Tag: Environment

Air pollution seen as another factor in honeybee decline

Ozone degrades scent molecules

bee
Air pollution makes it harder for bees and other insects to find flowers. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Air pollution is changing plant odors, which confuses bees and makes them less efficient at foraging and pollinating plants, Penn State researchers said in a new study that shows how ozone breaks down plant-emitted scent molecules.

The chemical interactions decrease both the scent molecules’ life spans and the distances they travel, the scientists reported in the new study. They found that plant-emitted hydrocarbons break down through chemical interactions with certain air pollutants such as ozone. This breakdown process results in the creation of more air pollutants, including hydroxyl and nitrate radicals, which further increase the breakdown rate of plant odors. Continue reading “Air pollution seen as another factor in honeybee decline”

Conservation groups seek trade sanctions against Mexico in effort to save the endangered vaquita

Continued illegal gill net fishing cited in push for ban on Mexican seafood

vaquita
There may be as few as 60 endangered vaquita remaining in the Gulf of California. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

In what could be a last-ditch effort to save imperiled vaquita in the Gulf of California, conservation advocates are urging the Obama administration to launch economic sanctions against Mexico to halt that country’s trade in totoaba. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the sanctions would be justified because Mexico is violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by not enforcing the ban on totoaba trade.

The June 28 letter to high level U.S. Cabinet officials is the latest step in a long-running an complex struggle to prevent extinction of vaquitas, an endangered porpoise that lives in only a small section of the upper Gulf of California. My some estimates, there may only be 60 individuals remaining. Continue reading “Conservation groups seek trade sanctions against Mexico in effort to save the endangered vaquita”

Sunday set: Changing world

Global warming will irrevocably alter the face of the Earth

The more I report on climate change and the environment, the more I learn to cherish the landscapes that I see, because it’s really starting to sink in that humankind, during this Anthropocene Age, is fundamentally changing Earth’s ecosystems, altering the climate and impacting the landscape on levels seem almost inconceivable.

Take the Danube River (or most other major rivers, for that matter), where I spent a few hours Saturday afternoon swimming to cool of from a hot summer day in the city. While the water offered cool relief, I couldn’t stop thinking about a story I wrote a few years ago about scientists who discovered how, at times, there’s more plastic pollution than fish larvae in Europe’s second-biggest stream.

And watching sunset colors tinge the Ötscher, the highest peak peak in the eastermost reaches of the Alps, was a reminder that global warming is inexorably changing mountain ecosystems to the detriment not only of nature, but to ancient agricultural practices that are a culturally important part of life in the Alps. Continue reading “Sunday set: Changing world”

Offshore fracking threatens beluga whales, group claims

A pod of Beluga whales. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE.
A pod of Beluga whales. Photo courtesy NMFS.

Conservation advocates question plan for expanded fracking in Alaska’s Cook Inlet

Staff Report

Environmental advocates are warning that a plan to expand offshore fracking in Alaska’s Cook Inlet threatens a local population of beluga whales, considered to be among the most endangered whales in the world.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Blue Crest Energy wants to drill multiple new wells and conduct the first large, multistage offshore fracking ever done in the environmentally sensitive inlet. The privately held company needs a permit from the NMFS to start the fracking in the inlet. Continue reading “Offshore fracking threatens beluga whales, group claims”

Sea star die-off spurred trophic cascade in B.C. coastal waters

Northern rainbow star afflicted with sea star wasting disease. This species had virtually disappeared from central California kelp forests as of February 2014. Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS
Northern rainbow star afflicted with sea star wasting disease. This species had virtually disappeared from central California kelp forests as of February 2014. Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS.

Booming sea urchin population takes bite out of ocean kelp forests

Staff Report

Some sea star populations along the Oregon coast may be recovering from a massive wasting epidemic that all but wiped out some species of the echinoderms, but that’s not the case in Howe Sound, a scenic fjord-like sound on the coast of British Columbia.

There, the die-off had a clear ecological trickle-down effect, called a trophic cascade by biologists. After the sea stars died, populations of their favorite prey, green sea urchins, quadrupled. The urchins quickly gobbled up kelp, reducing by 80 percent. Undersea kelp forests are critical to near-shore ocean ecosystems, providing cover and food for many marine species.

The findings were reported by Simon Fraser University marine ecologists Jessica Schultz, Ryan Cloutier and Isabelle Côté, who studied the after-effects of the die-off that hit the area in 2013, described as one of the largest  wildlife mass mortality events ever recorded. Continue reading “Sea star die-off spurred trophic cascade in B.C. coastal waters”

Climate: Arctic sea ice on pace for record meltdown

Arctic sea ice
The image above shows a May 21, 2016 view of Arctic sea ice in the Beaufort Sea from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor. Credit: Land Atmosphere Near-Real Time Capability for EOS (LANCE) System, NASA/GSFC.

Melt season is 2 to 4 weeks ahead of 2012, which set record for low extent

Staff Report

Arctic sea ice extent continues to track toward a record low, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported last week, resuming regular updates of sea ice after switching to a new satellite for the measurements.

As of June 7, the sea ice meltdown was ahead of 2012 by two to four weeks. Sea ice extent hit a record low that year and has been near that level every year since. The past two years, it set new record-lows for winter extent.

There was extensive early ice melt in the Beaufort Sea and surging warm air from eastern Siberia and northern Europe are part of what is driving this year’s below-average ice conditions, according the June 7 bulletin from the NSIDC. Continue reading “Climate: Arctic sea ice on pace for record meltdown”

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.