The giant iceberg A68 detaches from the Larsen-C ice shelf in Antarctica on 1 August 2017, left, and on 25 September 2017. Photo: Airbus / AFP / Getty Images

By Erik Ortiz
27 September 2017

(NBC News) – After breaking free from Antarctica this summer, a giant iceberg roughly the size of Delaware is moving on to open waters.

New satellite images from TerraSAR-X show the iceberg known as A68 has begun to drift away from the Larsen C ice shelf and is being driven by currents, potentially toward the South Atlantic.

After breaking free from Antarctica this summer, a giant iceberg roughly the size of Delaware is moving on to open waters.

New satellite images from TerraSAR-X show the iceberg known as A68 has begun to drift away from the Larsen C ice shelf and is being driven by currents, potentially toward the South Atlantic.

The iceberg— weighing an estimated 1.12 trillion tons — officially ripped from the frozen formation in July in a process known as calving, according to scientists at the University of Swansea in Britain. It's such a colossal chunk of ice that maps of the peninsula must be redrawn.

The remaining ice shelf will be closely watched for signs of collapse. There also remains the possibility that the iceberg could pose a risk to cruise ships passing from South America.

Giant Iceberg That Broke Free From Antarctica Has Begun Drifting

Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on 7 July 2017. Photo: Daniel Kopatsch / EPA

By Laurence Coustal
29 September 2017

(AFP News) – French President Emmanuel Macron's 30-million-euro "Make Climate Great Again" campaign has narrowed a list of candidate scientists from abroad from thousands to 90, nearly half from the US, a French official said Friday.

Macron made the offer to fund and host foreign climate experts in early June after US President Donald Trump announced the United States would pull out of the 196-nation Paris Agreement, which pledges to cap global warming.

Trump also asked Congress to slash climate-research budgets across multiple federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

If enacted, the cuts would total billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

"As a climate scientist, I am extremely preoccupied by all the news I'm hearing about the White House budget, which clearly targets environmental and climate science," said Valerie Masson Delmotte, research director at France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.

Tens of thousands of scientists took to the streets of Washington D.C. in April to protest.

"The decision by the president of the United States is disappointing," Macron said at the time.

"You will find in France a second homeland," he added in launching his appeal, clearly directed to US scientists. [more]

Macron trumps Trump with 'Make Climate Great Again' campaign

Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck. Photo: University of Arizona

By Jeremy Deaton
28 September 2017

(NexusMedia) – People play dirty when they can’t win by playing fair. This is, more or less, the story of climate change denial in the United States.

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are altering the climate, reaping changes with potentially catastrophic consequences. Climate deniers can’t dispute the data. They can’t win on facts. Instead, they impugn the credibility of scientists, a tactic which has proved both ugly and effective.

Right-wing groups are using open records laws to obtain scientists’ emails, and then misrepresenting the content of those emails to question the integrity of researchers and cast doubt on their findings, all of which has a chilling effect on scientific inquiry. But scientists have earned powerful allies in the fight to protect their research — including, by a strange set of circumstances, the Trump administration.

“Climategate” led to a wave of harassment.

The current spate of invasive records requests back to “Climategate,” a 2009 controversy that erupted when a hacker obtained more than 1,000 emails sent and received by climatologists at East Anglia university in the United Kingdom. Parts of some emails, taken out of context, suggested scientists had manipulated data to exaggerate the warming trend.

Climate deniers harped on the leaks to paint climate scientists as ideologically motivated and dishonest. Though an official inquiry into the matter exonerated scientists, the damage was already done. Their calls for universities to investigate climate scientists prompted institutional probes that hampered research efforts. Today, conservative advocacy groups point to “Climategate” when making open records requests.

“I think anyone who looks at the whole ‘Climategate’ manufactured controversy understands now that it’s bogus, but that’s the rationale that they’ve used,” said Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit working to protect researchers threatened by legal attacks.

The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a conservative think tank with ties to coal and oil companies, cited “Climategate” as the impetus for its “transparency project.” In 2011, the group sued to obtain more than 10,000 emails written or received by Michael Mann, a researcher at the University of Virginia and one of the scientists implicated in “Climategate.” The Virginia Supreme Court sided with Mann, who lamented the “coordinated assault against the scientific community by powerful vested interests.”

That same year, E&E requested more than a decade of emails from University of Arizona climate scientists Jonathan Overpeck and Malcolm Hughes, another researcher ensnared by “Climategate.” E&E’s legal brief alleged there is a “climate scientific-technological elite” which has “behaved badly” in the past, a reference to “Climategate.” In a gesture of surprising candor, E&E acknowledged that it was searching for emails to “embarrass both Professors Hughes and Overpeck,” whom it characterized as “academic climate alarmists.” That suit continues to this day.

The University of Arizona case volleyed back and forth between the trial court and the appellate court, which recently determined the trial court had failed to consider a statute that protects “unpublished research data, manuscripts, preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers” and other documents produced by researchers at Arizona public universities.

Now the case will go back to the trial court, which will reevaluate the records request in light of this statute. The ruling is a pyrrhic victory for researchers and the university, who must dedicate even more time and money to fighting off E&E. “That’s basically as good as we could have hoped for,” Kurtz said. Even when scientists win, they lose. [more]

The Desperate But Effective Attempts to Silence Climate Scientists

The Suomi NPP satellite generated this before/after image of visible lights in PuertoRico in early morning 25 September 2017 vs. 24 July 2017. Photo: NOAA Satellites

By Michelle Fox
29 September 2017

(CNBC) – When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, it took down 80 percent of the transmission and distribution power lines, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority CEO Ricardo Ramos told CNBC on Friday.

Power went down across the entire island after the hurricane made landfall as a Category 4 storm over a week ago. It was the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in 90 years.

"We have started work. We are recovering slowly but we are recovering," he said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

He's anticipating that 50 percent of the power on the island will be restored in about two to three months.

In the beginning, the process will move quicker as areas that were less affected by the storm are identified and restored, Ramos said. Priorities are also being set, with power now back at 15 hospitals, he added.

"We're meeting the priorities but certainly this is a first stage. I think the second step that we're going to take now is going to be overwhelming," said Ramos. [more]

Restoring Puerto Rico’s power is going to be ‘overwhelming,' PREPA says

Aerial view of Bristol Bay, a wetland area in southwest Alaska, which is home to one of the world's most productive salmon fisheries. Photo: Michael Melford / National Geographic Creative / Getty Images

By Drew Griffin, Scott Bronstein, and John D. Sutter
22 September 2017

(CNN) – Within hours of meeting with a mining company CEO, the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency directed his staff to withdraw a plan to protect the watershed of Bristol Bay, Alaska, one of the most valuable wild salmon fisheries on Earth, according to interviews and government emails obtained by CNN.

