Warmer winters slow the growth of forest giants

Warmer winters slow the growth of forest giants

Trees coming into leaf later and bumblebees with shorter tongues are just two of the impacts on nature that researchers are linking to global warming.

LONDON, 4 October, 2015 − Spring is arriving ever earlier as greenhouse gas levels rise and global temperatures warm, and the northern hemisphere growing season is now two weeks longer  than it was in 1900.

But, paradoxically, new research shows that forest giants that once responded to the early spring are beginning to slow down – because they miss the chill.

Yongshuo Fu, an Earth system scientist at Peking University, Beijing, and colleagues report in Nature journal that they have measured a slowdown in the response of oaks and other forest citizens to the change in temperatures and carbon dioxide levels.

Where these species, on average, unfolded their first leaves four days earlier, with every 1˚C rise in temperature, they now do so only 2.3 days earlier for every additional 1˚C.

Ever-earlier spring

The reason is that, to take full advantage of the ever-earlier spring, these deciduous species first need to feel a period of chill. And as temperatures on average rise, the extent of true winter chill diminishes.

The researchers concede that there may be other or additional reasons why alder (Alnus glutinosa), silver birch (Betula pendula), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), beech (Fagus sylvatica), lime (Tilia cordata), oak (Quercus robur) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) seem to be slowing in their leafy response.

But since many deciduous trees depend on a frosty spell to release them from their periods of dormancy, it seems a likely factor.

The scientists show once again that as humans change the climate, they are also changing the ecosystems that support all life on Earth

To identify the slowdown, the researchers used data from the Pan-European Phenology Project, which for 33 years has monitored the unfolding of the first leaves of all seven species at 1,245 sites across central Europe.

The scientists used direct observation, and confirmed their hypothesis with computer models to show once again that as humans change the climate, by increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels, they are also changing the ecosystems that support all life on Earth.

And in the same week, US scientists report that as global warming begins to change the mix of mountain wildflowers each spring, pollinating insects too are beginning to respond.

Nicole Miller-Struttmann, a biologist at the State University of New York, and colleagues report in Science journal that, in the last 40 years, the tongues of two species of alpine bumblebee have grown shorter.

Bumblebees need long tongues to reach deep into the flower tubes of the plants they favour. But warmer summers have meant that the flowers they favour most in the Rocky Mountains have become less frequent, and pollinators that once specialised have now become generalist foragers, grabbing honey where they can.

In the course of doing so, two that are commonly found at high altitudes, species Bombus balteatus and B. sylvicola, have evolved shorter tongues.

Gaining altitude

The mix of flowers at lower altitudes has become impoverished, and although mountain flowers have been gaining altitude over the decades, the gain in higher growth has not been enough to offset the loss for the bees.

The research confirms a wider picture of change as a consequence of global warming. In the Americas, plants are colonising higher slopes, and in Europe the bumblebee has also been feeling the heat, and losing part of its range.

In general, high altitude sites seem to be warming faster than the lowlands.

Research of this kind provides a local snapshot of global change, and what it means for individual species in nature’s mix.

“We see broader bumblebee foraging niches, immigration by short-tongued bumblebees, and shorter tongue length within resident bee populations as floral resources have dwindled,” the scientists conclude.

“In remote mountain habitats − largely isolated from habitat destruction, toxins, and pathogens − evolution is helping wild bees keep pace with climate change.” – Climate News Network

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Brazil’s demarcation plans put people and planet at risk

Brazil’s demarcation plans put people and planet at risk

Threat to Brazil’s indigenous reserves raises climate and health concerns as studies show that reduced deforestation leads to lower CO2 emissions and better air quality.

SÃO PAULO, 1 October, 2015 − Environmental organisations warn that a bill now going through the Brazilian Congress to transfer responsibility for demarcating indigenous reserves from federal government experts to politicians could lead to an increase of 110 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030.

The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) calculates that the accumulated carbon stock inside indigenous reserves in the Amazon basin amounts to 47 billion tonnes − or more than a year’s worth of global emissions.

Studies have shown that rainforest located in indigenous reserves is almost always preserved, even when much of the land around it has been cleared for farming.

But the controversial bill that might soon be voted into law could radically change that situation by giving Congress responsibility for demarcating indigenous reserves − which critics liken to asking the fox to look after the chicken house.

