Tag Archives: Oceans

Many creatures of the deep face a stifling future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too little air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too little air

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

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

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

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

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

Loss of Arctic sea ice can spoil French wine harvest

What happens in the Arctic may not stay there. Loss of Arctic sea ice can dump the polar blizzards elsewhere.

LONDON, 19 April, 2021 − Once again, scientists have linked a weather-related catastrophe directly to human-induced climate change. Extreme frost and springtime snowfalls in Western Europe can be pinned to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.

So, paradoxically, global heating may have had the unexpected effect of wiping out around one third of the French wine harvest for this coming year, after temperatures so low that growers were forced to light bonfires in their vineyards to save the first buds from the chill.

“Climate change doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious ways,” said Alun Hubbard, of the Arctic University of Norway. “It’s easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should be beware of making broad, sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change.”

Professor Hubbard and colleagues report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they measured telltale isotope signatures in water vapour from Finland in February 2018 during an episode of freezing snow in Europe, in an anticyclone dubbed “the Beast from the East” by meteorologists and the media.

“The abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet”

They found that the Barents Sea north of Scandinavia was anomalously warm. And 60% of the sea’s surface was free of ice, and the same sea lost 140 billion tonnes of water to evaporation during this too-warm February. This enormous atmospheric burden of water vapour provided, they calculate, 88% of the snow that was to fall over northern Europe that month.

Then they looked at the pattern over the years from 1979 to 2020, to find that, for every square metre of ice that vanished in the month of March − itself part of a pattern of Arctic temperature rise − evaporation across the Barents Sea increased by 70 kg, and this could be matched with increases in Europe’s maximum snowfall.

“Our analysis directly links Arctic sea ice loss with increased evaporation and extreme snow fall,” they write, and warn that by 2080 an ice-free Barents Sea “will be a major source of winter moisture for continental Europe.”

The Beast from the East brought much of Europe to a halt, at an economic cost of an estimated $1bn (£0.72bn) a day. It is still rare for researchers to directly link any particular weather event with climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels − that is because climate is what forecasters can reasonably expect, but weather is what actually happens − but some scientists have begun to do so with increasing confidence. And this time, they can explain why.

Natural complexity

The ice cover over the Barents Sea has fallen by 54% since 1979, at the rate of 11,200 sq kms a year, and snow mass across Eurasia has increased. The latest study confirms the link: the isotope signature of Barents water was repeated in the European snows that arrived with the Beast from the East.

“What we’re finding is that sea ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long term reduction across the Arctic, we’re seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extremely heavy snowfalls,” said Hannah Bailey of the University of Oulu in Finland, who led the research.

“It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

And Professor Hubbard said: “This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet.” − Climate News Network

What happens in the Arctic may not stay there. Loss of Arctic sea ice can dump the polar blizzards elsewhere.

LONDON, 19 April, 2021 − Once again, scientists have linked a weather-related catastrophe directly to human-induced climate change. Extreme frost and springtime snowfalls in Western Europe can be pinned to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.

So, paradoxically, global heating may have had the unexpected effect of wiping out around one third of the French wine harvest for this coming year, after temperatures so low that growers were forced to light bonfires in their vineyards to save the first buds from the chill.

“Climate change doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious ways,” said Alun Hubbard, of the Arctic University of Norway. “It’s easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should be beware of making broad, sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change.”

Professor Hubbard and colleagues report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they measured telltale isotope signatures in water vapour from Finland in February 2018 during an episode of freezing snow in Europe, in an anticyclone dubbed “the Beast from the East” by meteorologists and the media.

“The abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet”

They found that the Barents Sea north of Scandinavia was anomalously warm. And 60% of the sea’s surface was free of ice, and the same sea lost 140 billion tonnes of water to evaporation during this too-warm February. This enormous atmospheric burden of water vapour provided, they calculate, 88% of the snow that was to fall over northern Europe that month.

Then they looked at the pattern over the years from 1979 to 2020, to find that, for every square metre of ice that vanished in the month of March − itself part of a pattern of Arctic temperature rise − evaporation across the Barents Sea increased by 70 kg, and this could be matched with increases in Europe’s maximum snowfall.

“Our analysis directly links Arctic sea ice loss with increased evaporation and extreme snow fall,” they write, and warn that by 2080 an ice-free Barents Sea “will be a major source of winter moisture for continental Europe.”

The Beast from the East brought much of Europe to a halt, at an economic cost of an estimated $1bn (£0.72bn) a day. It is still rare for researchers to directly link any particular weather event with climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels − that is because climate is what forecasters can reasonably expect, but weather is what actually happens − but some scientists have begun to do so with increasing confidence. And this time, they can explain why.

Natural complexity

The ice cover over the Barents Sea has fallen by 54% since 1979, at the rate of 11,200 sq kms a year, and snow mass across Eurasia has increased. The latest study confirms the link: the isotope signature of Barents water was repeated in the European snows that arrived with the Beast from the East.

“What we’re finding is that sea ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long term reduction across the Arctic, we’re seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extremely heavy snowfalls,” said Hannah Bailey of the University of Oulu in Finland, who led the research.

“It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

And Professor Hubbard said: “This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet.” − Climate News Network

Climate heating may speed up to unexpected levels

When the ice thaws, ocean levels rise. And four new studies show climate heating can happen fast.

LONDON, 15 April, 2021 − If climate heating continues apace and the planet goes on warming, then up to a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could tip into the sea.

And tip is the operative word, according to a separate study: at least one Antarctic glacier could be about to tip into rapid and irreversible retreat if temperatures go on rising.

And rise they could: evidence from the past in a third research programme confirms that at the end of the last Ice Age, Greenland’s temperature rose by somewhere between 5°C and 16°C in just decades, in line with a cascade of climate change events.

And ominously a fourth study of climate change 14,600 years ago confirmed that as the ice retreated, sea levels rose at 10 times the current rate, to 3.6 metres in just a century, and up to 18 metres in a 500-year sequence.

Each study is, on its own, an examination of the complexities of the planetary climate machine and the role of the polar ice sheets in climate change. But the message of the four together is a stark one: climate change is happening, could accelerate and could happen at unexpected speeds.

Unstable at 4°C

The Antarctic ice sheet floats on the sea: were it all to melt, sea levels globally would remain much the same. But the ice sheet plays an important role in stabilising the massive reserves of ice on the continental surface.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” warned Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the UK. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that their detailed study of the vulnerable platforms of floating ice around the continent revealed that half a million square kilometres of shelf − 34% in total, including two-thirds of all the ice off the Antarctic Peninsula − would become unstable if global temperatures rose by 4°C, under the business-as-usual scenario in which nations went on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuel.

If however the world kept to the limit it agreed in Paris in 2015, that would halve the area at risk and perhaps avoid significant sea level rise. But already, just two Antarctic glaciers are responsible for around 10% of sea level rise at the current rate, and researchers have been warning for years that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica could be at risk.

Now researchers in the UK report in the journal The Cryosphere that their computer simulation had identified a series of tipping points for the Pine Island flow.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water to pour into the sea”

The third of these, triggered by ocean temperatures that had warmed just 1.2°C, would lead to irretrievable retreat of the entire glacier. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Northumbria University and one of the authors, called the research a “major step forward” in the understanding of the dynamics of the region.

