EC4C. Stay Current—Changes in the Global System

cover for GSS book Ecosystem Change

Staying current for Chapter 4

{ Ecosystem Change Contents }

See also: GSS Climate Change chapter 8Losing Biodiversity chapters 5 (Soil, the Living Skin of the Earth), 7 (One Global Ocean), and 8 (Champions of a Sustainable World).

2023-09-13. Earth ‘well outside safe operating space for humanity’, scientists find. [] By Damian Carrington, The Guardian. Excerpt: …planetary boundaries are the limits of key global systems – such as climate, water and wildlife diversity – beyond which their ability to maintain a healthy planet is in danger of failing. …Six boundaries have been passed and two are judged to be close to being broken: air pollution and ocean acidification. The one boundary that is not threatened is atmospheric ozone, after action to phase out destructive chemicals in recent decades led to the ozone hole shrinking. …The planetary boundaries are not irreversible tipping points…. Instead, they are points after which the risks of fundamental changes in the Earth’s physical, biological and chemical life support systems rise significantly. …Prof Johan Rockström…said: “…But what worries us, even more, is the rising signs of dwindling planetary resilience.” …this failing resilience could make restricting global heating to the 1.5C climate goal impossible and could bring the world closer to real tipping points. Scientists said in September that the world was on the brink of multiple disastrous tipping points. …The assessment, which was published in the journal Science Advances and was based on 2,000 studies, indicated that several planetary boundaries were passed long ago. The boundary for biosphere integrity, which includes the healthy functioning of ecosystems, was broken in the late 19th century, …the boundary for land use was broken last century. …the safe boundary for climate change was surpassed in the late 1980s. For freshwater, this boundary was crossed in the early 20th century. …The boundary for synthetic pollution, such as pesticides, plastics and nuclear waste, was shown to have been passed by a 2022 study. …Ocean acidification is also assessed as getting worse and being close to exceeding the safe boundary. The scientists said: “…that six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.”… See also September 18 article in Smithsonian Magazine by Tara Wu.

2023-08-24. Emperor penguins abandon breeding grounds as ice melts around them. [] By ERIK STOKSTAD, Science. Excerpt: Emperor penguins need stable sea ice to reproduce and raise their chicks. But with the ocean waters warming around Antarctica, the ice is breaking up earlier and earlier in the season, causing widespread abandonment of penguin breeding colonies. The finding, reported today in Communications Earth & Environment, “is bad news,” says Annie Schmidt, a seabird ecologist at Point Blue Conservation Science who was not involved in the work. Sea ice conditions vary from year to year, and colonies have failed to breed before. But if a whole region becomes unsuitable, penguins will find it difficult to locate an alternate spot, Schmidt says….

2023-08-22. More Than Half the World’s Ocean Surface Is Getting Greener. [] By Meghie Rodrigues, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Tropical oceans are changing color, according to new research. Over the past 2 decades, 56% of ocean surfaces have become greener, and that means microorganisms living close to the surface are changing as well. The study, recently published in Nature, points to climate change as a possible cause for the shift. The world’s oceans get their color from sunlight bouncing off water molecules and whatever else is floating near the surface. That includes tiny phytoplankton, which contain abundant chlorophyll—a pigment that reflects green light….

2023-08-11. The ‘Great Indian Desert’ could disappear within a century. [] By Tanvi Dutta Gupta, Science. Excerpt: …Each year, the South Asian monsoon deluges the verdant east of India and leaves the west, where India and Pakistan share a border, bone-dry. That asymmetry, between the Himalayan rainforests and the “Great Indian Desert”—the most populated in the world—has shaped civilizations. But as climate change heats up, the monsoon is moving farther west into this region. Within a century, a new study suggests, the desert could disappear completely. “This is going to affect a billion people,” says Shang-Ping Xie, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography …the study’s findings portend an increased risk of floods in the Great Indian Desert, also known as the Thar Desert, similar to what happened in 2022, when a deluge in Pakistan displaced 8 million people and caused almost $15 billion in property damage….Most studies predict that Earth’s deserts will grow with global warming. The Sahara desert, for example, is expected to expand more than 6000 square kilometers per year by 2050. But the South Asian monsoon may have the opposite impact for the Thar, located in the dry northwest of the South Asian subcontinent. …To make the find, reported this month in Earth’s Future, researchers gathered weather data for South Asia over the past 50 years….

2023-07-07. Ambidextrous Microbes May Pump Out CO2 as Temperatures Rise. [] By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Some tiny forms of life double-dip to sustain themselves: They’re both photosynthetic and predatorial. But as the planet warms, such “mixotrophic microbes” are apt to shift away from being sunlight driven to being more predatory, researchers have found. And because photosynthesis consumes carbon dioxide (CO2) and respiration expels the greenhouse gas, that transition has important implications for the climate. Furthermore, the early-warning signs that signal an impending shift from a carbon sink state to a carbon source state are muted in the presence of high levels of nutrients, the team reported in Functional Ecology….The collective amount of all the CO2 that mixotrophic microbes are capable of sequestering or releasing is apt to be substantial, Wieczynski said. That’s because the combined biomass of Earth’s microbes, including bacteria and plantlike organisms known as protists, exceeds that of animals by roughly a factor of 40, according to recent estimates….

