Ocean warming threatens kelp forests

Increasing sea temperatures in the northeast Atlantic Ocean have led to lower growth rates and decreased local biodiversity within coastal kelp forests, new research has revealed.

The research shows that the amount of carbon fixed by kelp forests and released as ‘leaf litter’ had been previously underestimated and, crucially, that kelp forests in cold waters typically store and release two to three times more carbon than those in warm waters. Kelp forests generally occur in cold, nutrient-rich water and are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth, absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in order to grow. However, recent significant warming of some parts of the Atlantic mean that sea temperatures are no longer optimal for kelp growth.

Kelp grows more slowly in warmer sea temperatures
Kelp grows more slowly in warmer sea temperatures

© Marine Biological Association

Dr Dan Smale of the Marine Biological Association, who co-led the research, has been studying kelp forest ecosystems in the UK and elsewhere for a decade. He says: “Some kelp species can grow incredibly quickly, providing fuel for coastal food webs that in turn support a wide range of marine life, including fish, crabs, birds and mammals. We knew that kelp forests fix and release considerable amounts of carbon, but until now we didn’t know exactly how much energy flows through these habitats and just how strongly ocean temperature affects this process”  

The team used scientific diving to perform surveys and experiments at eight locations, spanning 900 kilometres of UK coastline, from northern Scotland to southwest England, to determine how ocean temperatures affect kelp forest growth rates.

The observations have important implications for the future of oceans and management of global warming.

“The study comes as the debate of how we manage coastal ecosystems to tackle climate change intensifies, and our results suggest kelp forests have a more important role to play than previously thought,” Dr Smale said.

In a separate, related study, the team also showed that ocean warming has led to changes in habitat structure, as different kelp species respond to increased sea temperature in different ways. Changes in the density and identity of kelp species have caused changes in the number and diversity of plants and animals using the forests as habitat. The study highlights how climate change can indirectly impact upon marine biodiversity, by driving changes in the distribution and performance of key habitat-forming species.

“Kelp forests represent critical marine habitats, similar to coral reefs and seagrass meadows, but they are difficult to study and our understanding of how climate change and other pressures are altering these ecosystems remains fairly limited. What is clear, is that they provide habitat and nursery grounds for a wide range of marine life, including fisheries species, and they play a key role in carbon capture and release in coastal waters,” Dr Smale concluded.  

Donald Trump is hampering fight against climate change, WEF warns

The World Economic Forum delivered a strong warning about Donald Trump’s go-it-alone approach to tackling climate change as it highlighted the growing threat of environmental collapse in its annual assessment of the risks facing the international community.

In the run-up to the US president’s speech to its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next week, the WEF avoided mentioning Trump by name but said “nation-state unilateralism” would make it harder to tackle global warming and ecological damage.

The WEF’s global risks perception survey showed Trump’s arrival in the White House in 2017 had coincided with a marked increase in concern about the environment among experts polled by the Swiss-based organisation.

t said all five environmental risks covered by the survey – extreme weather events, natural disasters, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and human-made natural disasters – had become more prominent.

“This follows a year characterised by high-impact hurricanes, extreme temperatures and the first rise in CO2 emissions for four years. We have been pushing our planet to the brink and the damage is becoming increasingly clear.

“Biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain, and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health.”

Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris agreement under which nations agreed to take steps to limit the increase in global temperature. He has said the commitments made by his predecessor, Barack Obama, would damage the American economy.

Other states have said they will keep to the pledges made in Paris, an approach supported by the WEF.

“A trend towards nation-state unilateralism may make it more difficult to sustain the long-term, multilateral responses that are required to counter global warming and the degradation of the global environment,” it said.

The survey said the extreme weather events in 2017 included unusually frequent Atlantic hurricanes, with September the most intense month on record. It was also the most expensive hurricane season.

It added that when data was finalised, 2017 would be among the three hottest years on record, and the hottest without an El Niño, the Pacific Ocean climate cycle that affects the world’s weather.

Biodiversity loss was occurring at mass-extinction rates, the WEF said, noting that the populations of vertebrate species declined by an estimated 58% between 1970 and 2012.

“Globally, the primary driver of biodiversity loss is the human destruction of habitats including forests – which are home to approximately 80% of the world’s land-based animals, plants and insects – for farming, mining, infrastructure development and oil and gas production.”

