2015 was the year that saw the biosphere visibly start to come apart, in many cases much sooner than scientists have predicted. Some people noticed; a new blog appeared in 2015, named “Faster Than Expected”:
Search for “faster than expected” in your favorite search engine and you’ll find many results related to climate change. The glaciers are melting faster than expected; sea level is rising faster than expected; permafrost is melting faster than expected … the list goes on. We see these results so often, we decided to start collecting them here, to serve as a diary of sorts; a diary of the end of life as we know it on this beautiful planet Earth we call home.
In particular, disastrous changes were observed in oceans and forests that are happening faster than expected. Here are just a few taken from the long list of the year’s doomiest stories:
- The rapid and startling decline of the world’s vast boreal forest – ‘Shifts that researchers thought would take place over 50 or a hundred years have taken place over a decade’
- Boreal forest being driven to tipping point by climate change, study finds – ‘'The changes could be very dramatic and very fast’
- Ancient Antarctic ice shelf nearing complete collapse – ‘What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place’
- World’s glaciers melting at fastest rate since record-keeping began – ‘Globally, we lose about three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps every year’
- Video: With climate change, a terrifying new normal for firefighters in the U.S. West – ‘We’re being asked to battle fires that didn’t exist 20 years ago’
- California drought causing land in the Central Valley to subside faster than ever – Increased pumping drives groundwater levels to record lows – ‘We are pumping at historic levels’
- Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty, for first time in at least 50 years – ‘We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later’
Megafires consumed vast areas of the boreal forest in 2015. The U.S. had the largest area burned on record, at more than 10 million acres (Total U.S. acres burned in wildfires, 2006-2015), and although numbers haven’t been compiled yet for Siberia, 2015 brought fires to Lake Baikal that were “Like in movies about the Apocalypse”, after record summer temperatures. In Indonesia, widespread peat fires, set intentionally by agricultural interests, dumped carbon into the atmosphere on an industrial scale. Because 2015 was the hottest year on record, almost certainly it was the worst year for wildfires.
Oceans began to show clear signs of transitioning to a euxinic Canfield state. A giant toxic algae bloom developed along the west coast of North America, causing unprecedented mass-mortaility events among birds and marine mammals. Crab fisheries along the West Coast were shut down due to domoic acid, as sea lions were discovered with brain damage from the neurotoxin. Sea stars continued to tear themselves apart, due to a mysterious, continent-spanning plague. A similar anoxic zone was predicted for Africa’s west coast. Ominously, for the first time, free-floating anoxic zones were detected in the open ocean. The Pacific sardine industry was shut down as the forage fish population collapsed.
In 2015, we learned that ocean plankton, which produce two-thirds of Earth’s oxygen, can experience widespread, rapid mass extinctions in warming waters. The simultaneous decline of forage fish around the world is evidence that this die-off is underway already. “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It remains to be seen whether the phase transition to anoxic oceans has strong hysteresis and irreversible thermodynamic thresholds.
The oceans and forests aren’t threatened by global warming only; in 2015, human overexploitation took a visible toll on already stressed ecosystems.
Range contractions over time for three iconic African herbivores: African elephant (ca. 1600 versus 2008), common hippopotamus (ca. 1959 versus 2008), and black rhinoceros (ca. 1700 versus 1987). The historical ranges are in blue, and the most recent ranges are represented by red polygons. [Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores]
Elephant and rhino poaching in Africa reached “catastrophic levels”, foreshadowing the near-term extinction of pachyderms in the wild. As Tisha Wardlow said of white rhinos in The Dodo, "Human greed and ego have slaughtered this species to the point of irreversible catastrophe." There were numerous stories about the unconscionable slaughter, but one study summarized the situation succinctly:
Growing human populations, unsustainable hunting, high densities of livestock, and habitat loss have devastating consequences for large, long-lived, slow-breeding, and, therefore, vulnerable herbivore species. […] This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of tusks and horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine. […] The rate of large herbivore decline suggests that ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs. [Horribly bleak study sees ‘empty landscape’ as humans slaughter large herbivores at startling rate]
The funeral of Sieng Darong in Phnom Penh on 9 November 2015. Sieng Darong was a Forestry Administration ranger who was shot and killed while patrolling a protected forest in Cambodia. Photo: Colin Poole
Meanwhile, market forces bent on resource extraction continued to murder brave people who are trying to save what’s left of the biosphere. Here are some of the fallen, documented by Mike Gaworecki at mongabay.com:
- Rigoberto Lima Choc was fatally shot in broad daylight in the town center of Sayaxché, Guatemala after a court suspended the operations of a palm oil company believed to be responsible for a massive fish die-off.
- Fernando Salazar Calvo was fatally shot outside his home in Colombia. He was an active member and spokesperson of the Association of Artisanal Miners of the Cañamomo Lomaprieta Indigenous Reservation.
- Jopi Peranginangin, a 39-year-old Indonesian activist who opposed unbridled oil palm expansion and was the head of campaigns for Sawit Watch, was stabbed to death outside a nightclub in South Jakarta.
- Telésforo Odilo Pivaral Gonzalez, who actively opposed a conflict-ridden Escobal silver mine project, was killed by unknown assailants who shot him five times.
- Sieng Darong, a Forestry Administration ranger, and Sab Yoh, a police officer, were shot and killed while patrolling a protected forest in Cambodia.
- Alfredo Ernesto Vracko Neuenschwander, a woodworker who led a movement to resist forest invasions by illegal gold miners in Peru’s biodiverse Tambopata region, was gunned down at his home.
