Monday, 29 August 2016

Secret US military project hidden under ice sheet for decades will be revealed sooner than expected thanks to climate change

It seems a story straight from a Cold War thriller - only the case of Camp Century is 100 per cent fact.

Now scientists have discovered the secretive military base in Greenland created by Danish and US governments during the 1950s and thought to be locked under the ice forever could be exposed by climate change.

A recent study published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters found the submerged city could be exposed within 75 years under a "business as usual" approach to global warming.

It means low-level radioactive material, sewage, diesel and other waste that governments assumed would be locked up indefinitely in the ice could be leaked into the surrounding environment with no plan as to who is responsible.

"Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites," lead author William Colgan, of Canada's York University told the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

"It's a new breed of political challenge we have to think about."

Saturday, 27 August 2016

A huge crack is spreading across one of Antarctica's biggest ice shelves

r some time, scientists who focus on Antarctica have been watching the progression of a large crack in one of the world's great ice shelves - Larsen C, the most northern major ice shelf of the Antarctic peninsula, and the fourth largest Antarctic ice shelf overall.

Larsen C, according to the British Antarctic Survey, is "slightly smaller than Scotland." It's called an ice "shelf" because the entirety of this country-sized area is covered by 350 meter thick ice that is floating on top of deep ocean waters.

The crack in Larsen C grew around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) in length between 2011 and 2015. And as it grew, also became wider - by 2015, yawning some 200 meters in length. Since then, growth has only continued - and now, a team of researchers monitoring Larsen C say that with the intense winter polar night over Antarctica coming to an end, they've been able to catch of glimpse of what happened to the crack during the time when it could not be observed by satellite.
The result was astonishing.

The rift had grown another 22 kilometers (13.67 miles) since it was last observed in March 2016, and has widened to about 350 meters, report researchers from Project MIDAS, a British Antarctic Survey funded collaboration of researchers from Swansea and Aberystwyth Universities in Wales, and other institutions. The full length of the rift is now 130 km, or over 80 miles.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Humans have caused climate change for 180 years

Humans have been driving global warming for nearly two centuries, finds a new study showing climate change isn't just a 20th century phenomenon.

The study, published today in major journal Nature and authored by an international team of 25 scientists, finds that global warming began during the early stages of the industrial revolution and is first detectable in the Arctic and tropical oceans around the 1830s - much earlier than scientists had expected.

The new insights have important implications for assessing the extent that humans have caused the climate to move away from its pre-industrial state, and will help scientists understand the future impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the climate.

The study's lead author, Associate Professor Nerilie Abram from The Australian National University, said anthropogenic (man-made) climate change was generally talked about as a 20th century phenomenon because direct measurements of climate are rare before the 1900s.

However, the team studied detailed reconstructions of climate spanning the past 500 years to identify when the current sustained warming trend really beg

Friday, 19 August 2016

By 2085, most cities could be too hot to host the Oympics

Swimmers compete during the menics in Rio have already made a major statement about climate change - at the opening ceremony, which featured a video about the subject.

But now, scientists are going further by using the Games to teach a grim climate lesson.

At a high-end scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, a team of researchers write in the influential medical journal the Lancet, fewer and fewer major cities will be able to host a Summer Olympics as the end of the century nears.

The reason? Too much risk of seeing weather conditions get so hot and humid that they would pose a major heat illness danger to athletes.

"You could take a risk, and plan your Olympics, and maybe not get the hot days you expect, but that would be a big risk when there are many billions of dollars at stake," said Kirk Smith, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health and the lead author of the study.
Smith completed it with researchers based at institutions in New Zealand, Cyprus and the US.

At the centre of the study is the scary concept of the "wet-bulb globe temperature". What it refers to is a particular combination of temperature, humidity, wind (or the lack thereof), and heat radiation that, at elevated levels, is simply too much for humans to bear for long outdoors, especially when engaging in physical exertion. The core issue is that if there's too much humidity, it limits our ability to use evaporation, through sweating, to cool down our bodies.

The wet bulb globe temperature is determined based on several separate measurements, including one taken while covering the bulb of a thermometer with a wet towel, and another taken after inserting it into a dark globe, and can be either lower or higher than the actual temperature. But humans can't tolerate as high of a wet bulb temperature as an ordinary one. The danger zone is around 25C, for those engaging in major physical activity.