The meeting between EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Tom Collier, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, took place on 1 May 2017, Collier and his staff confirmed in an interview with CNN. At 10:36 a.m. that same day, the EPA's acting general counsel, Kevin Minoli, sent an email to agency staff saying the administrator had "directed" the agency to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically valuable wetland in southwest Alaska from certain mining activities.

In 2014, after three years of peer-reviewed study, the Obama administration's EPA invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act to try to protect Bristol Bay after finding that a mine "would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources" in some areas of the bay.

"All of these losses would be irreversible," the agency said.

    The area is regarded as one of the world's most important salmon fisheries, producing nearly half of the world's annual sockeye salmon catch. Its ecological resources also support 4,000-year-old indigenous cultures, as well as about 14,000 full- and part-time jobs, according to the EPA's 2014 report.

    Pruitt's move to rescind the plan to protect the area, if finalized, would allow Pebble to submit plans to mine there, but does not guarantee that those plans would be approved. 

    "This is a process issue," Collier told CNN in an interview. "[Pruitt] is not saying he's not going to veto this project. He's just saying that the rule of law says that you do an environmental impact statement first, right? That's Mr. Pruitt's position. And this is process, period. That's what we've always said."

    Collier's spokesman, Mike Heatwole, told CNN three additional people were present at the meeting on 1 May 2017.

    The EPA declined CNN's repeated requests for an interview with Pruitt, saying, most recently on September 5, that "we're focused on Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma." [more]

    EPA head met with a mining CEO -- and then pushed forward a controversial mining project

    Contribution of the historical period, 1880–2010 CO2 emissions traced to top 20 investor-owned and majority state-owned industrial carbon producers to atmospheric CO2, GMST, and GSL rise from 1880 to 2010. Bar values are the median best estimate full historical forcing model simulations with the error bars showing the first and 90th removal order of each carbon producer. Graphic: Ekwurzel, et al, 2017 / Climatic Change

    By Peter C Frumhoff and Myles Allen
    7 September 2017

    (The Guardian) – As communities in coastal Texas and Louisiana confront the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, another hurricane, Irma, fueled by abnormally warm waters, is barreling into the Caribbean and threatening Puerto Rico and Florida.

    We know that the costs of both hurricanes will be enormous and that climate change will have made them far larger than they would have been otherwise. How much larger? Careful studies will take time but the evidence that climate change is warming ocean waters, increasing both sea level and the risk of extreme precipitation in these regions is well established.

    On 29 October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into America’s east coast, a storm surge of more than nine feet caused extensive flooding damage throughout the affected region. Researchers have since determined that the damage from that storm surge was greatly worsened by climate change.

    Sea level along the East Coast has risen by about eight inches since 1900, as oceans have warmed and expanded in response to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, with subsiding land adding insult to injury. According to one study, sea level rise increased Sandy’s flood damages to property in New York City alone by $2bn – more than $230 per New Yorker.

    Such costs from storm damage attributable to climate change are just one piece of the story. New York City estimates that it will spend an estimated $19.5bn to prepare for climate change impacts through 2030. And researchers say developing countries most vulnerable to rising seas and increasing extreme weather will need between $140bn and $300bn annually by 2030 to help them cope.

    Who should pay these costs? In the United States, the default assumption is that costs of climate damages and adaptation should be borne by taxpayers, through flood insurance programs, federal disaster relief funds and the like, as well as by affected individuals, families and private businesses.

    This assumption is now being challenged in the courts. Lawsuits filed in July by three coastal California communities against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other large fossil fuel companies argue that the companies, not taxpayers and residents, should bear the cost of damages from rising seas.

    They draw on extensive evidence that fossil fuel companies, knowing that their products contributed substantially to climate change, engaged for decades in a coordinated campaign to publicly disparage climate science to avoid limits on emissions.

    These lawsuits build on a vigorous and growing debate in the court of public opinion and among company shareholders about the responsibilities of fossil fuel giants for their contributions to climate change.

    This is a debate fueled by high-profile evidence of some companies’ deception, the growing and devastating human and economic costs of climate change, and the recognition that even today fossil fuel companies maintain business models that assume the continued global reliance on their products that would drive heat-trapping emissions and temperatures well above the Paris agreement limits that some of the same companies profess to support.

    Today, we and several colleagues are publishing a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Climatic Change that shows it is possible for scientific evidence to help apportion responsibility for climate damages among fossil fuel producers. [more]

    Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much

    ABSTRACT: Researchers have quantified the contributions of industrialized and developing nations’ historical emissions to global surface temperature rise. Recent findings that nearly two-thirds of total industrial CO2 and CH4 emissions can be traced to 90 major industrial carbon producers have drawn attention to their potential climate responsibilities. Here, we use a simple climate model to quantify the contribution of historical (1880–2010) and recent (1980–2010) emissions traced to these producers to the historical rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level. Emissions traced to these 90 carbon producers contributed ∼57% of the observed rise in atmospheric CO2, ∼42–50% of the rise in global mean surface temperature (GMST), and ∼26–32% of global sea level (GSL) rise over the historical period and ∼43% (atmospheric CO2), ∼29–35% (GMST), and ∼11–14% (GSL) since 1980 (based on best-estimate parameters and accounting for uncertainty arising from the lack of data on aerosol forcings traced to producers). Emissions traced to seven investor-owned and seven majority state-owned carbon producers were consistently among the top 20 largest individual company contributors to each global impact across both time periods. This study lays the groundwork for tracing emissions sourced from industrial carbon producers to specific climate impacts and furthers scientific and policy consideration of their historical responsibilities for climate change.

    The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers

    The government of Brazil wants to cut protections for the last areas of the planet where the unique Araucaria forests (Araucaria Angustifolia) grow. Photo: Daniel Castellano

    By Giem Guimaraes
    29 September 2017

    (Mongabay) – Brazil. The fifth largest country in the world. Besides housing the world’s largest rainforest and freshwater reserves, — approximately 12 percent of the world’s total — it is also the country with the largest commercial cattle production, with more than 215 million animals. Additionally, it has the world’s largest production of soybeans, sharing the first place with the USA. Impressive figures. Apart from managing the laws of these paradoxical coexistences — forest and water versus animals and soybeans — we have yet another “splendor.” The Brazilian political class, which is responsible for what has been called the greatest corruption scandal of all times, involving oil giant Petrobras.

    It looks like Brazil continues to be what it had been prearanged to do since it was discovered by the Portuguese: it is a land to be exploited, to see its riches extracted by a privileged caste. In the beginning, this “enterprise” was managed by the Portuguese court, which was represented by explorers sent by the Lusitanian empire. Others, such as the French, Dutch and Spanish, followed suit, but none were a match for the ruling class that had settled in the country.

    Whether it was subsistence farming, mining, livestock or logging, all Brazilian economic activities were soil-dependent for centuries. From the tree the country was named after, “Pau Brasil” (Brazil wood) to coffee; from gold to sugarcane, its territory has been serving the lords of the earth for more than 500 years. This behavior has solidified Brazilian culture in the trinomial: mineral extraction, deforestation and agribusiness.

