Disease

Viral Oceans

A four-year study has found that nearly 200,000 marine virus species live in the world’s oceans — far more than the 12,000 species that had earlier been cataloged.

A team that took samples of ocean water from around the world and at varying depths found that communities of the viruses live in five distinct zones.

They also found a great diversity of the viruses in the Arctic, which is in contrast to larger organisms, whose diversity is concentrated near the equator.

Bird Flu – Nepal

The Epidemiology and Disease Control Division of the Nepal Ministry of Health and Population confirmed Thursday the first human fatality due to H5N1 avian influenza infection.

Global Warming

Warming Record

The U.N. weather agency announced that the last four years have been the warmest ever recorded since reliable measurements began.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also says that the 20 warmest years in history occurred during the past 22 years.

The WMO went on to point out that the unprecedented warming continues this year, with Australia experiencing its hottest January on record.

“The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Oceans to Change Color

The distinctive blue color that Earth presents to the universe may be altered by the end of this century due to effects of a warmer climate.

A team of U.S. and British researchers modeled how phytoplankton absorb and reflect light, and how the ocean’s color will change as global warming alters the composition of those microorganisms living in it.

The scientists predict that blue regions, such as the subtropics, will become more blue, while areas nearer the poles may turn a deeper green as warmer waters stimulate larger and more diverse blooms of phytoplankton.

“There will be a noticeable difference in the color of 50 percent of the ocean by the end of the 21st century,” said lead researcher Stephanie Dutkiewicz of MIT.

Global Warming

This Stretch of Water Is Losing Oxygen Faster Than Almost Anywhere Else in The Ocean

A new study links rapid deoxygenation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to two powerful currents: the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current.

The broad, biologically rich waterway in Eastern Canada which drains North America’s Great Lakes and is popular with fishing boats, whales, and tourists has lost oxygen faster than almost anywhere else in the global oceans.

The paper, which appears in Nature Climate Change, explains how large-scale climate change already is causing oxygen levels to drop in the deeper parts of this waterway.

The findings confirm a recent study showing that, as carbon dioxide levels rose over the past century due to human emissions, the Gulf Stream has shifted northward and the Labrador Current has weakened.

The new paper finds that this causes more of the Gulf Stream’s warm, salty, and oxygen-poor water to enter the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Oxygen declines have been seen to affect Atlantic wolffish, and also threaten Atlantic cod, snow crabs, and Greenland halibut that all live in the depths.

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Wildlife

Heat Refugees

Temperatures have soared so high in Norway’s Arctic region this summer that reindeer are taking shelter from the heat in traffic tunnels and in other shaded places.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration took the unusual measure of urging motorists to be on the lookout for the tundra grazers after at least 44 traffic collisions with reindeer and sheep occurred during July.

EWCOLOR

Lost Wilderness

Only 13 percent of the world’s oceans remain untouched by such human influences as shipping, pollution and fishing, according to an international team of researchers.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, they determined that the areas remaining “mostly free of human disturbance” are now almost entirely in the Arctic and Antarctic, and around some isolated Pacific islands.

Global Warming

Carbon Dioxide Turns Oceans Acidic

Sea creatures are literally being eaten away and ‘dissolved’ by pollution, scientists have discovered.

It’s feared that high levels of carbon dioxide in the water could cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems after tests found acute levels of the gas cause starfish to dissolve.

A team of marine scientists conducted a four-day experiment at Loch Sween on Scotland’s west coast to measure the response to short-term carbon dioxide exposure.

Previously, tests had focused on the effect high levels of the gas had on individual plants or animals, leaving a gap in knowledge about how whole marine ecosystems respond to sudden influxes of carbon dioxide.

When high levels of carbon dioxide enters the oceans it causes them to become more acidic.

The experiment revealed acute exposure led to net dissolution, meaning calcified organisms such as the coralline algae and starfish were dissolving.

Global Warming

Deadly ocean heatwaves

A heatwave that struck a quarter of the world’s oceans in 2016 was made far more likely by climate change, according to a new study.