- Seven men were acquitted of murdering Costa Rica sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, because, ‘Lamentably, the management of evidence broke the chain of proof in this case’.
- Four rangers were killed by elephant poachers in Garamba National Park, DRC. ‘This brings the number of people to eight who lost their lives defending wildlife in Garamba in 2015 alone’.
- And just three weeks ago, Hitler Ananías Rojas Gonzales, 34, was shot five times the morning of December 28 as he walked to his house. He’d been fielding death threats and insults for years for his activism against a hydroelectric dam project that would exploit the waters of the Marañón River, one of the most important in the Amazon basin.
2015 was the year that the natural world began to crumble visibly under the inexorable onslaught of human biomass. The monster El Niño of 2016 portends an even scarier year as the biosphere disintegrates, faster than expected.
Scroll down to read 2015’s doomiest stories on these and other subjects.
- 2015 doomiest graphs and images
- 2014 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2013 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2012 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2011 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2010 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
24 January 2015 (Australian News.Net) – Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira has told the media following a crisis meeting at the presidential palace in Brasilia that the country is experiencing its worst drought since 1930. […]
Brazil is supposed to be in the middle of its rainy season, but there has been very little rainfall in the south-east and the drought shows no sign of abating.
"Since records for Brazil's south-eastern region began 84 years ago we have never seen such a delicate and worrying situation," said Teixeira after the emergency meeting with five other ministers at the presidential palace in Brasilia.
São Paulo is at the epicenter of the crisis, where hundreds of thousands of residents have been affected by frequent cuts in water supplies, the state suffered similar serious drought problems last year, but water levels are now at their lowest levels on record. […]
In Rio de Janeiro state, the main water reservoir has dropped to level zero for the first time and Environment Secretary Andre Correa acknowledged that the state was experiencing "the worst water crisis in its history".
Correa described the situation in São Paulo as "infinitely worse". Rio and Minas Gerais are asking residents and industries to reduce water consumption by as much as 30%.
22 January 2015 (Global Post) – Since the 1990s, Ebola has devastated the great ape population in Africa. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s gorillas and chimpanzees have been lost to the virus, which was discovered in 1976.
Scientists say Ebola has now joined poaching and deforestation as a “major threat to African apes” and it has been confirmed as one of the “important sources of mortality in wild gorillas and chimpanzees.” […]
“While the Ebola virus alone does not threaten apes and chimpanzees with extinction, this epidemic has reduced the population to a point where it can no longer sustain itself in the face of poaching and other pressures,” according to a report on AnimalResearch.Info.
21 January 2015 (Wired) – United States Senators stood up for what they believed in today—and it wasn’t pretty. During a debate over construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, intended to carry oil from Canada to the United States, the Senate voted on an amendment—just for show, really—on whether climate change “is real and not a hoax.” Easy question—everyone said yes, it’s real. (Well, not everyone. Good job, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican from Mississippi. You do not believe science.) But then Brian Schatz, Democrat from Hawaii, decided to push the issue. He introduced another amendment adding that human activity was a significant contributor to the aforementioned climate change. And the Senate voted again.
The results? Ahem. Fifty US senators affirmed that they indeed do believe that the activities of human beings contribute to climate change. OK. But 49 senators—fully half the upper house that represents our grand republic—do not.
3 February 2015 (mongabay.com) – A year after it pledged a dramatic shift in how it operates in Indonesia's fast dwindling native habitats, Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) continues to destroy forests and peatlands in Sumatra, allege environmentalists. […]
"After one year, we really do not see the significance of their policy. The commitments and the realities do not make sense. They are simply implementing business as usual," said Muslim Rasyid, Coordinator of Jikalahari, one of the local NGOs that is part of the Eyes on the Forest coalition. "APRIL in 2011 already told Government its expanded pulp mill would no longer source any MTH by the end of 2014. APRIL should simply realize that plan."
15 February 2015 (Financial Times) – Discoveries of new oil and gas reserves dropped to their lowest level in at least two decades last year, pointing to tighter world supplies as energy demand increases in the future.
Preliminary figures suggest the volume of oil and gas found last year, excluding shale and other reserves onshore in North America, was the lowest since at least 1995, according to previously unpublished data from IHS, the research company.
21 February 2015 (The New York Times) – For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.
One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.
But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.
The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
Though Dr. Soon did not respond to questions about the documents, he has long stated that his corporate funding has not influenced his scientific findings.
17 February 2015 (Los Angeles Times) – Nearly four years after Japan’s massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the country has made “significant progress” toward stabilizing and decommissioning the ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, international nuclear inspectors said Tuesday.
However, the nearly 160 million gallons of contaminated water stored on-site pose massive logistical challenges, and examiners strongly urged Japan to consider controlled discharges of the liquid into the Pacific Ocean once it is treated.
The situation at the crippled plant remains “very complex” and “the benefits [of discharges] could be very, very huge” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, who led the team of 15 inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency on a nine-day mission that follows surveys in April and November 2013.
Japanese officials have been reluctant to take such a step at the plant 160 miles northeast of Tokyo, fearing it might further antagonize local fishermen and other residents affected by the initial accident and its aftermath.
24 February 2015 (The Guardian) – Corals such as those found on the Great Barrier Reef are at risk from the estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans because researchers have discovered they digest tiny fragments of plastic at a significant rate.
A study led by the ARC centre of excellence for coral reef studies at James Cook University found that corals consumed “microplastics” – plastics measuring under 5mm – about the same rate as their normal food.