"It's tricky to measure and tricky to predict, but it's come to be understood as the best indicator of heat stress on the body," said Smith of the metric.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Meet our newfound glow-in-the-dark neighbour

Scientists have discovered two new species of a glow-in-the-dark fish family found deep in waters near New Zealand.

Researchers from the Australian Museum and the Greenland Nature Institute found they'd happened upon two new species of the bioluminescent deep-sea "barreleyes" family when they looked at the patterns of pigmented "glow-blocking" scales on the underside of barreleyes caught near New Zealand, American Samoa and in the Atlantic.

The scientists saw three different pigment patterns that suggested three distinct species - which was confirmed when looking at the genetics - and revealed that the two new species were found only in the Pacific, not in the Atlantic.

Because of their rareness and fragility, barreleye fish are not well described, although previous work suggested the family included 19 species.
Some species have organs called "soles" along their bellies, covered with pigmented scales that control the light emitted from an internal organ.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Happy feat: penguins swim fifteen thousand kilometres in six months

Call it a happy feat.

New Zealand scientists have been astounded to find that two species of subantarctuic penguin were able to travel 15,000km - equivalent to the distance between Auckland and Boston - over a stretch of just six months.

The insight was revealed by a tagging project observing nearly 100 subantarctic rockhopper and Snares penguins over winter in the Southern Ocean.

"If they are constantly moving this averages out at about 100km a day but you also have to add on to that the distances covered vertically as the birds dive to capture food," said the study's leader, National Institute of Water and Atmosphere seabird ecologist Dr David Thompson.

While the Snares penguin population on their craggy namesake islands was relatively stable, Campbell Island's rockhoppers had dwindled by at least 21 per cent since 1984, leaving just over 33,000 breeding pairs there.

The island was once the world's largest breeding colony of the colourful rockhoppers - the smallest of all penguin species and featured on the movies Happy Feet and Surf's Up - but between 1942 and 1984 the population dropped by about 94 per cent.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Humpback Whales Save Other Marine Animals Because They Care?

Humpback whales save other marine animals because they care! Is there a lesson here for humans - help because you care rather than to profit!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Study reveals hard-working bees, pollinators need our help

Corporate control of agriculture, new viruses and climate change have been singled out among a long list of big threats to pollinators in a new horizon-scanning study co-authored by a Kiwi scientist.

The importance of bees and other hard-working pollinators, relied upon for more than a third of the world's crop production and 85 per cent of wild flowering plants, has been highlighted by countless studies and was the take-away message of the 2007 animated film Bee Movie.

But until this week, international researchers had not taken a comprehensive, global look at the risks they'll face in future decades.

In response to a range of threats, including the expansion of corporate agriculture, fresh classes of insecticides and emerging viruses, authors of a study just published in the journal PeerJ have called for new global policies of "proactive prevention" rather than trying to mitigate risks after they've emerged.

"We are increasingly adopting practices that damage these species," said the study's lead author, Professor Mark Brown from Royal Holloway University of London.

"Then, we rather absurdly look to mitigate their loss, rather than prevent it in the first place."
Brown called this an expensive and "back-to-front solution" for a problem that had consequences for our well-being.

"Most research focuses on the battles already being fought, not on the war to come."

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

We're trashing the oceans - and they're making us sick

Six years ago, in a bracing 18-minute TED talk, coral reef scientist Jeremy Jackson laid out "how we wrecked the ocean".

In the talk, he detailed not only how overfishing, global warming, and various forms of pollution are damaging ocean ecosystems - but also, strikingly, how these human-driven injuries can be harmful to those who live on land.

Toxic algal blooms, for instance, can actually damage air quality near the coast. "The coast, in
 stead of being paradise, is harmful to your health," he said.

There was a recent striking example of this off the coast of Florida, when a toxic bloom that began in Lake Okeechobee - fanned by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution - spread to Florida's coast after flows from the swollen lake were released to keep water levels down.

Now, unfortunately, new research suggests yet another example. In a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers find that Vibrio bacteria, tiny marine organisms capable of causing deadly infections in both human and also fish, are becoming more prevalent in the North Atlantic coastal region as ocean waters warm.
(We're causing that overall trend of warming, of course, by driving climate change, though there are also natural oscillations at work here.)

Indeed, human infections caused by these critters are also on the rise. The research finds these are growing at an "unprecedented rate" along the US Atlantic coast and also the coasts of Northern Europe.


