29 Nov 2016:
This Year’s Coral Die-Off on
Great Barrier Reef Was Worst Ever Recorded
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia experienced its worst recorded coral die off this year, with one region losing an average
Dead table corals on the Great Barrier Reef.
67 percent of its shallow-water coral, scientists confirmed this week
. The mass die-off event was caused by abnormally warm water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which can trigger corals to expel their algae and calcify and turn white, a process known as coral bleaching. Corals can recover from bleaching, but many never do. “Most of the losses in 2016 have occurred in the northern, most-pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef,” said Terry Hughes, a marine biologist at James Cook University who led the surveys of the coral die-off. “This region escaped with minor damage in two earlier bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, but this time around it has been badly affected.” Damage to the southern two-thirds of the reef, however, was far less than expected, the scientists reported.
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
16 Aug 2016:
July Was the Hottest Month on
Record, Continuing Steak of High Temps
July was the world’s hottest month since modern temperature record keeping began in 1880, according to new NASA data released this week.
July 2016 temperatures compared to average.
July measured 1.27 degrees F above the 1951-1980 average, and 0.2 degrees F above July 2015, the previous record. This year has seen a streak of record-breaking monthly temperatures, fueled by a strong El Niño and climate change. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said on Twitter
that 2016 now has a 99 percent chance of being the hottest year on record. If that happens, it will be the third such year in a row, reported Climate Central
. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since the start of the 21st century.
04 Aug 2016:
UNESCO Moves To Expand
World Heritage Sites Into the Deep Ocean
UNESCO has launched a campaign
to include deep-sea ecosystems in its list of World Heritage Sites. Previously, only sites within national jurisdiction,
A Dumbo octopus in the deep sea.
either on land or close to shore, could be given heritage status and UNESCO protection. But ecosystems within the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet, deserve similar classification, UNESCO says. In a new report, World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
, the organization presents five biodiversity hotspots—many of which are at risk from climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and deep-sea mining—worthy of recognition: the Costa Rica Thermal Dome; the White Shark Café, a shark gathering point in the Pacific Ocean; the Sargasso Sea; the Lost City Hydrothermal Field, with its 200-foot carbonate towers, in the Atlantic Ocean; and the Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island, in the Indian Ocean.
25 Jul 2016:
Global Economy Has Reduced
Its Energy Intensity By One-Third Since 1990
The global economy is becoming less energy intensive
, using fewer fossil fuels to power productivity and economic growth, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Rooftop solar panels
Global energy intensity — a measure of energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) — has decreased nearly one-third since 1990, the agency said. The U.S., for example, burned 5,900 British thermal units per dollar of GDP
in 2015, compared to 6,600 BTUs in 2010. China burned 7,200 BTUs per dollar in 2015 versus 8,300 BTUs in 2010. The Department of Energy says the decrease is the result of the growth in low-carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar, and improved energy efficiency. “This is excellent news,” Penn State University climatologist Michael Mann told Climate Central
. “The dramatic drop we are seeing in global energy intensity is a direct indication that energy efficiency measures are having a very direct impact on global carbon emissions.”
20 Jul 2016:
Global Temperatures Continue
To Shatter Heat and Arctic Ice Records
June marked the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat, with global temperatures measuring 1.62 degrees F above the 20th-century average, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week
Global 2016 temperatures.
The first half of 2016 was 1.89 degrees F above last century’s average, breaking the previous January-June record set in 2015 of 0.36 degrees F above average. “2016 has really blown  out of the water,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told reporters
. Five of the first six months of this year have also set records for the smallest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979. Scientists said the recent record-breaking heat could be partly attributed to last year’s strong El Nino, but not entirely. “While the El Niño event… this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” Schmidt said
12 Jul 2016:
Climate Change Has Shifted
The World’s Cloud Cover Over Past 30 Years
Warming global temperatures have altered the distribution of clouds across the Earth in recent decades, according to new research published in the journal Nature
Global cloud cover.
