Tag Archives: Oceans

Humans cause Antarctic ice melt, study finds

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Ocean heat waves damage reefs and kill coral

Heat extremes on land can kill. Ocean heat waves can devastate coral reefs and other ecosystems – and these too are on the increase.

LONDON, 12 August, 2019 − Heat extremes on the high seas are on the increase, with ocean heat waves disturbing ecosystems in two hemispheres and two great oceans, US scientists report.

And these same sudden rises in sea temperatures don’t just damage coral reefs, they kill the corals and start the process of reef decay, according to a separate study by Australian researchers.

Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined data from 65 marine ecosystems over the years 1854 to 2018 to work out how frequently ocean temperatures suddenly rose to unexpected levels.

They found such deviations from the average in the Arctic, North Atlantic, eastern Pacific and off the Australian coasts. They expected to find evidence of occasional hot flushes. But they did not expect to find quite so many.

“Severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains”

“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” Dr Pershing said. “Instead, we’ve seen an average of 12 ecosystems experiencing these warming events each year over the past seven years, including a high of 23 ‘surprises’ in 2016.”

Intense and sudden changes in sea temperatures affect crustaceans, algae, corals, molluscs and many millions of humans who depend on the oceans for income. And a new study by researchers from Australian universities reports that even a rise of 0.5°C is reflected in deaths during an outbreak of coral bleaching.

Corals live in symbiosis with algae: ocean warming periodically disturbs this normally beneficial relationship. The coral animals evert (turn out) the algae and once-lurid reefs will bleach, and become more vulnerable to disease.

Corals support the world’s richest ocean ecosystems so such changes are a challenge, both to the survival of biodiversity and to local incomes from the tourism linked to the beauty of the reefs.

Very warm water

“What we are seeing is that severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching: the water temperatures are so warm that that the coral animal doesn’t bleach – in terms of a loss of its symbiosis – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains,” said Tracy Ainsworth of the University of New South Wales.

The researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they used computer tomography scanning techniques to explore the marine destruction. In 2016, more than 30% of the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced temperatures higher than those in which corals can survive.

“We find that the skeleton is immediately overgrown by rapid growth of algae and bacteria,” said Bill Leggat of the University of Newcastle, a co-author.

“We show that this process is devastating not just for the animal tissue but also for the skeleton that is left behind, which is rapidly eroded and weakened.” − Climate News Network

Heat extremes on land can kill. Ocean heat waves can devastate coral reefs and other ecosystems – and these too are on the increase.

LONDON, 12 August, 2019 − Heat extremes on the high seas are on the increase, with ocean heat waves disturbing ecosystems in two hemispheres and two great oceans, US scientists report.

And these same sudden rises in sea temperatures don’t just damage coral reefs, they kill the corals and start the process of reef decay, according to a separate study by Australian researchers.

Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined data from 65 marine ecosystems over the years 1854 to 2018 to work out how frequently ocean temperatures suddenly rose to unexpected levels.

They found such deviations from the average in the Arctic, North Atlantic, eastern Pacific and off the Australian coasts. They expected to find evidence of occasional hot flushes. But they did not expect to find quite so many.

“Severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains”

“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” Dr Pershing said. “Instead, we’ve seen an average of 12 ecosystems experiencing these warming events each year over the past seven years, including a high of 23 ‘surprises’ in 2016.”

Intense and sudden changes in sea temperatures affect crustaceans, algae, corals, molluscs and many millions of humans who depend on the oceans for income. And a new study by researchers from Australian universities reports that even a rise of 0.5°C is reflected in deaths during an outbreak of coral bleaching.

Corals live in symbiosis with algae: ocean warming periodically disturbs this normally beneficial relationship. The coral animals evert (turn out) the algae and once-lurid reefs will bleach, and become more vulnerable to disease.

Corals support the world’s richest ocean ecosystems so such changes are a challenge, both to the survival of biodiversity and to local incomes from the tourism linked to the beauty of the reefs.

Very warm water

“What we are seeing is that severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching: the water temperatures are so warm that that the coral animal doesn’t bleach – in terms of a loss of its symbiosis – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains,” said Tracy Ainsworth of the University of New South Wales.

The researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they used computer tomography scanning techniques to explore the marine destruction. In 2016, more than 30% of the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced temperatures higher than those in which corals can survive.

“We find that the skeleton is immediately overgrown by rapid growth of algae and bacteria,” said Bill Leggat of the University of Newcastle, a co-author.

“We show that this process is devastating not just for the animal tissue but also for the skeleton that is left behind, which is rapidly eroded and weakened.” − Climate News Network

Acid oceans may trigger mass extinction

A stable carbon cycle means life goes on. Too much carbon could wipe out many species. And acid oceans could hold the key.

LONDON, 23 July, 2019 − Catastrophically widespread die-offs of many creatures could be inevitable if human activities continue to lead to more acid oceans, a new study suggests.

Mass extinction may not be an enduring mystery. Instead, it may be an intrinsic property of the carbon cycle. Once levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the oceans reach a certain threshold, life undergoes dramatic and catastrophic change.

If a US mathematician is right – and his argument is based on statistical reasoning and the evidence in the marine sediments – then once the seas become too acidic for marine organisms to form carbonate shells, a cascade of extinction begins.

And, he warns, the “unusually strong but geologically brief duration” of manmade carbon dioxide increase in the oceans can be matched with slow but devastating extinctions in the past.

In short, human combustion of fossil fuels, combined with the destruction of the forests, could be building up to extinctions on a scale so colossal that they will be visible in the fossil record hundreds of millions of years from now.

After a certain point, the carbon cycle will take over and decide life’s direction. It happened many times long before the emergence of the human species, and it could happen again, according to a new study in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a positive feedback. More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. Is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

“Once we are over the threshold, how we got there may not matter,” said Daniel Rothman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Once you get over it, you’re dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride.”

Professor Rothman developed his hypothesis in 2017, in the journal Science Advances, after he analysed 31 changes in the makeup of carbonate sediments laid down over the last 542 million years, and connected five great extinctions not just with carbon dioxide levels but with the rate at which these increased.

He may be for the moment a lone voice in linking four of the five major extinctions with critical levels of oceanic acidification as a consequence of a carbon dioxide threshold. But climate scientists and palaeontologists have been looking at possible links between carbon and extinction for decades.

They have also repeatedly warned that humans are about to precipitate a sixth mass extinction, chiefly on the basis that we are destroying natural habitat and erasing the conditions in which millions of species – many of them still not identified – were once able to flourish.

The carbon factor

But climate change driven by ever-increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – powered in turn by ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels – has also been a factor.

Whatever the risk to species or ecosystems, biologists and conservationists have warned that climate change driven by global heating can only make things worse.

And the more carefully researchers have looked at evidence of earlier catastrophic extinctions, the more bygone climate change has revealed itself. What caused the most dramatic and unequivocal of these – the “great dying” at the close of the Permian – is still hotly debated, but atmospheric conditions in one form or another have been repeatedly invoked and researchers have repeatedly drawn lessons for today.

But arguments so far have settled on whether such extinctions are a consequence of slow but inexorable episodes of volcanic discharge or some other geological shift.

Forget the trigger

Professor Rothman’s point is that the trigger itself may not be the important thing: what decides the fate of life on Earth is the level of carbon in the oceans and the rate at which it increases.

Once levels of acidification in the upper ocean reach a certain critical threshold, life is in for major disruption. If marine creatures cannot form shells, they are at risk. But even more dangerously, shells sink to the ocean floor, effectively removing carbon from circulation.

If there are fewer calcifying organisms, then less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and oceans become even more acidic. A vicious cycle has begun.

“It’s a positive feedback,” Professor Rothman said. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question, from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

Balance restored

In his mathematical model, once carbon levels reached a critical threshold, a cascade of positive feedbacks amplified the effect. Severe ocean acidification set in.

The effect was not permanent. After tens of thousands of years, the carbon cycle did slip back to equilibrium and life could evolve and adapt again.

Carbon is now entering the oceans at an unprecedented rate, over what – in geological terms – is a very brief timespan. If human-triggered greenhouse gas emissions cross a critical threshold, the consequences could be as severe as any of the previous mass extinctions.

