30 Sep 2016:
Governments Vote to Ban the
Sale of World’s Most Trafficked Mammal
The international body that governs wildlife trade voted this week to ban the sale of pangolins
, an aardvark-like animal that is
A ground pangolin in South Africa.
currently the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Pangolins are found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and are sought after for their meat and scales
, the latter of which are believed by some in East Asia to have medicinal purposes. Pangolins are shy, cat-sized mammals that eat ants and termites, and when threatened they curl into a ball rather than defending themselves. Nearly one million pangolins have been trafficked in the past decade, according to National Geographic
. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed all eight species of pangolin as endangered or threatened with extinction.
29 Sep 2016:
Climate Change Could Double
Wildfire Extent in Canada by 2100
Warming temperatures and a changing climate are expected to at least double the acreage consumed by wildfires every year in Canada by the end of the century,
A wildfire in Alberta, Canada in May 2016.
according to a new report
by the scientific agency, Natural Resources Canada. The number of large forest fires in the country is also expected to increase 1.5-fold over the same period due to milder, drier conditions, the report said. In 2015, 7,068 wildfires burned about 3.9 million hectares of Canadian forest. The annual report, The State of Canada’s Forests
, noted that even if the world manages to limit global warming to an average 2 degrees Celsius, Canada could still experience a temperature rise of 4 degrees C by 2100. The report said such warmer conditions will change the species composition, size, and age distribution of Canada’s forests
, a natural resource that generated more than $22 billion in gross domestic product for the country in 2015.
27 Sep 2016:
Could California’s Gridlock
Generate Electricity for the Grid?
California is testing whether its heavy traffic can produce not just emissions and air pollution, but electricity.
Traffic on Interstate 80 near Berkeley, Calif.
The state’s Energy Commission says it will spend $2 million to examine the potential of using piezoelectric crystals embedded under asphalt as a way to send the energy created by moving cars to the grid. The crystals generate energy when compressed by the weight of moving cars, but tests of the technology at larger scales have failed or been canceled in Tokyo, Italy, and Israel, according to the Associated Press
. California, therefore, “needs to figure out whether it can produce high returns without costing too much,” the AP writes. If successful, the technology could help the state reach its goal to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. California is expected to hit a 25 percent renewables target by the end of this year.
26 Sep 2016:
Elephants in Africa Suffer Large
Declines as Poaching Worsens in the Region
Elephant populations in Africa fell about 20 percent between 2006 and 2015 — the worst decline in a quarter-century, according to a
new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
An African elephant.
(IUCN). The continent’s elephant population dropped by 111,000 individuals over the last decade. The IUCN said a recent surge in poaching for ivory, which it called “the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s,” is largely to blame for the decline. East Africa, for example, has lost almost 50 percent of its historical elephant population, according to the report. In West Africa, 12 populations of elephants have been completely lost since 2006. “It is shocking, but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species,” IUCN director general Inger Andersen said in a statement. The IUCN also named habitat loss as a major contributor to the decline.
23 Sep 2016:
World’s Coffee Supply
Threatened by Climate Change, Report Says
A new report says that climate change could significantly reduce the amount of suitable land on which to grow coffee
and lead to an increase in outbreaks of diseases that threaten the crop. The report
— released by the Australian non-profit, the Climate Institute — warns that under current emissions scenarios, coffee-growing regions could see a 50 percent drop in the acreage fit to raise coffee plants, which need a precise combination of temperature and precipitation to thrive. Rising temperatures are also likely to lead to an increase in diseases like coffee rust and pests like the coffee berry borer, the report said. Major coffee-producing countries in the “bean belt” — including Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Vietnam — have already become less hospitable because of shifts in weather patterns, the report said. “It’s a severe threat,” said an executive at U.S.-based Peet’s Coffee.
What’s Killing the Native Birds in
The Mountain Forests of Kauai?
The few remaining species of native forest birds left on the Hawaiian island of Kauai have suffered population declines so severe — 98 percent in one case — that some are near extinction.
The cause of the collapse, according to a recent study in the journal Science Advances
, is not alien plants or predators, but rather warming temperatures that have enabled non-native mosquitoes carrying deadly avian malaria to invade the birds’ high-elevation strongholds. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Eben Paxton
, an avian ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the study’s lead author, says his group’s research showed that the mosquitoes moved into the Alakai Plateau over the last decade, infecting the birds and pushing their populations to a tipping point. He cites a number of approaches for eradicating the mosquitoes, including releasing irradiated infertile males and using genetically modified mosquitoes. “The way that we view Kauai,” he says, “is that it's an early warning system for the rest of the islands.”
