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 31 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Carbon countdown clock: how much of the world's carbon budget have we spent?

One way of looking at emissions targets is as a fixed budget amount, or quota. This countdown shows one estimate of how long it will take to reach an amount of greenhouse gas emissions beyond which 2C of warming will be likely

Nick Evershed
AFP
Thursday 19 January 2017 06.49 GMT

To have a good chance of keeping global warming under 2C, there is only a finite amount of carbon pollution the world can emit – this amount can be thought of as a fixed budget amount, or quota.

Our countdown clock shows one estimate of how long it will take to reach an amount of greenhouse gas emissions beyond which 2C of warming will be likely.

The total carbon budget remaining figure used is 2900 GtCO2-e (within a range of 2550 to 3150 depending on various factors). This is one estimate of the amount emissions need to stay under to limit total human-induced warming to less than 2C relative to the period 1861–1880 with a probability of >66%.

Full details of how this figure was determined are in the IPCC Synthesis Report here.

The rate of emissions is based on the most recent year of global emissions from the Global Carbon Project, and assumes no increase or decrease in emissions year-to-year as a ‘business as usual’ scenario.

    The Guardian is committed to bringing you important stories on climate change and the environment, free from commercial interest. Please support our journalism by making a monthly or one-off contribution.

Click here to see the visual clock:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2017/jan/19/carbon-countdown-clock-how-much-of-the-worlds-carbon-budget-have-we-spent


 32 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:35 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The 10 species most at risk from climate change

From penguins in Antarctica, to butterflies in Spain, and rodents and coral in the Great Barrier Reef, as the world warms these species are disappearing

Patrick Barkham
Thursday 19 January 2017 07.00 GMT

10 Hawaiian honeycreepers

Small island species, confined to limited terrain, are always vulnerable, particularly to invasive species, burgeoning human populations, and new diseases. On Hawaii, climate change intersects with these three factors to imperil its unique birds, including six species of honeycreeper.

The small, often brightly coloured honeycreepers tend to survive at higher altitudes where their forest habitat is less likely to be destroyed by humans. Higher elevations are also cooler, and less attractive to mosquitoes, which were first carried to Hawaii in the 19th century, long after the birds had evolved there. Outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as avian malaria and avian pox began soon afterwards.
Live Global warning: reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic about humans tackling climate change

As the world warms, so mosquitoes move into higher elevations – and there is nowhere for the honeycreepers to escape to. The birds are particularly susceptible to avian malaria. Last year, a scientific study noted that the prevalence of avian malaria has more than doubled since the 1990s in the upper regions of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Naturalists working in the Kauai mountains never encountered mosquitoes despite searching for them until the last six years or so, during which time they have become commonplace. As well as mosquitos, climate change is also assisting non-native competitors and invasive weeds, which may hasten the native birds’ demise.

Eben Paxton, of the US Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems research centre, fears that two honeycreepers, the ‘akikiki and the ‘akeke’e, will fall extinct in the next decade “without major intervention”. This means action unfamiliar to many conservationists: removing standing water to reduce mosquito populations, and even releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce populations over time, as undertaken in Brazil to combat the Zika virus.

9 Baird’s sandpiper

The Baird’s sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) is not likely to become extinct any time soon. It is still listed as a species of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. But the challenge posed by climate change for this elegant little wading bird is one experienced by many other species: it’s a problem of phenology and synchronicity. Phenology, the study of the timing of natural events in relation to weather and climate, is increasingly complex and important in an era of rapid climate change. Changes in phenology may be a positive sign, demonstrating that species are adapting to climatic conditions and migrating earlier, or flowering sooner, or having offspring earlier in the spring to coincide with food supplies that are changing with the season.

But many species are struggling to adapt quickly enough. Increasing temperates in the high Arctic are encouraging shore birds such as the Baird’s sandpiper to breed earlier in the season. This means that more chicks are emerging before the peak abundance of the insects that they feed own. Studies show that chicks raised outside the period of peak abundance grow much more slowly, which means they are less likely to survive into adulthood. A similar mismatch between chick emergence and peak food has also been shown to occur with the European pied flycatcher in the Netherlands.

8 Giant mountain lobelia

Increasing temperatures are posing a challenge for all kinds of montane species. They may retreat to higher altitudes but, eventually, they will run out of mountain. Mountainous regions are also likely to experience particularly extreme temperature changes: while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 21st-century climate warming is likely to exceed 2C in many scenarios, the rate of temperature increase in mountainous areas is predicted to be much higher – possibly three times the increase recorded over the 20th century.

The giant mountain lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) is a native of Ethiopia, a spectacular-looking tropical alpine plant that resembles a spiky tropical palm but then shoots up a huge woolly protuberance, sometimes more than 10 metres tall. Implausibly large in arid mountainous terrain, the family of lobelia plants remarkably predate the formation of tall mountains in eastern Africa, to which they’ve adapted.

They are not finding it so easy to adapt to rapid anthropogenic climate change. A scientific study of the plant’s prospects last year concluded it “will suffer massive reduction in range” under warmer climes, with just 3.4% of its habitat still suitable by 2080. By then, it is predicted to be confined to just four suitable mountain-top habitats “which may be too small to sustain viable populations”. There’s a further problem. As alpine species such as the giant mountain lobelia are confined to isolated mountaintops, their genetic diversity will narrow dramatically – by 82% – further increasing the likelihood of extinction.