    Most immigrant families who came in the following centuries also took their sustenance from the land and continued with the same destructive pattern already present in the country. Germans, Italians, Japanese, Polish, Ukrainians and their descendants assisted in annihilating the forests of southern Brazil in the last century. Nothing has changed since, and Brazilians are still trapped in the same pattern. Moreover, they have been hostages of a political system set up not to serve them, but to be served by them. […]

    Finally, I present the perfect example to understand how corruption affects nature in Brazil: the [Samarco] Mariana dam burst disaster. Certainly, the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history. To some, it bears comparison to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the world’s worst mining disasters, the breaking of Samarco´s [toxic iron ore waste] dam killed 19 people and left 700 homeless. It also destroyed the Krenak native way of life and contaminated 280 miles of the Doce River, killing millions of fish, and ultimately ruining the entire food and local economic chain. Samarco is a subsidiary of the Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton (an FTSE 100 company) and Brazilian mining giant Vale. Due to public information, it is widely known that the Mariana disaster was a crime caused by governmental and professional negligence as well as environmental licensing fraud.

    It has been two years since the incident happened, and not only has there been no accountability or punishment for the disaster, but a judge just also decided to suspend the criminal process due to juridical technicalities. Sadly, the Brazilian judiciary system is known to be pro-accused biased, and the federal government has a tradition of protecting companies, not the Brazilian people.

    As this is being written, the new Brazilian mining code, which exempts mining companies from presenting contingency plans in the case of accidents, [and doesn’t] require them to purchase insurance, is in the process of being approved by the Congress. A recipe for environmental chaos. [more]

    Brazil: a world champion in political and environmental devastation (commentary)

    Temperature ranges of benthic invertebrates from south of 40° S and projected change in seafloor temperatures south of the Polar Front. a, Temperature ranges of seafloor invertebrates grouped by >80% similarity in their thermal distribution patterns. The coloured bars show the mean temperature range experienced by a group; numbers are the number of species represented. Graphic: Griffiths, et al., 2017 / Nature Climate Change

    4 September 2017 (British Antarctic Survey) – A new study of the marine invertebrates living in the seas around Antarctica reveals there will be more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’ over the next century as the Antarctic seafloor warms.  The results are published today (4 September 2017) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    A team at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) examined the potential distribution of over 900 species of shelf-dwelling marine invertebrates under a warming scenario produced by computer models. They conclude that, while some species in some areas will benefit, 79% of the species native to the region will lose out. This has important implications for future resource management in the region.

    An average warming of 0.4 of a degree is predicted by 2099, and whilst this warming will not be enough to allow any species from other neighbouring continents to invade or colonise Antarctica, it will cause the unique local species to change their distribution. More animals will lose suitable habitat than will gain it, with those animals especially adapted to the coldest water on Earth (for example in the Weddell and Ross Sea) losing out the most. Areas of the West Antarctic Peninsula may become too warm for many native species.

    The seafloor animals of the Southern Ocean shelf have long been isolated by the deep ocean surrounding Antarctica and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with little scope for southward migration.

    Lead author, Dr Huw Griffiths from BAS says:

    “While a few species might thrive at least during the early decades of warming, the future for a whole range of invertebrates from starfish to corals is bleak, and there’s nowhere to swim to, nowhere to hide when you’re sitting on the bottom of the world’s coldest and most southerly ocean and it’s getting warmer by the decade.”

    Dr Andrew Meijers, an oceanographer at BAS says:

    “The waters around Antarctica are isolated, deep and very cold but they are not beyond the reach of climate change. Southern Ocean seafloor water temperatures are projected to warm by an average of 0.4 °C over this century with some areas possibly increasing by as much as 2°C. We’ve shown that the effects of this warming will have dramatic consequences for the future biodiversity of the region.”

    Of the 963 seabed species analysed, 577 are likely to experience a reduction in thermally suitable habitat with projected warming. Of these 398 (41% of all species) are expected to experience a range of loss of under 10% of their present-day suitable temperature potential habitat. 18.6% of species are projected to lose between 10-40% of their present-day potential habitat.

    This study was a result of the new and ambitious ORCHESTRA programme, funded by NERC. The programme spans five years and use a combination of data collection, analyses, and computer simulations to radically improve our ability to measure, understand and predict the circulation of the Southern Ocean and its role in the global climate. It will make unique and important new measurements in the Southern Ocean using a range of techniques, including use of RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Sir David Attenborough, as well as deployments of autonomous surface and underwater vehicles, the BAS meteorological aircraft, and other innovative techniques for collecting data. It will also involve the development and use of advanced ocean and climate simulations, to improve our ability to predict climatic change in coming decades.

    More here:

    More losers than winners for Southern Ocean marine life

    ABSTRACT: The waters of the Southern Ocean are projected to warm over the coming century, with potential adverse consequences for native cold-adapted organisms. Warming waters have caused temperate marine species to shift their ranges poleward. The seafloor animals of the Southern Ocean shelf have long been isolated by the deep ocean surrounding Antarctica and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with little scope for southward migration. How these largely endemic species will react to future projected warming is unknown. By considering 963 invertebrate species, we show that within the current century, warming temperatures alone are unlikely to result in wholesale extinction or invasion affecting Antarctic seafloor life. However, 79% of Antarctica’s endemic species do face a significant reduction in suitable temperature habitat (an average 12% reduction). Our findings highlight the species and regions most likely to respond significantly (negatively and positively) to warming and have important implications for future management of the region.

    More losers than winners in a century of future Southern Ocean seafloor warming

    A long line forms to buy ice in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, at 6:56 p.m. on 27 September 2017. Photo: Kirsten Luce / The New York Times

    By Juliette Kayyem
    30 September 2017

    (CNN) – It is a difficult task to turn the memory of Hurricane Katrina into a quaint story of well-meaning government actors unable to save a city from destruction.

    President Donald Trump managed to do that on Saturday morning when he essentially blamed Puerto Rico and its mayor, in a series of tweets, for the devastation they are facing. From his own golf club, Trump attacked rather than reflected and helped.

    I am a homeland and national security analyst for CNN and for this op-ed page. I keep my emotions in check. Indeed, having been in the field for some time, having worked on many disasters, I kept my criticisms to a minimum, as I know how hard disaster management is. I saw the disturbing images from Puerto Rico, but knowing the dedication and expertise of the professionals working the disaster I believed there had to be an explanation.

    For example, I understood that the challenges of moving commodities quickly on a devastated island is arduous -- that the proverbial "last mile" to distribution is the greatest challenge of any mass mobilization. I had worked within the confines of the antiquated Jones Act, the law that prohibits foreign vessels from shipping to American ports, but understood that waivers, like the one that Trump issued, were readily available and the Act itself was likely not the cause of a slow response.