2023-04-19. Those Seaweed Blobs Headed for Florida? See How Big They Are. [] By lena Shao, The New York Times. Excerpt: Scientists say they spotted more than 13 million tons of Sargassum, a yellowish-brown seaweed, drifting in the Atlantic Ocean last month — a record for the month of March. Here’s what the so-called belt of Sargassum, which can stretch thousands of miles from the western coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, usually looks like in March: [see graphic in article] …Floating mats of seaweed accumulate in the central Atlantic Ocean for much of the year. But during the spring and summer, patches of it are carried by ocean currents toward the Caribbean, eastern Florida and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. …Mats of Sargassum, which is technically algae, have been observed for centuries, but researchers started noticing abnormally large accumulations in 2011. The immense blooms have continued to grow almost every year, in large part because of excessive, nutrient-rich runoff from the Congo, Amazon and Mississippi rivers….

2022-10-27. ‘When we plant, they come’: thirsty elephants pose new problem for drought-hit Kenyan farmers. [] By Peter Muiruri, The Guardian . Excerpt: When Francis Mutuku settled 35 years ago in Marungu, in Kenya’s south-eastern Taita-Taveta county, he had no concerns about how he would feed himself or a future family. Back then, the rains would come on time and he would harvest about 60 bags of maize and 20 bags of mung beans, enough to have a surplus for sale. In addition, there was “peaceful” coexistence between his family and the wild animals that roam the region. Mutuku’s two-hectare (5 acres) farm borders 33 wildlife conservancies and private ranches, and the vast Tsavo national park. “We did not have problems with elephants. Both had enough to eat,” says Mutuku. …“Experts say we are suffering because people in rich countries have polluted the atmosphere,” says Mutuku. “I cannot plant maize any more and need to switch to crops that take a short time to mature and that require little water, such as green grams [mung beans].” …The drought around the Tsavo conservation area has brought wild animals closer to farmers such as Mutuku, especially elephants scouring the area for food and water. A fully grown elephant can consume about 200kg of dry mass and 200 litres of water a day. During the week of our visit, two adult elephants and seven babies had passed by Mutuku’s home and destroyed his water-storage tanks. …“When we plant, they come,” she says. “When we don’t plant, they still come. We beat the iron sheet roofing on our houses, but they are getting used to the noise. We shine torches on them and they don’t run away. There is little you can do when confronted by a herd of 14 elephants.” The Tsavo ecosystem is home to nearly 15,000 elephants, or 37% of Kenya’s elephant population, according to last year’s wildlife census. And while the country has fought hard to raise elephant numbers, the outgoing tourism minister, Najib Balala, told the BBC earlier this year that the climate crisis was killing “20 times more elephants than poaching”.…

2022-05-09. Lowly mushrooms may be key to ecosystem survival in a warming world. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Fungi that decompose plant matter may keep ecosystems healthy, especially after drought. …Across a wide variety of ecosystems, from grasslands to forests to deserts, the more species of decomposers, the more plant productivity stayed the same over time, Delgado-Baquerizo and colleagues report today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Having a wide variety of decomposers and to a lesser extent, root fungi, also helped keep the vegetation growing even in dry spells, the authors found. This diversity might ensure that no matter how conditions change, some fungi will still be able to supply the plants above them with nutrients.… []

2022-04-27. Global land degradation serious, U.N. report finds, but restoration offers hope. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Restoring 5 billion hectares of land could increase crop yields, slow biodiversity decline, and help curb climate change. …Reversing global land degradation can alleviate three big problems—the effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity, according to a U.N. report released today. The Global Land Outlook 2 from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD) points out that 40% of Earth’s land has been compromised by development, deforestation, farming, and other human activities. But the report also offers a vision of benefits that could accrue by 2050 if humanity acts to restore landscapes and reverse this toll.… []

2022-02-04. As seed-hauling animals decline, some plants can’t keep up with climate change. By Meagan Cantwell, Science Magazine. Excerpt: The average animal-dispersed plant has experienced a 60% reduction in its ability to keep pace with climate change. …More than half of plants rely on animals to disperse their seeds far and wide. In the face of climate change, birds and mammals are these plants’ best chance at putting down roots in a more suitable environment. Unfortunately, many birds and mammals that carry these seeds have experienced staggering losses to their population—some large seed haulers, such as woolly mammoths, are extinct. A study published in Science last month created models that could forecast future interactions between animals and plants as their habitat ranges shift, and how species losses up until now have reduced the distance seeds can travel.… []

2021-05-18. [] – What to Save? Climate Change Forces Brutal Choices at National Parks. Source: By Zoë Schlanger, The New York Times. Excerpt: For more than a century, the core mission of the National Park Service has been preserving the natural heritage of the United States. But now, as the planet warms, transforming ecosystems, the agency is conceding that its traditional goal of absolute conservation is no longer viable in many cases. Late last month the service published an 80-page document that lays out new guidance for park managers in the era of climate change. …The new research and guidance — which focus on how to plan for worst-case scenarios, decide what species and landscapes to prioritize, and how to assess the risk of relocating those that can’t survive otherwise — represent a kind of “reckoning” for the Park Service, Ms. Glick said…. 

