Fears for endangered orcas as marine heatwave hits northeast Pacific

An ocean heatwave has hit the west coast of North America, threatening to disrupt marine life including salmon, sea lions and endangered orcas.

A marine heatwave is defined as at least five days where seawater temperatures are “extremely high” for the location.

The expanse of unusually warm water in the northeast Pacific Ocean stretches from Alaska to California, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

It resembles a similar heat wave about five years ago that was blamed for poorer survival rates for young salmon, more humpback whales becoming entangled in fishing gear as they hunted closer to shore, and an algae bloom that shut down crabbing and clamming operations.

“Given the magnitude of what we saw last time, we want to know if this evolves on a similar path,” said Chris Harvey, a research scientist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

NOAA Fisheries said the water has reached temperatures more than 5° Fahrenheit (2.8° Celcius) above average. It remains to be seen whether this heat wave dissipates more quickly than the last one, which occurred in 2014, the agency said.

If it lingers, it could be disastrous for the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas, which largely depend on chinook salmon.

Warmer waters can weaken the food web that sustain the salmon and bring predators of young salmon, including seabirds, closer to shore, further reducing their abundance.

Chinook returns have been extremely low in recent years following the last heat wave, which scientists dubbed “the blob.”

The new heat wave has emerged over the last few months, growing in a similar pattern in the same area. After “the blob,” it’s the second-most widespread heat wave in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years — as far back as the relevant data goes.

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, who developed a way to use satellite data to track marine heat waves in the Pacific.

Among the causes is a persistent low-pressure weather pattern between Hawaii and Alaska that has weakened winds that otherwise might mix and cool surface waters across much of the North Pacific, said Nathan Mantua, a NOAA research scientist.

The last marine heatwave to hit the region was in 2014. NOAA
The last marine heatwave to hit the region was in 2014. NOAA

What’s causing that, he said, is unclear: It might simply reflect the normal chaotic motion of the atmosphere, or it might be related to the warming of the oceans and other effects of human-made climate change.

The agency said it will provide fisheries managers with information on how the unusually warm conditions could affect the marine ecosystem and fish stocks.

The last heat wave spanned 2014 and 2015 and resulted in several declared fisheries disasters.

Among the other effects, thousands of young sea lions were stranded on beaches after their mothers were forced to forage further from their rookeries in the Channel Islands off Southern California.

In March, scientists revealed an alarming increase in the frequency of marine heatwaves. The first global analysis to measure the impact of temperature spikes in the ocean found that they had already damaged ecosystems across the world and were likely to become even more destructive, with “devastating consequences for human health, economies and the environment”.

The number of marine heatwave days has increased by more than 50 per cent since the mid-20th century.

Europe warming faster than expected due to climate change

Climate change is increasing the number of days of extreme heat and decreasing the number of days of extreme cold in Europe, posing a risk for residents in the coming decades, according to a new study.

Temperatures in Europe have hit record highs this summer, passing 46.0 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in southern France. New research in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters finds the number of summer days with extreme heat has tripled since 1950 and summers have become hotter overall, while the number of winter days with extreme cold decreased in frequency by at least half and winters have become warmer overall.

The new study finds parts of Europe are warming faster than climate models project.

"Even at this regional scale over Europe, we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability. That's really a signal from climate change," said Ruth Lorenz, a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and lead author of the new study.

Extreme heat is dangerous because it stresses the human body, potentially leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Scientists knew climate change was warming Europe, but they mostly studied long-term changes in extreme temperatures. The new study looked at observational data to evaluate whether the climate models used for regional projections can reproduce observed trends.

In the new study, Lorenz and her colleagues used observational data taken by European weather stations from 1950-2018 and then analyzed the top 1% of the hottest heat extremes and highest humidity extremes, and the top 1% coldest days during that period.

"We looked further at the hottest day or coldest night per year, so for each year we looked for the maximum/minimum value and how these changed over time," Lorenz said.

They found the number of extreme heat days in Europe has tripled since 1950, while the number of extreme cold days decreased by factors of two or three depending on the region. Extremely hot days have become hotter by an average of 2.30 degrees Celsius (4.14 degrees Fahrenheit), while extremely cold days have warmed by 3.0 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on average. The hottest days and coldest nights warmed significantly more than their corresponding summer and winter mean temperatures.

Individual regions throughout Europe experienced drastically different temperature trends, which makes it difficult to compare the average European temperatures to specific stations' extremes, according to the authors. In Central Europe, the extremes warmed by 0.14 degrees Celsius (0.25 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade more than the summer mean, equivalent to an almost 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) increase more than the average over the whole study period, according to Lorenz.

