e360 digest
Oceans


Photo Essay: Documenting the Swift
Change Wrought by Global Warming


Documenting global warming photo essay
Peter Essick

For 25 years, photographer Peter Essick has traveled the world for National Geographic magazine, with many of his recent assignments focusing on the causes and consequences of climate change. In a Yale Environment 360 photo essay, we present a gallery of images he took while on assignment in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung locales affected by climate change.
View the photo gallery.
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09 Dec 2013: Intensifying Storms Are
Contributing To Ongoing U.S. Wetlands Loss

The U.S. is losing wetlands at a rate of 80,000 acres per year, in part because of intensifying coastal storms and sea level rise, according to a new government study. From 2004 to 2009, the country lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands, a decline driven both by traditional factors, such as coastal development, as well as worsening storms and slowly rising seas, the study says. The rate of loss is a signal that government efforts to protect and restore wetlands are failing to keep pace with major environmental changes, experts told The Washington Post. The most pronounced wetlands losses were along the Gulf of Mexico, where major hurricanes have wreaked havoc on coastal lands. Along the Atlantic coast, a rapid increase in coastal development is funneling stormwater runoff into wetlands that cannot handle it, the study said. The loss rate of 80,000 acres annually represents a 25 percent increase over the rate of wetlands loss during 1998-2004, the last time government agencies examined the problem.
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03 Dec 2013: Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds

As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat
Jezzdk/Wikimedia
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.
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29 Nov 2013: Wide Mangrove Destruction
Is Documented Along Coast of Myanmar

Rapid agricultural expansion destroyed nearly two-thirds of the mangrove forestsin Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta between 1978 and 2011, increasing the region’s vulnerability to cyclones and typhoons, according to a new study. Using remote sensing imagery

Click to Enlarge
Mangrove destruction map

Webb et al., 2013
Mangrove forest loss
and field data, researchers from Myanmar and Singapore said that the dense mangrove cover in the Ayeyarwady Delta declined from 2,623 square kilometers to 1,000 square kilometers in that 33-year period. The main cause was agriculture expansion and the researchers said that if rates of destruction continue at their current pace the delta’s mangroves could be completely deforested by 2026. Reporting in the journal Global Environmental Change, the scientists said the loss of mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta could put the region at greater risk of major storms such as Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in Myanmar in 2008. But the researchers said the destruction could be slowed if Myanmar creates coastal protected areas.
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26 Nov 2013: Updated Conservation List
Finds Forest Giraffes on Brink of Extinction

In an updated list released today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noted some significant successes and failures in global wildlife
Okapi, forest giraffe
Wikimedia Commons
Okapi, or forest giraffe
conservation efforts. A major success story is the leatherback sea turtle, whose Atlantic population has recovered enough for the species to be considered only vulnerable, rather than critically endangered. The IUCN attributed the leatherback rebound to better protection of nesting beaches and reduced fisheries bycatch. The updated Red List contains more somber news, though, for the blue-tongued forest giraffe, the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The striped-legged forest giraffe, a species of okapi, is on the brink of extinction due mainly to the long, ongoing civil war in that country, which has led to increased poaching and loss of habitat. The Red List's ranks of threatened species have grown by 352 species since this summer, Mongabay reports, with roughly 21,000 species now listed as threatened.
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Fish 2.0: A Contest Seeks to Foster
A More Sustainable Seafood Industry

Twenty pioneers in the sustainable seafood business climbed a stage at Stanford University in November in an effort to woo the judges at the Fish 2.0 contest

Click to Enlarge
Oyster harvesting

HM Terry Co.
The winning project connects fishermen directly to customers.
with proposals on how to change the way the U.S. catches, distributes, and markets fish. A business competition at heart, Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs and investors to spur innovation in the tradition-bound seafood industry. Competitors's proposals ranged from converting waste at fish processing plants to expanding a Hawaiian network of aquaponic growers, who raise fish and vegetables together in tanks, into the developing world. One proposal aimed to create a data system to track catches in real time, enabling fisheries managers to hold the line on harvests. Contestants headed home with more than $75,000 in prize money.
Read more.
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19 Nov 2013: Pollution From Plastic Trash
May Make Tiny Island a Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to study whether plastic pollution on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is severe enough to warrant listing it as a Superfund clean-up site. Tern Island, a 25-acre strip of land about 500 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island