2020-09-21. Most of the Arctic’s Microscopic Algae Are Chilling Under Ice. By Rachel Fritts, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: New research reveals that tiny single-celled organisms in the Arctic Ocean are growing more numerous as climate change thins the ice. …Marine phytoplankton are the solar panels of the sea, soaking up the Sun’s rays to make energy that powers ocean ecosystems. These single-celled organisms photosynthesize like plants, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and producing about half of the world’s oxygen. Scientists consider phytoplankton to be the ocean’s most important primary producers, because they take energy directly from the Sun and make it available to the rest of ocean life in such vast quantities. … As climate change warms the ocean, ice thin enough for blooms to form underneath is becoming more common. “What we’re seeing now is thinner sea ice and earlier snowmelts, so there’s more light actually reaching through the ice into the surface of the ocean than there used to be,” said Jaclyn Kinney, an oceanographer with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif…. []  

2019-05-06. Biodiversity Report Paints a Bleak Picture. By Randy Showstack, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The natural world is under siege and declining at a dizzying and dismal rate, according to a sobering new report on biodiversity. The rate of global change in nature during the past half century “is unprecedented in human history,” according to a landmark global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services released today, 6 May. The global rate of species extinction “is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years and is accelerating,” according to the report [] by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The report states that about 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. …“Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors,” the report states. …The report, compiled by 145 expert authors who reviewed about 15,000 scientific and government sources and also drew on indigenous and local knowledge, is the most comprehensive document ever prepared about biodiversity. …75% of the terrestrial environment and 40% of marine environments have been severely altered by human actions, about 55% of the ocean area is covered by industrial fishing, the growth of urban areas has more than doubled since 1992, and the amount of renewable and nonrenewable resources that are extracted globally each year has doubled since 1980. According to the report, the direct drivers of change in nature that have the largest global impact are, in order, changes in land and sea use, exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and the invasion of alien species….  See also New York Times article Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace [] and Science article Landmark analysis documents the alarming global decline of nature []

2018-08-29. Algae Bloom in Lake Superior Raises Worries on Climate Change and Tourism. By Christine Hauser, The New York Times. Excerpt: In 19 years of piloting his boat around Lake Superior, Jody Estain had never observed the water change as it has this summer. The lake has been unusually balmy and cloudy, with thick mats of algae blanketing the shoreline. “I have never seen it that warm,” said Mr. Estain, a former Coast Guard member who guides fishing, cave and kayak tours year-round. “Everybody was talking about it.” …Scientists generally agree that algae blooms are getting worse and more widespread, and are exacerbated by the warmer water, heat waves and extreme weather associated with climate change. They are also intensified by human activity, such as from farm and phosphorus runoff, leakage from sewer systems, and other pollution. The problems that algae blooms pose to fresh and marine waters have been propelled to the forefront in recent years by high-profile events like the shutdown of the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014 after toxic algae formed over the city’s water-intake pipe in Lake Erie, as well as the production of a toxin by a species of algae off the West Coast in 2015….

2018-08-20. Ecosystems Are Getting Greener in the Arctic. By Theresa Duque, Berkeley Lab. Excerpt: In recent decades, scientists have noted a surge in Arctic plant growth as a symptom of climate change. But without observations showing exactly when and where vegetation has bloomed as the world’s coldest areas warm, it’s difficult to predict how vegetation will respond to future warming. Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have …In a study published online Aug. 20 in Nature Climate Change, the researchers used satellite images taken over the past 30 years to track – down to a pixel representing approximately 25 square miles – the ebb and flow of plant growth in cold areas of the northern hemisphere, such as Alaska, the Arctic region of Canada, and the Tibetan Plateau. …At first, the satellite data showed what they expected – that as Arctic climates warmed, tree and plant growth increased. After comparing these observations with state-of-the-art climate models developed for CMIP5 – the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 …Their data analysis revealed that 16 percent of Earth’s vegetated land where plant growth was limited by cold temperatures three decades ago is no longer predominantly temperature-limited today, a result that was not reproduced by the CMIP5 models tested. “Our findings suggest that CMIP5’s predictions may have significantly underestimated changes in the Arctic ecosystem, and climate models will need to be improved to better understand and predict the future of the Arctic,” said first author Trevor Keenan….

2018-08-06. Mojave birds crashed over last century due to climate change. By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News. Excerpt: Bird communities in the Mojave Desert straddling the California/Nevada border have collapsed over the past 100 years, most likely because of lower rainfall due to climate change, according to a new University of California, Berkeley, study. A three-year survey of the area, which is larger than the state of New York, concludes that 30 percent, or 39 of the 135 bird species that were there 100 years ago, are less common and less widespread today. The 61 sites surveyed lost, on average, 43 percent of the species that were there a century ago. “Deserts are harsh environments, and while some species might have adaptations that allow them to persist in a desert spot, they are also at their physiological limits,” said Kelly Iknayan, who conducted the survey for her doctoral thesis at UC Berkeley. “California deserts have already experienced quite a bit of drying and warming because of climate change, and this might be enough to push birds over the edge. It seems like we are losing part of the desert ecosystem.” …The loss of bird species has happened even though much of the Mojave Desert is protected national park or preserve, including Death Valley National Park, one of the nation’s largest. “This is a shot across the bow of our nation’s national jewels, telling us that climate change is already having an adverse impact even in our largest national parks and wilderness areas, and that we have got to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by smartly employing green energy,” said Steven Beissinger, senior author of the study and a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management….

2018-07-22. The Klamath conflict—Water war along California-Oregon border pits growers against tribes, family against family. By Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: TULELAKE, Siskiyou County [CA]…The Klamath River has run low, and the economic fallout of a water shortage brought on by years of drought has gripped this farming community, …Dating to 1906, the enormous waterworks anchored by Upper Klamath Lake, where the Klamath River begins its 250-mile journey to sea, consists of seven dams and hundreds of miles of canals. It irrigates a region worth more than $300 million annually in potatoes, onions, sugar beets and other crops, …. In addition to serving farmers, federal project managers are required to maintain sufficient water downstream in the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon as well as upstream in the vast yet shallow Upper Klamath Lake for endangered suckerfish. After years of drought and declining fish numbers, however, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has faced a flurry of litigation over how it’s balancing the project’s supplies. …A few years ago there was hope. The leaders of the basin’s various interest groups had come together to figure out a way to share the water. Farmers committed to restrictions in exchange for a guaranteed annual supply, while American Indian leaders, environmentalists and fishing groups agreed to less water for fish in return for wildlife protections, including removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. While the landmark deal was approved by the U.S. Interior Department as well as the governors of California and Oregon, Congress failed to give the go-ahead. Many in the nation’s capitol, including Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale (Butte County), did not want to see the dams go away….