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Humans pushing the planet deeper into 'ecological debt'

In just over seven months, humanity has used up a full year's allotment of natural resources such as water, food and clean air - the quickest rate yet, according to a new report.

The point of "overshoot" will officially be reached on Monday, said environmental group Global Footprint Network - five days earlier than last year.

"We continue to grow our ecological debt," said Pascal Canfin of green group WWF, reacting to the annual update. "From Monday, August 8, we will be living on credit because in eight months we would have consumed the natural capital that our planet can renew in a year."

The gloomy milestone is marked every year on what is known as Earth Overshoot Day. In 1993, the day fell on October 21, in 2003 on September 22 and last year on August 13. In 1961, according to the network, humankind used only about three-quarters of Earth's annual resource allotment. By the 1970s, economic and population growth sent Earth into annual overshoot.

"This is possible because we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our oceans and forests can absorb, and we deplete fisheries and harvest forests more quickly than they can reproduce and regrow," the network said.

To calculate the date for Earth Overshoot Day, the group crunches United Nations data on thousands of economic sectors such as fisheries, forestry, transport and energy production.
Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions, it said, are now the fastest-growing contributor to ecological overshoot, making up 60 per cent of humanity's demands on nature - what is called the ecological "footprint".

Friday, 5 August 2016

Climate report confirms 2015 hit record highs on global heat, green house gasses and sea levels

Warning from scientists after studies show 2015 set range of records.
  Global heat, greenhouse gases and sea levels all climbed to record highs last year, making 2015 the worst in modern times across a range of key environmental indicators, international scientists said yesterday.
A dire picture of the Earth's health is painted in the State of the Climate report, a peer-reviewed 300-page tome that comes out once a year and is compiled by 450 scientists from around the world.
The record heat that the planet experienced last year was driven partially by global warming, and was exacerbated by the ocean-heating trend known as El Nino, it said.
El Nino, which ended last month, was one of the strongest the Earth had seen "since at least 1950", said the report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centres for Environmental Information.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Dr Jarrod Gilbert: Climate change deniers dangerously wrong

Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions. He is an award-winning writer who specialises in research with practical applications.
There is no greater crime being perpetuated on future generations than that committed by those who deny climate change. The scientific consensus is so overwhelming that to argue against it is to perpetuate a dangerous fraud. Denial has become a yardstick by which intelligence can be tested. The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool.

Since the 1960s, it has been known that heat-trapping gasses were increasing in the earth's atmosphere, but no one knew to what effect. In 1979, a study found "no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible". Since then scientists have been seeking to prove it, and the results are in.

Meta studies show that 97 per cent of published climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that it is caused by human activities. The American Association for the Advancement of Science compared it to the consensus linking smoking to cancer. The debate is over, yet doubt continues.
For decades, arguments denying the harms caused by smoking were made. A tobacco executive once said: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy."

Such doubts can be highly effective, particularly if they allow people to support agendas that are politically or economically useful to them.

One person who has managed to successfully merge expert and popular opinions is English physicist Professor Brian Cox, whose books and television programmes explain complex scientific phenomena in highly accessible ways. He recently said that ignoring best evidence and turning against experts is "the road back to the cave".

Monday, 1 August 2016

How we can out-sniff a kiwi-killing predator

Researchers have happened upon a clever new way to fool a notorious kiwi-killing predator - by using its own sense of smell against it.

Experiments by Auckland University and Landcare Research have revealed that stoats, the major killer of young kiwi chicks in the wild, are attracted to the smell of their two biggest enemies, cats and ferrets, raising the possibility of using their scent as a lure for traps.

It was a finding that surprised university doctoral student Patrick Garvey, who was expecting the stoats to be scared away by the smell of the larger predators, instead of being drawn to them.

This was because an earlier study he led had found captive wild stoats to be scared when cats or ferrets were near.

In the new study, food was placed in two locations where the scent of cats or ferrets was absent, and also in another area where scent was present.

Garvey found that in the area that smelled of predators, the food was actually eaten faster.
Despite the baffling finding, he felt the research represented an untapped area of predator control, effectively using mammals' tendencies to hunt by smell against them.

The ability of stoats and many other mammals to "eavesdrop" on the olfactory communication system of larger predators could be the beginning of the search to develop odour-based lures in pest trapping operations, he said.