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

Average annual number of large wildfires in Alaska, from the 1950s into the 2010s. Alaska wildfires have increased dramatically since 1990. Graphic: Todd Sanford / Climate Central

By Chris Mooney
26 June 2015

(Washington Post) – Following on a record hot May in which much snow cover melted off early, Alaska saw no less than 152 fires erupt last weekend. The numbers have only grown further since then, and stood at 317 active fires Friday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, with over 280,000 additional acres burned just since Thursday.

“Given the high number of fires and the personnel assigned to those fires, the state’s firefighting resources are becoming very limited, forcing fire managers to prioritize resources,” noted the state’s Department of Natural Resources Tuesday. The preparedness level at the moment for the state is 5, meaning that “resistance to control is high to extreme and resistance to extinguishment is high.

This stunning tweet from the Alaska Division of Forestry sort of says it all:

This map from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center puts Alaska's ~300 wildfires in perspective, 23 June 2015. Graphic: Alaska Division of Forestry

All of which is troubling for multiple reasons: (1) Recent research suggests that more Alaskan wildfires, and more large Alaskan fires in particular, are a trend; (2) In some cases, wildfires in Alaska don’t just consume trees, grasses or tundra. They can burn away soils as well and threaten permafrost, frozen soil beneath the ground, and so potentially help to trigger additional release of carbon to the atmosphere.

“One major concern about wildfires becoming more frequent in permafrost areas is the potential to put the vast amounts of carbon stored there at increased risk of being emitted and further amplify warming,” said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at Climate Central and lead author of the group’s newly released report on Alaskan wildfires, by e-mail. [more]

Over 300 wildfires are burning in Alaska right now. That’s an even bigger problem than it sounds

Declining water levels in Lake Powell are visible in the 'bathtub ring' on the surrounding landscape, 16 June 2015. Photo: Michael Friberg / ProPublica

By Abrahm Lustgarten, Lauren Kirchner, Amanda Zamora, and ProPublica
26 June 2015

(Scientific American) –

Why do I keep hearing about the California drought, if it's the Colorado River that we're "killing"?

Pretty much every state west of the Rockies has been facing a water shortage of one kind or another in recent years.  California's is a severe, but relatively short-term, drought. But the Colorado River basin—which provides critical water supplies for seven states including California—is the victim of a slower-burning catastrophe entering its 16th year. Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California all share water from the Colorado River, a hugely important water resource that sustains 40 million people in those states, supports 15 percent of the nation's food supply, and fills two of largest water reserves in the country.

The severe shortages of rain and snowfall have hurt California's $46 billion agricultural industry and helped raise national awareness of the longer-term shortages that are affecting the entire Colorado River basin. But while the two problems have commonalities and have some effect on one another, they're not exactly the same thing.

Just how bad is the drought in California right now?

Most of California is experiencing "extreme to exceptional drought," and the crisis has now entered its fourth year. This month, signaling how serious the current situation is, state officials announced the first cutback to farmers' water rights since 1977, and ordered cities and towns to cut water use by as much as 36 percent. Those who don't comply with the cuts will face fines, but some farmers are already ignoring the new rules, or challenging them in court.

The drought shows no sign of letting up any time soon, and the state's agricultural industry is suffering. A recent study by U.C. Davis researchers projected that the drought would cost California's economy $2.7 billion in 2015 alone.

In addition to the economic cost, the drought has subtle and not-so-subtle effects on flora and fauna throughout the region. This current drought may be contributing to the spread of the West Nile virus, and it's threatening populations of geese, ducks, and Joshua trees. Dry, hot periods can exacerbate wildfires, while water shortages are making firefighters' jobs even harder.

And a little bit of rain won't help. NOAA scientists say it could take several years of average or above-average rainfall before California's water supply can return to anything close to normal. [more]

California's Drought Is Part of a Much Bigger Water Crisis

The entrance to a tailings pond outside the Fort McKay First Nation, in June 2015. Photo: Brandi Morin / APTN

By Brandi Morin
24 June 2015

(APTN) – Just outside of the Fort McKay First Nation, sitting behind a chain-link fence is a dark lake dotted with scare-crow like structures dressed in bright orange suits and hard hats bobbing up and down in the water.