Mid-latitude storm clouds have shifted polewards, dry subtropical zones have expanded in size, and the tops of clouds have gotten higher as a result of a warmer troposphere and cooler stratosphere, according to the study, which relied on satellite images taken between 1983 and 2009. Researchers said these shifts in cloud cover could further exacerbate climate change. As cloud systems shift toward the poles, where there’s less solar radiation, more sunlight will reach the Earth’s surface near the equator, boosting temperatures. Also, taller, thicker clouds trap more heat. “We now have a thicker blanket, which is also a warming effect,” said Joel Norris
, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego who helped lead the study.
24 Jun 2016:
Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change
Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week
that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.
New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian
. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
23 Jun 2016:
Scientists Discover Contagious
Cancer in More Species of Shellfish
Last year, scientists discovered a type of contagious cancer in soft-shell clams in which free-floating cells transmitted the disease from one animal to another.
Now, a team of Columbia University researchers is reporting that contagious cancers in the ocean may be more common than previously thought
and can not only jump from animal to animal, but across species. According to the new study published in Nature, the leukemia-like cancer, known as disseminated neoplasia, has been found in three more species of bivalves: mussels, cockles, and golden carpet shell clams. The cancer cells were genetically distinct from their hosts, indicating they originated elsewhere. Transmissible cancer had previously been found in Tasmanian devils
and dogs, but there’s no indication that humans are at risk. “I would only worry deeply if I was a mollusk,” Stephen P. Goff, a molecular biologist at Columbia University and co-author of the study, told The New York Times
16 Jun 2016:
Some Coral Reef “Bright Spots”
Remain, Despite Devastating Bleaching
After decades of being overfished and mismanaged, and the worst bleaching event on record this year, scientists reported in the journal Nature this week
that there remain some “bright spots” among the world’s coral reefs
Coral reef on the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific.
– systems that are doing better than anyone expected. The study examined 18 different factors at 2,514 reefs in 46 nations, including water depth, tourism, fishing, and population density. Those systems that were still thriving — defined by the scientists as having more fish than expected — tended to be managed by, and accessible only to, local fishermen and indigenous groups. This included reefs in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Kiribati. “There’s been a narrative about local involvement, but it’s often very token,” Joshua Cinner, a research fellow at James Cook University in Australia and lead author of the study, told The Atlantic
. He said there should be more opportunity for “communities to creatively confront their own challenges.”
15 Jun 2016:
Clean Energy Could Cost Up To
59 Percent Less by 2025, Report Finds
The cost of solar energy could drop by as much as 59 percent by 2025, from 13 cents to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency
Rooftop solar panels in Hannover, Germany.
Offshore wind could become 35 percent cheaper, and onshore wind 26 percent cheaper, by 2025. The cost of building renewable energy facilities is also likely to fall, by as much as 57 percent by the middle of next decade, the report found. “Historically, cost has been cited as one of the primary barriers to switching from fossil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources, but the narrative has now changed,” Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of IRENA, said in a statement
. “To continue driving the energy transition, we must now shift policy focus to support areas that will result in even greater cost declines and thus maximize the tremendous economic opportunity at hand.”
09 Jun 2016:
Fish Can Recognize Human
Faces, According to One New Study
Fish now join humans, monkeys, primates, and birds as one of the few animals able to distinguish faces, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports
James St. John/Wikimedia
The skill requires a sophisticated combination of perception and memory
— and generally, a neocortex. But scientists at the University of Oxford in England and the University of Queensland in Australia were able to train archerfish to recognize human faces, despite the fact that these tropical fish don’t have complex brain structures. Archerfish typically feed by spitting water at prey, like insects. So the scientists taught the fish to spray water at images of particular human faces in exchange for food. Archerfish identified the correct person 81 percent of the time.
06 Jun 2016:
Fish Choose Plastic Over
Zooplankton in Polluted Waters
Fish that grow up in waters full of plastic particles develop a taste for trash, choosing to eat plastic over zooplankton, their natural food source, according to a study published in the journal Science
The research, by ecologists at Uppsala University in Swedish, found larval perch from the Baltic Sea exposed to microplastic pollution (less than 5mm in size) had stunted growth, were less active, ignored the smell of predators, and experienced increased mortality rates. Plastic pollution has become a major problem in the world’s oceans, but scientists are just beginning to understand how these fragments can affect the health of marine species. “If early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound,” said ecologist Oona Lönnstedt
, lead author of the study.
