11-20-18 Dead sperm whale found in Indonesia had ingested '6kg of plastic'
A dead sperm whale that washed ashore in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 6kg (13 lbs) of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials say. Items found included 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops. The carcass of the 9.5m (31ft) mammal was found in waters near Kapota Island in the Wakatobi National Park late on Monday. The discovery has caused consternation among environmentalists. "Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF Indonesia, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. It was not possible to say whether the plastic had caused the whale's death because of its advanced state of decay, she added. In a tweet, WWF Indonesia gave the breakdown of what was found inside the animal: "Hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)." The use of throwaway plastic is a particular problem in some South East Asian countries, including Indonesia. Five Asian nations - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - account for up to 60% of the plastic waste that ends up in oceans, according to a 2015 report by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment. Plastics bags are believed to kill hundreds of marine animals there each year. In June, a pilot whale died off southern Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags. A report released earlier this year warned that the amount of plastic in the ocean could triple in a decade unless litter was curbed. At the end of last year, the UN said marine life was facing "irreparable damage" from the approximately 10 Million Tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the oceans every year.
11-19-18 Climate change: Report raises new optimism over industry
A new report on the potential of heavy industry to combat climate change offers a rare slice of optimism. Sectors like steel, chemicals, cement, aviation and aluminium face a huge challenge in cutting carbon emissions. But a group including representatives from business concludes it is both practical and affordable to get their emissions down to virtually zero by the middle of the next century. The report's been described as wishful thinking by some environmentalists. The group, the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), says we can. It calculates that industrial emissions can be eradicated a cost of less than 1% of global GDP, with a marginal impact on living standards. The ETC - a coalition of business, finance and civil society leaders from energy producers and users - supports the aim of the 2015 Paris climate deal of limiting global warming to 1.5C, or at the very least, well below 2C. It sees benefits to society of cutting industrial emissions because this would save the costs associated with pollution and climate change impact. It would also generate economic growth through technological innovation and increased productivity of resources. The commission says this will require rapid improvements in energy efficiency across the whole economy. This should be combined with vastly increased wind and solar electricity to power cars, vans, manufacturing, and a significant part of domestic cooking, heating and cooling. The focus of the report is on the tough nuts of climate change: cement, steel, chemicals, trucking and aviation. These sectors account for close to a third of total global carbon dioxide emissions, but on current trends that is likely to increase just as the rest of the economy is cleaning up. The report says it is technically possible to decarbonise all of them by the middle of the next century. (Webmaster's comment: By then the oceans will be over 60 feet deeper and millions will have died from the heat!)
11-19-18 Wealth cannot save you from climate change
Money and power can protect you from many things in life. In some cases, they can even protect you from individual climate change-fueled natural disasters like the fires ravaging California. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California, for instance, burned down much of the wealthy city of Malibu — but not the home of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who hired private firefighters to save their $60 million home, and also those of everyone on their street. Many pointed to this as evidence for a popular argument that when it comes to climate change, wealthy people and countries will be able to basically escape the worst effects. This is not the case. The dangers of climate change are broad and largely indiscriminate. Now, it is certainly the case that the rich will be less vulnerable on average to climate disasters. With lots of money, one can buy special protective technology, hire expensive private guard labor, move to a different place, or simply rebuild one's property if it gets destroyed. But that doesn't mean you will be invulnerable. Indeed, in this particular case the ultra-wealthy entertainment moguls in Malibu were a lot more vulnerable than working-class people in Los Angeles proper, because many of their sprawling mansions are built up on heavily wooded hillsides. Kanye and Kim just barely managed to save their home, but many other A-list wealthy celebrities lost theirs, including Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Neil Young, and Gerard Butler. Elsewhere, a Union of Concerned Scientists report estimated that by 2100, some $1 trillion in private coastal real estate will be at risk of chronic flooding due to sea level rise. It's a safe bet that the bulk of those properties are owned by the rich.
11-16-18 Finger-pointing as wildfires ravage California
The most destructive wildfire in state history tore through Northern California this week, killing at least 48 people and destroying more than 6,500 residences, while another blaze left two dead in Southern California and had burned nearly 100,000 acres when The Week went to press. The Camp Fire demolished the town of Paradise, 145 miles north of San Francisco, within hours, and hundreds of residents remained missing days later. Thousands of responders struggled to contain the fire, which at one point jumped 140 feet across a seven-lane freeway. In Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the Woolsey Fire lapped at the borders of L.A., destroying 435 structures and spreading devastation from mobile-home parks on the fringes of the city to glittering celebrity-owned mansions in the Malibu area. More than 300,000 Californians were evacuated, as people throughout the state were warned of dangerously smoky air. President Trump approved federal funding for disaster relief, though days earlier he blamed California politicians for enabling the crisis. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests,” he wrote on Twitter. The latest outbreak continues a devastating year for California, where fire season is now year-round. At least 105 Californians have died in wildfires in the past two years, more than in the entire previous decade; this year, upwards of 5,600 fires have burned 2,100-plus square miles. In Paradise, county sheriff and coroner Kory Honea warned that even after evacuees return, “it’s possible that human remains can be found.”
11-16-18 Keystone XL blocked again
A federal judge stayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline last week, ruling the Trump administration didn’t do its due diligence before reversing an Obama-era decision to halt the project. Two days into his presidency, Trump greenlighted the pipeline, which would connect Canadian oil sands with Texas Gulf Coast refineries, transporting up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day. It would run through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Government lawyers argued the pipeline’s impact on climate change “would prove inconsequential,” in response to a legal challenge from environmental groups. But the judge said the government didn’t provide a “reasoned” explanation for its about-face. Moreover, he ruled the administration used outdated or incomplete information, or simply ignored “inconvenient” facts. The government, he added, “appears to have jumped the gun.”
11-16-18 Unexpected heat in oceans
In another worrying climate-change finding, scientists have discovered that oceans are warming far faster than previously thought. Climate researchers already know that the world’s seas absorb about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But the new study found that every year for the past 25 years, the oceans have taken in 13 zettajoules of heat energy—60 percent more than previously estimated and about 150 times the amount of energy humans produce as electricity annually. The researchers calculated ocean temperatures in a new way: Rather than taking readings from thermometers dotted around the planet, they examined carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the atmosphere. When the world’s waters warm, they absorb less of these gases. If the findings are correct, the direct consequences of warming oceans—melting sea ice, rising sea levels, more powerful storms, coral reef destruction—will also happen faster than previously thought. Study leader Laure Resplandy, from Princeton University, says reversing climate change will now be even harder. “If we start cooling the atmosphere,” she tells BBC.com, “the heat stored in the ocean will eventually come back out.”
11-16-18 Losing the forests
Staggering deforestation in Haiti could soon cause a mass extinction of wildlife, according to a new study. U.S. researchers found that Haiti has lost 99 percent of its primary forest cover since 1988 to logging, agricultural production, and disasters. Of the island’s 50 mountains, only eight now have any primary forest, compared with 43 two decades ago. Haiti’s tropical forests are home to armadillos, macaws, sloths, and panthers, as well as species unique to the country, such as Mozart’s frog. Researchers say that by 2035, no primary forest will remain. Secondary growth can replace the original forests but would support a mere fraction of the biodiversity.