“It’s difficult to know how things will end up, given what is happening today,” he said. “But we are probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years. Hopefully, that would give us time to find a solution.” − Climate News Network

A stable carbon cycle means life goes on. Too much carbon could wipe out many species. And acid oceans could hold the key.

LONDON, 23 July, 2019 − Catastrophically widespread die-offs of many creatures could be inevitable if human activities continue to lead to more acid oceans, a new study suggests.

Mass extinction may not be an enduring mystery. Instead, it may be an intrinsic property of the carbon cycle. Once levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the oceans reach a certain threshold, life undergoes dramatic and catastrophic change.

If a US mathematician is right – and his argument is based on statistical reasoning and the evidence in the marine sediments – then once the seas become too acidic for marine organisms to form carbonate shells, a cascade of extinction begins.

And, he warns, the “unusually strong but geologically brief duration” of manmade carbon dioxide increase in the oceans can be matched with slow but devastating extinctions in the past.

In short, human combustion of fossil fuels, combined with the destruction of the forests, could be building up to extinctions on a scale so colossal that they will be visible in the fossil record hundreds of millions of years from now.

After a certain point, the carbon cycle will take over and decide life’s direction. It happened many times long before the emergence of the human species, and it could happen again, according to a new study in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a positive feedback. More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. Is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

“Once we are over the threshold, how we got there may not matter,” said Daniel Rothman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Once you get over it, you’re dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride.”

Professor Rothman developed his hypothesis in 2017, in the journal Science Advances, after he analysed 31 changes in the makeup of carbonate sediments laid down over the last 542 million years, and connected five great extinctions not just with carbon dioxide levels but with the rate at which these increased.

He may be for the moment a lone voice in linking four of the five major extinctions with critical levels of oceanic acidification as a consequence of a carbon dioxide threshold. But climate scientists and palaeontologists have been looking at possible links between carbon and extinction for decades.

They have also repeatedly warned that humans are about to precipitate a sixth mass extinction, chiefly on the basis that we are destroying natural habitat and erasing the conditions in which millions of species – many of them still not identified – were once able to flourish.

The carbon factor

But climate change driven by ever-increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – powered in turn by ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels – has also been a factor.

Whatever the risk to species or ecosystems, biologists and conservationists have warned that climate change driven by global heating can only make things worse.

And the more carefully researchers have looked at evidence of earlier catastrophic extinctions, the more bygone climate change has revealed itself. What caused the most dramatic and unequivocal of these – the “great dying” at the close of the Permian – is still hotly debated, but atmospheric conditions in one form or another have been repeatedly invoked and researchers have repeatedly drawn lessons for today.

But arguments so far have settled on whether such extinctions are a consequence of slow but inexorable episodes of volcanic discharge or some other geological shift.

Forget the trigger

Professor Rothman’s point is that the trigger itself may not be the important thing: what decides the fate of life on Earth is the level of carbon in the oceans and the rate at which it increases.

Once levels of acidification in the upper ocean reach a certain critical threshold, life is in for major disruption. If marine creatures cannot form shells, they are at risk. But even more dangerously, shells sink to the ocean floor, effectively removing carbon from circulation.

If there are fewer calcifying organisms, then less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and oceans become even more acidic. A vicious cycle has begun.

“It’s a positive feedback,” Professor Rothman said. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question, from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

Balance restored

In his mathematical model, once carbon levels reached a critical threshold, a cascade of positive feedbacks amplified the effect. Severe ocean acidification set in.

The effect was not permanent. After tens of thousands of years, the carbon cycle did slip back to equilibrium and life could evolve and adapt again.

Carbon is now entering the oceans at an unprecedented rate, over what – in geological terms – is a very brief timespan. If human-triggered greenhouse gas emissions cross a critical threshold, the consequences could be as severe as any of the previous mass extinctions.

“It’s difficult to know how things will end up, given what is happening today,” he said. “But we are probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years. Hopefully, that would give us time to find a solution.” − Climate News Network

Microbes hold the balance in climate crisis

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

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