      I, like everyone else, had seen the tremendous work of Trump's homeland security team in hurricanes in Houston and Miami just weeks before. In some ways, I had convinced myself that Trump was a bit player in this tragedy.

      No longer. A good man who has empathy, or even knows how to pretend to have it, would not make the unfolding tragedy about himself. A confident President would not accuse Puerto Ricans of wanting "everything done for them." A self-reflective leader able to critically assess would question and push his team to send more resources and get the federal response moving. A strong Commander-in-Chief would know that his main duty is not to praise himself or lash back because of a bruised ego, but to use his global platform to provide two key needs: numbers (responders, commodities, ships, food, water, debris removal, etc) and hope.

      Hope. It's the easiest thing to do, to let Puerto Ricans, our own citizens, know that we understand their frustration and fear and we will not accept anything short of resolution. [more]

      'Trump's Katrina?' No, it's much worse

      Geography of carbon density change. The figure depicts the spatial distribution of areas exhibiting gains, losses, and no change (stable) for the period 2003-2014 within each grid cell (ca. 500 x 500 m). Graphic: Baccini, et al., 2017 / Science

      28 September 2017 (WHRC) – A revolutionary new approach to measuring changes in forest carbon density has helped WHRC scientists determine that the tropics now emit more carbon than they capture, countering their role as a net carbon “sink.”

      The shift from carbon sink to carbon “source” was caused by widespread deforestation, degradation and disturbance, according to a new study by a team of WHRC and Boston University scientists. The landmark paper was published online in the journal Science on September 28.

      The findings add new urgency to the critical need for aggressive national and global-scale efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, the study suggests there is a critical window of opportunity to reverse the trend in emissions by halting deforestation and degradation, and actively restoring forests where they have been lost.

      “These findings provide the world with a wakeup call on forests,” said WHRC scientist Alessandro Baccini, the report’s lead author. “If we’re to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon. Forests are the only carbon capture and storage ‘technology’ we have in our grasp that is safe, proven, inexpensive, immediately available at scale, and capable of providing beneficial ripple effects—from regulating rainfall patterns to providing livelihoods to indigenous communities.”

      Using 12 years (2003-2014) of satellite imagery, laser remote sensing technology and field measurements, Baccini and his team were able to capture losses in forest carbon from wholesale deforestation as well as from more difficult-to-measure fine-scale degradation and disturbance, which has previously proven a challenge to the scientific community over large areas.

      “It can be a challenge to map the forests that have been completely lost,” said WHRC scientist Wayne Walker, one of the report’s authors. “However, it’s even more difficult to measure small and more subtle losses of forest. In many cases throughout the tropics you have selective logging, or smallholder farmers removing individual trees for fuel wood. These losses can be relatively small in any one place, but added up across large areas they become considerable.”

      Using this new capability, the researchers discovered that tropics represent a net source of carbon to the atmosphere — about 425 teragrams [0.425 gigatons] of carbon annually – which is more than the annual emissions from all cars and trucks in the United States.


      Dave McGlinchey, J.D., Director of Communications

      New approach to measuring forest carbon density shows tropics now emit more carbon than they capture

      ABSTRACT: The carbon balance of tropical ecosystems remains uncertain, with top-down atmospheric studies suggesting an overall sink and bottom-up ecological approaches indicating a modest net source. Here we use 12 years (2003–2014) of MODIS pantropical satellite data to quantify net annual changes in the aboveground carbon density of tropical woody live vegetation, providing direct, measurement-based evidence that the world’s tropical forests are a net carbon source of 425.2 ± 92.0 Tg C yr–1. This net release of carbon consists of losses of 861.7 ± 80.2 Tg C yr–1 and gains of 436.5 ± 31.0 Tg C yr–1. Gains result from forest growth; losses result from deforestation and from reductions in carbon density within standing forests (degradation/disturbance), with the latter accounting for 68.9% of overall losses.

      Tropical forests are a net carbon source based on aboveground measurements of gain and loss

      Screenshot of Retired Lt. General Russel Honoré in a CNN interview on 30 September 2017, saying firing back at Trump over his early morning tweets attacking Puerto Rican leaders: “The mayor’s living on a cot, and I hope the president has a good day at golf.” Photo: CNN

      By Brandon Carter
      30 September 2017

      (The Hill) – Retired Lt. General Russel Honoré, who oversaw the U.S. military response to Hurricane Katrina, fired back at President Trump over his early morning tweets attacking Puerto Rican leaders.

      “The mayor’s living on a cot, and I hope the president has a good day at golf,” Honoré said in an appearance on CNN.

      The former lieutenant general said Trump needs to give Lt. General Jeff Buchanan, who is overseeing the U.S. military response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, “anything he thinks he wants.”

      “[Trump should] order the NORTHCOM commander to be on scene. She has the order to give Gen. Buchanan anything he needs, and that’s what’s needed right now,” Honoré said. “We need more boots on the ground to help kick-start the system.”

      Buchanan said Friday that there weren’t enough troops or equipment for the Puerto Rico recovery efforts but more would soon be sent.

      Honoré said earlier this week that Trump’s White House should have done more to prepare for Hurricane Maria.

      "It’s kind of like Katrina: We got it. We got it. Oh, shit, send in the cavalry," he told Bloomberg in an interview. [more]

      General who oversaw Katrina response slams Trump for Puerto Rico attacks

      The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, stands in floodwaters with a FEMA official, on 23 September 2017. Photo: Reuters

      By Ellen Mitchell
      29 September 2017

      (The Hill) – The Defense Department has not sent enough troops and vehicles to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico but will soon send more, according to the three-star general newly in charge of coordinating the military response.

      Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan said Friday morning that the Pentagon has 10,000 people helping with the response after Hurricanes Irma and Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier this month.

      “We're certainly bringing in more [troops]," Buchanan said on CNN’s New Day.

      "For example, on the military side, we're bringing in both Air Force, Navy, and Army medical capabilities in addition to aircraft, more helicopters. … [But] it's not enough, and we're bringing more in.”

      The Pentagon has already allocated more than 4,000 troops to help in rescue and restoration efforts to the U.S. territories, but it wasn’t until Thursday, eight days after Maria slammed the Caribbean, that U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) sent Buchanan.

      The head of Northcom's Joint Force Land Component Command is now serving as the Defense Department’s primary liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). […]

      The Pentagon has been steadily increasing its help to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after both were slammed by the two Category 5 storms. The hurricanes knocked out power across Puerto Rico, leaving nearly half of its population of more than 3.4 million without drinking water.

      Puerto Ricans and lawmakers, however, are frustrated with the federal government's response.

      Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Friday on CNN that Trump should put the U.S. military in charge of handling and delivering aid to Puerto Rico. He asserted that only the Pentagon could repair the logistical issues preventing aid from reaching island residents.

      San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Friday urged Trump to ramp up the federal assistance, ripping acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke for referring to the government’s response as a “good news story.”