This is a tailings pond.

There are warning signs, “Danger” and “Beware” posted to discourage people from coming too close.

Every thirty seconds cannons fire warning shots to ward off birds from landing and drinking the water.

“My mom used to cry when we used to drive to Fort Mac,” said Cece Fitzpatrick, Fort McKay resident. “She would say, ‘It’s hard for me to live in this Earth now, because it’s being destroyed.”

Fitzpatrick has witnessed the landscape in the area change drastically throughout her 58 Years.

She said she feels like an alien in her own homeland.

“I feel like we’re being bulldozed. But they (industry) don’t care. We are just a handful of native people that they really don’t care about. … We as native people are supposed to care. The Earth is crying to be fixed. We need help.”

Elder Barbara Faichney grew up 25 kilometres down the river from Fort McKay. The river was once high and safe to swim in. The fish were fat and good to eat, but now those memories live on only in stories of times gone by that she shares with her grandchildren.

“I wouldn’t even put my little toe in it (the Athabasca River) because of all the gunk that’s floating in the water. I hate it. I think it’s so gross,” said Faichney.

Just across the river massive berms that surround the tailings pond can be seen. These tailings ponds are unlined, and hold toxic sludge left over from the oil refining process.

Environment Canada studies and industry have confirmed that millions of litres are leaking from these ponds every day.

In fact, potable water is trucked into Fort McKay because of high levels of carcinogenic chemicals in the local water supply.

“We were told we can’t linger around when we take a shower, we jump in and out within five minutes because that water is no good for us – no good for our skin,” said Elder Clara Mercer. [more]

“It’s very, very sad” Fort McKay elders talk about life before the tar sands

Wastewater quantities from oil production in the western United States (billions of gallons per year). Texas produces the largest quantity, estimated to be more than 77 trillion gallons per year. Graphic: EPA / Guerra, et al., 2011

By Sharon Kelly
25 June 2015

(DeSmog) – When EPA’s long-awaited draft assessment on fracking and drinking water supplies was released, the oil and gas industry triumphantly focused on a headline-making sentence: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

But for fracking’s backers, a sense of victory may prove to be fleeting.

EPA’s draft assessment made one thing clear: fracking has repeatedly contaminated drinking water supplies (a fact that the industry has long aggressively denied).

Indeed, the federal government’s recognition that fracking can contaminate drinking water supplies may prove to have opened the floodgates, especially since EPA called attention to major gaps in the official record, due in part to gag orders for landowners who settle contamination claims and in part because there simply hasn’t been enough testing to know how widespread problems have become.

And although it’s been less than a month since EPA’s draft assessment was released, the evidence on fracking’s impacts has continued to roll in.

A study in Texas’ Barnett shale found high levels of pollutants – volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and known carcinogens – in many people’s drinking water, based on testing from over 500 water wells. The contaminants found were associated with the shale drilling industry, but the researchers cautioned it was too soon to say whether the industry actually caused the contamination.

Annual average hydraulic fracturing water consumption in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012, compared to total annual water consumption in 2010, by county, expressed as a percentage. The highest consumption percentages in are McMullen county, Texas (350.4 percent), Karnes County, Texas (120.1 percent), Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania (123.4 percent), and Van Buren county, Arkansas (168.8 percent). Graphic: EPA

But the association was strong, the researchers said. “In the counties where there is more unconventional oil and gas development, the chemicals are worse,” lead researcher Zachariah Hildenbrand told Inside Climate News. “They're in water in higher concentrations and more prevalent among the wells. As you get away from the drilling, water quality gets better. There's no doubt about it.”

Those who might have hoped that EPA’s national study would help resolve questions swirling around fracking were largely disappointed, saying that EPA’s new draft assessment is largely a review of the current literature. EPA also heavily relied on data that was self-reported by drillers to FracFocus or to various states, leaving open questions about whether the accident rates they found are in fact under-stated.