The 2014 elections in Brazil produced a very reactionary chamber of deputies, many of them belonging to the “bullet, bull and bible” lobbies defending law and order, agribusiness and conservative moral issues, with very little sympathy for, or understanding of, Brazil’s hundreds of indigenous groups.

Formally recognised

At present, indigenous lands are formally recognised only after detailed anthropological, archaeological and historical studies conducted by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the government agency for policies relating to indigenous peoples, which then physically demarcates their territory.

It is a slow and painstaking process that allows for the compensation of farmers who have settled in good faith − sometimes with land titles dating back to Brazil’s imperial government in the 19th century.

The 698 indigenous reserves occupy 13% of Brazil’s total land area, almost all (98%) of it in the Amazon basin. Two-thirds have been officially recognised, while another 228 await demarcation, but the bill could include a clause making even recognised reserves open to revision.

If the demarcation process were transferred to congress, environmental groups such as the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), a well-respected Brazilian NGO, fear that forested indigenous areas will be opened up “to high impact activities like mining, dams, oil and gas pipelines, waterways, railways, roads, and non-indigenous settlements and farming activities”.

“Even outside Amazonia, indigenous reserves have played an important role in safeguarding biodiversity”

“It is worth emphasising the strategic importance of indigenous lands for environmental conservation,” ISA says.

The accumulated deforestation in indigenous territories in Amazonia is just 1.9% of the original forested area within them, compared to overall deforestation of 22.8% of the total original forested area, according to figures produced for 2013 by the Programme to Calculate Deforestation in the Amazon (PRODES), the monitoring project of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

“Even outside Amazonia, where indigenous reserves are much smaller in area, they have played an important role in safeguarding biodiversity,” ISA adds.

If the new bill is approved by Congress, IPAM reckons that the probable changes could lead to an extra 110 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030.

The Brazilian government is committed to zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, but embattled president Dilma Rousseff is currently too busy fighting the threat of impeachment to take on another fight with some of the Congress members she needs to keep on her side.

Criminal loggers

The government has mounted a number of successful law enforcement operations to crack down on criminal loggers, and deforestation rates have been falling. But if indigenous areas stop being protected, and fall into the hands of farmers, loggers and mining companies, the Forest Code allows for 20% of the acquired area to be cleared.

According to a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, falling deforestation rates are not only good for reducing CO2 emissions, but have also contributed to saving lives by improving air quality.

The study found that the 40% reduction in Brazil’s deforestation rates since 2004 is preventing 1,060 premature adult mortalities annually across South America, because of the consequent reduction in fire emissions and, therefore, of particulate matter (PM).

The study says: “Inhalation of PM from fires has adverse impacts on human health, including increased hospital admissions and premature mortality.”

It estimates that deforestation fires alone cause an average of 2,906 premature deaths annually across South America from cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer. – Climate News Network

  • Jan Rocha, a freelance journalist living in Brazil, is a former correspondent there for the BBC World Service and The Guardian.
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America’s birds flying into climate danger zone

America’s birds flying into climate danger zone

Wide-ranging survey shows that many of North America’s bird species could be left with nowhere to go as climate change drastically affects their habitats.

LONDON, 5 September, 2015 – Some of North America’s birds may no longer be at home on the range. More than half of 588 studied species could lose over 50% of their flying, breeding and feeding space before the end of the century − because of climate change.

The researchers who discovered the precarious future facing so many species say they were shocked to find that rising temperatures could have such widespread effects on the continent’s birds.

The finding comes from one of the world’s most distinguished ornithological bodies, the US National Audubon Society.

Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist, and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used mathematical models and results from two long-established annual surveys in the breeding season and in winter to estimate future geographic range shifts.

Systematic study

The research was based on huge amounts of data. The society’s Christmas Bird Count has been continuous since 1900, and provides a good estimate of numbers in those species that overwinter.

And the North American Breeding Bird Survey, a systematic study conducted between mid-May and July in the US and Canada, involves tens of thousands of three-minute counts of every bird seen or heard at 50 stops along a 39-kilometre route.

The scientists also used three different climate change scenarios – as carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere because of fossil fuel combustion, so the planet’s average temperature rises and climate changes – to explore the possible futures for bird species in a vast landscape that is home to everything from eagles to hummingbirds.

They found that 314 species would lose half or more of their traditional range.

“Knowing which species are most vulnerable allows us to monitor them carefully,
ask new questions, and take action”

Of this total, around 180 species would find that although they would lose the range they had, they would probably be able to acquire new feeding or breeding habitat, as conditions changed. But for 120, the habitat would shrink altogether − that is, there would be nowhere else for them to go.