More than 90% of the weather stations studied showed the climate was warming, a percentage too high to purely be from natural climate variability, according to the researchers.

The results also showed that the region was warming faster than climate models projected. Some regions experienced higher extremes than expected and some had lower extremes that expected.

"In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the model trends are about two times lower than the observed trends," said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate analysist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, Netherlands, who was not connected to the new study. "We're reaching new records faster than you'd expect."

European summers and winters will only grow hotter in the coming years as climate change accelerates, impacting cities and people unprepared for rising temperatures, according to the study authors.

"Lots of people don't have air conditioning for instance and it makes this really important," Lorenz said. "We expected results based on modeling studies but it's the first time we see it in what we've observed so far."

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Materials provided by American Geophysical Union. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Experts climate change in Havana

Havana, July 3 (RHC)—The 12th International Convention on Environment and Development is underway in Havana with the attendance of experts coming from some 50 countries. The gathering is convened by the Environment Agency of the Ministry of Science,Technology and Environment of the Republic of Cuba,

On  Wednesday, the event is focusing on the commitment made for this decade by Latin America and the Caribbean for the attention of protected areas.

Delegates will also discuss environmental degradation, drought, deforestation, the use of unfriendly practices to the environment and the huge amount of plastic products that end up in the sea, with great impact on many marine species.

“For integration and Cooperation” is the Convention´s theme, which includes six congresses: Management of biodiversity; Environmental management and protected areas. Environmental education, politics and law as well as climate change.

Experts on this subjects will discuss their views on how human actions are triggering climate change and the increase of extreme weather events.

Edited by Jorge Ruiz Miyares

Continental Europe braced for 'potentially dangerous' heatwave

High pressure pulling hot air northward from Africa will send temperatures soaring

A potentially record-breaking heatwave is forecast to grip much of continental Europe next week, with temperatures in cities from Spain to Germany expected to exceed 32C and climb to more than 38C or even 40C in the hottest areas.

The combination of a storm stalled over the Atlantic and high pressure over central Europe would pull very hot air from Africa northward, leading to a “potentially dangerous heatwave over a large portion of western and central Europe”, forecaster AccuWeather said.

In France, temperatures of between 35C and 40C were expected across most of the country except Brittany from Monday, Météo-France said, and were unlikely to fall below 20C overnight.

“Even though it will be shortlived, this heatwave could be remarkable for its momentum and intensity,” the forecaster said in a bulletin.

France’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, warned local authorities, hospitals and retirement homes to be on high alert, noting that last summer’s heatwave resulted in 1,500 more deaths than normal in July and August.

Meteorologists in Germany said there was a 50% chance of temperatures hitting 40C, possibly breaking the national record of 40.3C set in Bavaria in 2015.

AccuWeather said cities from Madrid to Berlin, including Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt, were likely to experience a “multi-day heatwave” in the first half of the week, with similar temperatures of 32C or above expected further east later in Bucharest, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia.

“Multiple days of extreme heat combined with warm nights will not allow buildings and homes without air conditioning to cool off, creating uncomfortable sleeping conditions and also raising the risk of heat-related illnesses,” the forecaster’s senior meteorologist, Eric Leister, said.

“The elderly and children are most at risk from such ailments, and outdoor exposure should be limited during the hottest times of the day to reduce the risk of illness.”

Long-range weather forecasts show summer temperatures throughout July and August are expected to be higher than normal, rivalling those of 2018, which according to the European Environment Agency was one of the three warmest years on record on the continent.

Scientists have said last year’s heatwave, which led to increased mortality rates, a dramatic decline in crop yields, the shutdown of nuclear power plants and wildfires inside the Arctic Circle, was linked to the climate emergency and that extreme climate events are likely to be regular occurrences in the coming decades.

  • Published in World

Biodiversity crisis is about to put humanity at risk, UN scientists to warn

‘We are in trouble if we don’t act,’ say experts, with up to 1m species at risk of annihilation

The world’s leading scientists will warn the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity when they release the results of the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken.

Up to 1m species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades, according to a leaked draft of the global assessment report, which has been compiled over three years by the UN’s leading research body on nature.

The 1,800-page study will show people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.

The final wording of the summary for policymakers is being finalised in Paris by a gathering of experts and government representatives before the launch on Monday, but the overall message is already clear, according to Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“There is no question we are losing biodiversity at a truly unsustainable rate that will affect human wellbeing both for current and future generations,” he said. “We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development.”