      “Damnit, this is not a good news story,” Cruz said. “This is a people-are-dying story.” [more]

      'Not enough' troops, equipment in Puerto Rico, says general in charge of relief

      Most of the lights are off in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at 5:28am on 28 September 2017, after Hurricane Maria crippled the island's infradtructure. Photo: Victor J. Blue / The New York Times

      By Matt Ruby and Rumsey Taylor
      30 September 2017

      (The New York Times) – 6 a.m. Near Corozal: The sun rose Wednesday morning in the low mountains of north-central Puerto Rico, near the town of Corozal, to reveal the world that Hurricane Maria has made: shattered trees, traffic lights dangling precipitously from broken poles, and, here on the face of a weedy hill, a gushing spring, one of the few places where people from miles around could find fresh water.

      At 6 a.m., about a dozen trucks and cars had parked nearby. People brought rain barrels, buckets, orange juice bottles.

      Some men clambered up the steep face of the hill, placing plastic pipes or old pieces of gutter underneath the running spring, directing the water into massive plastic tanks, then hauling them away. Others crouched at a spot where the water trickled down to the pavement. Jorge Díaz Rivera, 61, was there with 11 Clorox bottles. He lives in a community a few minutes’ drive away where there is no water, no food, and no help. The National Guard helicopters have been passing overhead, and sometimes he and his neighbors yell at them, pleading for water. But so far he has seen no help.

      “They have forgotten about us,” he said.

      Puerto Rico has not been forgotten, but more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit, it’s a woozy empire of wreckage; of waiting in line for food, water, and gas and then finding another line to wait in some more. A team of New York Times reporters and photographers spent 24 hours — from dawn Wednesday to scorching afternoon heat, to a long uneasy night and Thursday morning without power — with people trying to survive the catastrophe that Hurricane Maria left behind. [more]

      One Day in the Life of Battered Puerto Rico

      Panel assemblages after 9 months in situ, illustrating the visibly distinct benthic communities under two warming scenarios. End-point photographs of all control (top), +1°C (middle), and +2°C (bottom) panels. Each image shows an entire experimental settlement surface (9.8 × 9.8 cm). Note the two +2°C panels on the bottom right, which appear uniquely uneven in their recruitment. Graphic: Ashton, et al., 2017 / Current Biology

      31 August 2017 (British Antarctic Survey) – A team of scientists has discovered that a 1°C rise in local sea temperature has massive impacts on an Antarctic marine community. These new results are published this week (31 August) in the journal Current Biology, and enable researchers to better understand the biological implications of the future ocean warming predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

      By deploying heated panels on the seabed around Rothera Research Station, on the Antarctic Peninsula, the team observed that with a 1°C rise in sea temperature, predicted by the IPCC to occur before 2100, the growth of Antarctic seabed life nearly doubled. This is much greater than the long held expectation for biological responses to temperature. With a 2°C rise, however, the results are less clear as some species continued to grow faster whilst others had likely reached a limit.

      Organisms on the seabed in Antarctica live in a very cold and stable environment where annual temperatures vary only between -2 and +1°C. The environment has been this cold for millennia, and so marine life has become highly adapted. Understanding how future environmental change will affect the polar biodiversity in the ocean is key, as species may either benefit from or be damaged by small changes in sea temperature.

      Lead author Dr Gail Ashton, who led the project whilst at Rothera says:

      “This is a deceptively simple and unambiguous experiment. By putting our test plates in the ocean and conducting the experiment there, we’ve changed almost nothing except the water temperature: not the food supply not light levels, nor the surrounding ecosystem. We can see the impact of temperature change very clearly and it’s quite dramatic.”

      Researchers monitored the settlement and growth of organisms on the panels using high-resolution photography acquired by divers working in the frigid Antarctic water. Analysis of the photographs has provided clear visual evidence, which alongside the data reveal that with a 1°C rise in sea temperature, the Antarctic marine community experienced an unexpectedly high level of growth.

      Dr Ashton, now at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in California, continues:

      “Having spent most of my career working at temperate latitudes, the observable difference in communities warmed by just 1°C was quite a surprise”.

      The animals that settled on the panels include colonial bryozoans and spiral tube worms, both common to seafloors globally. Increased growth may be a positive ecosystem response, nutrients would be more quickly available to species further up the food chain, while increased skeletal growth would increase carbon capture to the sea floor.  Species richness, the number of different species represented in a community, remained the same under warming, although diversity and evenness of the community was reduced. The overall dominance of the community by a single species of encrusting bryozoan (Fenestrulina rugula), gives an indication that this species would be one of the winners under future ocean warming. In this study it grew twice as fast in warmer conditions.

      Dr Simon Morley, an ecophysiologist at BAS says:

      “Such large changes in communities, in response to conditions that are forecast within our lifetimes, is quite remarkable. Much of the biodiversity in the oceans is attached to the sea floor and these communities are clearly susceptible to even small changes in their environment. Understanding which species will be the winners and losers is key as we try to predict the impact of climate change on life in the ocean.”

      Read the paper here.

      Find out more about the heated settlement panel project here.

      Antarctic marine life may grow faster in a warming world

      Different Growth Rate Responses among benthic Species Were Observed in the Three Treatments: Control, +1°C, and +2°C warming. (A) Area covered by the spatially dominant bryozoan (Fenestrulina rugula) and spirorbid (Romanchella perrieri) under warming and control treatments. Data show the mean and interquartile range of panel surface area covered by a single colony (top) or individual (bottom). Different letters indicate significantly different areas per age (F(1,9) with p < 0.01). (B) Growth-rate response of six spatially dominant species to warming treatments. Data are individual (spirorbid polychaete) or colony (bryozoan) growth rates since the previous sampling [calculated as (radius at T2 − radius at T1) / (T2 − T1) mm d−1]. Lines are loess smoothed trends in growth rates during the 2014/2015 summer season in Antarctica. Graphic: Ashton, et al., 2017 / Current Biology

      ABSTRACT: Forecasting assemblage-level responses to climate change remains one of the greatest challenges in global ecology. Data from the marine realm are limited because they largely come from experiments using limited numbers of species, mesocosms whose interior conditions are unnatural, and long-term correlation studies based on historical collections. We describe the first ever experiment to warm benthic assemblages to ecologically relevant levels in situ. Heated settlement panels were used to create three test conditions: ambient and 1°C and 2°C above ambient (predicted in the next 50 and 100 years, respectively). We observed massive impacts on a marine assemblage, with near doubling of growth rates of Antarctic seabed life. Growth increases far exceed those expected from biological temperature relationships established more than 100 years ago by Arrhenius. These increases in growth resulted in a single “r-strategist” pioneer species (the bryozoan Fenestrulina rugula) dominating seabed spatial cover and drove a reduction in overall diversity and evenness. In contrast, a 2°C rise produced divergent responses across species growth, resulting in higher variability in the assemblage. These data extend our ability to expand, integrate, and apply our knowledge of the impact of temperature on biological processes to predict organism, species, and ecosystem level ecological responses to regional warming.