11-16-18 Microbots made from mushroom spores could clean polluted water
Thousands of microrobots controlled by magnets could help remove heavy metals from contaminated water. The microbots are made from iron oxide-coated mushroom spores, and cause heavy metal ions to cling to the pores they come into contact with. Once they’ve been placed into contaminated water, an external magnetic field is used to move the microrobots around. They and the heavy metals clinging to them are then recovered from the water using the same magnet. “These magnetic spores gather into a small area, form a pattern, then we use the magnetic field to do the navigation,” says Li Zhang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Heavy metal is a problem. Toxic metals, including lead, can cause serious health issues, if they leak into water ways. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, lead exposure accounted for 540,000 deaths worldwide in 2016. In an experiment, the microbots reduced the amount of lead in contaminated water from five parts per million (ppm) to 0.9 ppm within 50 minutes of treatment. “That is very far away from the drinking water standard or the environmental quality standard,” says Scott Young at the University of Nottingham. Lead can be at no higher than 0.01 ppm in drinking water in the UK to be considered safe, for example. But Zhang says that the aim of the project isn’t to treat water with higher levels of lead, but to reduce contamination from a lower starting point.
11-16-18 California wildfires: Number of missing leaps to 631
The number of people missing in northern California's devastating wildfire has leapt to more than 600, and seven more bodies have been found, according to local authorities. The missing persons' list has doubled since earlier on Thursday. The Camp Fire, the state's deadliest and most destructive blaze, has killed at least 63 people. Nearly 12,000 buildings have been destroyed. Three more people have also died in the Woolsey Fire, further south. President Donald Trump will travel to California on Saturday to survey the damage and meet those affected. About 9,400 firefighters are currently battling wildfires across the state. The Camp Fire - which broke out eight days ago - swept through a swathe of the north at high speed, leaving residents little time to escape. The official list more than doubled from 300 to 631 on Thursday. At a news briefing, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said this was because investigators had thoroughly cross-checked their information, including emergency calls made since the Camp Fire started on 8 November. "I want you to under He stressed that the number of the missing would most likely fluctuate. "If you look at that list and see your name, or the name of a friend or loved one, please call to let us know," Mr Honea appealed to the public.
11-15-18 Climate change: Worries over CO2 emissions from intensifying wildfires
Rising numbers of extreme wildfires could result in a significant increase in CO2 emissions, scientists warn. That could mean attaining the Paris climate agreement's goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2C could become harder, they say. Present emission-cut pledges by countries are projected to increase the average global temperature rise by more than 3C by the end of the century. That would lead to dangerous climate change impacts, experts say. These include sea level rise, drought, wildfires, among other extreme events. "We can't neglect the emissions from wildfires," says Ramon Vallejo, a scientist specialising on fire ecology with the University of Barcelona. "Particularly now that we are seeing intense wildfires all around the world." Although estimates vary and still carry uncertainties, some experts say wildfires account for up to 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. They are estimated to increase by a few percent to roughly 30% by the end of this century depending on how the climate changes. "It is a double whammy," said William Lau, atmospheric scientist with Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "Big forest fires first lead to significant reduction of forests that suck in CO2 from the atmosphere and the second loss is they cause significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions." A study earlier this year, however, had found that the annual amount of CO2 emitted as a result of wildfires having fallen over the past 80 years. It said the main reason was that large areas of forest and savannah had been converted to land for crops over the past few decades and therefore wildfires had decreased. The research, however, found that the drop was not huge though.
11-15-18 California wildfires: Is smoke toxic to the East Coast?
As firefighters work endlessly to control California's raging fires, experts warn of long-term damage from wildfire smoke that could affect millions - and potentially even those on the east coast. The fires have burned through over 200,000 acres, blanketing parts of California with clouds of thick smoke. So what are the biggest impacts of wildfires and why is the western US state so susceptible to such deadly blazes? Wildfire smoke is comprised of water vapour, carbon monoxide and dioxide, chemicals and very small particulates. Strong winds can carry harmful pollutants for hundreds of miles, and at current levels, the plumes can cause breathing difficulties even in healthy individuals. Those with pre-existing chronic conditions like asthma or heart disease, as well as children, pregnant women and the elderly are most susceptible to negative health effects, according to the National Institutes of Health. Yohannes Tesfaigzi, a senior scientist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in New Mexico, says for those with susceptible lungs, even very low levels of smoke exposure can result in an emergency room visit, and lasting long-term effects. "The particulates generated by wildfires are very fine, therefore they can penetrate to the lung and they're not really filtered out," Mr Tesfaigzi says. He says when wildfires occur in California, particulate levels in the air increase threefold in New Mexico, several states away. A study by Georgia Tech during last year's wildfire season even detected particles at high altitudes on the US east coast. The smoke from 2017's massive blazes had been swept across the country along the jet stream. "These are levels that we would not smell. If you're actually smelling the fire, you're talking much higher levels," Mr Tesfaigzi adds. The types of vegetation burning can affect exactly how harmful the plumes are. Smoke from pine trees, for example, may be carcinogenic and eucalyptus is particularly toxic to humans.
11-15-18 Development near natural areas puts more Californians in the path of wildfires
Wildland-urban interface areas grew 20 percent in the state from 1990 to 2010. In the past week, the Camp Fire has killed at least 56 people and leveled the Northern California town of Paradise. Another wildfire raging through the Los Angeles suburbs, the Woolsey Fire, has already destroyed more than 500 buildings and forced some 250,000 people to evacuate their homes. Such disasters are likely to occur more frequently in the coming years, data from recent years suggest. That’s because urban development is creeping further into woodlands, prairies and other natural areas and putting more communities in the path of wildfires. The ongoing California fires have been fueled by drought and high winds, but it’s their proximity to people that has made them especially deadly and destructive — burning through areas where housing abuts grasslands or forests, or where natural vegetation is mixed in with homes. In California, these “wildland-urban interface areas” expanded almost 20 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to data published in 2017 by the U.S. Forest Service. And the number of homes in that zone increased by almost 34 percent. Urban expansion into natural areas isn’t unique to California. Nationwide, the wildland-urban interface grew about 33 percent from 1990 to 2010, researchers who worked on the Forest Service dataset reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And other Western states that face frequent wildfires have seen even larger leaps: Colorado’s wildland-urban interface areas expanded by 65 percent, Montana by 67 percent and Idaho by 72 percent, over the same period, the Forest Service found.
11-15-18 What climate change will do to the forests
The fires in California are a grim reminder of what the future holds. At the beginning of October, California's fire season was already threatening to be the worst on record. Over 600,000 acres of state land had burned by that point — a total driven by infernos like the Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned 459,000 acres to become the largest fire in California history. The total from the first nine months of 2018 alone was considerably more than the 506,000 acres that had burned on state land in all of 2017, which was itself more than twice as much as burned in 2016. One slim hope for the rest of the year was that fall rains might keep California's trees and vegetation relatively moist. But the rains did not come. Instead, the state got sustained high winds, which dried out the already drought-stressed forests and undergrowth even further. And when a fire got going in the brush, forests, and grasslands of Butte County last week, the result was the deadliest fire in state history. Fed by 30 to 50 mph winds, the Camp Fire grew at a spectacular rate, bearing down on the town of Paradise (population: 27,000) at high speed and blowing a dragon's plume of sparks and embers before it. The speed, the ferocious heat, and the hundreds of smaller fires catching ahead of the main blaze overwhelmed the city's defenses so quickly that despite a carefully-rehearsed evacuation plan, not everyone managed to escape. More than fifty people have already been confirmed dead, with more than 100 still missing. Many were found dead in their cars, trapped in an instant traffic jam as panicked residents tried to escape. About 90 percent of Paradise was burned to the ground, destroying over 8,800 structures, mostly homes — and surpassing the previous California record set just last year by the Tubbs fire, which destroyed 5,636 buildings. The Camp Fire has burned 138,000 acres and is still only about 35 percent contained. Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire has so far scorched over 98,000 acres in Southern California, including much of the city of Malibu, and killed at least three people. It's a grim reminder of what climate change is going to do to the forests of the world. This type of turbo-wildfire is probably just the beginning.