The world’s birds are in trouble − and not just on land or on one continent.

Conservation measures

One in eight species is threatened with extinction, although in the better-developed nations, there have been systematic attempts to establish conservation measures.

The Audubon study, however, found that the strategies devised and supported now to extend conservation might not be of much use in a world in which climates changed and habitat that had endured for 10,000 years was destroyed, degraded or exploited.

“We were shocked to find that half of the bird species in North America are threatened with climate disruption,” Dr Langham says.

“Knowing which species are most vulnerable allows us to monitor them carefully, ask new questions, and take action to help avert the worst impacts for birds and people.” – Climate News Network

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Global tree census highlights need to restore forests

Global tree census highlights need to restore forests

Mapping the density of forests reveals that there are far more trees on the planet than previously thought – but humans are destroying 15 billion a year.

LONDON, 4 September, 2015 − An international collaboration of scientists has just completed the ultimate green census – by calculating that the planet is home to 3.04 trillion trees.

The latest estimate is far higher and almost certainly more accurate than any previous attempt. But the bad news is that humans are removing trees at the rate of 15 billion a year – and there are now about half as many as there were at the dawn of civilisation.

For every person on Earth, there are 422 trees – in total, more than 3,000 billion deciduous or evergreen growths with woody trunks greater than 10 centimetres at breast height.

The researchers based their study on close analysis of satellite imagery, and of data from 429,775 plots of trees as measured on the ground in 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica.

Statistical techniques

They counted forests in 14 “biomes” − or different kinds of climate, soil and topography − and in places not normally associated with trees, such as deserts, savannah, swamps, tundra and high mountains. They then they used statistical techniques that could extend their sample density measurements to the whole terrestrial world.

The scientists report in Nature journal that the tropical and subtropical forests are home to 1.39 trillion trees, while the boreal forests of the north contain 0.74 trillion, and the temperate zones hold 0.61 trillion.

Trees create and hold soil, forests become “sponges” that conserve and recycle water, and trees and forests between them sustain most terrestrial life, and provide human societies with food, medicines, building materials and even fabrics.

They also play a vital role in the management of the atmosphere, as absorbers of carbon dioxide. So an accurate “fix” on the numbers and density of forest landscapes becomes a first step in climate modelling, and in planning for the conservation of biodiversity.

“Trees are among the most prominent and critical organisms on Earth, yet we are only recently beginning to comprehend their global extent and distribution,” says Thomas Crowther, an ecologist at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and lead author of the study.

“They store huge amounts of carbon, are essential for the cycling of nutrients, for water and air quality, and for countless human services.

“We’ve nearly halved the number of trees
on the planet, and we’ve seen the impacts on
climate and human health as a result

“Yet you ask people to estimate, within an order of magnitude, how many trees there are and they don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what I would have guessed, but I was certainly surprised to find that we were talking about trillions.”

The study grew out of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign, launched in 2006. Previous global estimates of tree populations were based on satellite imagery, and the best guess had been that the total was just over 400 billion trees, or 61 per person.

This widely-accepted figure began to look uncertain as soon as researchers took a closer look at measurements made in one great tropical forest, which suggested there might be 390 billion trees in the Amazon basin alone.

The international team found that the greatest densities of trees were in the sub-Arctic forests of Russia, Scandinavia and North America, which hold 24% of the world’s woodland. The largest forest areas were in the tropics, which are home to about 43% of the world’s trees. The temperate zones contain 22% of all trees.

Global map of tree density. Image: T Crowther et al

Global map of tree density. Image: T Crowther et al

But although the total surprised researchers, the fact remains that the tree cover has fallen by 46% since the end of the last Ice Age. As human populations have grown, more and more forests have been cleared, and humans now fell or burn 15 billion trees a year.

“We’ve nearly halved the number of trees on the planet, and we’ve seen the impacts on climate and human health as a result,” Dr Crowther says. “This study highlights how much more effort is needed if we are to restore healthy forests worldwide.”

Scientists welcomed the study – although there were some reservations.

Helen McKay, who heads the Centre for Sustainable Forestry and Climate Change at the UK Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency, said: “Trees and forests are essential to a sustainable future for the Earth, and we welcome this paper’s contribution to our developing understanding of tree density in the world’s major biomes.

Valuable evidence

“The findings will provide scientists, forest managers and policy-makers with valuable evidence, although additional information on the size, species and management of the trees in these biomes is needed to inform our view of the forests’ sustainability.”

But Martin Lukac, a forest scientist at the University of Reading in the UK, has misgivings. “One of my biggest concerns,” he said, “is the method used to calculate the total number of trees.

“The researchers looked only at areas categorised as ‘forest’ to calculate the total number of trees. In the UK, for example, this accounts for only 13% of the British land area and ignores the rest, even though we know that Britain has millions of trees growing in areas that would not be classified as forest.

“The study states that forests with a higher density of trees store more carbon than those with fewer trees. This is nonsense. In a normal forest, a lot of small trees will store less carbon than fewer large trees.

“The previous estimate of trees in the world was 400 billion. The new estimate is 3 trillion large trees. There are so many margins of error in this study that the real number could be anything between the two – or even 10 times higher.” – Climate News Network

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Emissions are putting species in lethal danger

Emissions are putting species in lethal danger

Scientists warn that lizards, coral reefs and forests are all seriously under threat unless agreement is reached to reduce drastically fossil fuel emissions.

LONDON, 27 August, 2015 – Global warming is going to be very bad for the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada, calamitous for the coral reefs of the tropics and the cold deep waters – and lethal for the lizards of North America.

New research warns that the double assault of warmer and increasingly acidic oceans will affect coral reefs everywhere, growing conditions will move north faster than trees can migrate, and increasing extremes of heat will roast vulnerable reptile embryos to death.

As humankind pours more and more carbon dioxide into the planetary atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion, these are among the impacts scientists say we should prepare for by 2100 and perhaps even earlier.

About one-third of the planet’s woodlands are strewn across Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada. These forests are a “sink” for atmospheric carbon, and at the same time they provide shelter for rich ecosystems and a source of income for tens of millions of people around the world.

Climate zone shifting

But the climate is changing. The region of the northern forests is warming at 0.5°C per decade, and by 2100 it could be on average between 6°C and 11°C higher that it is now. The climate zone is shifting at least 10 times faster than trees can migrate, according to a new study in Science journal.

The likelihood is that the species to the south will be at greater risk of wildfire, drought, infection and insect assault, but the species at the northern fringe will not be able to colonise new ground to keep up. The loss of forest could accelerate global warming even further, although researchers cannot yet be sure.

“These forests evolved under cold conditions, and we do not know enough about the impacts of warming on their resilience and buffering capacity,” says one of the report’s co-authors, Anatoly Shvidenko, a senior researcher in the forestry programme at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

The consequences for the coral reefs of the world have been well reported, but geochemists at a global conference in Prague thought it worthwhile spelling out the dangers yet again.

“I find it very unlikely that coral reefs as I knew them in the mid-1960s will still be found
anywhere on this planet by mid-century”

Peter Sale, a marine biologist at the University of Windsor, Canada, used the hazard to the coral ecosystems to underscore the urgency of an international agreement at the UN’s forthcoming Paris conference on climate change to take steps to control emissions and limit average temperature increase to 2°C this century. But that may not be enough.

“Even if Paris is wildly successful, and a treaty is struck, ocean warming and ocean acidification are going to continue beyond the end of this century,” Sale says.

“This is now serious. I find it very unlikely that coral reefs as I knew them in the mid-1960s will still be found anywhere on this planet by mid-century. Instead, we will have algal-dominated, rubble-strewn, slowly eroding limestone benches.

“I see little hope for reefs unless we embark on a more aggressive emissions reduction plan.”

Lizards lay their eggs in the ground in spring and summer and leave them to gestate for up to two months. They are cold-blooded creatures that respond to the heat to become more active, and seek shade when it becomes too hot. − but infant lizards have no such freedom.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that, in experiments, they found that while adult animals might benefit from a warmer world, their embryos could be seriously at risk.

Pessimistic forecasts

They found that the lizard embryos die when subjected to temperatures greater than 43°C (110°F). Right now, only about 3% of the US gets to this temperature in the shade. By 2100, under the more pessimistic climate forecasts, this could have grown to 48%.

This could be bleak news for whole ecosystems, because lizards consume insects, and are in turn prey for snakes and birds and mammals.

“Lizards put all of their eggs in one basket, so a single heat wave can kill an entire group of eggs,” says Ofir Levy, postdoctoral fellow at the ASU School of Life Sciences, who led the study.

“If mothers don’t dig deeper nests to lay their eggs, we expect this species to decline throughout the United States.” – Climate News Network

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Carbon emissions threaten British butterflies

Carbon emissions threaten British butterflies

By mid-century carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom could be causing recurrent droughts severe enough to force several butterfly species into extinction.

LONDON, 16 August, 2015 – If 25 years from now you can’t see a speckled wood near the English woodland, it wont be because of natural camouflage. And if you suddenly miss the large skipper, it wont be because it has led the team off the field.

Both species of British butterfly could be extinct because of global warming. And other flying insects, and even birds, may face similar jeopardy.

Under a range of climate change scenarios, extreme droughts are expected to become more frequent. Tom Oliver of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked at long-term butterfly population records from 129 sites monitored under the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme to work out how 28 species had fared during an extreme drought event in Britain in 1995, and identified six species more than usually sensitive to brilliant sunshine and extended dry seasons.

Besides large skipper and speckled wood, these include the ringlet, large white, small white and green-veined white.

The authors warn that by 2050 the recurring droughts forecast by climate scientists under a “business as usual” scenario, in which humans go on expanding the use of fossil fuels, thus putting more and more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise global average temperatures, could cause population collapses.

Recovery impossible

“Should this occur repeatedly, populations may be unable to recover, resulting in local extinctions,” they warn.

The research was backed by the charity Butterfly Conservation, by the agency Natural England and by the University of Exeter.

Butterflies, transient and brightly coloured, make good tests of local ecological health, and so are well studied. So has been their response to climate change. Some species have responded by extending their range uphill or northwards in response to the overall shift in average temperatures, while other populations have dwindled.

A shift in climate is naturally expected to help some species flourish, others fade, But butterflies, like birds, are popular symbols of the natural world and there is pressure to conserve. The study is designed to examine the big challenges that will face conservation agencies by 2050.

“We consider the average response across Great Britain. Losses are likely to be more severe in drier areas with more intensive land use, whilst wetter areas with less fragmented habitat will provide refugia.

“The study looked at butterflies but the conclusions are potentially valid for other species”

“We assume that butterflies wont have time to evolve to become more drought-tolerant, because their populations are already small, and evolution would need to be very rapid. The study looked at butterflies but the conclusions are potentially valid for other species such as birds, beetles, moths and dragonflies,” said Dr Oliver.

Worryingly, the researchers found that simply devoting more space and habitat to conservation – and in a world in which rising population means greater pressure on farmland, this would not be easy – and especially by creating corridors along which species could migrate, would not be enough.

Even more worryingly, the scientists found that some species would be at risk of widespread extinction even under relatively favourable greenhouse emissions scenarios.

“The results are worrying. Until I started this research, I hadnt quite realised the magnitude and potential impacts from climate change,” said Dr Oliver. “For drought-sensitive butterflies, and potentially other taxa, widespread population extinctions are expected by 2050.

“To limit these losses, both habitat restoration and reducing CO2 emissions have a role. In fact, a combination of both is necessary.” – Climate News Network

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Climate change imperils an entire UK ecosystem

Climate change imperils an entire UK ecosystem

In the upland peat bogs of Britain, global warming is killing insects and jeopardising the rare birds that depend on them.

LONDON, 3 August, 2015 – The UK may still be fairly well sheltered from the impacts of climate change, but British scientists now say the increasingly warm trend is threatening an entire eco-system.

They have found that several rare upland bird species are at risk, together with other ecosystem functions, because of the effects of climate change on the UK’s blanket bogs −  the peat bogs found mainly in the wetter western and northern uplands of Britain.

Following their study of uplands from mid-Wales to northern England, they report in Nature Communications that “climate change could drive substantial declines in abundances of keystone invertebrates and their predators, acting through soil moisture”.

Risk for people

Several bird species − including the dunlin, golden plover and red grouse − depend on these wetlands for nesting and feeding, and there is a risk for people as well, because most drinking water comes from the upland peats.

Ecologists at the University of York and colleagues found that climate change threatens the bogs, not only through rising temperatures from increasing peat decomposition but also because of altered rainfall patterns, with summer droughts drastically affecting the bogs’ hydrology.

The study showed that an insect called the crane fly − often known as the daddy longlegs − is crucial to determining the impact of climate change on peatland bird species.

The birds depend on the protein-rich crane flies as food for chicks, but the scientists found that summer droughts, which are predicted to increase, could cause significant declines in the flies, by 56%-81%, and therefore in the birds that depend on them.

“Everything works together like a jigsaw puzzle − if you change a piece, you will change
others around it”

Based on a peatland model developed at the University of York, and on the latest climate change predictions, they say the decline of crane flies could by 2051-80 mean a 50% fall in dunlin numbers, 30% in golden plovers and 15% in red grouse.

Another concern is the role of blanket bogs as a carbon store – or source. Globally, peatlands are an important carbon store, representing about 60% of the world’s terrestrial carbon, although they cover less than 3% of the Earth’s surface, and even the UK’s bogs play a significant part.

While they are forming, peatlands can absorb carbon, but in degraded peatlands carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can be released. So peatlands have a massive potential influence on climate change.

Bug-to-bird link

The peatland model was developed by Dr Andreas Heinemeyer, a Stockholm Environment Institute ecologist based at the University of York. He says: “This is one of the first studies to follow this bug-to-bird link, down the food chain, between climate change and something happening to an entire eco-system, with relevance to people.

“There is a very strong relationship between the moisture of the peat and the survival of the larvae of the crane fly during summer. July and August are peak times: if it is too dry, the larvae just desiccate and die, and are then not available for the bird chicks the following year.”

And it isn’t only rare birds that were at risk from climate change. Dr Heinemeyer says “We might be in for big change, not just in connection with our birds, but with our drinking water as well.

“If you end up being very dry as a blanket bog, you store less water and your water quality seems to deteriorate . . . everything works together like a jigsaw puzzle. If you change a piece, you will change others around it.” – Climate News Network

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Muslim scholars say climate change poses dire threat

Muslim scholars say climate change poses dire threat

Islamic declaration adds to growing pressure religious leaders are exerting on richer nations to reduce the burden they are putting on the Earth’s climate.

LONDON, 15 July, 2015 − Human beings could cause the ending of life on the planet, says a group of Islamic scholars − and countries round the world, particularly the rich ones, must face up to their responsibilities.

Climate change, they say, is induced by human beings: “As we are woven into the fabric of the natural world, its gifts are for us to savour – but we have abused these gifts to the extent that climate change is upon us.”

The views of the scholars – some of the strongest yet expressed on climate from within the Muslim community – are contained in a draft declaration on climate change to be launched officially at a major Islamic symposium in Istanbul in mid-August.

Allah, says the declaration, created the world in mizan (balance), but through fasad (corruption), human beings have caused climate change, together with a range of negative effects on the environment that include deforestation, the destruction of biodiversity, and pollution of the oceans and of water systems.

Natural resources

The draft declaration has been compiled by the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), a UK-based charity focused on environmental protection and the management of natural resources. The declaration mirrors many of the themes contained in a recent encyclical issued by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church.

The Islamic declaration makes particularly strong criticism of the world’s richer and more powerful countries, which, it says, have delayed through their selfishness the implementation of a comprehensive climate change agreement.

“Their reluctance to share in the burden they have imposed on the rest of the human community by their own profligacy is noted with great concern,” the declaration says.

Wealthy oil-producing countries must “refocus their concerns from profit to the environment
and to the poor of the world”

Interestingly, the draft declaration – which is still being worked on by various Muslim academics around the world – says that, in particular, wealthy oil-producing countries must “refocus their concerns from profit to the environment and to the poor of the world”. Saudi Arabia, where Mecca is located, is one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries.

Carbon footprint

The declaration says a new economic growth model should be found that recognises that the planet’s resources are finite.

It also calls on big business to face up to its social responsibilities and not exploit scarce resources in poor countries, and says that businesses should also take a more active role in reducing their carbon footprint.

The declaration says Muslims everywhere in their particular spheres of influence should seek to play a role in tackling climate change – and that other faith and religious groups should also join in realising the aims of the Islamic scholars “to compete with us in this endeavour so we can all be winners in this race”.

The declaration quotes extensively from the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, as the basis of its arguments.

Besides IFEES, Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Climate Action Network International and GreenFaith have also been involved in formulating the declaration. – Climate News Network

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Natural world feels the heat as temperatures soar

Natural world feels the heat as temperatures soar

Birds, insects and trees are all under threat as the rise in gobal average temperatures makes drought and heatwaves much more likely.

LONDON, 12 July, 2015 – Extremes of heat − and an extra helping of drought − have begun to change the planet in small, subtle ways, and will almost certainly continue the process of change, according to new research.

Bird species such as the Elegant Tern have begun to move north from the Gulf of California in Mexico, a species of ant that lives underground has shown it cannot take the heat, and the giant trees of the world’s forests may be at risk.

The link between any single extreme of heat and drought, and global warming as a consequence of the emissions of greenhouse gases from human burning of fossil fuels, is almost impossible to prove, but climate science has begun to show that, in general, heatwaves and drought become more likely as global average temperatures soar.

Atmospheric circulation

But the argument is not conclusive. Daniel Horton, research fellow in Earth system science at Stanford University, California, and colleagues show in the journal Nature that extremes of temperature in Europe and North America could be linked to changes in atmospheric circulation and to the distribution of heat and water vapour in the atmosphere.

That still leaves open the question: is that because of some natural cycle, or a response to global warming?

Kevin Trenberth,  Distinguished Senior Scientist in the climate analysis section at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, and colleagues argue in Nature Climate Change that this is hardly an either/or question.

Natural variability and human-induced climate change may both be at work in extreme events. So there could be other ways of putting the question. Given a flood, where did the moisture come from? Could it be linked to high ocean temperatures that in turn could be linked to human-induced climate change?

Put like that, it might be possible to make connections between the steady rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and catastrophic events such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, or supertyphoon Haiyan  in 2013.

“It is important to know that micro-habitat could be an indicator of heat tolerance”

But while humans argue, the natural world responds. Most of the world’s population of the Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans) has, historically, nested on a tiny island in the Gulf of California, in Mexico. Lately, the birds have arrived to nest as usual, but increasingly have departed without nesting.

It happened in 1998, in 2003, and then in 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015. The population has expanded north to San Diego, Los Angeles Harbour and other places.

Ecology researcher Enriqueta Velarde, of the Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico, and colleagues report in Science Advances that the Gulf of California has been abnormally warm for the last 15 years. And when that happens, the supplies of nutrient – and the small pelagic fish that eat the nutrient – tend to decline.

Inadequate conditions

“Whenever the terns perceive the conditions in the Gulf as inadequate to ensure successful reproduction, they move to alternative nesting grounds,” Dr Velarde says.

Gulls and terns can migrate when things are uncomfortable. And many species of ant – such as army ants, the nomadic, swarming predators of the central American jungles − can cope with temperature changes. But unexpectedly, at least one subset cannot, according to Kaitlin Baudier, a biologist at Drexel University, Philadelphia, and colleagues.

These are the army ants that dwell underground, theoretically insulated from surface temperatures but actually at risk. Turn up the heat, and they suffer.

She and her co-authors report in the Journal of Animal Ecology that micro-habitat seems to be closely linked to a creature’s thermal physiology.

“This shows us the ways that these species respond to a changing climate will be different depending on habitat type, and it is important to know that micro-habitat could be an indicator of heat tolerance,” says Sean O’Donnell, a biology professor at Drexel, and senior author of the report.

Law of fluid flow

But while gulls can fly away, and ants can march or die, trees can only stay put and sicken when the heat is on.

That is because a tree’s survival depends on water that has to be sucked up to a great height through solid tissue − and this process is therefore subject to a law of fluid flow formulated in the 19th century by a French engineer, Henry Darcy.

Nathan McDowell, a climate researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and Craig Allen, a research ecologist at the US Geological Survey, report in Nature Climate Change that, under climate warming, Darcy’s law predicts “widespread forest mortality”.

They put the question: given that trees have the problem of hauling water to a great height through old wood, what will higher average temperatures do to established forests?

The ones most likely to die, they found, were those that were very tall, and that functioned with isohydral stomatal regulation, low hydraulic conductance, and high leaf area. Helpfully, the scientists supplied the translation in the next sentence.

“Thus, tall trees of old-growth forests are at the greatest risk of loss,” they say, “which has ominous implications for terrestrial carbon storage.” – Climate News Network

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Climate change may knock seafood off the menu

Climate change may knock seafood off the menu

Researchers warn of a serious threat to fish, mussels and other marine species as carbon dioxide acidifies the world’s waters and increases temperatures.

LONDON, 7 July, 2015 – Pink salmon – the smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon species, and a supper table mainstay in many parts of the world – may be swimming towards trouble.

And they are not the only dish likely to disappear from the menu. Mussels, oysters, clam and scallop could all become scarcer and more expensive as the seas become more acid. And as the world’s waters warm, fish will start to migrate away from their normal grounds at an ever-increasing rate.

New research shows that as the world’s waters acidify because of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) could become smaller and less likely to survive.

Potentially problematic

Previous studies have repeatedly and consistently explored potentially problematic consequences of change in the pH value of the world’s oceans. The higher the carbon dioxide concentrations in the air as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels, the greater the change in oceanic acidity levels.

But researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and colleagues looked at the special problems of freshwater fish.

Only about 0.8% of the world’s water is fresh – that is, found in lakes and rivers – but freshwater species represent 40% of all fishes. Salmon spawn and the young are reared in fresh water, before taking to the seas to mature, then returning to repeat the cycle.

The Vancouver scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they tested very young embryos in water at acidity levels expected at the end of this century, and observed them for 10 weeks.

They found that these laboratory-reared salmon were smaller, and their ability to smell was reduced, which could mean problems in returning to their spawning grounds or for scenting danger and responding to it.

“It is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions”

At the age of seaward migration, they were less able to use oxygen in their muscles, which promised problems finding food, evading predators or making long journeys.

“The increase in carbon dioxide in water is actually quite small from a chemistry perspective, so we didn’t expect to see so many effects,” said Michelle Ou, lead author of the study. “The growth, physiology and behaviour of these developing pink salmon are very much influenced by these small changes.”

Salmon aren’t the only freshwater fish at risk from climate change. Research published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that a rise in water temperatures of 5°C could make common pesticides and industrial contaminants ever more toxic.

Ronald Patra, an environmental scientist at the Department of Planning and Environment in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues tested rainbow trout, silver perch, rainbowfish and western carp gudgeon at temperatures higher than optimum for the species and in the presence of endosulfan, chlorpyrifos and phenol − all of which wash into waterways from the land.

Results varied according to pollutant, species and temperature, but, overall, all three chemicals became increasingly toxic as water temperatures rose.

Future toxicity

On the coast of Mangalore in southwest India, where mussel farming has become a growing industry, researchers decided to test future toxicity conditions for the green mussel.

The Society of Experimental Biology meeting in Prague learned that the bivalves were raised in high temperature and low salt conditions and exposed to toxic algae and bacteria of the kind that might be expected in a changing climate, which in turn affected the timing of the monsoon in ways that could lower seawater salinity.

“This is likely to increase the chance of outbreaks of toxic plankton blooms and make farming bivalves such as mussels increasingly challenging,” the meeting was told.

But changes to water chemistry – once again, the shift in pH values as yet more carbonic acid builds up in the seas – create problems enough for the commercial shellfisheries.

Wiley Evans, research associate at the Ocean Acidification Research Centre of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that shellfish farmers off the Alaska coast might, at extra expense, have to start modifying the sea water in their hatcheries because, the researchers reported, they expect “significant effects” from acidification by 2040.

The scientists monitored for 10 months the effects of water chemistry changes on oyster, clam, scallop and other shellfish larvae.

Alaska – with a limited growing season, melting glaciers that affect salinity, and with colder waters that more readily dissolve carbon dioxide – is a special case.

But in general, as researchers have repeatedly found, increasingly corrosive waters would make it more difficult for shellfish to exploit the calcium carbonate minerals needed to make shells.

Shellfish spend their maturity in one spot, whereas fish can and do shift their grounds when the conditions become uncomfortable − with consequences for established commercial catches such as sardines and sea bass.

Likely to migrate

But a 5°C average warming in global atmospheric temperatures – and climate scientists have repeatedly warned that this is possible before 2100 – means that fish are likely to migrate away from their existing habitats considerably faster than they are doing now.

Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of the Oceanological Observatory in Villefranche, France, and colleagues looked at the evidence on a global scale and report in Science journal that, without attempts to mitigate global warming, the oceans and the creatures in them will be seriously affected by temperature changes and acidification.

This is very bad news for the millions of people in the communities that depend on the seas for a living.

“On a positive note, we still have options to substantially reduce these impacts now, but the longer we wait the fewer and fewer options we have,” warns co-author William Cheung, of the fisheries centre at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

Commenting on the research, Jason Hall-Spencer, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University in the UK, said: “This review screams at me that the evidence is in, and it is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions.” – Climate News Network

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