Read the interview.
21 Sep 2016:
Paris Climate Agreement Moves
One Step Closer to Entering Into Force
Thirty-one countries officially joined the Paris climate accords this week at United Nations’ meetings in New York City.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The announcements bring the total number of countries joining the Paris Agreement to 60, representing 48 percent of global emissions. Once nations that generate 55 percent of global emissions officially join, the agreement will enter into force within 30 days. The new countries include
Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide; Argentina; Mexico; and the United Arab Emirates. China and the United States officially joined the agreement earlier this month. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon predicted the agreement, created in December last year, would enter into force by the end of this year. “What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable,” Ban said
20 Sep 2016:
China Leads in Wind Installation,
But Continues to Prioritize Coal in the Grid
China built two wind turbines every hour in 2015, double that of the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency
. The country is installing enough wind to meet all of its new energy demand, more than 30,000 megawatts last year. Despite this promising development, however, the IEA told BBC News
that China is giving coal-fired power plants priority access to the grid over wind, hampering the country’s pledge to get an increasing share of its electricity from renewable energy sources. “The rather rosy statement on wind energy hides the issue that 2015 and the first half of 2016 also saw record new installations of coal,” an IEA spokesman said. “China has now a clear over-supply. In the province of Gansu, 39% of wind energy had to be curtailed (turned off).”
19 Sep 2016:
Arctic Sea Ice Extent in 2016 Ties
As Second Lowest in the Satellite Record
Arctic sea ice extent shrank to 1.6 million square miles earlier this month — tying 2016 with 2007 as the second lowest sea ice minimum since satellite records began.
Sea ice extent in September 2016.
The lowest year remains 2012. The new measurements follow a decades-long trend of declining sea ice extent in the Arctic as global temperatures rise. According to NASA
, “September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.” The ten lowest sea ice extents have all happened in the last ten years
. Since 2016 is considered likely to be the warmest year on record, scientists had anticipated an even worse year for sea ice. But “unusually cool, cloudy conditions” in the region for much of the summer helped reduce ice melt, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said
16 Sep 2016:
New Survey Highlights Recent
Widespread Bird Loss in North America
North America has 1.5 billion fewer birds flying its skies than it did 40 years ago, according to a new survey
by dozens of U.S. and Canadian scientists
A young snowy owl.
working at government agencies, universities, and non-profits. More than one-third of common land bird species have declined by more than 15 percent since 1970, and 46 species have lost more than half of their populations, the report found. Snowy owl numbers, for example, dropped 64 percent between 1970 and 2014. The report does not include waterfowl species, such as ducks. The scientists said land use changes, habitat loss, and climate change were main factors behind the long-term population declines. It also found collisions with power lines, buildings, and vehicles caused 900 million bird deaths each year, and domestic and feral cats kill another 2.6 billion. The report, Landbird Conservation Plan 2016, was published by the research collaborative Partners in Flight.
15 Sep 2016:
Obama Announces First
Marine Protected Area off U.S. East Coast
President Obama is creating a 4,913-square-mile marine monument off the New England coast, adding to a long list of marine protected areas established in recent years by the Obama and Bush administrations. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, contains massive undersea canyons and towering seamounts and is the first fully protected federal marine reserve off the eastern seaboard. The area is home to deep-sea corals, sharks, deep-diving marine mammals, whales, and sea turtles, and is a rich fishing ground. The fishing industry objected to the creation of the marine monument, arguing that existing fisheries management laws were sufficient to protect the area. Under the new designation, commercial fishing will be phased out over seven years. Obama has also recently created massive marine reserves off Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast, and today a quarter of U.S. waters are under strong federal protection.
14 Sep 2016:
Islamic Leaders Issue Fatwa on
Indonesia’s Slash-and-Burn Agriculture
Indonesia has been plagued by intense smog and smoke in recent years from a growing number of wildfires set to clear land for the production of pulp, paper,
Indonesian fires as seen from space in 2015.
and palm oil. In 2015, the fires — large enough to be visible from space — caused tens of billions of dollars in damage
, grounding hundreds of flights, closing schools, and creating respiratory problems for an estimated 500,000 Indonesians. This week, Indonesia’s highest Islamic council issued a fatwa, a legal religious ruling or decree, discouraging companies and individuals from using slash-and-burn agriculture. The council said any burning that “causes environmental damage… is illegitimate," Reuters reported
. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim community — 205 million people — making up 87.2 percent of its population.
