Underwater Kelp Forests Mapped
In New Citizen Science Project
grow along roughly 25 percent of the world’s coastlines and provide valuable habitat and nutrients for many types of aquatic life. Now, research by the “Floating Forests
” project is shedding light on how these underwater kelp forests are affected by climate change. The project is using NASA satellite data to observe changes in kelp forests over a period of more than four decades. The catch: No accurate way to automate the process exists, so the researchers rely on an international team of nearly 3,500 citizen scientists to mark the bright green kelp forests, which contrast with the deep blues of the ocean in the images.
14 Jan 2015:
Offshore Wind More Profitable
Than Drilling on U.S. East Coast, Report Says
Offshore wind would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling
Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea
near the U.S. East Coast
, according to
a new report from the advocacy group Oceana. The report contends that recent claims by the oil and gas industry about the economic potential of offshore drilling in the region are exaggerated because many of those oil and gas reserves are not economically viable to drill. Plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod have repeatedly failed to move forward
. But Oceana calculates that over the course of 20 years, offshore wind in the Atlantic could produce nearly twice as much energy as all of the economically recoverable oil and gas. Offshore wind installations also would likely create an additional 91,000 jobs — twice as many as offshore drilling would create, Oceana says.
29 Dec 2014:
The Arctic Is Absorbing
More and More Sunlight, NASA Images Show
The Arctic has been absorbing significantly more sunlight since the year 2000, according to NASA satellite data
Changes in absorption of sunlight in the Arctic
a trend that mirrors the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during that same period. These maps show changes in the amount of solar radiation absorbed over the Arctic from 2000 to 2014, as well as changes in sea ice cover during the same period. As sea ice cover declines and more dark ocean is exposed to the sun's rays, that decreases the reflectivity, or albedo, of the ocean's surface, meaning more heat is absorbed. Shades of red depict areas absorbing more sunlight and areas with less ice cover. The Arctic's rate of absorption has increased by 5 percent every June, July, and August since 2000. No other region on the planet has shown significant changes in albedo during that time, researchers say.
19 Dec 2014:
'Nuisance Flooding' Will Affect
Most of U.S. Coastline by 2050, Report Finds
By 2050, most U.S. coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due sea level
Nuisance flooding projections for U.S. cities
rise, according to
a new report the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The researchers looked at the frequency of so-called "nuisance flooding," which occurs when the water level reaches one to two feet above local high tide, and found that several cities along the East Coast are already seeing more than 30 days of nuisance flooding each year. Additional major cities — including Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — will reach or exceed that benchmark by 2030, the report says. Although nuisance flooding is not typically catastrophic or dangerous, it is often costly. The report drives home the point, researchers say, that such floods will become commonplace far earlier than 2100, which is generally cited as the date when sea level rise is likely to become damaging.
17 Dec 2014:
Obama Protects Alaska's
Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Development
President Obama yesterday announced protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska
A grizzly bear catches a salmon in Bristol Bay.
of the most productive fishing grounds in the nation, from future oil and gas development. The president's action is expected to benefit commercial fishermen and Native Alaskans and boost conservation efforts in the region, which is roughly the size of Florida. Noting that Bristol Bay is the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and the source of 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood — a catch worth $2 billion annually — Obama vowed to ensure long-term safeguards for the bay. The region has been under protection intermittently since 1989, when the Exxon Valdez spill prompted a federal moratorium on offshore drilling. "It is a natural wonder, and it’s something that’s just too precious to be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said in a video message
. The federal government is still considering whether to allow development of what would be North America's largest open-pit mine
in the bay's watershed.