Historically, the executive summary from EPA’s assessments on the oil and gas industry has provided a much rosier picture than the details included in the body of the report. And a close look at EPA’s new draft assessment reveals some striking results that haven't made headlines. [more]

EPA's New Fracking Study: A Close Look at the Numbers Buried in the Fine Print

Inhabitants of Faroe Islands catch and slaughter pilot whales during the traditional 'Grindadrap' (whale hunting in Faroese) near Sandur on Sandoy island, 5 June 2012. Photo: Andrija Ilic / REUTERS

By Felicity Capon 
24 June 2015

(Newsweek) – Two activist ships are racing to the Faroe Islands, in the North Atlantic to attempt to stop the "barbaric" annual slaughter of hundreds of whales and dolphins currently taking place in the autonomous Danish province.

Two vessels, the Sam Simon and the Bob Barker, which are owned by the militant conservation group Sea Shepherd, set sail yesterday from Bremen in Germany and are due to reach the area by Friday.

The annual hunt, known as the grindadráp or 'grind' and which goes on throughout summer, is defended by Faroe islanders who say it is part of their cultural heritage and is a tradition stretching back over hundreds of years. Yet the methods the hunters use have long been the source of controversy.

The whales and dolphins are herded into bays by small boats before they are hacked to death by locals using hooks and knives, with hunters cutting through the animal's neck to break its spinal cord. Often entire villages take part in the hunts, including children.

A Faroese man shows his son how to take out teeth from a whale's jaw in the harbour of Torshavn, Faroe Islands, 23 July 2010. Photo: Andrija Ilic / REUTERS

The whale meat and blubber are eaten by locals and considered delicacies, although consumption has declined in recent years after growing concerns over heavy metal toxins in the flesh.

According to Sea Shepherd, this year's killing season has already begun, with 154 pilot whales reportedly being slaughtered in a single day on Miðvágur beach on the island of Vágar at the beginning of June. The hunts usually take place between May and October, when the sea animals migrate to the area for food.

"Our hope is that compassion will prevail over cruelty, that the beautiful bays and beaches of the Faroe Islands will stop running red with the blood of highly intelligent, sentient and social mammals," said Captain MacLean, in a statement published on the group's website.

"There are no starving Faroe islanders who need whale meat," argues Robert Read, head of Sea Shepherd UK's operations. "The actual grind is almost like a national honour sport, yet is very different from so many other hunts around the world, in the sense that nothing escapes. If there is a pod of dolphins they will kill every single one, wiping out entire genetic pools." [more]

'The Grind': Annual whale slaughter begins in Faroe Islands

By Damian Carrington and Sarah Boseley
22 June 2015

(The Guardian) – Climate change threatens to undermine half a century of progress in global health, according to a major new report [Policy Responses to Protect Public Health; pdf].

But the analysis also concludes that the benefits to health resulting from slashing fossil fuel use are so large that tackling global warming also presents the greatest global opportunity to improve people’s health in the 21st century.

The report was produced by the Lancet/UCL commission on health and climate change, a collaboration of dozens of experts from around the world, and is backed by Margaret Chan, head of the UN World Health Organisation.

“We see climate change as a major health issue and that it is often neglected in the policy debates,” said Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission.

“On our current trajectory, going to 4C [of warming] is somewhere we don’t want to go and that has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival and could undermine all of the last half-century’s gains. We see that as a medical emergency because the action we ned to do to stop that in its tracks and get us back onto a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next ten years – otherwise the game could be over.”

The comprehensive analysis sets out the direct risks to health, including heatwaves, floods, and droughts, and indirect – but no less deadly – risks, including air pollution, spreading diseases, famines, and mental ill-health. A rapid phase-out of coal from the global energy mix is among the commission’s top recommendations, given the millions of premature deaths from air pollution this would prevent.