11-15-18 Environmentalists must embrace nuclear power to stem climate change
The Union of Concerned Scientists has overturned its longstanding opposition to nuclear power. Other green groups should follow suit, says Mark Lynas. Changing your mind on a controversial topic isn’t easy, especially when you have spent decades campaigning against your new position. Which is why the decision by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to drop its long-standing opposition to nuclear power is so important, and why the organisation deserves great credit for having the courage to take this step. The UCS has broken with the anti-nuclear ideology that has been part of the advocacy group’s DNA since the 1960s. The UCS isn’t campaigning for nuclear plants to be built, however. It has simply recognised that coal and gas fired power stations are likely to replace decommissioned nuclear power plants. UCS president Ken Kimmel wrote that the organisation is now calling for “proactive policy to preserve nuclear power from existing plants that are operating safely but are at risk of premature closures for economic reason”. The switch to coal and gas happened most clearly in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to phase out all nuclear power generation has led to an increased reliance on fossil fuels. The sight of this once climate-leading nation bulldozing ancient forests in order to expand open-cast coal mining serves as a warning. This is where hard line anti-nuclear ideology can lead in the real world. The UCS’s report begins by recognising that nuclear is the single largest source of low-carbon electricity in the US. Around the world, about 450 nuclear reactors supplied 10 per cent of global electricity last year, providing low-carbon power to 31 countries. Many US reactors are threatened with closure due to competition from cheap fracked gas and a power market that puts no value on low-carbon electricity.
11-15-18 The race to green domestic heating and prevent climate catastrophe
Household heating systems are huge sources of carbon emissions, but many countries are showing how existing technologies can fix the problem. WINTER is coming to the north. If you live in those climes, chances are you have already switched on your heating. Chances are, too, that your heating burns fossil fuels. If the world is to meet its climate goal of zero net carbon emissions by mid-century, that needs to change – and change fast. “We are two boiler replacements away from 2050,” says researcher Lukas Bergmann of consultancy firm Delta Energy & Environment. It is a huge challenge. In the UK, for example, 85 per cent of homes use natural gas for heating, and a third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions are from heating. Across the world, hundreds of millions of homes, offices and factories will need major, often expensive, upgrades. Many countries have only just begun to notice the problem. “It’s a huge consumer issue,” says Richard Lowes at the University of Exeter in the UK. “Yet if you asked the average person in the street about this, they would have no idea what you are talking about.” The good news is that heating can be greened with existing technology. But can it be greened fast enough? While coal and oil are the worst offenders as heating fuels, even natural gas must go. To help meet the Paris target of limiting warming to well below 2°C, the use of natural gas must be entirely ditched across the European Union by around 2035, according to a study last year co-written by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. “An urgent programme to phase out existing natural gas and other fossil fuel use across the EU is imperative,” he says. The broad outline of the fix for heating is clear: heat pumps powered by clean electricity in rural and suburban areas, and district heating systems in more densely populated locations.
11-15-18 Antibiotic resistance genes are showing up in Antarctic penguins
Humans have spread antibiotic resistance so far and wide that diverse clusters of microbes with resistance genes are now turning up in the gut microbiome of penguins in Antarctica. Antibiotic-resistance can occur naturally, and microbes with resistance genes have been found in ancient Antarctic soils before. Now we know the microbes are also present in the animals living on those soils. Vanessa Marcelino at the University of Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues compared the diversity of gut microbes carrying antibiotic resistance genes in Gentoo penguins living around two Antarctic bases. Penguins near the busy O’Higgins Base carried more of the genes in their microbiome than those living near the smaller, less-populated Gabriel González Videla Base. “Birds I think are maintaining those genes in the environment and distributing them around,” says Marcelino. The penguins’ microbiomes were examined as part of a broader study into birds that carry microbes with antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers took microbiome samples from 110 ducks and wading birds at sites in Antarctica and Australia. “You swab the bums of the birds,” says Marcelino. RNA sequencing revealed the diversity and expression levels of known antibiotic-resistance genes.
11-15-18 Climate change: Report says 'cut lamb and beef'
The number of sheep and cattle in the UK should be reduced by between a fifth and a half to help combat climate change, a report says. The shift is needed, the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) maintains, because beef and lamb produce most farm greenhouse gases. The report foresees an increase in the number of pigs and chickens because these produce less methane. The farm union NFU said it did not agree with reducing livestock numbers. But environmentalists say the recommendations are too timid. The CCC says a 20-50% reduction in beef and lamb pasture could release 3-7m hectares of grassland from the current 12m hectares in the UK. The un-needed grassland could instead grow forests and biofuels that would help to soak up CO2. The committee’s advice on producing less red meat is less radical than NHS Eatwell guidelines on healthy eating, which proposes a reduction in consumption of 89% for beef and 63% for lamb, and a 20% decline in dairy products. BBC News understands that the committee have deliberately taken a more conservative position in order to minimise confrontation with the farmers’ union, the NFU. The chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Chris Stark, told BBC News: “Climate change is going to change the way the UK looks – and we also have to alter the way we use land so we don’t make climate change worse.
11-14-18 Urbanisation made flooding from Hurricane Harvey 21 times as likely
The urbanisation of Houston made Hurricane Harvey dump even more water on the city – because the tall buildings pushed air upwards and caused more rain to fall. Overall, urbanisation increased the flooding risk by a whopping 2100 per cent. The 2017 hurricane caused $125 billion in damage, making it the second costliest tropical storm ever. Now a study has used climate models to compare how much flooding a hurricane like Harvey produces in a virtual version of Houston as it is now, and how much when the city is replaced by farmland. Land covered in vegetation soaks up much of the rain that falls on it. It has long been realised that when roads, buildings and paving replace plants, the water instead flows straight into rivers, meaning the same amount of rain can produce far more flooding downstream. What’s less appreciated is that the presence of high buildings can also increase how much rain falls during a storm. The larger surface “roughness” in urban areas created a “drag effect” on Hurricane Harvey that moved warm surface air further up into the atmosphere, thereby creating conditions favourable for cloud formation and precipitation, says team member Gabriele Villarini at the University of Iowa. “To a certain extent, this is kind of similar to clouds over mountains.” These two factors – higher rainfall and increased run-off – together increased the risk of flooding during Hurricane Harvey 21-fold, the modelling study suggests. Villarini says he cannot say how much each contributed separately. The land around Houston would have been forest and marshes originally, but Villarini thinks the results would have been similar if they had replaced farmland with forests in the models.
11-14-18 South Pole: Rock 'hotspot' causes ice sheet to sag
A "hotspot" is melting the base of the Antarctic Ice Sheet at the South Pole. The area affected is three times that of Greater London. Scientists suspect a combination of unusually radioactive rocks and geothermal springs may be responsible. The warm bedrock is removing some 6mm a year from the underside of the 3km-thick ice sheet, producing a mass of meltwater that then flows away through sub-glacial rivers and lakes towards the continent's coastline. The roughly 100km-by-50km hotspot came to light when researchers examined radar images of the ice sheet at 88 degrees South. This revealed a startling sagging in the ice layers directly above the hotspot. Dr Tom Jordan, from the British Antarctic Survey, and colleagues have detailed the discovery in the journal Scientific Reports. Dr Jordan told BBC News: "We can't be 100% sure because we don't have access to the rocks, but our interpretation is that this heat is coming from granites that contain lots of radioactive elements, such as uranium and potassium. That makes them hotter than you would expect. "But our calculations show this doesn't quite give you enough heat. I think there's a second process. The topography of the bedrock suggests there is faulting and that could allow hot water to circulate up through the rocks, like hot springs." Antarctica is in no danger of melting away as a result of this hotspot. In the grand scheme of things, the area affected and the amount of melting is simply too small to have a significant impact. But the knowledge adds to our understanding of the under-ice hydrology of the continent. There is vast network of sub-glacial rivers and lakes in Antarctica and they influence the way the ice sheet moves above them. Any attempt to model how the frozen landscape might respond to future climate warming has to take account of this water system. The discovery also has a bearing on efforts to drill the most ancient ice on the continent. Scientists are currently looking for places where they could core an unbroken record of snowfall going back more than 1.5 million years. The air bubbles and dust trapped in this ice would provide key insights on the way Earth's atmosphere has changed through time. But any drill site would have to avoid locations with enhanced basal heating because the melting will erase any climate record imprinted in the core.