12 Sep 2016:
Dolphins Speak in Ways Similar
To Human Conversation, Finds New Study
Dolphins communicate in a way very similar to how humans talk, saying up to five complex “words” in a sentence and pausing to listen to each other before speaking, according to a new study
. Researchers at the T. I. Vyazemsky Karadag Scientific Station in Russia observed the conversation
in two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, known as Yasha and Yana. “The dolphins took turns producing pulse packs [words and phrases] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other's pulses before producing its own,” the scientists wrote in the study. “This language exhibits all the design features present in human spoken language, [indicating] a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins.”
09 Sep 2016:
Popular Insecticide Reduces
Queen Bees’ Ability To Lay Eggs, Study Finds
A new study has found neonicotinoids, the world’s most commonly used insecticide, cause queen honeybees to lay as much as two-thirds fewer eggs,
A queen bee surrounded by members of her colony.
jeopardizing the health and stability of entire bee colonies. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Minnesota, was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports
. "The queens are… the only reproductive individual laying eggs in the colony," said lead author Judy Wu-Smart
. "If her ability to lay eggs is reduced, that is a subtle effect that isn't (immediately) noticeable, but translates to really dramatic consequences for the colony." The scientists also found colonies exposed to imidacloprid, a type of neonicotinoids, collected and stored less pollen than insecticide-free colonies, and removed just 74 percent of mite-infested or diseased pupae that can infect the entire hive, compared to 95 percent removal by unexposed bees.
08 Sep 2016:
The World Has Lost 10 Percent
Of Its Wilderness Over Last Two Decades
The world has lost one-tenth of its wilderness — an area twice the size of Alaska — over the last 20 years, scientists reported this week in the journal Current Biology
Wilderness loss since the early 1990s.
The hardest hit areas have been the Amazon and Central Africa, which have been plagued by rampant and unregulated logging and other industrial activities in recent decades. The scientists found there are 11.6 million square miles of wilderness remaining on earth, largely located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and Australia. "The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening," said lead author of the study James Watson
, a biologist at the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society. "You cannot restore wilderness. Once it is gone, the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proactively protect what is left."
Clinton vs. Trump: A Sharp Divide
Over Energy and the Environment
Environmental and energy issues have received relatively little attention from the two major-party candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have spoken out on these issues, the differences — like just about everything else about this campaign — have been stark. In a chart, Yale Environment 360
compares what Clinton and Trump have said on topics ranging from climate change to coal. See the graphic.
07 Sep 2016:
Costa Rica Runs on Renewable
Energy For More Than Two Months Straight
Costa Rica has generated 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy 150 days so far this year, including all of the past two months, according to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity, the nation’s main power provider. The country’s main source of renewable energy is hydropower, which accounted for 80 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity generation in August, according to Mashable
. Another massive hydroelectric power plant, the Reventazón dam, is scheduled to come online in September, further boosting the nation’s hydroelectric production. Geothermal, powered by Costa Rica’s many volcanoes, generated another 12.6 percent of electricity. Wind and solar make up roughly 7 percent of generation. Experts say Costa Rica is on track to meet, if not beat, last year’s record 299 days of 100 percent renewable energy.
02 Sep 2016:
Scientists Have Found
Another Massive Reef In Australia
Scientists have discovered a massive, deepwater reef
along the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Australia. The newly charted,
A newly mapped bioherm reef in Australia.
1.5 million-acre marine ecosystem contains thousands of donut-shaped rings known as bioherms, built by the green algae Halimeda
, each of which measure 650 to 1,000 feet across and 66 feet thick. Scientists have known the rings were there since the 1970s, but had no idea how extensive the reef was, said Robin Beaman
, a marine geologist at James Cook University and one of the co-authors of the research. Using LiDAR surveying technology, the Australian scientists found the bioherm reef is three times larger than previously estimated. The structures have likely been built over the past 10,000 years, the scientists said, and will provide clues on how the environment has changed over that time. The research was published in the journal Coral Reefs
01 Sep 2016:
Newly Discovered Fossils Break
Record, Dating Back 3.7 Billion Years Ago
Geologists have found fossils in Greenland dating back 3.7 billion years — the oldest evidence of life on earth discovered to date. The layers of stromatolites, which are made up of fossilized microbes,
3.7 billion-year-old fossils found in Greenland.
were found in the world’s oldest sedimentary rocks, the Isua supracrustal belt along the edge of the Greenland ice cap. They predate the previous fossil record holder by roughly 220 million years, according to Allen Nutman
, a geologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia and lead author of the new findings, published in the journal Nature
this week. The fossils “indicate that as long as 3.7 billion years ago, microbial life was already diverse,” said Nutman. “This diversity shows that life emerged within the first few hundred millions years of Earth’s existence, which is in keeping with biologists’ calculations showing the great antiquity of life’s genetic code.”