The authors hope the first global assessment of biodiversity in almost 15 years will push the nature crisis into the global spotlight in the same way climate breakdown has surged up the political agenda since the 1.5C report last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Like its predecessor, the report is a compilation of reams of academic studies, in this case on subjects ranging from ocean plankton and subterranean bacteria to honey bees and Amazonian botany. Following previous findings on the decimation of wildlife, the overview of the state of the world’s nature is expected to provide evidence that the world is facing a sixth wave of extinction. Unlike the past five, this one is human-driven.

Mike Barrett, WWF’s executive director of conservation and science, said: “All of our ecosystems are in trouble. This is the most comprehensive report on the state of the environment. It irrefutably confirms that nature is in steep decline.”

Barrett said this posed an environmental emergency for humanity, which is threatened by a triple challenge of climate, nature and food production. “There is no time to despair,” he said. “We should be hopeful that we have a window of opportunity to do something about it over these two years.”

The report will sketch out possible future scenarios that will vary depending on the decisions taken by governments, businesses and individuals. The next year and a half is likely to be crucial because world leaders will agree rescue plans for nature and the climate at two big conferences at the end of 2020.

That is when China will host the UN framework convention on biodiversity gathering in Kunming, which will establish new 20-year targets to replace those agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Soon after, the UN framework convention on climate change will revise Paris agreement commitments at a meeting in either the UK, Italy, Belgium or Turkey.

Watson, a British professor who has headed both of the UN’s leading scientific panels, said the forthcoming report will delve more deeply than anything before into the causes of nature collapse, chief among which is the conversion of forests, wetlands and other wild landscapes into ploughed fields, dam reservoirs and concrete cities. Three-quarters of the world’s land surface has been severely altered, according to the leaked draft. Humanity is also decimating the living systems on which we depend by emitting carbon dioxide and spreading invasive species.

Watson said the authors have learned from attribution science, which has transformed the debate on the climate crisis by showing how much more likely hurricanes, droughts and floods have become as a result of global heating.

The goal is to persuade an audience beyond the usual green NGOs and government departments. “We need to appeal not just to environment ministers, but to those in charge of agriculture, transport and energy because they are the ones responsible for the drivers of biodiversity loss,” he said.

A focus will be to move away from protection of individual species and areas, and to look at systemic drivers of change, including consumption and trade.

The political environment is changing in some countries due to overwhelming scientific evidence and increasing public concern about the twin crises of nature and climate, which have prompted more than 1 million students to strike from school and led to street protests by Extinction Rebellion activists in more than a dozen countries.

The UK parliament declared a climate emergency this week and the government’s chief climate advisory body recommended an accelerated plan to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Until now, however, the nature crisis has been treated as far less of a priority. “Where are the headlines? Where are the emergency meetings?” asked the school strike founder, Greta Thunberg, in a recent tweet on the subject.

Extinction Rebellion activists said protests that blocked several London streets last month were as much aimed at the defence of nature as stabilising the climate. “They are two sides of the same destructive coin,” said Farhana Yamin, a coordinator of the movement who is also an environmental lawyer and formerly a lead author of the IPCC report.

“The work of IPBES is as crucial as the work done by the IPCC on the 1.5-degree report. That is why Extinction Rebellion is demanding an end [to] biodiversity loss and a net-zero phaseout by 2020. We can’t save humanity by only tackling climate change or only caring about biodiversity.”

Study: Warming Oceans Cause Fish Decline As High as 35%

Researchers compared the changes in 235 fish and shellfish populations across 38 ocean regions that have occurred from 1930 to 2010 - a 4% decrease.

A new study concludes that climate change is adversely affecting the quantity of fish in the oceans. The scientists also noted that overfishing, specifically in the Sea of Japan region - where the decline is as high as 35%, has significantly added to the problem.

RELATED: Rising Levels of Carbon Dioxide Causing Fish to Lose Their Sense of Smell

“We were surprised at the strength the impact of warming has already had on fish populations,” study lead author and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Chris Free, stated.

Researchers compared the changes in 235 fish and shellfish populations across 38 ocean regions that have occurred from 1930 to 2010 - a 4% decrease.

In 2016, 171 million tons of fish were taken from the sea, and that number is trending to rise to 201 million in the next 10 years.

Overall, about 8% of the fish and shellfish populations that was studied experienced losses as a result of the ocean warming, while a 4% population increase took place in others, according to Science journal.

Notably, the warmer waters can put metabolic stress on the fish, affecting reproduction or food sourcing - causing zooplankton - essential fish food - to decline.

“It's like a one-two punch,” study co-author Malin Pinksy, an ecologist at Rutgers, remarked.

“If fishing already knocks them down, they're more likely to respond poorly when it's hot. We knew that animals were moving into new locations, but I didn't realize it already affected the ability of these populations to produce fish.”

