Category: Environment

Morning photo: Forests

Trees are our friends

Last week the UN celebrated the International Day of Forests as a way to acknowledge how important forests are to the world. To cynics, it may seem trite lip service by faceless bureaucrats. But in reality, it’s critical that everyone understands how important forests are for the planet. They cover about a  third of the Earth’s land mass and provide livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter for about 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80 percent of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. They may also be one of our last, best hopes for slowing climate change. Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at the rate of about 32 million acres per year, equivalent to 10-20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Check out my article and photo essay for Pacific Standard to learn more about forests, especially for ways you can get involved in helping to protect and restore them.

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Mega-waves swept Caribbean corals far inland

brain coral boulder eight feet in diameter stands 750 feet inland in the British Virgin Islands. Geologists say that the coral was brought ashore, probably alive, by an unusual tsunami or storm between the years 1200 and 1480.(Credit: Brian F. Atwater, U.S. Geological Survey.

New research will help islands prepare for future coastal hazards

Staff Report

Sometime before Columbus sailed into the Caribbean, a massive ocean upheaval tossed giant coral boulders far inland on tiny island — a sign that there may have a tsunami, or perhaps an extra-powerful hurricane in the region.

The new findings, published in the journal Geosphere, will help coastal planners prepare for unexpected hazards, according to researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey. The boulders were found in the British Virgin Islands at Anegada—a low-lying island named by Columbus in 1493 and located behind a coral reef that faces the Puerto Rico Trench. Continue reading “Mega-waves swept Caribbean corals far inland”

Bat-killing fungus spreads to Texas

White-nose syndrome has killed 5.5 million bats so far

Bats take to the evening sky in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
A little brown bat afflicted with white-nose syndrome. Photo courtesy USGS.

Staff Report

Read more about white-nose syndrome in the Summit Voice archives

A fungal pathogen that has wiped out bat populations across the eastern third of the U.S. has now been found in Texas, according to state wildlife officials, who documented the fungus for the first time on two new bat species: the cave myotis and a western subspecies of Townsend’s big-eared bat.

White-nose fungus first emerged in 2006 in New York and his since spread into 30 states and killed at least 5.5 million bats. Wildlife conservation advocates said the recent announcement from is a biological disaster, considering the potential risks to huge, world-famous bat colonies that thrive in unique cave ecosystems in the state. Continue reading “Bat-killing fungus spreads to Texas”

Plastic pollution is increasing in the Arctic Ocean

Plastic debris is increasing in the Fram Strait, east of Greenland. @bberwyn photo.

Study documents rising amount of sea-bottom debris

Staff Report

There’s more direct evidence that plastic pollution is increasing rapidly in the remote Arctic Ocean, according to German scientists, who have tracking sea-bottom litter at two research stations since 2002. The Hausgarten deep-sea observatory network includes a total of 21 stations in the Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard.

The Alfred Wegener Institute’s Mine Tekman,  lead author of a new study published in the scientific journal Deep-Sea Research I, said the long-term monitoring confirms that the amount of plastic litter has increased rapidly in the past 15 years.  Other scientists with the AWI have also documented evidence of a floating garbage patch starting to form in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic Ocean. Plastic has already been reported from stomachs of resident seabirds and Greenland sharks. Continue reading “Plastic pollution is increasing in the Arctic Ocean”

Connecting the climate dots, from E-cars to rising sea level

Global climate reporting from Summit Voice

Oceans are warming, sea levels are going up, and will continue to rise for centuries to come. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

If you’re a long-time Summit Voice follower you’ve noticed that the pace of posts has dropped off a bit in the past few months, but that’s only because some of the content has moved to other locations. So here’s a quick roundup of some of my latest environment and climate stories from around the world.

For InsideClimate News, I took a close look at some of the latest research on ocean heat content, featuring work by Kevin Trenberth, with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. The new study he co-authored took a close look at data from thousands of autonomous ocean probes that measure ocean temperatures from the surface all the way down to a depth of 2,000 meters. The study found that the rate of ocean warming has doubled since the early 1990s from previous decades, and that the heat is getting into deep waters. The study also tracks regional variations in ocean warming, important because it will affect where and when sea level rises fastest: Rate of Ocean Warming Has Nearly Doubled Over 25 Years.

I also did some in-depth reporting on a potentially groundbreaking legal case in Austria, where an administrative law court ruled that citizens have a legal right to be protected from climate change impacts when the blocked construction of a third runway at the Vienna International Airport: Vienna Airport Expansion Blocked on Climate Change Grounds.

In my first story for Deutsche Welle, which is a German equivalent of NPR and PBS, I reported on how global warming is increasing forest fire danger all over the world, including forests in temperate, wet climates like Central Europe, even in the Alps. While residents of the West already have seen fire activity surge in the past 20 years, some other regions are just starting to experience those changes, and the risks are great: Global warming is increasing forest fire risk in the Alps.

Globally, there are also burgeoning efforts to electrify the transportation system in the fight to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avert dangerous climate change. In Austria, the federal government has teamed up with the private sector to invest in e-mobility. Consumers can get rebates of up to €4,000 for buying electric cars, and even E-bikes, and there are also subsidies available for investments in expanding the electric charging infrastructure. Altogether, the government expects that their initial €72 million investment will help spur the creation of 30,000 new jobs and €3 billion in new economic activity: Austria Is Making Electric Cars More Affordable Than Ever.

Legal battle over wolves heats up in California

Shasta pack photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ranching, farming groups sue to end legal protections

Staff Report

Wildlife conservation advocates are helping fend off a nuisance lawsuit by a right wing group that seeks to end state endangered species protection for wolves in California.  The lawsuit, brought against the California Fish and Wildlife Commission by the Pacific Legal Foundation, falsely claims that wolves are ineligible for state protection. Like many other legal actions filed by the group, this one is aimed mainly at harassing government agencies and others working in the public interest.

For conservation groups — he Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Cascadia Wildlands and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center — have intervened in the case on behalf of wolves, represented by Earthjustice. Continue reading “Legal battle over wolves heats up in California”

Global CO2 emissions flat for 3d year in a row

U.S. emissions at 1992 level, according to IEA report

The Craig Station power plant in northwest Colorado pollutes lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Carbon dioxide emissions from the world’s biggest economies — the U.S. and China — dropped in 2016 and didn’t grow in Europe, showing that economic growth can occur without an increase in heat-trapping pollution, according to the latest emissions report from the International Energy Agency.

Despite the slowdown in emissions from the power sector, CO2 levels are still climbing at a record rate, though, according to scientists who recently released a report showing that concentrations of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas increased 3 parts per million for the second year in a row. The concentration is now above 400 ppm, more than 43 percent more than pre-industrial levels. Continue reading “Global CO2 emissions flat for 3d year in a row”