From aboard a commercial airline flight, Greenland’s shore looks peaceful during the peak of the summer icemelt season, but the Arctic is changing fast, and U.S. policy is in disarray.
Tasty chanterelles mushrooms sprout in an Austrian forest.
A lightning blast strikes the ground near Keystone Resort, in Colorado.
The Verdon River in southern France may start flooding later than water managers expect, which makes it tougher to know when to store and when to release water in reservoirs for flood control and hydropower.
Global warming and nitrogen are a bad combination and will result in serious algae problems in many waters.
The last few weeks included a productive stretch of writing some interesting climate change and environmental stories. My favorite was about reef restoration in Florida, where hundreds of scientists and volunteers are gardening corals and transplanting them back out into the ocean. Careful monitoring shows there’s good potential to rebuild some ecosystems, especially where it counts, like offshore Miami, which would benefit from intact reefs to help protect the coast from storm surges. You can read the story at Fusion’s Project Earth.
I also spent quite a bit of time listening to people like the U.S. Coast Guard commander, high-ranking naval officers and scientists speaking about environmental changes in the Arctic, and how well the the U.S. is prepared to respond to those changes in a story for Pacific Standard. In another story for the same publication, I wrote about how fungi, through their symbiosis with plants, play a much larger role in regulating the terrestrial part of the carbon cycle than was thought just a few decades ago.
There is also a clear climate change signal evident in the timing of river floods across Europe, with some regions seeing serious flooding come up to two weeks earlier. This has implications for how communities manage water, as I described in this piece for InsideClimate News. Besides the potential for damage to communities, changes in precipitation and flooding patterns also will affect the concentration of nutrient pollution like nitrogen, which leads to toxic algae blooms and ocean dead zones.
Relentless ocean heat takes toll on reefs worldwide
There’s been little let-up in the global wave of coral bleaching that’s been ongoing in various parts of the world since 2014, according to an update from NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program. To date, the bleaching is the most widespread and damaging on record, including mass bleaching in areas where it’s never been seen before — the northern Great Barrier Reed, Kiribati and Jarvis Island.
And more of the same is expected in in the next few months as the Northern Hemisphere moves toward summer. Based on forecasts for the next two to three months, bleaching is likely in the eastern Pacific. Widespread coral bleaching with significant mortality continues in the Samoas (where bleaching of both shallow and deeper corals has now been confirmed) but is expected to dissipate shortly.
After extensive damage to the Great Barrier Reef, ocean temperatures finally cooled of in April, giving a respite to the corals that survived. Similarly, the corals around Florida also got some relief in the past few months. Get the full update at the NOAA coral reef watch page.
Coral reefs aren’t just threatened by pollution, ocean acidification and over-heated ocean temperatures. In some places they are being undermined by erosion of the seafloor, U.S. Geological Survey scientists said in a new study that looked at reefs in Florida, the Caribbean and Hawaii.
In the five study sites, the reefs can’t keep pace with sea level rise. As a result, coastal communities protected by the reefs are facing increased risks from storms, waves and erosion.
The degradation of reefs and the subsiding seafloor go hand-in-hand, as sand and other sea floor materials have eroded over the past few decades. In the waters around Maui, the sea floor losses amounted to 81 million cubic meters of sand, rock and other material – about what it would take to fill up the Empire State Building 81 times, the researchers calculated. Continue reading “Sea level rise overwhelming some coral reefs”→
Scientists are currently mapping the biological damage caused by global warming
At the end of eastern Australia’s long, hot summer, ocean scientists are once again seeing devastating coral die-backs in the northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef. Over the next few weeks, they’ll venture underwater to study how the coral communities responded to a second straight year of overheated water.
When temperatures pass a threshold, the coral expels its symbiotic algal partner, leaving underwater wastelands of white-washed reefs. The scientists will also use survey flights above the reef, and even satellite imaging as they mobilize to document one of global warming’s most devastating impacts. There has been a prolonged global mass bleaching under way for the past year, and climate researchers say nearly all the world’s corals will be at risk by mid-century under projected global temperature increases. Continue reading “Mass coral bleaching likely along northern Great Barrier Reef”→
Study says 90 percent of all predatory fish species have been lost from Caribbean coral reefs
Not all Caribbean reefs are created equal, say researchers with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who recently identified reef areas they are calling “supersites”that could help restore populations of predatory fish needed maintain an ecological balance.
That’s the good news. The bad news is their study also shows that up to 90 percent of predatory fish are gone from Caribbean coral reefs. The research suggests that these supersites should be prioritized for protection and could serve as regional models showcasing the value of biodiversity for tourism and other uses. Continue reading “Can ‘supersites’ anchor coral reef protection efforts?”→
Uptick in tropical cyclones intensifies impacts, hampers recovery
Along with the widely reported bleaching threat from over-heated oceans, coral reefs in many parts of the world also may have to cope with intensifying tropical storms, which could make it even more difficult for them to survive the Anthropocene.
After spending several months abroad in the autumn of 2015 I returned to the U.S. just in time for Christmas and New Years, as well as the lead-up to the Super Bowl. At the same time, the presidential campaign was starting to wind up, with Trump already spreading his poisoned rhetoric and the Democrats hopelessly divided and apparently unable to offer any meaningful positive message to counter the GOP hatefest.
But what I really noticed is that most Americans weren’t actually paying much attention to the unfolding election. The GOP primary was just another sideshow in the circus of consumerism and entertainment that has become of the mainstay of American civic life. To me, it felt like what a decaying Rome must have been experiencing as the empire waned, the masses entertained by excessive spectacles in the Coliseum, while the ruling class made its last-ditch effort to exploit society for short-term gain. It all crystalized for me in late January, when I saw three stories juxtaposed in the Denver Post: one on the Flint water crisis, a second on Trump’s ascendancy and a third on the armed takeover of a wildlife preserve by the Bundy malcontents. Taken together, the three articles represent the decline of American civilization. I wrote about it here.
In the West, the fracturing of the consensus on American values has often played out in the realm of public lands management, and nowhere is this more apparent than in discussions of endangered species. I saw this trend reinforced in mid-January at a Denver meeting on wolves, where it became clear that, for all the efforts that have been made, the reactionary opposition to predator restoration still prevails in the establishment. More in this in my wolf restoration post on Medium.