Nicknamed “the blob” when it appeared in the eastern Pacific, the mass of warm water was linked with the deaths of marine animals and the devastation of ecosystems.

Ocean water naturally goes through phases of higher temperatures – notably the event known as El Niño, which leads to periods of warmer water in the Pacific Ocean.

Climate change is also thought to contribute to some of this temperature fluctuation, but it can be difficult establishing the exact contribution it makes.

However, a team of Australian scientists has concluded the heatwave of 2016 was influenced by anthropogenic – that is, human-induced – climate change.

The research focuses on warming around northern Australia, which resulted in mass coral bleaching, and the northern Pacific Ocean between Alaska and Russia.

Extreme temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska have been linked with the deaths of thousands of seabirds and whales during this period.

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Wildlife

Oceans – Noise Pollution

The noise pollution produced by ships and marine construction projects in the Gulf of Maine is drowning out the sounds that Atlantic cod and haddock need to communicate with each other, according to a new study.

The U.S. environment agency NOAA says this is altering the behavior, feeding, mating and socializing of the commercially important fish.

The study concludes that since the fish make sounds to attract mates and listen for predators, not hearing those signals could threaten their breeding success and survival.

Environment

Ocean meeting raises funds for marine protection

A global conference to better protect marine life has raised more than $7bn and won commitments to protect huge swathes of the Earth’s oceans.

The European Union, which organised the ‘Our Ocean’ conference in the Maltese capital of Valletta, its 28 member states and its EIB investment bank gave almost half those financial commitments, about $3.4bn.

Representatives from businesses, almost 100 countries and others pushed the total up to the unprecedented level.

The conference focused on funding and leading projects as varied as combating plastics pollution to countering illegal fishing and looking at the effects of climate change.

Global Warming

Ocean acidification is global warming’s forgotten crisis

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Most of us are familiar with the climate change impacts we see and feel in our communities: heatwaves, storms, droughts, floods, and so on.

But a UN meeting this week about climate change and oceans reminds us a related crisis is unfolding largely away public attention: the one-two punch of ocean warming and acidification.

With record temperatures sweeping over continents year after year, it is easy to overlook that the ocean has absorbed some 90% of the heat trapped by the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution; and how much of that CO2 has dissolved into seawater as carbonic acid, altering its basic chemistry.

The UN meeting follows on the heels of a new secretary general report that investigates the impacts of these changes and the findings are concerning, to say the least.

The report describes record ocean temperatures pushing fish species toward cooler latitudes and out of reach of artisanal fishers; it documents widespread coral bleaching across the tropical belt and how most reefs could enter a state of permanent decline by 2040; it shows how ocean acidification has damaged a range of calcifying marine life, such as corals and shellfish; and it raises fears that the cumulative effects of the impacts are degrading phytoplankton, zooplankton, and krill, the foundation of the ocean’s food chain.

A sea snail shell is dissolved over the course of 45 days in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100.

Pterapod shell dissolved in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100

Environment

Trash Isn’t Just A Problem For Henderson Island, It’s Everywhere

The uninhabited Henderson Island has gained a lot of attention because of the fact that it has no people, but lots of trash.

A recent study determined that the island has become a dumping ground for plastic refuse. Unfortunately, it’s not alone. Here are just a few examples of seemingly pristine locales that have become polluted by humanity’s waste.

The Mariana Trench: The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean and, as such, one would expect it to be free from humanity’s touch, but that is not the case. A study has discovered that sea life living in the trench were found to have high levels of cancer-causing pollutants in their bodies.

Ironically, the isolated nature of the Mariana Trench is part of the reason that these pollutants often end up there.

“[These chemicals] don’t like water, and so they will stick to things in the water like plastic, and then that plastic will settle,” said the study’s co-author Stuart Piertney. “Because these deep-sea trenches are the very bottom of the sink for the oceans, there’s a sort of inevitability that they’re going to end up there.”

We know less about the depths of the ocean than we do the surface of the moon, but this serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences regardless of whether we are aware of them.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on Earth really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” said co-author Alan Jamieson.

Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands: Hawaii is a tropical paradise and one of the world’s top vacation spots, but it also has a string of uninhabited islands. Those islands serve as a wildlife refuge for many types of marine life, but, like Henderson Island, they too have became littered with trash.

The problem has gotten so bad that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has organized cleanup efforts. A recent expedition uncovered more than 57 tons of garbage. In addition to polluting the water and ruining the area’s natural beauty, the trash, which is mostly plastic, is dangerous to the local wildlife.

The debris, which includes lighters, bottle caps, and other hard plastic items, are often mistaken for food by seabirds, which will feed the trash to their offspring.

Smaller debris isn’t the only problem facing these islands. Despite the fact that fishing is prohibited in wildlife sanctuaries, lost nets and lines that often end up in the area can kill larger marine life such as dolphins or sea turtles.

Plastic Is The Problem: In the case of both Henderson and Hawaii, the bulk of the discarded trash is made of plastic. Every year, roughly 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up the in ocean. This waste is then caught up in gyres that carry the garbage to remote locations.

Global Warming

Climate Change Continues Unabated in the Arctic

Evidence continues to mount that climate change has pushed the Arctic into a new state. Skyrocketing temperatures are altering the essence of the region, melting ice on land and sea, driving more intense wildfires, altering ocean circulation and dissolving permafrost.

A new report chronicles all these changes and warns that even if the world manages to keep global warming below the targeted 2°C threshold, some of the shifts could be permanent. Among the most harrowing are the disappearance of sea ice by the 2030s and more land ice melt than previously thought, pushing seas to more extreme heights.

The findings, released Monday in the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment, come after a winter of extreme discontent for the region. Sea ice receded a bit in November, a rare occurrence, and hit a record-low maximum for the third year in a row. Temperatures averaged 11°F above normal, driven by sustained mild weather that was punctured by periods of almost unheard of heat when temperatures reached up to 50°F above normal.

The decline of sea ice is well documented. It’s disappearing in all seasons with the fastest shrinkage in the summer months. Old ice, which has formed the bedrock of sea ice for decades, is also declining precipitously. That leaves new ice in its place and susceptible to melt.

The new analysis shows that the average number of days with sea ice cover has dropped by 10-20 days per decade since 1979. Some areas, such as the Barents and Karas seas, have seen even steeper declines. Disappearing sea ice means the darker ocean left in its wake absorbs more energy from the sun, speeding the warming in the region.

Arctic soil holds up to 50 percent of the world’s soil carbon. Rising temperatures are melting permafrost, causing it to release some of the carbon into the atmosphere.

While the carbon release so far has been relatively small, rising temperatures have the potential to rapidly reshape the landscape and speed the melt.

The biggest impact for the globe is the melt of land ice from Greenland’s massive ice sheet. It’s the biggest land ice driver of sea level rise, and it’s been melting at a quickening rate since 2011.

The SWIPA report uses new data and findings to update the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sea level rise estimates made just four years ago.

If carbon emissions continue on their current trends, the report indicates 29 inches would be the low end of sea level rise estimates by 2100, roughly 9 inches higher than the minimum IPCC estimate. And that’s just the low end, with more sea level rise possible as scientists untangle the web of melting in Greenland as well as the Antarctic.

The massive rush of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean is also reshaping ocean circulation and the ecology of the region. Researchers have seen a marked slowdown in North Atlantic circulation as cold, fresh water off Greenland’s southern tip has acted as a roadblock to the currents that steer water through the region. That has the potential to mess with ocean circulation as well as weather patterns, particularly in Europe.

Research shows global warming making oceans more toxic

Climate change is predicted to cause a series of maladies for world oceans including heating up, acidification, and the loss of oxygen. A newly published study published online in the April 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” demonstrates that one ocean consequence of climate change that has already occurred is the spread and intensification of toxic algae.

Toxic or harmful algal blooms are not a new phenomenon, although many people may know them by other names such as red tides. These events can sicken or kill people who consume toxin-contaminated shellfish and can damage marine ecosystems by killing fish and other marine life.

The problem is worsening.

The distribution, frequency and intensity of these events have increased across the globe and this study links this expansion to ocean warming in some regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.

