A lizard bathes in the afternoon sun on a rock in Uttarakhand, northern India. Photo: Sujayadhar / Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford
16 June 2015

LONDON (Climate News Network) – Scientists in California have identified a cold-blooded killer as global warming brings new hazards for ectotherms − creatures that cannot regulate their own body heat.

The suggestion may seem counter-intuitive, as vipers, lizards, fish and frogs all depend on ambient warmth to keep their metabolisms busy. But while endotherms – among them mammals − have ways of keeping themselves cool on hot days, lizards and their like might not be so flexible and could overheat.

Alex Gunderson and Jonathon Stillman, biologists at the Romberg Tiburon Centre for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University, report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that they tested their suspicions about overheating risks by combing through 112 published studies that delivered 394 estimates of potential temperature tolerance in 232 species of ectotherm − laboratory species that had been tested in extremes of hot and cold.

Their sample of the cold-blooded living things included amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, land-dwellers and water-dwellers.

They found evidence that all had some ability to acclimate – that is, adapt to different temperatures – and some, such as fish, crab, lobster and shrimp, had more tolerance to acclimation than others. But, overall, many of them proved less likely to tolerate increasingly extreme climate swings.

“Because animals have some ability to acclimate to higher temperatures, scientists hoped that they might be able to adjust their physiology to keep up with global warming,” Dr Gunderson says.

“We found by compiling these data in the first large-scale study of hundreds of different animals that the amount they can actually adjust is pretty low. They don‘t have the flexibility in heat tolerance to keep up with global warming.”

Global warming and attendant climate change is believed to threaten one species in six with extinction. It can do this by amplifying and adding to a range of existing hazards, threats and pressures such as habitat destruction, or over-hunting, or by changing in a few decades a whole climatic regime to which species have adapted over tens of thousands of years. […]

“Our results suggest that their ability to acclimate to increasing temperatures will not buffer them from the changes that are occurring, and that they are going to have to depend on behavioural or evolutionary change to persist,” Dr Gunderson says. [more]

Temperatures soar to danger point for sun-loving creatures

ABSTRACT: Global warming is increasing the overheating risk for many organisms, though the potential for plasticity in thermal tolerance to mitigate this risk is largely unknown. In part, this shortcoming stems from a lack of knowledge about global and taxonomic patterns of variation in tolerance plasticity. To address this critical issue, we test leading hypotheses for broad-scale variation in ectotherm tolerance plasticity using a dataset that includes vertebrate and invertebrate taxa from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats. Contrary to expectation, plasticity in heat tolerance was unrelated to latitude or thermal seasonality. However, plasticity in cold tolerance is associated with thermal seasonality in some habitat types. In addition, aquatic taxa have approximately twice the plasticity of terrestrial taxa. Based on the observed patterns of variation in tolerance plasticity, we propose that limited potential for behavioural plasticity (i.e., behavioural thermoregulation) favours the evolution of greater plasticity in physiological traits, consistent with the ‘Bogert effect’. Finally, we find that all ectotherms have relatively low acclimation in thermal tolerance and demonstrate that overheating risk will be minimally reduced by acclimation in even the most plastic groups. Our analysis indicates that behavioural and evolutionary mechanisms will be critical in allowing ectotherms to buffer themselves from extreme temperatures.

Plasticity in thermal tolerance has limited potential to buffer ectotherms from global warming

Red and black mangrove are shown in this 21 May 2015 handout photo provided by Miami-Dade County on 29 June 2105, among debris from shoreline cleared for land to be used for the 2016 Miami International Boat Show in Miami, Florida. Photo: Miami-Dade County / Reuters

By Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Letitia Stein and Sandra Maler
29 June 2015

MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) – New revelations that a long strip of protected mangrove trees were illegally razed amid preparations for the 2016 Miami International Boat Show has outraged Florida environmentalists.

The lost trees, critical to the marine ecosystem, were hacked away in mid-May by a Miami city contractor in advance of the five-day show expected to draw about 100,000 attendees and 1,500 boats.

Environmental activists said in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that staging the show in an environmentally sensitive region could violate a number of federal laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

The federal agency is currently weighing permits for the boat show, slated to be held next February at the Miami Marine Stadium.

