Global Warming

Shock report about life on Earth: We’re in deep trouble

The United Nations Special Report on Global Warming in 2018 sounded a sharp warning few could disagree with: Earth has a problem. A new UN report on Biodiversity released this week revealed the size of that problem.

In Paris at 13h30 on Monday (6 May 2019), United Nations geographer Eduardo Brondizio outlined how humans are unravelling the fabric of life on Earth. His message: If we don’t act as a species and make major changes to our lifestyle soon, our future is going to be extremely grim.

He wasn’t speculating. In his hand at its delivery was a 1,800-page assessment produced by about 500 top scientists in collaboration with representatives from 130 countries.

The report underlines our dependency on nature and our effect on it. More than 75% of food crops rely on animal pollination. Marine and land ecosystems extract 5.6 gigatons of carbon a year and without them, the planet would fry through global warming. We rely on clean air and water produced by natural processes.

However, since 1900 the abundance of native species has declined by 20% and a further 25% are threatened, with about a million species facing extinction. Half a million of those are insects. This impacts on all human life.

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Our current extractive economic narrative has mapped itself on to the planet’s surface. Three-quarters of the Earth’s land surface was found to have been significantly altered, 66% of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts and more than 85% of wetland areas have been lost.

Humans, say the scientists, are also fast-forwarding biological evolution — so rapidly that effects can be seen within a few years rather than over millennia. Many of these changes are among pathogens that affect our health. The rate of this change, they say, is unprecedented in human history.

The main drivers are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasions of alien species (nearly one-fifth of the Earth’s surface is at risk of plant and animal invasions).

Crop production has increased threefold since 1970 and timber harvest by 45%, but land degradation is reducing productivity, with crops now at risk from pollinator loss, floods and hurricanes.

Globally, local varieties and breeds of even domesticated plants and animals are disappearing, says the report. This loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.

The report maps out solutions, but notes that goals for conserving nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories. Because of ongoing rapid declines in biodiversity, ecosystem functions and many of nature’s contributions, goals are unlikely to be met if we continue on our present course.

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Global Warming

Reindeer are eating seaweed to survive climate change

As the planet warms due to climate change, the Arctic winters are seeing longer open water spells and less sea ice. It also now rains more often than snow during this period, something that is directly affecting wildlife like the Svalbard reindeer.

Named after the group of Norwegian islands they’ve lived on for 5,000 years, these 20,000–plus reindeer are now eating seaweed to survive the increasingly warm winters. According to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Biodiversity Dynamic, the reindeer are turning to seaweed because the plants they normally eat are becoming harder to get to.

More rain is now falling instead of snow, which causes the snow on the ground to freeze over (also known as “icing”), burying the tundra vegetation under thick ice.

Kelp isn’t as nutritious as the tundra plants the reindeer normally eat. It also seems to be giving the reindeer diarrhea, probably from the salt content. Currently, seaweed is being more or less used as an emergency ration, with the reindeer turning to it only during spells of severe icing. According to the study, the kelp-eating has been happening for over 10 years.

It’s not just the seaweed diet that poses a problem. Unlike the caribou in Alaska, Svalbard reindeer don’t have to live in fear of predators such as wolves or bears. Now, as they spend more time on the shoreline looking for seaweed to eat, they’re left open to attacks from hungry polar bears who can’t find seals to eat, thanks in large part to less sea ice.

Reindeer climate change

Global Warming

Jakarta is Sinking into the Sea

The president of Indonesia wants to move the country’s capital, Jakarta, to another location off the main island of Java, in part because the city of more than 10 million is sinking into the sea, according to news reports.

The decision is in part due to research finding that parts of Jakarta will be completely submerged in just decades. The surrounding Java Sea is also rising as a result of climate change, though that’s not happening quite as quickly as the land is subsiding. Overcrowding and related traffic congestion — which has meant government ministers needing police escorts to get to meetings on time — also played roles in the decision to relocate the capital.