“But the findings of this study also concern me”, he said. “Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Rapid polar melt is part of the pattern of climate history. Danish researchers report in Nature Communications that, on the evidence preserved in Greenland ice cores, they identified a series of 30 abrupt climate changes at the close of the Last Ice Age, affecting North Atlantic ocean currents, wind and rainfall patterns and the spread of sea ice: a set of physical processes that changed together, like a row of cascading dominoes.

The precise order of events was difficult to ascertain, but during that sequence the temperature of Greenland soared by 5°C to 16°C in decades to centuries. The question remains open: could such things happen today?

“The results emphasise the importance of trying to limit climate change by, for example, cutting anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, both to reduce the predictable, gradual climate change and to reduce the risk of future abrupt climate change,” said Sune Olander Rasmussen, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, one of the authors.

Greenland’s future role

“If you do not want the dominoes to topple over, you are better off not to push the table they stand on too much.”

And another study in the same journal by British scientists reports on a close study of geological evidence to decipher the pattern of events during the largest and most rapid pulse of sea level rise at the close of the last Ice Age.

Their study suggested that although the sea levels rose 18 metres in about 500 years − a rate of about 3.6 metres a century − it all happened with relatively little help from a melting Antarctica. As the great glaciers retreated from North America, Europe and Asia, so the oceans rose.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic,” said Pippa Whitehouse of the University of Durham, one of the researchers.

“This is very much on our minds today − any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.” − Climate News Network

When the ice thaws, ocean levels rise. And four new studies show climate heating can happen fast.

LONDON, 15 April, 2021 − If climate heating continues apace and the planet goes on warming, then up to a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could tip into the sea.

And tip is the operative word, according to a separate study: at least one Antarctic glacier could be about to tip into rapid and irreversible retreat if temperatures go on rising.

And rise they could: evidence from the past in a third research programme confirms that at the end of the last Ice Age, Greenland’s temperature rose by somewhere between 5°C and 16°C in just decades, in line with a cascade of climate change events.

And ominously a fourth study of climate change 14,600 years ago confirmed that as the ice retreated, sea levels rose at 10 times the current rate, to 3.6 metres in just a century, and up to 18 metres in a 500-year sequence.

Each study is, on its own, an examination of the complexities of the planetary climate machine and the role of the polar ice sheets in climate change. But the message of the four together is a stark one: climate change is happening, could accelerate and could happen at unexpected speeds.

Unstable at 4°C

The Antarctic ice sheet floats on the sea: were it all to melt, sea levels globally would remain much the same. But the ice sheet plays an important role in stabilising the massive reserves of ice on the continental surface.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” warned Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the UK. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that their detailed study of the vulnerable platforms of floating ice around the continent revealed that half a million square kilometres of shelf − 34% in total, including two-thirds of all the ice off the Antarctic Peninsula − would become unstable if global temperatures rose by 4°C, under the business-as-usual scenario in which nations went on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuel.

If however the world kept to the limit it agreed in Paris in 2015, that would halve the area at risk and perhaps avoid significant sea level rise. But already, just two Antarctic glaciers are responsible for around 10% of sea level rise at the current rate, and researchers have been warning for years that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica could be at risk.

Now researchers in the UK report in the journal The Cryosphere that their computer simulation had identified a series of tipping points for the Pine Island flow.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water to pour into the sea”

The third of these, triggered by ocean temperatures that had warmed just 1.2°C, would lead to irretrievable retreat of the entire glacier. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Northumbria University and one of the authors, called the research a “major step forward” in the understanding of the dynamics of the region.

“But the findings of this study also concern me”, he said. “Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Rapid polar melt is part of the pattern of climate history. Danish researchers report in Nature Communications that, on the evidence preserved in Greenland ice cores, they identified a series of 30 abrupt climate changes at the close of the Last Ice Age, affecting North Atlantic ocean currents, wind and rainfall patterns and the spread of sea ice: a set of physical processes that changed together, like a row of cascading dominoes.

The precise order of events was difficult to ascertain, but during that sequence the temperature of Greenland soared by 5°C to 16°C in decades to centuries. The question remains open: could such things happen today?

“The results emphasise the importance of trying to limit climate change by, for example, cutting anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, both to reduce the predictable, gradual climate change and to reduce the risk of future abrupt climate change,” said Sune Olander Rasmussen, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, one of the authors.

Greenland’s future role

“If you do not want the dominoes to topple over, you are better off not to push the table they stand on too much.”

And another study in the same journal by British scientists reports on a close study of geological evidence to decipher the pattern of events during the largest and most rapid pulse of sea level rise at the close of the last Ice Age.

Their study suggested that although the sea levels rose 18 metres in about 500 years − a rate of about 3.6 metres a century − it all happened with relatively little help from a melting Antarctica. As the great glaciers retreated from North America, Europe and Asia, so the oceans rose.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic,” said Pippa Whitehouse of the University of Durham, one of the researchers.

“This is very much on our minds today − any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.” − Climate News Network

Protect fish to increase catches − and cut carbon

There is a clear way to get more value from the seas: protect fish. New research confirms an old argument.

LONDON, 25 March, 2021 − Scientists have identified a sure way towards more profitable fishing: don’t do it. Protect fish and leave as much of the seas as possible untouched.

To convert the right stretches of the blue planet into marine sanctuaries would actually deliver bigger hauls than any uncontrolled harvests could promise. It could also protect marine wildlife and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection,” said Enric Sala, of the Pristine Seas project at the National Geographic Society.

“In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions,” Dr Sala said.

“It’s clear that humanity and the economy will benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can realise those benefits quickly if countries work together to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.”

No to exploitation

He and 25 other scientists from the US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia report in the journal Nature that they have devised a planning framework and identified regions of ocean that would benefit most from status as Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs.

Right now only around 2.7% of the high seas are fully or highly protected, and in all 7% have been designated or proposed as suitable for such status.

The scientists argue that to safeguard their proposed areas could offer safety for 80% of marine species, ultimately add eight million tonnes more to the global catch than any uncontrolled trawling could offer, and prevent the release of more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year − simply by preventing disturbance of the sea floor.

They see an enormous gain if even 21% of the ocean is protected, and they want to see 30% of the global ocean undisturbed and valued as a conservation resource by the year 2030.

The argument that humans can profit more from conserving the wilderness than by ruthlessly exploiting it sounds radical. But it has been made again and again.

“We’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions”

On land, separate research teams have found repeatedly that forests and wetlands deliver a higher net return in the long term, and to the greatest number of people, than mining, felling or farming can offer.

And it has been the same story afloat: world fish catches would benefit from protected areas; fishing itself would become more dangerous and
with lower returns in a regime of uncontrolled global climate change; and a reduction in the rate of global heating would pay off in richer marine harvests.

Diplomats and scientists from 190 nations will meet in Kunming in China this year for a conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The US, Canada, the European Commission and other nations have committed to the goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.

But the implication of the latest study is that such declarations are only as good as the effort to realise them that sponsor nations are prepared to make. Most of the proposed protected stretches of sea are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal nations; others − the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, for instance, and the Southwest Indian Ridge between South Africa and Antarctica, are governed by international law.

The researchers’ proposals would require a ban on bottom trawling, in which heavy nets scour the submarine ooze. The carbon dioxide released into the ocean from this practice alone is higher than emissions from global aviation; higher even than most countries’ annual carbon emissions.