These small plastics were found deep within the gut cavity tissue of analysed corals, showing that they weren’t able to expel the fragments.
Dr Mia Hoogenboom, who worked on the research, said: “Corals are not very selective in what they eat and they are sensitive to a range of environmental stressors.
“We know in other animals that plastics block feeding activities, as well as soak up toxins. It’s quite worrying and it’s a reminder that we can manage this kind of stress on the reef at a local level, as well as looking at larger challenges such as climate change.”
4 March 2015 (BBC News) – Around the world, animals that pollinate flowering plants are in decline.
An increasing number of pollinating mammal and bird species are moving towards extinction, according to the first study of its kind.
Other, so far unpublished studies, also suggest that pollinating insect species are also heading towards extinction.
If these trends continue, say the studies' authors, key species will be lost, with potentially significant impacts on how ecosystems function. […]
In their research, the scientists point out that animals pollinate more than 87% of flowering plant species, and humans use many of these plants for food, livestock forage, medicine, materials and other purposes.
10 March 2015 (Science Recorder) – According to a new paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, it’s about to get a whole lot hotter – that’s the projected trend after looking at the weather over 40-year periods. While the fact that next century may bring us temperatures over the two degree Celsius mark (that’s 33.5 degrees Fahrenheit) sounds alarming enough, imagine a milennium of record temperatures, that could bring about the detriment of human survival.
According to the latest research, the Arctic, along with North America and Europe will be among the first regions on Earth whose climates will significantly reshape – with wet areas becoming much wetter and dry areas desiccating further. Therefore, it is imperative that policy makers and researchers begin planning for adaptations to this new environment.
“Essentially the world is entering a new regime where what is normal is going to continue to change and it’s changing at a rate than natural processes might not be able to keep up with,” said Steven Smith, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. […]
These historic levels of warming are expected to begin in the northern hemisphere, which is already seeing a significant decrease in ice levels. Temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise 1.1°F per decade by the year 2040, while the warming rates in North America and Europe will be somewhat lower, the rates of warming will be equally unprecedented.
“With those high rates of change, there’s not going to be anything close to equilibrium,” said Smith.
15 March 2015 (CNN) – The fury of Tropical Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall, has moved on, but the misery it left behind in the islands of Vanuatu is just starting to become apparent.
Aid workers described scenes of extensive devastation in the capital Port Vila and expressed fears of even more destruction farther afield.
The storm flattened homes, scattered trees across roads and inflicted damage on key buildings that are meant to serve as safe havens, like the hospital, schools and churches.
"It's becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu," said Helen Szoke, executive director in Australia for the aid group Oxfam. "This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific."
2 March 2015 (UW-Madison News) – In a high carbon dioxide world, the trees would come out ahead. Except for the munching bugs.
A new study published in Nature Plants shows that hungry, plant-eating insects may limit the ability of forests to take up elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing their capacity to slow human-driven climate change.
The finding is significant because climate change models typically fail to consider changes in the activities of insects in the ecosystem, says Richard Lindroth, a professor of ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the leader of the study. The research suggests it’s time to add insects to the models.
Carbon dioxide typically makes plants grow faster and makes them more efficient in how they use nutrients. But the amount of damage caused by leaf-munching bugs in the study nearly doubled under high carbon dioxide conditions, leading to an estimated 70g of carbon-sequestering biomass lost per meter squared per year.
“This is the first time, at this scale, that insects have been shown to compromise the ability of forests to take up carbon dioxide,” Lindroth says.
29 March 2015 (SCMP) – Thick smog could kill off most southern China's natural forests within decades and threatens trees around the world unless nations take action, say scientists.
A 13-year study by Chinese scientists has revealed strong evidence to show the danger is being caused by nitrogen emissions in the atmosphere.
"It is a silent massacre," said Dr Lu Xiankai, associate researcher at Chinese Academy of Sciences' South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou and a lead scientist of the project.
At one observation point in Dinghu Mountain, Zhaoqing, more than a dozen plant species growing below an old tree had died off until only one or two were left, and the tree could be next to go if the "nitrogen fallout" from smog continued, Lu said.
"Immediate measures must be taken to reduce air pollution, especially nitrogen emissions," Lu said.
"If the situation remains as it is, most forests in southern China will be destroyed within decades. But the impact is not limited in China. The problem will have a ripple effect around the world."
February 2015 (McKinsey Global Institute) – Seven years after the bursting of a global credit bubble resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, debt continues to grow. In fact, rather than reducing indebtedness, or deleveraging, all major economies today have higher levels of borrowing relative to GDP than they did in 2007. Global debt in these years has grown by $57 trillion, raising the ratio of debt to GDP by 17 percentage points (Exhibit 1). That poses new risks to financial stability and may undermine global economic growth.
16 April 2015 (Science) – In an unprecedented move, an expert panel that advises the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) Scientific Committee has rejected Japan’s latest plan for resuming the killing of minke whales in the Antarctic. Japan, however, says it will continue with its whaling plans.
The panel’s nonbinding finding, released this week, “is a stunner,” says Phil Clapham, a cetacean biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. “Never before has a body associated with the Scientific Committee told Japan that they have failed to demonstrate a need for killing whales.”
1 April 2015 (Polar Bears International) – Scientists have known for years that polar bears forced ashore in summer by melting sea ice may feed on foods like bird eggs, berries, and small mammals. But would polar bears be able to survive in a warming Arctic by eating land-based foods?
The short answer: no.
A new study by the USGS, Washington State University, and Polar Bears International examines this question. In a paper released today in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the authors show that switching to terrestrial foods isn’t a viable solution for polar bears.
