Monday, 20 April 2015

Destroying the Living Planet - 04/19/2015

Darkening ice speeds up Greenland melt, new research suggests

Scientists have noticed a curious thing happening as rising temperatures melt the Greenland ice sheet. The ice that's left is getting darker, making it more susceptible to further melting, according to new research presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) conference in Vienna.

Scientists have identified three ways in which the gleaming white ice sheet is getting darker, each contributing to the normally-reflective ice sheet absorbing more of the sun's energy.

It’s official: According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the first quarter of 2015 has set a new record, with the January through March period coming in as the warmest such period on record across the globe’s land and ocean surfaces.

The month of March was also ranked warmest by NCDC in a record dating back 136 years. The Japan Meteorological Agency concurs, whereas NASA, which does its own independent analysis, ranked March as third warmest. That’s a distinction without much of a difference since the estimates of all three agencies are very close to each other

Darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to continue as a consequence of continued climate warming, Dr. Marco Tedesco, a City College of New York scientist, said at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna today.

Tedesco said that the projection is based on a model that only accounts for the effects of warming on snow grain size and melting.

Measuring the depth of Arctic permafrost in Alaska. (Nick Bonzey via Flickr)

Three sets of scientists in the same week have helped narrow the uncertainties about how the natural world will respond to extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Carbon locked in the frozen earth will escape gradually as the Arctic permafrost melts—but the scientists say the process could accelerate.

As greenhouse gas levels soar, and soils warm, and plant roots tap down into the carbon stored there by centuries of ancient growth, they will release potent chemicals that will accelerate microbial attack—and speed up the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The soil carbon cycle is one of the great headaches of climate science. And the Arctic is the first place to look for answers about it, and about how the Earth and oceans that store atmospheric carbon will respond to global warming.

Amazon canopy at dawn, Brazil.

WHEN IT COMES to doing research in the Amazon, Oliver Phillips says the worst part is the sweat bees. Phillips, an ecologist from the University of Leeds who has been working in the Amazon for 30 years, says the bees don’t bite or sting or carry diseases, like many of the rainforest’s other insects, but “they’re just all over you.” The instant you start sweating—which is the instant you set foot in the Amazon—they swarm your limbs, your nose, even your eyes, ravenously feeding on the salt in your perspiration. “They don’t do any damage except drive you crazy,” Phillips says......

Overpopulation, overconsumption – in pictures

Waves of humanity
Sprawling Mexico City rolls across the landscape, displacing every scrap of natural habitat

If our species had started with just two people at the time of the earliest agricultural practices some 10,000 years ago, and increased by one percent per year, today humanity would be a solid ball of flesh many thousand light years in diameter, and expanding with a radial velocity that, neglecting relativity, would be many times faster than the speed of light.’ Gabor Zovanyi
Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

To see more GO HERE

Report says 32 million people in Japan are exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Approximately 32 million people in Japan are affected by the radioactive fallout from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, according to the 2015 Fukushima Report now available from Green Cross. This includes people who were exposed to radiation or other stress factors resulting from the accident, and who are consequently at potential risk from both long and short-term consequences.

The 2015 Fukushima Report is available for download in English at
As with the Chernobyl nuclear accident, which impacted 10 million people, Japan is expected to see increased cancer risk and neuropsychological long-term health consequences. The stress-related effects of evacuation and subsequent relocation are also of concern. The evacuation involved a total of over 400,000 individuals, 160,000 of them from within 20km of Fukushima. The number of deaths from the nuclear disaster attributed to stress, fatigue and the hardship of living as evacuees is estimated to be around 1,700 so far.

Winter is the prime season to see filaments of phytoplankton twist and curl amid the Arabian Sea. On February 14, 2015, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image of the region’s winter blooms.

Why winter? It turns out that in this part of the world, seasonal wind patterns have a large effect on blooms. The winter monsoon brings a reversal of wind direction—from southwesterly to northeasterly—which stirs up nutrients that help phytoplankton thrive.

Not all phytoplankton are the same, however, and research has shown that the composition of the communities in the Arabian Sea has shifted. A study published in 2008 reported that an unusual abundance of Noctiluca scintillans (also called Nocticula miliaris) has started showing up in winter blooms over the last decade. The newcomers have replaced the populations of diatoms that previously prevailed.