04 Dec 2014:
Arabian Sea Whales Are Earth's
Most Isolated and Endangered Population
Humpback whales inhabiting the Arabian Sea are the most genetically distinct humpback whales and may be
the most isolated population on earth, researchers report
. With fewer than 100 estimated individuals, they are "definitely the most endangered" population of humpbacks, said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Howard Rosenbaum. The Arabian humpbacks' known range is limited to waters near Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Pakistan, and India, and possibly the Maldives and Sri Lanka, researchers say. Genetic data suggest they have remained separate from other humpback whale populations for 70,000 years — extremely unusual in a species famed for annual migrations of 9,000 kilometers or more. The genetic separation is likely reinforced by their breeding schedule, researchers say. While Arabian humpbacks breed on a northern hemisphere schedule, their closest neighbors breed on a southern schedule.
20 Nov 2014:
Real-Time Ocean Acidification
Data Now Available for U.S. Pacific Coast
Researchers, coastal managers, and shellfish farmers along the U.S. Pacific coast can now get real-time ocean
Web portal for ocean acidification data
acidification data through an online tool
developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data — which includes measurements of pH, carbon dioxide concentrations, salinity, and water temperatures at various sites — should help organizations and businesses make decisions about managing coastal resources and craft adaptation strategies, NOAA researchers say. The tool will feature data from five shellfish hatchery sites along the Pacific coast along with readings from NOAA’s ocean acidification monitoring sites. Ocean acidification is driven primarily by absorption of atmospheric CO2 by ocean waters, which changes seawater chemistry in a way that makes it difficult for many marine organisms to form their shells.
19 Nov 2014:
Global Maritime Shipping
Traffic Has Grown by 300 Percent Since 1992
Maritime traffic has increased four-fold over the past 20 years, causing more water, air, and noise pollution in
Maritime shipping traffic has increased rapidly.
the world's oceans and seas, according to a new study
quantifying global shipping traffic. Traffic went up in every ocean during the 20 years of the study, except off the coast of Somalia, where piracy has almost completely halted commercial shipping since 2006. In the Indian Ocean, where the world’s busiest shipping lanes are located, ship traffic grew by more than 300 percent over the 20-year period, according to the report published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. Burgeoning ship traffic has increased the amount air pollution, particularly above the Sri Lanka-Sumatra-China shipping lane, where researchers recorded a 50-percent increase in nitrogen dioxide, a common air pollutant, over the 20-year period. Shipping is also a major source of noise pollution, which can be harmful to marine mammals, the authors note.
13 Nov 2014:
Global Maps Detail Seasonal and Geographic Trends in Ocean Acidification
A team of scientists has published the most comprehensive analysis yet of how acidity levels vary across the world’s oceans. Drawing on four decades of
Ocean acidification map
measurements, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Colorado mapped changes in ocean acidity by season and location, as well as how acidity levels affect the stability of shell-building minerals. The maps
reveal that the northern Indian Ocean is at least 10 percent more acidic than the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, possibly due to its unique geography, the researchers say. The maps also show that ocean acidity fluctuates most in the colder waters off Siberia, Alaska, Antarctica, and the Pacific Northwest, due to cycles of deep-water upwelling and massive plankton blooms. The oceans have taken up a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans have put in the atmosphere over the last two hundred years, and acid levels at the surface have increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the industrial era, researchers say.
Interview: Saving World’s Oceans Begins With Coastal Communities
Aggressively curbing overfishing, pollution, and development is something coastal communities
can do immediately to protect their ocean resources — and with dramatic results — says marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. As the executive director of the Waitt Institute
, an ocean conservation organization, Johnson recently put that approach to the test on the Caribbean island of Barbuda. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she discusses how she helped Barbuda craft rules to protect its ocean resources and why she favors community-driven conservation efforts over more top-down approaches.
Read the interview.