"You've got sea grasses, corals, manatees, all sorts of protected birds," said Mayra Peña Lindsay, mayor of nearby Key Biscayne, one of the show's staunchest opponents.
The affluent city, on an island just outside Miami city limits, has hired a public relations firm to demand the National Marine Manufacturers Association move its event elsewhere.

But the city of Miami, which has agreed to replant the trees that could take more than five years to grow to full size, continues to support the boat show. [more]

Protected Florida mangroves razed for boat show

Two very dry wet seasons in Brazil, 2013-14 and 2014-15, based on data going back to 1979. Graphic: NOAA

By Leila Carvalho
26 June 2015

(The Conversation) – Exceptional drought, extreme temperatures, unprecedented drops in reservoir levels, and threatening water shortages for millions of people have dominated headlines in California in recent years. Unfortunately, Californians are not the only people being stressed with the “water crisis.”

Citizens of one of the most densely populated areas in South America – the São Paulo metropolitan area (SPMA) in southeastern Brazil – are struggling with one of the nastiest water crises in decades.

With over 20 million people and the main financial and economic center of Brazil, this region is under the influence of the South American monsoon system and receives the largest fraction of its precipitation during the Austral summer, from October to March. Yet in the last four years, rain gauge stations near the most important reservoirs supplying water to the city have been reporting growing deficits in precipitation. Last year saw the worst since at least 1961, which has been followed by another dry year.

To aggravate these conditions, daily records of high temperatures during these summers have increased evapotranspiration, accelerating drought conditions, similar to what has been observed in California.

A planet with over seven billion people and limited freshwater resources is already showing environmental exhaustion and signaling humans have crossed the line of sustainability. Our capacity to mitigate the negative effects of environmental changes and how fast we can adapt is limited by multiple factors. But as a megacity – a complex and often disorganized human conglomerate – the population of São Paulo, Brazil is particularly exposed to the effects of extreme weather events.

The climatic factors influencing the drought in California and in São Paulo are likely interconnected. Cycles in the Pacific sea surface temperature that occur on decadal timescales are coupled to changes in atmospheric circulation that affect weather patterns worldwide. In some regions, atmospheric conditions are such that they block the passage of cold fronts that cause the storms to bring precipitation, changing the path of these rain events. [more]

Megacity drought: Sao Paulo withers after dry ‘wet season’

Cumulative western spruce budworm defoliation in Eastern Washington, 2010-2014. Graphic: Department of Natural Resources / U.S. Forest Service

By Glenn Farley
26 June 2015

NEAR BLEWETT PASS, Washington (KING 5 News) – From the crest of the Cascade Mountains running east to the sagebrush and desert country along the Columbia River, a map shows years of damage from the Western Spruce Budworm, which is killing trees by the thousands.

The state's worst patch of budworm damage is an area bordered by I-90 to the south, as Highway 97 runs right through it.

Moths living in one tree will lay eggs on the tree next to it. And when the caterpillars come out, the damage begins.

"It's a little bit of a zombie tree. It's dead, and it doesn't know it yet," said Aaron Everett, state forester with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. "They eat the terminal buds, then they eat the new foliage because it's the most nutritious."

The tree starves, as more and more needles fall victim to the caterpillar before it turns into a month. A single infected tree can have thousands of budworms feeding on it. And dead and drying trees are more flammable. The ongoing drought stress in eastern Washington also makes the trees even more vulnerable to bugs.

Everett says the problem is worse in mixed forests of eastern Washington, as the caterpillars go after fir trees: Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir. It does not go west of the Cascade crest, largely because the wetter side of the mountains tends to be too wet and cold in the spring when the caterpillars emerge.

One concern is over a warming climate. If western Washington sees continuing seasons like this one, with drier and warmer springs, "you see potential expansion in those species ranges, if the climate factors that keep them in check are no longer there," says Everett. [more]

Bug infested forests raise fire danger in Washington

A sea star dying of wasting syndrome, May 2015. Photo: Molly Matalon and Damien Maloney

By Nathaniel Rich
13 May 2015

(Vice) – Allison Gong is a marine biologist, so she knows perfectly well that a sea star has no blood, brain, or central nervous system. Still, she can't help thinking of the stars in her lab as pets. "Because of my weird personality," she told me, "I form an emotional attachment, even though obviously they can't reciprocate."