Click to Enlarge
Tern Island debris

Duncan Wright, USFWS
Tern Island marine debris
Oahu, is home to millions of seabirds, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity asked the EPA to add the entire Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and parts of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the list of federal Superfund sites due to extreme marine debris pollution, but the agency has only agreed to undertake an environmental study on Tern Island. The island is awash with debris ranging from plastic water bottles and bits of plastic to discarded fishing gear and home appliances. Studies have shown the trash can take a heavy toll on wildlife — seabirds, for example, often ingest bits of plastic after mistaking them for food and eventually die of starvation. The EPA study is the first step of a potentially years-long process to determine if the island qualifies for listing under the 1980 Superfund law.
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13 Nov 2013: Plastic Debris in Ocean
Has Spawned a 'Plastisphere' of Organisms

The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, researchers report. The microscopic community, which scientists dubbed the "plastisphere,"

Click to Enlarge
Diatom on plastic debris

Zettler, et al./ES&T
Diatom and bacteria on plastic debris
includes more than 1,000 species of algae, bacteria, microscopic plants, symbiotic microbes, and possibly even pathogens, the researchers say in Environmental Science & Technology. Some of the plastisphere microbes, many of which had never before been documented, contain genes that could help break down hydrocarbons, indicating the microbes may play a role in degrading the debris, the research shows. Plastic trash is the most abundant type of debris in the ocean, inflicting harm on fish, birds, and marine mammals that are entangled by it or ingest it. Until now, researchers hadn't looked at microbes living on the debris, which make up a sort of artificial "microbial reef," one of the scientists said.
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Interview: Using Robots to Unlock
Mysteries of CO2 and the Oceans

As climate change accelerates, scientists are focusing on the key role the world’s oceans play in absorbing half the planet’s carbon dioxide. But the precise mechanisms
Wave Glider
Liquid Robotics
Robotic Wave Glider
by which the oceans remove carbon from the atmosphere and the consequences for marine life remain poorly understood. That has led Tracy Villareal, a professor of marine science at the University of Texas at Austin, to devote his research to diatom phytoplankton. To better understand how these tiny organisms mitigate climate change, Villareal has become a pioneer in the use of a wave- and solar-powered ocean-going robot, known as the Wave Glider. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Villareal discusses why unlocking the secrets of diatoms is critical to understanding climate change and how deploying robots will revolutionize marine science. “There are all sorts of wild robotic systems under development,” he says.
Read the interview.
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08 Nov 2013: Antarctic Researchers Discover
Strips of Rock That Slow Flow of Glaciers

Narrow ribs of dirt and rock beneath Antarctic glaciers help slow the glaciers' flow into the sea, according to new research from scientists at Princeton University and the British Antarctic Survey. Using satellite measurements of the Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites

Click to Enlarge
Antarctic glacier velocities

NASA
Antarctic glacier speeds
Glacier, both in West Antarctica, researchers discovered bands they call "tiger stripes" underlying the glaciers. The stripes serve as zones of friction and prevent sliding, much like non-slip flooring, the researchers report in Science. Understanding the factors that control the glaciers' flow to the sea is important because their melting contributes significantly to sea level rise. The Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are particularly important, as together they've contributed about 10 percent of the observed global sea level rise over the past 20 years.
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14 Oct 2013: World Ocean Conditions Worse
Than Previously Thought, Analysis Finds