13 Oct 2014:
Climate Change To Make Many
Fish Species Extinct in Tropics, Study Says
Climate change is likely to drive fish and marine invertebrates toward the poles and cause extinctions
near the tropics, according to
researchers at the University of British Columbia. Under the conservative climate change scenario of one degree Celsius of warming by 2100, the 802 species modeled in the study
are predicted to move away from their current habitats by as much as 9 miles, or 15 kilometers, every decade — a rate similar to what scientists have observed over the past few decades. Under the worst-case scenario of three degrees of warming, the researchers predict marine species will move toward the poles at a rate of 26 kilometers per decade. Under that scenario, an average of 6.5 species per 0.5 degrees of latitude would become locally extinct closest to the equator. The shifts will be caused by the species' reactions to warming waters, changing ocean chemistry, and ecosystem structure near the tropics, as well as new habitats opening up nearer the poles, researchers say.
08 Oct 2014:
Floods Will Be Chronic Problem
For East Coast Cities by 2030, Study Says
By 2030, residents of Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Maryland, could be experiencing more than 150 tidal floods every year — up
from an average of just 50 today — according to a recent study of sea level rise and coastal flood risk along the U.S. East Coast by the Union of Concerned Scientists
. In another 15 years, that number could jump to 400 floods annually, the study says. A home purchased in some of the more flood-prone parts of those two cities could see daily flooding before a 30-year mortgage was paid off, according to the study. The increased frequency will be driven by sea level rise, researchers say, which exacerbates the effects of so-called “nuisance flooding” linked to tidal cycles, rainfall, and storm surges. Other cities on the Atlantic coast will also see increased flood frequency, including Miami and Atlantic City, New Jersey, which can expect an average of 240 flood days per year by 2045.
07 Oct 2014:
Deep Oceans Not Warming As Previously Thought, Study Finds
The deepest reaches of earth's oceans have not warmed significantly over the last decade, according to scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California
— a finding that undermines a leading theory as to why the pace of global warming has slowed over the last 15 years. Scientists have speculated that the recent slowdown in rising surface air temperatures was a result of heat accumulating in the deep ocean. But in a paper
published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the NASA researchers concluded that the vast majority of sea level rise since 2005 was attributable to just two sources: upper ocean heat expansion and glacial melting. From this they inferred that the deep ocean was not also warming. In a separate paper
published in the same journal, however, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory noted that the upper ocean was absorbing between 24 and 58 percent more heat than was previously thought. That's not enough to account for the pause in surface air warming, but the researchers suggest
it is evidence that more accurate data on ocean warming is needed.
03 Oct 2014:
Thousands of Uncharted Ocean
Floor Features Revealed by Satellite Data
New maps of the seafloor created using satellite data reveal thousands of uncharted mountains and clues
about the formation of continents, researchers say. Among other findings, they identified a ridge in the Gulf of Mexico that had previously been associated with seafloor spreading, a major rift in the South Atlantic Ocean, and thousands of sea mountains — all of which had never before been documented. The maps are based on small ripples and dips in the surface of the ocean, which can be detected by satellites, the researchers explain in the journal Science
. Using these ocean surface variations, the scientists were able to infer the shape and contours of the new seafloor features. Previously, the only way to create detailed maps was to collect depth soundings from ships sailing directly over the seafloor, so only about 20 percent of the ocean floor had been accurately mapped, researchers say.
02 Oct 2014:
Large Sediment Plumes Flowing
From Greenland Glaciers, Images Show
Plumes of sediment-laden meltwater from southwest Greenland’s glaciers are easily recognizable in this
NASA satellite image
Sediment plumes off the coast of Greenland
captured in early September. Meltwater at the top of the ice sheet starts out relatively clean, but as it flows through glacial channels down to the ground and out into the ocean, it picks up large amounts of sediment — a byproduct of the glacier scraping the bedrock. As a result, plumes like the ones that appear light-blue in this photograph, are good markers for estimating the amount of meltwater leaving the ice sheet, researchers say. Melting from the Greenland Ice Sheet could result in global sea level rise of 2 to 8 inches, according to the most recent assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
01 Oct 2014:
Scientists Photograph Gathering
Of 35,000 Walruses on Alaskan Beach
In one of the largest gatherings of walruses documented in recent years, Alaska biologists photographed a
congress of roughly 35,000 animals resting on a beach
in northwestern Alaska. They swam to shore to rest, a walrus researcher explained, after the last remaining traces of sea ice melted in mid-September. Walruses typically rely on sea ice to provide a platform for resting and caring for their young as they swim to find clams, worms, and shrimp offshore, near the edge of the continental shelf. When no sea ice is available, as has been the case in the Chukchi Sea six of the last eight years, the walruses must make their way to shore. Besides taking them farther from their feeding grounds, the beach gatherings are dangerous for young walruses because they can be trampled, biologists say. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering granting Endangered Species Act protections to Pacific walruses.