Pinksy warned that growing fish populations should be viewed with caution, since “fish are a bit like goldilocks. For some it's too cold, but warming will make it too hot.”

According to the study’s findings, the sustainable catch of 124 fish and shellfish species have been directly linked to warming of the world’s ocean, over the past 80 years.

“Food security is a big concern,” Pinksy explained, adding that an estimated three billion people use fish as their primary source of protein.

“Beyond that... we also know that it has very important local impacts for those who make their livelihoods catching these fish,” the Rutger ecologist said, noting that “no-take” zones could be implemented as a population replenishing mechanism.

The study also revealed that ocean temperatures have increased by about half a degree Celsius.  

Harrison Ford: leaders who deny climate change are 'on the wrong side of history'

Harrison Ford has launched a scorching attack on Donald Trump and other world leaders, for denying science in order to justify doing nothing to face the “moral crisis” of climate change.

The actor best known for fighting off Imperial stormtroopers as Han Solo and writhing in snake pits as Indiana Jones has now taken on the combined might of climate change deniers, with Trump a top target. Though Ford did not mention the US president by name, the subject of his speech at the final day of the World Government Summit in Dubai was beyond doubt.

“Around the world,” he said, “elements of leadership including in my own country to preserve their state and the status quo, deny or denigrate science. They are on the wrong side of history.”

Ford, at 76 four years Trump’s senior, has long been a campaigner for global environmental protection. He prefaced his speech at the summit with a short film, narrated in his trademark lion’s growl, featuring the character of Nature speaking about the future.

“If I’m not kept healthy, humans won’t survive, simple as that,” Nature says. “I could give a damn with or without humans, I’m the ocean. I covered this entire planet once, and I can always cover it again.”

Climate change denial and skepticism about established scientific truth have long been embraced by Trump. He has been propagating conspiracy theories about global warming since at least 2012, when he claimed it was a ruse by China to gain an unfair manufacturing advantage over the US.

In June 2017 Trump withdrew the US from the Paris agreement to limit global pollution levels and control temperature rise. Last November he responded to a dire US climate assessment by 13 government agencies and top scientists with the blunt words: “I don’t believe it.”

Only on Sunday, Trump issued yet another denigrating tweet in which he sought to mock the Democratic senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar, who had just launched a 2020 presidential bid, but ended up mocking climate science. He noted that Klobuchar had addressed global warming in her speech as snow fell around her.

“Bad timing,” Trump said.

In an interview with CNN before his Dubai appearance, Ford criticized directly the Trump administration for being “bent on dismantling all of the gains we’ve made in the protection of the environment”.

He lamented the “isolationism, nationalism that’s creeping into governments all across the developed world. The problems require attention on nature’s scale not on the scale of the next election.”

In his address to the summit, Ford called climate change “the greatest moral crisis of our time. We need nature now more than ever because nature doesn’t need people, people need nature.”

Antarctica losing six times more ice mass annually now than 40 years ago

Antarctica experienced a sixfold increase in yearly ice mass loss between 1979 and 2017, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands' Utrecht University additionally found that the accelerated melting caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch during that time.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak," said lead author Eric Rignot, Donald Bren Professor and chair of Earth system science at UCI. "As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries."

For this study, Rignot and his collaborators conducted what he called the longest-ever assessment of remaining Antarctic ice mass. Spanning four decades, the project was also geographically comprehensive; the research team examined 18 regions encompassing 176 basins, as well as surrounding islands.

Techniques used to estimate ice sheet balance included a comparison of snowfall accumulation in interior basins with ice discharge by glaciers at their grounding lines, where ice begins to float in the ocean and detach from the bed. Data was derived from fairly high-resolution aerial photographs taken from a distance of about 350 meters via NASA's Operation IceBridge; satellite radar interferometry from multiple space agencies; and the ongoing Landsat satellite imagery series, begun in the early 1970s.

The team was able to discern that between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatons of ice mass annually. (A gigaton is 1 billion tons.) From 2009 to 2017, about 252 gigatons per year were lost.

The pace of melting rose dramatically over the four-decade period. From 1979 to 2001, it was an average of 48 gigatons annually per decade. The rate jumped 280 percent to 134 gigatons for 2001 to 2017.

Rignot said that one of the key findings of the project is the contribution East Antarctica has made to the total ice mass loss picture in recent decades.

"The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown," he said. "This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that's important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together."

He added that the sectors losing the most ice mass are adjacent to warm ocean water.

"As climate warming and ozone depletion send more ocean heat toward those sectors, they will continue to contribute to sea level rise from Antarctica in decades to come," said Rignot, who's also a senior project scientist at JPL.

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