Research published in 2014 confirmed that the outbreak of N. scintillans in the Arabian Sea is due to an unprecedented amount of oxygen-deficient water near the sea’s surface. The exact reason for the influx is still under investigation. What is apparent, however, is that N. scintillans is better equipped to handle the low-oxygen environment.
The shift could have implications for the food web of the Arabian Sea. In the past, fish ate the copepods that fed on the plentiful diatoms. In contrast to the diatoms, N. scintillans appears to be too large for consumption by copepods and instead feed creatures like jellyfish and salps. How this disruption to the traditional food chain will impact regional fisheries remains to be seen.

A fast-moving brush fire threatened hundreds of homes in drought-stricken southern California on Sunday, prompting mandatory evacuations for local residents, authorities said.

The Riverside County Fire Department said the fire erupted shortly after 6:00 pm (0100 GMT) on Saturday and had burned about 300 acres in an area southeast of Los Angeles.

Some 200 homes were under evacuation orders and the American Red Cross opened an evacuation center for affected residents

Campaigner Anne-Line Thingnes Førsund looks out over Norway’s Førde Fjord, where the mining company Nordic Mining has been approved to dump 6m tonnes of waste a year.

 Campaigner Anne-Line Thingnes Førsund looks out over Norway’s Førde Fjord, where the mining company Nordic Mining has been approved to dump 6m tonnes of waste a year. Photograph: Luka Tomac/Friends Of the Earth

Environmentalists promised civil disobedience after Norway’s government approved a controversial plan for a mining company to dump millions of tonnes of waste into a fjord.

This is a fjord full of life – to smother it with toxins is insane,” said Arnstein Vestre, president of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, which has been part of protests against the plan. “We have 600 people ready to do civil disobedience actions, and we will not stop until the fjord is safe,” he said.

Announcing its approval of the project on Friday, industry minister Monica Mæland said there would be strict environmental controls and monitoring of waste matter.

North Pacific mode linked to winter's weather extremes

'Snow Wall' phenomenon in Japan (drone footage)

Drone footage captured the stunning snow covered Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route in the Murodo Plain, Sunday. The area is believed to receive some of the heaviest snowfall on the planet, estimated to reach around 66 feet (20.1 metres).

China now the world's biggest emitter: Local analysts say Australia is unlikely to reach its 5 per cent target by 2020 as the direct action policy stands.
China now the world's biggest emitter: Local analysts say Australia is unlikely to reach its 5 per cent target by 2020 as the direct action policy stands. Photo: Reuters

The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, including China and the US, have questioned the credibility of Australia's climate change targets and "direct action" policy in a list of queries to the Abbott government.

In the latest sign of diplomatic pressure over Canberra's stance on global warming, China accused Australia of doing less to cut emissions than it is demanding of other developed countries, and asked it to explain why this was fair.

Beijing also questioned whether the Abbott government's emissions reduction fund – the centrepiece of its direct action policy, under which the government will pay some emitters to make cuts – would be enough to make up for the axed carbon price and meet Australia's commitment of a minimum 5 per cent emissions cut below 2000 levels by 2020.

The questions have been lodged with the United Nations for Australia to answer in the lead-up to the December climate summit in Paris, where the world is supposed to sign a global deal to combat climate change.....

    OTTAWA - The latest emissions inventory from Environment Canada shows the country's overall greenhouse gas output climbed 1.5 per cent between 2012 and 2013, continuing a slow, but steady, upward trend since the global recession of 2009.

    The report, prepared by Environment Canada and submitted annually to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, shows 726 megatonnes of emissions in 2013, still three per cent below Canada's output in 2005.

    However, under the international Copenhagen Accord signed in 2009, Canada committed to reduce its emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 — and the trend is now firmly heading the wrong way.

    In a world-first study, scientists have transplanted kelp off the coast of Tasmania to better understand the impact of climate change.

    The kelp, which grows from northern New South Wales around to Western Australia, provides an ecosystem for hundreds of marine species.

    Now it is thinning and becoming patchy because of warming waters.

    Divers in Tasmania have spent months on the island's eastern sea floor transplanting 500 kelp plants.