Stronger than expected growth in 2017 meant economic risks were seen as less pressing, but the WEF said the upbeat picture masked continuing underlying concerns, including unsustainable asset prices; high levels of indebtedness, particularly in China; and continuing strains in the global financial system.

The International Monetary Fund is likely to raise its forecast for global growth when it gives its latest economic update in Davos next Monday, and the WEF survey said the recovery underway in all major economies had to led to a sharp improvement in sentiment.

But it expressed concern that the swing to optimism might lead to complacency and a blind spot to economic risks. “There are certainly reasons to be cautious: one does not have to look far for signs of economic and financial strain”, the WEF added, calling for greater attention to be paid to the risks of another crisis erupting.

The survey warned there would be limited policy firepower in the event of a new crisis. It also warned of the disruption caused by automation, noting that “for the foreseeable future, automation and digitalisation can be expected to push down on levels of employment and wages, and contribute to increases in income and wealth at the top of the distribution.”

It also highlighted the buildup of protectionist pressures against a backdrop of rising nationalist and populist politics and growing cybersecurity risks.

The WEF said cyber attacks against businesses had almost doubled in five years, and that the financial impact of cybersecurity breaches was rising.

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Climate Change Could Turn Earth into Venus: Stephen Hawking

The British physicist said Venus was once an inhabitable Earth-like planet, but greenhouse gases raised its surface temperatures to boiling point – and beyond.

In the second episode of his new series "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places," the British physicist warns Earth could soon become as hot as Venus if action to halt climate change is not taken immediately.

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Hawking says Venus was once an Earth-like planet with surface water, mild temperatures and an appropiate atmosphere. According to NASA, Venus was an inhabitable planet for a period of about two billion years as recently as four billion years ago.

Now temperatues on Venus reach 250°C with powerful 300mph winds. Hawking says a greenhouse effect burned the planet's oceans and lands, and that something similar could happen right here on Earth if climate change continues unabated.

"Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare," says the physicist in his show.

Hawking has severely criticized Trump's decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. The US president has stated before that this climate pact puts the US economy at a disadvantage, even denying that climate change is a real thing and stating that he cares not for the citizens of Paris, but only those of the United States.

The Paris climate agreement is an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and was signed by 195 nations in 2015.

In the Starmus Festival last year, Hawking said Trump's decision was "the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen." He also said that the human race would have to colonize outer space in the next 200 to 500 years if we are to survive as species.

Since then, Hawking has stated multiple times his hopes for a new era of space exploration, in which nations unite toward a single goal.

"It is clear we are entering a new space age. We are standing at the threshold of a new era. Human colonisation and other planets is no longer science fiction, it can be science fact."

The scientist is currently working on Breakthrough Starshot, a project that could send "a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour" to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system, in just 20 years.

"Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places" won an Emmy last year and is available for streaming at Curiosity Stream.

Arctic clouds highly sensitive to air pollution

In 1870, explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, trekking across the barren and remote ice cap of Greenland, saw something most people wouldn't expect in such an empty, inhospitable landscape: haze.

Nordenskiöld's record of the haze was among the first evidence that air pollution around the northern hemisphere can travel toward the pole and degrade air quality in the Arctic. Now, a study from University of Utah atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett and colleagues finds that the air in the Arctic is extraordinarily sensitive to air pollution, and that particulate matter may spur Arctic cloud formation. These clouds, Garrett writes, can act as a blanket, further warming an already-changing Arctic.

"The Arctic climate is delicate, just as the ecosystems present there," Garrett says. "The clouds are right at the edge of their existence and they have a big impact on local climate. It looks like clouds there are especially sensitive to air pollution." The study is published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Pollution heading north

Garrett says that early Arctic explorers' notes show that air pollution has been traveling northward for nearly 150 years or more. "This pollution would naturally get blown northward because that's the dominant circulation pattern to move from lower latitudes toward the poles," he says. Once in the Arctic, the pollution becomes trapped under a temperature inversion, much like the inversions that Salt Lake City experiences every winter. In an inversion, a cap of warm air sits over a pool of cold air, preventing the accumulated bad air from escaping.