“We know that polar bears have been raiding bird nests and even catching some adult geese, but the critical question is: how important is this?” said PBI’s chief scientist, Dr. Steven Amstrup, a coauthor of the paper. “There’s a difference between seeing an animal eat something and understanding what the value of that food is.” […]
“The brown bears already there are small and occur in low densities,” he said. “Why would anyone think this nutritionally poor environment suddenly could support whole populations of the world’s largest bears?”
“While it’s tempting to think that polar bears could survive by switching to a terrestrial diet, this paper establishes in no uncertain terms that land-based foods do not offer any hope of polar bear salvation. And, if we don’t save the sea ice, polar bears will indeed be gone.”
25 April 2015 (UPI) – A new study confirms that long-term exposure to air pollution – even at low levels – can lead to brain damage that precedes other neurological disorders associated with old age.
Investigator Elissa Wilker of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, along with colleagues, published their findings in the journal Stroke.
The team tested the effects of long-term exposure to PM2.5, or fine particles found in the air like dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid that measure less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Between 1995 and 2005, they used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to analyze the brain health of more than 900 healthy adults over the age of 60 living around Boston and New York.
They found that a PM2.5 increase of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a common level in metropolitan regions, was linked to a 0.32 percent reduction in total brain volume and a 46 percent increased risk of covert brain infarcts, a type of so-called "silent" stroke, which often presents no outward symptoms but increases the risk of future strokes. These covert brain infarcts occur deep within the brain and are linked to poor cognitive function and dementia, Wilker says.
11 May 2015 (Newsweek) – Afghanistan has the equivalent of 400,000 football fields of opium fields, despite significant efforts and money spent by the United States on curbing the development of the country’s drug supply.
The country’s enormous drug reserve is one of several issues holding back the U.S.’s Afghanistan reconstruction efforts, according to John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. Sopko made the comments last week at a speech at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
The U.S. isn’t winning the war on drugs in Afghanistan or domestically, said Sopko.
“Many of you here today are no doubt painfully familiar with the human consequences of those dual failures,” said Sopko.
The United Nations estimates Afghan opium cultivation increased by 7 percent last year and accounts for 90 percent of the world’s supply. Both the U.N. and U.S. say Afghanistan has around 500,000 acres, or 780 square miles, of opium-growing land, which is the same as 400,000 football fields, including the end zones.
9 May 2015 (Splendid Table) – Three years ago, I interviewed Eric Prince, a research fisheries biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southeast Fisheries Science Center. He and his colleagues had found that a huge dead zone, an area of the ocean with very little oxygen, had developed in the Atlantic. It spread from the east coast of South America across the ocean to the west coast of Africa; it was the size of North America.
"Ninety-five percent of all the marine organisms in the ocean depend on adequate levels of dissolved oxygen," he said. "They tend to be squeezed by this hypoxia [diminished oxygen] into a very narrow layer at the surface of the ocean. In the process of being compressed near the surface, they become a lot more vulnerable to overexploitation by surface-eaters. This involves some of our most important food fish, yellowfin tuna for example." […]
I was in a meeting in London called Planet Under Pressure, and a very well-known scientist who’s really a leader in the world on hypoxia, Robert Diaz, gave a talk. I asked the question afterward: “All the projections of the temperature increase by 5 degrees Celsius -- but if it even increases by half that amount, what would you predict in terms of the growth of the oxygen minimum zone? What about our pelagic fisheries?”
I was really shaken by his response. He said, “The oxygen minimum zone in the Atlantic is going to start in North Africa and go all the way down to the tip of South Africa. It’s going to cover every single part of the eastern South American coast. We’re simply not going to have those fisheries.”
14 May 2015 (NASA/JPL) – A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and is likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade.
A team led by Ala Khazendar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, found the remnant of the Larsen B Ice Shelf is flowing faster, becoming increasingly fragmented and developing large cracks. Two of its tributary glaciers also are flowing faster and thinning rapidly.
"These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating," Khazendar said. "Although it's fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it's bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone."
11 June 2015 (The Independent) – Bears have been seen catching and eating dolphins for the first time ever, after the marine mammals were left stuck in the Arctic Ocean because of global warming.
It marks the first time that bears have been seen killing and eating dolphins. Usually, the dolphins only go up north during the warmer summer — but this year they have arrived in spring. […]
After eating the dolphin, the bear seemed to cover it with ice so that it could be kept for later. Such behaviour is rare in polar bears, and could be a result of the animals not having enough to eat.
The authors of the study describe the bear as having “clearly visible ribs” and being “very skinny”.
13 June 2015 (ABC) – Climate change could be responsible for humpback whales becoming exhausted during their annual migration to warmer waters, a whale researcher says.
Janelle Braithwaite examined historical whaling data and says climate change may be depleting the Antarctic food sources whales rely on to store energy for their long journey to breeding grounds off WA's northern coast.
"If the ice declines in the area that these forage in, then that will reduce krill and that will reduce how much food they have," Ms Braithwaite said.
"Whales live this feast-and-fast lifestyle.
"Over the summer they're feasting up on krill down in the Southern Ocean but once they leave, they're pretty much fasting during their migration journey.” […]
Ms Braithwaite said the issues were causing a decline in the whale population and female humpback whales were especially vulnerable.
"They're having to feed a calf as well," she said.
"She's using more of her own energy stores because she's going faster and having to give more milk to the calf as they're burning more energy as well.”
16 June 2015 (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. […]
“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.