Global Warming

Alaska’s Excelsior Glacier Is Being Replaced by a Lake 5 Times the Size of Central Park

Seventy years ago, Alaska’s Excelsior Glacier stretched its cold fingers from a vast plain in the state’s southern edge nearly all the way to the North Pacific Ocean. Now, the glacier is separated from the sea by a meltwater lake more than five times the size of New York City’s Central Park.

In a recent blog post on the American Geophysical Union (AGU) website, glaciologist Mauri Pelto of Nichols College in Massachusetts shows how that relatively new lake — now called Big Johnstone Lake — has more than doubled in size over the last 24 years as rising global temperatures force Excelsior Glacier into a hasty retreat. The glacier has lost about 30% of its length in just 24 years.

Even if no more calving ice makes its way into Big Johnston Lake, the glacier will continue to retreat, but probably at a slower pace than the rapid melting observed over the last 25 years. A similar fate has already befallen many neighboring glaciers in Alaska and British Columbia, Pelto wrote, providing yet more examples of how climate change is rapidly redrawing the map of our world.

Global Warming

Fatal Warming

Global warming is wiping out twice as many marine species as land dwellers because they are more sensitive to temperatures and less able to escape the heat, new research finds.

The Rutgers-led study says this could have a major impact on humans who rely on fish and shellfish for food and livelihoods.

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

The study says that many land animals can hide from the heat in forests, shaded areas or underground. But this luxury is not available to many sea animals that often live on the edge of dangerously high temperatures.

Global Warming

Rio Grande River Drying Up from Climate Change

For nearly 2,000 miles, the Rio Grande River winds it way from the Rocky Mountains down to the Gulf of Mexico. As one of the country’s longest and most iconic rivers, it provides drinking water and irrigation for more than six million people in three U.S. states.

But climate change is threatening that vital water supply. The Colorado snowpack that melts into the Rio Grande is declining – 25 percent over the last 50 years – and University of New Mexico climatology professor David Gutzler said climate change is threatening to dry it up. He foresees dry spells getting drier, droughts getting more intense and water resources being put under extreme pressure.

Global Warming

Earth Day 2019: 10 amazing places where travelers can see a changing climate

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – El Nino, a cyclical pattern of Pacific storms caused by warm water, has become stronger in recent years, researchers say. And that has affected the famed Ecuadorian islands known for bird, reptile and sea life. The El Nino years can be more intense. The change has even affected finches, which have evolved in just a few years to adapt to the changing environment.

Dead Sea, Israel and Jordan – The lowest place on earth is shrinking, Gunter says. In the last 40 years, the famed salt-laden sea has diminished by a third and dropped 80 feet. Much of the change is due to increased use of water for irrigation from the Jordan River. That’s the key component.

Venice, Italy – Flooding has long plagued the famed canal city, but it has intensified in recent years, with some areas regularly inundated at peak high tides. It’s a regular event, it’s not just something hypothetical that we’re anticipating. The city is developing plans to build flood walls and other barriers to keep the sea at bay.

Fairbanks, Alaska – A drunken forest may sound like something out of a “Harry Potter” book, but it’s actually a change caused by rising temperatures. As permafrost, the layer of permanently frozen ground, disappears in Alaska, trees begin to tilt. There are forests that are leaning like a hurricane blew them. They look like they’ve had too much to drink.

Antarctic Peninsula – When climate changes, not all species react the same. On the southern continent, gentoo penguins are thriving because they build pebble nests on shorelines newly exposed by melting ice. Alternatively, Adélie penguins are having trouble because they fish from floating sea ice, which is less plentiful. There are winners and losers.

Greensburg, Kansas – Although not well-known, this south-central Kansas town is an environmental survivor, Gunter says. It was nearly destroyed by a tornado in 2007, but has since rebuilt as one of the most eco-conscious places in the world. It was the first U.S. city to fully adopt LED street lights, and it gets 100% of its power from renewable energy. It also has the most buildings per capita built to LEED standards. It’s rebuilt itself stronger than before.