11-13-18 Climate change may have made the Arctic deadlier for baby shorebirds
What were once relatively safe havens for baby birds are now feasting sites for predators. Climate change may be flipping good Arctic neighborhoods into killing fields for baby birds. Every year, shorebirds migrate thousands of kilometers from their southern winter refuges to reach Arctic breeding grounds. But what was once a safer region for birds that nest on the ground now has higher risks from predators than nesting in the tropics, says Vojtech Kubelka, an evolutionary ecologist and ornithologist at Charles University in Prague. With many shorebird populations dwindling, nest success matters more every year. A longtime fan of shorebirds, Kubelka had heard about regional tests of how predator risk changes by latitude for bird nests. He, however, wanted to go global. Shorebirds make a great group for such a large-scale comparison, he says, because there’s not a lot of variation in how nests look to predators. A feral dog in the United States and a fox in Russia are both creeping up on some variation of a slight depression in the ground. So Kubelka and his colleagues crunched data from decades of records of predator attack rates on about 38,000 nests of various sandpipers, plovers and other shorebirds. After a massive literature search, the study zeroed in on the experiences of 237 populations of a total of 111 shorebird species at 149 places on six continents. It’s the first attempt at a global comparison by latitude of predator attack rates on shorebird nests over time, he says. Historical data of predator attack rates worldwide averaged about 43 percent before 1999, but has since reached 57 percent, the team reports in the Nov. 9 Science. The most dramatic upward swoop came from the Arctic nest reports. There, the rate of predator attacks averaged around 40 percent in the last century, jumping to about 65 or 70 percent since 1999. Meanwhile, tropical perils in the Northern Hemisphere changed “only modestly” the researchers say, from around 50 percent to about 55 percent.
11-13-18 Is Saudi Arabia about to spoil one of Trump's favorite talking points?
Don't get used to cheap gas ... One thing President Trump has never lacked is a salesman's ability to hype a deal. And one of the deals Americans most covet is cheap gasoline — which means cheap oil. Since hitting a recent peak of $84 a barrel in early October, oil has plunged around 20 percent in price. True to his nature, Trump has been quick to take credit: "If you look at oil prices, they've come down very substantially over the last couple of months," Trump said last week. "That's because of me." That claim is, at best, debatable. But the president also has more a pressing problem: Saudi Arabia may be about to make oil much more expensive. On Monday, the Saudi oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, said the kingdom would likely have to cut production by around one million barrels a day to keep the price from falling too low. While oil prices are still well below their early-October peak, the news sent them up a noticeable 1.3 percent on Monday. That brought them to just over $71 a barrel. Saudi Arabia has tended to prefer oil prices around $80 a barrel recently — meaning yesterday's announcement signals a longer term tension with the Trump administration. Saudi Arabia doesn't wield the same oil clout it used to. But it's still the second-biggest producer in the world, accounting for 12.7 percent of the global market. Interestingly, the world's biggest producer is now the United States, at 15.3 percent. But U.S. oil production is still more or less market-based. Saudi oil production is state-run and set according to the government’s preferences. On top of that, Saudi Arabia pumps out around a third of all the oil produced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — the international group of state-run oil producers. In short, Saudi Arabia is still the biggest central planner in the oil industry and thus its most powerful decision maker. That's led to a weird passive-aggressive relationship with the U.S. president.
11-13-18 Climate change is here now. We must do something.
We can't ignore it any longer. The death toll from California's devastating Camp Fire has risen to 42, officials announced Monday. This makes it the deadliest wildfire ever in a state that has routinely seen big blazes. Ignore President Trump's tweets blaming state officials for poor forest management. The bigger problem here is climate change. And the horrific death toll is one more piece of evidence in a case that's been building for quite some time: The consequences of a warming planet won't be felt in some far-off future. Climate change is here now, and it is a full-fledged emergency. California has been burning with little respite since the summer. In late July, 14 different fires across the state burned nearly 688,000 acres, destroyed 2,000 structures, and killed 10 people. Now, there are three fires burning, and they are huge. The Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles has burned more than 90,000 acres and left two people dead. The Hill Fire in Ventura County has claimed another 4,500 acres. And of course, The Camp Fire has killed 42 and destroyed 7,000 structures. More than 200 people are missing. As The Washington Post notes, "the Camp Fire tops the Tubbs Fire in its devastation, and the Tubbs Fire, which burned down large swaths of Santa Rosa, set the record less than a year ago." This is no one-off. This is a disaster on top of a disaster. Fires like these are going to keep happening year after year. California Gov. Jerry Brown called this the new abnormal. "And this abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years," he said. "Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they're going to intensify. We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life, so we've got to pull together." Because the climate really is changing. This isn't just anecdotal; we can measure the changes. In California, the days are getting warmer — and the nights are, too. This limits nighttime humidity, which has traditionally made it difficult for big fires to gather strength in the overnight hours. Add to that a declining spring snowmelt and a reduced rainy season, and the result is that California's forests are dry tinder just waiting for a spark. Of course, the damage goes well beyond the California fires. The deadly effects of climate change can be seen around the world. In Florida, sea level rise attributed to climate change has put coastal properties at risk and forced the state and local governments to plan for $4 billion to raise roads, build seawalls, and protect sewage systems. In Alaska, a single village has received a $15 million grant to move its residents to higher ground as rising sea levels and melting permafrost erodes their coastal habitat. Internationally, the number of hungry people grew in 2017 for the third year in a row — a growth scientists attribute to extreme weather events, drought, and other developments brought on by climate change.
11-13-18 California fires: Winds propel fires as death toll rises
Strong winds have been fuelling California's deadly fires as search-and-rescue teams begin the grim task of searching for bodies among the ashes. Winds of up to 40mph (64km/h) are expected throughout Tuesday in the state's south, where the Woolsey Fire is threatening some 57,000 homes. Firefighters in the north are still battling the Camp Fire, which has left at least 42 people dead. Meanwhile, two new fires began in the south on Monday. They started within minutes of each other. The smaller of the two has since been put out, news agency Reuters reports. In the north, the Camp Fire, which has destroyed almost 7,200 homes, surpassed the 1933 Griffith Park disaster to become the deadliest in California's history after 13 more bodies were found, bringing the total killed to 42. The earlier tragedy left 31 dead. Many more people are said to be unaccounted for, with coroner-led search teams preparing to comb the largely incinerated town of Paradise on Tuesday. Three portable morgue, as well as specialist dog units, forensic anthropologists and a "disaster mortuary" have been requested to help with the operation, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters on Monday. The Woolsey Fire has so far killed two people as it damaged beach resorts including Malibu, a favourite with the rich and famous. More than 300,000 locals have been forced to flee their homes across California. US President Donald Trump has declared a "major disaster" in the state, making federal aid available to affected residents.