2018-07-19. The Water Wars of Arizona. By Noah Gallagher Shannon, The New York Times. Excerpt: Attracted by lax regulations, industrial agriculture has descended on a remote valley, depleting its aquifer — leaving many residents with no water at all. …Most North American aquifers lie beneath the Western United States and date back to the beginning of the continent as we know it. Six million years ago, as the Rocky Mountains thrust upward, rivers gashed deep channels in the crust, separating ranges with basins that gradually filled with eroded rock, trapping water beneath it. … Subject to eons of pressure, every aquifer arranges itself differently, forming vast networks of coves and seams of water, some a thousand feet thick but others just a thin vein. Aquifers are unimaginably complex and incredibly fragile; once tapped, they can take more than 6,000 years to replenish. …Among the most vulnerable aquifers are those underlying the desert basins of the American Southwest. The Sulphur Springs Valley, in Arizona’s far southeastern corner, is one such basin. …In geological terms, it is a “closed basin,” as none of its water rejoins a river. Instead, it pools at the center, percolating into the ground. Centuries of evaporation have transformed this ancient lake bed into a dry alkali flat, …. Beneath it, buried in layers of sediment, lies all the water that never flowed to the ocean. Some of it is more than 20,000 years old. …When the corporate incursion to the valley began in earnest, in 2003 or so, local farmers had been mining the aquifer gently for the last 60 years. …What drew Seitz’s interest, in 2010 or so, was the depth to which the farmers were drilling. …When he saw people drilling down to 1,000 feet or 2,000 feet, Seitz knew straight away that moneyed operations intended to plant nut trees….

2014-12-23. Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times. Excerpt: LA VIRGEN, Costa Rica — …this small country chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica. Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming. And on the other side of the world, in Indonesia, bold new promises have been made in the past few months to halt the rampant cutting of that country’s forests, backed by business interests with the clout to make it happen. In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests — saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow — is the single most promising near-term strategy. That is because of the large role that forests play in what is called the carbon cycle of the planet. Trees pull the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, out of the air and lock the carbon away in their wood and in the soil beneath them. Destroying them, typically by burning, pumps much of the carbon back into the air, contributing to climate change…. Also for A New World View chapter 5, Population Growth chapter 5, and Ecosystem Change chapter 1.

2014-11-22. Climate Change Threatens to Strip the Identity of Glacier National Park. By Michael Wines, The New York Times. Excerpt: GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. — What will they call this place once the glaciers are gone? A century ago, this sweep of mountains on the Canadian border boasted some 150 ice sheets, many of them scores of feet thick, plastered across summits and tucked into rocky fissures high above parabolic valleys. Today, perhaps 25 survive. In 30 years, there may be none. A warming climate is melting Glacier’s glaciers, an icy retreat that promises to change not just tourists’ vistas, but also the mountains and everything around them. Streams fed by snowmelt are reaching peak spring flows weeks earlier than in the past, and low summer flows weeks before they used to. …Many of the mom-and-pop ski areas that once peppered these mountains have closed.  …For wildlife, Dr. Fagre said, the implications are almost too great to count. Frigid alpine streams may dry up, and cold-water fish and insects may grow scarce. Snowfall may decline, and fewer avalanches may open up clearings for wildlife or push felled trees into streams, creating trout habitats. …A hummingbird that depends on glacial lilies for nectar may arrive in spring to find that the lilies have already blossomed. Dennis Iverson runs a 140-head cow-and-calf operation on several thousand acres about 25 miles northeast of Missoula, Mont. Five hundred acres are hayfield, irrigated with water from the Blackfoot River about one and a half miles away. Twenty years ago, the water flowed through an open ditch, and from the time the irrigation pumps were started on May 20, “we were able to irrigate the whole ranch,” he said. “There was always enough water, even to do some irrigating in July and August.” Now, Mr. Iverson starts the pumps on May 10, because a hotter spring has already dried out his pasture. The open irrigation ditch has been converted into an 8,000-foot underground pipe to prevent evaporation. “If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t even be getting water to the ranch,” he said. “There’s that much less water in the stream than there was 20 years ago.”….

2014-01-29. Migration of Monarch Butterflies Shrinks Again Under Inhospitable Conditions.   Excerpt: Faltering under extreme weather and vanishing habitats, the yearly winter migration of monarch butterflies to a handful of forested Mexican mountains dwindled precipitously in December, continuing what scientists said was an increasingly alarming decline. …Mexico is the southern terminus of an age-old journey in which monarchs shuttle back and forth between far-flung summertime havens in Canada and the United States and a single winter home in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. …The latest drop is best explained by a two-year stretch of bad weather, said Chip Taylor, a biologist at the University of Kansas…. But while good weather may help the monarchs rebuild their numbers, their long-term problem — the steady shrinking of habitat along their migratory route — poses a far greater danger. The monarchs’ migratory freeway runs through the Great Plains. As they flew north from Mexico in early 2012, Dr. Taylor said, months of near-record heat sapped their endurance and skewed their migratory patterns in ways that limited their ability to reproduce. Last spring, he said, the opposite happened: Unusual springtime cold in Texas delayed the butterflies’ northward migration, causing them to arrive late in areas where they would normally have bred weeks earlier. …Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed, and patches of the plant have rapidly disappeared from the Great Plains over the last decade. As corn prices have risen — spurred in part by a government mandate to add ethanol to gasoline — farmers have planted tens of millions of acres of idle land along the monarchs’ path that once provided both milkweed and nectar. …The monarchs are but the most visible victims of the habitat loss, Dr. Oberhauser said. A wide variety of pollinators and other insects, including many that are beneficial to farmers, are also disappearing, she said, along with the predators that feed on them…. Michael Wines, The New York Times. 