Acadia National Park, Maine – Scientists last year collected data in the popular Atlantic Coast park. In the future, the area’s lobster population is predicted to migrate north to seek cooler waters, as will the whales that pass by offshore. You’re seeing a shift in the types of species that exist there.

The Alps – Europe’s famous mountain range still looms over the continent, but warming temperatures are taking their toll. Not only are its glaciers receding, but its plant life is changing as lowland species gain a foothold. The Alps sit lower in elevation than the Rocky Mountains, so they’re more susceptible.

Florida Keys – Coral reefs face pressure due to warming water and a shift in the chemical composition of oceans that has bleached out color. “There’s more carbon in the water,” Gunter explains. “Some corals are more resilient than others. You’ll see parts of a reef that look really good. But in others, change is noticeable.

Glacier National Park, Montana – The glaciers that give the park its name have been in retreat for many years, peaking in the 19th century at the end of a period called the Little Ice Age. Since then the number of glaciers in the park has dropped from about 150 to several dozen today. It’s striking.

Global Warming

Melting Glaciers bring threat of Flash Floods

The Himalaya, the breathtaking consequence of the battle between two tectonic plates, is home to spectacular mountains and a family of glaciers whose waters sustain 1.65 billion people across the region. The thawing of these glaciers leaves behind a myriad of lakes, some of which can suddenly burst their banks and flood downstream.

A satellite-based assessment of 1,291 glacial lakes in the Tibetan Plateau and along the main Himalaya range found that 16 percent of them potentially threaten human settlements. Since 1935, around 40 glacial lake outburst flood disasters have taken place across the Tibetan Plateau.

Global Warming

North Atlantic warming hole impacts jet stream

The North Atlantic warming hole (NAWH), a region of reduced warming located in the North Atlantic Ocean, significantly affects the North Atlantic jet stream in climate simulations of the future, according to a team of researchers.

Sea surface temperatures (SST) are projected to increase in most of the world’s oceans as the result of global climate change. However, within an area of rotating ocean currents just south of Greenland an anomaly exists where colder sea-surface temperatures were documented in both global climate-model projections and in observations. It’s called a hole because there is a lack of ocean warming.

This region of the ocean is a really important place for forcing the jet stream that goes across the North Atlantic Ocean. Jet streams, high altitude currents of wind flowing above the Earth, transport air masses and drive weather patterns. The relationship between climate change and jet streams is complex and understanding the potential impact of climate change on jet streams is crucial for understanding changes in weather patterns and storm tracks.

Global Warming

Climate change made the Arctic greener. Now parts of it are turning brown

The Chugach people of southern Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula have picked berries for generations. Tart blueberries and sweet, raspberry-like salmonberries — an Alaska favorite — are baked into pies and boiled into jams. But in the summer of 2009, the bushes stayed brown and the berries never came. For three more years, harvests failed.

The berry bushes had been ravaged by caterpillars of geometrid moths — the Bruce spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) and the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata). The insects had laid their eggs in the fall, and as soon as the leaf buds began growing in the spring, the eggs hatched and the inchworms nibbled the stalks bare.

At the peak of the multiyear outbreak, the caterpillars climbed from the berry bushes into trees. The pests munched through foliage from Port Graham, at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, to Wasilla, north of Anchorage, about 300 kilometers away. In summer, thick brown-gray layers of denuded willows, alders and birches lined the mountainsides above stretches of Sitka spruce.

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For more than 35 years, satellites circling the Arctic have detected a “greening” trend in Earth’s northernmost landscapes. Scientists have attributed this verdant flush to more vigorous plant growth and a longer growing season, propelled by higher temperatures that come with climate change. But recently, satellites have been picking up a decline in tundra greenness in some parts of the Arctic. Those areas appear to be “browning.”

