Tag: Environment

Can the Hochbärneckalm survive global warming?

Climate change threatens traditional mountain agriculture in the Alps

Hochbärneck Alm Austria
The Hochbärneck Alm (900 meters) in Lower Austria’s Alpine region. @bberwyn photo.

Supported by the Earth Journalism Network and Internews

By Bob Berwyn

LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.

The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.

In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.

At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.

But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.

A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.

Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.

With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.

We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.

Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.

climate change austrian alps
Austrian farmers increasingly are having to adapt to big shift in seasonal weather patterns as the globe warms. @bberwyn photo.

 

 

 

13 consecutive months of record-high temps for Earth

No relief from global warming streak

January to May global temperatures 2016
Well above average temperatures prevailed across most of the planet during the first five months of 2016.
March-May 2016 global temperatures
Spring temperatures have been soaring across the globe.

Staff Report

The planet’s global warming streak continued in May, which marked the 13th month in a row that the average temperature over land and sea surfaces reached a new monthly record. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s the longest such streak since record-keeping started in 1880.

The seasonal (March-May) and year-to-date (January-May) global temperatures were also the highest on record, NOAA said in its monthly state of the climate report. Continue reading “13 consecutive months of record-high temps for Earth”

Florida harbor dredging threatens corals

Mapping coral diseases is helping researchers determine the cause. Photo courtesy NOAA.
Mapping coral diseases is helping researchers determine the cause. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Activists plan lawsuit to win more environmental protection

Staff Report

Even with coral reefs around the world under the global warming gun, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking approval for a controversial Florida dredging project that could smother parts of the only coastal barrier reef in the continental United States.

But a coalition of environmental and community groups have banded together to try and the the Corps to provide mandatory, common-sense protections for reefs near the Port Everglades dredging project near Fort Lauderdale. The project’s goal is to increase coastal access for larger ships. Continue reading “Florida harbor dredging threatens corals”

Global warming is greening up the far north

Alaska greening climate change
NASA scientists have detailed a widespread greening trend across Alaska and northern Canada in a new study. Photo courtesy NASA/Ross Nelson.

New NASA study takes detailed look at increased vegetation growth in Alaska and Canada

Staff Report

After taking a close look at 87,000 satellite images, NASA scientists say the northern parts of Canada and Alaska are getting greener. Shrubs are sprouting in grassy tundra zones and shrubs are growing bigger and denser — changes that could have impacts on regional water, energy and carbon cycles.

The new NASA study adds more detail to previous research that reached similar conclusions and could help inform climate scientists about how the changes will affect global temperatures. The study covered the timespan between 1984 and 2012. The images came from the joint NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat program, which provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land vegetation in existence. Continue reading “Global warming is greening up the far north”

Small oil spills can add up to big impacts for sea birds

Report says more monitoring of wildlife needed on offshore oil drilling rigs

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.
Oil spills have a devastating impact on sea life,, there’s not enough monitoring to track environmental degradation. Photo via U.S. Coast Guard.
This is an Oiled Thick-billed Murre, Cripple Cove (near Cape Race), Newfoundland November 28, 2004. Credit Photo by Ian L. Jones
This is an oiled thick-billed murre, Cripple Cove (near Cape Race), Newfoundland November 28, 2004. Photo by Ian L. Jones.

Staff Report

It only takes exposure to a teaspoon full of oil to kill some seabirds, but oil drillers off the coast of Canada are failing to adequately monitor small, persistent spills that can lead to chronic pollution and population-level impacts, according to a new study by scientists with York University.

The research published in the international journal, Marine Pollution Bulletin, looked at how offshore oil operators monitored and responded to small spills (less than 1,000 litres) for three production projects off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. It came after authorities failed to respond to three high-profile environmental assessments by Environment Canada that requested impacts on seabirds be monitored following small spills. Continue reading “Small oil spills can add up to big impacts for sea birds”

Global warming kills a third of Great Barrier Reef’s corals

Similar mortality expected in other tropical oceans

Dead and dying staghorn co ral , central Great Barrier Reef in May 2016. Credit: Johanna  Leonhardt
Dead and dying staghorn coral, central Great Barrier Reef in May 2016. Photo by Johanna Leonhardt.
Great Barrier Reef mortality map
Map of mortality estimates on coral reefs along 1100km of the Great Barrier Reef. Map courtesy ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

Staff Report

For years, scientists have warned that global warming threatens to decimate the world’s coral reefs within our lifetimes and this week, the dire warnings played out in Australia, where new surveys showed that more than a third of the corals along the Great Barrier Reef died in the past few months after an extensive coral bleaching episode.

“We found, on average, that 35 percent of the corals are now dead or dying on 84 reefs that we surveyed along the northern and central sections of the Great Barrier Reef, between Townsville and Papua New Guinea,” said Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

Australian scientists have closely tracked the status of reefs along their coastline for the past few months as it became evident that this year’s strong El Niño would raise ocean temperatures above the limit of what most corals species can survive, and the latest survey results confirm their worst fears. In a press release, the researchers said the impacts are still unfolding along the 2,300-long reef, with the worst damage to the central and northern sections. Continue reading “Global warming kills a third of Great Barrier Reef’s corals”

Report eyes global warming threats to World Heritage sites

Floods, wildfires and rising seas put famed tourism areas at risk

Český Krumlov
Severe flooding due to global warming is seen as a threat to the Český Krumlov world heritage site in the Czech Republic, according to a new report. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

United Nations leaders say that famed World Heritage sites around the world are facing a significant threat from climate change. Increasing floods, melting glaciers and more wildfires are among the risks cited in a new report from UNESCO’s World Heritage Center.

“Globally, we need to better understand, monitor and address climate change threats to World Heritage sites,” said the center’s director, Mechtild Rössler. “As the report’s findings underscore, achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to a level well below 2 degrees Celsius is vitally important to protecting our World Heritage for current and future generations.” Continue reading “Report eyes global warming threats to World Heritage sites”