2013-06-03.  Jellyfish surge in Mediterranean threatens environment – and tourists. Excerpt: Scientists across the Mediterranean say a surge in the number of jellyfish this year threatens not just the biodiversity of one of the world’s most overfished seas but also the health of tens of thousands of summer tourists. …Professor Stefano Piraino of Salento University in southern Italy…is the head of a Mediterranean-wide project to track the rise in the number of jellyfish as global warming and overfishing clear the way for them to prosper. …”There are now beaches on the island of Lampedusa, which receives 300,000 tourists a year, where people can only swim for a week in the summer,” said Piraino. …The institute has detected a surge this spring in one of the most poisonous species, the mauve stinger or Pelagia noctiluca, along the coast of Catalonia and Valencia. “We have seen banks several kilometres long and with a density of 30 to 40 jellyfish per square metre,” the institute’s Verónica Fuentes told Spain’s ABC newspaper. …Global warming, overfishing and human intervention – especially breakwaters that protect sandy beaches but provide a home for larvae – are all blamed. As predators disappear, population surges are happening with greater frequency. …”The socio-economic impact on tourist areas is huge,” said Piraino. “We are losing millions of euros.” Beaches in Catalonia are rarely affected for more than 15 days each summer, but some Mediterranean resorts are now considering using two-metre-deep nets to fence off safe zones for bathers. The best protection against stings is suncream, which prevents the venom released by the tentacles from penetrating the skin. …Not everyone is appalled …The Chinese have been eating them for 5,000 years and export some $20m worth each year. …Scientists also point to at least one species of Mediterranean jellyfish – the fried egg jellyfish or Cotylorhiza tuberculata – as a potential source of raw materials for cancer treatments and antioxidants…. Giles Tremlett, The Guardian. 

2013 March 10.  Amplified Greenhouse Effect Shifts North’s Growing Seasons. By NASA Release 13-069. Excerpt: Vegetation growth at Earth’s northern latitudes increasingly resembles lusher latitudes to the south, according to a NASA-funded study based on a 30-year record of land surface and newly improved satellite data sets….

2012 December 04.  Climate Models Project Increase in U.S. Wildfire Risk. By NASA RELEASE: 12-419. Excerpt:  WASHINGTON — Scientists using NASA satellite data and climate models have projected drier conditions likely will cause increased fire activity across the United States in coming decades. Other findings about U.S. wildfires, including their amount of carbon emissions and how the length and strength of fire seasons are expected to change under future climate conditions, were also presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Doug Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., [said] “Climate models project an increase in fire risk across the U.S. by 2050, based on a trend toward drier conditions that favor fire activity and an increase in the frequency of extreme events”…. The analysis by Morton and colleagues used climate projections, prepared for the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to examine how dryness, and therefore fire activity, is expected to change. …in the next 30-50 years… high fire years like 2012 would likely occur two to four times per decade by mid-century, instead of once per decade under current climate conditions. Through August of this year, the U.S. burned area topped 2.5 million hectares (6.17 million acres), …short of the record 3.2 million hectares (7.90 million acres) burned in 2011, but exceeds the area burned during 12 of the 15 years since record keeping began in 1997…. For images and additional information on this research, visit:  …. Read the full article: See also U.S. official: Wildfires to get more destructive, by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman

2012 Nov 27. Beetles Warm BC Forests. By Sabrina Richards, TheScientist.  Excerpt:  Pine beetle infestation increases the summertime temperatures of some Canadian forests by 1 degree Celsius—about the same impact as a forest fire—according to new findings published Sunday (November 25) in Nature Geoscience. The beetle populations, spurred into profusion by global warming, appear to be contributing to a temperature feedback loop, …. The results reinforce the conclusion that ecological disturbances like beetle infestations can have significant ecological impacts, said Allan Carroll, an insect ecologist at the University of British Columbia…. ”We have until very recently considered biotic disturbances a bit player [in climate change],” …. The current study confirms that pine beetles can have massive effects that set up “an uncomfortable feedback” wherein warming temperatures encourage more beetle damage, which in turn influences warming… Pine beetles lay their eggs under pine tree bark, introducing a fungus that inhibits nutrient flow in the trees. Usually pine beetles are killed off by freezing winter temperatures, limiting their spread. But a recent spate of warm winters, combined with forests dominated by mature pine trees, enabled a beetle population boom in North America, including parts of Alberta, Wyoming, and Colorado.  About 170,000 square kilometers of British Columbia’s forest—almost 20 percent of the province’s area—have been affected by pine beetle infestations, costing thousands of timber industry jobs. Many studies have focused on the role of global warming on pine beetle outbreaks, but fewer have looked at how the beetles themselves may be contributing to climate change…. Read the full article:

2012 May 30. Where Have All the Hummingbirds Gone?. By Cheryl Dybas, the National Science Foundation. Excerpt: The [glacier] lily, a plant that grows best on subalpine slopes, is fast becoming a hothouse flower. In Earth’s warming temperatures, its first blooms appear some 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970s, scientists David Inouye and Amy McKinney of the University of Maryland and colleagues have found. The problem, say the biologists, with the earlier timing of these first blooms is that the glacier lily is no longer synchronized with the arrival of broad-tailed hummingbirds, which depend on glacier lilies for nectar. By the time the hummingbirds fly in, many of the flowers have withered away, their nectar-laden blooms going with them…The biologists calculate that if current trends continue, in two decades the hummingbirds will miss the first flowers entirely…. 

