Tag Archives: Oceans

Most protected areas lack proper policing

On paper, nations are protecting their wilderness areas. In practice, most protected areas lack effective policing. Nature is not safe, even in reserves.

LONDON, 13 June, 2019 − Three-quarters of all the world’s protected areas – bits of ocean and wilderness nominally made safe for animals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi produced by 500 million years of evolution – may not be sufficiently staffed or funded.

And of 12,000 species of amphibians, birds and mammals whose ranges include protected areas, fewer than one in 10 are safely within properly policed and cared-for parks and reserves.

Researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that they looked at a sample of more than 2,100 protected areas in Africa, South America and Asia to see which could be classed as sufficiently funded and staffed.

Only 22.4% of these – covering a total area of about 25% of the total areas assessed – could claim to be sufficiently or well resourced.

The news comes only weeks after UN chiefs warned that up to a million species around the globe could be at risk of imminent extinction, and researchers found that many areas declared protection zones for the wilderness were being reclassified, degraded or exploited by industry and agribusiness.

Protection fails

“This analysis shows that most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Nations need to do much more to ensure that protected areas fulfil their role as a major tool to mitigate the growing biodiversity crisis.”

The researchers also identified 11,919 species of bird, amphibian and mammal that might have natural ranges that included protected areas, and made estimates of those that could be sure of properly protected areas within their range.

They found that this represented 4% of amphibians, 8% of birds and 9% of mammal species in the sample. This is at least five times lower than the targets protected areas were supposed to meet.

Humans usurp nature

That there is a biodiversity crisis has been established and confirmed, again and again. It has been driven by the fourfold explosion both in human population and in the advancement of global economies just in the 20th century, as humans have colonised savannah, forest and wetland to build cities, establish farms and exploit minerals.

The climate crisis, driven by a remorseless rise in global average temperatures in turn driven by profligate use of fossil fuels, can only intensify the hazard to the other species which share the planet, recycle the air and water, scavenge detritus and provide the primary foodstuffs and fibres on which humans depend.

Researchers have also repeatedly established that properly protected wilderness areas offer a way of slowing climate change. And almost on a daily basis, fresh studies identify the cascade towards extinction.

Research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that since 1900, at least 571 species of seed plant have been extinguished. The researchers also say that “almost as many may have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered”, but even that caveat simply highlights the numbers that might be nearing oblivion, and reinforces the call for effective protection of natural habitat.

“Most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity”

On paper, around 15% of the global terrestrial surface and about 12% of marine areas are under national protection, and nations are on track to match a global commitment to protect 17% of land surface and 10% of the seas by 2020, under an internationally agreed strategic plan for biodiversity.

The implication of the latest studies is that “on paper” isn’t good enough. Even if nations can claim to be on target, that doesn’t mean the wild things the protected areas are intended to protect are very much safer.

“While continued expansion of the world’s protected areas is necessary, a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality is critical to effectively respond to the current biodiversity crisis,” said the researchers.

And Professor Watson warned that without such a shift, conservationists could risk “sending a false message that sufficient resources are being committed to biodiversity protection.” − Climate News Network

On paper, nations are protecting their wilderness areas. In practice, most protected areas lack effective policing. Nature is not safe, even in reserves.

LONDON, 13 June, 2019 − Three-quarters of all the world’s protected areas – bits of ocean and wilderness nominally made safe for animals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi produced by 500 million years of evolution – may not be sufficiently staffed or funded.

And of 12,000 species of amphibians, birds and mammals whose ranges include protected areas, fewer than one in 10 are safely within properly policed and cared-for parks and reserves.

Researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that they looked at a sample of more than 2,100 protected areas in Africa, South America and Asia to see which could be classed as sufficiently funded and staffed.

Only 22.4% of these – covering a total area of about 25% of the total areas assessed – could claim to be sufficiently or well resourced.

The news comes only weeks after UN chiefs warned that up to a million species around the globe could be at risk of imminent extinction, and researchers found that many areas declared protection zones for the wilderness were being reclassified, degraded or exploited by industry and agribusiness.

Protection fails

“This analysis shows that most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Nations need to do much more to ensure that protected areas fulfil their role as a major tool to mitigate the growing biodiversity crisis.”

The researchers also identified 11,919 species of bird, amphibian and mammal that might have natural ranges that included protected areas, and made estimates of those that could be sure of properly protected areas within their range.

They found that this represented 4% of amphibians, 8% of birds and 9% of mammal species in the sample. This is at least five times lower than the targets protected areas were supposed to meet.

Humans usurp nature

That there is a biodiversity crisis has been established and confirmed, again and again. It has been driven by the fourfold explosion both in human population and in the advancement of global economies just in the 20th century, as humans have colonised savannah, forest and wetland to build cities, establish farms and exploit minerals.

The climate crisis, driven by a remorseless rise in global average temperatures in turn driven by profligate use of fossil fuels, can only intensify the hazard to the other species which share the planet, recycle the air and water, scavenge detritus and provide the primary foodstuffs and fibres on which humans depend.

Researchers have also repeatedly established that properly protected wilderness areas offer a way of slowing climate change. And almost on a daily basis, fresh studies identify the cascade towards extinction.

Research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that since 1900, at least 571 species of seed plant have been extinguished. The researchers also say that “almost as many may have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered”, but even that caveat simply highlights the numbers that might be nearing oblivion, and reinforces the call for effective protection of natural habitat.

“Most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity”

On paper, around 15% of the global terrestrial surface and about 12% of marine areas are under national protection, and nations are on track to match a global commitment to protect 17% of land surface and 10% of the seas by 2020, under an internationally agreed strategic plan for biodiversity.

The implication of the latest studies is that “on paper” isn’t good enough. Even if nations can claim to be on target, that doesn’t mean the wild things the protected areas are intended to protect are very much safer.

“While continued expansion of the world’s protected areas is necessary, a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality is critical to effectively respond to the current biodiversity crisis,” said the researchers.

And Professor Watson warned that without such a shift, conservationists could risk “sending a false message that sufficient resources are being committed to biodiversity protection.” − Climate News Network

Arctic sea ice loss affects the jet stream

The jet stream affects northern hemisphere climates. And global warming affects the behaviour of the jet stream. Prepare for yet more extremes of seasonal weather.

LONDON, 6 June, 2019 − Did you shiver in a winter ice storm? Could you wilt in a protracted heatwave this summer? German scientists have just identified the guilty agency and delivered the evidence implicating the jet stream.

Blame it on Arctic warming, they conclude: the retreat of the sea ice over the polar ocean has distorted the pattern of flow of the stratospheric winds usually known as the jet stream.

It is not a new idea. But this time, scientists have employed artificial intelligence and a machine-learning programme to accurately model the changes in the jet stream and then link these to changes in the chemistry of the upper atmosphere, and increasing patterns of twisting waves in the high altitude winds which then distort seasonal weather in the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes. They describe their research in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our study shows that the changes in the jet stream are at least partly due to the loss of Arctic sea ice. If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase,” said Markus Rex, who heads atmospheric research at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Cold bouts explained

“In addition, our findings confirm that the more frequently occurring cold phases in winter in the USA, Europe and Asia are by no means a contradiction to global warming; rather they are part of anthropogenic climate change.”

The jet stream – exploited by jet aircraft on the trans-Atlantic routes – is made up of westerly winds that, at an altitude of 10 kilometres, stream around the planet in the mid-latitudes, at speeds of up to 500 km an hour, and push weather systems from west to east.

But researchers have already observed this: they have been changing, in response to global warming and in particular to the rapid warming of the Arctic, as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere rise, and go on rising, in response to profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

Rather than stick to a course more or less parallel to the Equator, these winds have been observed describing dramatic waves.