    Shrinking Antarctic has us skating on thin ice
    Antarctic ice is now melting faster than ever, raising sea levels. But the degree of risk to our coastline and economy is still a big unknown

    Matt King

    19 April, 2015

    One of the most troubling lines in the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was tucked away in a footnote. It stated that, of their various future sea-level scenarios, the estimate of the upper limit – a 1.1 metre rise by 2100 – was actually not the worst case. That is, the $226 billion value of Australian roads, rail, commercial buildings and homes spread over the coastal zone that may be underwater regularly by 2100 could be an underestimate. And they did not know by how much.

    The potential source of that extra water? A destabilised West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The unknown that niggled at the authors was the possibility that West Antarctica would do what observations and theory say is possible – collapse, adding an extra five metres to sea levels. Recent observations suggest irreversible retreat has now commenced, and so the key question is not if, but how quickly? The IPCC did not know and the science community still does not know (guesses on timescales vary from 200 to 1000 years or more).

    "We now know that two huge areas of potential instability sit, almost unstudied by anyone, within the Australian Antarctic Territory."

    But we are in a good position to begin to know. On Tuesday, April 21, I will deliver a lecture at the Royal Society in London describing remarkable progress in what we do know about Antarctica and its contribution to sea-level change. Thanks to international efforts coordinated by NASA and the European Space Agency we now know, for the first time in history and with great confidence, that the grounded ice of Antarctica is flowing into the ocean faster than snowfall replenishes it, hence raising sea levels. That imbalance is now 130 billion tonnes of ice each year.

    And we know that this change is happening faster and faster – in both West Antarctica and Greenland. The big grounded ice sheets are now contributing to sea-level rises at double the rate they were in the 1990s. These changes have been observed in different ways, using different data, by different groups in different countries and the result is not disputed.

    This success means scientists have never been better placed to address the future of Antarctica and how it will affect our own coastal sea levels. But their success, and the speed with which reliable information can be put in the hands of policymakers, depends on all the major Antarctic nations committing to long-term funded research tied with long-term logistical infrastructure. Inconveniently, the big unknowns are located away from our long-standing research stations – indeed, they are in some of the most remote regions on the planet.

    It's for this reason that the 20-year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan report, submitted in October last year, called for long-range over-snow traversing capability and a funding cycle for both salaries and logistics that matched our identified 10-year national Antarctic strategic science goals. As the government considers that report, the prestigious Academy of Sciences and scientists internationally have urged us to retain our position as a major Antarctic scientific nation by adopting the recommendations of that plan.

    Australia should not stand back and wait for other nations to do the work for us. Our Antarctic claim, frozen under the Antarctic Treaty, is to 44 per cent of the continent. That claim consists of about 30 metres of potential sea-level rise. Most of that sea level is safe for millennia, but perhaps not all of it. Indeed, we now know that two huge areas of potential instability sit, almost unstudied by anyone, within the Australian Antarctic Territory.

    Last month an Australian and US collaboration revealed a significant chunk of one of those regions can be added to West Antarctica as potentially vulnerable to collapse – a further four metres of sea-level rise now comes into play. Again, we don't know if this will occur, and if so, how fast. We know the hazard, we just do not know the degree of risk to us, our coastlines, our economy and our lifestyles. And for the same reasons, we don't know the risk to our regional neighbours, many of whom are not as well equipped to adapt as we are.

    The currency of the Antarctic Treaty is not occupation of land but science. We exercise influence over the future use of Antarctica by studying the full extent of the Australian Antarctic Territory – in the air, across the ground and at sea. For six decades or more Australia has been a linchpin in the international collaboration that have given us a first view of Antarctica. That science has led us to a point where we know much about this iconic continent. But it is what we do not know that should trouble us.

    Matt King is professor of polar geodesy and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Tasmania. He is also the Royal Society of London's 2015 Kavli medallist and lecturer.

    Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) in the Jackson School of Geosciences have discovered two seafloor gateways that could allow warm ocean water to reach the base of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica's largest and most rapidly thinning glacier. The discovery, reported in the March 16 edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, probably explains the glacier's extreme thinning and raises concerns about how it will affect sea level rise.

    Totten Glacier is East Antarctica's largest outlet of ice to the ocean and has been thinning rapidly for many years. Although deep, warm water has been observed seaward of the glacier, until now there was no evidence that it could compromise coastal ice. The result is of global importance because the ice flowing through Totten Glacier alone is sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 11 feet, equivalent to the contribution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet if it were to completely collapse.

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