Others have studied which regions contribute to Arctic pollution. Northeast Asia is a significant contributor. So are sources in the far north of Europe. "They have far more direct access to the Arctic," Garrett says. "Pollution sources there don't get diluted throughout the atmosphere."

Scientists have been interested in the effects of pollution on Arctic clouds because of their potential warming effect. In other parts of the world, clouds can cool the surface because their white color reflects solar energy back out into space. "In the Arctic, the cooling effect isn't as large because the sea-ice at the surface is already bright," Garrett says. "Just as clouds reflect radiation efficiently, they also absorb radiation efficiently and re-emit that energy back to warm the surface." Droplets of water can form around particulate matter in the air. More particles make for more droplets, which makes for a cloud that warms the surface more.

Seeing through the clouds

But quantifying the relationship between air pollution and clouds has been difficult. Scientists can only sample air pollution in clouds by flying through them, a method that can't cover much ground or a long time period. Satellite images can detect aerosol pollution in the air -- but not through clouds. "We'll look at the clouds at one place and hope that the aerosols nearby are representative of the aerosols where the cloud is," says Garrett. "They're not going to be. The cloud is there because it's in a different meteorological air mass than where the clear sky is."

So Garrett and his colleagues, including U graduate Quentin Coopman, needed a different approach. Atmospheric models, it turns out, do a good job of tracking the movements of air pollution around the Earth. Using global inventories of pollution sources, they simulate air pollution plumes so that satellites can observe what happens when these modeled plumes interact with Arctic clouds. The model allowed the researchers to study air pollution and clouds at the same time and place and also take into account the meteorological conditions. They could be sure the effects they were seeing weren't just natural meteorological variations in normal cloud-forming conditions.

Highly sensitive clouds

The research team found that clouds in the Arctic were two to eight times more sensitive to air pollution than clouds at other latitudes. They don't know for sure why yet, but hypothesize it may have to do with the stillness of the Arctic air mass. Without the air turbulence seen at mid-latitudes, the Arctic air can be easily perturbed by airborne particulates.

One factor the clouds were not sensitive to, however, was smoke from forest fires. "It's not that forest fires don't have the potential," Garrett says, "it's just that the plumes from these fires didn't end up in the same place as clouds." Air pollution attributable to human activities outpaced the influence of forest fires on Arctic clouds by a factor of around 100:1.

This gives Garrett hope. Particulate matter is an airborne pollutant that can be controlled relatively easily, compared to pollutants like carbon dioxide. Controlling current particulate matter sources could ease pollution in the Arctic, decrease cloud cover, and slow down warming. All of those gains could be offset, other researchers have suggested, if the Arctic becomes a shipping route and sees industrialization and development. Emissions from those activities could have a disproportionate effect on Arctic clouds compared to emissions from other parts of the world, Garrett says.

"The Arctic is changing incredibly rapidly," he says. "Much more rapidly than the rest of the world, which is changing rapidly enough."

Climate Change Threatens 1 in 4 Natural Heritage Sites: Report

Three World Heritage-listed coral reefs have been affected by "devastating" bleaching events over the last three years, said the IUCN report.

Climate change imperils one in four natural World Heritage sites, including coral reefs, glaciers, and wetlands — nearly double the number from just three years ago, a report has said.

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Released during the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, the study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated that the number of sites at risk has grown to 62 from 35 in 2014.

Among the ecosystems most threatened by global warming are coral reefs, which bleach as oceans heat up, as well as glaciers which melt.

"Climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet," said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. "Climate change now threatens the very fabric of our society, threatens our identity, an identity that is grounded in the rich and yet delicate patchwork of natural heritage."

The report found that 29 percent of World Heritage sites faced "significant" threats, and 7 percent — including the Everglades National Park in the United States and Lake Turkana in Kenya — had a "critical" outlook.

"The scale and pace at which it is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement," said Andersen.

Negotiators are gathered in Bonn to work out a nuts-and-bolts rulebook for executing the pact adopted by nearly 200 countries in the French capital in 2015.

The agreement seeks to limit average global warming caused by greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel burning to under two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and to 1.5 C if possible. The 1 C mark has already been passed, and scientists say that on current country pledges to cut emissions, the world is headed for a 3 C future.