The world's oceans are deteriorating more rapidly than scientists had thought due to rising carbon dioxide levels and associated warming, according to a new analysisby European scientists. By many indicators, ocean conditions are even worse than outlined last
CCS injection well
USGS/Wikimedia
Sea butterfly without shell
month by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessment report on the physical effects of global warming, the researchers say. Sinking oxygen levels, which could decline by 1 to 7 percent by 2100, increasing ocean acidification, and overfishing of more than 70 percent of marine populations are among the biggest threats to ocean ecosystems, the scientists report in Marine Pollution Bulletin. Mollusks and other sensitive organisms are increasingly being found with corroded shells, a result of rising dissolved CO2 concentrations; within 20 to 40 years ocean acidity levels may reach the point where coral reefs are eroded faster than they can regenerate, the review said.
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07 Oct 2013: Nutrient Recycling by Sponges
Is Vital in Sustaining Reefs, Study Says

Sponges are the unsung heroes of coral reefs, helping the vibrant ecosystems thrive in the marine equivalent of a desert, a Dutch team working in the Caribbean has found. Scientists had long questioned how reefs, some
Caribbean sponges
NOAA
of the most productive communities on earth, were able to survive in low-nutrient tropical seas. Bacteria help recycle some nutrients, but the so-called "microbial loop" can't account for the high rates of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous recycling needed to maintain a coral reef, researchers say. Sponges fill that void by drawing in plankton and organic matter expelled by the corals and shedding cells that other reef organisms ingest as food, the researchers report in Science. The "sponge loop," as the Dutch team calls the process, recycles 10 times more organic material than bacteria do and produces as many nutrients as all other primary producers in a coral reef combined, they say.
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24 Sep 2013: Major Wind and Rain Belts
Could Shift North as Earth Warms

A study of warming at the end of the last Ice Age indicates that future warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels will likely shift the planet's rain and wind belts northward, say researchers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Regions that are already dry — including the western U.S., western China, and the Middle East — could grow drier, while equatorial Africa and monsoonal Asia may become wetter. An examination of data such as polar ice cores and ocean sediments shows that as the last Ice Age ended 15,000 years ago, northward shifts in the tropical rain belt and mid-latitude jet stream occurred as the temperature gradient between the northern and southern hemispheres increased. That sharper gradient came about because the land mass-dominated northern hemisphere warmed faster than the ocean-dominated southern hemisphere, according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers say a similar pattern could develop in years to come as the northern hemisphere continues to warm faster than the southern hemisphere.
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13 Sep 2013: Warmer Ocean Water Is Key
Factor in Melting Ice Shelves, Study Says

Recent research into one of West Antarctica's most rapidly melting glaciers and ice shelves has shown that rising ocean temperatures and a series of channels lacing the underside of
Edge of PIG ice sheet
NASA
Edge of Pine Island ice sheet
the shelf are the key factors in the rapid thinning of the shelf and the swift advance of the glacier behind it. Reporting in Science, U.S. scientists said that instruments deployed on and under the Pine Island Glacier and ice shelf over the past two years have shown that warmer ocean water has been flowing through a series of channels under the shelf, causing the 31-mile-long floating slab of ice to thin at the alarming rate of 2.4 inches per day and loosening the shelf's hold on the bedrock below. The melting ice shelf itself doesn't contribute to sea level rise, but as it thins it allows more of the land-based Pine Island Glacier to flow into the sea, which is contributing to sea level rise.
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10 Sep 2013: New Prize is Created to
Improve Measurements of Ocean Acidity

Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt is offering $2 million in prize money to inventors who can develop inexpensive and easily deployable sensors to measure ocean acidification. The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize is offering $1 million to the team that invents the most accurate sensors to measure the ocean’s acidity and $1 million to the team that devises the most affordable and easy-to-use sensors. Biologist Paul Bunje, a senior executive for oceans at the X-Prize Foundation, said that because current ocean acidity sensors can cost more than $5,000, very little is known about the pace of ocean acidification in various regions and depths. The goal, said Bunje, is to deploy many thousands of sensors worldwide. Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide mean that more CO2 is being dissolved in the oceans, steadily making them more acidic.
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06 Sep 2013: Immense Pacific Volcano Is
Among The Largest in the Solar System

A massive underwater volcano the size of New Mexico has been discovered 1,000 miles east of Japan, Nature Geoscience reports. Covering an area of 120,000 square