This attachment has deepened during the 20 years that she has worked in the Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she exhibits the stars to undergraduates in her marine-biology classes. (One of her first lessons: The term "starfish" is a misnomer, because stars are not fish.) Until recently, Gong had 15 stars in her care: eight bat stars, five ochres, one leather, and a rainbow. She had developed a daily routine. Nearly every morning she entered her lab at 8:30 AM and saluted her menagerie with a cheerful "Hey, guys!" She checked "to make sure everybody's fine": If a star was climbing off the table, for instance, she'd prod it back into the water, with a gentle reprimand: "Guys! You know you need to get back in there." She recorded the temperature of the water, which is piped in from the shallows of Terrace Point, the reef on which the Long Marine Lab is situated; from the lab's windows it is common to see cresting dolphins, back-paddling sea lions, and breaching humpback whales in the surf below. Finally, Gong fed the stars frozen squid or lake smelt that she carefully diced into small, digestible bites. None of the stars, which typically live about 35 years in the wild and can survive more than three times as long in captivity, had ever died. At least not of natural causes. Some years ago Gong accidentally dropped a tank on a star, crushing it. "I thought it would recover, but it didn't. I felt bad about that."

Gong was therefore unprepared for the discovery she made during Labor Day weekend in 2013. No sooner had she greeted her charges ("Hey, guys!") than she realized that "somebody had died." The bat stars, aggressive scavengers, had glommed together in a single ball—an ominous sign. Gong peeled them off, one by one, until she found what they had been consuming: the corpse of an ochre sea star, their tablemate for the past five years.

Two days later she noticed that some of the other stars in the water table did not look well. "Their behavior was a little off," she said, putting it mildly. Some of their arms were twisted around their stomachs, as if the animals were trying to hug themselves. Healthy stars, especially ochres, have a rough texture and a firm consistency. But these looked "kind of mushy," like deflating party balloons. "It got to the point where I was afraid to open the door," she said. The next day a disturbed lab assistant reported that one of the stars had lost an arm. When Gong returned the day after that, the table looked "like an asteroid battlefield." The stars were squishy and pockmarked with pullulating white lesions. Sometimes their guts spilled out of the lesions. More arms had detached. The arms continued to crawl, disembodied, around the tank. […]

Today they are the only stars remaining in the lab. "It's the stuff of nightmares," Gong said. "I had never seen anything like that. I'd seen animals die, but it's just a one-off. Something dies, and you get on with your life. But there was no getting on." […]

This has been a familiar pattern along the Pacific Coast this winter. As the Wasting has persisted, stars have disappeared almost completely in many locations. In others, stars survived a brush with the epidemic and seemed to recover, as if having developed immunity—only to be wiped out months later. Raimondi estimates that between 1 and 10 million stars have died so far. In the intertidal region alone, the mortality rate averages about 75 percent. But smaller sea stars have been observed at a number of sites in which the larger ones have vanished. […]

Peter Raimondi, the chair of UCSC's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department —unflappable, seasoned, sober — said he is not especially concerned. "A lot people ask me, 'Are they going to go extinct? Is there going to be a catastrophe? Is the whole ecosystem going to collapse?' The answer is no. I've seen this before, and the system recovered."

Some of the younger scientists and volunteer surveyors I met were less sanguine. They have been traumatized by observing in their own lifetime extinction events and environmental calamities that are unprecedented in the history of human civilization. The idea that the sea stars might be evidence of some decisive, more profound transformation of the marine ecology does not seem to them so far-fetched. […]

"It feels apocalyptic," said Mary Ellen Hannibal. "Whatever is going on with the sea stars has the sense of an immersive event that's not visible to the eye, that's pulling species out from underneath." [more]

The Baffling, Gruesome Plague That Is Causing Sea Stars to Tear Themselves to Pieces

Record highs set in the U.S West in June 2015. These locations tied or broke their all-time June record highs. Graphic: The Weather Channel

30 June 2015 (The Weather Channel) – A torrid heat wave is easing a bit, but will kick into high gear yet again later this week into the July 4th holiday weekend, and possibly beyond.

June record highs have been broken in at least 31 cities in the Northwest, five of which appear to have tied or broken their all-time record highs. The extreme heat is likely to last into next week and may end up breaking records for longevity as well.

An unofficial weather station located in Hell's Canyon along the Oregon/Idaho border (Pittsburg Landing) recorded an incredible 116 degrees for a high Sunday. 

