19 December, 2018 − Yet another team of researchers has concluded that the much-debated global warming ‘pause’ which preoccupied climate science around the turn of the century simply did not happen.

If their work continues to win support from other researchers, it will leave those who have argued that the pause was real with some explaining to do.

Some scientists have argued that there was a pause, or hiatus, in the rate of global warming recorded from 1998 to 2013, and that this cast doubt on the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the available evidence showed the world had continued to warm.

Other researchers said variously that the pause had never started, or blamed changes in the trade winds. Many said the pause (or its absence) were anyway irrelevant, because the long-term global warming trend was continuing unabated.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this”

Some argued that the “missing” heat had been absorbed by oceans, a few that volcanic discharges might have masked sunlight, some that it was simply evidence of a natural cycle, others that in a longer time series the apparent slowdown became invisible.

Now an international team of climate researchers, after re-analysing existing data and studies, says there has never been a statistically significant pause.

This conclusion holds, they say, whether considering the supposed pause as a change in the rate of warming in observations, or as a mismatch in rate between observations and expectations from climate models. Their findings are published in two papers in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In other words, they say, there is no reason to doubt that warming continued as mainstream climate scientists argued it would, nor to doubt the methods they used, including climate modelling. But there are reasons to ask why the non-existent pause was so enthusiastically promoted by some scientists and others.

Unsupported by data

Dr James Risbey, from CSIRO Australia, is the lead author of one of the studies, which reassessed the data and put it into historical context.

He said: “Our findings show there is little or no statistical evidence for a ‘pause’ in GMST [global mean surface temperature] rise. Neither the current data nor the historical data support it … there was never enough evidence to reasonably draw any other conclusion.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this. The climate-research community’s acceptance of a ‘pause’ in global warming caused confusion for the public and policy system about the pace and urgency of climate change.

“That confusion in turn might have contributed to reduced impetus for action to prevent greenhouse climate change. The risks are substantial.”

Biassed interpretation

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from the University of Bristol, UK, is the lead author of the companion study, which looks at the alleged mismatch between the rate of global warming in observations and climate models.

He said: “We found the impression of a divergence – that is, a divergence between the rate of actual global warming and the model projections – was caused by various biases in the model interpretation and in the observations. It was unsupported by robust statistics.”

Despite this, the authors point out that by the end of 2017, the ‘pause’ was the subject of more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Many of these articles do not give any reason for their choice of start year for the ‘pause’, and the range spans 1995 to 2004.

Professor Lewandowsky said: “This broad range may indicate a lack of formal or scientific procedures to establish the onset of the ‘pause’. Moreover, each instance of the presumed onset was not randomly chosen but chosen specifically because of the low subsequent warming. We describe this as selection bias … some of the biases that affect the datasets and projections were known, or knowable, at the time.”

Contrarian pressure

When the researchers re-analysed the data, accounting for the selection bias problem, they found that no evidence for a divergence between models and observations existed at any time in the last decade.

They offer several possible reasons why some scientists believed climate warming lagged behind modelled warming. One co-author, Professor Naomi Oreskes, from Harvard University, US, said: “An explanation lies in the constant public and political pressure from climate contrarians.

“This may have caused scientists to feel the need to explain what was occurring, which led them inadvertently to accept and reinforce the contrarian framework.”

Dr Dann Mitchell, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, who was not involved with either study, said: “Given the fast pace of increasing climate change understanding, the conclusions of this paper will be very relevant for the inevitable future ‘apparent’ climate contradictions that emerge over time.” − Climate News Network

Claims of a global warming ‘pause’ in observed temperatures early this century are unfounded and lack statistical significance, researchers say.

LONDON, 19 December, 2018 − Yet another team of researchers has concluded that the much-debated global warming ‘pause’ which preoccupied climate science around the turn of the century simply did not happen.

If their work continues to win support from other researchers, it will leave those who have argued that the pause was real with some explaining to do.

Some scientists have argued that there was a pause, or hiatus, in the rate of global warming recorded from 1998 to 2013, and that this cast doubt on the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the available evidence showed the world had continued to warm.

Other researchers said variously that the pause had never started, or blamed changes in the trade winds. Many said the pause (or its absence) were anyway irrelevant, because the long-term global warming trend was continuing unabated.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this”

Some argued that the “missing” heat had been absorbed by oceans, a few that volcanic discharges might have masked sunlight, some that it was simply evidence of a natural cycle, others that in a longer time series the apparent slowdown became invisible.

Now an international team of climate researchers, after re-analysing existing data and studies, says there has never been a statistically significant pause.