Marine algae are so tiny—50 of them side by side span only the width of a single hair—that they may seem harmless. But when billions of toxic cells come together, they can poison humans, kill marine life, and economically harm coastal communities.

Environment

Atlantic Ocean invades the Arctic

The waters of the Arctic Ocean are becoming increasingly similar to those of the Atlantic as warm currents from the south flow in, according to a new report.

It says the intrusion of the warmer Atlantic currents is also contributing to the accelerated melting of sea ice. The increased Atlantic currents have removed a thick layer of cold surface waters that had previously insulated the polar ice cap, allowing it to thin.

“Rapid changes in the eastern Arctic Ocean, which allow more heat from the ocean interior to reach the bottom of sea ice, are making it more sensitive to climate changes,” said oceanographer Igor Polyakov.

Tree Massacre in Poland

Environmentalists say that changes to a Polish law have led to a “massacre” of trees across the country.

New legislation that went into effect on Jan. 1 removed previous requirements that private landowners who want to cut down trees must apply for permission, pay compensation, plant new trees or even notify authorities about the removal of trees.

“We used to receive around one telephone call a day from people concerned about trees being cut down in their area. But suddenly, we had two telephones ringing all day long,” said Pawel Szypulski of Greenpeace.

Freshly cleared spaces are now being reported around Polish cities and across the countryside.

Global Warming

Global warming, overfishing threaten Earth’s “super-zoos,”

The six ocean hot spots that teem with the biggest mix of species are also getting hit hardest by global warming and industrial fishing, a new study finds.

An international team looked at more than 2,100 species of fish, seabirds, marine mammals and even tiny plankton to calculate Earth’s hot spots of marine biodiversity.

These underwater super-zoos are in patches of ocean that are overfished and warming fast, and these pressures hurt the lush life there, according to a study appearing in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances.

While scientists in the past have identified key areas of biodiversity, the new work is more detailed. Researchers found the liveliest ocean hot spot also happens to be where the science of evolution sprouted: the Pacific Ocean off the central South American coast. It includes the area around the Galapagos Islands.

Other hot spots include the southwestern Atlantic Ocean off Argentina; the western Indian Ocean off the African coast; the central western Pacific Ocean surrounding Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines; the southwestern Pacific off Australia’s southern and eastern coast; and the Oceania region of the Pacific around the international date line. Four of the six hot spots are in the Pacific; all are either in the southern hemisphere or just north of the equator.

Environment

Pacific Garbage Patch Survey

A new survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch finds that the enormous floating mass of trash is far denser and larger than previously believed.

In a series of low-altitude, low-speed aerial flights over the plastic accumulation zone between Hawaii and California, the Dutch-based Ocean Cleanup foundation found chunks of garbage, mostly plastics. Many of the debris items measured more than half a yard in diameter.

The field also contains far smaller bits that were detected by experimental plastic- scanning equipment.

The foundation plans to soon begin testing a V-shaped rubber boom designed to “herd” the floating debris into a recovery cone.

Global Warming

Global warming making oceans ‘sick’

Global warming is making the oceans sicker than ever before, spreading disease among animals and humans and threatening food security across the planet, a major scientific report said on Monday.

The world’s waters have absorbed more than 93 percent of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean, he said.

The study included every major marine ecosystem, containing everything from microbes to whales, including the deep ocean.

It documents evidence of jellyfish, seabirds and plankton shifting toward the cooler poles by up to 10 degrees latitude.

The movement in the marine environment is “1.5 to five times as fast as anything we are seeing on the ground,” the Report said. “We are changing the seasons in the ocean.”

The heat also means microbes dominate larger areas of the ocean.

The study includes evidence that ocean warming “is causing increased disease in plant and animal populations,” it said.

Pathogens such as cholera-bearing bacteria and toxic algal blooms that can cause neurological illnesses such as ciguatera poisoning spread more easily in warm water, with direct impact on human health.

Meanwhile, the hotter oceans have killed off coral reefs at an unprecedented rate, reducing fish species by eliminating their habitats