The report states that political will is now the major barrier to delivering a low-carbon economy and the associated improvements to health and poverty, not finance or technology. [more]

Climate change threatens 50 years of progress in global health, study says


Projected change in global warming exposure events, with and without population and demographic change, 2020-2090. Graphic: Watts, et al., 2015

23 June 2015 (UCL) – The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, written by experts from around the world, today reports three key findings:

The effects of Climate Change are being felt today, pose a potentially catastrophic risk to human health, and have been underestimated.
The technologies and finance required to address the problem can be made available, but the political will to connect them is lacking, whilst
Such action on Climate Change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st Century: actions to reduce climate change are also good for health here and now.

Members of the UCL Energy Institute (UCL-Energy) UCL-Energy Director Bob Lowe, Professor Tadj Oreszczyn, Ian Hamilton and Steve Pye, along with of Lu Liang and Jun Yang of Tsinghua University, focussed on transition to a low-carbon economy as part of Working Group Three.

Professor Bob Lowe said:

"Climate Change has been acknowledged as one of the world's most serious problems, with the long term potential to undo many of the gains in public health of the last 50 years.  Actions to deal with it need to begin immediately, but effective global agreement has so far proven impossible to reach. 

The Lancet Commission Report highlights the connections between climate change and health, which range from long term and global to the short term, local and regional. Such connections have the potential to turn risk into opportunity. In particular, addressing local and regional pollution problems provides governments with the economic and political arguments to reduce CO2 emissions even in the absence of global agreements. Such reasoning may be a partial explanation for the recent downturn in coal consumption in China, one of the more optimistic developments of the last year."

Quotable Statements from the Commission Co-chairs:

Professor Anthony Costello says, “It’s clear that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health. Climate change is in fact our greatest opportunity to benefit human health for generations to come.”

Professor Hugh Montgomery says, ”Climate Change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now. Under such circumstances, no doctor would consider a series of annual case discussions and aspirations adequate.”

China’s Professor Peng Gong, from Tsinghua University, Beijing and Commission Co-Chair, says that adapting to climate change will have an enormous positive effect on health. “The health community has responded to many grave threats to health in the past. It took on entrenched interests such as the tobacco industry, and led the fight against HIV/AIDS. It’s time for us to lead the way in responding to the biggest threat to public health of our generation.”

Background to the Commission

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change was formed to map out a comprehensive response to climate change - a ‘prescription’ to protect human health and survival worldwide. It represents a strong international, multidisciplinary collaboration between academic centres in Europe and China, including University College London (UCL), Tsinghua University in Beijing, Stockholm Resilience Centre, the UK Meteorological Office and the University of Exeter.

Full report is available on the website climatehealthcommission.org

Read on The Lancet

PRESS CONTACTS:

For general enquiries about the Commission:

Rosie Bartlett, Communications Lead, T: +44 (0) 20 7905 2149

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Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change launches landmark report

Geographical extent of more than 405 coastal dead zones worldwide. New dead zones discovered by scientists are now traversing mid-ocean regions. Graphic: No Fish Left

By Robert Scribbler
5 May 2015

(RobertScribbler.wordpress.com) – The world ocean is now a region of expanding oxygen-deprived dead zones.

It’s an upshot of a human-warmed ocean system filled with high nutrient run-off from mass, industrialized farming, rising atmospheric nitrogen levels, and increasing dust from wildfires, dust storms, and industrial aerosol emissions. Warming seas hold less oxygen in solution. And the nutrient seeding feeds giant algae blooms that, when they die and decompose, further rob ocean waters of oxygen. Combined, the two are an extreme hazard to ocean health — symptoms of a dangerous transition to stratified, or worse, Canfield Ocean states.

In total, more than 405 dead zones now occupy mostly coastal waters worldwide. Covering an area of 95,000 square miles and expanding, these anoxic regions threaten marine species directly through suffocation or indirectly through the growth of toxin-producing bacteria which thrive in low-oxygen environments.

Now, according to new research published in Biogeosciences [pdf], it appears that some of these dead zones have gone mobile.