2012 Feb 19. Yosemite’s alpine chipmunks take genetic hit from climate change. By Sarah Yang, Media Relations UC Berkeley News Center. Excerpt: BERKELEY — Global warming has forced alpine chipmunks in Yosemite to higher ground, prompting a startling decline in the species’ genetic diversity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

2011 March 9. Heat Damages Colombia Coffee, Raising Prices. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: Average temperatures in Colombia’s coffee regions have risen nearly one degree in 30 years, and in some mountain areas the increase has been double that, says Cenicafé, the national coffee research center. Rain in this area was more than 25 percent above average in the last few years. At the new, higher temperatures, the plants’ buds abort or their fruit ripens too quickly for optimum quality. Heat also brings pests like coffee rust, a devastating fungus that could not survive the previously cool mountain weather. The heavy rains damage the fragile Arabica blossoms, and the two-week dry spells that prompt the plant to flower and produce beans occur less often, farmers say….

2011 February 22. Owls change colour as climate warms. By Emma Brennand, BBC Earth News. Excerpt: Tawny owls turn brown to survive in warmer climates, according to scientists in Finland.
Feather colour is hereditary, with grey plumage dominant over brown. But the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the number of brown owls was increasing….
…The results also suggest that a changing climate could, in some species, reduce the number and variety of characteristics that can be inherited….

2010 August 19. Damaged Ecosystems Magnify Asia’s Killer Floods. By Karl Malakunas. Excerpt: Climate change may be playing a part in record rains ravaging Asia but environment experts say the destruction of ecosystems is more directly to blame for the severity of killer floods.
Widespread deforestation, the conversion of wetlands to farms or urban sprawl and the clogging up of natural drainage systems with garbage are just some of the factors exacerbating the impacts of the floods, they say.
“You can’t just blame nature… humans have encroached on the natural flood plains,” …
…”When there is any big flooding it’s become commonplace for climate change to be blamed when in fact many of the problems are fixable at the local level,” said Constantino. Millions of people who built homes along flood plains in recent decades, the destruction of upstream forests and a proliferation of garbage that clogged up waterways all magnified the disaster…
…Constantino Pangare, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, echoed this theme, saying investment in “natural infrastructure” was the only way to protect people from the impacts of potential climate change-induced floods. “Building concrete and walls to stop the floods is not the answer,” he said. “You have to invest in natural infrastructure — forests, river basins, lakes, wetlands.”

2010 August 19. Drought Drives Decade-long Decline in Plant Growth. By Steve Cole, NASA. Excerpt: Global plant productivity that once was on the rise with warming temperatures and a lengthened growing season is now on the decline because of regional drought according to a new study of NASA satellite data. Plant productivity is a measure of the rate of the photosynthesis process that green plants use to convert solar energy, carbon dioxide and water to sugar, oxygen and eventually plant tissue… …The shift, however, could impact food security, biofuels and the global carbon cycle…
…”This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth,” Running said…
…”This past decade’s net decline in terrestrial productivity illustrates that a complex interplay between temperature, rainfall, cloudiness, and carbon dioxide, probably in combination with other factors such as nutrients and land management, will determine future patterns and trends in productivity,”…
…Researchers want to continue monitoring these trends in the future because plant productivity is linked to shifting levels of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and stresses on plant growth that could challenge food production…
…”Even if the declining trend of the past decade does not continue, managing forests and crop lands for multiple benefits to include food production, biofuel harvest, and carbon storage may become exceedingly challenging in light of the possible impacts of such decadal-scale changes,”…

2010 July 22. Listing Endangered Species as a Tool to Combat Warming. By Todd Woody, Yale Environment 360. Excerpt:…A pocket-sized member of the rabbit family… the American pika lives on rocky slopes high in alpine mountain ranges from the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies. Sporting a thick gray-brown coat, the pika does not hibernate and so maintains a high internal temperature to survive frigid winters. Because it can’t turn off its heater, the animal can die in the summer if its body temperature increases by as little as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 F)
…The pika has become an indicator species in more ways than one. It is in the vanguard of a growing number of animals and plants that U.S. environmental groups have petitioned to protect as the Endangered Species Act becomes the latest battleground over global warming.
…The regulations governing the Endangered Species Act are complicated, but at heart the law requires the government to determine if a plant or animal’s existence is threatened or endangered and then to protect the species and its habitat and formulate a plan for its recovery. With limited exceptions, no one may harm a listed species or modify its habitat. 
…Stopping the logging of an ancient redwood forest can save birds that nest in treetops and shutting down a water pump can prevent thousands of fish from being mutilated by machinery. But how to keep Arctic ice from melting, or temperatures from rising on Sierra Nevada mountaintops, when greenhouse gas emissions from millions of sources worldwide contribute to a species’ decline?
…The most important thing, [Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie] says, is to get plants and animals at risk of climate-change extinction listed so the government can begin to take action to ameliorate those effects. Those steps include reducing impacts not related to climate change, identifying where animals may need to migrate as the world warms, and establishing wildlife corridors and other protected areas.
…Notes Loarie: “There are certain areas where the pika is likely to go extinct. But the bottom line is that anything we can do to protect the pika now will pay a dividend for other species.”