01 Jun 2016:
Climate Change Could Be Making
Food Crops More Toxic, UN Report Says
As extreme weather increases in frequency and intensity, food crops are producing more chemical compounds that can be toxic to humans in large doses, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme
Crops such as wheat, maize, and soybeans generate these compounds as a natural response to environmental stressors, such as drought, floods or heat waves. But when consumed by humans for extended periods of time, they can cause illnesses like neurological diseases or cancer, according to the study. One example, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports
, is nitrate. Drought slows down plants’ conversion of nitrates into amino acids and proteins, leading to a build up of the compound. When consumed in large quantities, nitrates stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body. "We are just beginning to recognize the magnitude of toxin- related issues confronting farmers in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics," the UNEP report noted.
31 May 2016:
Bees’ Fuzzy Bodies Help Them
Detect Electrical Charges From Flowers
Back in 2013, scientists discovered that bees can detect the electrical charges that flowers emit, helping them locate nearby food sources.
Exactly how the bees were doing this, however, remained a mystery. Now, scientists have found that the hairs on bees’ fuzzy bodies move in response to the charges
, which send nerve signals to bees’ brains that flowers are nearby. The finding is an important one: Scientists have long thought
that only animals in marine or moist habitats could detect electric fields, since currents are carried through water. That bees can do this in dry air opens up the possibility that other insects might have the same ability. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Bristol in the U.K., was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
23 May 2016:
World Could Warm 8 Degrees
Celsius If All Fossil Fuel Reserves Burned
As nations meet in Bonn, Germany this week to hash out how to achieve the 2-degree Celsius goal they set in Paris, new research is providing policymakers a glimpse of what would happen if the world does nothing to curb climate change.
What if nations chose instead to burn through all of their remaining fossil fuel reserves, equal to 5 trillion tons of CO2 emissions? According to the new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the world would warm an average 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees F), or up to 17 degrees Celsius (30 degrees F) in the Arctic. The research was conducted by a team of climate scientists at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wanted to understand the worst-case scenario. “Such climate changes, if realized, would have extremely profound impacts on ecosystems, human health, agriculture, economies, and other sectors,” the researchers write.
Interview: CO2 'Air Capture' Could
Be Key to Slowing Global Warming
For two decades, Klaus Lackner has pioneered efforts to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Now, after years of watching the global community fail to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, Lackner — director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University — is delivering a blunt message: The best hope to avoid major disruptions from global warming is to launch a massive program of CO2 "air capture" that will begin to reverse the buildup of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere. "We need to have the ability to walk this backwards," says Lackner. "I'm saying this is a war, and we need to use all the weapons at our disposal. You don't want to get into this fight with one hand tied behind your back."
Read the interview.
12 May 2016:
Despite Push for Renewables,
Fossil Fuels Likely to Dominate in 2040
World leaders pledged last year in Paris to cut CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Despite these promises, U.S. analysts said Wednesday
that fossil fuels
— including coal — will still likely be the world’s primary source of energy in 2040. The findings are part of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual World Energy Outlook report. Electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower will grow 2.9 percent annually, the report concluded, and by 2040, renewables, coal, and natural gas will each generate one-third of the world’s electricity. But diesel and gasoline will still power the majority of vehicles, with electric cars making up only 1 percent of the market, the report said. The report also found that carbon emissions from energy consumption in the developing world could grow 51 percent from 2012 to 2040
as countries like India and China modernize their economies, particularly by using coal.
10 May 2016:
More than 2,000 New
Plant Species Are Found Every Year
There are currently 391,000 plant species known to science—and another 2,000 are being discovered every year, according to a new report from the U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Last year’s new discoveries included a nearly five-foot tall carnivorous plant first identified on Facebook, a 105-ton tree in West Africa, and 90 new species of Begonia flowers. Brazil, Australia, and China were hotspots for species discovery. The State of the World’s Plants
report did find, however, that one-fifth of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction from habitat loss, disease, invasive species, and climate change. “Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, told The Guardian
. “Plants provide us with everything — food, fuel, medicines, timber, and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”
05 May 2016:
With Climate Change, It Is
Survival of the Oldest, Not the Fittest
When it comes to climate change, the world’s oldest species are more likely to survive than newly evolved ones, says a new study
published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology
The logic is relatively simple: The reason they’re so old is that they’ve been tested by abrupt environmental shifts before and have come out on top. This group includes species like the cane toad and California sea lion. More specifically, the study found the planet’s oldest animals all share at least one of the following characteristics: They come in various colors, give birth to live young (as opposed to eggs), and live at low latitudes. The research could help “predict which [species] could be better able to deal with current climate change and to better predict the threat status of species on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” said
Sylvain Dubey, an ecologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and co-author of the new study.