“If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase”

These twists of direction have been linked to blasts of Arctic air into regions that could normally expect relatively mild winters: in particular to the ferocious cold that hit the US Midwest in January 2019.

These winds have also weakened and been linked to prolonged drought and extremes of heat that hit Europe in 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2018.

But association is not the same as demonstration of cause-and-effect. The Potsdam scientists wanted surer evidence. And their new climate simulations now include a machine-learning component that accounts for ozone chemistry at high altitudes.

And what their new model found was that as the Arctic sea ice retreats, the atmospheric waves have warmed the polar stratosphere in ways that have been amplified by the behaviour of the ozone layer.

Ozone response

Since what powers the jet stream is the difference between the cold Arctic and the warm tropics, the jet stream has weakened, and begun to meander, like a river flowing across a flood plain towards the sea.

In effect, the new study introduces a new piece to the climate puzzle: the response of the ozone layer and its role in the play of winds around the planet. The pay-off could be a clearer picture of things to come.

“We are now for the first time employing artificial intelligence in climate modelling, helping us arrive at more realistic model systems,” said Professor Rex.

“This holds tremendous potential for future climate models, which we believe will deliver more reliable climate projections and therefore a more robust basis for political decision-making.” − Climate News Network

The jet stream affects northern hemisphere climates. And global warming affects the behaviour of the jet stream. Prepare for yet more extremes of seasonal weather.

LONDON, 6 June, 2019 − Did you shiver in a winter ice storm? Could you wilt in a protracted heatwave this summer? German scientists have just identified the guilty agency and delivered the evidence implicating the jet stream.

Blame it on Arctic warming, they conclude: the retreat of the sea ice over the polar ocean has distorted the pattern of flow of the stratospheric winds usually known as the jet stream.

It is not a new idea. But this time, scientists have employed artificial intelligence and a machine-learning programme to accurately model the changes in the jet stream and then link these to changes in the chemistry of the upper atmosphere, and increasing patterns of twisting waves in the high altitude winds which then distort seasonal weather in the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes. They describe their research in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our study shows that the changes in the jet stream are at least partly due to the loss of Arctic sea ice. If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase,” said Markus Rex, who heads atmospheric research at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Cold bouts explained

“In addition, our findings confirm that the more frequently occurring cold phases in winter in the USA, Europe and Asia are by no means a contradiction to global warming; rather they are part of anthropogenic climate change.”

The jet stream – exploited by jet aircraft on the trans-Atlantic routes – is made up of westerly winds that, at an altitude of 10 kilometres, stream around the planet in the mid-latitudes, at speeds of up to 500 km an hour, and push weather systems from west to east.

But researchers have already observed this: they have been changing, in response to global warming and in particular to the rapid warming of the Arctic, as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere rise, and go on rising, in response to profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

Rather than stick to a course more or less parallel to the Equator, these winds have been observed describing dramatic waves.

“If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase”

These twists of direction have been linked to blasts of Arctic air into regions that could normally expect relatively mild winters: in particular to the ferocious cold that hit the US Midwest in January 2019.

These winds have also weakened and been linked to prolonged drought and extremes of heat that hit Europe in 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2018.

But association is not the same as demonstration of cause-and-effect. The Potsdam scientists wanted surer evidence. And their new climate simulations now include a machine-learning component that accounts for ozone chemistry at high altitudes.

And what their new model found was that as the Arctic sea ice retreats, the atmospheric waves have warmed the polar stratosphere in ways that have been amplified by the behaviour of the ozone layer.

Ozone response

Since what powers the jet stream is the difference between the cold Arctic and the warm tropics, the jet stream has weakened, and begun to meander, like a river flowing across a flood plain towards the sea.

In effect, the new study introduces a new piece to the climate puzzle: the response of the ozone layer and its role in the play of winds around the planet. The pay-off could be a clearer picture of things to come.

“We are now for the first time employing artificial intelligence in climate modelling, helping us arrive at more realistic model systems,” said Professor Rex.

“This holds tremendous potential for future climate models, which we believe will deliver more reliable climate projections and therefore a more robust basis for political decision-making.” − Climate News Network

Reindeer turn to seaweed as winters warm

The world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed as global warming puts their normal food beyond reach.

LONDON, 30 May, 2019 − Deep in the Arctic Circle, on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed.

Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive.

The Svalbard reindeer are a sub-species adapted to the extreme climate and known locally as Arctic pigs, because of their round shape and stubby legs.

Normally even with deep snow the reindeer can use their hooves to scrape the covering layer away to reach the grasses and plants underneath and survive the long dark winter. But recently Svalbard, which is at the most northerly point of the Gulf Stream, has been experiencing warmer winters

.Frequently it rains heavily rather than snowing, and the rain turns to ice when it hits the frozen surface, cutting off the reindeers’ food supply. The animals have taken to moving down to the seashore to graze to get enough nourishment until the spring comes.

“The reindeer are surprisingly adaptive. They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions”

Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic pigs were struggling to survive the rain.

An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10% in a 16-year period.

To find out about their new eating habits the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), studied the droppings of the reindeer to establish what they had been eating.

This was no small task. Using GPS tracking devices attached to 2,199 animals the scientists tracked their movements over nine years. They compared the movements with nine years of data they had on ice thickness covering the snow, called basal ice: this showed that reindeer moved to the coast when the ice was thickest.

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen and colleagues, who have been studying the reindeer for decades, were delighted to be able to prove that the newly acquired seaweed-eating habit was related to new conditions on Svalbard.

Varied diet

But the reindeer don’t exclusively feed on seaweed; the stable isotope and GPS collar data show instead that they eat it as a supplementary source of nutrition. “It seems they can’t sustain themselves on seaweed. They do move back and forth between the shore and the few ice-free vegetation patches every day, so it is obvious that they have to combine it with normal food, whatever they can find,” Hansen said.

Eating seaweed also comes at a cost – it gives the reindeer a lot of diarrhoea – probably from the salt, according to Hansen.

Although eating seaweed isn’t ideal, he said, it does show the animals are able to adapt, which is the good news. “The bigger picture is that, although we sometimes observe that populations crash during extremely icy winters, the reindeer are surprisingly adaptive,” he said.

“They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, they have a variety of strategies, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions.” − Climate News Network

The world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed as global warming puts their normal food beyond reach.

LONDON, 30 May, 2019 − Deep in the Arctic Circle, on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed.

Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive.

The Svalbard reindeer are a sub-species adapted to the extreme climate and known locally as Arctic pigs, because of their round shape and stubby legs.

Normally even with deep snow the reindeer can use their hooves to scrape the covering layer away to reach the grasses and plants underneath and survive the long dark winter. But recently Svalbard, which is at the most northerly point of the Gulf Stream, has been experiencing warmer winters

.Frequently it rains heavily rather than snowing, and the rain turns to ice when it hits the frozen surface, cutting off the reindeers’ food supply. The animals have taken to moving down to the seashore to graze to get enough nourishment until the spring comes.

“The reindeer are surprisingly adaptive. They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions”

Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic pigs were struggling to survive the rain.

An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10% in a 16-year period.

To find out about their new eating habits the scientists, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), studied the droppings of the reindeer to establish what they had been eating.

This was no small task. Using GPS tracking devices attached to 2,199 animals the scientists tracked their movements over nine years. They compared the movements with nine years of data they had on ice thickness covering the snow, called basal ice: this showed that reindeer moved to the coast when the ice was thickest.

Biologist Brage Bremset Hansen and colleagues, who have been studying the reindeer for decades, were delighted to be able to prove that the newly acquired seaweed-eating habit was related to new conditions on Svalbard.

