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Climate change drives Antarctic fur seal decline

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

Survival of the fittest?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After studying fur seals around Antarctica for decades, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey say they’re seeing distinct genetic changes related to a changing climate and food availability. But despite a shift  towards individuals more suited to changing environmental conditions, this fitness is not passing down through generations, leaving the fur seal population on South Georgia Island in decline. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Condor chick hatches in Zion National Park

A tagged California condor in flight.

A tagged California condor in flight. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Can the endangered birds recover from the brink of extinction?

Staff Report

FRISCO — California condors have been hovering on the brink of extinction for decades. But the majestic birds may be on the verge of making a comeback in southern Utah, National Park Service biologists said last week, announcing the first-ever birth of a condor chick in Zion National Park.

Without revealing the exact location to the public, biologists had been monitoring a rock cavity in a remote corner of the park for several weeks where they observed the nesting pair. Finally, on June 25, the condor chick made its first appearance at the edge of the nest. Continue reading

Environment: Another silent spring?

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Systemic neocotinoid pesticides are starting to affect bird populations, according to research.

Neonicotinoid use linked with decline in bird populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Populations of some insect-eating bird species are declining in areas where scientists measured high concentrations of a widely used neonicotinoid pesticide.

In some cases, bird numbers are dwindling by as much as 3.5 percent annually, according to the new study by researchers with Radboud University in Nijmegen and the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife Netherlands. Continue reading

Seabed dredging linked to coral reef disease

Study findings to help inform coastal management

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Dredging near coral reefs can lead to chronic disease and decline.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with the stress of global warming and the disappearance of reef-grazing fish, corals are also beset by the increasing pace of coastal development — specifically dredging — which can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals.

Australian researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies made their findings after studying a site near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast, where an 18-month, 7-million cubic metre dredging project took place, developing a channel to accommodate ships transporting liquefied gas to a nearby processing plant. The site was in otherwise very good condition. Continue reading

Environment: EPA to take hard look at impacts of proposed open pit mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Agency likely to restrict mining activities based on concerns about impacts to salmon fishery, other resources

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Proposed Alaska mine gets careful EPA scrutiny.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — A proposed mine in coastal Alaskan waters would spread across an area larger than Manhattan and jeopardize the health and sustainability of one of the world’s great salmon fisheries, the EPA said this week, releasing a draft version of its plan for protecting aquatic resources in Bristol Bay from a vast open pit mine.

According to the EPA, the proposed mine in its present form would have unacceptable impacts on Bristol Bay natural resources. As a result, the agency’s draft lays out common sense rules and guidelines that would ensure the integrity of those resources by prohibiting the discharge of any mining materials into critically important waters of the U.S. Continue reading

4 years after Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, dispersant still found lingering in the environment

Study looks at concentrations of oil and dispersant in ‘sand patties’ found along the Gulf Coast

32 beaches were sampled, with contamination found at 26 sites. MAP COURTESY JAMES "RIP" KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

In 2012, University of South Florida scientists found oil remnants all along the Gulf Coast, often at levels that pose a potential risk to human health. MAP COURTESY JAMES “RIP” KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

New research in Florida shows

The mess from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still not completely cleaned up.

Read more Summit Voice stories about dispersants and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill here.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Fossil fuel companies involved in offshore oil drilling may have to rethink their emergency response plans for oil spills after a new study showed that dispersant used to prevent large slicks persists in the environment much longer than previously thought.

Scientists at Haverford College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that the dispersant compound DOSS, which decreases the size of oil droplets and hampers the formation of large oil slicks, remains associated with oil and can persist in the environment for up to four years.

The EPA approved the use of massive quantities of dispersant after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in hopes of preventing oil from fouling beaches, reasoning that the chemicals degrade rapidly. The Deepwater oil spill was the largest ever, releasing at least 210 million gallons of oil. BP applied almost 2 million gallons of dispersant, much of it deep beneath the surface.

But it’s far from clear that the use of dispersant is an overall environmental benefit. Ongoing studies have shown that the mixture of dispersant and oil is far more toxic to many marine organisms than either substance on its own. For example, a study by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico showed that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain. Continue reading

Environment: Changes in precipitation may drive birds response to global warming

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Perched.

New model unravels some of the complexities of how wildlife will respond to global warming

Staff Report

FRISCO — Populations of familiar backyard birds like the rufous hummingbird and evening grosbeak are declining, a trend that may be linked with changes in precipitation patterns across the western U.S.

Scientists studying the changes with a new model say precipitation, rather than temperature, may be the the main factor in determining how birds will respond to climate change.

Several past studies have found that temperature increases can push some animal species – including birds – into higher latitudes or higher elevations. Few studies, however, have tackled the role that changes in precipitation may cause, according to Matthew Betts, an Oregon State University ecologist and a principal investigator on the study. Continue reading

Study: English Channel all fished out

Scientists call for network of protected areas

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The English Channel. Photo courtesy NASA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The English Channel is all but fished out, leaving fishermen scraping the bottom of the barrel in their quest for a commercial haul.

Sharks, rays, cod, haddock and many other species at the head of the food chain are at historic lows with many removed from the area completely, according to UK marine biologists, who analyzed catches over the past 90 years and found significant evidence of the practice of fishing down the food web.

“It is clear from our analyses that fishing pressure has caused significant changes to food webs of the English Channel over the past 90 years,” said Plymouth University Professor Jason Hall Spencer, with the School of Marine Science and Engineering, and the Marine Institute.

The report, published in the PLOS ONE journal, used catch statistics from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas to establish a ‘mean trophic level’ for catches – an average for how far up the food chain the fish are located. Continue reading

Oceans: Mediterranean fish in steady decline

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Albanian fishermen tend nets in Saranda. bberwyn photo.

Unregulated coastal fisheries, juvenile catch threaten sustainability

Staff Report

FRISCO — Stocks of commercially valuable fish in the Mediterranean Sea are disappearing steadily because of a lack of good planning and management, as well as inadequate enforcement of existing regulations. Without action, some species are likely to disappear, scientists warned last week in a report showing that fisheries resources in the Mediterranean have deteriorated in the past 20 years.

The report evaluated nine fish species and called for stringent monitoring of Mediterranean fishing activities, better enforcement of fisheries regulations, and advanced management plans in Mediterranean waters. The findings were published July 10 in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.
Continue reading

Arctic: Satellite images help track polar bears

Data will help assess global warming impacts to Arctic wildlife

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Polar bears near a U.S. Navy submarine.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The latest generation of high-resolution satellite images may help scientists gain a better understanding of Arctic polar bear populations. Dwindling Arctic sea ice is seen a huge threat to the predators, but difficult field conditions make it challenging to get a clear picture of polar bear population dynamics.

Satellite images have also been used recently to track emperor penguins in Antarctica, and researchers are starting to rely on satellite images more and more. In a new study, U.S. Geological Survey biologists matched satellite surveys with ground-truthed counts. Continue reading

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