Click to enlarge
Tamu Massif Volcano

IODP/Texas A&M
Tamu Massif Volcano
miles, the volcano is 50 times larger than Hawaii's Mauna Loa, making it the largest volcano on Earth, according to a team of researchers from the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. The newly discovered volcano, named Tamu Massif, is only 25 percent smaller than the immense volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons, which is large enough to spot with a backyard telescope. Tamu Massif is a shield volcano, with a low, broad shape and gradually sloped flanks. Its name derives from Texas A&M University, where the lead researcher taught for three decades.
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30 Aug 2013: Greenland Ice Hides Gorge
Longer than the Grand Canyon

A massive gorge nearly twice as long as the Grand Canyon is hidden under Greenland's ice sheet, reports a team of researchers from the U.K., Canada, and Italy.

Click to enlarge
Greenland's grand canyon

NASA
Canyon below Greenland's ice
With a width of about six miles and a maximum depth of 2,600 feet, the previously undiscovered canyon is as wide as its Arizona counterpart and nearly half as deep. Flowing water likely carved the canyon long before the formation of the mile-deep ice sheet that has blanketed it for the past few million years. Researchers found the feature using ice-penetrating radar equipment, they reported in Science. The canyon does not yet have a name. "It's remarkable to find something like this when many people believe the surface of the earth is so well mapped," said lead author Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.
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26 Aug 2013: Ocean Acidification Could
Amplify Global Warming, Study Says

The increasing acidification of the world’s oceans caused by rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide not only poses a threat to marine creatures, but also could lead to an intensification of planetary warming, according to a new study. A team of U.S., British, and German researchers conducted experiments in seawater enclosures, known as mesocosms, showing that the increasing acidification of the ocean leads to a drop in production of an important sulfur compound, dimethylsulphide, or DMS. Marine emissions of DMS are the largest natural source of atmospheric sulfur, and those sulfur aerosols play an important role in reflecting the sun’s energy back into space and cooling the planet. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change, the scientists found that when they created acidic conditions in the seawater enclosures that match pH levels expected in 2100, emissions of DMS fell by roughly 18 percent. The scientists said their study was the first to prove the link between rising ocean acidification and the potential decrease in planet-cooling sulfur dioxide aerosols.
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20 Aug 2013: Google ‘Street View’ Will
Document Changes to World's Coral Reefs

Marine biologists are teaming up with Google to photograph detailed 360-degree panoramas of coral reefs around the globe. Using technology similar to

Click to enlarge
Google coral reef street view

Google
Google takes Street View to coral reefs.
Google’s Street View feature, users will be able to survey coral reefs much like they might scope out a city block. The project, Google Street View Oceans, has already surveyed a 150-kilometer stretch of the Great Barrier Reef and is now working on reefs in the Caribbean. "Only 1 percent of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef, and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs," said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who is leading the survey. Image recognition software will log the distribution and abundance of marine organisms, and the researchers hope "citizen scientists" viewing the reefs will help assess other key measures of reef health.
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19 Aug 2013: Future Flood Losses
Could Increase Ten Times by 2050

The rapid growth of the world’s coastal cities, coupled with sea level rise and land subsidence, could mean that flood losses in major metropolitan areas could rise from

Click to enlarge
Coastal Flooding Cities

Stephane Hallegatte, et al/
Cities facing increased risk
$6 billion in 2005 to more than $60 billion in 2050, according to a new study. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers said sea level increases of 8 to 16 inches by 2050 could cause $60 billion to $63 billion in damages in 136 of the world’s coastal cities. That figure assumes the cities will undertake some flood control measures. Cities whose infrastructure and buildings are now most at risk — including New York; New Orleans; Miami; Guangzhou, China; and Osaka, Japan — will be joined in four decades by other rapidly growing cities, such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
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12 Aug 2013: Live Video Stream Provides
Rare Glimpse of Deepsea Marine World