Varied diet

But the reindeer don’t exclusively feed on seaweed; the stable isotope and GPS collar data show instead that they eat it as a supplementary source of nutrition. “It seems they can’t sustain themselves on seaweed. They do move back and forth between the shore and the few ice-free vegetation patches every day, so it is obvious that they have to combine it with normal food, whatever they can find,” Hansen said.

Eating seaweed also comes at a cost – it gives the reindeer a lot of diarrhoea – probably from the salt, according to Hansen.

Although eating seaweed isn’t ideal, he said, it does show the animals are able to adapt, which is the good news. “The bigger picture is that, although we sometimes observe that populations crash during extremely icy winters, the reindeer are surprisingly adaptive,” he said.

“They have different solutions for new problems like rapid climate change, they have a variety of strategies, and most are able to survive surprisingly hard conditions.” − Climate News Network

Sea level rise may double forecast for 2100

Scientists say global sea level rise could far exceed predictions because of faster melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

LONDON, 22 May, 2019 − If you are among the many millions of people who live near the world’s coasts, it will probably be worth your while to read this: sea level rise could be much greater than we expect.

A team of international scientists led by the University of Bristol, UK, has looked again at the estimates of how much the world’s oceans are likely to rise during this century. It concludes that the figure could be far higher than previous studies suggested.

In an extreme case, the members say, sea level rise over the next 80 years could mean that by 2100 the oceans will have risen by around six feet (two metres) − roughly twice the level thought likely till now, with “pretty unimaginable” consequences

In its fifth assessment report, published in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the continued warming of the Earth, if there were no major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, would see the seas rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100.

Sombre prospect

Many climate scientists have argued that this was a conservative estimate. The possibility that the eventual figure could be around double the forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people with having to leave their homes, is sobering. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The Bristol team used a different way of trying to gauge the possible effect of the way the ice is melting in Greenland, West and East Antarctica, not relying simply on projections from numerical models.

Their method used a technique called a structured expert judgement study, which involved 22 ice sheet experts in estimating plausible ranges for future sea level rise caused by the projected melting of the ice sheets in each of the three areas studied, under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.

If emissions continue on their current path, the business-as-usual scenario, the researchers say, then the world’s seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5°C, one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming.

 

“I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk. If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable”

“For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres,” said the lead author, Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.

He added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million sq km, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.”

For temperature rises expected up to 2°C Greenland’s ice sheet makes the single biggest contribution to sea level rise. But as temperatures climb further the much larger Antarctic ice sheets become involved.

“When you start to look at these lower-likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state, and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well,” said Professor Bamber.

“But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5°C that we see those types of behaviours kicking in.”

Mass exodus

Globally important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta would be liable to vanish beneath the waves, and large parts of Bangladesh. Major global cities including London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai would face significant threats.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Bamber.

Polar science is making striking advances in understanding what is happening to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. New satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected, and there is also something called the marine ice-cliff instability hypothesis, which assumes that coastal ice cliffs can rapidly collapse after ice shelves disintegrate, as a result of surface and sub-shelf melting caused by global warming.

Serious risk

The chances of sea level rise as devastating as this are small, the Bristol team say − about 5%. But they should be taken seriously.

“If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Bamber said.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” − Climate News Network

Scientists say global sea level rise could far exceed predictions because of faster melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

LONDON, 22 May, 2019 − If you are among the many millions of people who live near the world’s coasts, it will probably be worth your while to read this: sea level rise could be much greater than we expect.

A team of international scientists led by the University of Bristol, UK, has looked again at the estimates of how much the world’s oceans are likely to rise during this century. It concludes that the figure could be far higher than previous studies suggested.

In an extreme case, the members say, sea level rise over the next 80 years could mean that by 2100 the oceans will have risen by around six feet (two metres) − roughly twice the level thought likely till now, with “pretty unimaginable” consequences

In its fifth assessment report, published in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the continued warming of the Earth, if there were no major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, would see the seas rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100.

Sombre prospect

Many climate scientists have argued that this was a conservative estimate. The possibility that the eventual figure could be around double the forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people with having to leave their homes, is sobering. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The Bristol team used a different way of trying to gauge the possible effect of the way the ice is melting in Greenland, West and East Antarctica, not relying simply on projections from numerical models.

Their method used a technique called a structured expert judgement study, which involved 22 ice sheet experts in estimating plausible ranges for future sea level rise caused by the projected melting of the ice sheets in each of the three areas studied, under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.

If emissions continue on their current path, the business-as-usual scenario, the researchers say, then the world’s seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5°C, one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming.

 

“I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk. If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable”

“For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres,” said the lead author, Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.

He added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million sq km, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.”

For temperature rises expected up to 2°C Greenland’s ice sheet makes the single biggest contribution to sea level rise. But as temperatures climb further the much larger Antarctic ice sheets become involved.

“When you start to look at these lower-likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state, and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well,” said Professor Bamber.

“But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5°C that we see those types of behaviours kicking in.”

Mass exodus

Globally important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta would be liable to vanish beneath the waves, and large parts of Bangladesh. Major global cities including London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai would face significant threats.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Bamber.

Polar science is making striking advances in understanding what is happening to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. New satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected, and there is also something called the marine ice-cliff instability hypothesis, which assumes that coastal ice cliffs can rapidly collapse after ice shelves disintegrate, as a result of surface and sub-shelf melting caused by global warming.

Serious risk

The chances of sea level rise as devastating as this are small, the Bristol team say − about 5%. But they should be taken seriously.

“If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Bamber said.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” − Climate News Network

Wilder world can slow climate change

If you want to tackle climate change and restore once-familiar animals at the same time, a wilder world can help − naturally.

LONDON, 21 May, 2019 − Imagine a wilder world where many of the species humanity has almost wiped out are instead protected, cared for and encouraged to thrive.

No − it’s not Jurassic Park brought to life; it’s still largely an idea waiting to happen. But if it does ever become reality rewilding, as it’s known, could do a lot for us.

Rewilding simply means re-introducing wild creatures which used to live in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and North America. One example is the Eurasian beaver, hunted in the UK to near-extinction several centuries ago but now making a tentative return to Britain.

They began their UK recovery modestly: two families were imported from Norway in 2001, with more animals following later to increase genetic diversity.

Through their skillful lodge-building and engineering of woods and waterways, beavers show how they benefit humans and other creatures. They create a range of habitats for birds, insects, fish, small mammals and plants; one re-introduction project records that the 10 clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers. They slow water flow, prevent flooding, and store water for local use.

Three wins in one

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that beavers’ lifestyles can prove a fast, cheap way to slow climate breakdown, to build resilience to its inescapable impacts and to restore natural diversity.

Another good candidate for rewilding, almost a century after they were wiped out in northern Europe and the US, is the wolf, one of 21 key species identified by the Rewilding Britain group for reintroduction. Among the species the British journalist George Monbiot lists in his book Feral as suitable for rewilding in the UK are not only beavers and wolves but bison, lynx, wild boar, European sturgeon and grey whales.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the US in 1995 shows how rewilding can work on a large scale to increase biodiversity. By the end of the 1920s almost all of the US wolves had been killed off, mainly by ranchers protecting their livestock. They clung on in small populations in the northern wildernesses along the border with Canada.

But within a few years the Yellowstone wolf packs had made favourable impacts on the whole ecosystem through their control of the elk population. They reduced overall numbers of elk, which are herbivorous, and without predators had grown enormous. This helped the grazing areas and let more trees grow.

“Ten clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers”

Along river banks the tree growth slowed the flow of water and reduced flooding during heavy rainfall. It also shaded the banks, allowing fish to flourish. And the wolves are bringing in money: wolf-watching is big business and earns an estimated four times more than elk hunting.