11-13-18 Growing demand for oil will lead to shortage and high prices in 2020s
We need to slash greenhouse emissions to limit global warming, the UN warned in October. But the International Energy Agency sees a very different future in its latest report, the World Energy Outlook 2018. Growing energy demand in developing countries will lead to a continued rise in global carbon dioxide emissions. This is even in a “New Policies” scenario in which countries do more than they are doing now to limit emissions, according to the report, which looks at the period up until 2040. “The New Policies Scenario puts energy-related CO2 emissions on a slow upward trend to 2040, a trajectory far out of step with what scientific knowledge says will be required to tackle climate change,” says the report. The biggest growth will be in India, where energy demand will double. Demand in China will grow more slowly but it will still become the biggest consumer of oil in the world. In fact, the continued growth in global demand for oil will lead to shortages and a price spike in the 2020s unless more new oil projects get the go-ahead. “The risk of a supply crunch looms largest in oil,” the report warns. The world is also not on course to meet its sustainable development goals. By 2030, 650 million people will still lack electricity and more than 2 billion will still be cooking with solid fuels, with many continuing to die from air pollution.Globally, devices connected to the internet will help drive a relentless growth in electricity demand, the report says. There is great uncertainty regarding bitcoin mining and autonomous vehicles, which could drive growth even higher. Critics say the IEA’s reports have consistently underestimated growth in renewables. The IEA says the purpose of its reports is to show where existing and proposed policies will take us so governments can see what else needs to be done. And it’s still gloomy about renewables. Even though solar panels are cheaper than ever, the report says there are signs that near-term deployment of new solar capacity might be slowing.
11-13-18 Climate change: Heatwaves 'halve' male insect fertility
Heatwaves can damage the sperm of insects and make them almost sterile, according to new research. Scientists exposed beetles to experimental heatwaves in the laboratory, which resulted in reduced male fertility. The effects could be passed down to the beetles' offspring. Further work could shed light on whether climate change is a factor behind mass declines in insect populations, say researchers. Climate change is affecting biodiversity around the world, but the drivers remain poorly understood. "We don't know whether this explains the widely-recognised collapse in insect biodiversity and abundance, but limits on your ability to reproduce certainly isn't going to help," Prof Matt Gage of the University of East Anglia, which led the study, told BBC News. Researchers studied beetles because their 400,000 species represent about a quarter of all known animal species. A massive decline in insects could have significant consequences for the environment. A recent study in Germany found flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. Similar effects have been seen in the rainforest of Puerto Rico. The new research, published in the Nature Communications journal, found that exposing red flour beetles to a five-day heatwave in the laboratory reduced sperm production by three-quarters, while females were unaffected. Heatwaves halved the amount of offspring males could produce, and a second heatwave almost sterilised males. Kirs Sales, a co-researcher on the study, said: "Our research shows that heatwaves halve male reproductive fitness, and it was surprising how consistent the effect was." Other research has shown that heat can damage male reproduction in humans as well as other mammals. Heatwaves are predicted to become more common under climate change, with consequences for human and animal health.
11-12-18 Climate change protests leads to '22 arrests' over blockade
Environment activists who have blockaded the UK's energy department in London say 22 people have been arrested during the protest. The Met Police confirmed at least eight protestors have been detained. The UK is seen as a leader in policies to reduce greenhouse gases and will soon be considering tougher targets. But the protesters say research suggests the chance of keeping the global temperature rise under a 2C danger threshold is just one in 20. The demonstrators blocked entry to the offices by lying chained together on the pavement, while some glued themselves to the doors of the department building. Further protests are planned through the week and the demonstrators believe the public will take them seriously, as they are willing to go to jail for their cause. They compare themselves with the suffragettes, the anti-apartheid movement, the followers of Gandhi, and the US civil rights movement, although their critics point out that these groups didn't have the vote. They have declared Saturday as Extinction Rebellion Day – the day they’ll commit acts of civil disobedience in the hope of jolting governments round the world into stronger action. One of the protesters, Gail Bradbrook - a mother of two from Stroud - said: “I want the planet protected for my children. “Change comes when people are willing to commit acts of peaceful civil disobedience. “Fifty people in jail for a short time is likely to bring the ecological crisis into the public consciousness.” The first mass meeting of the organisation last month drew 1,000 people to Westminster and blocked roads for two hours. There were 15 arrests. The organisers insist that this week’s actions will be non-violent. They say if protesters commit an illegal act, they must stay on the spot to face the police.
11-12-18 Car tires and brake pads produce harmful microplastics
These particles can end up in bodies of freshwater and, eventually, the ocean. There’s a big problem where the rubber meets the road: microplastics. Scientists analyzed more than 500 small particles pulled from the air around three busy German highways, and found that the vast majority — 89 percent — came from vehicle tires, brake systems and roads themselves. All together, these particles are classified by the researchers as microplastics, though they include materials other than plastic. Those particles get blown by wind and washed by rain into waterways that lead to the ocean, where the debris can harm aquatic animals and fragile ecosystems, says environmental scientist Reto Gieré of the University of Pennsylvania. He presented the findings on November 6 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Indianapolis. Previous research has estimated that about 30 percent of the volume of microplastics polluting oceans, lakes and rivers come from tire wear. “We all want to reduce CO2 emissions” from vehicle exhaust, Gieré says. “But you can’t stop tire abrasion.” Traffic congestion makes the problem worse. Vehicles traveling at constant speeds, without so much brake use, produced fewer particles, the researchers found. Because some materials, including synthetic rubber, become coated in dust and other tinier bits of debris, they’re not always easy to identify. The researchers figured out what each particle was by examining each of them under a scanning electron microscope and running chemical analyses.
11-12-18 California wildfires: Death toll reaches grim milestone
The death toll in wildfires sweeping California has risen to 31, with more than 200 people still missing, officials have said. Six more people were confirmed killed in the Camp Fire in the north of the state, taking the toll there to 29. That fire now equals the deadliest on record in California - the 1933 Griffith Park disaster in Los Angeles. In the south, the Woolsey Fire has claimed two lives as it damaged beach resorts including Malibu. An estimated 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes to avoid three major blazes in the state. With strengthening winds threatening to spread the flames, California Governor Jerry Brown has urged President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster, a move that would harness more federal emergency funds. The appeal came a day after Mr Trump threatened to cut funding for California, blaming the fires on poor forest management. Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, called the president's comments "reckless and insulting".
11-12-18 In pictures: The animals caught in California's wildfires
As deadly wildfires burn across California, communities are counting the toll in not just human losses, but in wildlife and household pets too. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that animal owners in at-risk areas have evacuation plans for animals in place, but because of how urgent some orders were, many were unable to return home for their pets and other animals. Residents have been using social media to spread images of their lost animals around the internet. Dedicated accounts, groups and hashtags have also been set up by online volunteers to help reunite pets with their owners. As tens of thousands of acres burn cross the state, images have emerged of animals being evacuated. On Friday, some residents living close to the Woolsey Fire ravaging the Malibu area took their large animals down to a local beach for protection. Local fire officials opened up Zuma Beach as an evacuation point for large animals, leading to surreal scenes on the usual spot for tourists. Wally Skahlij, a photographer for the Los Angeles Times, took a set of striking photographs on the beach, including one of an owl resting in the sand as the fire engulfed the skyline. Actress Alyssa Milano appealed to her Twitter followers on Friday to try and get help for her five horses to safety. (Webmaster's comment: Thousands of pets and wild animals have died. They are ill-prepared for this kind of disaster.)
11-11-18 Arctic permafrost is starting to thaw. Here's why you should care.