The IUCN monitors more than 200 natural Heritage sites listed by the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Three World Heritage-listed coral reefs — the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic, and Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the biggest on Earth — have been affected by "devastating" bleaching events over the last three years, said the IUCN report.

Corals "bleach" when they are stressed by environmental changes due to ocean warming or pollution. The corals expel the colorful algae that live in them and turn bone white.

RELATED: US Failing to Reduce Greenhouse-Gas Emissions: New Report

"Retreating glaciers, also resulting from rising temperatures, threaten sites such as Kilimanjaro National Park, which boasts Africa's highest peak, and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, home to the largest Alpine glacier," said the report.

Wetlands, low-lying deltas, permafrost and fire-sensitive ecosystems are also affected by changes in Earth's climate, it added.

Harm to natural sites endangers local economies and livelihoods, the IUCN said. "In Peru's Huascaran National Park, for example, melting glaciers affect water supplies and contaminate water and soil due to the release of heavy metals previously trapped under ice."

Only invasive plant and animal species surpassed climate change as a risk to natural heritage sites.

The report said the management of heritage sites has declined since 2014, "notably due to insufficient funding." Countries assume responsibility under the World Heritage Convention to protect listed sites within their borders.

Climate change may be vastly underestimated due to ocean temperature miscalculations - study

Scientists have discovered a flaw in the method used to measure past ocean temperatures which, if correct, could mean we have underestimated the rate of climate change over the past 100 million years.

According to the current methodology, the temperature of the ocean depths, and the surface of the polar ocean, was some 15C (59F) higher 100 million years ago, compared to now.

These estimates have been challenged, however, by a joint team of researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

In their study, published in Nature Communications, the team posits that ocean temperatures may have remained relatively stable throughout this period, raising serious concerns about the current level of climate change being experienced by Mother Earth.

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“If we are right, our study challenges decades of paleoclimate research,” EPFL’s Anders Meibom said. “Oceans cover 70 percent of our planet. They play a key role in the Earth's climate. Knowing the extent to which their temperatures have varied over geological time is crucial if we are to gain a fuller understanding of how they behave and to predict the consequences of current climate change more accurately.”

Researchers believe that over the last 50 years certain processes used in current methodology were overlooked. Scientists have used foraminifera, which are tiny marine fossils found in the sediment cores extracted from the ocean floor, to calculate ocean temperatures.

This is done by calculating the levels of oxygen-18 content in the calcareous shells of foraminifera. The level of oxygen-18 is dependent on the temperature of the ocean in which the foraminifera live.

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The problem now, it seems, is that all of these estimates were based on the principle that the oxygen-18 content remained constant while the fossils were in the sediment. To test this theory, the team exposed the foraminifera to high temperatures in simulated seawater that only contained oxygen-18.

The results show that “the level of oxygen-18 present in the foraminifera tests can in fact change without leaving a visible trace, thereby challenging the reliability of their use as a thermometer.”

“What appeared to be perfectly preserved fossils are in fact not,” CNRS researcher Sylvain Bernard said. This basically means that previous estimates of ocean temperatures are simply incorrect and instead of showing the aforementioned 15C-degree drop over the last 100 million years, the study notes that “these measurements simply reflect the change in oxygen-18 content in the fossil foraminifera tests.”

“This change appears to be the result of a process called re-equilibration: during sedimentation, temperatures rise by 20 to 30C, causing the foraminifera tests to re-equilibrate with the surrounding water,” the study says.

But what next? Well, Meibom says scientists will now have to revisit the ocean's paleotemperatures and “carefully quantify this re-equilibration, which has been overlooked for too long.”

The researchers say that they will now focus on a number of other marine organisms to see if they can “clearly understand what took place in the sediment over geological time.”

 

Climate change may force planes to lighten loads or stay grounded – study

The effects of climate change may extend further than melting glaciers and rising sea levels, according to a new study which says that hot temperatures may cause up to 30 percent of airplanes to be grounded in coming decades.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change on Thursday, says that 10 to 30 percent of fully loaded airplanes may at some point be forced to adapt during the hottest part of the day. 

Those adaptations include removing fuel, cargo, or passengers, or waiting for cooler hours to fly.

 
Physicist Stephen Hawking and U.S. President Donald Trump © Reuters

The potential take-off problems would be due to the fact that as air warms, it spreads out and its density declines.