Interview: Exploring How and
Why Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other
Two decades ago, while researching her doctoral thesis, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via a network of latticed fungi buried in the soil
– in other words, she found, they “talk” to each other. Since then, Simard, now at the University of British Columbia, has pioneered further research into how trees converse, including how these fungal filigrees help trees send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. Simard is now focused on understanding how these vital communication systems, which she compares to neural networks in human brains, could be disrupted by environmental threats, such as climate change, pine beetle infestations, and logging. “These networks will go on,” she told Yale Environment 360
. “Whether they're beneficial to native plant species, or exotics, or invader weeds and so on, that remains to be seen.” Read the interview.
30 Aug 2016:
To Stop Poachers, Zimbabwe
Begins Dehorning Entire Rhino Population
Zimbabwe reportedly plans to dehorn its more than 700 rhinos by the end of the year in an effort to discourage illegal poaching. Poachers killed a record 1,305 rhinos throughout Africa last year,
A recently dehorned white female rhino in Zimbabwe.
including 50 in Zimbabwe, double what the country experienced in 2014. Despite an international ban on buying or selling rhino horn that has been in effect since 1977, the substance is a prized traditional medicine in Asia, thought to boost virility and cure cancer. "We want to send a message to poachers that they will not get much if they come to Zimbabwe,” Lisa Marabini, director of operations with Aware Trust Zimbabwe, which is helping the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority remove horns, told Reuters
. Zimbabwe officials said dehorning a rhino costs $1,200. According to Bloomberg
, they have already dehorned 45 animals, and are looking for donors to help fund the rest.
Thousands of Homes Keep Flooding,
Yet They Keep Being Rebuilt Again
More than 2,100 properties across the U.S. enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program have flooded and been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978, according to a
new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council
Flooding in Denham Springs, Louisiana.
(NRDC). One home in Batchelor, Louisiana has flooded 40 times over the past four decades, receiving $428,379 in insurance payments. More than 30,000 properties in the program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have flooded multiple times over the years. Those homes, known as “severe repetitive loss properties,” make up just 0.6 percent of federal flood insurance policies. But they account for 10.6 percent of the program’s claims — totaling $5.5 billion in payments.
26 Aug 2016:
Ragweed Allergies Could Double
In Europe as Global Temperatures Rise
The number of people suffering from ragweed allergies in Europe could more than double by mid-century due to climate change, according to a new study published in the journal
Environmental Health Prospectives
Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
. Warming global temperatures, the research found, will help increase the distribution of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia
) by making more areas of the continent suitable for its growth. Higher temperatures will also make growing seasons longer and increase pollen concentration in the air. Ragweed allergies, popularly known as hay fever, could impact 77 million people in Europe by 2041 to 2060, up from 33 million today, said the new study, led by scientists at the University of East Anglia. Allergies cost Europe $62 billion a year in lost productivity and are responsible for four million sick days worldwide, according to the news site Quartz
25 Aug 2016:
Scientists Find New Way
To Convert Carbon Dioxide into Energy
Scientists have discovered a way to convert greenhouse gas emissions into a fuel
in a single step using a light-driven bacterium, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. A team of U.S. scientists, led by biochemists at Utah State University, used a modified version of the phototrophic bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris
as a catalyst to break apart carbon dioxide and turn it into hydrogen and methane, the latter of which can be burned to generate electricity. "It's a baby step, but it's also a big step," said Utah State biochemist Lance Seefeldt
, a co-author of the study. "Imagine the far-reaching benefits of large-scale capture of environmentally damaging byproducts from burning fossils fuels and converting them to alternative fuels using light, which is abundant and clean."
24 Aug 2016:
How Elephant Seals Are
Helping Scientists Study Climate Change
A group of southern elephant seals is helping scientists monitor
how climate change is impacting Antarctica by tracking water temperature, depth, and salinity as they swim and dive around the frozen continent.
An elephant seal wearing a data tracker.