2010 May 11. China drought highlights future climate threats. By Jane Qiu, Nature News. Excerpt: Born into a farming family in south Yunnan province, China, Zhu Youyong’s life has always been tied to the soil. At the age of 54, however, Zhu — now president of Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming — says he “has never seen such severe drought in Yunnan”.
Since last September, the province has had 60% less rainfall than normal. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, 8.1 million people — 18% of Yunnan’s population — are short of drinking water, and US$2.5-billion worth of crops are expected to fail.
Scientists in China say that the crisis marks one of the strongest case studies so far of how climate change and poor environmental practice can combine to create a disaster. They are now scrambling to pin down exactly what caused the drought, and whether similar events are likely to hit the region more often in the future….
…Climate change is not the only factor affecting the drought. Deforestation in mountainous Yunnan is also being blamed. “Natural forests are a key regulator of climate and hydrological processes,” says Xu, who is also China’s representative at the World Agroforestry Centre, an international think tank headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
…Many scientists are now worried that severe droughts, such as Yunnan’s, will become more common across southeast Asia. In addition to the effect on humans, “the impact on biodiversity could be huge,” says Jennifer Baltzer, an ecologist at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada….

2009 November 2. Deep-sea ecosystems affected by climate change. MBARI News Release. Excerpt: The vast muddy expanses of the abyssal plains occupy about 60 percent of the Earth’s surface and are important in global carbon cycling. Based on long-term studies of two such areas, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that animal communities on the abyssal seafloor are affected in a variety of ways by climate change.
Historically, many people, including marine scientists, have considered the abyssal plains, more than 2,000 meters below the sea surface, to be relatively isolated and stable ecosystems. However, according to Ken Smith, a marine ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)…, changes in the Earth’s climate can cause unexpectedly large changes in deep-sea ecosystems….
…In this cold, dark environment, very little food is available. What food there is takes the form of bits of organic debris drifting down from the sunlit surface waters, thousands of meters above. During its long descent, this organic matter may be eaten, excreted, and decomposed, drastically reducing its nutritive value. It is estimated that less than five percent of the organic matter produced at the surface reaches the abyssal plains.
…The authors point out that global climate change could affect the food supply to the deep sea in many ways. Some relevant ocean processes that may be affected by climate change include wind-driven upwelling, the depth of mixing of the surface waters, and the delivery of nutrients to surface waters via dust storms. Climate-driven changes in these processes are likely to lead to altered year-to-year variation in the amount of organic material reaching the seafloor.
…Based on their observations, the authors conclude that long-term climate change is likely to influence both deep-sea communities and the chemistry of their environment. According to Smith, “Essentially, deep-sea communities are coupled to surface production. Global change could alter the functioning of these ecosystems and the way carbon is cycled in the ocean.”…

2008 May. The Carbon Hoofprint. Lauren Wilcox, The WorldArk. Excerpt: A recent report from the United Nations contained a stunning statistic: One industry is responsible for nearly 20% of the greenhouse gases released int the atmosphere worldwide. It isn’t long-haul trucking, or air travel, or stell-smelting vactories, or any of the other exhaust-belching suspects ususally associated wtih environmental woes.
It is the livestock industry.
In “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” released in 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations freported that raising and processing cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals produces 18% of the greenhouse gases; just 13% comes from trucks, cars and other transportation. …The livestock industry’s transgressions include the deforestation of grazing land, the pollution of air and grondwater from animal waste, the excessive use of water to raise grain for feed and its threat on biodiversity….

2008 December 22. Bigger Sea Creatures, Like Squid, May Feel Effects of Higher CO2. By Henry Fountain. Excerpt: Increased emissions of carbon dioxide affect more than the atmosphere. Much of the CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, causing them to become more acidic.Recent research has looked at the impact of the acidification on corals and other small calcifying organisms. But increasing CO2, coupled with gradual warming of the oceans, may have other effects, and may affect bigger creatures, because there will be less oxygen at the surface and deep oxygen-poor zones will expand vertically…The researchers found that under conditions of elevated CO2 similar to those forecast for surface waters for the end of the century, the squids’ metabolic and activity rates slowed significantly. So it is a good bet that these squid will become more lethargic, less adept at hunting prey and less able to avoid predators like seals, sharks, swordfish and marlin, and sperm whales…

2008 October 28. Stanford researchers: Global warming is killing frogs and salamanders in Yellowstone Park. EurekAlert. Excerpt: Frogs and salamanders, those amphibious bellwethers of environmental danger, are being killed in Yellowstone National Park. The predator, Stanford researchers say, is global warming.
Biology graduate student Sarah McMenamin spent three summers in a remote area of the park searching for frogs and salamanders in ponds that had been surveyed 15 years ago. Almost everywhere she looked, she found a catastrophic decrease in the population.
The amphibians need the ponds for their young to hatch, but high temperatures and drought are drying up the water. The frogs and salamanders lay eggs that have a gelatinous outer layer—basically “jelly eggs,” McMenamin says—that leaves them completely unsuitable for gestation on land. If the ponds dry up, so do the eggs. “If there isn’t any water, then the animals simply don’t breed,” she said.
…”Everybody can identify with the loss of glaciers, but in Yellowstone the decrease in lakes and ponds and wetlands has been astounding,” John Varley, the former chief scientist for Yellowstone, told New West. “What were considered permanent bodies of water, meaning reference was given to them in the 1850s, ’60s and ’70s, and bestowed with a name as a lake, are now gone. Some wetlands that were considered permanent ponds are no longer there. Some lakes have become ephemeral.”…