7 June 2015 (Al Jazeera) – […] Wildlife photographer Mark Picard is another worrier in Maine. He spends a lot of time shooting moose, although he uses a camera, not a rifle. He knows Maine’s moose so well, he can recognize individual animals by their antlers or fur patterns.
“There has absolutely been a tremendous decline,” he said.“I go everywhere. There are places I used to go and I’d see 10 moose in one spot. Now I am lucky if I see any,” he said.
He doesn’t hesitate to name the main culprit: the winter tick. “I have come across moose carcasses that haven’t yet been claimed by the eagles and coyotes. They have been stripped of most of their fur, so the moose died of hypothermia or loss of blood,” he said.
Studies show that up to 100,000 ticks can be found on a single moose — enough for the animal to scratch off areas of fur and send it to a slow, unpleasant death by a thousand bites and exposure to the elements.
7 July 2015 (Vox) – […] According to data from BP's Statistical Review of Energy, coal consumption has actually been accelerating worldwide since the end of the 1990s.
It's tempting to think this global coal boom is mainly a one-time blip due to China, where coal use has surged since 2000 amid frenetic economic growth but has since leveled off as the country tries to transition away from heavy industry. But as it turns out, that's not true either.
According to an important study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we're in the midst of a global "renaissance of coal" that's not confined to just a few countries like China or India. Rather, coal is becoming the energy source of choice for a vast array of poorer and fast-growing countries around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. "This renaissance of coal," the authors write, "has even accelerated in the last decade."
9 July 2015 (The New York Times) – Climate change has narrowed the range where bumblebees are found in North America and Europe in recent decades, according to a study published Thursday.
The paper, published in the journal Science, suggests that warming temperatures have caused bumblebee populations to retreat from the southern limits of their travels by as much as 190 miles since the 1970s.
Logic would suggest that the northern reaches of their home turf would shift to higher latitudes by a corresponding distance. But that has not happened, leading researchers to think that the more northern habitats may be less hospitable to them.
“Bumblebee species across Europe and North America are declining at continental scales,” Jeremy T. Kerr a conservation biologist at the University of Ottawa in Canada who was the lead author of the report, said at a news conference. “And our data suggest that climate change plays a leading, or perhaps the leading, role in this trend.”
11 July 2015 (San Diego Reader) – A ban on U.S. Pacific sardine fishing that took effect July 1 will mean more food for starving sea lions, pelicans, and other creatures. But there’s no shutting down the other forces rattling the food chain.
Weird weather conditions are being linked to mass casualties and the stranding of sea creatures up and down the coast.
A giant plume of warm water known as “the blob” lurks about 1000 miles off the coast and is creeping up on California, pushing sea temperatures two to six degrees above average.
Then there’s the warming caused by El Niño, which has been gaining strength since March and may help the drought next winter, but it’s hardly helping sea life. Along with fueling new diseases and altering habitat, the warmer conditions weave a tangled food web.
“Warming, such as has occurred with the blob in the past 1-2 years, stratifies the water column,” says Dave Checkley of Scripps Institute of Oceanography. That reduces the availability of nutrients. […]
Among the worst off is the sea lion. In Southern California, the “unusual mortality event” of 2013 is no longer unusual. Now it’s called the 2013-2015 Sea Lion Unusual Mortality Event. According to NOAA, last year’s sea-lion crash was likely due to food scarcity, “especially sardines.” And this year is worse.
24 July 2015 (Weather Underground) – Record warm sea surface temperatures in Hawaii's waters threaten to bring a second consecutive year of record coral bleaching to their precious coral reefs this summer. According to NOAA, ocean temperatures in the waters near and to the south of the Hawaiian Islands were 1 - 2°C (1.8 - 3.6°F) above average in June, which was the warmest these waters have been since record keeping began over a century ago. With the waters surrounding Hawaii expected to warm to their highest values of the summer by September, and likely remain 1 - 2°C above average, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch has placed the islands under a Coral Bleach Watch, and their experimental coral bleaching forecast gives a 50 - 90% chance that Hawaii will experience "Level 2" thermal stress this summer – the highest category of danger, likely to result in widespread coral bleaching and mortality.
Hawaii's reefs are already reeling from their worst coral bleaching event in recorded history in 2014, when record warm ocean temperatures caused 50 - 70% of the corals sampled in Northeast Oahu's Kāneʻohe Bay to bleach. When the sea surface temperature is 1°C warmer than the highest monthly mean temperature corals usually experience, coral polyps will expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues, exposing the white skeleton underneath, resulting in a white "bleached" appearance. Death can result if the stress is high and long-lived. In Hawaii's waters, corals cannot tolerate water temperatures above 83°F (28.3°C) for multi-week periods without suffering bleaching. Corals typically recover from mild bleaching, gradually recovering their color by repopulating their algae. However, if the bleaching is severe or prolonged, individual polyps or whole colonies will die. With Hawaii likely to undergo a second consecutive year of record warm waters and coral bleaching in 2015, widespread mortality in many of Hawaii's coral reefs is possible, particularly around the Big Island.
27 July 2015 (Associated Press) – More than a quarter million sockeye salmon returning from the ocean to spawn are either dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries due to warming water temperatures.
Federal and state fisheries biologists say the warm water is lethal for the cold-water species and is wiping out at least half of this year's return of 500,000 fish.
"We had a really big migration of sockeye," said Ritchie Graves of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "The thing that really hurts is we're going to lose a majority of those fish."
He said up to 80 percent of the population could ultimately perish.