Scientists are exploring how climate change is affecting not just the ice, but our human ways of life. Nyzell and her colleague Jenny Gåling are master's students at Stockholm University. They're here in Abisko, Sweden, to study Arctic permafrost — soil that's been frozen year-round for at least two years — and the gases that seep out into the atmosphere when it thaws. Specifically, they're measuring the gas bubbling up from sediment in lakes like this one, which dots the landscape here. These scientists love the research process and the places it takes them — places like this lake. But the data they're collecting tells a very sobering story. One of the main gases bubbling up and out of this lake is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. As our human-caused carbon pollution causes the planet to heat up, that warming is thawing out Arctic permafrost, which, in turn, is triggering an increase in natural carbon emissions from places like this. In other words, all around the Arctic, climate change caused by human pollution is causing even more of the same greenhouse gases to move from once-frozen soil into the atmosphere. For researchers around the world, that is a very frightening change, because there is a lot of carbon in that soil. "The amount of the amount of carbon that's stored in [Arctic permafrost soil], it's twice the amount that we have in the atmosphere," says Joachim Jansen, lead researcher on this project and a doctoral student at Stockholm University. "And so if that will all be released into the atmosphere, that would mean a huge climatic change." Nobody knows how much of that carbon will actually end up in the atmosphere or how quickly. That's why these researchers are here.
11-11-18 California wildfires: Death toll rises to 25
The death toll in the wildfires raging through California has risen to 25, according to officials. This comes after 14 more bodies were discovered in or near the decimated town of Paradise in the state's north, bringing the number of confirmed dead there to 23. Two more people were killed in the south, near Malibu. An estimated 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes to avoid three major blazes in the state. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has drawn anger by saying that poor forestry management is to blame for the fires. (Webmaster's comment: No matter what Trump says, it's Global Warming that contributes to the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.)
11-10-18 California wildfires: 250,000 flee monster flames ravaging state
At least nine people have died in the most destructive wildfires ripping through north and south California. More than 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes to avoid three major blazes in the state. Firefighters were powerless in stopping a wildfire destroying the northern town of Paradise, where 35 people are missing. A raging wildfire swept into the southern beach resort of Malibu - home to many Hollywood stars - on Friday. Among the towns under evacuation orders is Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed 12 people in a rampage on Wednesday. Authorities say the Camp Fire in the north and the Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire in the south are being fanned by strong winds and dry forests. "The magnitude of the destruction of the fire is unbelievable and heartbreaking," said Mark Ghilarducci, of the California governor's office. President Trump has responded by blaming what he called gross mismanagement of the forests and warned of funding cuts. Meteorologists have warned that dangerous conditions may continue well into next week. Where is the Woolsey Fire? The blaze started on Thursday near Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles (64km) north-west of central Los Angeles. Another blaze, the Hill Fire, started at about the same time, also near Thousand Oaks. n Friday, the flames jumped Highway 101 and headed into coastal areas. The fire now covers an area of about 35,000 acres (14,150 hectares). "Fire is now burning out of control and heading into populated areas of Malibu," town officials said in a statement. "All residents must evacuate immediately."
11-9-18 Climate Change: Arctic 'no safe harbour' for breeding birds
The Arctic is no longer the safe haven it once was for nesting birds, a new scientific report warns. Having nests raided by predators is a bigger threat for birds flocking to breed than in the past, it shows. This raises the risk of extinction for birds on Arctic shores, say researchers. They point to a link with climate change, which may be changing the behaviour and habitat of animals, such as foxes, which steal eggs. Prof Tamás Székely of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, UK, described the findings as "alarming". For critically endangered species such as the spoonbill sandpiper, this could be "the last nail in the coffin", he said. "We're seeing the sad implication of climate change," Prof Székely told BBC News, "because our data show that the impact of climate change is involved, driving increased nest predation among these shorebirds - sandpipers, plovers and the likes." Shore birds breed on the ground; their eggs and offspring are exposed, where they can fall prey to predators such as snakes, lizards and foxes. The researchers looked at data collected over 70 years for more than 38,000 nests of 200 bird species, including 111 shore birds, in 149 locations on all continents. They compared data on climate and bird populations and found a link between nest predation and climate change on a global scale, but particularly in the Arctic. Rates of daily nest predation in the Arctic have increased three-fold in the last 70 years. A two-fold increase was found in Europe, most of Asia and North America, while a smaller change was observed in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere. Although climate change is thought to be a key driver, the precise mechanisms are unclear, and other factors can't be ruled out.
11-9-18 Antarctic: Nasa shares close-up photos of big PIG iceberg
Scientists this week got their first close-up look at the big new iceberg that's calved from Pine Island Glacier (PIG) in the Antarctic. The block, which has the designation B-46, initially covered 225 sq km. Given the fashion in recent years to compare such bergs with the area of Manhattan Island, that would have made this one roughly three times the size of the famous district in New York. But the Nasa over-flight on Wednesday shows the berg is already breaking up. The US space agency DC-8 was on a routine expedition as part of the IceBridge project, which measures the elevation of ice surfaces with a laser. Researchers onboard were able to point their cameras out the windows of the aircraft and capture some of the scale and beauty of the frozen scene below. The PIG drains a vast area of west Antarctica that is roughly equivalent to two-thirds the area of the UK. The glacier regularly calves large chunks from its floating front, or shelf, which pushes out into the Amundsen Sea. This particular berg came away in October and was first noticed by satellites. The production of bergs at the forward edge of an ice shelf is part of a very natural process. It is how a glacier system like Pine Island maintains equilibrium: the ejection of bergs inevitably follows the accumulation of snowfall inland. That said, the PIG has come under close scrutiny because it has shown evidence of thinning and acceleration. Long-term satellite studies indicate that it has been dumping considerable volumes of ice into Amundsen Bay, pushing up global sea levels.
11-9-18 Keystone XL Pipeline: US judge orders halt on construction
A United States judge has blocked the construction of a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to the US. The judge in the state of Montana said the Trump administration had "discarded" facts when it approved the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2017. It had been rejected two years earlier by the Obama administration, mainly on environmental grounds. Speaking outside the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump said the ruling was a disgrace. The state department has now been ordered to do a more thorough review of the effect on issues like the climate. The administration can appeal against the decision. But groups that have been seeking to block the $8bn (£6bn) project are celebrating. Doug Hayes, a lawyer for the Sierra Club environmental group, said the ruling made clear it was time to give up on the "Keystone XL pipe dream". "The Trump administration tried to force this dirty pipeline project on the American people, but they can't ignore the threats it would pose to our clean water, our climate, and our communities," Mr Hayes added. The privately financed pipeline is projected to stretch 1,179-miles (1,897km) from the oil sands of Canada's Alberta province, through Montana and South Dakota, to rejoin an existing pipeline to Texas. But it has been the subject of protests for more than a decade, both from environmentalists and Native American groups, who say it will cut through their sovereign lands. Mr Obama rejected the scheme in 2015 following a recommendation from the Environmental Protection Agency, citing concerns over it increasing US dependence on fossil fuel. However, President Donald Trump reversed the decision shortly after taking office, saying it would bring thousands of jobs. Construction on the US section was due to begin next year.
11-9-18 Could these balls help reduce plastic pollution?