More is worse

“The ocean floor is the world’s largest carbon storehouse. If we’re to succeed in stopping global warming, we must leave the carbon-rich seabed undisturbed,” said Trisha Atwood of Utah State University, one of the authors.

“Yet every day, we are trawling the seafloor, depleting its biodiversity and mobilising millennia-old carbon and thus exacerbating climate change. Our findings about the climate impacts of bottom trawling will make the activities on the ocean’s seabed hard to ignore in climate plans going forward.”

The overall argument the researchers put to the world’s great fishing nations is a simple one: the worst enemy of successful fishing is overfishing.

“It’s simple: When overfishing and other damaging activities cease, marine life bounces back,” said Reniel Cabral of the University of California Santa Barbara, another of the signatories.

“After protections are put in place, the diversity and abundance of marine life increase over time, with measurable recovery within reserves occurring in as little as three years. Target species and large predators come back, and entire ecosystems are restored within MPAs. With time, the ocean can heal itself and again provide services to humankind.” − Climate News Network

There is a clear way to get more value from the seas: protect fish. New research confirms an old argument.

LONDON, 25 March, 2021 − Scientists have identified a sure way towards more profitable fishing: don’t do it. Protect fish and leave as much of the seas as possible untouched.

To convert the right stretches of the blue planet into marine sanctuaries would actually deliver bigger hauls than any uncontrolled harvests could promise. It could also protect marine wildlife and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection,” said Enric Sala, of the Pristine Seas project at the National Geographic Society.

“In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions,” Dr Sala said.

“It’s clear that humanity and the economy will benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can realise those benefits quickly if countries work together to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.”

No to exploitation

He and 25 other scientists from the US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia report in the journal Nature that they have devised a planning framework and identified regions of ocean that would benefit most from status as Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs.

Right now only around 2.7% of the high seas are fully or highly protected, and in all 7% have been designated or proposed as suitable for such status.

The scientists argue that to safeguard their proposed areas could offer safety for 80% of marine species, ultimately add eight million tonnes more to the global catch than any uncontrolled trawling could offer, and prevent the release of more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year − simply by preventing disturbance of the sea floor.

They see an enormous gain if even 21% of the ocean is protected, and they want to see 30% of the global ocean undisturbed and valued as a conservation resource by the year 2030.

The argument that humans can profit more from conserving the wilderness than by ruthlessly exploiting it sounds radical. But it has been made again and again.

“We’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions”

On land, separate research teams have found repeatedly that forests and wetlands deliver a higher net return in the long term, and to the greatest number of people, than mining, felling or farming can offer.

And it has been the same story afloat: world fish catches would benefit from protected areas; fishing itself would become more dangerous and
with lower returns in a regime of uncontrolled global climate change; and a reduction in the rate of global heating would pay off in richer marine harvests.

Diplomats and scientists from 190 nations will meet in Kunming in China this year for a conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The US, Canada, the European Commission and other nations have committed to the goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.

But the implication of the latest study is that such declarations are only as good as the effort to realise them that sponsor nations are prepared to make. Most of the proposed protected stretches of sea are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal nations; others − the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, for instance, and the Southwest Indian Ridge between South Africa and Antarctica, are governed by international law.

The researchers’ proposals would require a ban on bottom trawling, in which heavy nets scour the submarine ooze. The carbon dioxide released into the ocean from this practice alone is higher than emissions from global aviation; higher even than most countries’ annual carbon emissions.

More is worse

“The ocean floor is the world’s largest carbon storehouse. If we’re to succeed in stopping global warming, we must leave the carbon-rich seabed undisturbed,” said Trisha Atwood of Utah State University, one of the authors.

“Yet every day, we are trawling the seafloor, depleting its biodiversity and mobilising millennia-old carbon and thus exacerbating climate change. Our findings about the climate impacts of bottom trawling will make the activities on the ocean’s seabed hard to ignore in climate plans going forward.”

The overall argument the researchers put to the world’s great fishing nations is a simple one: the worst enemy of successful fishing is overfishing.

“It’s simple: When overfishing and other damaging activities cease, marine life bounces back,” said Reniel Cabral of the University of California Santa Barbara, another of the signatories.

“After protections are put in place, the diversity and abundance of marine life increase over time, with measurable recovery within reserves occurring in as little as three years. Target species and large predators come back, and entire ecosystems are restored within MPAs. With time, the ocean can heal itself and again provide services to humankind.” − Climate News Network

World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea

As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.

LONDON, 15 March, 2021 − Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.

“The message to governments and local authorities is: start thinking about subsidence now”

“We wanted to look at the big picture globally, to better understand the impact of global sea level rise combined with measurements of sinking land,” said Robert Nicholls, of the University of East Anglia in the UK.

“We found that coastal populations live with sea level rise at three and four times the global average and that the impacts of sea level rise being experienced today are much larger than the global numbers being reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

So the message to governments and local authorities is: start thinking about subsidence now.

Coastal flooding has been a source of increasing alarm for a decade. Eight years ago, researchers warned that by 2050 coastal floods could be costing the world US$1 trillion a year.

Since then individual research teams have been looking at the risks from extremes of rainfall, storm surges, shifts in ocean temperatures and currents, to find that by the century’s end what had once been once-a-century events could become 10 times more frequent.

Faulty readings

And yet another group has questioned the assumptions on which sea and coastal land heights are based. Many of the estimates have been confirmed by satellite radar topography measurements, but these in turn are based on reflections from the first surface the radar signal touches. If it falls on bare farmland, it will be accurate. If the signal hits buildings or tree tops, then the measurements might be misleading: the land surface could be much lower.

Other research teams have looked at rates of melting in Greenland and the Antarctic to warn that previous forecasts could prove to have been underestimates: by the end of the century, oceans could have risen by as much as two metres in a worst case scenario. Once again, how bad things turn out will depend on what steps humans take now.

So, like all the research that has preceded it, this last study confirms that, however bad things looked before, they now look even more alarming. The point of such research, of course, is to help governments prepare for the worst. Tokyo, Shanghai and Bangkok have already slowed the extraction of groundwater. Other nations must consider other solutions.

“One of the main reasons that Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is being moved to Borneo is because the city is sinking due to groundwater extraction from shallow wells,” said Professor Nicholls.

“We hope that our analysis improves the understanding of how sea level rise and subsidence are hand-in-hand for science and coastal management policy worldwide. Jakarta might be just the beginning.” − Climate News Network

As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.

LONDON, 15 March, 2021 − Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.

“The message to governments and local authorities is: start thinking about subsidence now”

“We wanted to look at the big picture globally, to better understand the impact of global sea level rise combined with measurements of sinking land,” said Robert Nicholls, of the University of East Anglia in the UK.

“We found that coastal populations live with sea level rise at three and four times the global average and that the impacts of sea level rise being experienced today are much larger than the global numbers being reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

So the message to governments and local authorities is: start thinking about subsidence now.

Coastal flooding has been a source of increasing alarm for a decade. Eight years ago, researchers warned that by 2050 coastal floods could be costing the world US$1 trillion a year.

Since then individual research teams have been looking at the risks from extremes of rainfall, storm surges, shifts in ocean temperatures and currents, to find that by the century’s end what had once been once-a-century events could become 10 times more frequent.