30 Sep 2014:
Half of the Planet's
Animals Lost Since 1970, Report Says
The number of animals on the planet has fallen 52 percent in the last 40 years, according to an analysis
Animal population trend since 1970
the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The group's Living Planet Index, which tracked the populations of more than 10,000 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2010, revealed major declines in key populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The situation is most dire in developing countries, the report said, where wildlife populations have fallen on average by 58 percent. Latin America saw the biggest declines, with more than 80 percent of the region's animals lost since 1970. Globally, freshwater populations have plummeted 76 percent. This year's numbers are worse than those calculated in the last report in 2012, which found declines of 30 percent since 1970. The organization attributed this to new statistical weighting, which it said better represents each region's biodiversity, though other researchers have been critical
of the new methodology. Habitat loss and degradation was cited as the primary cause of biodiversity loss.
Cashes Ledge: New England's
Rich Underwater Laboratory
A little over 70 miles off the coast of New England, an unusual undersea mountain range, known as Cashes Ledge, rises from the seabed. Regulators are contemplating lifting a 12-year-old ban on commercial groundfishing in some parts of this area, sparking a roiling debate. What's not in question, however, is that the highest peak in the range, Ammen Rock, teems with kelp forests, sea sponges, and a wide variety of fish and mollusks — much of it captured by ocean photographer Brian Skerry during dives made earlier this year.
View the gallery.
09 Sep 2014:
Ocean Acidification May Dull
Sharks' Ability to Smell Prey, Study Finds
Ocean acidification, which is driven by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, may cause sharks to
Smooth dogfish shark laboratory testing
be less interested in hunting prey, according to
research published in Global Change Biology
. In laboratory experiments emulating CO2 concentrations as they are expected to be by the middle and end of this century, scientists from the U.S. and Australia found that the smooth dogfish shark became uninterested in squid odors — sometimes avoiding them altogether. Sharks in control waters pursued prey scents four times more often than sharks in waters with high CO2 levels, the study found. Rising ocean acidity can disrupt the proper firing of neurons, the scientists say, because it interferes with a specific receptor present in most marine organisms with a nervous system. A study earlier this year found that fish in waters with increased acidity were also less able to detect predator odors.
15 Aug 2014:
New Citizen Science Software
Aims to Document and Curb Illegal Fishing
Citizen scientists can now report — and potentially help stop — illegal fishing
with the snap of a photo thanks to
Illegal shark fin catch
a new smartphone app developed by the Nature Conservancy. The software, called ShipWatch
, was developed this summer during a "Fishackathon," a series of workshops hosted by the U.S. State Department to foster technology development and collaboration among computer programmers. ShipWatch allows users to upload photos of illegal fishing activities to a database, where they are labeled with date and location information and plotted on a central map. The developers hope the data will help authorities enforce existing fishing laws by, for example, developing flight maps for surveillance drones or strategically deploying enforcement authorities. "There are laws in place to say [the fishing] is illegal. The problem is they lack any kind of reporting mechanism," developers told Fast Co.Exist.