While global warming has propelled widespread trends in tundra greening, extreme winter weather can spur local browning events. In recent years, in some parts of the Arctic, extraordinary warm winter weather, sometimes paired with rainfall, has put tundra vegetation under enormous stress and caused plants to lose freeze resistance, dry up or die — and turn brown.

Global Warming

Global warming is shrinking glaciers faster than thought

Earth’s glaciers are melting much faster than scientists thought. A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

The most comprehensive measurement of glaciers worldwide found that thousands of inland masses of snow compressed into ice are shrinking 18 percent faster than an international panel of scientists calculated in 2013.

The world’s glaciers are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s. Their melt is accelerating due to global warming, and adding more water to already rising seas, the study found.

The glaciers shrinking fastest are in central Europe, the Caucasus region, western Canada, the U.S. Lower 48 states, New Zealand and near the tropics. Glaciers in these places on average are losing more than 1 percent of their mass each year, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature. In these regions, at the current glacier loss rate, the glaciers will not survive the century.

Since 1961, the world has lost 10.6 trillion tons of ice and snow (9.6 trillion metric tons), the study found. That’s enough to cover the lower 48 U.S. states in about 4 feet of ice.

Glaciers grow in winter and shrink in summer, but as the Earth has warmed, they are growing less and shrinking more. Warmer summer temperatures are the main reason glaciers are shrinking faster.

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Global Warming

The Bering Sea Should Be Frozen Right Now – It Isn’t

Humans are living through a dramatic transformation of the planet’s surface due to climate change, with the most obvious sign being the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice. And now, imaging has revealed perhaps a new chapter in that decline: The Bering Sea, which under normal circumstances should remain frozen-over until May, is almost entirely free of sea ice in early April. Open water is darker and absorbs more sunlight, turning it into heat. So, while sea ice loss is caused by climate change, it also causes climate change to speed up.

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Environmental Groups to Sue Shell Over Climate Change

Climate activists delivered a court summons Friday to oil company Shell in a court case aimed at forcing it to do more to rein in carbon emissions.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands, one of the groups involved, said it wants a court in The Hague to order Shell to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels and to zero by 2050, in line with the Paris Climate Accord.

The summons, more than 250 pages long and backed up by boxes of supporting documents, was wheeled into the headquarters on a trolley as a couple of hundred activists looked on.

The Shell case, which has more than 17,000 claimants, follows a groundbreaking ruling by a Hague court in 2015 that ordered the Dutch government to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.

The new case is not seeking compensation; it focuses instead on pushing Shell to take more action to rein in emissions.

Global Warming

The Effects Of Global Warming Have Reached The World’s Southernmost Coral Reefs

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Previously unaffected areas have also started exhibiting damage now. One such area was the southern parts of Australia, house to the world’s largest coral reef. Bleaching is not the same as dying but, the health of the coral is definitely under extra stress and can lead to eventual death.

This is exactly what has been spotted in the corals near Lord Howe Island, which is 600 km away from the coast of Sydney. This area was previously undamaged from the effects of global warming when the Great Barrier Reef faced severe bleaching in 2017. These are the southernmost coral reefs along the Australian coast and researchers have found them to be around 90% bleached already.

The corals in the deeper regions of the marine park were relatively healthier and didn’t exhibit any bleaching. These effects are also elevated due to the onslaught of summer in the southern hemisphere. The extent of damage is still within the realm of recovery and the scientists will be returning to Lord Howe Island to evaluate if these corals have any chance of recovery. If the water temperatures drop, the corals can recover back to a healthier state, and be attractive for algae to populate them once again.

So technically, there is still hope for these corals to flourish. But if history is any indication, we haven’t really been successful at restoring and undoing the damage caused by global warming, the Great Barrier Reef posing as a poster boy for that statement. At the end of the day, this is another reminder for us, humans, to urgently take up practices that don’t put so much strain on the planet.