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this month is streaming online a live video feed from the deep-sea canyons off the northeastern U.S. coast, offering a real-time glimpse of the marine diversity on the ocean floor. In a 36-day expedition launched last month, NOAA researchers are using a remote-controlled vehicle tethered to the research ship Okeanos Explorer to capture video footage of rare marine creatures, deep coral communities, and cold vents, or seeps, from largely unexplored U.S. waters. NOAA is employing a remotely operated vehicle, known as Deep Discoverer, and a sophisticated camera sled to explore and broadcast video — accompanied by real-time narration from scientists — from depths of up to 6,000 meters, or nearly 20,000 feet. The project will continue until August 17.
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07 Aug 2013: Mimicking Cactus Design,
Scientists Devise Oil Spill Cleanup Method

Chinese researchers have developed a method of removing oil from polluted water using tiny barbed spikes that mimic the natural design of a cactus.
Cactus pollution cleanup
Wikimedia Commons
The cactus opuntia microdasys
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Beijing-based researchers describe how arrays of tiny copper spikes, similar to the cone-shaped spikes of a type of cactus known as Opuntia microdasys, are able to collect micron-sized oil droplets that might otherwise be difficult to remove from water. The copper spikes are extremely thin at their point but get wider as they get closer to the base, creating a pressure difference that pulls droplets of oil toward the artificial skin-like surface. The oil then coalesces at the base of the cone, which can then be removed from the water. “Each conical needle in the array is a little oil collection device,” said Lei Jiang, lead author of the report. In tests, the researchers found that the needle arrays were able to remove about 99 percent of oil content from water, suggesting that the design could lead to new methods of cleaning up oil spills.
PERMALINK

 

01 Aug 2013: Whales Shown to Flee
From Mid-Frequency Military Sonar

Two new studies show that the use of military sonar can provoke whales to flee, providing evidence that the naval operations may be a factor in mass strandings of whales and dolphins worldwide. According to one study,
Blue whale sonar study
Wikimedia Commons
A blue whale
most marine mammal strandings related to naval sonar exercises involve beaked whales, a notoriously shy species that responds to noise levels well below those used by the U.S. Navy. Scientists believe the beaked whales may interpret the sonar noises as the sounds of killer whales. A separate study found that even mid-frequency sonar affected the behavior of blue whales, the largest animals on earth, especially during feeding. After exposing tagged blue whales to simulated military sonar and other mid-frequency sounds, the animals often ceased feeding, increased swimming speeds, and traveled away from the sound. “Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins,” Sarah Dolman of the non-profit group Whale and Dolphin Conservation told the Guardian.
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Interview: Leaving Our Descendants
A Whopping Increase in Sea Levels

Last week, a group of scientists led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research released a paper that made a stark forecast:
Anders Levermann Interview
Anders Levermann
For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature increase, the world will eventually experience a 2.3-meter increase in sea level. That means that should carbon emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, and temperatures soar 4 to 5 degrees C in the next century or two, the world could well experience sea level increases of many meters — dozens of feet — in the centuries and millennia to come. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Levermann discusses how he and his colleagues reached their conclusions, how much disruption such large sea level increases might cause, and why we need to ponder the effect of our actions on future generations. “Society needs to decide about how much damage it wants to do in the future and how much damage future generations can actually cope with,” he says.
Read the interview
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19 Jul 2013: European Fish Stocks
Show Signs of Recovery, Study Says

A major assessment of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic Ocean shows that many species are recovering and are now being fished sustainably. The surprising findings, reported in the journal Current Biology, are based on data from government research institutes that collected millions of measurements of fish, both at sea and in markets. The study showed that for the first time in decades the majority of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic are recovering, thanks to reforms instituted by individual nations and the European Union in 2002. This good news comes amid widespread criticism of EU fisheries policies, which recently have undergone further reform. “We should be aware that low fishing pressure needs to be maintained until stocks recover,” said researcher Robin Cook of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. “This is only the first step. Now we need to see numbers increase as a result of continued low fishing pressure.”
PERMALINK

 