      Warming by 1°C Drives Species and Assemblage Level Responses in Antarctica’s Marine Shallows

      Tweet from USGS on 18 September 2017: 'Our current search engine is not up to snuff. Content exists, but we have issues w/our search causing poor results. Fixes coming.' Graphic: Twitter / USGS

      By Toly Rinberg and Andrew Bergman
      22 September 2017

      (EDGI) – As has been true for decades, the ways public data are stored and presented on federal government websites can sometimes be tricky for the public to understand, access, use, and re-use.

      As federal websites have been changing under the Trump administration, there has been ongoing confusion in the media and public about the difference between the output of a search on a website or a data portal and the data or Web resources to which those search results link.

      This week, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) came under scrutiny. On 18 September 2017, Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, brought attention to changes to the USGS Science Explorer, a government search engine for scientific data and information, in a series of tweets.

      Using the archived page stored in the Wayback Machine, Gleick noted that the search results for the term “climate change” had dropped from a count of 5,932 in December 2016 to 416 on 19 September 2017. Following media attention, USGS changed their search function. The same search a day later showed a count of 63,016 results. The increased count is not necessarily an indication of improved search and it is unclear if the change was an intended or an inadvertent result of an attempted fix.

      If you’re not familiar with the Science Explorer, when a member of the public searches this site, it returns results with links, dates, and descriptions corresponding to other Web resources, such as webpages, images, videos, and data, but it does not itself host that content.

      That’s important: our spot checks of the linked resources produced by the search in December 2016 but not found in the 19 September 2017 search results found that the resources themselves were not removed. Only the search results were affected.

      Without providing full context, a ThinkProgress post about Gleick’s statements reads, “You paid for U.S. Geological Survey climate data, but the White House is making it disappear.” An E&E News article went even further, claiming that “thousands of webpages are gone.”

      These assertions are not supported by our research and were refuted by the agency. For example, when searching for the words “climate change,” the top result on December 2016 was a link to a URL (, which does not appear in the September 19 search results, but still leads to a live page that has been unchanged since 12 December 2016.

      “No doubt, there have been technical problems with the USGS search function,” A.B. Wade, a press officer at USGS, told Sunlight, in an emailed statement. “Many of these technical problems have now been fixed, meaning the search is more reliable, but it’s not perfect. What’s important, though, is that the USGS has not been directed by the current Administration to remove any data sets, publications, or webpages from our online presence.”

      How access to public information can be altered

      We’ve been glad to see that there there have not been widespread federal data takedowns in 2017, as many people had feared. The only example of a removal of an open data set from the Internet thus far, was when the Department of Agriculture took down a set of data on animal welfare.

      Instead, what we’ve seen the Trump administration do on federal government websites constitutes more subtle, but still significant, reductions to public access to public information online.

      This latest episode has generated confusion for at least two reasons. First, it muddied the conversation about whether public information was taken offline entirely or if the changes only affected the search portal results.

      Second, the specific focus on climate change, when many other search results also changed substantially, implied without evidence that this was a targeted and potentially politically-motivated removal of public climate information by the Trump administration. For example, there was also a large reduction in the number of results when searching for the words “natural resource exploration” between December 2016 and 19 September 2017.

      Both of these issues could be substantially mitigated by more proactive communication from government agencies that operate search engines and websites regarding future content changes, downtime, bugs, migrations, and changes to how searches function, from indexing to display.

      The confusion about changes to federal websites and removals of information since the beginning of the Trump administration can be traced to misunderstanding of how access to public information works on federal websites.

      We categorize resources as falling into three broad categories:

      1. Public information assets, including documents and structured government databases
      2. Webpages that host or link to public information assets
      3. Search results from website search engines and open data platforms that point to public information assets or their host webpages

      The most extreme example of type #1 content changed since Inauguration Day is the example mentioned above, in which the Department of Agriculture took down USDA data sets related animal welfare.

      When content of type #2 alone is removed, data or information may remain available at the same URL on a government website, but often with substantially reduced accessibility.

      For example, the Environmental Protection Agency removed its Clean Water Rule website, leaving PDFs that provide information about clean water online but inaccessible to anyone who did not have a direct URL. In some cases when type #2 content is removed, it may also no longer be possible to navigate to the content using a government website, significantly limiting the discoverability of the resource.

      When content of type #3 alone is removed, however, the content’s Web hosting is not affected at all and the content is still discoverable on a given website.

      While access may be reduced in an important way, that assessment is closely linked to how commonly that website search engine or data portal is used and how well its search function works. So when type #3 content is removed, we cannot say that data or information was “removed” or “deleted’ or that it was necessarily made “inaccessible.”

      In the case of the USGS search portal, with no evidence provided that any content of type #1 or #2 was removed, it appears that the removals were only of type #3. These alterations may have been due to changes to the indexing or structure of the metadata, which is the underlying information that a search function is based on. It could also be because of changes to the algorithm that the search function uses to search the metadata.

      A poorly functioning search on a website or data portal, especially when it was just recently working much more clearly, is certainly something to be concerned about, but this type of change is very far from a “deletion of data.”

      While there is no evidence yet that resources corresponding to the changed search results have been removed or deleted, there is evidence that the USGS website has been altered otherwise: webpages presenting maps by topic matter have been removed. The “Map Topics” page, which links to 10 other topic pages, was live on June 17 but currently leads to a “File Not Found” page. These removals of the webpages appear to have been independent of the search alterations and are significant reductions in access to Web content that we hope see restored as the USGS continues to update its website.

      What’s next at the USGS?

      To its credit, the USGS has responded consistently to tweets and news media inquiries, acknowledging the issues — including Sunlight’s.

      In a September 18 tweet, the USGS stated that “our current search engine is not up to snuff. Content exists, but we have issues w/our search causing poor results. Fixes coming.”

      It was good to hear the USGS acknowledge the problem with search on social media and to Sunlight directly. Any substantial changes to Web resources and tools, like those made to the Science Explorer, should be accompanied by a clear explanation from a government agency before they’re made, during any issues, and upon resolution, including the kind of public responsiveness to affected members of the public that USGS adopted here.

      Design websites for people to use

      As we continue to evaluate the federal government’s approach to access, disclosure, and presentation of public data and information, we hope agencies will stay focused on improving the design and functionality of public websites and their features.

      How can a given search tool help the user access information that they knew about in advance of the search? How can it help a user discover new information in a useful way?

      Answers to these questions are context-dependent and based on specific search use cases. A reduced or increased search result count does not necessarily mean that a given search tool is better or worse. Getting a dump of thousands of poorly prioritized results can make it almost impossible to find any particular one.

      We hope that the federal government will consider the needs and use cases of the public when building or improving website search engines and data portals for accessing Web content.