The culprit in this hot setup is a dome of high pressure aloft, surging northwestward to encompass a large area of the western states. The center of this high will shift around through the week ahead, but overall it will remain a dominant feature.

This will allow the sizzling late-June and early-July sun to send temperatures soaring not simply in the typically hot Desert Southwest, but also locations well to the north including the Pacific Northwest, interior Northwest, and northern Rockies. 

Highs well into the 90s and triple digits are expected in many lower-elevation locations west of the Continental Divide and inland from the Pacific Coast.

This includes much of Nevada, California's Central Valley, the Salt Lake Valley, Idaho's Snake River Plain, much of Oregon's lower elevations east of the immediate coast, and areas to the east of the Cascades in Washington State.

In particular, parts of the Columbia Basin and lower Snake River Valley will see particularly extreme and persistent heat. This includes cities such as Yakima, Kennewick and Walla Walla in Washington as well as Lewiston, Idaho, as noted in the records below. Temperatures will get knocked down a bit into the 90s or low 100s to start the new workweek, but will then surge towards the middle or upper 100s again late in the week.

The extreme heat has even surged north into Canada. Cranbrook, in far southeast British Columbia at an elevation of about 3,000 feet, set a new all-time record high of 98 degrees (36.8 degrees Celsius) Sunday, according to The Weather Network

Even Revelstoke, British Columbia – 130 miles north of the U.S. border, about 1,500 feet above sea level and better known for skiing – reached an amazing 103 degrees (39.5 degrees Celsius) Sunday. [more]

Western Heat Wave Shatters At Least 31 June Record Highs (FORECAST)

SAN FRANCISCO, 29 June 2015 (CBS SF) – California’s severe drought is taking a serious toll on San Francisco’s aging sewer system.

Some of the city’s 1,000 miles of sewer pipes are more than 100 years old, among the first installed after the Gold Rush.

The waste was getting dumped into the streets, the streets were getting all muddy, and they thought, let’s do something about that.  So, they built these pipes,” SFPUC Assistant General Manager Tommy Moala said.

Few things in America have lasted 150 years. San Francisco’s sewer system is a working relic but one that works.

The view down a manhole in San Francisco's sewer system, 29 June 2015. California's severe drought is taking a serious toll on San Francisco’s aging sewer system. Photo: CBS SF

You might think that the drought would give the sewer system a break, with not as much water going through it. But, while San Franciscans are sending less water down the drain because of conservation, the same, or more sewage is being sent through the system that isn’t being drained as well as before.

“It’s an organic material. It breaks down. It creates hydrogen sulfide. That eats up the concrete in the pipes if it sits there long enough,” Moala said.

With thousands of people moving into San Francisco, the city’s infrastructure continues to be taxed, no more so than the sewer system. But, sewer workers say they’ll do their best. It’s their duty.

California Drought Taking Serious Toll On Aging Sewer System In San Francisco

The bodies of 22 pilot whales are disemboweled by Faroese poachers on 29 June 2015. The bodies were hoisted onto the dock by a crane as each animal was disemboweled, and unborn fetuses ripped were from their mother's wombs. The bodies were decapitated one by one. One supporter of the slaughter sent Captain Paul Watson a message, saying, 'We could show ISIS a thing or two about decapitation, you whale-loving bastards.' Photo: SSCS

By Captain Paul Watson
29 June 2015

(Facebook) – This morning, 22 wonderful creatures were swimming in the cold Northern waters enjoying life in the company of their small family group.

It was a beautiful Monday morning, the seas were calm and the skies were blue.

What most civilized people in the world would view as a beautiful thing, watching a pod of these unique creatures swimming gracefully through the sea, a small group of thugs on the shore nearby gazed over the water with murderous intentions in their heart.

The call was issued to kill. The police closed the tunnels. A Danish frigate blocked the path of the Sea Shepherd vessel Brigitte Bardot, and the thugs were unleashed with huge hooks and sharp knives.

The 22 pilot whales were driven to shore and massacred as the police blocked the path of any interference.

The bodies were hoisted onto the dock by a crane as each animal was disemboweled, unborn fetuses ripped from their mother's wombs. The bodies were decapitated one by one. One supporter of the slaughter sent me a message, saying, "We could show ISIS a thing or two about decapitation, you whale-loving bastards."