Faulty readings

And yet another group has questioned the assumptions on which sea and coastal land heights are based. Many of the estimates have been confirmed by satellite radar topography measurements, but these in turn are based on reflections from the first surface the radar signal touches. If it falls on bare farmland, it will be accurate. If the signal hits buildings or tree tops, then the measurements might be misleading: the land surface could be much lower.

Other research teams have looked at rates of melting in Greenland and the Antarctic to warn that previous forecasts could prove to have been underestimates: by the end of the century, oceans could have risen by as much as two metres in a worst case scenario. Once again, how bad things turn out will depend on what steps humans take now.

So, like all the research that has preceded it, this last study confirms that, however bad things looked before, they now look even more alarming. The point of such research, of course, is to help governments prepare for the worst. Tokyo, Shanghai and Bangkok have already slowed the extraction of groundwater. Other nations must consider other solutions.

“One of the main reasons that Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is being moved to Borneo is because the city is sinking due to groundwater extraction from shallow wells,” said Professor Nicholls.

“We hope that our analysis improves the understanding of how sea level rise and subsidence are hand-in-hand for science and coastal management policy worldwide. Jakarta might be just the beginning.” − Climate News Network

Japanese nuclear power station leaves toxic legacy

Ten years ago, the Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was devastated by a tsunami. Its baleful ruins remain today.

LONDON, 10 March, 2021 − Almost a decade ago, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake created a 14 metre-high tsunami wave which destroyed the reactors of a Japanese nuclear power station at the town of Fukushima. Ten years on, the clean-up has barely begun.

Large areas of farmland and towns near the plant are still highly contaminated, too dangerous to inhabit. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the stricken reactors causing further danger. It will be at least another 20 years before they can be made safe.

At first the gravity of the accident was overshadowed by the other damage the tsunami had caused, particularly the loss of nearly 20,000 people from communities along the coast who were swept to their deaths as their towns and villages were ruined.

Heart-rending scenes filled television screens across the world for days as rescue teams hunted for survivors and parents separated from their children searched evacuation centres.

Damage downplayed

As with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the true extent of the damage to Fukushima’s six reactors was not fully grasped. When it was, the authorities tried to play it down.

Because the wave had overwhelmed the cooling system three reactors had suffered a meltdown, but for some this was not public knowledge. The damage had meant that overheated uranium fuel had melted, turning to liquid and dissolving its cladding. The cladding contained zirconium, which reacted with the cooling water to make hydrogen; by 14 March this had caused three explosions at the plant.

Downwind the danger from the radiation spewing from the plant was so great that 164,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Many will never return, because the houses are too contaminated.

In an attempt to get people to return to the villages and towns in the less affected areas the government spent US$28 billion (£20bn) and created 17 million tonnes of nuclear waste. This has proved only partially successful because of widespread mistrust of the government, and measurements by independent groups, including Greenpeace − which show that levels of radiation are well above internationally agreed safe limits for members of the public.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination … they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan”

But the knock-on effects of the disaster, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, are still being felt. Japan’s nuclear industry shut down its 54 operational reactors, and both the nuclear companies and the government are still trying to persuade local people to allow most of them to reopen.

This year there are 33 reactors that could still be restored to use, but only nine (in five power plants) that are actually operating.

Across the world some countries decided to close down their reactors as soon as possible, and not to build any more. Among them was Germany.
Even in countries like France, where nuclear power dominates the electricity system, there were demands for the country’s reactors to fit far tighter safety measures.

The net effect of the accident has been to turn public opinion against nuclear power in many countries. Even in those still interested in building new stations, the higher safety standards now demanded have made nuclear power more expensive.

Opting for close-down

In Japan itself the Fukushima crisis is far from over. The government is still facing compensation claims from citizens, and the bill for the clean-up keeps mounting.

One of the most critical current problems is the 1.25 million tonnes of cooling water used to prevent the stricken reactors from further meltdown. It is now stored in tanks on site.

In October 2020 the government announced plans to release it into the Pacific Ocean, because it could think of no other way of getting rid of it. This idea has caused outrage among fishermen along the coast, who fear that no one will buy their catch for fear of the radiation.

Longer-term technical problems also remain unresolved. With the reactor cores too dangerous to approach, special robots have been developed to dismantle them. This is perhaps one of the most difficult engineering tasks it is possible to envisage, because intense radioactivity attacks electrical equipment and can destroy the expensive robots.

Forced to return

The government continues to reassure citizens that it has the situation under control, although it expects it will take decades to make the area completely safe.

But there continues to be criticism among environmental groups about the government’s handling of the situation, both at the plant and in the surrounding countryside.

The Greenpeace report details moves to coerce local people into returning to their homes, even though they remain well above international safety levels.

The report said the result of a November 2020 survey showed that in some areas which the government had designated as safe, Greenpeace’s measurements found radiation remains too high for normal life to be considered possible without increased health risks to returning citizens, particularly children and women of child-bearing age.

‘False narrative’

It says: “One decade after March 2011, we are in the early stages of the impact of this disaster. This is not the official narrative. For the government of Shinzo Abe, in power for most of the last 10 years, and his successor Yoshihide Suga, the communication to the people of Japan and the wider world is that decontamination has been effective, completed and that radiation levels are safe. This is clearly false.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination of a large part of Japan. However, they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan.”

Greenpeace says this failure is largely due to active citizens and their lawyers holding the Tokyo Electric Power Company to account for the accident and asking for compensation.

It pledges that, together with scientists and various United Nations agencies that monitor the plant, it will ensure that the “ongoing nuclear disaster, its effects and consequences will continue to be better understood and explained in the years and decades ahead.” − Climate News Network

Ten years ago, the Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was devastated by a tsunami. Its baleful ruins remain today.

LONDON, 10 March, 2021 − Almost a decade ago, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake created a 14 metre-high tsunami wave which destroyed the reactors of a Japanese nuclear power station at the town of Fukushima. Ten years on, the clean-up has barely begun.

Large areas of farmland and towns near the plant are still highly contaminated, too dangerous to inhabit. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the stricken reactors causing further danger. It will be at least another 20 years before they can be made safe.

At first the gravity of the accident was overshadowed by the other damage the tsunami had caused, particularly the loss of nearly 20,000 people from communities along the coast who were swept to their deaths as their towns and villages were ruined.

Heart-rending scenes filled television screens across the world for days as rescue teams hunted for survivors and parents separated from their children searched evacuation centres.

Damage downplayed

As with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the true extent of the damage to Fukushima’s six reactors was not fully grasped. When it was, the authorities tried to play it down.

Because the wave had overwhelmed the cooling system three reactors had suffered a meltdown, but for some this was not public knowledge. The damage had meant that overheated uranium fuel had melted, turning to liquid and dissolving its cladding. The cladding contained zirconium, which reacted with the cooling water to make hydrogen; by 14 March this had caused three explosions at the plant.

Downwind the danger from the radiation spewing from the plant was so great that 164,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Many will never return, because the houses are too contaminated.

In an attempt to get people to return to the villages and towns in the less affected areas the government spent US$28 billion (£20bn) and created 17 million tonnes of nuclear waste. This has proved only partially successful because of widespread mistrust of the government, and measurements by independent groups, including Greenpeace − which show that levels of radiation are well above internationally agreed safe limits for members of the public.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination … they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan”

But the knock-on effects of the disaster, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, are still being felt. Japan’s nuclear industry shut down its 54 operational reactors, and both the nuclear companies and the government are still trying to persuade local people to allow most of them to reopen.