5 August 2015 (Global Post) – While China clamps down on logging within its borders, illegal Chinese loggers are felling the world’s forests with abandon for the sake of teak floors and fancy chairs.
In late July, 153 Chinese nationals were sentenced to life in prison for illegal logging in Myanmar’s northernmost Kachin state, a region rife with coveted teak, padauk, beechwood, ebony and rosewood species. Last week Burmese authorities granted their release in a gesture of goodwill toward China, which is Myanmar’s largest trading partner. But the gesture, while benevolent toward the loggers, will do nothing to stop the ongoing of ravishment of the region by Chinese companies who’ve been plundering Myanmar for over a decade, mostly illegally.
Thousands of precious teak trees, protected by Myanmar's Forest Law, as well as other species protected by a timber export ban passed in 2014, are shipped every year to eastern China to be transformed into teak floors for luxury buildings or “hongmu” (“redwood”) chairs, tables and chests. Once limited to Chinese elites, “hongmu” is now lusted after by China’s nouveau riche, with individual pieces fetching $1 million or more.
Myanmar isn’t China’s only victim either. Indonesia, which has the world’s third highest carbon emissions rate (owing to deforestation), placed a moratorium on logging four years ago. Since then, forests have continued to be chopped and in 2013 half the world’s illegal timber came from Indonesia and ended up in China.
Meanwhile, Cambodia suffers the world’s third highest deforestation rate and 85 percent of its timber exports go to — you guessed it — China. The Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s sixth most forested country by area, created a logging permit system to combat deforestation, but industrial-scale logging continues; 90 percent of its logging is illegal and last year 65 percent of its timber exports went to, yes, China.
China also became Brazil’s leading market for wood in 2012, it consumes 80-90 percent of Papua New Guinea’s timber, over 90 percent of Mozambique’s, and in Equatorial Guinea, its log purchases have consistently exceeded the legal limit.
21 August 2015 (The Canadian Press) – Climate change is forcing the boreal forest that covers much of northern Canada to a tipping point, concludes a newly published study.
"The changes could be very dramatic and very fast," said Dmitry Schepaschenko of Austria's Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
Schepaschenko was one of three authors who collaborated on a detailed review of current research on the boreal forest. Their conclusions were released Thursday in a special edition of the journal Science. […]
Nor will the forest simply be able to shift north as warmer temperatures creep up from the south, said Schepaschenko.
"The forests can't go so far to the north. The speed at which forests can move forward is very slow, like 100 metres a decade."
The result, the study concludes, is that the forest is likely to transform from an unbroken canopy of green to a mixed landscape with groves of trees separated by open grasslands.
"This forest will convert to a type of savannah."
3 August 2015 (University of Zurich) – The World Glacier Monitoring Service, domiciled at the University of Zurich, has compiled worldwide data on glacier changes for more than 120 years. Together with its National Correspondents in more than 30 countries, the international service just published a new comprehensive analysis of global glacier changes in the Journal of Glaciology. In this study, observations of the first decade of the 21st century (2001-2010) were compared to all available earlier data from in-situ, air-borne, and satellite-borne observations as well as to reconstructions from pictorial and written sources.
“The observed glaciers currently lose between half a metre and one metre of its ice thickness every year - this is two to three times more than the corresponding average of the 20th century”, explains Michael Zemp, Director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service and lead author of the study. “Exact measurements of this ice loss are reported from a few hundred glaciers only. However, these results are qualitatively confirmed from field and satellite-based observations for tens of thousands of glaciers around the world.” […]
On average, the world's glaciers will lose 30 inches of ice thickness this year, Zemp said. That's twice the rate lost in the 1990s, and three times the rate lost in the 1980s.
6 August 2015 (NPR) – Some California farmers are turning to more profitable crops — like pistachios and almonds — in order to fund the drilling of deeper wells to cope with the long drought. Those crops, however, are some of the thirstiest around. […]
So basically, as water runs out, farmers are planting crops that need more water.
13 August 2015 (The New York Times) – Outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people in China every year, or about 4,400 people a day, according to a newly released scientific paper [pdf].
The paper maps the geographic sources of China’s toxic air and concludes that much of the smog that routinely shrouds Beijing comes from emissions in a distant industrial zone, a finding that may complicate the government’s efforts to clean up the capital city’s air in time for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The authors are members of Berkeley Earth, a research organization based in Berkeley, Calif., that uses statistical techniques to analyze environmental issues. The paper has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, according to the organization [cf. Koch-funded study finds 2.5°F warming of land since 1750 is manmade – ‘Solar forcing does not appear to contribute’].
11 September 2015 (The Siberian Times) – Buryatia has been hit in summer 2015 by the massive destruction of its pristine forests in a series of fast-spreading fires. Most shocking have been the scenes - pictured here - showing uncontrolled burning around Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, containing 20% of the globe's unfrozen freshwater.
Local scientists have accumulated startling evidence of the changes in temperature which are turning the region's permafrost - established over many millennia - into steppe. Average annual temperatures in a rising number of areas are exceeding zero degrees Celsius. […]
Warming caused the upper layer of permafrost to become deeper - and where it is thin, to disappear altogether. “The average annual precipitation isn't changing, but it evaporates more easily which causes the climate to get drier. This results in changes in flora. It becomes more monotonous, dominated by drought-resistant plants.”
14 September 2015 (The New York Times) – The snow that blanketed the Sierra Nevada in California last winter, and that was supposed to serve as an essential source of fresh water for the drought-stricken state, was at its lowest levels in the last 500 years, according to a new study.