This conclusion holds, they say, whether considering the supposed pause as a change in the rate of warming in observations, or as a mismatch in rate between observations and expectations from climate models. Their findings are published in two papers in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In other words, they say, there is no reason to doubt that warming continued as mainstream climate scientists argued it would, nor to doubt the methods they used, including climate modelling. But there are reasons to ask why the non-existent pause was so enthusiastically promoted by some scientists and others.

Unsupported by data

Dr James Risbey, from CSIRO Australia, is the lead author of one of the studies, which reassessed the data and put it into historical context.

He said: “Our findings show there is little or no statistical evidence for a ‘pause’ in GMST [global mean surface temperature] rise. Neither the current data nor the historical data support it … there was never enough evidence to reasonably draw any other conclusion.

“Global warming did not pause, but we need to understand how and why scientists came to believe it had, to avoid future episodes like this. The climate-research community’s acceptance of a ‘pause’ in global warming caused confusion for the public and policy system about the pace and urgency of climate change.

“That confusion in turn might have contributed to reduced impetus for action to prevent greenhouse climate change. The risks are substantial.”

Biassed interpretation

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from the University of Bristol, UK, is the lead author of the companion study, which looks at the alleged mismatch between the rate of global warming in observations and climate models.

He said: “We found the impression of a divergence – that is, a divergence between the rate of actual global warming and the model projections – was caused by various biases in the model interpretation and in the observations. It was unsupported by robust statistics.”

Despite this, the authors point out that by the end of 2017, the ‘pause’ was the subject of more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Many of these articles do not give any reason for their choice of start year for the ‘pause’, and the range spans 1995 to 2004.

Professor Lewandowsky said: “This broad range may indicate a lack of formal or scientific procedures to establish the onset of the ‘pause’. Moreover, each instance of the presumed onset was not randomly chosen but chosen specifically because of the low subsequent warming. We describe this as selection bias … some of the biases that affect the datasets and projections were known, or knowable, at the time.”

Contrarian pressure

When the researchers re-analysed the data, accounting for the selection bias problem, they found that no evidence for a divergence between models and observations existed at any time in the last decade.

They offer several possible reasons why some scientists believed climate warming lagged behind modelled warming. One co-author, Professor Naomi Oreskes, from Harvard University, US, said: “An explanation lies in the constant public and political pressure from climate contrarians.

“This may have caused scientists to feel the need to explain what was occurring, which led them inadvertently to accept and reinforce the contrarian framework.”

Dr Dann Mitchell, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, who was not involved with either study, said: “Given the fast pace of increasing climate change understanding, the conclusions of this paper will be very relevant for the inevitable future ‘apparent’ climate contradictions that emerge over time.” − Climate News Network

UK’s dream is now its nuclear nightmare

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.”

Over its lifetime the giant plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, has taken spent fuel from eight countries as well as the UK and succeeded in producing a small mountain of plutonium and uranium of which only a tiny fraction has ever been re-used as intended. Instead most has been stockpiled and is now stored under armed guard with no use or purpose in sight.

White elephant

From the start, THORP was lampooned by cartoonists as a balloon in the shape of a great white elephant hovering over the English Lake District. The UK government maintained then − and still insists − that it was a major foreign currency earner, bringing £9 bn (US$11.4 bn today) to the UK over its lifetime.

There is though no publicly available profit and loss account for the plant. (Most of the prices and costs quoted here are those reported by the owners of THORP in their publicity at the time, but the total of foreign currency earnings and some of the 2018 figures below are new ones provided to the Climate News Network).

All that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs THORP on behalf of the government, will say is that the plant has employed 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. Even after it has closed it will cost £35 million a year to maintain for 10 years while it is cleaned out. Final demolition is set for 2095 with a price tag of £4 billion, a lot more than THORP cost to build.

For its customers back then, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, or rather for their governments, it solved a terrible problem − how to dispose of or store the ever-increasing amounts of spent fuel coming out of their nuclear reactors?

Problems exported

To avoid any anti-nuclear issues at home they were prepared to pay to send the fuel to Britain to be “recycled”. This conveniently postponed for decades the prospect of dealing with the problem of where to deposit the nuclear fuel as waste − well after the time any of the politicians involved would be held to account.

But even as THORP closes and the last load of fuel is dissolved in acid to extract the plutonium and uranium it contains, the problems the plant was designed to solve remain, and new ones have been created.

Every view about the success or failure of the plant is still contested, even its cost. When it opened in 1994 it was said to have cost £2.85 billion, but this week the NDA, its current owner, claims the cost was only £1.4 billion and that all of that was paid for by the foreign governments that wanted to use its services.