This year there are 33 reactors that could still be restored to use, but only nine (in five power plants) that are actually operating.

Across the world some countries decided to close down their reactors as soon as possible, and not to build any more. Among them was Germany.
Even in countries like France, where nuclear power dominates the electricity system, there were demands for the country’s reactors to fit far tighter safety measures.

The net effect of the accident has been to turn public opinion against nuclear power in many countries. Even in those still interested in building new stations, the higher safety standards now demanded have made nuclear power more expensive.

Opting for close-down

In Japan itself the Fukushima crisis is far from over. The government is still facing compensation claims from citizens, and the bill for the clean-up keeps mounting.

One of the most critical current problems is the 1.25 million tonnes of cooling water used to prevent the stricken reactors from further meltdown. It is now stored in tanks on site.

In October 2020 the government announced plans to release it into the Pacific Ocean, because it could think of no other way of getting rid of it. This idea has caused outrage among fishermen along the coast, who fear that no one will buy their catch for fear of the radiation.

Longer-term technical problems also remain unresolved. With the reactor cores too dangerous to approach, special robots have been developed to dismantle them. This is perhaps one of the most difficult engineering tasks it is possible to envisage, because intense radioactivity attacks electrical equipment and can destroy the expensive robots.

Forced to return

The government continues to reassure citizens that it has the situation under control, although it expects it will take decades to make the area completely safe.

But there continues to be criticism among environmental groups about the government’s handling of the situation, both at the plant and in the surrounding countryside.

The Greenpeace report details moves to coerce local people into returning to their homes, even though they remain well above international safety levels.

The report said the result of a November 2020 survey showed that in some areas which the government had designated as safe, Greenpeace’s measurements found radiation remains too high for normal life to be considered possible without increased health risks to returning citizens, particularly children and women of child-bearing age.

‘False narrative’

It says: “One decade after March 2011, we are in the early stages of the impact of this disaster. This is not the official narrative. For the government of Shinzo Abe, in power for most of the last 10 years, and his successor Yoshihide Suga, the communication to the people of Japan and the wider world is that decontamination has been effective, completed and that radiation levels are safe. This is clearly false.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination of a large part of Japan. However, they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan.”

Greenpeace says this failure is largely due to active citizens and their lawyers holding the Tokyo Electric Power Company to account for the accident and asking for compensation.

It pledges that, together with scientists and various United Nations agencies that monitor the plant, it will ensure that the “ongoing nuclear disaster, its effects and consequences will continue to be better understood and explained in the years and decades ahead.” − Climate News Network

Weakening Gulf Stream may disrupt world weather

The Gulf Stream is growing feebler, the Arctic seas are gaining fresh water. Together they could affect the world’s weather.

LONDON, 2 March, 2021 − The Atlantic Conveyer, otherwise the Gulf Stream − that great flow of surface water pouring northwards that overturns in the Arctic and heads south again at great depth − is now weaker than at any point in the last 1,000 years, European scientists report.

And in a second, separate but related study, researchers have found that the Beaufort Sea, in the Arctic, has gained two-fifths more fresh water in the last 20 years: water that could flow into the Atlantic to affect the Conveyor, and with it, climatic conditions.

Scientists call it the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or just AMOC. Europeans know it as the Gulf Stream: the current that conveys tropic warmth to their coasts and keeps Britain and Western Europe at a temperature several degrees higher than latitude alone might dictate.

And for years, oceanographers and climate scientists have been observing a slowing of the flow, by as much as 15%. But direct measurement of the great current began only relatively recently in 2004: researchers needed to know whether the slowdown was part of a natural cycle, or a consequence of climate change driven by global heating.

Now they know a little more. European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they looked for evidence of ocean circulation shifts in what they call “proxy evidence”: the story of climate change told by tree growth rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, corals and historical records, including naval logbooks.

The combined evidence of temperature patterns, the sizes of particles of ocean floor sediment and the salinity and density of sub-surface water helps build up a picture of the Atlantic current for the last 1,600 years.

“The Gulf Stream System moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow”

The verdict? Up to the 19th century, ocean currents were stable. The flow is now more sluggish than at any time in the last millennium.

This is roughly what climate models have predicted: the warm salty water moves north, cools, becomes more dense, sinks to the deep and flows back south. But the Arctic has begun to warm, Greenland to melt, and the flow of fresh water into the northern seas to intensify.

Since the flow is driven by the difference in temperatures, any change in the regional thermometer will play back into the rate of flow. And any extra arrival of fresh water could further slow the overturning circulation.

“The Gulf Stream system works like a giant conveyor belt, carrying warm surface water from the equator up north, and sending cold, low-salinity deep water back down south. It moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, one of the authors.

“For the first time, we have combined a range of previous studies and found they provide a consistent picture of the AMOC evolution over the past 1600 years. The study results suggest that it has been relatively stable until the late 19th century.

“With the end of the Little Ice Age in about 1850, the ocean currents began to decline, with a second, more drastic decline following since the mid-20th century.”

Outcome awaited

The change could have ominous consequences for European weather systems: it could also deliver more intense coastal flooding to the US eastern seaboard. If the current continues to weaken, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Which is why a new study in Nature Communications matters so much. US researchers tracked the flow of fresh water from the Beaufort Sea − melt water from glaciers, rivers and disappearing Arctic sea ice − through the Canadian Archipelago and into the Labrador Sea.

Arctic water is fresher than Atlantic water, and richer in nutrients. But this extra volume, measured at a total of 23,300 cubic kilometres, could also affect the rate of flow of the overturning circulation. That is because relatively fresh water is less dense than saline water, and tends to float on top.

Quite what role it could play is uncertain: the message is that, sooner or later, it will escape into the North Atlantic. Then the world will find out.

“People have already spent a lot of time studying why the Beaufort Sea fresh water has gotten so high in the past few decades,” said Jiaxu Zhang,  of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, first author. “But they rarely care where the freshwater goes, and we think that’s a much more important problem.” − Climate News Network

The Gulf Stream is growing feebler, the Arctic seas are gaining fresh water. Together they could affect the world’s weather.

LONDON, 2 March, 2021 − The Atlantic Conveyer, otherwise the Gulf Stream − that great flow of surface water pouring northwards that overturns in the Arctic and heads south again at great depth − is now weaker than at any point in the last 1,000 years, European scientists report.

And in a second, separate but related study, researchers have found that the Beaufort Sea, in the Arctic, has gained two-fifths more fresh water in the last 20 years: water that could flow into the Atlantic to affect the Conveyor, and with it, climatic conditions.

Scientists call it the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or just AMOC. Europeans know it as the Gulf Stream: the current that conveys tropic warmth to their coasts and keeps Britain and Western Europe at a temperature several degrees higher than latitude alone might dictate.

And for years, oceanographers and climate scientists have been observing a slowing of the flow, by as much as 15%. But direct measurement of the great current began only relatively recently in 2004: researchers needed to know whether the slowdown was part of a natural cycle, or a consequence of climate change driven by global heating.

Now they know a little more. European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they looked for evidence of ocean circulation shifts in what they call “proxy evidence”: the story of climate change told by tree growth rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, corals and historical records, including naval logbooks.

The combined evidence of temperature patterns, the sizes of particles of ocean floor sediment and the salinity and density of sub-surface water helps build up a picture of the Atlantic current for the last 1,600 years.