28 Apr 2016:
Half of All Farmed Fish Have
Deformed Ear Bones That Cause Hearing Loss
Farmed fish have become an increasingly larger share of the world’s seafood market in recent decades—now accounting for 50 percent of global seafood consumption.
At the same time, however, debate about the ethics, safety and health of farmed fish versus their wild counterparts has also intensified. A new study
published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports
finds that half of all farmed Atlantic salmon have deformed ear bones that lead to hearing loss. These salmon are 10 times more likely to have the deformity than wild fish. The findings “raise questions about the welfare of farmed animals," said
Tim Dempster, a biologist at the University of Melbourne involved in the study. It may also explain why efforts to boost wild populations by releasing farmed juveniles have proven unsuccessful. Hearing loss would prevent farmed fish from detecting predators, or restrict their ability to navigate to breeding sites, the scientists said.
27 Apr 2016:
Wooden Skypscrapers Grow in
Popularity in Effort to Reduce Emissions
Architects are increasingly abandoning traditional steel-and-cement skyscrapers in favor of wood-and-glue designs — a move that experts say could help drastically reduce CO2 emissions from the world’s building sector.
Acton Ostry Architects
Creating steel, iron, and non-metallic minerals — including concrete — is an energy-intensive process that accounts for more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the 1990s, developers created a product known as cross-laminated timber — planks of wood glued together by a polyurethane adhesive — with the strength and durability of traditional building materials, and far fewer CO2 emissions. With concern for climate change mounting, wood-based skyscrapers have been popping up around the globe in recent years
. The University of British Columbia, for example, approved an 18-story, wooden housing complex in 2015. “This revolution has happened rather quietly and happened rather slow,” Kris Spickler, a heavy timber specialist at Structurlam, told Popular Science
. “But I think we’re in a year right now where we’re going to see it explode.”
From Mass Coral Bleaching,
A Scientist Looks for Lessons
Twice a year, Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb travels to Christmas Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to collect samples from coral reefs to better understand past and future climate change.
But when Cobb arrived on the island earlier this month, she was stunned. The corals she had spent the past 18 years studying were largely dead or dying. The scene has become a familiar one across the Pacific and Indian oceans this year as a record-breaking El Niño drove up water temperatures and caused fragile coral reef systems to bleach from stress or die. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Cobb talked about the recent bleaching event, the race to make reefs more resilient, and how coral records could improve short-term climate projections. “What you think reefs might be experiencing in 20 years,” she says, “they're experiencing now.” Read the interview.
20 Apr 2016:
Entries Invited for Third
Annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest
The third annual Yale Environment 360
Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the year's best environmental videos. Submissions must focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and be a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Deadline for entries is June 10, 2016. Read More.
18 Apr 2016:
The Complicated Case of
Global Warming’s Impact on Agriculture
Scientists have long debated whether climate change could help or hurt the world’s agricultural systems. Theoretically, additional CO2 in the atmosphere should help fuel crop growth.
A farmer plows his fields in southern India.
But global warming’s other impacts, such as shifting rain patterns, higher temperatures, and extreme weather, could reduce crop yields. A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change
by researchers in a half-dozen countries finds the answer depends on where you live. The scientists found yields of rain-fed wheat could increase by 10 percent, while irrigated wheat, the bulk of India and China’s production, could decline by 4 percent. Maize will decrease almost everywhere, down 8.5 percent. Rice and soybean could flourish in some areas and falter in others. “Most of the discussion around climate impacts focuses only on changes in temperature and precipitation,” said
Delphine Deryng, an environmental scientist at Columbia University who led the study. “To adapt adequately, we need to understand all the factors involved.”