In the 1990s British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the government-owned company that built THORP, claimed that the plant would work up to reprocessing 1,200 tons of spent fuel a year and make £500 mn profit in its first ten years of operation. In the first decade its target was to have reprocessed 7,000 tons, but it fell short by nearly 2,000 tons as a result of accidents and leaks which caused a series of shutdowns

“The plant should never have been built, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with”

These failures, which grew worse over time, led to overseas customers losing faith in the running of the plant and to the cancellation of reprocessing contracts by Germany. Perhaps more importantly, no new contracts were signed.

The fundamental issue, however, was THORP’s failure to achieve its purpose. In order to justify its existence the plutonium and uranium should have been re-used for peaceful purposes. Plans for the new generation of fast breeder reactors that could have used the plutonium were abandoned, so in order to show they were using some of the product from the plant BNFL added another factory. This was to make new reactor fuel, made of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium (MOX), using material recycled from THORP.

This project was also mired in controversy, but the government insisted on going ahead. It ended in abject failure because the plant failed to work. Instead of producing 120 tons of MOX fuel a year it made just 13.8 tons in nine years and was abandoned in 2011. A government report into the plant concluded in 2013 that this new factory added to THORP had lost taxpayers £2.2 bn.

Despite the reasons for THORP’s existence being comprehensively undermined, the plant continued. This was principally because it still had unfulfilled contracts from foreign customers to reprocess spent fuel, earning money producing plutonium and uranium that no one has a use for – except perhaps a terrorist.

Embarrassment

So at the end of its life there is a stockpile of uranium and plutonium at Sellafield that is an embarrassment to its owners. According to the contracts signed in the 1980s the reprocessed material has to be returned to the country of origin – along with the nuclear waste created in the process.

But naturally these countries do not want it back, some, like Germany, Italy and Spain, because they have abandoned nuclear power. To help them out the UK is holding on to it, but at a price.

For large but undisclosed sums of money, the ownership of this unwanted uranium and plutonium is gradually being transferred to the UK. Negotiations are still going on with Japan to transfer to UK ownership more than two tons of its reprocessed plutonium that would otherwise have to be returned with no end use.

This complex situation is further muddled by the fact that the UK already has another much older reprocessing plant, in operation since 1952. This still dissolves fuel from even older and long-closed British Magnox reactors. The first few of these power stations were built in the 1950s to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons, and then more were erected, mainly to generate electricity for the grid. The Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield is also due to close in the next two years.

Permanent armed guard

The result of all this reprocessing is a staggering store of 140 tons of plutonium, enough to power 30 never-to-be-built fast breeder reactors or to provide material to make thousands of nuclear missiles. The UK government has had frequent reviews but as yet has no policy on how to deal with the stockpile, which has to be constantly guarded by armed police to prevent terrorist attacks.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact there are more than 100,000 tons of uranium in store across the UK, again with no end use in sight. This consists mainly of waste, depleted uranium left over from making fuel, and uranium from spent fuel left over after reprocessing.

An irony of the whole THORP saga, considering the current frosty relationship between the UK and President Vladimir Putin, is that one beneficiary of reprocessing was Russia. The Russians have a plant capable of re-enriching the uranium recovered from THORP and turning it back into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Taking advantage of this facility, which is not not available in the UK, one of THORP’s overseas customers, believed to be Germany, sent 1,000 tons of its recovered uranium from Britain to Russia over a period of five years to be turned back into fuel.

Rivalling Disneyland

So at least one customer managed to recycle some of THORP’s output. But what will happen to the remaining 9,000 tons of uranium produced by the plant from spent fuel and now stored remains a mystery.

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, who opposed the building of the plant and has monitored its fortunes ever since, summed up: “The plant should never have been built in the first place, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibition to celebrate THORP’s achievements. Its website says: “Thorp’s contribution to the global nuclear industry is a source of great pride for the communities of West Cumbria.

“It was the second reprocessing plant built at Sellafield and, at the time, was one of the largest and most complex construction projects in Europe, rivalled only by the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris.” − Climate News Network

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.”

Over its lifetime the giant plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, has taken spent fuel from eight countries as well as the UK and succeeded in producing a small mountain of plutonium and uranium of which only a tiny fraction has ever been re-used as intended. Instead most has been stockpiled and is now stored under armed guard with no use or purpose in sight.

White elephant

From the start, THORP was lampooned by cartoonists as a balloon in the shape of a great white elephant hovering over the English Lake District. The UK government maintained then − and still insists − that it was a major foreign currency earner, bringing £9 bn (US$11.4 bn today) to the UK over its lifetime.

There is though no publicly available profit and loss account for the plant. (Most of the prices and costs quoted here are those reported by the owners of THORP in their publicity at the time, but the total of foreign currency earnings and some of the 2018 figures below are new ones provided to the Climate News Network).

All that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs THORP on behalf of the government, will say is that the plant has employed 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. Even after it has closed it will cost £35 million a year to maintain for 10 years while it is cleaned out. Final demolition is set for 2095 with a price tag of £4 billion, a lot more than THORP cost to build.

For its customers back then, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, or rather for their governments, it solved a terrible problem − how to dispose of or store the ever-increasing amounts of spent fuel coming out of their nuclear reactors?

Problems exported

To avoid any anti-nuclear issues at home they were prepared to pay to send the fuel to Britain to be “recycled”. This conveniently postponed for decades the prospect of dealing with the problem of where to deposit the nuclear fuel as waste − well after the time any of the politicians involved would be held to account.

But even as THORP closes and the last load of fuel is dissolved in acid to extract the plutonium and uranium it contains, the problems the plant was designed to solve remain, and new ones have been created.

Every view about the success or failure of the plant is still contested, even its cost. When it opened in 1994 it was said to have cost £2.85 billion, but this week the NDA, its current owner, claims the cost was only £1.4 billion and that all of that was paid for by the foreign governments that wanted to use its services.

In the 1990s British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the government-owned company that built THORP, claimed that the plant would work up to reprocessing 1,200 tons of spent fuel a year and make £500 mn profit in its first ten years of operation. In the first decade its target was to have reprocessed 7,000 tons, but it fell short by nearly 2,000 tons as a result of accidents and leaks which caused a series of shutdowns

“The plant should never have been built, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with”

These failures, which grew worse over time, led to overseas customers losing faith in the running of the plant and to the cancellation of reprocessing contracts by Germany. Perhaps more importantly, no new contracts were signed.

The fundamental issue, however, was THORP’s failure to achieve its purpose. In order to justify its existence the plutonium and uranium should have been re-used for peaceful purposes. Plans for the new generation of fast breeder reactors that could have used the plutonium were abandoned, so in order to show they were using some of the product from the plant BNFL added another factory. This was to make new reactor fuel, made of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium (MOX), using material recycled from THORP.

This project was also mired in controversy, but the government insisted on going ahead. It ended in abject failure because the plant failed to work. Instead of producing 120 tons of MOX fuel a year it made just 13.8 tons in nine years and was abandoned in 2011. A government report into the plant concluded in 2013 that this new factory added to THORP had lost taxpayers £2.2 bn.

Despite the reasons for THORP’s existence being comprehensively undermined, the plant continued. This was principally because it still had unfulfilled contracts from foreign customers to reprocess spent fuel, earning money producing plutonium and uranium that no one has a use for – except perhaps a terrorist.

Embarrassment

So at the end of its life there is a stockpile of uranium and plutonium at Sellafield that is an embarrassment to its owners. According to the contracts signed in the 1980s the reprocessed material has to be returned to the country of origin – along with the nuclear waste created in the process.

But naturally these countries do not want it back, some, like Germany, Italy and Spain, because they have abandoned nuclear power. To help them out the UK is holding on to it, but at a price.

For large but undisclosed sums of money, the ownership of this unwanted uranium and plutonium is gradually being transferred to the UK. Negotiations are still going on with Japan to transfer to UK ownership more than two tons of its reprocessed plutonium that would otherwise have to be returned with no end use.

This complex situation is further muddled by the fact that the UK already has another much older reprocessing plant, in operation since 1952. This still dissolves fuel from even older and long-closed British Magnox reactors. The first few of these power stations were built in the 1950s to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons, and then more were erected, mainly to generate electricity for the grid. The Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield is also due to close in the next two years.

Permanent armed guard

The result of all this reprocessing is a staggering store of 140 tons of plutonium, enough to power 30 never-to-be-built fast breeder reactors or to provide material to make thousands of nuclear missiles. The UK government has had frequent reviews but as yet has no policy on how to deal with the stockpile, which has to be constantly guarded by armed police to prevent terrorist attacks.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact there are more than 100,000 tons of uranium in store across the UK, again with no end use in sight. This consists mainly of waste, depleted uranium left over from making fuel, and uranium from spent fuel left over after reprocessing.