07 Aug 2014:
Mercury Pollution in Oceans
Has Tripled Since Industrial Revolution
Globally, oceans contain roughly 60,000 to 80,000 tons of mercury pollution, according to
a report published this week in Nature
detailing the first direct calculation
Ahi tuna has very high mercury concentrations.
of mercury pollution in the world's oceans. Ocean waters shallower than about 300 feet (100 meters) have tripled in mercury concentration since the Industrial Revolution, the study found, and mercury in the oceans as a whole has increased roughly 10 percent over pre-industrial times. North Atlantic waters showed the most obvious signs of mercury pollution, since surface waters there sink to form deeper water flows. In contrast, the tropical and Northeast Pacific were relatively unaffected. "We don't know what that means for fish and marine mammals, but likely that some fish contain at least three times more mercury than 150 years ago," and possibly more, the lead researcher said. "The next 50 years could very well add the same amount we've seen in the past 150."
23 Jul 2014:
Earth Observation Satellites Help
Scientists Understand Global Change
Global warming is affecting more than just atmospheric temperatures — it is also changing water cycles
, soil conditions, and animal migrations. Earth observation satellites aid scientists in measuring and monitoring these changes so societies can better adapt. Although there are well over 1,000 active orbiting satellites, less than 15 percent are used to monitor Earth’s environment. Yale Environment 360
presents a gallery of satellites that scientists are using to better understand how the planet is changing.
View the gallery.
08 Jul 2014:
Protection of Parrotfish
Could Slow Decline of Caribbean Reefs
The steady loss of coral reefs in the Caribbean could be partially reversed by taking a number of relatively simple steps, including stronger measures to protect the region’s parrotfish
, according to a new study. In a review of trends in Caribbean coral reefs
from 1970 to 2012, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network said that live coral only makes up about 17 percent of the region’s reef surfaces today. If present trends continue, the study said, coral reefs in the Caribbean will “virtually disappear within a few decades” because of foreign pathogens, algae invasions, pollution from tourism development, over-fishing, and warming waters. A key step in halting the decline is protecting parrotfish, which eat the algae that have been smothering coral reefs. The study said conservation measures, such as banning fish traps, have helped parrotfish populations rebound in some parts of the Caribbean, including Belize and the Bahamas.
Interview: Where Will the Earth
Head After Its ‘Climate Departure’?
The term “climate departure” has an odd ring, but its meaning is relatively straightforward. It marks the point at which the earth’s climate begins to cease resembling
what has come before and moves into a new state where the extreme becomes the norm. Camilo Mora — a University of Hawaii biogeographer, ecologist, and specialist in marshaling big data for climate modeling — has calculated a rough idea for the time of the earth’s climate departure: 2047. That date varies depending on region
, he says. But in a widely publicized paper published in the journal Nature
last year, Mora and 13 colleagues explored the concept of climate departure and what it will mean for our planet. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Mora explains why tropical regions will be most profoundly affected by climate change, why controlling population growth is at the core of the challenge posed by global warming, and the frustrations he and other scientists feel as their warnings about rising temperatures are ignored.
01 Jul 2014:
Small Island Nation of Kiribati
Purchases Foreign Land as Climate Refuge
The small island nation of Kiribati has purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a refuge for citizens who may be displaced by rising sea levels, marking the first time a
Kiribati's location (red) in the Pacific Ocean.
country has taken such actions as a defense against climate change, the Guardian reports
. Kiribati, home to 110,000 people scattered across 33 islands in the Pacific Ocean, is one of several small island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans that could be extensively or completely submerged within a few decades. The cost of protecting such countries often far outweighs their national incomes. Kiribati, with a GDP of under $200 million, ranks among the 10 countries facing the most severe financial impacts of climate change. The tract of 20 square kilometers on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji, could provide a future refuge for all of Kiribati's citizens, the nation's president said.