“The Gulf Stream System moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow”

The verdict? Up to the 19th century, ocean currents were stable. The flow is now more sluggish than at any time in the last millennium.

This is roughly what climate models have predicted: the warm salty water moves north, cools, becomes more dense, sinks to the deep and flows back south. But the Arctic has begun to warm, Greenland to melt, and the flow of fresh water into the northern seas to intensify.

Since the flow is driven by the difference in temperatures, any change in the regional thermometer will play back into the rate of flow. And any extra arrival of fresh water could further slow the overturning circulation.

“The Gulf Stream system works like a giant conveyor belt, carrying warm surface water from the equator up north, and sending cold, low-salinity deep water back down south. It moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, one of the authors.

“For the first time, we have combined a range of previous studies and found they provide a consistent picture of the AMOC evolution over the past 1600 years. The study results suggest that it has been relatively stable until the late 19th century.

“With the end of the Little Ice Age in about 1850, the ocean currents began to decline, with a second, more drastic decline following since the mid-20th century.”

Outcome awaited

The change could have ominous consequences for European weather systems: it could also deliver more intense coastal flooding to the US eastern seaboard. If the current continues to weaken, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Which is why a new study in Nature Communications matters so much. US researchers tracked the flow of fresh water from the Beaufort Sea − melt water from glaciers, rivers and disappearing Arctic sea ice − through the Canadian Archipelago and into the Labrador Sea.

Arctic water is fresher than Atlantic water, and richer in nutrients. But this extra volume, measured at a total of 23,300 cubic kilometres, could also affect the rate of flow of the overturning circulation. That is because relatively fresh water is less dense than saline water, and tends to float on top.

Quite what role it could play is uncertain: the message is that, sooner or later, it will escape into the North Atlantic. Then the world will find out.

“People have already spent a lot of time studying why the Beaufort Sea fresh water has gotten so high in the past few decades,” said Jiaxu Zhang,  of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, first author. “But they rarely care where the freshwater goes, and we think that’s a much more important problem.” − Climate News Network

Hope springs eternal for species facing extinction

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

UNESCO link ‘helps to greenwash gas exporters’

EXCLUSIVE: A leading UN agency, UNESCO, is harming action on the climate crisis by partnering with natural gas exporters, critics say.

OTTAWA, 8 February, 2021− UNESCO, a prominent United Nations agency, is undercutting global action on the climate emergency, analysts and campaigners warn, by forming a partnership with a global forum dedicated to promoting and greenwashing natural gas exports.

UN Secretary General António Guterres has repeatedly warned that humanity’s “utterly inadequate” response to the climate emergency is already producing extreme weather and dramatic consequences around the world.

“We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” he said during COP-25, the (ultimately “disgraceful”) 2019 UN climate conference in Madrid.

In 2018 Guterres called the 1.5°C pathways report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change an “ear-splitting wake-up call” for action.

But none of that has stopped another key member of the UN family, the Paris-based UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), from agreeing a partnership with the Doha, Qatar-based Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a 20-member organisation formed in 2008 to promote “coordination and collaboration” among the world’s leading gas-producing countries.

The GECF’s latest mid-century Global Gas Outlook sees gas increasing from 23% to between 27 and 29% of global energy demand by 2050.

That’s the same year countries are intent on hitting net-zero emissions in a bid to hold average global warming to below 1.5°C. Fossil gas is composed 70% to 90% of climate-busting methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span in which humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.

The GECF outlook report foresaw natural gas as “the highest in the primary energy mix” at 27%, with fossil fuels as a whole accounting for 71% of global energy consumption in 2050. (They’re in good company.)

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry”

It projected gas production by member countries growing nearly 50% by mid-century, and production from “unconventional resources” a term for fracked gas increasing from 25 to 38% of the total, with a rising share of the demand supplied by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the gas sector soaking up US$9.7 trillion (£7tn) in investment.

“Along the way, natural gas is expected to play a vital role in decarbonisation options including natural gas-based hydrogen, also known as blue hydrogen, with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies,” the GECF-UNESCO release stated. Late last month, Italian utility giant Enel said it would shut all its gas plants by 2050 and became the latest potential buyer to declare carbon capture technology a non-starter.

In separate releases in December 2020, the GECF touted the “environmental advantage of natural gas” and what it sees as the potential of blue hydrogen − with its reliance on CCUS − to usher in a “new era of decarbonisation”. On 9 December, its secretary general, Yury Sentyurin,  told a virtual event that blue hydrogen coupled with CCUS “will play a significant role in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future”.

The forum’s latest expert commentary, released last week, touts “carbon-neutral or green LNG” as a pathway to energy transition.

In an email to The Energy Mix, Sentyurin said the partnership with UNESCO “is expected to harness the shared values of both entities in the realm of sustainable development, natural resources management, international cooperation in education, sciences and culture, and contributing to progress across the globe.”

He and Anna Paolini, director of UNESCO’s Doha office, both cast the partnership as an opportunity to address climate change, protect biodiversity, safeguard natural heritage, “maintain a conducive environment of scientific inquiry in the field of natural science”, and promote interdisciplinary climate knowledge.

The two organisations also agreed to work together on a “Rigs-to-Reefs approach” aimed at protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems. The term refers to an emerging response to obsolete, abandoned ocean oil platforms that involves stripping them of equipment and hydrocarbon residues, then sinking them as artificial reefs, rather than incurring the cost of full removal.

Some of the world’s leading climate analysts and campaigners are decidedly unimpressed with UNESCO’s choice of strategic partners. “It’s shocking to see the UN body responsible for the preservation of science and culture getting into bed with global fossil fuel interests like this,” Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow told The Energy Mix in an email. “UN bodies, especially ones with ‘science’ in their title, should be holding fossil fuel producers to account, not being a useful prop in the global greenwashing of the gas industry.”

Leapfrog fossil fuels

The United Nations “is where climate change is being tackled at the international level, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement,” he added. “This move from a sister UN body shows ignorance and a lack of strategic thinking from people who should know better.”

Adow, named last week as a recipient of the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award, said it was “particularly offensive” of UNESCO and the GECF to “cite Africa as the location where they are most interested in working together,” at a time when a massive LNG project led by colossal fossil Total is “destroying the natural heritage of Mozambique”, with hundreds of families evicted and thousands of people losing their fishing grounds.

“Oil and gas pipelines are being fought across the continent by local people defending their cultural heritage,” he said. “They need the support of organisations like UNESCO, not to watch them side with their persecutors.”

Sentyurin, named last year as one of the top 25 influencers in Africa’s energy sector, said the forum’s members include six African countries that hold more than 90% of the continent’s proven gas reserves. He called Africa “a very important continent to the GECF”, the “next booming region in the world”, and a “game-changer for economic development”, and highlighted the “crucial role natural gas will play in reducing energy poverty in Africa”.

Not so much, Adow said, in an email written about two weeks before Sentyurin’s.

“Gas is not the answer to the climate crisis gripping Africa,” he told The Mix. “Africa has an abundance of clean energy, including wind and solar energy. Leapfrogging fossil fuels like gas to renewables is Africa’s route to sustainable, long-term prosperity, not getting shackled to gas infrastructure which will soon be obsolete.

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry and the environmental and cultural destruction it has caused.”