The report finds zones of very low oxygen covering swirls of surface water 100-150 kilometers in diameter and stretching to about 100 meters in depth. The zones churn like whirlpools or eddies. Encapsulated in their own current of water with oxygen levels low enough to induce fish kills, these ‘dead pools’ have been discovered swirling off the coast of Africa in recent satellite photos. [more]

Ocean Dead Zones Swirl Off Africa, Threatening Coastlines with Mass Fish Kills


30 April 2015 (EGU) – A team of German and Canadian researchers have discovered areas with extremely low levels of oxygen in the tropical North Atlantic, several hundred kilometres off the coast of West Africa. The levels measured in these ‘dead zones’, inhabitable for most marine animals, are the lowest ever recorded in Atlantic open waters. The dead zones are created in eddies, large swirling masses of water that slowly move westward. Encountering an island, they could potentially lead to mass fish kills. The research is published today in Biogeosciences [pdf], an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Dead zones are areas of the ocean depleted of oxygen. Most marine animals, like fish and crabs, cannot live within these regions, where only certain microorganisms can survive. In addition to the environmental impact, dead zones are an economic concern for commercial fishing, with very low oxygen concentrations having been linked to reduced fish yields in the Baltic Sea and other parts of the world.

“Before our study, it was thought that the open waters of the North Atlantic had minimum oxygen concentrations of about 40 micromol per litre of seawater, or about one millilitre of dissolved oxygen per litre of seawater,” says lead-author Johannes Karstensen, a researcher at GEOMAR, the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, in Kiel, Germany. This concentration of oxygen is low, but still allows most fish to survive. In contrast, the minimum levels of oxygen now measured are some 20 times lower than the previous minimum, making the dead zones nearly void of all oxygen and unsuitable for most marine animals.

Dead zones are most common near inhabited coastlines where rivers often carry fertilisers and other chemical nutrients into the ocean, triggering algae blooms. As the algae die, they sink to the seafloor and are decomposed by bacteria, which use up oxygen in this process. Currents in the ocean can carry these low-oxygen waters away from the coast, but a dead zone forming in the open ocean had not yet been discovered.

The newly discovered dead zones are unique in that they form within eddies, large masses of water spinning in a whirlpool pattern. “The few eddies we observed in greater detail may be thought of as rotating cylinders of 100 to 150 km in diameter and a height of several hundred metres, with the dead zone taking up the upper 100 metres or so,” explains Karstensen. The area around the dead-zone eddies remains rich in oxygen.

“The fast rotation of the eddies makes it very difficult to exchange oxygen across the boundary between the rotating current and the surrounding ocean. Moreover, the circulation creates a very shallow layer – of a few tens of meters – on top of the swirling water that supports intense plant growth,” explains Karstensen. This plant growth is similar to the algae blooms occurring in coastal areas, with bacteria in the deeper waters consuming the available oxygen as they decompose the sinking plant matter. “From our measurements, we estimated that the oxygen consumption within the eddies is some five times larger than in normal ocean conditions.”

The eddies studied in the Biogeosciences article form where a current that flows along the West African coast becomes unstable. They then move slowly to the west, for many months, due to the Earth’s rotation. “Depending on factors such as the [eddies’] speed of rotation and the plant growth, the initially fairly oxygenated waters get more and more depleted and the dead zones evolve within the eddies,” explains Karstensen. The team reports concentrations ranging from close to no oxygen to no more than 0.3 millilitres of oxygen per litre of seawater. These values are all the more dramatic when compared to the levels of oxygen at shallow depths just outside the eddies, which can be up to 100 times higher than those within.

The researchers have been conducting observations in the region off the West African coast and around the Cape Verde Islands for the past seven years, measuring not only oxygen concentrations in the ocean but also water movements, temperature and salinity. To study the dead zones, they used several tools, including drifting floats that often got trapped within the eddies. To measure plant growth, they used satellite observations of ocean surface colour.

Their observations allowed them to measure the properties of the dead zones, as well as study their impact in the ecosystem. Zooplankton – small animals that play an important role in marine food webs – usually come up to the surface at night to feed on plants and hide in the deeper, dark waters during the day to escape predators. However, within the eddies, the researchers noticed that zooplankton remained at the surface, even during the day, not entering the low-oxygen environment underneath.