30 Jun 2014:
Antarctica's Emperor Penguins
To Be in Serious Decline By 2100, Study Says
Antarctica's Emperor penguins are facing dramatic declines by the end of the century and should be given endangered species status because of the threats posed
Sea ice loss threatens Emperor penguins.
by climate change, according to
an international group of scientists. If sea ice declines at the rates projected by current climate models, at least two-thirds of the colonies will likely shrink by more than 50 percent by 2100, the researchers report in Nature Climate Change
. That conclusion follows a 50-year study in eastern Antarctica of Emperor penguins, an iconic Antarctic species with 45 known colonies. Emperor penguins' survival is highly dependent on sea ice concentrations because they breed on the ice, and too little sea ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for the penguins. Granting the species protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide tools for improving fishing practices of U.S. vessels in the Southern Ocean and potentially for reducing CO2 emissions in the U.S. under the Clear Air Act, the researchers say.
15 May 2014:
Intensity of Hurricanes
Now Peaking Farther From the Equator
Powerful, destructive tropical cyclones are now reaching their peak intensity farther from the equator and closer to the poles, according to a new study
in the journal
Hurricane Sandy's progression in 2012
. Over the last 30 years, tropical cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, have moved poleward at a rate of roughly 33 miles per decade in the Northern Hemisphere and 38 miles per decade in the Southern Hemisphere. Ocean temperatures between 82 and 86 degrees F seem to be "ideal for the genesis of tropical cyclones," said MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel, who co-authored the study, "and as that belt migrates poleward, which surely it must as the whole ocean warms, the tropical cyclone genesis regions might just move with it." The poleward shift of hurricanes and typhoons could lead to "potentially profound consequences to life and property" in regions that previously had not been hit by tropical cyclones.
14 May 2014:
Early El Niño Conditions
May Spell Big Weather Impact This Year
Indications are growing that an El Niño weather pattern may be forming in the Pacific Ocean, which could have a profound impact on global weather. El Niño events are spawned by unusually warm ocean waters in the Pacific,
and these NASA satellite images
are one indication of warmer waters. The images depict sea-surface height anomalies, with above average sea-surface height shown in various shades of brown. Above average sea-surface heights are an indication of warmer waters, which expand as temperatures rise. These two images compare conditions in 1997 — a year with one of the most powerful El Niño events of the 20th century — with conditions this May. If an El Niño pattern does develop this year, it could lead to wetter conditions in western North America and South America, which could help end a severe drought now plaguing the U.S. West. The 1997/98 El Niño also created warmer and drier conditions in much of Asia. Other evidence, including data from a network of buoys in the Pacific, also shows a deep pool of warm waters sliding east across the Pacific since January.
Interview: Can Marine Life Adapt
To the World’s Acidifying Oceans?
As the world’s oceans grow more acidic from increased absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide, marine scientists are confronting a key question: How well can
organisms like mollusks, crustaceans, and corals adapt to these more corrosive conditions? One of the leading authorities in this field is University of California, Santa Barbara marine biologist Gretchen Hofmann. Her work in recent years has shown, in fact, that some sea organisms that build shells do seem to have some ability to acclimate to more acidic waters. But in an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Hofmann cautions that this adaptive capacity has its limits. The continuing burning of fossil fuels, she says, could push ocean acidity past a tipping point, rendering some mollusks and other organisms unable to build shells.
Read the interview.
09 May 2014:
Biodiversity, But Not Community
Composition, Surprisingly Stable Over Time
A major turnover of species in habitats around the globe is underway, resulting in the creation of novel biological communities, but overall species diversity is much more
stable than scientists had believed, according to a new report
in the journal Science
. In a survey of 100 long-term biodiversity monitoring projects in a variety of habitats around the world, the authors found that the majority of those studies (59 percent) documented increasing species richness. Biodiversity declined in 41 percent of the studies, but, in all cases the overall change in biodiversity was modest, the researchers said. When looking at changes in the species constituting those communities, however, the researchers found a surprisingly high rate of change — an average of about 10 percent change per decade. "A main policy application of this work is that we're going to need to focus as much on the identity of species as on the number of species," one of the study's authors said. "The number of species in a place may not be our best scorecard for environmental change."