An irony of the whole THORP saga, considering the current frosty relationship between the UK and President Vladimir Putin, is that one beneficiary of reprocessing was Russia. The Russians have a plant capable of re-enriching the uranium recovered from THORP and turning it back into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Taking advantage of this facility, which is not not available in the UK, one of THORP’s overseas customers, believed to be Germany, sent 1,000 tons of its recovered uranium from Britain to Russia over a period of five years to be turned back into fuel.

Rivalling Disneyland

So at least one customer managed to recycle some of THORP’s output. But what will happen to the remaining 9,000 tons of uranium produced by the plant from spent fuel and now stored remains a mystery.

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, who opposed the building of the plant and has monitored its fortunes ever since, summed up: “The plant should never have been built in the first place, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibition to celebrate THORP’s achievements. Its website says: “Thorp’s contribution to the global nuclear industry is a source of great pride for the communities of West Cumbria.

“It was the second reprocessing plant built at Sellafield and, at the time, was one of the largest and most complex construction projects in Europe, rivalled only by the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris.” − Climate News Network

Amazon in peril as Brazil cools on climate

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

Extinction toll may be far worse than thought

Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.

LONDON, 11 December, 2018 − Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5° and 6°C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

“This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of species diversity in the ongoing trajectory of global change, let alone in the case of additional external, extraplanetary catastrophes.”

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

Researchers have confirmed, repeatedly, that ecosystems are under threat; that climate change could be even more damaging than anyone suspected; that half of 976 species in one study were already being extinguished in local ecosystems, even if they survived elsewhere as the thermometer rose.

But most such studies were based on sample examinations of specific patches of woodland, grassland, marsh or lake, or surveys of published literature, and they measured change in a planet that has – since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – warmed by about 1°C as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of the great forests. The latest study involved testing life on a planet to destruction.

The two scientists constructed 2,000 “virtual Earths” and populated them with interacting species: that is with a food web composed of competing predators and prey, multiple consumers and consumed. Then they subjected these notional biospheres to extreme environmental change, ranging from runaway global warming driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions to the sudden, intense cooling of a “nuclear winter” in which sunlight is blocked by the dust of global thermonuclear war.

And the experiments, they say, demonstrated, once again, the co-dependency of living things in a stable environment. They set up two scenarios. In one of them a species was subjected to temperature change to the point of extinction. In the other, the researchers triggered a series of co-extinction cascades. They then matched the two outcomes.

More than species

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said. “Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

Other such simulations have delivered catastrophic conclusions: one examination of runaway global warming left the Earth uninhabitable, while another found that in the most dreadful outcomes, at least one life form, the tardigrade, might survive.

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”

But, said Dr Strona: “Our results are consistent with real-world patterns for which we have empirical evidence. This makes us confident that the many assumptions we had to take in order to build a functional model are sound. On the other hand, it would be misleading to just focus on raw numbers.” − Climate News Network

Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.

LONDON, 11 December, 2018 − Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5° and 6°C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

“This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of species diversity in the ongoing trajectory of global change, let alone in the case of additional external, extraplanetary catastrophes.”

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

Researchers have confirmed, repeatedly, that ecosystems are under threat; that climate change could be even more damaging than anyone suspected; that half of 976 species in one study were already being extinguished in local ecosystems, even if they survived elsewhere as the thermometer rose.

But most such studies were based on sample examinations of specific patches of woodland, grassland, marsh or lake, or surveys of published literature, and they measured change in a planet that has – since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – warmed by about 1°C as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of the great forests. The latest study involved testing life on a planet to destruction.

The two scientists constructed 2,000 “virtual Earths” and populated them with interacting species: that is with a food web composed of competing predators and prey, multiple consumers and consumed. Then they subjected these notional biospheres to extreme environmental change, ranging from runaway global warming driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions to the sudden, intense cooling of a “nuclear winter” in which sunlight is blocked by the dust of global thermonuclear war.

And the experiments, they say, demonstrated, once again, the co-dependency of living things in a stable environment. They set up two scenarios. In one of them a species was subjected to temperature change to the point of extinction. In the other, the researchers triggered a series of co-extinction cascades. They then matched the two outcomes.

More than species

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said. “Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

Other such simulations have delivered catastrophic conclusions: one examination of runaway global warming left the Earth uninhabitable, while another found that in the most dreadful outcomes, at least one life form, the tardigrade, might survive.

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”

But, said Dr Strona: “Our results are consistent with real-world patterns for which we have empirical evidence. This makes us confident that the many assumptions we had to take in order to build a functional model are sound. On the other hand, it would be misleading to just focus on raw numbers.” − Climate News Network