Changing snow harms Arctic wildlife

Snow is crucial to survival for Arctic wildlife. But climate change is altering the extent, timing and properties of Arctic snow and little is known about the detail of these changes.

In November 2013 tens of thousands of reindeer starved to death after a “rain on snow” event in Russia’s Yamal peninsula. Just as the reindeer reached their winter foraging grounds, rain created a layer of ice, preventing the reindeer from scraping away the snow to reach the vegetation beneath. It was a classic case of “the wrong kind of snow” and was hard to detect remotely.

Such events are anticipated to become more frequent as climate changes but our knowledge is limited because it’s tricky to observe them directly. Scientists describe three case studies.

For polar bears it’s snow drifts that matter. “In the winter the females den up to have their pups – on sea ice or on land – and the main condition is a sufficient accumulation of snow on the lee side of a ridge of a particular size.

Dall sheep, a species endemic to the mountain ranges of Alaska, seek out wind-exposed patches of vegetation along ridge-lines during the depths of winter. Trends of increased winter precipitation may put the sheep at risk, with the snow too deep to have enough of these windblown “holes”.

Caribou in central Canada undertake their massive spring migration a few weeks before snowmelt begins in earnest. They time their arrival at their calving grounds for when the snowmelt is about to start so that “greening up” of the landscape is imminent. Exactly which cues caribou use to determine when to start their journey isn’t known, but it’s likely they take note of snow depth and hardness.

The scientists propose further studies to better understand the relationship between existing snow patterns and the wildlife that rely on the snow for their survival.

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Global Warming

Warming oceans are killing dolphins – Study

Dolphins may be in serious trouble as temperatures rise with global warming.

After a heat wave struck the waters of Western Australia in 2011, scientists noticed that warmer ocean temperatures caused fewer dolphin births and decreased the animal’s survival rate.

The heat wave caused the water temperature of an area called Shark Bay to rise about 4 degrees above the annual average. After the heat wave, the survival rate for some species of dolphins fell by 12%, according to a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology. The dolphins also gave birth to fewer calves.

What worries the researchers is that this change in birth rate wasn’t only observed immediately after the year of the heat wave. They studied the dolphins that lived in Shark Bay between 2007 and 2017, and the decline in births lasted at least until 2017.

Canada warming at twice the rate of rest of world

Federal scientists and academics are warning that Canada’s climate is warming rapidly and faster than the global average, saying human behaviour must change to slow the shift.

Officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada presented the first study of its kind, titled Canada’s Changing Climate Report, on Monday.

The report says that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that Northern Canada is warming even more quickly, nearly three times the global rate. Three of the past five years have been the warmest on record, the authors said.

Global Warming

Alaska bakes under heat wave linked to climate change

Alaska residents accustomed to subzero temperatures are experiencing a heat wave of sorts that is shattering records, with the thermometer jumping to more than 16.7 degrees Celsius above normal in some regions.

Cities and towns in the northern half of the state, including Wainwright, Nuiqsut, Kaktovik and Barrow (also known as Utqiagvik), could see temperatures soar 14 to 22 degrees Celsius above normal this weekend as the warm trend continues.

The dramatic warming Alaska has experienced in recent years — which is partly linked to a decline in sea ice and Arctic ocean warming – had wreaked havoc on local communities, wildlife and the economy.

Many recreational sled dog races have had to be canceled this year and the routing of the famed Iditarod race had to be changed as what is normally solid sea ice was open water on part of the race route.

Crab fishing has also been affected as the sea ice used as a platform for fishermen was non-existent or too thin in some areas.

Seal population is also likely to be affected in the coming months as some of the species give birth on solid ice.

The warmer temperatures have melted the rive ice to the extent it is no longer safe for truck or car travel.”

Global warming had led to the lowest ice levels in the Bering Sea — which connects with the Arctic Ocean – since 1850, when sea ice records began.