The travails of this mountain giant are matched by mountain plant species around the world, including high-altitude species in Britain. Botanist Trevor Dines, of the charity Plantlife, says: “It’s already clear that some of our rarest Arctic-alpine plants, such as Highland saxifrage, are at risk. As the climate warms, they’re already moving to higher altitudes to find cooler, damper conditions. At some point, they’ll run out of mountain to climb and we’ll be facing the extinction of some of our most enigmatic and wonderful flora.”

7 Bramble Cay melomys

The rodent was known to have lived only on Bramble Cay, a minuscule atoll in the northeast Torres Strait, between the Cape York Peninsula in the Australian state of Queensland and the southern shores of Papua New Guinea. The long-tailed, whiskered creature, called the Bramble Cay melomys, was considered the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef.

For many creatures, climate change is the most vicious component of a perfect storm driving them towards extinction. For some, extinction is quite literally caused by storms and rising seas. Anthropogenic climate change has almost certainly driven our first mammal species to extinction. The Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), or mosaic-tailed rat, lived the unobtrusive life of a small rodent in the eastern Torres Strait. It was first discovered – and killed – on the tiny vegetated coral island of Bramble Cay by Europeans in 1845. Several hundred lived there as recently as 1978. But the highest point of Bramble Cay is three metres above sea level and around the Torres Strait the sea level rose at almost twice the global average rate between 1993 and 2014. Since 1998, the area of Bramble Cay above high tide has shrunk from from 4 hectares to 2.5 hectares. The melomys has lost 97% of its habitat and was last seen by a fisherman in 2009. Scientists laid traps in 2011 and twice in 2014 to catch the little rodent and start a captive breeding programme to save it from extinction. But they were too late: they couldn’t find any trace of the animal. There’s a small chance an as-yet-undiscovered population may survive in Papua New Guinea but the scientists have judged it is almost certainly extinct.

6 Sierra Nevada blue

The Sierra Nevada blue (Polyommatus golgus) is a small butterfly that is both brilliant blue (the male) and dark black-brown (the female) and is one of four endangered species unique to Spain. It is only found in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and in another small mountainous area further north.

It has already lost habitat to overgrazing by animals, a ski resort, and the trampling of vegetation by people on roads and footpaths. But its biggest threat is climate change, according to a species recovery plan drawn up by the researcher Miguel Munguira for Butterfly Conservation Europe. Drought, increased temperatures and reduced snow coverage are set to displace the species to higher areas where the habitat might not be suitable. “For the populations living on the highest areas of the mountains these changes would mean their extinction,” says Munguira.

Of the 482 species of butterfly in Europe, 149 are restricted to such small areas that it is difficult for scientists to assess how the changing climate will affect them. Isolated in such small pockets of land makes these rare insects hugely vulnerable – wild habitat is too fragmented for even winged creatures to easily find a suitable alternative. And those that can only live in northern Europe, or on the tops of mountain ranges, will be the first to go.

“The scale of threat to the species of Europe is massive,” says Nigel Bourn, conservation director of Butterfly Conservation in Britain. “I don’t really think policymakers have even begun to come to terms with that.”

The disappearance of a few butterflies may not move the hardest of human hearts but these are the most closely monitored insects: the impact of climate change on hundreds of butterflies will be replicated in other less-known pollinators and insect populations – from bees to hoverflies – and the very fabric of life on earth will start to fray.

5 Sea turtles

Rising seas and stormy weather will affect turtle species in the most direct of ways, eroding or destroying many of the beaches where they lay their eggs. But scientists have discovered that hotter sands also cause greater numbers of sea turtles to be born female. In the short term, over the next 20 or 30 years, this will increase turtle numbers. But a study published in Nature Climate Change examining the loggerhead turtles of Cape Verde in the Atlantic, warns that significantly warmer sands in the next 150 years could cause such a preponderance of females that species become extinct. Hotter sand can also cause complete nest failure.

Turtles are facing more problems than most animals: warming ocean temperatures will alter currents and shift the distribution and abundance of prey species. Species such as the hawksbill turtle are dependant on coral reefs which are bleaching and dying with climate change.

4 Adélie penguin

The Adélie penguin is one of just two true Antarctic penguins, surviving on the ice-bound continent for 45,000 years. Now its survival is being questioned by scientists puzzling over the precise cause for sharp declines that correlate with a rapidly changing climate. Colonies of this little penguin on the West Antarctic Peninsula have declined by at least 80% since the 1970s, and this is an area with more years of warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures than other regions.

Changes in sea temperature and sea ice affects the availability of food, and where fish populations have fallen the penguins eat more krill, which is less nutritious. Nest sites may not be ideal if warming is creating premature melt and puddles on the ground as eggs cannot survive if they are lying in a pool of water. Most importantly, the Adéie penguin cannot survive without sea ice.

In a paper published last year, researchers predicted that 60% of the present habitat would be unsuitable for the penguins by 2099. But Adélie populations in the southern most parts of Antarctica, where there has been fewer climatic and environmental changes, are much more stable. The Adélie has refugia but for how long?

3 White lemuroid ringtail possum

The polar bear may be the poster-creature of climate change victims but this equally attractive – and rather more timid – white furry mammal is much closer to the edge of extinction. This arboreal marsupial lives on the wooded slopes of Mount Lewis in the Daintree rainforest in Queensland, Australia, where scientists have judged it already “ecologically extinct”. The white lemuroid ringtail possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides) lives off leaf moisture and are only found in the high-altitude cloud forest and cannot survive temperatures above 30C for more than a few hours. At less than 3,000 metres high, the climate of Mount Lewis is rapidly changing. A severe heatwave in 2005 killed off most of these cool-loving creatures. In July 2014, scientists observed four or five adults during 10 surveys. Even if the population bounces back, soon it will have nowhere left to go. Genetic studies have never been carried out to determine whether the white possums are a separate species or simply colour variations of the brown-furred lemuroid ringtail possums, which appear to be able to survive higher temperatures. But Prof Bill Laurance of James Cook University has argued that the white form is “a unique evolutionary unit and therefore worthy of conservation”. It is also just one furry symbol of the “ecological catastrophe” that scientists warn will soon befall thousands of species who will find that Australia’s tropical rainforests offer them no shelter in an era of warming.

2 Ringed seal

The most commonly pictured victim of climate change is the polar bear clinging to a rapidly diminishing iceberg. But there is another vulnerable Arctic mammal that is just as photogenic and even more dependant upon Arctic sea ice for its survival.

Climate change is driving polar bears from the safety of sea ice and on to hazardous dry land, and into more conflict with humans. But the ringed seal, the smallest Arctic seal species, cannot adapt to dry land so easily.

Ringed seals rest on sea ice, conceive beneath it, and give birth upon it, excavating snow dens on the surface of the sea ice to shelter their newborns. These dens keep the young warm, and depends upon sufficient annual snowfall.

Warmer spring temperatures causes snow dens to collapse and the ice to break up early, separating young – just 60cm long when born – from their mothers, and exposing them to the cold, predators and pathogens.

Ring seal reproductive rates are already showing declines associated with climate change. Hundreds of pups are usually born each year on the fjords along the west coast of Svalbard but pups were “virtually non-existent” in 2006 and 2007, when many fjords did not freeze for the first time in recorded history.

If ringed seal populations slump, there will be another victim, too: they are the prime food source of the polar bear.

1 Staghorn coraland other corals

Coral is not merely a living species; it’s a miraculous ecosystem engineer, building elaborate and beautiful subterranean structures that provide food and shelter for so many other forms of life on Earth. Coral reefs are hailed as the “rainforest of the sea” but such analogies underplay their significance: they house a greater diversity of animal and plant life than rainforests. Coral is being killed by climate change and its extinction is coming sooner than many other creatures imperilled by climate change.

Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is experiencing disastrous declines in its range in the southern Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the Bahamas, declining by up to 98% in parts of the Caribbean since the 1980s. It is listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN red list.

Since 2005, the Caribbean region has lost 50% of its corals, largely because of rising sea temperatures and mass bleaching incidents which have killed coral around the world. Species such as the orange-spotted filefish are completely dependent on coral reefs, and highly sensitive to warmer water.

Across the world, coral reefs are bleaching and dying: Japan’s government this year reported that almost three-quarters of its biggest coral reef has died, blaming rising sea temperatures caused by global warming. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced the worst bleaching ever recorded by scientists in 2016. Researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have predicted that by 2050 more than 98% of coral reefs around the world will be afflicted by “bleaching-level thermal stress” each year. They conclude that reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, are unlikely to survive such events.

Homo sapiens is not dependant on the coral reefs but their loss would be a devastating and demoralising indictment of our era, and the destructiveness of our species. “We’ll lose more species of plants and animals between 2000 and 2065 than we’ve lost in the last 65 million years,” environmentalist Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, has pointed out. “If we don’t find answers to these problems, we’re gonna be victims of this extinction event that we’re at fault for.”

 33 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Over half of world's wild primate species face extinction, report reveals

Researchers warn of approaching ‘major extinction event’ if action is not taken to protect around 300 species, including gorillas, chimps, lemurs and lorises

Ian Sample Science editor
AFP
Wednesday 18 January 2017 19.00 GMT

More than half of the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and lorises are now threatened with extinction as agriculture and industrial activities destroy forest habitats and the animals’ populations are hit by hunting and trade.

In the most bleak assessment of primates to date, conservationists found that 60% of the wild species are on course to die out, with three quarters already in steady decline. The report casts doubt on the future of about 300 primate species, including gorillas, chimps, gibbons, marmosets, tarsiers, lemurs and lorises.

Primates in pictures: US photographer's stunning portraits of endangered species..View gallery: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2016/jan/07/primates-in-pictures

Anthony Rylands, a senior research scientist at Conservation International who helped to compile the report, said he was “horrified” at the grim picture revealed in the review which drew on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, peer-reviewed science reports and UN databases.

“The scale of this is massive,” Rylands told the Guardian. “Considering the large number of species currently threatened and experiencing population declines, the world will soon be facing a major extinction event if effective action is not implemented immediately,” he writes in the journal Science Advances, with colleagues at the University of Illinois and the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

The most dramatic impact on primates has come from agricultural growth. From 1990 to 2010 it has claimed 1.5 million square kilometres of primate habitats, an area three times the size of France. In Sumatra and Borneo, the destruction of forests for oil palm plantations has driven severe declines in orangutan populations. In China, the expansion of rubber plantations has led to the near extinction of the northern white-cheeked crested gibbon and the Hainan gibbon, of which only about 30 or animals survive. More rubber plantations in India have hit the Bengal slow loris, the western hoolock gibbon and Phayre’s leaf monkey.

Primates are spread throughout 90 countries, but two thirds of the species live in just four: Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In Madagascar, 87% of primate species face extinction, along with 73% in Asia, the report states. It adds that humans have “one last opportunity” to reduce or remove the threats facing the animals, to build conservation efforts, and raise worldwide awareness of their predicament.

The market for tropical timber has driven up industrial logging and damaged forest areas in Asia, Africa and the neotropics. Mining for minerals and diamonds have also taken a toll. On Dinagat island in the Philippines, gold, nickel and copper mining endanger the Philippine tarsier. In the DRC, hunters working around the tin, gold and diamond mine industry are the greatest threat to the region’s Grauer’s gorilla. The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25m km of roads by 2050, further fragmenting the primates’ habitats.

While some species are resilient and adapt to the loss of traditional habitats, survival in patches of forest and urban areas is unlikely to be sustainable, the authors write. One of the more unusual threats facing lemurs and chimps who come into contact with humans is infection with diarrhoea-causing bugs.

Another major force driving primates to extinction is commercialised bushmeat hunting, which has expanded to provide food to the growing human population. The report cites accounts that claim 150,000 primates from 16 species are traded each year in Nigeria and Cameroon. In Borneo, between 2,000 and 3,000 orangutans are killed for food each year, a rate that is far from sustainable.

Russell Mittermeier, another Conservation International scientist and co-author of the study, said that it was crucial to target conservation on the most threatened forests and species.

“Clearly we need to deal with the drivers of extinction, from commercial agriculture to mining and logging. But if we focus all of our efforts on that, by the time we have had an impact, there won’t be anything left. So we must first protect the last remaining pieces of habitat and if no protected areas exist, we must create them.

“I’m an optimist and I believe we can come up with solutions, but we have to be very targeted now to make sure we don’t lose anything,” he said. Writing in the journal, the authors add: “Despite the impending extinction facing many of the world’s primates, we remain adamant that primate conservation is not yet a lost cause.”

 34 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
On climate change, Trump nominees try having it both ways

Cabinet candidates aren't calling climate change a 'hoax,' but they're taking on climate science by emphasizing a lack of modeling precision and disagreements among scientists.   

Zack Colman
CS Monitor   

January 19, 2017 Washington—The people poised to handle the federal government’s environmental portfolio appear to be trying to have it both ways on climate change: They are denying that it’s a “hoax,” but they are questioning the ability to measure humanity’s contribution with “precision.”

At first blush, the comments appear to be a departure from President-elect Donald Trump’s comment that climate change is a China-made fiction. In that way, Mr. Trump’s picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, and the State Department have sounded more aligned with the scientific consensus that humans are driving climate change.

But they’re not actually embracing that conclusion.

Instead, they’re pointing to models that show some variation on emissions, temperature, and sea-level rise projections and amplifying those small disagreements to discredit or sow doubt about the widely held conclusion that humans are driving emissions higher and raising temperatures, largely from burning fossil fuels.

To most climate scientists, the comments are “deliberately misleading,” says Susan Joy Hassol, director of Climate Communication. 

The nominees’ statements point to Republicans’ struggle to oppose climate science without dismissing it entirely, she and others say.

In 2014, GOP lawmakers attempted to deflect questions by saying, “I’m not a scientist.” A year later, all but one Republican senator supported a resolution that climate change was “not a hoax,” but they added that “climate has always been changing.”

This year’s congressional hearings are “a return to the George W. Bush administration,” which often delayed action on the grounds that the science was uncertain and ordered more studies on the issue, says Ms. Hassol.

“There is no disagreement among any legitimate scientist on that question,” she adds.

Points of confusion

Scott Pruitt, the Republican Oklahoma attorney general whom Trump tapped to lead the EPA, said in his Wednesday confirmation hearing that climate change is “caused by human activity in some manner. I believe the ability to measure with precision is subject to more debate.”

That came one day after Interior nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) of Montana, told a Senate panel during his confirmation hearing that the “climate is changing, man is influencing it — I think where there is debate" is how much.

And last week, ex-ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the top choice to lead the State Department and United States climate diplomacy, said “we cannot predict with precision” the effects of climate change and that the science behind connectivity to extreme weather events is “not conclusive.” He added, however, that “doesn’t mean that we should do nothing."

Admittedly, climate models are complex and can differ on many fine points around timing and degree of changes. And since they are predicting well into the future, they are inherently imprecise.

That can give rise to confusion among the public, scientists say.

“Models can give rather different answers because they were intended for different purposes. It does mean that it takes experts to properly interpret results, and casual observers and politicians can easily be led astray,” says Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., in an email.

But emphasizing those differences can be a red herring.

“This line tends to ignore the certainties that climate change is happening and it is caused by humans, and we argue about details,” says Dr. Trenberth. “It can be used as a mask to say we will do nothing.”

Scientists, Trenberth notes, often emphasize the uncertainties – like the effect climate change will have on precipitation – since that’s where more research and improved modeling is needed. But for policymakers to zero in on those uncertainties as a defense of inaction can be dangerous.

Mr. Pruitt, the EPA nominee, did commit to regulating carbon dioxide emissions if confirmed. But his questioning of how much humans contribute to a warmer planet may translate into a light regulatory touch.

Senate Democrats haven’t elicited particularly detailed views from Trump’s Cabinet picks during the hearings. What the candidates have offered feeds misinformation that hinders action, Hassol argues.

“At this point confusion may be as dangerous as contrarianism and delay as insidious as denial,” she says.
Shifts in public opinion

The hearings come at a time when the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record – the third year in a row that global temperatures have set a record.

Moreover, Americans are increasingly concerned about the issue, according to a survey released Wednesday.

While climate change is still a polarizing topic, the survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication shows a record number of Americans – 19 percent – say they are “very worried” about global warming. Some 61 percent are “somewhat” or “very” worried.

Seven in 10 Americans believe global warming is happening (compared with 13 percent who say it is not happening), and the proportion of Americans who are either “extremely” or “very sure” global warming is happening is 45 percent, the highest proportion since the survey began in 2008.

Says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program: The polarization around climate change “is beginning to shift.”

 35 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:20 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Heating up: Earth breaks record for hottest year, for the third time in a row

Last year was the third year in a row to shatter global heat records, a trend that scientists say shows 'big changes' are already underway.

Patrick Reilly
CS Monitor 

January 18, 2017 —After 12 months of heat waves, wildfires, and severe storms around the world, it’s official: 2016 was the warmest year on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Wednesday that Earth’s average surface temperature last year was 58.69 degrees F., the highest since worldwide record-keeping began in 1880. This also makes 2016 the third year of record-setting warmth in a row, a finding that NASA confirmed using a different method.

In scientists’ view, this three-in-a-row trend makes the 2016 data especially significant. Years of record warmth were once anomalies. Now, many argue, they signal a shift: Human burning of fossil fuels is pushing Earth’s climate into warmer territory.

“A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” Deke Arndt, NOAA’s chief of global climate monitoring, told The New York Times. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

Scientists attribute these “big changes” primarily to human emissions of greenhouse gases. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, says that 12 percent of last year’s record heat was caused by the cyclical El Niño phenomenon, while the rest likely originated with burning of fossil fuels.

A warmer climate made itself felt worldwide last year. According to Dr. Schmidt, the Arctic stayed “enormously warm.” Near the Equator, India set a temperature record on May 19, with the town of Phalodi reaching a sweltering 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The New York Times.

In addition to higher temperatures, 2016 saw several natural disasters, ranging from wildfires in Alberta, Canada, to hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, that scientists predict will become more common as the atmosphere retains more heat.

Rising temperatures are also taking their toll on the world’s oceans. In September, The Christian Science Monitor reported:

“The ocean has played a disproportionate role in mitigating the effects of human caused climate change, but increasingly extreme storms, bleaching coral, and massive fish die-offs are indications that the oceans can't take much more.”

The latest bleak news on climate change comes three months after the Paris Climate Accord, in which 125 nations agreed to lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, went into effect.

Last May, when early temperature data suggested that 2016 was on track to break another round of global temperatures, the Monitor reported that current warming trends could make it difficult to avoid hitting that 1.5-degree mark.

Many observers argue that the degree to which the climate warms in coming decades depends on political will to limit greenhouse gas emissions. With Donald Trump, an outspoken skeptic of climate change, about to take office as US president, some see little leadership on climate change for the next four years.

But other observers predict that even President-elect Trump will soon feel the heat. Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, told Reuters that “the hottest year on record is such a clear warning siren that even President-elect Trump cannot ignore.”

 36 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The Decent Of Evil: Repiglicans

Endangered Species Act: get ready for big changes, says GOP

Republican lawmakers are preparing to roll back the influence of the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the law is an unnecessary hindrance to economic development.   

Gretel Kauffman
CS Monitor   

January 18, 2017 —The Endangered Species Act may soon be, well, endangered.

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, Republicans are reportedly getting ready to roll back the influence of the Endangered Species Act after contending for years that the law curbs economic development under the guise of conservation. Under the Obama administration, GOP lawmakers sponsored dozens of measures aimed at weakening the act, nearly all of which were blocked by Democrats and the White House or lawsuits from environmentalists. But now, as the United States enters an era of Republican control in both Congress and the White House, opponents of the ESA may get their way.

"It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It's been used for control of the land," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, who "would love to invalidate" the law, as reported by the Associated Press. "We've missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked."

In its 44 years of existence, the law has been criticized for hindering drilling, logging, and other activities while enabling prolonged legal battles over certain species. It prohibits the hunting of wolves, angering farmers in a number of states who say the wild animals attack their livestock. And protection efforts for species including the Canada lynx, the lesser prairie chicken, and the salmon have hindered logging projects, oil and gas development, and efforts to reallocate water in California.

In response, GOP lawmakers have proposed reforms including placing limits on lawsuits that have been used to maintain protections and force decisions on some species, and introducing a cap on how many species can be protected while giving states more input on the matter.

But environmentalists say Endangered Species Act has played a vital role in the survival of many of the more than 1,600 plants and animals currently protected by the law. As Eva Botkin-Kowacki reported for The Christian Science Monitor in October:

    Species are going extinct about 1,000 times faster than if humans weren’t part of the equation, according to Stuart Pimm’s 2014 research published in the journal Science. As such, many scientists now proclaim that Earth is experiencing its sixth great extinction.

    "I hate that we concentrate on all the gloom and despair," says Dr. Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University, bemoaning his own research. "I think the story is that we are now becoming very successful at finding solutions. We’re learning how to do this craft we call conservation."

    And the numbers suggest that he’s right.

    Under the Obama administration, 28 endangered or threatened species have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the endangered species list – more than under all other administrations combined since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became law in 1973, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Decisions for dozens of species, such as the Pacific walrus and the North American wolverine, are set to take place this year. Many of these species could face increased risk if Republican reforms are implemented, experts say.

"There's a lot of evidence that some species are conservation-reliant," J.B. Ruhl, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, told the AP. Political fights over some species have taken decades to resolve, he added, because recovering them from "the brink of extinction is a lot harder than we thought."

 37 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The Decent Of Evil: Repiglicans

Endangered Species Act: get ready for big changes, says GOP

Republican lawmakers are preparing to roll back the influence of the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the law is an unnecessary hindrance to economic development.   

Gretel Kauffman
CS Monitor   

January 18, 2017 —The Endangered Species Act may soon be, well, endangered.

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, Republicans are reportedly getting ready to roll back the influence of the Endangered Species Act after contending for years that the law curbs economic development under the guise of conservation. Under the Obama administration, GOP lawmakers sponsored dozens of measures aimed at weakening the act, nearly all of which were blocked by Democrats and the White House or lawsuits from environmentalists. But now, as the United States enters an era of Republican control in both Congress and the White House, opponents of the ESA may get their way.

"It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It's been used for control of the land," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, who "would love to invalidate" the law, as reported by the Associated Press. "We've missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked."

In its 44 years of existence, the law has been criticized for hindering drilling, logging, and other activities while enabling prolonged legal battles over certain species. It prohibits the hunting of wolves, angering farmers in a number of states who say the wild animals attack their livestock. And protection efforts for species including the Canada lynx, the lesser prairie chicken, and the salmon have hindered logging projects, oil and gas development, and efforts to reallocate water in California.

In response, GOP lawmakers have proposed reforms including placing limits on lawsuits that have been used to maintain protections and force decisions on some species, and introducing a cap on how many species can be protected while giving states more input on the matter.

But environmentalists say Endangered Species Act has played a vital role in the survival of many of the more than 1,600 plants and animals currently protected by the law. As Eva Botkin-Kowacki reported for The Christian Science Monitor in October:

    Species are going extinct about 1,000 times faster than if humans weren’t part of the equation, according to Stuart Pimm’s 2014 research published in the journal Science. As such, many scientists now proclaim that Earth is experiencing its sixth great extinction.

    "I hate that we concentrate on all the gloom and despair," says Dr. Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University, bemoaning his own research. "I think the story is that we are now becoming very successful at finding solutions. We’re learning how to do this craft we call conservation."

    And the numbers suggest that he’s right.

    Under the Obama administration, 28 endangered or threatened species have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the endangered species list – more than under all other administrations combined since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became law in 1973, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Decisions for dozens of species, such as the Pacific walrus and the North American wolverine, are set to take place this year. Many of these species could face increased risk if Republican reforms are implemented, experts say.

"There's a lot of evidence that some species are conservation-reliant," J.B. Ruhl, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, told the AP. Political fights over some species have taken decades to resolve, he added, because recovering them from "the brink of extinction is a lot harder than we thought."

 38 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

How lowly termites save grasslands for lions, elephants, and people

New research shows how termite mounds aerate the soil, helping to buffer grassland from the effects of climate change and slow the pace of desertification.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer
1/19/2017

Mound-building termites in Africa have the potential to buffer climate-sensitive grasslands there from the regional effects of global warming, at least for a while, according to a new study. In the process, the landscape above the colonies could well serve as the center of action for rebuilding vegetation following drought.

This relationship between colonies of the tiny bugs and their broader environment is likely to hold well beyond Africa to parts of Australia and South America, according to the researchers conducting the study.

That could be encouraging news for people who live in the world's arid or semi-arid savannas and grasslands. These make up less than 40 percent of the Earth's land area and support more than 38 percent of the world's population, the researchers note.

The study, published on line Thursday by the journal Science, underscores the role biological interactions can have in tempering the effects of climate change, notes Robert Pringle, an ecologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and a member of the team that conducted the study.

It also highlights the importance to the health of an ecosystem of so-called cryptic creatures that do their work largely out of sight and so are largely out of mind.

In this case, these termites live in mounds that are hard to see, unless you know what to look for, and they do their work at night – modifying the soil in several ways that benefit plants with effects that can outlast the existence of the colony doing the work.

"If you pulled out the termites from the system, you'd get a dramatic decrease in its ability to support large populations of charismatic wildlife," Dr. Pringle says, referring to the animals that inhabit the continent's savannas and grasslands – as well as wall calendars, coffee-table books, and conservation-campaign handouts.

The discovery of this buffering role for termite mounds emerged from research into regular patterns of vegetation that can appear as grasslands dry out and teeter on the edge of a catastrophic shift to desert.

Scientists have noted self-organizing patterns of vegetation in landscapes for decades. Over the past 15 years, ecosystem modelers have shown that such lands dotted with islands of vegetation reach that state in stages, each with its distinct pattern of plant distribution. Those patterns are based on increased competition among plants for dwindling water supplies.

As seen from satellites, regularly space dots separated by bare soil appeared to represent the final stage before the system tips to desert.

The results, used in conjunction with satellite images of vegetation cover, suggested that the patterns could be used to steer conservation efforts toward the areas teetering on the brink of collapse.

In the meantime, Pringle and colleagues in the United States and Kenya had been studying a mound-covered area within the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya with an eye toward gauging the effects the termite colonies individually and collectively could be having on biological activity above ground.

The mounds are hard to spot. They rise only about 1-1/2 feet above the surrounding surface, but typically measure about 65 feet across and are separated from neighboring mounds by anywhere from 65 to 400 feet.

The team found that the termites were in effect aerating the soil, allowing rainwater to reach deep into the mounds. They were changing the soil's texture. And they were loading it with nutrients. Nitrogen levels were 70 percent higher and phosphorus levels were 84 percent higher than in soils beyond the mounds. That turned the mounds into hot spots for plant growth. And the regular spacing between the mounds meant that collectively the mounds were enhancing plant growth and biodiversity over the full range of the mound field.

Enter Corina Tarnita, a Princeton University colleague with a background in modeling ecological systems, an eye for patterns, and the lead author on the paper in Science describing the study.

She noted a similarity between the landscape dotted with plant-rich termite mounds and the satellite images of landscapes dotted with the last vestiges of savanna – same patterns, but different mechanisms generating them.

Using a model that deals with plant competition for water in the "here comes the desert" scenario and adding representations of termite influence on soils and nutrients, she demonstrated that "plant islands" built by each of the two mechanisms could coexist in the same location. But they grow to different scales. Plant assemblages on mounds dominated the area but were interspersed with far smaller bunches of plants battling for water – bunches so small that, unlike the mounds, they can't be seen by satellite. This matched the mix that Pringle and Dr. Tarnita saw during a trip to the mounds. 

This diversity of process translated into a more robust ecosystem, with the mounds serving as the centers for slowing the effects of an oncoming drought or speeding recovery from a drought just ended.

What remains to be determined is how well the termite communities themselves respond to climate change.

Still, "even if individual colonies blink out in a given location, the concentrated nutrients, the altered soils, the tunnels and shafts -- those mounds will take years to decades to erode," Pringle says. "Productivity on the mounds themselves is going to persist, even in the short-term absence of termites maintaining the mound itself."

And termites can repopulate abandoned mounds.

Aside from demonstrating the buffering influence of the mounds, the study also highlights the importance of telling the difference between a landscape truly on the verge of going desert and a healthy one dotted with termite mounds. One doesn't want to send the conservation corps to the wrong location.

Satellite observations may help if the mounds give off a different spectral signature than comparably sized patched of plants in a region on the verge of becoming desert, Pringle says. That difference, if it exists, has yet to be demonstrated.

For now, the results suggest that hiking boots on the ground will still be important in distinguishing between the two.

 39 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

How lowly termites save grasslands for lions, elephants, and people

New research shows how termite mounds aerate the soil, helping to buffer grassland from the effects of climate change and slow the pace of desertification.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer
1/19/2017

Mound-building termites in Africa have the potential to buffer climate-sensitive grasslands there from the regional effects of global warming, at least for a while, according to a new study. In the process, the landscape above the colonies could well serve as the center of action for rebuilding vegetation following drought.

This relationship between colonies of the tiny bugs and their broader environment is likely to hold well beyond Africa to parts of Australia and South America, according to the researchers conducting the study.

That could be encouraging news for people who live in the world's arid or semi-arid savannas and grasslands. These make up less than 40 percent of the Earth's land area and support more than 38 percent of the world's population, the researchers note.

The study, published on line Thursday by the journal Science, underscores the role biological interactions can have in tempering the effects of climate change, notes Robert Pringle, an ecologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and a member of the team that conducted the study.

It also highlights the importance to the health of an ecosystem of so-called cryptic creatures that do their work largely out of sight and so are largely out of mind.

In this case, these termites live in mounds that are hard to see, unless you know what to look for, and they do their work at night – modifying the soil in several ways that benefit plants with effects that can outlast the existence of the colony doing the work.

"If you pulled out the termites from the system, you'd get a dramatic decrease in its ability to support large populations of charismatic wildlife," Dr. Pringle says, referring to the animals that inhabit the continent's savannas and grasslands – as well as wall calendars, coffee-table books, and conservation-campaign handouts.

The discovery of this buffering role for termite mounds emerged from research into regular patterns of vegetation that can appear as grasslands dry out and teeter on the edge of a catastrophic shift to desert.

Scientists have noted self-organizing patterns of vegetation in landscapes for decades. Over the past 15 years, ecosystem modelers have shown that such lands dotted with islands of vegetation reach that state in stages, each with its distinct pattern of plant distribution. Those patterns are based on increased competition among plants for dwindling water supplies.

As seen from satellites, regularly space dots separated by bare soil appeared to represent the final stage before the system tips to desert.

The results, used in conjunction with satellite images of vegetation cover, suggested that the patterns could be used to steer conservation efforts toward the areas teetering on the brink of collapse.

In the meantime, Pringle and colleagues in the United States and Kenya had been studying a mound-covered area within the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya with an eye toward gauging the effects the termite colonies individually and collectively could be having on biological activity above ground.

The mounds are hard to spot. They rise only about 1-1/2 feet above the surrounding surface, but typically measure about 65 feet across and are separated from neighboring mounds by anywhere from 65 to 400 feet.

The team found that the termites were in effect aerating the soil, allowing rainwater to reach deep into the mounds. They were changing the soil's texture. And they were loading it with nutrients. Nitrogen levels were 70 percent higher and phosphorus levels were 84 percent higher than in soils beyond the mounds. That turned the mounds into hot spots for plant growth. And the regular spacing between the mounds meant that collectively the mounds were enhancing plant growth and biodiversity over the full range of the mound field.

Enter Corina Tarnita, a Princeton University colleague with a background in modeling ecological systems, an eye for patterns, and the lead author on the paper in Science describing the study.

She noted a similarity between the landscape dotted with plant-rich termite mounds and the satellite images of landscapes dotted with the last vestiges of savanna – same patterns, but different mechanisms generating them.

Using a model that deals with plant competition for water in the "here comes the desert" scenario and adding representations of termite influence on soils and nutrients, she demonstrated that "plant islands" built by each of the two mechanisms could coexist in the same location. But they grow to different scales. Plant assemblages on mounds dominated the area but were interspersed with far smaller bunches of plants battling for water – bunches so small that, unlike the mounds, they can't be seen by satellite. This matched the mix that Pringle and Dr. Tarnita saw during a trip to the mounds. 

This diversity of process translated into a more robust ecosystem, with the mounds serving as the centers for slowing the effects of an oncoming drought or speeding recovery from a drought just ended.

What remains to be determined is how well the termite communities themselves respond to climate change.

Still, "even if individual colonies blink out in a given location, the concentrated nutrients, the altered soils, the tunnels and shafts -- those mounds will take years to decades to erode," Pringle says. "Productivity on the mounds themselves is going to persist, even in the short-term absence of termites maintaining the mound itself."

And termites can repopulate abandoned mounds.

Aside from demonstrating the buffering influence of the mounds, the study also highlights the importance of telling the difference between a landscape truly on the verge of going desert and a healthy one dotted with termite mounds. One doesn't want to send the conservation corps to the wrong location.

Satellite observations may help if the mounds give off a different spectral signature than comparably sized patched of plants in a region on the verge of becoming desert, Pringle says. That difference, if it exists, has yet to be demonstrated.

For now, the results suggest that hiking boots on the ground will still be important in distinguishing between the two.

 40 
 on: Jan 19, 2017, 06:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Snakes on a higher plane: reptilian flight secrets revealed

How do the reptile world's best fliers pull it off without wings? Hint: it's in the ribs.

By Fabien Tepper, Staff writer
1/19/2017

Once upon a time in prehistory, some gifted contortionist of a snake sucked in its tummy, spread its ribs, and soared to reproductive success.

The nimblest of that creature's five descendant species now flies through the forests of southeast Asia, and is known to humans as Chrysopelea paradisi, or the Paradise Flying Snake. But unlike most of the animal kingdom's fliers – such as birds, bats, and flying squirrels – these reptiles neither flap nor coast. Nothing on their body resembles a wing.

Instead, the typically tubular animals press their midsections into a roughly triangular shape as they fling themselves into the air, propelling themselves forward with fishy, side-to-side undulations. According to National Geographic, they can travel up to 300 feet through the air this way. So how do they do it?

The unusual shape they assume turns out to have strange aerodynamic properties, a team of biomechanists has found.

Like flying snakes, airplanes also stay aloft with the help of triangle-like shapes; air travels more quickly across an airplane wing's diagonal top than it does across its flat bottom, weakening the relative air pressure on top, and creating the wonder of lift. But those wings are thin, long, and relatively light; there's no thin part on a snake.

Paradise Flying Snakes, while launching themselves from a tree, rearrange their ribs to create a flat, somewhat concave surface along their bellies, with the rest of their bodies creating the rounded top of a triangle, in cross section.

To understand what this shape does for them, Researchers at Virginia Tech University isolated it from the snake's other dimensions and its undulating motion, by 3D printing a stiff, uniform rod with the same cross-sectional shape.

Studying the behavior of this shape in a water tunnel, they found that it is uniquely good at gathering lift, even when its flight begins with a near-vertical plummeting motion. This is significant for snakes, because their best efforts to fling themselves away from trees aren't particularly strong.

Jake Socha, a co-author of the study who has been studying Paradise Flying Snakes for over a decade, says they commonly embark at a precipitous 60 degree angle to the ground. But, he says, by the time they land (usually on another tree), they have gathered enough lift to move almost horizontally – he has seen them land while moving at an angle as flat as 13 degrees to the ground.

Why do these snakes bother flying when the rest of the world's serpents are content to slither? Scientists haven't yet answered that.

"They are not gliding through the air to hunt," says Dr. Socha. "Their prey items tend to glide better than they do, anyway. We don't know why they use it in the wild, to tell you the truth, but it's probably for escape from predators, or for fast, effective travel between trees."

Meanwhile, the growing understanding of their aerodynamics may have biomimetic applications in the human world.

"One is micro-air vehicles – vehicles that travel through the air that are small, like insects," says Socha. "The other cool thing might be, if you were to make a snake robot that could crawl and climb and slither, and get through rubble, and also soar." Could future disaster relief efforts enlist robo-serpents? "That's what I'd like to see," says Socha.

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