“Another aspect related to the ecosystem impact has a socioeconomic dimension,” says Karstensen. “Given that the few dead zones we observed propagated less than 100 km north of the Cape Verde archipelago, it is not unlikely that an open-ocean dead zone will hit the islands at some point. This could cause the coast to be flooded with low-oxygen water, which may put severe stress on the coastal ecosystems and may even provoke fish kills and the die-off of other marine life.”

Press Release: ‘Dead zones’ found in Atlantic open waters


Time series of (a) oxygen at nominal 42m depth and (b) relative target strength between 65 and 70m depth against hours of the day (in dB). Target strength was calculated from the 300kHz acoustic Doppler current profiler data at CVOO. Minimal target strength during all hours of the day is seen during the passage of the low-DO anticyclonic-modewater eddy between 8 and 25 February 2010. Graphic: Karstensen, et al., 2015

ABSTRACT: Here we present first observations, from instrumentation installed on moorings and a float, of unexpectedly low (<2 μmol kg−1) oxygen environments in the open waters of the tropical North Atlantic, a region where oxygen concentration does normally not fall much below 40 μmol kg−1. The low-oxygen zones are created at shallow depth, just below the mixed layer, in the euphotic zone of cyclonic eddies and anticyclonic-modewater eddies. Both types of eddies are prone to high surface productivity. Net respiration rates for the eddies are found to be 3 to 5 times higher when compared with surrounding waters. Oxygen is lowest in the centre of the eddies, in a depth range where the swirl velocity, defining the transition between eddy and surroundings, has its maximum. It is assumed that the strong velocity at the outer rim of the eddies hampers the transport of properties across the eddies boundary and as such isolates their cores. This is supported by a remarkably stable hydrographic structure of the eddies core over periods of several months. The eddies propagate westward, at about 4 to 5 km day−1, from their generation region off the West African coast into the open ocean. High productivity and accompanying respiration, paired with sluggish exchange across the eddy boundary, create the "dead zone" inside the eddies, so far only reported for coastal areas or lakes. We observe a direct impact of the open ocean dead zones on the marine ecosystem as such that the diurnal vertical migration of zooplankton is suppressed inside the eddies.

Open ocean dead zones in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean

An example of the famous 'Hockey Stick graph', showing the rise in global sirface temperature since the year 1000. Graphic: PAGES2K study

[Right now, the prudent thing for Mark Steyn to do is to keep his mouth shut, but it seems that he can’t resist defaming Michael Mann. –Des]

By Greg Laden
22 June 2015

(Science Blogs) – There is a new attack by an anti-science and anti-environment talking head on a well respected climate scientist and his work. Mark Steyn is self publishing a book of quotes by scientists that allegedly disparage Dr. Michael Mann and the “Hockey Stick.” If the three examples Steyn provides to advertise his book are representative, Steyn’s book is unlikely to impress. Like previous attempts to separate a key individual from the herd, Steyn’s latest money making scheme could make him a few bucks (his fans seem gullible) but in the end will destroy anything that happens to be left of his credibility and, possibly, his legal argument that he is not actively and maliciously attempting to defame an individual.

Here’s the story.

Conservative political commentator Mark Steyn has a new book coming out. I haven’t seen it yet, but looking at the publicity material provided by Steyn (the book is self published) it appears to be a collection of scientist’s comments disparaging the work of Michael Mann and criticizing the famous “Hockey Stick” research. This is a bit odd because Steyn is currently being sued by Mann for defamation, and this book looks like it could be more defamation. It would appear he has not consulted his lawyers!