2008 July 15. Study: Future snowmelt in West twice as early as expected; threatens ecosystems and water reserves. By Elizabeth K. Gardner, Perdue University News. Excerpt: WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – According to a new study, global warming could lead to larger changes in snowmelt in the western United States than was previously thought, possibly increasing wildfire risk and creating new water management challenges for agriculture, ecosystems and urban populations.
Researchers, including a Purdue University professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, discovered that a critical surface temperature feedback is twice as strong as what had been projected by earlier studies.
…Sara A. Rauscher, visiting scientist at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, and lead author on the paper, said the melting snow contributes to a feedback loop that accelerates warming.
“Because snow is more reflective than the ground or vegetation beneath it, it keeps the surface temperatures lower by reflecting energy from the sun,” Rauscher said. “When snow melts or does not accumulate in the first place, more solar energy is absorbed by the ground, warming the surface. A feedback loop is created because the warmer ground then makes it more difficult for snow to accumulate and perpetuates the effect.”…

2008 Spring. 3 Terrain Magazine articles. Berkeley Ecology Center. Inside Out: Behind the Scenes at the Bird Wash. by Nicole Edmison. Excerpt: The spill will affect wildlife for years-and the impact extends far beyond the bay. …I blearily opened the newspaper in a Corvallis, Oregon coffeeshop and stared at a photo of an oil-drenched western grebe. The caption said that oil had spilled into San Francisco Bay after the Cosco Busan had knocked into a pillar of the Bay Bridge. This disaster in the making warranted no more than a photo, but as a wildlife biologist with a special affinity for birds, I felt as if my liver had been ripped out. When I returned to Berkeley, I realized the true scope of what had happened. … After the “oil on beach” signs have disappeared and volunteers have gone back to their daily lives, oil is still traveling in our open ocean, up and down our coast, lurking in the substrates of our bays, and polluting the environment for all of its inhabitants. Bringing the Outside In. by Lisa Owens Viani.Interview with Eddie Bartley… a San Francisco-based naturalist …When the Cosco Busan spill hit, Bartley surveyed for oiled birds and worked with San Francisco Animal Care and Control to rescue injured birds. Dismayed by bureaucratic confusion and inaction, Bartley is working on a Web site and an action map that should help alleviate agency dysfunction if-or more likely, when-there is another spill. Outside In: Renegades to the Rescue. by Lisa Owens Viani. Birders got busy as officials fluttered…

2008 Mar 18. In a Warmer Yellowstone Park, a Shifting Environmental Balance By Jim Robbins, NY Times. Excerpt: The grassy sweep of the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of the Yellowstone National Park is famous for its wildlife.  But while walking across the Lamar last fall, Robert L. Crabtree  pointed out a cascade of ecological changes under way…  The number of grizzly bears and gophers in the valley has increased, Dr. Crabtree said, an increase supported by the spread of an invasive plant from the Mediterranean that a warming climate benefits.  The plant, Canada thistle, provides food for grizzlies in more than one way but may also be squeezing out native plants that cannot compete…  Areas along the Lamar River that were once marshy have dried out because of a drought that began around 2000. As the ground becomes drier, the thistle invades.  Enter the pocket gopher, a half-pound dynamo that tunnels into the ground near the surface. The gophers love the abundant, starchy roots of the plant and burrow beneath it to harvest the tubers. What they do not eat they stockpile under plants or rocks.  The expansion of pocket gophers and thistle is not gradual, Dr. Crabtree said, but a rapid positive-feedback loop…  For their part, grizzly bears have discovered the gophers’ caches and raid them. As a result, the Lamar Valley is pockmarked with holes where grizzlies have clawed up bundles of roots. Bears also devour gophers and their pups.  As climate change alters ecosystems, Dr. Crabtree said, “the winners are going to be the adaptive foragers, like grizzlies that eat everything from ants to moose, and the losers are going to be specialized species that can’t adapt.”  As budgets for controlling invasive species shrink, he suggested a triage. “If you are going to give up on a species,” he said, “it’s best to give up on one that has ecological value.”

2007 February 23. After 200 Years, a Beaver Is Back in New York City. Wildlife Conservation Society. By ANAHAD O’CONNOR.Excerpt: A crudely fashioned lodge perched along the snow-covered banks of the Bronx River – no more than a mound of twigs and mud strewn together in the shadow of the sits steps away from an empty parking lot and a busy intersection. Scientists say that the discovery of this cone-shaped dwelling signifies something remarkable: For the first time in two centuries, the North American beaver, forced out of town by agricultural development and overeager fur traders, has returned to New York City. The discovery of a beaver setting up camp in the Bronx is a testament to both the animal’s versatility and to an increasingly healthy Bronx River. A few years ago the river was a dumping ground for abandoned cars and rubber tires, but it has been brought back to life recently through a big cleanup effort. The biologists who discovered the beaver say they have nicknamed it José, after United States Representative José E. Serrano of the Bronx, who has directed $15 million in federal funds toward the river’s rebirth….. A beaver sighting was reported last month in East Hampton on Long Island. Environmental officials said that if it was a beaver, it may have come across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut or from Gardiners Island, a tract of private land between Long Island’s forks…..The North American beaver vanished from New York City in the early 1800s as a result of trapping, fur trading, and deforestation. Beavers helped speed Manhattan’s development by attracting fur traders who were eager to feed huge demands for their pelts in Europe. To this day, beavers remain tightly linked to New York’s identity.…