      Transparency about technical issues increases accountability and reduces public confusion and fear when changes are reported. Taking steps to communicate with the public is crucial, given the understandable concern that large numbers of scientists and citizens have regarding the future of scientific research and disclosure at the EPA and other agencies.

      Changes to USGS website highlight the importance of search for public access

      This animation of NOAA's GOES East satellite imagery from 15 September 2017 at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 UTC) to 19 September 2017 ending at 4:45 a.m. EDT (0845 UTC) shows Hurricane Jose moving north along the U.S. East coast and  Hurricane Maria moving through the Leeward Islands and strengthening to a Category 5 hurricane. Photo: NASA / NOAA GOES Project

      By Eric Holthaus
      20 September 2017

      (Grist) – After multiple intense hurricane landfalls this month, the scenes from the Caribbean have been horrific — trees stripped bare, houses flattened, million-dollar yachts strewn like toys.

      Category 5 hurricanes, like Irma and Maria, are the pinnacle of nature’s fury. There is simply no weather event on Earth that can cause so much destruction so quickly. They are worst-case scenarios.

      On Wednesday morning, Maria became one of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded to make landfall, striking southeastern Puerto Rico with winds of up to 155 mph. Puerto Rican residents rationed basic supplies and hunkered down in fragile infrastructure in anticipation of the storm, which wiped out 100 percent of the island’s power. Recovery could take years.

      “We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said in an island-wide address Tuesday night.

      There is evidence that we are emerging from an era of messy meteorological data, where we were blind to warming seas strengthening hurricanes because the really damaging ones were rare. If that’s true, weather historians may look to this year as the beginning of a frightening new phase of superstorms.

      About 85 percent of all damage done by hurricanes is attributable to “major” storms — those stronger than Category 3, so roughly one-quarter of all storms. While relatively infrequent, they are by far the most destructive — a Category-5 cyclone has 500 times the power of a Category 1. Globally, major hurricanes have become slightly more common in recent decades, even as overall numbers have held steady.

      Further, there’s nothing in recorded history that resembles what Irma and Maria have inflicted on Caribbean islands in recent days. Since Sept. 6, the two hurricanes have made six separate landfalls at Category-5 strength. Before this month, just 18 such landfalls had happened in the previous 165 years (and never more than three in a single year). Clearly there’s something happening here — and there’s a developing consensus among scientists about what factors are responsible. [more]

      Harvey, Irma, Maria: This is the hurricane season scientists expected … and feared

      Three tweets from Trump on 30 September 2017, attacking the leadership of Puerto Rico by claiming they “want everything to be done for them.” Graphic: Twitter

      By Matthew Nussbaum And Marc Caputo
      30 September 2017

      (Politico) – President Donald Trump attacked the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday, writing on Twitter that she and other leaders on the storm-ravaged territory “want everything to be done for them.”

      Trump’s early morning broadsides came after San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz slammed the administration’s response repeatedly on Friday amid growing media coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

      “We are dying here,” Cruz said in an emotional plea on Friday. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

      Her plea and others like it have led critics to liken Trump’s response to that of George W. Bush in New Orleans after Katrina struck that city a decade ago.

      In his latest fight with an opponent few other politicians would engage — waged from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club — Trump dismissed Cruz as a partisan.

      "The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” Trump wrote on Twitter. "Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

      Trump added that the Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

      Cruz responded in an MSNBC interview Saturday, dismissing Trump's criticisms and saying she had no time for "distractions."

      “I am not going to be distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues,” she said, insisting her criticism of Trump had not been motivated by partisanship.

      “Actually, I was asking for help," she said. "I wasn't saying anything nasty about the president. But don't take my word for it, General Buchanan, a three star general has said as one of the first comments he's made about the Puerto Rico situation that he doesn't have enough troops and he doesn't have enough equipment of what he needs to get the situation under control." [more]

      Trump lashes out at Puerto Rico officials

      Cover of the New York Daily News, 27 September 2017. The headline reads, 'No food, no water, no power, no medical care for the dying ... Puerto Rico needs more help, Mr. President!' Photo: New York Daily News

      By Abby Hamblin
      29 September 2017

      (San Diego Tribune) – Puerto Rico Mayor Yulín Cruz is begging for help with Hurricane Maria relief for the island of more than 3.4 million people suffering without power and other basic necessities.

      “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying,” she said Friday. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency.”

      Earlier Friday and ten days after Hurricane Maria swamped Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, President Donald Trump pledged “a massive federal mobilization” to help the island of 3.4 million people recover after its devastation.

      “We will not rest until the people of Puerto Rico are safe,” Trump said before a speaking event on Friday.

      Just how bad does Puerto Rico look right now?

      “There's nothing left,” the president said. “It's been wiped out. The houses are largely flattened. The roads are washed away. There is no electricity; the plants are gone. They're gone. It's not like, let's send a crew in to fix them. You have to build brand-new electric. Sewage systems wiped out. Never been anything like this.”

      Here’s a look at what we know about Puerto Rico going into the second weekend of recovery efforts.

      Facing criticism that the federal response wasn’t fast enough, Trump has maintained that his administration is working on all cylinders but that it’s not easy because “this is an island surrounded by water — big water, ocean water.”

      On Friday, scrutiny rose after Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke called the government’s response “a good news story” in terms of its “ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”

      Cruz saw the clip and said, "Dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a 'people are dying' story. This is a 'life or death' story." [more]

      Puerto Rican mayor: 'We are dying, you are killing us with the inefficiency'

      A dead lion, poisoned cow meat by poachers in the Masai Mara Game reserve, 11 December 2015. Photo: The Marsh Pride of Lions

      By Christopher Torchia
      27 September 2017

      JOHANNESBURG (Associated Press) – Hundreds of vultures in Namibia died after feeding on an elephant carcass that poachers had poisoned. Poachers in Zimbabwe used cyanide to kill dozens of elephants for their ivory tusks. In Mozambique three lions died after eating bait infused with a crop pesticide.

      Poisoning Africa's wildlife is an old practice, but conservationists fear such incidents are escalating in some areas, saying relatively easy access to agricultural chemicals and the surging illegal market for animal parts are increasing pressure on a number of already beleaguered species. The threat is compounded by the indiscriminate nature of killing with poison, in which a single contaminated carcass can take down a range of animals, particularly scavengers such as vultures.

      This month, a continent-wide database was launched to gather data on wildlife poisoning and better understand a phenomenon that has been widely documented in southern Africa, where a reported 70 lions have been fatally poisoned in the last 18 months, according to managers. While the African Wildlife Poisoning Database lacks records from underreported areas including Central Africa, it dates to 1961 and lists nearly 300 poisoning incidents in 15 African countries that killed more than 8,000 animals from dozens of species, including leopards, hyenas, impalas, cranes, and storks.