Concern is mounting over the volume of plastics in our oceans and, in particular, how tiny particles of plastic and other synthetic materials are infiltrating every part of our ecosystem. Can technology help address the problem? In October 2009, windsurfing teacher Rachael Miller went to help clean up an island off the coast of Maine in the north-east of the US. There had been a heavy storm and "we found the beach covered in debris", she says, mostly washed up plastic fishing gear. Her husband was incensed. "Marine debris is one of the few things that really make me angry," he said. So Ms Miller, who had studied marine archaeology, decided to devote herself to keeping plastics from ever reaching the ocean.In April, she began selling a special gadget for capturing those tiny bits of synthetic material - called microfibres - that come off our clothes in the wash. Four inches (10cm) in diameter and made from recycled rubber, the Cora Ball imitates the structure of coral in the ocean. While it doesn't catch everything, the company says it captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash.Customers on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter pre-ordered 15,500 of these in 2017.Cora Ball is one of several small start-ups working to keep microplastics and other microfibres out of the water system. The shocking truth is that we could be ingesting 11,000 pieces of plastic a year just through eating shellfish, says Ghent University's Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe. It's a pollution we all contribute to when we wash our clothes. Up to 700,000 microfibres can shed from a typical 6kg (13lb) household load, says Imogen Napper, a postdoctoral marine science researcher at the University of Plymouth in the UK. And a sizable minority can make it into the ocean. So laundry is turning oceans into "a big plastic soup", says Ms Napper.
11-9-18 Delhi air: Eating berries and wearing masks to beat pollution
Every winter, a thick blanket of smog descends on large parts of India and people begin a losing fight against the frightening levels of pollution. Thousands land up in doctors' clinics with breathlessness, fill up hospital beds with lung problems and many are forced to stay off school or work. And with measures announced by the federal and state governments to curb pollution not making any impact, many are finding their own ways of coping. Here are some of the most popular ways Indians try to beat pollution - but do any of them really work? A quick search on Amazon India for air purifiers throws up more than 2,000 results and a cursory glance shows they are not cheap. But in the past few years, many Indians have begun investing in indoor air purifiers in the belief that they will help improve the air quality. In March, a report said the government had bought a total of 140 purifiers to ensure that officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, could breathe easy. But are they effective? "Air purifiers work only in an environment that's totally sealed," says Dr Karan Madan, associate professor of pulmonary medicine at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital. So every time you open a door or a window in your home "the indoor air quality immediately mimics the outdoor air quality" - simply put, if the pollution levels outdoors are high, they'll instantly become high indoors too. And the question then is: can you sit pretty much all the time in a room that's completely shut off? "It's not really practical," says Dr Madan.
11-9-18 Iran’s imprisoned conservationists need scientists to speak up
Only science can check Iran’s crackdown on environmentalists, says Kaveh Madani. EARLIER this year, nine Iranian conservationists were arrested by the country’s Revolutionary Guards on charges of espionage. Members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, they are accused of using camera traps to monitor Iran’s ballistic missile programme, collecting sensitive data for “hostile nations”. One of them, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in prison in February. It was reported to be suicide, although his family strongly disputes that. Four have been charged with “corruption on Earth”, which can carry the death penalty under Islamic sharia law. I am an environmentalist myself. At the government’s invitation, I returned to Iran after 14 years to serve as deputy head of its environment department. But just seven months later I went into hiding with my wife, after being arrested, detained and interrogated many times. I was called a bioterrorist, water terrorist and spy for MI6, Mossad and the CIA. The Revolutionary Guards even claimed I was manipulating the weather to create a drought. They criticised me for supporting the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change, saying it would limit economic growth.“The Revolutionary Guards claimed that I was manipulating the weather to create a drought”
11-7-18 Destroying a type of cloud may help stabilise climate change
If we ever get desperate enough to try artificially cooling the planet to slow global warming, we might want to think about modifying cirrus clouds. Thinning out these feathery, high-altitude clouds could cool the climate while having a relatively small effect on rainfall. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, scientists are increasingly researching geoengineering: methods to artificially cool the climate. Many of these techniques involve reflecting some of the Sun’s radiation back into space, offsetting the warming effect of greenhouse gases. For example, we could inject aerosol particles into the stratosphere, mimicking the cooling effect of a volcanic eruption. However, tinkering with the climate could have nasty side-effects, triggering droughts in some regions, for instance. So climatologists are trying to figure out how the various methods will play out in practice. Long Cao of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China and his colleagues modelled three geoengineering methods: pumping aerosols in the stratosphere; “marine cloud brightening”, in which low-level clouds over the sea are made whiter and therefore more reflective; and “cirrus cloud thinning”, which reduces the coverage and thickness of high-level cirrus clouds. Cirrus cloud thinning is a relatively new idea, first proposed in 2009. Cirrus clouds are made of tiny ice crystals, so the idea is to spray powder into the air from planes. Ice crystals will form around each grain of powder and become so heavy that they fall, reducing the amount of cirrus.(Webmaster's comment: Talk about grasping a straws! The only thing that's going to work is cutting down bigtime on the CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere!)
11-7-18 Brazil’s next president threatens the people and forests of the Amazon
Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election could be a disaster for the Amazon, but his opponents can unite, say Mary Menton and Felipe Milanez. JAIR BOLSONARO will be the next president of Brazil. He has been labelled a fascist and a threat to human rights; The New Yorker called him “part Donald Trump, part Rodrigo Duterte“. Soon after his victory at the polls, Bolsonaro announced that he would combine the ministries of environment and agriculture, effectively removing the normal checks and balances that help protect Amazonian forests. The country’s National Institute for Space Research estimates that deforestation in Brazil could increase by 268 per cent if Bolsonaro’s policies are all carried out. In the light of this, plus his promise that Brazil will leave the Paris Agreement to limit climate change and renege on commitments to reduce deforestation, his presidency is a matter of global concern. We join many others in being deeply concerned about what his election will mean for Brazil and the people and forests of the Amazon. Indigenous territories in the Amazon have long acted as a buffer against the expansion of agriculture and logging, as well as preventing the development of mining sites. We worry that Bolsonaro sees indigenous peoples and their communally held territories, covering 25 per cent of the Amazon, as a barrier to development. He has said that he supports policies to “emancipate” them. This reflects his nostalgia for the military dictatorship, and his desire to revive its programme to derecognise collective rights and instead individualise indignous land rights. This would allow individuals to sell their lands and open them up to “development”.
11-7-18 Climate change: Bug covered 'bionic mushroom' generates clean energy
US researchers have successfully tested the rather whacky idea of producing electricity from a mushroom covered in bacteria. The scientists used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom. The fungus provided the ideal environment to allow the cyanobacteria to generate a small amount of power. The authors say their fossil-free "bionic mushroom" could have great potential. As researchers the world over search for alternative energy sources, there has been a sharp rise in interest in cyanobacteria. These organisms, widely found in the oceans and on land, are being investigated for their abilities to turn sunlight into electrical current. One big problem is that they do not survive long enough on artificial surfaces to be able to deliver on their power potential. That's where the humble button mushroom comes in. This fertile fungus is already home to many other forms of bacterial life, providing an attractive array of nutrients, moisture and temperature. So the scientists from the Stevens Institute of Technology in the US developed a clever method of marrying the mushroom to the sparky bugs. Appropriately enough, they came up with the idea while having lunch! "One day my friends and I went to lunch together and we ordered some mushrooms," said Sudeep Joshi, a postdoctoral researcher and author of the study. "As we discussed them we realised they have a rich microbiota of their own, so we thought why not use the mushrooms as a support for the cynaobacteria. We thought let's merge them and see what happens."
11-6-18 More than 60 prescription drugs are getting into river foodchains
Over 60 common pharmaceuticals have been found in river-dwelling wildlife in Australia, highlighting the need for better wastewater treatment strategies. When we take a drug, a portion sometimes passes through us intact and goes down the toilet. But as most medications are not removed during sewage treatment, they often end up in waterways. To find out if pharmaceutical waste then finds its way into aquatic creatures, Erinn Richmond at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and her colleagues sampled flies, beetles, spiders and other insects from six waterways in the greater Melbourne region. The sites varied from a treated sewage run-off stream to a river in a national park. The researchers detected 69 medications in the insects, including antidepressants, painkillers, antibiotics, and blood pressure-lowering agents. The highest levels were found in insects near wastewater plants, but low levels were also detected in those from more pristine areas. River-borne pharmaceuticals most likely accumulate in flies and beetles while they are underwater larvae, then transfer to spiders that feed on them after they emerge as adults, says Richmond. Other predators like fish, platypuses, birds, bats and frogs may also become cross-contaminated, she says. (Webmaster's comment: And with 7.7 billion people dumping these pharmaceuticals into our water supply this problem is HUGE!)