The paper, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, used tree-ring data from centuries-old blue oaks to provide historical context for the mountain range’s diminished snowfall. As of April 1, the snowpack levels were just 5 percent of their 50-year historical average.
The paper is the first to create a model that describes temperature and precipitation levels on the Sierra Nevada that extend centuries before researchers started measuring snow levels each year.
“The 2015 snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is unprecedented,” said Valerie Trouet, one of the authors of the study and a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona. “We expected it to be bad, but we certainly didn’t expect it to be the worst in the past 500 years.”
1 September 2015 (CSIRO) – Researchers from CSIRO and Imperial College London have assessed how widespread the threat of plastic is for the world’s seabirds, including albatrosses, shearwaters and penguins, and found the majority of seabird species have plastic in their gut.
The study, led by Dr Chris Wilcox with co-authors Dr Denise Hardesty and Dr Erik van Sebille and published today in the journal PNAS, found that nearly 60 per cent of all seabird species have plastic in their gut [“Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing” (pdf)].
Based on analysis of published studies since the early 1960s, the researchers found that plastic is increasingly common in seabird’s stomachs.
In 1960, plastic was found in the stomach of less than 5 per cent of individual seabirds, rising to 80 per cent by 2010.
The researchers predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99 per cent of the world’s seabird species by 2050, based on current trends.
The scientists estimate that 90 per cent of all seabirds alive today have eaten plastic of some kind.
This includes bags, bottle caps, and plastic fibres from synthetic clothes, which have washed out into the ocean from urban rivers, sewers and waste deposits.
Birds mistake the brightly coloured items for food, or swallow them by accident, and this causes gut impaction, weight loss, and sometimes even death.
17 September 2015 (AFP) – Outdoor air pollution from sources as varied as cooking fires in India, traffic in the United States and fertiliser use in Russia, claim some 3.3 million lives globally every year, researchers said Wednesday.
The vast majority of victims -- nearly 75 percent -- died from strokes and heart attacks triggered mainly by long-term inhalation of dust-like particles floating in the air.
The remainder succumbed due to respiratory diseases and lung cancer, according to a study in the journal Nature.
Smouldering cooking and heating fires in India and China were the single biggest danger -- accounting for a third of deaths attributed to outdoor pollution, said study co-author Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.
The new numbers support a 2014 World Health Organization report that blamed a similar number of deaths on outdoor pollution, and another 4.3 million per year on pollution within the home or other buildings.
Unless stricter regulations are adopted, the number of deaths from outdoor pollution would double to 6.6 million by 2050, the team of international researchers forecast.
"If this growing premature mortality by air pollution is to be avoided, intensive control measures will be needed especially in south and east Asia," Lelieveld told journalists via conference call.
12 October 2015 (BBC News) – Expanding the search for oil is necessary to pay for the damage caused by climate change, the Governor of Alaska has told the BBC.
The state is suffering significant climate impacts from rising seas forcing the relocation of remote villages.
Governor Bill Walker says that coping with these changes is hugely expensive.
He wants to "urgently" drill in the protected lands of the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge to fund them. […]
While Alaska's income from the oil continues to fall, expenditure on climate related activities is likely to go up. Coastal erosion is threatening a number of native communities in remote areas such as Kivalina.
Evacuation seems like the long term solution but it will likely cost $100m.
To deal with situations like this, the governor told the BBC, more oil was needed.
"We are in a significant fiscal challenge. We have villages that are washing away because of changes in the climate," Governor Walker said.
13 October 2015 (University of Adelaide) – A world-first global analysis of marine responses to climbing human CO2 emissions has painted a grim picture of future fisheries and ocean ecosystems.
Published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), marine ecologists from the University of Adelaide say the expected ocean acidification and warming is likely to produce a reduction in diversity and numbers of various key species that underpin marine ecosystems around the world.
“This ‘simplification’ of our oceans will have profound consequences for our current way of life, particularly for coastal populations and those that rely on oceans for food and trade,” says Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow with the University’s Environment Institute.
“With higher metabolic rates in the warmer water, and therefore a greater demand for food, there is a mismatch with less food available for carnivores ─ the bigger fish that fisheries industries are based around,” says Associate Professor Nagelkerken. “There will be a species collapse from the top of the food chain down.”
31 October 2015 (The New York Times) – They arrived in an unceasing stream, 10,000 a day at the height, as many as a million migrants heading for Europe this year, pushing infants in strollers and elderly parents in wheelchairs, carrying children on their shoulders and life savings in their socks. They came in search of a new life, but in many ways they were the heralds of a new age.
There are more displaced people and refugees now than at any other time in recorded history — 60 million in all — and they are on the march in numbers not seen since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria, but from an array of countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Haiti, as well as any of a dozen or so nations in sub-Saharan and North Africa. They are unofficial ambassadors of failed states, unending wars, intractable conflicts.
The most striking thing about the current migration crisis, however, is how much bigger it could still get. […]
“Throughout Europe, xenophobia and open racism are running rampant, and nationalist, even far-right parties are gaining ground,” Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, wrote recently in an article that appeared on Project Syndicate, an online news service.
“At the same time, this is only the beginning of the crisis, because the conditions inciting people to flee their homelands will only worsen. And the E.U., many of whose members have the world’s largest and best-equipped welfare systems, appears to be overwhelmed by it — politically, morally, and administratively.”
30 October 2015 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New satellite data shows Brazil's drought is worse than previously thought, with the southeast losing 56 trillion liters of water in each of the past three years - more than enough to fill Lake Tahoe, a NASA scientist said on Friday.