As the mutilations continued, Sea Shepherd volunteers were surrounded by Faroese police officers charged with the duty of preventing any interference with the slaughter.

These were two pictures taken within the last half hour.

22 dead at the hands of vicious thugs

Sea turtle nesting grounds on Pacuare Beach, Costa Rica. A group of 11 volunteers working with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Sea Turtle Defense Campaign 'Operation Jairo' were attacked by poachers on 25 June 2015, during a peaceful patrol of Costa Rica's Pacuare Beach to locate and protect nesting endangered turtles and their eggs. Two volunteers sustained minor injuries. Photo: Eva Hidalg / Sea Shepherd

By Jaime Lopez
26 June 2015

(SSCS) – A group of 11 volunteers working with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Sea Turtle Defense Campaign Operation Jairo were physically attacked by poachers last night during a peaceful patrol of Costa Rica’s Pacuare Beach to locate and protect nesting endangered turtles and their eggs. Two volunteers sustained minor injuries.

Upon spotting the Sea Shepherd crew, which included a media team as well as beach patrol volunteers, a group of poachers immediately approached and, unprovoked, began to attack the unarmed Sea Shepherd volunteers with branches and machetes. Initial reports indicate that more than 10 poachers were involved in the attack. Operation Jairo Ground Leader for Costa Rica, Brett Bradley of Australia, stood in between the poachers and his fellow volunteers, enduring most of the violent assault and sustaining injuries to his arms. Media crewmember Ellen Campbell of Canada also suffered an injury to her shoulder.

As Sea Shepherd volunteers attempted to leave the beach to safety, a security guard fired a total of eight shots into the sand in an effort to scare off the attackers. The aggressive poachers continued their assault, even firing three shots at a second member of the security team, who was hired by Sea Shepherd to protect the organization’s volunteers following threats of violence. One guard was attacked by three of the men, but managed to fend off two as the other retreated.

In addition to Australia and Canada, Sea Shepherd’s multi-national team of Operation Jairo volunteers currently on the ground in Costa Rica and present during last night’s attack also includes individuals from Austria, Spain, the United States, France, and Costa Rica.

On June 4, Sea Shepherd volunteers caught a poacher in the act of stealing eggs from an endangered leatherback sea turtle, as the vulnerable nesting female laid them in the sand of Pacuare Beach. Sea Shepherd surrounded the turtle, standing between her and gathering poachers until she finished nesting and returned safely to the sea. The remainder of her eggs were relocated to a guarded hatchery. Shortly thereafter, Ground Leader Brett Bradley was told by a confidential informant that poachers were planning an attack to intimidate Sea Shepherd volunteers. These threats were reported on June 16 to the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ).

Jorge Serendero, Sea Shepherd spokesman for Central America, said at this time the group of volunteers is preparing to file a new complaint with the OIJ in Bataan, Limon. There they will also reorganize and implement increased security measures to resume efforts to protect turtles in Pacuare.

The criminal poachers targeting Costa Rica’s endangered sea turtles are becoming increasingly frustrated that Sea Shepherd’s ground crew volunteers are standing in the way of their illegal activities. This is a clear indication that Sea Shepherd’s presence as we patrol the beaches has been effective,” said Sea Shepherd Campaign Coordinator, David Hance.

“Ground Leader Brett Bradley has confirmed to me that all volunteers are well in the wake of the attack. Our team reports that after experiencing this violence at the hands of the poachers, they are more determined than ever to continue to protect the turtles,” added Hance. “Sea Shepherd is taking all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our crew. We have again contacted the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Seas and the Coast Guard, as well as the local embassies that govern each of our crewmembers. We are also in contact with the local police and are demanding that they protect our volunteers, take swift action against these poachers for their attack, and enforce the law as it relates to poaching of turtle eggs.”

With an average of only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings surviving to adulthood, Sea Shepherd is addressing the urgent need to protect these endangered marine animals before it’s too late. Operation Jairo is currently taking place in Costa Rica and Honduras, where Sea Shepherd volunteers are protecting sea turtles from poaching. The campaign will also launch in mid-July in Florida, where volunteers will work with non-profit Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P.) to guide hatchlings safely to the sea and ensure that ordinances regulating commercial lighting along the beaches, which can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings and cause them to head away from the sea and toward dangerous roadways, are adhered to and enforced.

Sea Shepherd Volunteers Violently Attacked in Costa Rica


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