Most recently, data from the seals — which routinely dive to depths of 1,000 to 2,000 feet — showed that water melting off the Antarctic ice sheet is causing the surrounding seas to become less salty, disrupting a conveyor belt-like system that transfers heat and nutrients around the globe. The new findings were published this week in the journal Nature Communications
. The elephant seal data, as well as records from monitoring devices on other marine mammals, have generated more than 500,000 vertical profiles of temperature and salinity in the world’s oceans and helped inform nearly 100 scientific studies. “"At the moment it's all about filling gaps” in the environmental records, lead author Guy Williams of the University of Tasmania told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
. “The [seals] have gone to areas where we've never had an observation before."
23 Aug 2016:
Study Shows Humans Learning
To Use Natural Resources More Efficiently
Humanity’s influence on the natural world is widespread, but a new study published in the journal Nature Communications
finds promising signs that we are slowly learning to live in a more sustainable way. The study found that between 1993 and 2009, the global population grew 23 percent and the global economy grew 153 percent. Meanwhile, the global human footprint grew only 9 percent over the same period. "Seeing that our impacts have expanded at a rate that is slower than the rate of economic and population growth is encouraging," said lead author Oscar Venter, an ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia. "It means we are becoming more efficient in how we use natural resources." The study authors warned, however, that even with the good news, human activity affects 75 percent of the planet’s surface and remains “perversely intense, widespread, and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity.”
For China’s Massive Data Centers,
A Push to Cut Energy and Water Use
China’s 1.37 billion people, many of them fully connected to the Internet, use an enormous amount of energy as they email, search the Web, or stream video.
Solar panels atop a green data center in Hangzhou.
Indeed, the Chinese government estimates that the country’s data centers alone consume more electricity than all of Hungary and Greece combined. But as Chinese technology and internet businesses look to burnish their environmental credentials and lower costs of operation, many are working to run their massive computing facilities more sustainably. Globally, tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are making rapid progress in this field, as they boost energy efficiency at data centers and seek to completely power their operations using renewable energy.
19 Aug 2016:
Scientists Find 1,075-Year-Old
Tree in Northern Greece, Europe’s Oldest
Scientists have discovered the oldest known living tree
in Europe, dating it at more than 1,075 years old. The Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii
) — a densely branched, slow-growing tree —
Europe's oldest tree, a Bosnian pine, in Greece.
was found in northern Greece, high in the Pindus Mountains. A team of Swedish, German, and U.S. scientists extracted a core of the tree’s one-meter thick trunk, and counted the rings that mark its annual growth—a dating technique known as dendrochronology. They found the tree started its life in 941. "I am impressed, in the context of Western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree, all the empires – the Byzantine, the Ottoman – all the people living in this region,” said University of Stockholm dendrochronologist Paul Krusic, who led the research. “So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years."
18 Aug 2016:
Urine From Large Fish Critical
To Reef Health—And Fishing Is Reducing It
Studies have shown that large fish such as grouper, snapper, and barracuda release key nutrients essential for healthy coral reefs through their urine and body tissue.
A barracuda swims along a Caribbean coral reef.
Now, new research in Nature Communications
has found that in areas where fishing occurs, nearly half of these nutrients are missing from the reefs, threatening their well-being. The study was conducted by four U.S. scientists, who surveyed 143 fish species at 110 sites across 43 Caribbean coral reefs, with varying levels of fishing activity, from marine preserves where anglers are banned to heavily fished reefs. “This study is useful to understand alternative ways fishing is affecting coral reef ecosystems,” said Jacob Allgeier
, an ecologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the new study. “Simply stated, fish biomass in coral reefs is being reduced by fishing pressure. If biomass is shrinking, there are fewer fish to pee.”
17 Aug 2016:
NASA Graphic Shows Severity of
Rainstorm That Caused Louisiana Flooding
A new graphic created by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency illustrates the severity
of a recent rainstorm that caused widespread flooding in Louisiana this week,
Rainfall totals in the southeastern U.S.
killing 11 people and forcing tens of thousands of residents from their homes. As much as 31 inches of rain fell in the southeastern U.S., much of it over a period of just three days, in what forecasters classified a 500-year storm event. An international team of scientists called the flooding “a classic signal of climate change
,” and warned that heavy rain events are becoming more frequent as the oceans and atmosphere warm up, feeding more moisture-laden storm systems. The New York Times reports
that five others states have experienced deadly flooding in the last 15 months, including Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina.