EC2C. Stay Current—Energy Through the System

cover for GSS book Ecosystem Change

Staying current for Chapter 2

{ Ecosystem Change Contents }

SEE ALSO…Losing Biodiversity

  • Chapter 5: Soil, the Living Skin of the Earth 
  • Chapter 7: One Global Ocean 
  • Chapter 8: Champions of a Sustainable World

2021-06-04. [] – The rise and fall of the world’s largest lake. By Sid Perkins. Science Magazine. Excerpt: When continental plates smashed together about 12 million years ago, they didn’t just raise new mountains in central Europe—they created the largest lake the world has ever known. This vast body of water—the Paratethys Sea—came to host species found nowhere else, …. At its largest, the body of water—which some scientists consider to have been an inland sea—stretched from the eastern Alps into what is now Kazakhstan, covering more than 2.8 million square kilometers. That’s an area larger than today’s Mediterranean Sea, they write this week in Scientific Reports. …climate shifts caused the lake to shrink dramatically at least four times in its 5-million-year lifetime, with water levels falling by as much as 250 meters between 7.65 million and 7.9 million years ago. …That sent water salinity in the lake’s central basin—which closely matches the outlines of today’s Black Sea—skyrocketing, from about one-third as salty as today’s oceans to a level on par with seawater. …Those shifts wiped out many aquatic species…. Creatures that could survive the brackish water, including some mollusks, survived to repopulate the lake when it expanded during wetter times, …. …The Paratethys soon became home to a wide variety of mollusks, crustaceans, and marine mammals found nowhere else on Earth. Many of the whales, dolphins, and seals living there were miniature versions of those found in open seas…. …One species, the 3-meter-long Cetotherium riabinini—1 meter shorter than today’s bottlenose dolphin—is the smallest whale ever found in the fossil record. Such dwarfism might have helped these animals adapt to a shrinking Paratethys, Gol’din says. The changes to the climate that triggered lake shrinkage also influenced the evolution of land animals, …. As water levels dropped, the newly exposed shorelines became grasslands—and hot spots for evolution…. …Four lengthy dry periods that occurred between 6.25 million and 8.75 million years ago likely drove those creatures to migrate southwestward into Africa, Böhme and her colleagues reported last month in Communications Earth & Environment. Here, they evolved to produce the diversity of creatures for which today’s African savanna is famous…  

2020-10-04. ‘David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet’ Review: Ruin and Regrowth. By Natalia Winkelman, The New York Times. Excerpt: The majestic documentary “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” opens with its title subject standing in a deserted location. It’s the territory around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, a once buzzing area that was evacuated after human error rendered it uninhabitable. …Calling the film (streaming on Netflix) his “witness statement” for the environment, David Attenborough goes on to trace his more than 60-year career as a naturalist, mapping how steeply the planet’s biodiversity has degenerated before him. Global air travel was new when he began his work, and footage of him as a young producer encountering exotic flora and fauna lends a moving, even haunting, note to his plea to restore ecological balance. …upsetting is the loss of rain forests, showcased through the stark cutoff between flourishing vegetation and uniform rows of oil palms planted for profit. Such cinematic juxtapositions are persuasive: A dying planet is an ugly one, while healthy ecosystems please the eye and the earth. …The most devastating sequence finds Attenborough charting the disasters we face in future decades — global crises that he, as a man now in his 90s, will not experience. Yet he finds hope by extrapolating small successes. Sustainable farming in the Netherlands has made the country one of the worldwide leaders in food exports. …The film’s grand achievement is that it positions its subject as a mediator between humans and the natural world. Life cycles on, and if we make the right choices, ruin can become regrowth…. []  
2020-06-17. How Humanity Unleashed a Flood of New Diseases. By Ferris Jabr, The New York Times. Excerpt: What do Covid-19, Ebola, Lyme and AIDS have in common? They jumped to humans from animals after we started destroying habitats and ruining ecosystems. …Zoonotic pathogens do not typically seek us out nor do they stumble onto us by pure coincidence. When diseases move from animals to humans, and vice versa, it is usually because we have reconfigured our shared ecosystems in ways that make the transition much more likely. Deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl destroy natural habitats, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. Excessive hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife significantly increase the probability of cross-species infection. Modern transportation can disperse dangerous microbes across the world in a matter of hours. “Human-caused ecological pressures and disruptions are bringing animal pathogens ever more into contact with human populations,” David Quammen wrote in his 2012 book “Spillover,” “while human technology and behavior are spreading those pathogens ever more widely and quickly.”… []  

2019-09-16. How Long Before These Salmon Are Gone? ‘Maybe 20 Years’. By Jim Robbins, The New York Times. []  Excerpt: Warming waters and a series of dams are making the grueling migration of the Chinook salmon even more deadly — and threatening dozens of other species. …NORTH FORK, Idaho …Some 45,000 to 50,000 spring-summer Chinook spawned here in the 1950s. These days, the average is about 1,500 fish, and declining. And not just here: Native fish are in free-fall throughout the Columbia River basin, a situation so dire that many groups are urging the removal of four large dams to keep the fish from being lost. …Before the 20th century, some 10 million to 16 million adult salmon and steelhead trout are thought to have returned annually to the Columbia River system. The current return of wild fish is 2 percent of that, by some estimates. While farming, logging and especially the commercial harvest of salmon in the early 20th century all took a toll, the single greatest impact on wild fish comes from eight large dams — four on the Columbia and four on the Snake River, a major tributary…. 

2014-03-24.  Climate change catches snowshoe hares off guard. Excerpt: …Several mammal species annually swap out their brown drab summer coat for a stylish camouflaged white coat in time for snow season. Over the past few decades, shorter periods of snowpack from warmer temperatures are exposing snowshoe hares to predators when their coats molt out of sync with snow cover. That could be a problem for hare populations, …. The timing of molt remained fixed in autumn even though the timing of snow pack differed between years. …Even so, coat color was often mismatched and it seemed to make little difference to the hares. …Patches of bare ground were preferred over snowy spots as resting sites, independent of coat color. The hares’ apparent disregard for conspicuousness is a bit of a mystery. …A shift from a reliance on camouflage to other adaptive predator avoidance strategies, such as running faster, may also help hares keep pace with climate change…. Miles Becker, University of Washington, Conservation.

2012-12-31. As Pheasants Disappear, Hunters in Iowa Follow | John Eligon, The New York Times. Relevant to GSS Ecosystem Change, chapter 2. Excerpt: ELKHART, Iowa …The pheasant, once king of Iowa’s nearly half-a-billion-dollar hunting industry, is vanishing from the state. Surveys show that the population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades. …It stems from several years of excessively damp weather and animal predators. But the factor inciting the most emotion is the loss of wildlife habitat as landowners increasingly chop down their brushy fields to plant crops to take advantage of rising commodity prices and farmland values. Over the last two decades, Iowa has lost more than 1.6 million acres of habitat suitable for pheasants…. And these declines have been occurring nationwide. The overall amount of land enrolled in the Agriculture Department’s Conservation Reserve Program has dipped to 29.5 million acres from a peak of 36.7 million in 2007. Under the program, the government pays owners … to plant parts of their land with grass and other vegetation that create a wildlife habitat. …But as the price of corn and other crops has risen, so have land values, and the rates paid by the government under the program have been unable to keep up…. In Iowa, the issue essentially has pitted the interests of the state’s recreational industry against its biggest economic driver, farming…. Read the full article:

2010 May 4. Concerns Up and Down the Food Chain. By Leslie Kaufman, NY Times. Excerpt: BRETON ISLAND, La. — As the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon spreads across the Gulf of Mexico, environmentalists and government officials have been working frantically to protect shoreline habitat like this island in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, eight miles off the coast of Louisiana.
Breton Island, with its hundreds of nesting birds, has been protected by orange booms, as have many other areas of delicate estuaries and wetlands.
But biologists are increasingly alarmed for wildlife offshore, where the damage from a spill can be invisible but still deadly. And they caution that because of the fluidity between onshore and offshore marine communities, the harm taking place deep at sea will come back to haunt the shallows, whether or not they are directly hit by the slick.
The gulf’s deeper water harbors 10 species of threatened sharks, 6 species of endangered turtles, manatees, whales and innumerable fish.
It is also a temporary home for the eggs of dozens of species of fish and shellfish, whose offspring spend their earliest days floating along currents at the surface of the water — the very layer where most of the oil settles.
There, the effects can be devastating, studies from previous spills show, like whales so drugged and disoriented by noxious petroleum fumes that they can drown, and tiny translucent organisms whose bodies are literally burned from the inside out as the sun heats the fuel they have ingested.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of experience in how oil affects marine life, ecosystems, coastal communities, and fisheries,” said Christopher Mann, with the marine program of the nonprofit Pew Environment Group. “The iconic images of oiled seabirds are just the tip of the iceberg, because oil spills affect life up and down the food chain.”…

2009 November 5. Surprising New Connection Made Between Predators and Ecosystems. By Jennifer Donovan, US News & World Report. Excerpt: Moose eat plants; wolves kill moose. What difference does this classic predator-prey interaction make to biodiversity?
A large and unexpected one, say wildlife biologists from Michigan Technological University. Joseph Bump, Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich report in the November 2009 issue of the journal Ecology that the carcasses of moose killed by wolves at Isle Royale National Park enrich the soil in “hot spots” of forest fertility around the kills, causing rapid microbial and fungal growth that provide increased nutrients for plants in the area.
“This study demonstrates an unforeseen link between the hunting behavior of a top predator—the wolf—and biochemical hot spots on the landscape,” said Bump, an assistant professor in Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and first author of the research paper. “It’s important because it illuminates another contribution large predators make to the ecosystem they live in and illustrates what can be protected or lost when predators are preserved or exterminated.”…

2008 May 27. Scientists warn of acidic seawater in Puget Sound. 
Associated Press. Excerpt: SEATTLE – Puget Sound faces an uncertain future due to the increasing acidity of seawater, a panel of marine scientists said Tuesday. The changes are coming more rapidly than expected, and could disrupt food chains and threaten Washington’s shellfish industry. The acidic seawater is moving closer to shallow waters containing the bulk of marine life, according to an article this month in the journal Science. The increasingly corrosive water threatens the survival of many organisms, from microscopic plants and animals at the base of the food chain to shellfish, corals and the young of some marine species.
…The latest research indicates acidic water is appearing along the Pacific Coast decades earlier than expected.
… “As long as CO2 continues to increase in the atmosphere, the oceans will continue to absorb that,” Sabine said. “What we’re seeing is only going to get worse.”
… “This acidity dissolves calcium carbonate, which is the thing that shells are made out of. If diatoms, corals, clams and oysters succumb to this it not only wipes out the shellfish industry but potentially the entire marine food chain,” said Bishop, a fifth-generation shellfish harvester.

2005 September. Housecleaning Made Cleaner (Union of Concerned Scientists Greentips) Tips on choosing household cleansers that will help keep your home both clean and “green.” Avoid harmful ingredients (Petroleum, Phosphates/EDTA, Phthalates, Antibacterial agents, Chlorine bleach). Choose “greener” alternatives (Citrus- and plant-based oils, Sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, and sodium silicate, Enzymes, Non-chlorine bleach).

2005 September 2. Study Indicates Organic Foods Are Best for Children. By Marla Cone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer. Excerpt: U.S. government scientists from the Centers for Disease Control have released a new study revealing that switching to organic foods provides children with “dramatic and immediate” protection from toxic pesticides. The scientists tested the urine of elementary school children for 15 days. Children ate conventional foods for ten of the days and ate organic foods for five days. During those five days, researchers saw the toxins malathion and chlorpyrifos in the children’s urine completely disappear. These chemicals are two of the most commonly found pesticides on non-organic foods. Pesticide levels increased five-fold in the children’s urine as soon as conventional foods were reintroduced to their diet.] The health effects of exposure to minute amounts of pesticides found in food are largely unknown, especially for children. …Pesticide manufacturers say that while low levels of residue are detectable on many products, there is no evidence that children are harmed by them. They say that pesticides, which are the most highly tested and regulated chemicals in the United States, are vital to providing an affordable and plentiful world food supply. …Some research, however, suggests that the residue may harm the developing nervous system. …The study concludes, “An organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposure to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural production.” The study is “Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides” by Chensheng Lu, Kathryn Toepel, Rene Irish, Richard A. Fenske, Dana B. Barr, and Roberto Bravo. Full Text of Study.


8 December 2003. NASA RELEASE: 03-395. NASA Learning To Monitor Coral Reef Health From The Sky. Coral reef health may be accurately estimated from sensors on airplanes and satellites in the future, …. Sometimes called the “bellwether of the seas,” coral reefs can give first indications of marine ecosystem health. “Scientists can use coral health as a sensitive indicator of the health of the marine environment,” said Liane Guild, a scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. …One of the first steps her team took to develop aerial coral monitoring was to take undersea light-reflectance readings of elkhorn coral with a handheld spectroradiometer, or light meter. … A spectroradiometer measures the amount of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light reflected from an object, and is similar to sensors aboard remote-sensing airplanes and satellites. …”Ultimately, we plan to fly ‘hyperspectral’ instruments, containing many detectors that collect information in the visible light range,” Guild explained. These instruments will provide the most useful information about coral-reef community health from above the sea, according to Guild. The team’s research emphasis is on Acropora palmata, or elkhorn coral, a major reef-building coral. It is prevalent in the study area, but is suffering from “white band disease.” Elkhorn coral is on the verge of becoming an endangered species because it has severely declined in many areas of the Caribbean, Guild noted. Images.