A 2018 report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, argued for rewilding because native herbivores produce less methane than modern cattle and maintain forests by dispersing seeds in their dung.

Much of the UK would naturally support trees that absorb carbon, but it has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe. Rewilding could change that. And the RTA says people would benefit from the increased encounters with wildlife that would be possible, citing a 2013 Woodland Trust estimate that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs.

Predators take livestock, admittedly, but its supporters say we can mitigate losses with planning, design and compensation. For example, Germany sees few losses from herds because the farmers keep their livestock enclosed. Using specialist dog breeds to warn off wolves has also proved highly successful.

The UK badly needs rewilding. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that between 1970 and 2013 56% of species declined.

Resident nightingales

In southern England the Knepp Wildland project shows how rewilding can work. It is devoted to free-roaming herds of cattle, horses, pigs and deer as the drivers of habitat creation. Since it began in 2001 the numbers of many endangered species returning to Knepp have increased sharply: it now boasts 2% of the UK’s entire breeding population of nightingales.

Elsewhere in Europe countries including Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, led by Rewilding Europe, an independent group based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU, are working towards similar goals.

If rewilding can work in Europe and North America, could it help in other parts of the world too? They certainly need it: the UN reported earlier this month in its Global Assessment Report that about one million of the Earth’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

There’s just one snag. Historically, humans have exploited wildlife for fairly narrowly defined purposes: fur, feathers and flesh, often. Now we just want to shove them aside so that we can exploit the entire planet. Wildlife that doesn’t pay its way seldom gets the chance to stay. The Assessment’s authors say the main cause of the extinction crisis is the change which humans are making to their use of the Earth’s land and seas.

At that rate, the Rapid Transition Alliance thinks, it doesn’t sound as though there’ll be much room left by tomorrow to re-introduce anything, unless rewilding is part of a much wider strategy, including an absolute reduction of human consumption. − Climate News Network

*  *  * * *

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

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

If you want to tackle climate change and restore once-familiar animals at the same time, a wilder world can help − naturally.

LONDON, 21 May, 2019 − Imagine a wilder world where many of the species humanity has almost wiped out are instead protected, cared for and encouraged to thrive.

No − it’s not Jurassic Park brought to life; it’s still largely an idea waiting to happen. But if it does ever become reality rewilding, as it’s known, could do a lot for us.

Rewilding simply means re-introducing wild creatures which used to live in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and North America. One example is the Eurasian beaver, hunted in the UK to near-extinction several centuries ago but now making a tentative return to Britain.

They began their UK recovery modestly: two families were imported from Norway in 2001, with more animals following later to increase genetic diversity.

Through their skillful lodge-building and engineering of woods and waterways, beavers show how they benefit humans and other creatures. They create a range of habitats for birds, insects, fish, small mammals and plants; one re-introduction project records that the 10 clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers. They slow water flow, prevent flooding, and store water for local use.

Three wins in one

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that beavers’ lifestyles can prove a fast, cheap way to slow climate breakdown, to build resilience to its inescapable impacts and to restore natural diversity.

Another good candidate for rewilding, almost a century after they were wiped out in northern Europe and the US, is the wolf, one of 21 key species identified by the Rewilding Britain group for reintroduction. Among the species the British journalist George Monbiot lists in his book Feral as suitable for rewilding in the UK are not only beavers and wolves but bison, lynx, wild boar, European sturgeon and grey whales.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the US in 1995 shows how rewilding can work on a large scale to increase biodiversity. By the end of the 1920s almost all of the US wolves had been killed off, mainly by ranchers protecting their livestock. They clung on in small populations in the northern wildernesses along the border with Canada.

But within a few years the Yellowstone wolf packs had made favourable impacts on the whole ecosystem through their control of the elk population. They reduced overall numbers of elk, which are herbivorous, and without predators had grown enormous. This helped the grazing areas and let more trees grow.

“Ten clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers”

Along river banks the tree growth slowed the flow of water and reduced flooding during heavy rainfall. It also shaded the banks, allowing fish to flourish. And the wolves are bringing in money: wolf-watching is big business and earns an estimated four times more than elk hunting.

A 2018 report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, argued for rewilding because native herbivores produce less methane than modern cattle and maintain forests by dispersing seeds in their dung.

Much of the UK would naturally support trees that absorb carbon, but it has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe. Rewilding could change that. And the RTA says people would benefit from the increased encounters with wildlife that would be possible, citing a 2013 Woodland Trust estimate that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs.

Predators take livestock, admittedly, but its supporters say we can mitigate losses with planning, design and compensation. For example, Germany sees few losses from herds because the farmers keep their livestock enclosed. Using specialist dog breeds to warn off wolves has also proved highly successful.

The UK badly needs rewilding. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that between 1970 and 2013 56% of species declined.

Resident nightingales

In southern England the Knepp Wildland project shows how rewilding can work. It is devoted to free-roaming herds of cattle, horses, pigs and deer as the drivers of habitat creation. Since it began in 2001 the numbers of many endangered species returning to Knepp have increased sharply: it now boasts 2% of the UK’s entire breeding population of nightingales.

Elsewhere in Europe countries including Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, led by Rewilding Europe, an independent group based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU, are working towards similar goals.

If rewilding can work in Europe and North America, could it help in other parts of the world too? They certainly need it: the UN reported earlier this month in its Global Assessment Report that about one million of the Earth’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

There’s just one snag. Historically, humans have exploited wildlife for fairly narrowly defined purposes: fur, feathers and flesh, often. Now we just want to shove them aside so that we can exploit the entire planet. Wildlife that doesn’t pay its way seldom gets the chance to stay. The Assessment’s authors say the main cause of the extinction crisis is the change which humans are making to their use of the Earth’s land and seas.

At that rate, the Rapid Transition Alliance thinks, it doesn’t sound as though there’ll be much room left by tomorrow to re-introduce anything, unless rewilding is part of a much wider strategy, including an absolute reduction of human consumption. − Climate News Network

*  *  * * *

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

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

Desert dust cools vulnerable Red Sea corals

Desert dust whipped up by strong winds and volcanic aerosols alter the climate as the world warms.

LONDON, 20 May, 2019 − Located between two of the hottest and driest places on earth, the Red Sea is being protected by the desert dust that the winds whip up in the lands that surround it.

The dust so effectively blocks out the sun that the Red Sea is kept cool, saving its coral reefs from dangerous overheating and providing nutrients that keep its waters healthy.

The sea lies between North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s largest region for generating dust, which strong summer winds pump down a narrowing mountain-fringed passage that forces it into the air over the widest southern portion of the sea.

The research, carried out by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, the first mixed-gender university in Saudi Arabia), is part of a wider programme to discover the effect of dust in the atmosphere in changing the weather and climate.

Cooling influence

Volcanic eruptions can have a significant effect by ejecting aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere where they block out some of the sun’s rays, radiating heat back into space, a process known as radiative forcing. Dust blown from deserts also has a strong regional effect.

Sergey Osipov, postdoctoral fellow and co-author with his supervisor Georgiy Stenchikov of the Red Sea study, said: “We show that summer conditions over the Red Sea produce the world’s largest aerosol radiative forcing, and yet the impact of dust on the Red Sea was never studied − it was simply unknown.”

A surprising finding relates to biological productivity. “Dust deposition adds nutrients,” he said. “However, we find that dust radiative forcing slows down the Red Sea circulation and reduces the main nutrient supply to the Red Sea through the Bab-el Mandeb strait. The net effect on overall bioproductivity remains to be established.”

Volcanoes’ impact

Large volcanic eruptions, such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, inject vast amounts of sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, where it is converted into tiny sulphate aerosol droplets.