      "It's still a big work in progress," said Darcy Ogada, a Kenya-based database coordinator and assistant director of Africa programs at The Peregrine Fund, a conservation group. The goal, Ogada said, is to get governments to pay more attention to the "underground world" of wildlife poisoning that also threatens livestock, water sources and people who eat meat from birds and other poisoned animals.

      Poachers with guns have killed hundreds of thousands of elephants and thousands of rhinos in Africa in past years, but wildlife traffickers have increasingly laced carcasses with poison to target vultures that circle overhead and can draw the attention of anti-poaching rangers. Previously, poisons such as strychnine were primarily used by farmers to kill jackals, wild dogs and other predators that attack livestock, though some landowners and communities have responded positively to anti-poison campaigns.

      In 2013, between 400 and 600 vultures died after feeding on the poisoned carcass of an elephant that was killed for its ivory in Namibia's Zambezi area, said Andre Botha, a poisoning database manager and special projects manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a South African group.

      "This is the highest number of vultures killed in a single poisoning incident that we have on the database to date," Botha said. [more]

      Poachers target Africa's lions, vultures with poison

      Plantain trees flattened by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, P.R. In a matter of hours, the storm destroyed about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico, the territory’s agriculture secretary said. Photo: Victor J. Blue / The New York Times

      By Frances Robles and Luis Ferré-Sadurní
      24 September 2017

      YABUCOA, P.R. (The New York Times) – José A. Rivera, a farmer on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, stood in the middle of his flattened plantain farm on Sunday and tried to tally how much Hurricane Maria had cost him.

      “How do you calculate everything?” Mr. Rivera said.

      For as far as he could see, every one of his 14,000 trees was down. Same for the yam and sweet pepper crops. His neighbor, Luis A. Pinto Cruz, known to everyone here as “Piña,” figures he is out about $300,000 worth of crops. The foreman down the street, Félix Ortiz Delgado, spent the afternoon scrounging up the scraps that were left of the farm he manages. He found about a dozen dried ears of corn that he could feed the chickens. The wind had claimed the rest.

      “There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Rivera predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

      Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.

      In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

      Across the island, Maria’s prolonged barrage took out entire plantations and destroyed dairy barns and industrial chicken coops. Plantain, banana and coffee crops were the hardest hit, Mr. Flores said. Landslides in the mountainous interior of the island took out many roads, a major part of the agriculture infrastructure there.

      The island suffered a loss of $780 million in agriculture yields, according to the department’s preliminary figures. Hurricane Georges in 1998 wiped out about 65 percent of crops and Hurricane Irma, which only grazed the island, took out about $45 million in agriculture production. […]

      Puerto Rico already imports about 85 percent of its food, and now its food imports are certain to rise drastically as local products like coffee and plantains are added to the list of Maria’s staggering losses. Local staples that stocked supermarkets, school lunchrooms and even Walmart are gone.

      “Sometimes when there are shortages, the price of plantain goes up from $1 to $1.25. This time, there won’t be any price increase; there won’t be any product,” Mr. Rivera said. “When I heard the meteorologist say that the two had turned into a three and then a four, I thought, ‘Agriculture in Puerto Rico is over.’ This really is a catastrophe.”

      He noted that other islands that export food to Puerto Rico, such as the Dominican Republic, Dominica and St. Martin, were also hit, and that the food supply could be even more precarious if the island’s other suppliers were also affected. […]

      “I have never seen losses like these in any of my 80 years,” he said as he stood on a riverbank, counting the number of coconut trees that fell. He could earn $100 a month from each one of them. A dozen cracked in half, beside a nursery where the winds swept away all the seedlings and left behind broken glass and ruin. [more]

      Puerto Rico’s Agriculture and Farmers Decimated by Maria

      Meryanne Aldea lost everything at her house when the winds of Hurricane Maria ripped away the roof. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected areas in Puerto Rico, and it remains largely isolated from the rest of the island — and the world. Photo: DENNIS M. Rivera Pichardo / The Washington Post

      By Samantha Schmidt and Joel Achenbach
      24 September 2017

      JUNCOS, Puerto Rico (The Washington Post) – In the heat and humidity here in the central mountains, Meryanne Aldea fanned her bedridden mother with a piece of cardboard Sunday as the ailing woman lay on her side, relieving a large ulcer in her back.

      The 63-year-old mother, Maria Dolores Hernandez, had cotton stuffed in her ears to keep flies out, since her now screenless windows were letting all sorts of bugs in. The gray-haired diabetic woman spoke with her daughter about her worries: that she would run out of prescription drugs, that they were almost out of generator fuel to keep her insulin refrigerated and to run the fans at night. With all the heat, she feared that her ulcer would become infected.

      But she worried most about her daughter’s home on the floor above hers, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. The shrieking winds had ripped off the zinc roof and the pounding rains had soaked the unprotected rooms below. While the outer concrete walls were mostly intact, everything else was ruined, covered by dirty tree branches, leaves, glass and debris.

      Aldea reached out to hold her mother’s hand.

      “Relax,” she said. “It’s okay.”

      Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.

      For many residents, the challenge of accessing the essentials of modern life — gasoline, cash, food, water — began to sink in. And government officials had no answers for them. Estimates for the return of electricity and basic services will be measured not in days but in weeks and months. For those most vulnerable, far too long.

      Many have been openly wondering when help will arrive, whether from local officials or from the federal government. The first thing some villagers ask when they see outsiders: “Are you FEMA?”

      Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is warning that his government needs broader assistance from the federal government, calling on the Pentagon especially to provide more aid for law enforcement and transportation. Rosselló said he’s also worried that Congress will shortchange his island once the initial wave of emergency relief is gone.

      “We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” he said Sunday night. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”

      For federal agencies trying to respond to Maria, the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is inescapably more challenging than the situations in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It’s difficult to get onto the islands.

      The airports and harbors here were severely damaged. That means the islands are more isolated than ever, even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened by the day.

      So although massive amounts of food, water, fuel and other supplies have been dispatched by federal agencies and private organizations, with more resources on the way, this has been an obstacle-filled process.

      Federal agencies have succeeded in clearing the use of the Port of San Juan for daytime operations, but other ports remain closed pending inspections. Many roads are blocked, inhibiting relief convoys. The Transportation Department has opened five airports in Puerto Rico and two in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but only for military and relief efforts. […]

      In Juncos, scores of homes were destroyed, and thousands of homes sustained damage, Mayor Alfredo Alejandro estimated. Four highways are inaccessible by car, and two bridges were harmed. Roofs of homes all over town are gone, and almost all government buildings were damaged.

      Mountains typically brimming with trees and other vegetation are brown and desolate, stripped of all greenery. The mayor of 17 years said he discovered a river he never knew existed in his town, because it was always overgrown with plants. Curved bamboo lining the winding roads were left as bare sticks.

      Less than a week ago, Alejandro said, “I had a pretty town.”

      “Today I have a desert,” he said. [more]

      Hot, isolated, and running out of supplies, parts of Puerto Rico near desperation


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