16 Jul 2013: Russia Blocks Plans to Create
Massive Marine Reserve in Antarctica

Russian officials have blocked plans to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the waters off Antarctica, citing concerns that it would restrict their
Ross Sea Antarctica Pew Trust
John B. Weller/The Pew Charitable Trusts
Ross Sea pack ice
fishing interests in the region, according to news reports. The plan, which was proposed by the U.S. and New Zealand, would have protected a total of 2.3 million square miles in the Ross Sea, a deep, high-latitude body of water in the Southern Ocean. But during a meeting of the 25-member Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Russia questioned whether the organization had the legal right to create such a haven. A key sticking point for the Russians was the potential loss of the fishery for krill, a shrimp-like creature that is a critical food source for penguins, seabirds, seals, and whales, but is netted for use in Omega-3 dietary supplements.
PERMALINK

 

10 Jul 2013: Massive Iceberg Calves
Off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier

A massive chunk of Antarctica’s fastest-moving ice stream, the Pine Island Glacier, dropped into the Amundsen Sea this week, nearly two years after

Click to enlarge
Pine Island Glacier

Alfred Wegener Institute/German Space Agency
Pine Island Glacier, 2011-2013
scientists first observed a crack in the glacier tongue. German scientists, who have been tracking the progress of the ice mass since NASA satellites first observed the crack in 2011, say the calved iceberg measured 720 square kilometers (278 square miles). There is no conclusive proof that climate change triggered the ice break, said Angelika Humbert, an ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute. But shifting wind patterns around Antarctica are bringing warmer waters to the surface of the Southern Ocean in West Antarctica, which is hastening the thinning of some glaciers. Humbert said those warmer waters are causing the Pine Island Glacier to flow more rapidly into the Amundsen Sea.
PERMALINK

 

08 Jul 2013: Crowdsourcing Project Targets
Open-Source Tool for Ocean Research

A team of marine researchers is developing a blueprint for an inexpensive tool to collect oceanographic data, a venture they hope will make ocean science more accessible to other scientists, educators, and marine enthusiasts. Using an open-access model, the researchers hope to build their own CTD, a widely used oceanographic instrument that collects information on ocean temperature, depth, salinity, and density. While CTDs are vital to marine research, the technology can be prohibitively expensive for some “citizen scientists,” with costs running $5,000 to $25,000 per instrument. Traditional CTDs are small, cylindrical instruments that are dropped from boats and relay data back to shipboard computers. Using a crowdsourcing website, organizers of the so-called OpenCTD project are raising funds to design a CTD capable of collecting ocean data down to 200 meters at a cost of about $200.
PERMALINK

 

01 Jul 2013: Climate Change Driving
More Active El Niño Cycles, Study Says

A new analysis of tree-ring data indicates that the climate cycle known as the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been more active during the latter part of the 20th century than at any other time during the past seven centuries, suggesting that global warming is affecting this climate phenomenon. Using data from 2,222 tree-ring chronologies from the tropics and mid-latitudes in both the northern and southern Hemispheres, a team of scientists determined that ENSO-related behavior in the late 20th century was far greater than the natural variability reflected in data going back to 1300. A naturally occurring climate cycle, ENSO is characterized by warmer ocean temperatures off the west coast of South America, a phenomenon that can cause major droughts, floods, and extreme weather across the Pacific. According to Jinbao Li, a scientist at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, greenhouse gases are altering the planet’s radiation balance and thus intensifying ENSO cycles.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jun 2013: Global Reports Underline
Threats to Planet’s Bird Species

New global research underlines the rising threats facing the world’s bird species, with three reports providing evidence that climate change, overfishing, and unsustainable agriculture are taking a heavy toll on
Maine puffins
USFWS
Puffins along the Maine coast.
avian populations worldwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports that numbers of some migratory bird populations in Maine — including Arctic terns and puffins — have plummeted in recent years because their food supplies are disappearing as a result of commercial fishing and the shifting of fish to cooler waters, which is making it more difficult for some birds to feed their young. In a separate study, scientists predict that rising sea levels will devastate habitat for some migratory shore birds in the coming decades. Higher sea levels, the study predicts, will flood 23 percent to 40 percent of the intertidal habitats for several shorebird species, triggering population declines of as much as 70 percent. Overall, one in eight bird species globally is at risk of extinction, according to a new report by BirdLife International.
PERMALINK

 

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