These sulphate aerosols spread around the globe, exerting a strong radiative forcing effect, and reducing global temperature for nearly two years by 0.6°C before the dust finally settled back to earth.

The university is using its supercomputer to look at the effects of dust on the whole of the region, which is extremely arid and hurls large quantities of dust into the atmosphere, potentially changing weather patterns. It is important for future climate projections to predict droughts and famines that might cause mass migrations of the region’s peoples.

Another KAUST climate modelling study reveals potential changes in the West African monsoon caused by global warming and the dust it creates.

African monsoon

Home to more than 300 million people, West Africa has an agriculture-based economy: its food security is affected by the monsoon, making it important to understand present and future variability.

A KAUST doctoral student, Jerry Raj, simulated the monsoon under present and future climates. The results show that West Africa will become generally hotter as a result of climate change – with higher areas of the Sahel and Western Sahara projected to have increased temperatures of 4°C or more by the century’s end.

The simulations also indicate precipitation increases over the equatorial Atlantic and the Guinean coast, yet the southern Sahel appears drier. At the same time, Western Sahara experiences a moderate increase of rain.

Finally, and crucially for farmers sowing crops, the onset of the monsoon occurs earlier over the eastern part of the region, but is delayed over the western part.

“Strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood”

“Climate projection is the first and the most important step toward adaptation policies aimed at avoiding damaging environmental and socio-economic consequences,” Raj said.

Another doctoral student, Evgeniya Predybaylo, is looking further afield at the impact of large volcanic eruptions on a major natural climate variation, the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation.

This periodic warm water flush in the Pacific drives extreme weather events like hurricane and tornado activity as well as coral bleaching. It also causes floods and droughts and disrupts fish populations.

Forecasting El Niño events would help people prepare for possible collapses of fish stocks and agricultural crises, says Predybaylo. However, El Niño is notoriously difficult to predict, but volcanic eruptions may play a role.

El Niño link?

“Interestingly, strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood,” says Predybaylo.

She says the response to volcanoes partly depends on the eruption’s seasonal timing: summer eruptions induce stronger El Niños than winter or spring eruptions.
Ocean conditions prevailing at the time of the eruption also play a role.

“Radiative forcing following large eruptions generally results in surface cooling,” explains Predybaylo. “However, the tropical Pacific often shows a warming response. We show that this is due to uneven equatorial ocean cooling and changes in trade winds.”

“A Pinatubo-size eruption may partially determine the phase, magnitude and duration of El Niño, but it is crucial to account for the eruption season and ocean conditions just before the eruption,” she says. − Climate News Network

Desert dust whipped up by strong winds and volcanic aerosols alter the climate as the world warms.

LONDON, 20 May, 2019 − Located between two of the hottest and driest places on earth, the Red Sea is being protected by the desert dust that the winds whip up in the lands that surround it.

The dust so effectively blocks out the sun that the Red Sea is kept cool, saving its coral reefs from dangerous overheating and providing nutrients that keep its waters healthy.

The sea lies between North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s largest region for generating dust, which strong summer winds pump down a narrowing mountain-fringed passage that forces it into the air over the widest southern portion of the sea.

The research, carried out by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, the first mixed-gender university in Saudi Arabia), is part of a wider programme to discover the effect of dust in the atmosphere in changing the weather and climate.

Cooling influence

Volcanic eruptions can have a significant effect by ejecting aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere where they block out some of the sun’s rays, radiating heat back into space, a process known as radiative forcing. Dust blown from deserts also has a strong regional effect.

Sergey Osipov, postdoctoral fellow and co-author with his supervisor Georgiy Stenchikov of the Red Sea study, said: “We show that summer conditions over the Red Sea produce the world’s largest aerosol radiative forcing, and yet the impact of dust on the Red Sea was never studied − it was simply unknown.”

A surprising finding relates to biological productivity. “Dust deposition adds nutrients,” he said. “However, we find that dust radiative forcing slows down the Red Sea circulation and reduces the main nutrient supply to the Red Sea through the Bab-el Mandeb strait. The net effect on overall bioproductivity remains to be established.”

Volcanoes’ impact

Large volcanic eruptions, such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, inject vast amounts of sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, where it is converted into tiny sulphate aerosol droplets.

These sulphate aerosols spread around the globe, exerting a strong radiative forcing effect, and reducing global temperature for nearly two years by 0.6°C before the dust finally settled back to earth.

The university is using its supercomputer to look at the effects of dust on the whole of the region, which is extremely arid and hurls large quantities of dust into the atmosphere, potentially changing weather patterns. It is important for future climate projections to predict droughts and famines that might cause mass migrations of the region’s peoples.

Another KAUST climate modelling study reveals potential changes in the West African monsoon caused by global warming and the dust it creates.

African monsoon

Home to more than 300 million people, West Africa has an agriculture-based economy: its food security is affected by the monsoon, making it important to understand present and future variability.

A KAUST doctoral student, Jerry Raj, simulated the monsoon under present and future climates. The results show that West Africa will become generally hotter as a result of climate change – with higher areas of the Sahel and Western Sahara projected to have increased temperatures of 4°C or more by the century’s end.

The simulations also indicate precipitation increases over the equatorial Atlantic and the Guinean coast, yet the southern Sahel appears drier. At the same time, Western Sahara experiences a moderate increase of rain.

Finally, and crucially for farmers sowing crops, the onset of the monsoon occurs earlier over the eastern part of the region, but is delayed over the western part.

“Strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood”

“Climate projection is the first and the most important step toward adaptation policies aimed at avoiding damaging environmental and socio-economic consequences,” Raj said.

Another doctoral student, Evgeniya Predybaylo, is looking further afield at the impact of large volcanic eruptions on a major natural climate variation, the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation.

This periodic warm water flush in the Pacific drives extreme weather events like hurricane and tornado activity as well as coral bleaching. It also causes floods and droughts and disrupts fish populations.

Forecasting El Niño events would help people prepare for possible collapses of fish stocks and agricultural crises, says Predybaylo. However, El Niño is notoriously difficult to predict, but volcanic eruptions may play a role.

El Niño link?

“Interestingly, strong equatorial volcanic eruptions often coincide with an El Niño warm phase, but the relationship is complex and poorly understood,” says Predybaylo.

She says the response to volcanoes partly depends on the eruption’s seasonal timing: summer eruptions induce stronger El Niños than winter or spring eruptions.
Ocean conditions prevailing at the time of the eruption also play a role.

“Radiative forcing following large eruptions generally results in surface cooling,” explains Predybaylo. “However, the tropical Pacific often shows a warming response. We show that this is due to uneven equatorial ocean cooling and changes in trade winds.”

“A Pinatubo-size eruption may partially determine the phase, magnitude and duration of El Niño, but it is crucial to account for the eruption season and ocean conditions just before the eruption,” she says. − Climate News Network

Humans drive sixth mass extinction wave

For the sixth time since life on Earth began, scientists say, mass extinction is a threat. This time, though, is different. The cause is us.

LONDON, 7 May, 2019 − About one million of the world’s animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction − the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion, scientists say. Many species could be wiped out within decades. And their plight is caused by humans, and will inevitably affect us too.

The warning was delivered by a British scientist, Professor Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), speaking in the French capital, Paris.

He told an IPBES meeting held to approve the summary of its new global assessment report on the state of life on Earth that the implications for human life were grave. The overwhelming evidence gathered in the assessment presented “an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, This loss is a direct result of human activity … ”

But Professor Watson, a previous chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not preach despair. Despite the “truly unsustainable rate” of species loss that would affect human wellbeing for this generation and for its descendants, despite the accelerating pace of extinction, he believes there is still hope.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Transformative change, system-wide and including goals and values, could allow humankind to restore nature and to use it sustainably, he said.