The country's most severe drought in 35 years has also caused the Brazil's larger and less-populated northeast to lose 49 trillion liters of water each year over three years compared with normal levels, said NASA hydrologist Augusto Getirana.
Brazilians are well aware of the drought due to water rationing, power blackouts and empty reservoirs in parts of the country but this is the first study to document exactly how much water has disappeared from aquifers and reservoirs, Getirana said.
"It is much larger than I imagined," Getirana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "With climate change, this is going to happen more and more often."
20 November 2015 (Desdemona Despair) – During the opening session of the 2015 Global Security Forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), CIA director John Brennan made some interesting comments:
Mankind’s relationship with the natural world is aggravating these problems and is a potential source of crisis itself. Last year was the warmest on record, and this year is on track to be even warmer. Extreme weather, along with public policies affecting food and water supplies, can worsen or create humanitarian crises. Of the most immediate concern, sharply reduced crop yields in multiple places simultaneously could trigger a shock in food prices with devastating effect, especially in already-fragile regions such as Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Compromised access to food and water greatly increases the prospect for famine and deadly epidemics.
8 November 2015 (The Guardian) – Residents of north-eastern China donned gas masks and locked themselves indoors on Sunday after their homes were enveloped by some of the worst levels of smog on record.
Levels of PM2.5, a tiny airborne particulate linked to cancer and heart disease, soared in Liaoning province as northern China began burning coal to heat homes at the start of the winter.
In Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital, visibility levels plummeted to as little as 100 metres, the state broadcaster CCTV said.
In some areas of Shenyang, PM2.5 readings reportedly surpassed 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre, which is about 56 times the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation.
28 November 2015 (The Guardian) – Japan is set to resume whaling early next year, after a break of more than 12 months, in defiance of an international court of justice ruling that it cease the practice.
The Japanese government says it has taken into account the court ruling and its “scientific” whaling programme will catch only a third of the minke whales it caught under its previous programme – 333 instead of 1,000 – which it halted in March last year.
Japan’s international whaling commissioner, Joji Morishita, said in a letter that his government had “sincerely taken into account” recommendations of the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee. He said Japan’s new programme “does not require any substantial changes” and confirmed whaling would resume.
However, the announcement has been condemned by environmental groups and the Australian and UK governments. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are deeply disappointed with Japan’s decision to restart whaling in the Southern Ocean. This undermines the global ban on commercial whaling which the UK strongly supports.”
16 November 2015 (Climate Progress) – Nine people are dead, 19 are missing, and 250,000 still don’t have drinking water two weeks after two dams at a mine in Brazil collapsed, sending 15.8 billion gallons of waste-laden water and sludge though downstream towns in the state of Minas Gerais, about 250 miles north of Rio de Janero.
Brazil’s president compared the disaster to the 2005 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hundreds of people have been displaced and an entire town was swept away by the floodwaters.
Immediately after the collapse, officials from the mining company said the deluge was “not toxic.” The iron ore being mined in the area is responsible for the bright orange color.
But scientists told Reuters that the mud and water may also contain chemicals used by Vale to purify the ore. In addition, simply releasing this much water and mud into the area may change the pathways of local streams and suffocate wildlife. It will also likely affect the riverbanks.
“It’s already clear wildlife is being killed by this mud,” Klemens Laschesfki, professor of geosciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais told Reuters. “To say the mud is not a health risk is overly simplistic.”
Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say – ‘We are reducing soils to their bare mineral components. We are creating soils that aren’t fit for anything except for holding a plant up.’
2 December 2015 (The Guardian) – The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned.
New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil [Soil loss: an unfolding global disaster].
The University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which undertook the study by analysing various pieces of research published over the past decade, said the loss was “catastrophic” and the trend close to being irretrievable without major changes to agricultural practices.
The continual ploughing of fields, combined with heavy use of fertilizers, has degraded soils across the world, the research found, with erosion occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. It takes around 500 years for just 2.5cm of topsoil to be created amid unimpeded ecological changes.
14 December 2015 (Climate Interactive) – Negotiations concluded this weekend with the adoption of the Paris Agreement. If all INDCs included in the pact are fully implemented, with no further action, global temperatures are expected to rise 3.5°C (6.3°F) above preindustrial levels.
The Climate Scoreboard shows the progress that national contributions (INDCs) to the UN climate negotiations will make assuming no further action after the end of the country’s pledge period (2025 or 2030). Our analysis shows that the national contributions to date, with no further progress post-pledge period, result in expected warming in 2100 of 3.5°C (with a range of uncertainty of 2.0 – 4.6°C).
14 December 2015 (Reuters) – India still plans to double coal output by 2020 and rely on the resource for decades afterwards, a senior official said on Monday, days after rich and poor countries agreed in Paris to curb carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
India, the world's third-largest carbon emitter, is dependant on coal for about two-thirds of its energy needs and has pledged to mine more of the fuel to power its resource-hungry economy while also promising to increase clean energy generation.
"The environment is non-negotiable and we are extremely careful about it," Anil Swarup, the top bureaucrat in the coal ministry, told Reuters. "(But) our dependence on coal will continue. There are no other alternatives available."
While India has plans to add 30 times more solar-powered generation capacity by 2022, there were limitations to clean energy and coal would remain the most efficient energy source for decades, he said.
12 December 2015 (The Guardian) – Mere mention of the Paris climate talks is enough to make James Hansen grumpy. The former Nasa scientist, considered the father of global awareness of climate change, is a soft-spoken, almost diffident Iowan. But when he talks about the gathering of nearly 200 nations, his demeanor changes. “It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”