“In thinner air, wings generate less lift as a plane races along the runway. Thus, depending on the aircraft model, runway length, and other factors, at some point a packed plane may be unable to take off safely if the temperature gets too high,” Columbia University, whose researchers took part in the study, wrote in a press release. 

“Weight must be dumped, or else the flight delayed or canceled,” it continues.

The study’s authors estimate that fuel capacities and payload weights would have to be reduced as much as four percent for some aircraft.

To put those numbers in perspective, an average 160-seat aircraft would need roughly 12 or 13 less passengers to reach a four-percent weight reduction.

However, if carbon emissions were to somehow be sharply reduced in the near future, those reductions could amount to as little as 0.5 percent.

Planes with lower temperature tolerances would struggle more, according to the study. Airports which have shorter runways, or which are located in hotter parts of the world or in higher elevations will also suffer more than others.

 
© NERC / National Oceanography Centre

Airports which would be in danger in those cases include New York’s LaGuardia, which has short runways. Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates would suffer due to its very high temperatures.

“Airports probably less affected because they are in temperate regions and have long runways include New York’s JFK, London Heathrow and Paris’s Charles de Gaulle,” the Columbia press release states.

In theory, the potential problems could be somewhat mitigated with new engine or body designs for aircraft, or expanded runways, according to study co-author Radley Horton, a climatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

However, such solutions are unlikely to be implemented, as planes are already highly engineered for efficiency, and there simply isn’t room to expand runways in major cities such as New York.

“The sooner climate can be incorporated into mid- and long-range plans, the more effective adaptation efforts can be,” said co-author Ethan Coffel, a Columbia University PhD student.

  • Published in World

World Leaders Pressure Trump on Climate and Trade at G20

The meeting comes at a time of major shifts in the global geopolitical landscape under Trump's "America First" policies.

World leaders intend to try to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to compromise on climate and trade during the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. 

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In a joint communique issued on the summit's first day Friday, Brazil, Russia, India and China called on the G20 to push for implementation of the Paris climate accord despite Trump's decision last month to pull the United States out of it.

"We call upon the international community to jointly work toward implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," the communique said.

"We firmly support a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system, implementation and enforcement of existing WTO (World Trade Organization) rules and commitments and oppose protectionism."

The meeting comes at a time of major shifts in the global geopolitical landscape under Trump's "America First" policies. The host of G20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, faces the difficult task of steering leaders towards a consensus on trade, climate and migration — all issues that have become more contentious since Trump entered the White House half a year ago.

Aside from the four emerging market countries, British Prime Minister Theresa May also said G20 leaders would urge Trump to reconsider his decision on Paris.

"I hope they will be able to find a way to come back into the Paris agreement ... I believe it is possible. We are not renegotiating the Paris agreement, that stays, but I want to see the U.S. looking for ways to rejoin it," she told the BBC.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a German newspaper Friday that climate change was a challenge, but also an opportunity to invest. He added that the same was true of global trade. 

"Instead of saying we'll stop trade, we need to create opportunities for smaller companies and protect workers' rights with progressive trade agreements like CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement)," Trudeau said, referring to the EU-Canada trade deal.

The draft G20 agreement acknowledges U.S. isolation on the Paris climate accord, but claims the United States is committed to cutting carbon emissions by other routes, according to The Guardian newspaper. 

“The United States of America will endeavor to work closely with other partners to help their access to and use of fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources,” the draft said.

RELATED: Clashes at 'Welcome to Hell' Hamburg Demos Ahead of G20 Summit

On trade, sources told Reuters that Washington was backtracking on language condemning protectionism that Trump agreed to at a Group of Seven meeting in Sicily in late May.

The final version of the communique will be negotiated overnight by attendants from the 20 participating countries.

Merkel chose Hamburg, the second-largest city in the country, to send a signal about Germany's "openness to the world," including its alleged tolerance for peaceful protests.

Police said violence that erupted during anti-capitalist protests directed at the G20 Thursday continued into Friday. At least 29 protesters were detained and 111 police officers injured, including three officers who required hospital treatment.

"There is quite a delicate balance that Angela Merkel will have to navigate in a way, because it is not clear that being confrontational won't just create even more of a credibility problem for G20 cooperation," Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told the Reuters in an interview.

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