In an unusually forthright challenge to individuals, businesses and governments which continue to question or ignore the findings of science in pursuit of their own interests, Professor Watson, a globally-renowned environment scientist, acknowledged that that sort of change “can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo”. Such opposition “can be overcome for the broader public good”, he added.

The assessment report’s findings make spine-chilling reading. It says the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibians and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insects, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

Global impact

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the global assessment, of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany . “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The summary says there are five main causes of the crisis. In descending order they are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It adds plenty of detail:

•Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities

•More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production

•Raw timber demand has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss, and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection

•Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold

•Since 1992 urban areas have more than doubled

•In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.

.Numbers unknown

Scientists point out that unlike the five earlier great waves of extinction to have occurred on the planet, this one is human-driven. IPBES has explained simply and clearly that humankind and its activities are responsible for what is happening, and that we shall have to pay the price.

IPBES has also succeeded in diagnosing the extent of the crisis overwhelming the natural world with a new degree of precision, despite the fact that nobody can say with any certainty how many species the Earth contains.

The Paris meeting approved the 40-page summary of the full IPBES report, which will be published later this year. At the end of 2020 two conferences, on the natural world and climate change, will provide global leaders with an opportunity to make specific plans for action.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group whose protests in April brought traffic in parts of London to a halt for a week and which is active in several other countries as well, is known for its vociferous demands for steps to tackle climate change.

It is careful to spell out its insistence that climate change and the fate of the natural world are twin threats, of equal gravity and urgency. − Climate News Network

For the sixth time since life on Earth began, scientists say, mass extinction is a threat. This time, though, is different. The cause is us.

LONDON, 7 May, 2019 − About one million of the world’s animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction − the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion, scientists say. Many species could be wiped out within decades. And their plight is caused by humans, and will inevitably affect us too.

The warning was delivered by a British scientist, Professor Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), speaking in the French capital, Paris.

He told an IPBES meeting held to approve the summary of its new global assessment report on the state of life on Earth that the implications for human life were grave. The overwhelming evidence gathered in the assessment presented “an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, This loss is a direct result of human activity … ”

But Professor Watson, a previous chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not preach despair. Despite the “truly unsustainable rate” of species loss that would affect human wellbeing for this generation and for its descendants, despite the accelerating pace of extinction, he believes there is still hope.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Transformative change, system-wide and including goals and values, could allow humankind to restore nature and to use it sustainably, he said.

In an unusually forthright challenge to individuals, businesses and governments which continue to question or ignore the findings of science in pursuit of their own interests, Professor Watson, a globally-renowned environment scientist, acknowledged that that sort of change “can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo”. Such opposition “can be overcome for the broader public good”, he added.

The assessment report’s findings make spine-chilling reading. It says the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibians and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insects, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

Global impact

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the global assessment, of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany . “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The summary says there are five main causes of the crisis. In descending order they are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It adds plenty of detail:

•Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities

•More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production

•Raw timber demand has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss, and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection

•Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold

•Since 1992 urban areas have more than doubled

•In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.

.Numbers unknown

Scientists point out that unlike the five earlier great waves of extinction to have occurred on the planet, this one is human-driven. IPBES has explained simply and clearly that humankind and its activities are responsible for what is happening, and that we shall have to pay the price.

IPBES has also succeeded in diagnosing the extent of the crisis overwhelming the natural world with a new degree of precision, despite the fact that nobody can say with any certainty how many species the Earth contains.

The Paris meeting approved the 40-page summary of the full IPBES report, which will be published later this year. At the end of 2020 two conferences, on the natural world and climate change, will provide global leaders with an opportunity to make specific plans for action.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group whose protests in April brought traffic in parts of London to a halt for a week and which is active in several other countries as well, is known for its vociferous demands for steps to tackle climate change.

It is careful to spell out its insistence that climate change and the fate of the natural world are twin threats, of equal gravity and urgency. − Climate News Network

Marine microbes may fuel ocean warming

Warmer air means warmer seas, and marine microbes in warmer seas could mean yet warmer air. The climate cycle could get increasingly vicious.

LONDON, 6 May, 2019 − US scientists say marine microbes are the cause of yet another potentially positive feedback that could accelerate global warming.

As the oceans warm, marine microbial life might start to pump yet more carbon dioxide into the air. This process would of course increase the greenhouse gas levels still further and warm the oceans to increasing temperatures.

The finding is a reminder that the atmosphere, oceans, ice caps, rocks, algae, bacteria and forests are all intricate parts of the planetary climate machinery, and researchers still have a long way to go before they understand all the working parts in detail. But it is also a reminder that every small rise in planetary average temperatures in some way feeds back into this complex system.

The new study, based on analysis of data gathered during a research cruise in 2013 from Peru to Tahiti, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Warming will cause faster recycling of carbon in many areas, and that means less carbon will reach the deep ocean and get stored”

The shipboard scientists looked in depth at processes in highly productive waters off the South American coasts, and at the more or less barren waters south of the equator that cycle in a set of currents known as the South Pacific Gyre.

They did so to estimate the fate of tiny green plants – plankton – as they flourished in the ocean surface, and then perished and sank to the depths.

In the great and far-from-complete reckoning of the planet’s carbon budget – from atmosphere to plants to animals and back to the air, or to the rocks – climate scientists think that the oceans absorb around one fourth of all the extra carbon dioxide that humans burn as fossil fuels to power economic growth.

Plankton produce about 40 to 50 billion tonnes of organic carbon as they flourish, and then perish. Microbes set to work and begin the process of decay, recycling the carbon into the atmosphere. But somewhere between 8bn and 10bn tonnes of green tissue sink below 100 metres, into waters increasingly starved of oxygen, and decay stops.

Long sojourn

Once the dead plankton reach the ocean bottom, they could be there for centuries. More heat, however, could alter the balance of recycling and long-term storage.

“The results are telling us that warming will cause faster recycling of carbon in many areas, and that means less carbon will reach the deep ocean and get stored,” said Robert Anderson, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and one of the authors.

The fear is that as the oceans warm, the oxygen-low zones will increase and expand. That could suggest more long-term carbon burial. But as the surface waters warm, the microbial activity could accelerate, and release even more carbon into the atmosphere. In which case, the world would warm more swiftly.

Research like this is necessarily inconclusive: marine biologists have a lot more to do before they get a convincing answer to a global puzzle. Climate scientists started worrying about oxygen depletion in the oceans years ago, but they have been more bothered by evidence that in a warmer world microbial scavengers and recyclers work ever harder, and not just on land.

Positive feedbacks

As the polar ice retreats, there are more emissions of potent greenhouse gases from the tundra. And as high latitude ice and snow retreats, the levels of radiation back into space are reduced, while deep blue sea and brown rock absorb ever higher doses of sunlight.

All these are instances of positive feedback: planetary responses that seem overall to make climate change more likely, and climate extremes more hazardous. And the increasing evidence of oxygen depletion in the oceans provides no comfort: as the seas warm, less oxygen is available for the ocean’s animals: including of course the huge hauls of fish on which millions depend for income and nourishment.

As the scientists say, in the opaque language of a research journal: “Our findings imply that climate warming will result in reduced ocean carbon storage due to expanding oligotrophic gyres, but opposing effects on ocean carbon storage from expanding suboxic waters will require modelling and future work to disentangle.”

In other words, there is more research to be done. − Climate News Network

Warmer air means warmer seas, and marine microbes in warmer seas could mean yet warmer air. The climate cycle could get increasingly vicious.