The Hockey Stick is a concept, and a graphic, that arose as the result of a paper produced in 1999 by Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes. The researchers constructed a proxy northern hemisphere temperature curve, from ice cores and tree rings, which showed temperature variability over the previous 1,000 years. This curve was matched with direct temperature measurements from the previous century, and ultimately played an important role in demonstrating the effects of human greenhouse gas pollution on the global surface heat balance. The graph showed the dramatic change in surface temperature after industrialization, indicates a steady increase in temperature, and showed how dramatic this change is in relation to previous time periods. This and other related research, by the same group and others, also showed that previous known historical climate swings such as the so-called “Medieval Warm Period” and “Little Ice Age” were minor compared to recent warming (and also relatively regional, not global). […]

Now, back to Mark Steyn’s forthcoming work. The book is A Disgrace To The Profession: The World’s Scientists, In Their Own Words, On Michael E Mann, His Hockey Stick And Their Damage To Science: Volume I Compiled and edited by Mark Steyn. [more]

Mark Steyn’s Newest Attack On Michael Mann And The Hockey Stick

The community of Mountain House is days away from having no water at all after the state cut off its only water source. Photo: CBS13

By Nick Janes
16 June 2015

MOUNTAIN HOUSE (CBS13) – The community of Mountain House is days away from having no water at all after the state cut off its only water source.

Anthony Gordon saves drinking water just in case, even though he never thought it would come to this.

“My wife thinks I’m nuts. I have like 500 gallons of drinking water stored in my home,” he said.

The upscale community of Mountain House, west of Tracy, is days away from having no water. It’s not just about lawns—there may not be a drop for the 15,000 residents to drink.

“We’re out there looking for water supplies as we speak,” said Mountain House general manager Ed Pattison. “We have storage tanks, but those are basically just to ensure the correct pressurization of the distribution system. No more than 2 days are in those storage tanks.”

The community’s sole source of water, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, was one of 114 senior water rights holders cut off by a curtailment notice from the state on Friday.

That means Mountain House leaders must find someone to sell them water, hopefully, the GM says, to have enough until the end of the year.

“We don’t want this town to become a ghost town, it was a beautiful master-planned community,” he said. [more]

California Water Cuts Leave City Days Away From Running Out Of Water

Displacement in the 21st century, 2000-2014. The number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 rose to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. Graphic: UNHCR

GENEVA, June 18 (UNHCR) – Wars, conflict, and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency.

UNHCR's annual Global Trends Report: World at War [pdf], released on Thursday (June 18), said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. Moreover, the report said the situation was likely to worsen still further.

Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world's 24th biggest.

"We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

Since early 2011, the main reason for the acceleration has been the war in Syria, now the world's single-largest driver of displacement. Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years.

"It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace," Guterres added.

The UNHCR report detailed how in region after region, the number of refugees and internally displaced people is on the rise. In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).

"Few of these crises have been resolved and most still generate new displacement," the report noted, adding that in 2014 only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their home countries -- the lowest number in 31 years.

Meanwhile, decades-old instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere means that millions of people remain on the move or – as is increasingly common – stranded for years on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees.

One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world's conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.

Half of all refugees are children

The Global Trends report detailed that in 2014 alone 13.9 million people became newly displaced – four times the number of the previous year. Worldwide there were 19.5 million refugees (up from 16.7 million in 2013), 38.2 million were displaced inside their own countries (up from 33.3 million in 2013), and 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum (against 1.2 million in 2013).

Most alarmingly, however, it showed that over half the world's refugees are children.

"With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned," warned Guterres. "For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution."

Syria is the world's biggest producer of both internally displaced people (7.6 million) and refugees (3.88 million at the end of 2014). Afghanistan (2.59 million) and Somalia (1.1 million) are the next biggest refugee source countries.

Almost nine out of every 10 refugees (86 per cent) are in regions and countries considered economically less developed.

Displacement in the 21st century, 2000-2014. The number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 rose to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. Graphic: UNHCR

Europe (up 51%)

Conflict in Ukraine, a record 219,000 Mediterranean crossings, and the large number of Syrian refugees in Turkey – which in 2014 became the world's top refugee-hosting nation with 1.59 million Syrian refugees at year's end – brought increased public attention, both positive and negative, to questions to do with refugees.

In the EU, the biggest volume of asylum applications was in Germany and Sweden. Overall, forced displacement numbers in Europe totalled 6.7 million at the end of the year, compared to 4.4 million at the end of 2013, and with the largest proportion of this being Syrians in Turkey and Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.