12 Apr 2016:
Scientists Reimagine The
Tree of Life With New Microbe Knowledge
Following years of intense exploration and research into the microbial world, scientists have reimagined the tree of life
—the iconic visual representation of the living world first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859.
The new tree of life.
The project was led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who over the last decade have been gathering DNA from across the globe—from everywhere from meadow soils and river mud to deep sea vents—to reconstruct genomes and describe thousands of new microbial species. Curious how their findings fit into the tree of life, the scientists used a supercomputer
to visualize how more than 3,000 new and known species related to one another. They discovered that eukaryotes, the group that includes humans, exist on a thin twig compared to the microbial branch of the tree. “The tree of life as we know it has dramatically expanded due to new genomic sampling of previously enigmatic or unknown microbial lineages,” the authors wrote
For James Hansen, the Science
Demands Activism on Climate
Climate scientist James Hansen has been a prominent figure in the global climate conversation for more than 40 years. His 1988 congressional testimony on climate change helped introduce the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions to the American public,
and he has led study after study examining how our world will change as a result of global warming. Eight years ago, Hansen made the rare decision to begin engaging in climate activism—a move that has earned him both praise and criticism from the media and scientific community. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
last week, Hansen opened up about his unconventional career path and what he believes the world could look like a century from now. “I don't think that I have been alarmist — maybe alarming, but I don't think I'm an alarmist,” he said. “We have a society in which most people have become unable to understand or appreciate science, and partly that's a communication problem, which we need to try to alleviate.”
Read the interview.
11 Apr 2016:
More Than 50 Percent of
Great Barrier Reef Affected By Bleaching
Record high ocean temperatures in the western Pacific have caused more than half of the Great Barrier Reef to undergo a mass coral bleaching event this year, according to a team of Australian scientists
conducting aerial surveys.
ARC Coral Reef Studies
An aerial shot of the Great Barrier Reef in early April.
Corals thrive in a narrow temperature range, and when waters warm above normal—as they have this year from climate change and a strong El Nino—the organisms expel their symbiotic algae, leaving them without a source of food and susceptible to disease. Scientists’ next step is studying the corals up close to determine how deep the bleaching is, said
Terry Hughes, a marine biologist at James Cook University and head of the Australian coral bleaching task force. “If the corals are severely bleached, then a lot will die,” Hughes said. “If they are lightly bleached, which is the case with a lot of reefs south of Townsville, then they’ll regain their color over the next couple of months and there won’t be much mortality.”
07 Apr 2016:
How Ancient Algae Could
Help Cure Brain and Breast Cancer
One of the oldest life forms on earth may hold the key to battling hard-to-treat cancers, according to new research
by scientists at Oregon State University. The compound, coibamide A, is found in blue-green algae, organisms that have existed for at least two billion years. It was found during a diving trip in Panama’s Coiba National Park eight years ago and run through the National Cancer Institute’s database of potential anti-cancer compounds. Coibamide A was tested on mice and found to be more effective at killing brain and triple negative breast cancer cells—two of the most aggressive and hard-to-treat types of the disease—than anything ever tested before. "The chemical diversity found in nature has always been a significant source of inspiration for drug design and development, but… marine environments remain relatively unexplored," said Jane Ishmael, a cellular biologist at Oregon State University and lead author of the new study.
06 Apr 2016:
Half of World Heritage Sites Are
Threatened By Industrial Development
Since 1972, the United Nations has worked to protect 229 locations in 96 countries known for their “exceptional natural beauty” and “cultural significance.” These spots, known as World Heritage Sites,
The Great Barrier Reef
range from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, China’s panda sanctuaries, and the Grand Canyon in the United States. A new survey by the World Wildlife Fund, however, has found half of these sites are under threat
from oil and gas development, mining, illegal logging, overfishing, or other industrial activities. Eleven million people live in or near these sites, the report says, and depend on them for their housing, food, water, jobs, or ecosystem services like flood protection and CO2 sequestration. “We are not going to develop a just and prosperous future, nor defeat poverty and improve health, in a weakened or destroyed natural environment,” the authors wrote.