LONDON, 6 May, 2019 − US scientists say marine microbes are the cause of yet another potentially positive feedback that could accelerate global warming.

As the oceans warm, marine microbial life might start to pump yet more carbon dioxide into the air. This process would of course increase the greenhouse gas levels still further and warm the oceans to increasing temperatures.

The finding is a reminder that the atmosphere, oceans, ice caps, rocks, algae, bacteria and forests are all intricate parts of the planetary climate machinery, and researchers still have a long way to go before they understand all the working parts in detail. But it is also a reminder that every small rise in planetary average temperatures in some way feeds back into this complex system.

The new study, based on analysis of data gathered during a research cruise in 2013 from Peru to Tahiti, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Warming will cause faster recycling of carbon in many areas, and that means less carbon will reach the deep ocean and get stored”

The shipboard scientists looked in depth at processes in highly productive waters off the South American coasts, and at the more or less barren waters south of the equator that cycle in a set of currents known as the South Pacific Gyre.

They did so to estimate the fate of tiny green plants – plankton – as they flourished in the ocean surface, and then perished and sank to the depths.

In the great and far-from-complete reckoning of the planet’s carbon budget – from atmosphere to plants to animals and back to the air, or to the rocks – climate scientists think that the oceans absorb around one fourth of all the extra carbon dioxide that humans burn as fossil fuels to power economic growth.

Plankton produce about 40 to 50 billion tonnes of organic carbon as they flourish, and then perish. Microbes set to work and begin the process of decay, recycling the carbon into the atmosphere. But somewhere between 8bn and 10bn tonnes of green tissue sink below 100 metres, into waters increasingly starved of oxygen, and decay stops.

Long sojourn

Once the dead plankton reach the ocean bottom, they could be there for centuries. More heat, however, could alter the balance of recycling and long-term storage.

“The results are telling us that warming will cause faster recycling of carbon in many areas, and that means less carbon will reach the deep ocean and get stored,” said Robert Anderson, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and one of the authors.

The fear is that as the oceans warm, the oxygen-low zones will increase and expand. That could suggest more long-term carbon burial. But as the surface waters warm, the microbial activity could accelerate, and release even more carbon into the atmosphere. In which case, the world would warm more swiftly.

Research like this is necessarily inconclusive: marine biologists have a lot more to do before they get a convincing answer to a global puzzle. Climate scientists started worrying about oxygen depletion in the oceans years ago, but they have been more bothered by evidence that in a warmer world microbial scavengers and recyclers work ever harder, and not just on land.

Positive feedbacks

As the polar ice retreats, there are more emissions of potent greenhouse gases from the tundra. And as high latitude ice and snow retreats, the levels of radiation back into space are reduced, while deep blue sea and brown rock absorb ever higher doses of sunlight.

All these are instances of positive feedback: planetary responses that seem overall to make climate change more likely, and climate extremes more hazardous. And the increasing evidence of oxygen depletion in the oceans provides no comfort: as the seas warm, less oxygen is available for the ocean’s animals: including of course the huge hauls of fish on which millions depend for income and nourishment.

As the scientists say, in the opaque language of a research journal: “Our findings imply that climate warming will result in reduced ocean carbon storage due to expanding oligotrophic gyres, but opposing effects on ocean carbon storage from expanding suboxic waters will require modelling and future work to disentangle.”

In other words, there is more research to be done. − Climate News Network

Heat makes ocean winds and waves fiercer

The seas are rising. Ocean winds and waves are growing in speed and force. The oceans could be feeling the heat.

LONDON, 1 May, 2019 − The great swells of the Pacific are beginning to swell even more as fiercer ocean winds and waves leave their mark. The breakers that crash on the storm beaches now do so with greater force. The white horses are gathering pace.

A 33-year-study of data from 31 satellites and 80 ocean buoys has confirmed suspicions. The extreme ocean winds are now fiercer, and the waves are getting measurably higher.

It is a given of global warming that as average planetary temperatures rise, then more energy is available for storm, rainfall and drought.

In the past century, because of ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels that release growing quantities of greenhouse gases, average global temperatures have crept higher by 1°C and in three decades the speed of extreme winds in the Southern Ocean has increased by 8%, or 1.5 metres per second. Extreme waves have increased by 30cms, or 5%, over the same period.

“These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructures at risk”

“Although increases of 5 and 8% might not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major impacts,” said Ian Young, an engineer at the University of Melbourne in Australia

He and a colleague report in the journal Science that they reached their conclusion on the basis of 4 billion observations made between 1985 and 2018.

“Flooding events are caused by storm surge and associated breaking waves. The increased sea level makes these events more serious and more frequent,” said Professor Young. “Increases in wave height, and changes in other properties such as wave direction, will further increase the probability of coastal flooding.”

Sea levels have been creeping ever higher, in large part because of the retreat of most of the planet’s great glaciers and the ever-increasing meltwater from Greenland and West Antarctica, and also as a simple matter of physics: as the oceans warm, the waters become less dense and sea levels rise.

Difficult measurements

Surfers and pleasure-seekers began to worry about the impact of global warming and climate change on wave patterns years ago. But seemingly simple phenomena such as the effects wave height and wind speed have in the open oceans on a world-wide basis are harder to measure.

Spanish oceanographers reported earlier this year that they were sure that ocean waves were gathering in force and strength, and European engineers have warned of the impact of more intense storms backed up by rising seas on the Atlantic ports and coastlines of the continent.

But there are problems: precision measurements have been made only recently. Oceanographers cannot be sure that they are not witnessing a natural cycle of ocean change, in which storm intensities slowly vary over a pattern of decades.

Since 1985 earth observation satellites have been equipped with altimeters to measure wave height and wind speed, radiometers to measure wind speed, and scatterometers to record wind speed and direction. The next problem has been calibrating data from a range of different satellites, and indeed the slightly different stories told by instruments on the same satellite.

Worse to come

But the Australian engineers report that they are now 90% confident that they can measure ocean change: violent storms now arrive with higher wave crests and more dangerous winds than they did in 1985, and although this is true worldwide, the effect is most pronounced in the great ocean that swirls around Antarctica.

The next challenge is to make estimates of how much more violent the worst sea storms are likely to become later in the century, as planetary average temperatures – and sea levels – continue to rise.

“These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructures at risk,” Professor Young said.

“We need a better understanding of how much this change is due to long-term climate change, and how much is due to multi-decadal fluctuations or cycles.” − Climate News Network

The seas are rising. Ocean winds and waves are growing in speed and force. The oceans could be feeling the heat.

LONDON, 1 May, 2019 − The great swells of the Pacific are beginning to swell even more as fiercer ocean winds and waves leave their mark. The breakers that crash on the storm beaches now do so with greater force. The white horses are gathering pace.

A 33-year-study of data from 31 satellites and 80 ocean buoys has confirmed suspicions. The extreme ocean winds are now fiercer, and the waves are getting measurably higher.

It is a given of global warming that as average planetary temperatures rise, then more energy is available for storm, rainfall and drought.

In the past century, because of ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels that release growing quantities of greenhouse gases, average global temperatures have crept higher by 1°C and in three decades the speed of extreme winds in the Southern Ocean has increased by 8%, or 1.5 metres per second. Extreme waves have increased by 30cms, or 5%, over the same period.

“These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructures at risk”

“Although increases of 5 and 8% might not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major impacts,” said Ian Young, an engineer at the University of Melbourne in Australia

He and a colleague report in the journal Science that they reached their conclusion on the basis of 4 billion observations made between 1985 and 2018.

“Flooding events are caused by storm surge and associated breaking waves. The increased sea level makes these events more serious and more frequent,” said Professor Young. “Increases in wave height, and changes in other properties such as wave direction, will further increase the probability of coastal flooding.”

Sea levels have been creeping ever higher, in large part because of the retreat of most of the planet’s great glaciers and the ever-increasing meltwater from Greenland and West Antarctica, and also as a simple matter of physics: as the oceans warm, the waters become less dense and sea levels rise.

Difficult measurements

Surfers and pleasure-seekers began to worry about the impact of global warming and climate change on wave patterns years ago. But seemingly simple phenomena such as the effects wave height and wind speed have in the open oceans on a world-wide basis are harder to measure.

Spanish oceanographers reported earlier this year that they were sure that ocean waves were gathering in force and strength, and European engineers have warned of the impact of more intense storms backed up by rising seas on the Atlantic ports and coastlines of the continent.

But there are problems: precision measurements have been made only recently. Oceanographers cannot be sure that they are not witnessing a natural cycle of ocean change, in which storm intensities slowly vary over a pattern of decades.

Since 1985 earth observation satellites have been equipped with altimeters to measure wave height and wind speed, radiometers to measure wind speed, and scatterometers to record wind speed and direction. The next problem has been calibrating data from a range of different satellites, and indeed the slightly different stories told by instruments on the same satellite.

Worse to come

But the Australian engineers report that they are now 90% confident that they can measure ocean change: violent storms now arrive with higher wave crests and more dangerous winds than they did in 1985, and although this is true worldwide, the effect is most pronounced in the great ocean that swirls around Antarctica.

The next challenge is to make estimates of how much more violent the worst sea storms are likely to become later in the century, as planetary average temperatures – and sea levels – continue to rise.

“These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructures at risk,” Professor Young said.

“We need a better understanding of how much this change is due to long-term climate change, and how much is due to multi-decadal fluctuations or cycles.” − Climate News Network

Cold-blooded sealife runs double heat risk

Extremes of heat are twice as risky for cold-blooded sealife as for other ectotherms. A hot rock could be safer than the deep sea.

LONDON, 29 April, 2019 – When it comes to global warming, there may no longer be plenty of fish in the sea: new research suggests that cold-blooded sealife may be twice as likely to be at risk in its natural habitat as land-dwelling ectotherms.

This finding is unexpected: the ocean is, in both area and volume, the single biggest living space on the planet. Fish that feel the heat can move towards the poles when temperatures get too high.

But when US researchers took a closer look at the data available on the thermal discomfort zones – those moments when cold-blooded creatures begin to overheat and need to find a safe, cool place in which to lie low – those spiders and lizards that survive in the tropics and temperate zones actually stand a better chance of finding somewhere to hide, and thus living through heatwaves, than their marine cousins.

“New conservation efforts will be needed if the ocean is going to continue supporting human well-being, nutrition and economic activity”

“We find that, globally, marine species are being eliminated from their habitats by warming temperatures twice as often as land species,” said Malin Pinsky, of Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

“The findings suggest that new conservation efforts will be needed if the ocean is going to continue supporting human well-being, nutrition and economic activity.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature that they searched the literature for detailed information on 400 species, and calculated the safe conditions for 88 marine and 294 land animals. They also identified the coolest temperatures available to each species during the hottest parts of the year.

More terrestrial refuges

And they found that, on average, fish and marine animals were more likely to live on the edge of temperatures that could become dangerously high. Land animals – insects and reptiles – could disappear into the forests, seek the shade or go underground: something sea creatures could not do.

That terrestrial reptiles and amphibians and marine animals are at risk is not news: researchers have already recorded significant movements of sea species in response to heat extremes off the Californian coast.

There has been repeated evidence that rising global temperature, as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use, has begun to affect commercial fisheries, and other researchers have made it emphatically clear that only determined human action to contain global warming and protect breeding grounds can keep fish on the family supper table.

What most would not have expected was to find that land animals were less at risk, simply because they were land-dwellers.

Limited evidence

Research of this kind tends to deliver findings that can be challenged, and the authors concede that their conclusions are limited by the available evidence. Of 159 separate studies, 153 were in the northern hemisphere and 137 were from the temperate latitudes. Of their marine ectotherms, only 7% were pelagic: these are the fish – among them cod and tuna – that can swim to deeper, cooler layers when surface temperatures soar.

The remaining 93% included slow-moving bottom-dwellers such as lobsters, horseshoe crabs, abalone and snails, which may have nowhere left to go when life locally gets too hot to handle. The researchers make it clear that they are not talking about complete global extinctions of species: they choose the phrase “local extirpations”.

And they make it clear that land-dwelling cold-blooded animals are by no means safe from increasingly frequent, intense episodes of heat extremes driven by climate change: they would continue to be vulnerable to loss of what the researchers call “local refugia” – for example woodland cover – which “would make habitat fragmentation and changes in land use critical drivers of species loss on land.” – Climate News Network

Extremes of heat are twice as risky for cold-blooded sealife as for other ectotherms. A hot rock could be safer than the deep sea.

LONDON, 29 April, 2019 – When it comes to global warming, there may no longer be plenty of fish in the sea: new research suggests that cold-blooded sealife may be twice as likely to be at risk in its natural habitat as land-dwelling ectotherms.

This finding is unexpected: the ocean is, in both area and volume, the single biggest living space on the planet. Fish that feel the heat can move towards the poles when temperatures get too high.

But when US researchers took a closer look at the data available on the thermal discomfort zones – those moments when cold-blooded creatures begin to overheat and need to find a safe, cool place in which to lie low – those spiders and lizards that survive in the tropics and temperate zones actually stand a better chance of finding somewhere to hide, and thus living through heatwaves, than their marine cousins.

“New conservation efforts will be needed if the ocean is going to continue supporting human well-being, nutrition and economic activity”

“We find that, globally, marine species are being eliminated from their habitats by warming temperatures twice as often as land species,” said Malin Pinsky, of Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

“The findings suggest that new conservation efforts will be needed if the ocean is going to continue supporting human well-being, nutrition and economic activity.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature that they searched the literature for detailed information on 400 species, and calculated the safe conditions for 88 marine and 294 land animals. They also identified the coolest temperatures available to each species during the hottest parts of the year.

More terrestrial refuges

And they found that, on average, fish and marine animals were more likely to live on the edge of temperatures that could become dangerously high. Land animals – insects and reptiles – could disappear into the forests, seek the shade or go underground: something sea creatures could not do.

That terrestrial reptiles and amphibians and marine animals are at risk is not news: researchers have already recorded significant movements of sea species in response to heat extremes off the Californian coast.

There has been repeated evidence that rising global temperature, as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use, has begun to affect commercial fisheries, and other researchers have made it emphatically clear that only determined human action to contain global warming and protect breeding grounds can keep fish on the family supper table.

What most would not have expected was to find that land animals were less at risk, simply because they were land-dwellers.

Limited evidence

Research of this kind tends to deliver findings that can be challenged, and the authors concede that their conclusions are limited by the available evidence. Of 159 separate studies, 153 were in the northern hemisphere and 137 were from the temperate latitudes. Of their marine ectotherms, only 7% were pelagic: these are the fish – among them cod and tuna – that can swim to deeper, cooler layers when surface temperatures soar.

The remaining 93% included slow-moving bottom-dwellers such as lobsters, horseshoe crabs, abalone and snails, which may have nowhere left to go when life locally gets too hot to handle. The researchers make it clear that they are not talking about complete global extinctions of species: they choose the phrase “local extirpations”.

And they make it clear that land-dwelling cold-blooded animals are by no means safe from increasingly frequent, intense episodes of heat extremes driven by climate change: they would continue to be vulnerable to loss of what the researchers call “local refugia” – for example woodland cover – which “would make habitat fragmentation and changes in land use critical drivers of species loss on land.” – Climate News Network