11-2-18 Weather: UK experiencing hotter days and 'tropical nights' - Met Office
The UK has experienced more weather extremes over the last 10 years when compared with previous decades, a Met Office report has said. The hottest days have become almost 1C hotter, warm spells have increased, while the coldest days are not as cold. The number of so-called tropical nights - when temperatures stay above 20C - is increasing. The Met Office says these changes are consistent with warming driven by human activities. The new study compares UK weather data from the period 1961-1990 with the 10 years between 2008 and 2017. The study finds that on average the hottest day in each year over the recent 10-year period is 0.8C warmer than it was when compared to the earlier decades. The coldest days and nights have also become warmer, with temperatures on average 1.7C milder in recent years. To illustrate just how mild temperatures have been between 2008 and 2017, the report says that a significant area inland from the UK coast had, on average, less than one day per year with temperatures below zero. (Webmaster's comment: The same thing is happening in the United States BUT WE DARE NOT REPORT IT!)
11-2-18 Lengthy warm spells and heavy rainfall are on the rise in the UK
Warm spells and tropical nights are on the rise in the UK as the climate changes, says a report from the Met Office. The duration of warm spells, when temperatures are well above average for the time of year, has more than doubled between the periods 1961 -1990 and 2008 to 2017. Scorching summer days are getting hotter, with the hottest day of each year in the most recent decade on average 0.8°C warmer than each year’s hottest days in the period 1961-1990. The chilliest extremes of the year are not quite as biting as they were in the past, with the lowest temperature of the year 1.7°C milder in the last decade than it was in the three decades up to 1990. Tropical nights — where minimum temperatures do not fall below 20°C — are still rare in the UK, and are largely confined to southern England. But they included in the report as they are likely to become more common in the future as climate change becomes more pronounced. The report finds that while the 1976 heatwave is one of the most significant heatwaves for the UK, tropical nights only really start to stand out after 1995. Between 2008 and 2017 a cluster of tropical nights were recorded in the South East, the Midlands and South Wales. Heavy rainfall is also on the increase, with extremely wet days up 17 per cent in the period 2008-2017, compared to 1961-1990.
11-2-18 Pacific island to ban some sun creams in a bid to save its coral reefs
The Pacific nation of Palau will soon ban many types of sunscreen in an attempt to protect coral reefs. President Tommy Remengesau Jr last week signed legislation that bans “reef-toxic” sunscreen from 2020. Banned sunscreens will be confiscated from tourists who carry them into the country, and merchants selling the banned products will be fined up $1,000. The law defines reef-toxic sunscreen as containing any one of 10 chemicals, including oxybenzone, and states that other chemicals may also be banned. The legislation also requires tour operators to start providing customers with reusable cups, straws and food containers. Remengesau said a big impetus for the ban was a 2017 report which found that sunscreen products were widespread in Palau’s famed Jellyfish Lake, which was closed for more than a year due to declining jellyfish numbers before being recently reopened. He noted findings that “plastic waste, chemical pollution, resource overconsumption, and climate change all continue to threaten the health of our pristine paradise”. Palau’s ban comes after Hawaii in July banned the sale of sunscreen containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from 2021 in an attempt to protect its reefs. In Hawaii, however, tourists will still be able to bring the banned sunscreen with them into the state or buy it there if they have a doctor’s prescription.
11-1-18 Climate change: Oceans 'soaking up more heat than estimated'
The world has seriously underestimated the amount of heat soaked up by our oceans over the past 25 years, researchers say.. Their study suggests that the seas have absorbed 60% more than previously thought. They say it means the Earth is more sensitive to fossil fuel emissions than estimated. This could make it much more difficult to keep global warming within safe levels this century. According to the last major assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's oceans have taken up over 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases. But this new study says that every year, for the past 25 years, we have put about 150 times the amount of energy used to generate electricity globally into the seas - 60% more than previous estimates. That's a big problem. Scientists base their predictions about how much the Earth is warming by adding up all the excess heat that is produced by the known amount of greenhouse gases that have been emitted by human activities. This new calculation shows that far more heat than we thought has been going into oceans. But it also means that far more heat than we thought has been generated by the warming gases we have emitted. Therefore more heat from the same amount of gas means the Earth is more sensitive to CO2. The researchers involved in the study believe the new finding will make it much harder to keep within the temperature rise targets set by governments in the Paris agreement. Recently the IPCC spelled out clearly the benefits to the world of keeping below the lower goal of 1.5C relative to pre-industrial levels. This new study says that will be very difficult indeed.
11-1-18 Is the Arctic set to become a main shipping route?
Climate change is increasingly opening up the Northwest Passage, an Arctic sea route north of the Canadian mainland. Could it herald an era of more cargo shipping around the top of the world? Back in the 19th Century there was a race to map and navigate the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean as a shortcut between the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Explorers would take ships up Greenland's west coast, then try to weave through Canada's Arctic islands, before going down the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. The problem was that even in the summer the route was mostly blocked by impenetrable ice. On one of the best-known expeditions - that of the UK's Sir John Franklin in 1845 - all 129 crew members perished after their two vessels got stuck. Today, more than 170 years later, a warming Arctic means that the route is increasingly accessible for a few months each summer. According to some estimates, Arctic ice is retreating to the extent that the Northwest Passage could become an economically viable shipping route. For shipping firms transporting goods from China or Japan to Europe or the east coast of the US, the passage would cut thousands of miles off journeys that currently go via the Panama or Suez canals. The Canadian government is certainly hopeful that this will be the case. Late last month the country's trade minister Jim Carr said that the route "will in a matter of a generation, probably be available year round". At the moment it is still a risky business, with ice remaining a serious problem. But in 2014 the Nunavik became the first cargo ship to transverse the passage unescorted when it delivered nickel from the Canadian province of Quebec to China.
11-1-18 Coral: Palau to ban sunscreen products to protect reefs
Palau is set to become the first country to impose a widespread ban on sunscreen in an effort to protect its vulnerable coral reefs. The government has signed a law that restricts the sale and use of sunscreen and skincare products that contain a list of ten different chemicals. Researchers believe that these ingredients are highly toxic to marine life, and can make coral more susceptible to bleaching. The ban comes into force in 2020. In a statement, Palau's president Tommy Remengesau said the ban, which would see fines of $1,000 for retailers who violated the law, was timely. "The power to confiscate sunscreens should be enough to deter their non-commercial use, and these provisions walk a smart balance between educating tourists and scaring them away." Scientists have been raising concerns about the impacts of sunscreen products on marine life for many years. They are particularly worried over the role of two ingredients called oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are used as sun protection factors in sun creams as they absorb ultraviolet light. However they are believed to make coral more susceptible to bleaching. Research published in 2015 showed that the oxybenzone could stunt the growth of baby corals and was toxic to several different coral species in laboratory tests. "Oxybenxzone is probably the baddest actor out of the 10 chemicals that have been banned," said Dr Craig Downs, an expert on the impacts of sunscreens on marine life. "It causes corals to bleach at lower temperatures, and it reduces their resilience to climate change." Dr Downs says that when there's a disastrous event like mass coral bleaching, reefs should recover over the following years. That has not been happening in many parts of the world.