Middle East and North Africa (up 19%)

Syria's ongoing war, with 7.6 million people displaced internally, and 3.88 million people displaced into the surrounding region and beyond as refugees, has alone made the Middle East the world's largest producer and host of forced displacement. Adding to the high totals from Syria was a new displacement of least 2.6 million people in Iraq and 309,000 newly displaced in Libya.

Sub-Saharan Africa (Up 17%)

Africa's numerous conflicts, including in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, together produced immense forced displacement totals in 2014, on a scale only marginally lower than in the Middle East.

In all, sub-Saharan Africa saw 3.7 million refugees and 11.4 million internally displaced people, 4.5 million of whom were newly displaced in 2014. The 17 per cent overall increase excludes Nigeria, as methodology for counting internal displacement changed during 2014 and it could not be reliably calculated. Ethiopia replaced Kenya as the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the fifth largest worldwide.

Asia (up 31%)

Long one of the world's major displacement producing regions, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in Asia grew by 31 per cent in 2014 to 9 million people. Continuing displacement was also seen in and from Myanmar in 2014, including of Rohingya from Rakhine state and in the Kachin and Northern Shan regions. Iran and Pakistan remained two of the world's top four refugee hosting countries.

Americas (up 12%)

The Americas also saw a rise in forced displacement. The number of Colombian refugees dropped by 36,300 to 360,300 over the year, although mainly because of a revision in the numbers of refugees reported by Venezuela. Colombia continued, nonetheless to have one of the world's largest internally displaced populations, reported at 6 million people and with 137,000 Colombians being newly displaced during the year. With more people fleeing gang violence or other forms of persecution in Central America, the United States saw 36,800 more asylum claims than in 2013, representing growth of 44 per cent.

The full Global Trends report with this information and more, and including data on individual countries, demographics, numbers of people returning to their countries, and available estimates of stateless population is available at http://unhcr.org/556725e69.html.

Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase

Cumulative vertebrate species recorded as extinct or extinct in the wild by the IUCN (2012). Dashed black line represents background rate. This is the 'highly conservative estimate'. Ceballos, et al., 2015

By James Dyke
19 June 2015

(The Conversation) – We are currently witnessing the start of a mass extinction event the likes of which have not been seen on Earth for at least 65 million years. This is the alarming finding of a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

The research was designed to determine how human actions over the past 500 years have affected the extinction rates of vertebrates: mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It found a clear signal of elevated species loss which has markedly accelerated over the past couple of hundred years, such that life on Earth is embarking on its sixth greatest extinction event in its 3.5 billion year history.

This latest research was conducted by an international team lead by Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Measuring extinction rates is notoriously hard. Recently I reported on some of the fiendishly clever ways such rates have been estimated. These studies are producing profoundly worrying results.

However, there is always the risk that such work overestimates modern extinction rates because they need to make a number of assumptions given the very limited data available. Ceballos and his team wanted to put a floor on these numbers, to establish extinction rates for species that were very conservative, with the understanding that whatever the rate of species loss has actually been, it could not be any lower.

This makes their findings even more significant because even with such conservative estimates they find extinction rates are much, much higher than the background rate of extinction – the rate of species loss in the absence of any human impacts.

Here again, they err on the side of caution. A number of studies have attempted to estimate the background rate of extinction. These have produced upper values of about one out of every million species being lost each year. Using recent work by co-author Anthony Barnosky, they effectively double this background rate and so assume that two out of every million species will disappear through natural causes each year. This should mean that differences between the background and human driven extinction rates will be smaller. But they find that the magnitude of more recent extinctions is so great as to effectively swamp any natural processes. [more]

Earth’s sixth mass extinction has begun, new study confirms


ABSTRACT: The oft-repeated claim that Earth’s biota is entering a sixth “mass extinction” depends on clearly demonstrating that current extinction rates are far above the “background” rates prevailing in the five previous mass extinctions. Earlier estimates of extinction rates have been criticized for using assumptions that might overestimate the severity of the extinction crisis. We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

 

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