Is climate change killing Magellanic penguins?

‘Increasing storminess bodes ill not only for Magellanic penguins but for many other species …’

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New research suggests that some penguin colonies are likely to see direct impacts from climate change. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A 27-year study of Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo, Argentina, offers convincing evidence that climate change is killing penguin chicks, as the starving young birds succumb to increasing rainfall during stormy weather and, at other times, heat.

The University of Washington biologists who led the study say their findings are proof that climate change is directly responsible for penguin mortality — not just indirectly by depriving them of food, as has repeatedly been documented by other research.

Other recent research has shown similar impacts to white pelicans at their breeding grounds in North Dakota, and climate change is also disrupting breeding of migratory songbirds.

The research is based on careful chick counts at breeding sites and analyses of regional weather weather data showing that storminess increased between 1983 and 2010. Along with showing climate change impacts, the researchers said their finding show the need to create a protected area to at least ensure an adequate food supply for the chicks that do survive. Continue reading

Climate: Study finds that dwindling sea ice exposes polar bears to more toxic pollution

A polar bear in the Arctic. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/SUSANNE MILLER.

A polar bear in the Arctic. PHOTO COURTESY USGS/SUSANNE MILLER.

Changing sea ice means shifting diet for top Arctic predators

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The decline of Arctic sea ice is a huge threat to animals in the region, including polar bears and seals, and researchers are trying to learn how those changes will play out in the long run.

Even along the east coast of Greenland, where the sea ice may persist after it has vanished from other areas, the annual 1 percent decline in ice is affecting polar bears, according to an international team of researchers who studied polar bear diets.

After analyzing fatty tissues from 310 polar bears hunted by Greenland natives between 1984 and 2011, the scientists were able to detect subtle shifts in in their diet. Instead of relying primarily on ringed seals, residents of the high Arctic, the bears are increasingly eating subarctic harp and hooded seals. Continue reading

Climate: Ocean melting Antarctic ice shelves from beneath

Study says iceberg calving a smaller factor in ongoing ice loss

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Pinpointing the rate of ice melt in Antarctica will help fine-tune future sea level rise projections. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Supporting the conclusions of several previous research efforts, a new study published this week in Science provides additional evidence that Antarctica’s ice shelves are melting from beneath. Warmer ocean waters — not icebergs calving into the sea — are responsible for most of the continent’s ice loss, the study by UC Irvine scientists and others has found.

The first comprehensive survey of all Antarctic ice shelves discovered that basal melt, or ice dissolving from underneath, accounted for 55 percent of shelf loss from 2003 to 2008 — a rate much higher than previously thought. Ice shelves, floating extensions of glaciers, fringe 75 percent of the vast, frozen continent.

The findings will help scientists improve projections of how Antarctica, which holds about 60 percent of the planet’s freshwater locked in its massive ice sheet, will respond to a warming ocean and contribute to sea level rise. Continue reading

Environment: Climate puzzle-pieces falling into place

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Dwindling Arctic ice, more intense rainstorms a sure bet, scientists say

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — While a handful of hardcore climate-science deniers are still trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of what now amounts to decades of research, it’s pretty clear that some of long-term data trends are all pointing in the same direction.

Probably the best example is the research on Arctic sea ice. At this point, nobody can say exactly when the Arctic might be completely ice-free in the summer, but it’s pretty clear that the sea ice extent is on a steep downhill slide.

This past week, the National Climatic Data Center announced that this winter’s ice maximum was the fifth-lowest on record. Each month of the year shows a downward trend in sea ice extent, but the most remarkable fact in this week’s update was the finding that thin, first-year ice now dominates most of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole, and that older ice is dwindling even along the north coast of Greenland, previously a stronghold for thick ice. Continue reading

NASA drones to study tropospheric climate drivers

Missions aims to sharpen climate-change predictions

NASA Global Hawk No. 872 flares for landing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The autonomously operated unmanned research aircraft will be flying at high altitude over the Pacific Ocean during the ATTREX environmental science mission. (NASA/Jim Ross

A NASA Global Hawk flares for landing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The autonomously operated unmanned research aircraft will be flying at high altitude over the Pacific Ocean during the ATTREX environmental science mission. Photo courtesy NASA/Jim Ross.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Climate scientists have a clear understanding of how greenhouse gas physics work in the lower atmosphere, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how global warming will play out in the upper layers, where water vapor and ozone have an as-yet unquantified impact on climate changes.

Starting this month, NASA will use unmanned aircraft flying as high as 65,000 feet to gather data that could provide some answers. The research missions will start at Edwards Air Force Base in California, with 30-hour flight out across the Pacific.

The Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX) missions will study moisture and chemical composition in the upper regions of the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. The tropopause layer between the troposphere and stratosphere, from about eight miles to 11 miles above Earth’s surface, is the point where water vapor, ozone and other gases enter the stratosphere. Continue reading

Forest Service adopts climate-change ‘scorecard’

Climate change - coming to a forest near you.

USFS chief Tidwell explains agency’s climate change plan during a Senate budget hearing

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Recognizing that climate change calls for a coordinated response, the U.S. Forest Service is implementing a climate change road map to guide the agency’s efforts in the face of potentially staggering impacts to the landscapes and watersheds it manages across the country.

The hope is that the plan will set the tone for how the Forest Service will respond to climate change, culturally and institutionally as an agency, to tackle a global issue with global solutions. Click here to read a New York Times blog post on the climate change policy.

Some first steps include completing  and compiling various vulnerability assessments to determine what the greatest threats are. Input will include reports from state wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy. Continue reading

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