UK-based climate policy consultant Alison Doig cast the partnership as a bid by the GECF to boost its own legitimacy “while promoting a strategy that is incompatible with keeping global temperature rise within safe limits.”

Survival target

By accepting the GECF’s premise that gas consumption will continue to rise, she said UNESCO “completely undermines its responsibility as guardian of our global heritage,” compromising its own central role in science education by being “tied to messages which are not aligned with a climate-safe energy transition.”

Doig said UNESCO “should rightly be creating alliances to enhance action on climate change,” at a time when “many World Heritage sites are already exposed to the impacts of climate change, with floods, storms, and drought threatening the very fabric of the buildings, monuments, and locations” at the core of the agency’s mandate.

With the UNFCCC presenting pathways to keep average global warming below 1.5°, she added, “other UN agencies including UNESCO should be part of this scientific discussion, and focus climate science education on that goal.”

Climate Action Network-International senior advisor Stephan Singer said it was “very upsetting” to see UNESCO enter a partnership deal with the majority of the world’s fossil gas producers and exporters that contains no reference to the 1.5°C target under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

That goal is a “survival target for many vulnerable developing countries,” he added, and “the full phase-out of fossil fuels and phase-in of renewables is imperative to meet the climate challenge.”

UNESCO’s Paolini said the agency “works to build the widest coalition possible to tackle climate change and achieve the global goals”. The agency “engaged with the GECF in order to bring its member states’ attention to our reports and articles on today’s environmental challenges, the issue of climate change, and its impact on all aspects of our lives, including our fixed, natural, and living heritage,” she explained.

“By sharing information, leveraging opportunities from within, we believe we can promote our agenda to an audience that we would not readily reach and initiate a debate and dialogue with industry professionals, researchers, governmental officials, and diplomats. It would be a strategic mistake not to seize this opportunity.”

Asked how UNESCO sees the future development of gas exports, given the industry’s prime role as a producer of methane, she replied: “We can shout from the sidelines or we can engage, point to the science, and attempt to change attitudes and the industry.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

EXCLUSIVE: A leading UN agency, UNESCO, is harming action on the climate crisis by partnering with natural gas exporters, critics say.

OTTAWA, 8 February, 2021− UNESCO, a prominent United Nations agency, is undercutting global action on the climate emergency, analysts and campaigners warn, by forming a partnership with a global forum dedicated to promoting and greenwashing natural gas exports.

UN Secretary General António Guterres has repeatedly warned that humanity’s “utterly inadequate” response to the climate emergency is already producing extreme weather and dramatic consequences around the world.

“We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” he said during COP-25, the (ultimately “disgraceful”) 2019 UN climate conference in Madrid.

In 2018 Guterres called the 1.5°C pathways report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change an “ear-splitting wake-up call” for action.

But none of that has stopped another key member of the UN family, the Paris-based UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), from agreeing a partnership with the Doha, Qatar-based Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a 20-member organisation formed in 2008 to promote “coordination and collaboration” among the world’s leading gas-producing countries.

The GECF’s latest mid-century Global Gas Outlook sees gas increasing from 23% to between 27 and 29% of global energy demand by 2050.

That’s the same year countries are intent on hitting net-zero emissions in a bid to hold average global warming to below 1.5°C. Fossil gas is composed 70% to 90% of climate-busting methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span in which humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.

The GECF outlook report foresaw natural gas as “the highest in the primary energy mix” at 27%, with fossil fuels as a whole accounting for 71% of global energy consumption in 2050. (They’re in good company.)

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry”

It projected gas production by member countries growing nearly 50% by mid-century, and production from “unconventional resources” a term for fracked gas increasing from 25 to 38% of the total, with a rising share of the demand supplied by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the gas sector soaking up US$9.7 trillion (£7tn) in investment.

“Along the way, natural gas is expected to play a vital role in decarbonisation options including natural gas-based hydrogen, also known as blue hydrogen, with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies,” the GECF-UNESCO release stated. Late last month, Italian utility giant Enel said it would shut all its gas plants by 2050 and became the latest potential buyer to declare carbon capture technology a non-starter.

In separate releases in December 2020, the GECF touted the “environmental advantage of natural gas” and what it sees as the potential of blue hydrogen − with its reliance on CCUS − to usher in a “new era of decarbonisation”. On 9 December, its secretary general, Yury Sentyurin,  told a virtual event that blue hydrogen coupled with CCUS “will play a significant role in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future”.

The forum’s latest expert commentary, released last week, touts “carbon-neutral or green LNG” as a pathway to energy transition.

In an email to The Energy Mix, Sentyurin said the partnership with UNESCO “is expected to harness the shared values of both entities in the realm of sustainable development, natural resources management, international cooperation in education, sciences and culture, and contributing to progress across the globe.”

He and Anna Paolini, director of UNESCO’s Doha office, both cast the partnership as an opportunity to address climate change, protect biodiversity, safeguard natural heritage, “maintain a conducive environment of scientific inquiry in the field of natural science”, and promote interdisciplinary climate knowledge.

The two organisations also agreed to work together on a “Rigs-to-Reefs approach” aimed at protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems. The term refers to an emerging response to obsolete, abandoned ocean oil platforms that involves stripping them of equipment and hydrocarbon residues, then sinking them as artificial reefs, rather than incurring the cost of full removal.

Some of the world’s leading climate analysts and campaigners are decidedly unimpressed with UNESCO’s choice of strategic partners. “It’s shocking to see the UN body responsible for the preservation of science and culture getting into bed with global fossil fuel interests like this,” Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow told The Energy Mix in an email. “UN bodies, especially ones with ‘science’ in their title, should be holding fossil fuel producers to account, not being a useful prop in the global greenwashing of the gas industry.”

Leapfrog fossil fuels

The United Nations “is where climate change is being tackled at the international level, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement,” he added. “This move from a sister UN body shows ignorance and a lack of strategic thinking from people who should know better.”

Adow, named last week as a recipient of the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award, said it was “particularly offensive” of UNESCO and the GECF to “cite Africa as the location where they are most interested in working together,” at a time when a massive LNG project led by colossal fossil Total is “destroying the natural heritage of Mozambique”, with hundreds of families evicted and thousands of people losing their fishing grounds.

“Oil and gas pipelines are being fought across the continent by local people defending their cultural heritage,” he said. “They need the support of organisations like UNESCO, not to watch them side with their persecutors.”

Sentyurin, named last year as one of the top 25 influencers in Africa’s energy sector, said the forum’s members include six African countries that hold more than 90% of the continent’s proven gas reserves. He called Africa “a very important continent to the GECF”, the “next booming region in the world”, and a “game-changer for economic development”, and highlighted the “crucial role natural gas will play in reducing energy poverty in Africa”.

Not so much, Adow said, in an email written about two weeks before Sentyurin’s.

“Gas is not the answer to the climate crisis gripping Africa,” he told The Mix. “Africa has an abundance of clean energy, including wind and solar energy. Leapfrogging fossil fuels like gas to renewables is Africa’s route to sustainable, long-term prosperity, not getting shackled to gas infrastructure which will soon be obsolete.

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry and the environmental and cultural destruction it has caused.”

UK-based climate policy consultant Alison Doig cast the partnership as a bid by the GECF to boost its own legitimacy “while promoting a strategy that is incompatible with keeping global temperature rise within safe limits.”

Survival target

By accepting the GECF’s premise that gas consumption will continue to rise, she said UNESCO “completely undermines its responsibility as guardian of our global heritage,” compromising its own central role in science education by being “tied to messages which are not aligned with a climate-safe energy transition.”

Doig said UNESCO “should rightly be creating alliances to enhance action on climate change,” at a time when “many World Heritage sites are already exposed to the impacts of climate change, with floods, storms, and drought threatening the very fabric of the buildings, monuments, and locations” at the core of the agency’s mandate.

With the UNFCCC presenting pathways to keep average global warming below 1.5°, she added, “other UN agencies including UNESCO should be part of this scientific discussion, and focus climate science education on that goal.”

Climate Action Network-International senior advisor Stephan Singer said it was “very upsetting” to see UNESCO enter a partnership deal with the majority of the world’s fossil gas producers and exporters that contains no reference to the 1.5°C target under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

That goal is a “survival target for many vulnerable developing countries,” he added, and “the full phase-out of fossil fuels and phase-in of renewables is imperative to meet the climate challenge.”

UNESCO’s Paolini said the agency “works to build the widest coalition possible to tackle climate change and achieve the global goals”. The agency “engaged with the GECF in order to bring its member states’ attention to our reports and articles on today’s environmental challenges, the issue of climate change, and its impact on all aspects of our lives, including our fixed, natural, and living heritage,” she explained.

“By sharing information, leveraging opportunities from within, we believe we can promote our agenda to an audience that we would not readily reach and initiate a debate and dialogue with industry professionals, researchers, governmental officials, and diplomats. It would be a strategic mistake not to seize this opportunity.”

Asked how UNESCO sees the future development of gas exports, given the industry’s prime role as a producer of methane, she replied: “We can shout from the sidelines or we can engage, point to the science, and attempt to change attitudes and the industry.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

Rising sea levels may make some airports unusable

High flyers could soon have a problem with high water. Rising sea levels could one day shut down airports.

LONDON, 3 February, 2021 − Passengers, prepare for splashdown. Take-off may have to wait for low tide. By 2100, thanks to rising sea levels, around 100 of the world’s airports could be below mean sea level and at least 364 will be vulnerable to flooding.

And that’s assuming the world’s nations keep a promise made in 2015 and confine global heating to no more than 2°C above the average maintained for most of human history. If humans go on burning fossil fuels and clearing forests at the present rate, then at least 572 of the world’s airports could be at risk of flooding from extreme tides, according to a new study in the journal Climate Risk Management.

These things have already happened: in 2018 a typhoon storm surge inundated Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, Japan. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 closed New York City’s La Guardia Airport for three days. One-tenth of the planet’s population lives on coastlines less than 10 metres above sea level.

Airports grow up around the great cities: they require flat land and a clear flight path. Coastal flood plains, wetlands and reclaimed land provide exactly that.

Serious risk

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption,” said Richard Dawson, an engineer at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “Sea level rise therefore poses a serious risk to global passenger and freight movements, with considerable cost of damage and disruption.”

He and a colleague looked at the world’s 14,000 airports and helicopter pads to identify 1,238 airports in what geographers call low elevation coastal zones: that is, down by the seaside. Of these, 199, serving 3,436 routes, were in the US; China had 30 airports serving 2,333 routes.

They found that just 20 airports at risk handled more than 800 million passengers in 2018 − approaching a fifth of the world’s passenger traffic that year − and nearly 16 million tonnes of cargo: one-fourth of all the world’s air freight that year. They then started looking at what climate change could do to all that business.

Even before the shutdown of traffic because of the global pandemic, the world’s airlines had been feeling the heat. Research teams have confirmed that ever higher global temperatures mean more atmospheric turbulence at altitude; that wind speed changes will slow flights and raise costs; that extremes of heat could even close airport runways and delay flights for extended periods.

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption”

Now Professor Dawson and his colleague have compiled a table of hazard rankings for flooded airstrips under a range of climate change scenarios.

Right now, 269 of the world’s airports are at some risk of coastal flooding. This number must rise: by how much, and at what cost, depends on what actions the world takes. But the researchers calculate that by 2100 the risk of disruption could increase 17-fold, or even 69-fold. And because so many important airports are already at or near sea level, up to a fifth of all the world’s routes will be at risk.

And that means higher costs for flood protection, or action to raise airport sites, or relocation. The choice is to adapt or, quite literally, to go under.

“The cost of adaptation will be modest in the context of global infrastructure expenditure,” Professor Dawson said. “However, in some locations the rate of sea level rise, limited economic resources or space for alternative locations will make some airports unviable.” − Climate News Network

High flyers could soon have a problem with high water. Rising sea levels could one day shut down airports.

LONDON, 3 February, 2021 − Passengers, prepare for splashdown. Take-off may have to wait for low tide. By 2100, thanks to rising sea levels, around 100 of the world’s airports could be below mean sea level and at least 364 will be vulnerable to flooding.

And that’s assuming the world’s nations keep a promise made in 2015 and confine global heating to no more than 2°C above the average maintained for most of human history. If humans go on burning fossil fuels and clearing forests at the present rate, then at least 572 of the world’s airports could be at risk of flooding from extreme tides, according to a new study in the journal Climate Risk Management.

These things have already happened: in 2018 a typhoon storm surge inundated Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, Japan. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 closed New York City’s La Guardia Airport for three days. One-tenth of the planet’s population lives on coastlines less than 10 metres above sea level.

Airports grow up around the great cities: they require flat land and a clear flight path. Coastal flood plains, wetlands and reclaimed land provide exactly that.

Serious risk

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption,” said Richard Dawson, an engineer at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “Sea level rise therefore poses a serious risk to global passenger and freight movements, with considerable cost of damage and disruption.”

He and a colleague looked at the world’s 14,000 airports and helicopter pads to identify 1,238 airports in what geographers call low elevation coastal zones: that is, down by the seaside. Of these, 199, serving 3,436 routes, were in the US; China had 30 airports serving 2,333 routes.

They found that just 20 airports at risk handled more than 800 million passengers in 2018 − approaching a fifth of the world’s passenger traffic that year − and nearly 16 million tonnes of cargo: one-fourth of all the world’s air freight that year. They then started looking at what climate change could do to all that business.

Even before the shutdown of traffic because of the global pandemic, the world’s airlines had been feeling the heat. Research teams have confirmed that ever higher global temperatures mean more atmospheric turbulence at altitude; that wind speed changes will slow flights and raise costs; that extremes of heat could even close airport runways and delay flights for extended periods.

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption”

Now Professor Dawson and his colleague have compiled a table of hazard rankings for flooded airstrips under a range of climate change scenarios.

Right now, 269 of the world’s airports are at some risk of coastal flooding. This number must rise: by how much, and at what cost, depends on what actions the world takes. But the researchers calculate that by 2100 the risk of disruption could increase 17-fold, or even 69-fold. And because so many important airports are already at or near sea level, up to a fifth of all the world’s routes will be at risk.

And that means higher costs for flood protection, or action to raise airport sites, or relocation. The choice is to adapt or, quite literally, to go under.

“The cost of adaptation will be modest in the context of global infrastructure expenditure,” Professor Dawson said. “However, in some locations the rate of sea level rise, limited economic resources or space for alternative locations will make some airports unviable.” − Climate News Network