Saturday, 31 December 2016

Record rainfall closes Australia's Uluru national park

A record amount of rainfall in Australia has closed its famous national park at Uluru in what meteorologists described as a "twice a century" weather event.

Waterfalls have formed all over the park's huge sandstone landmark, which is also known as Ayers Rock and is among Australia's top tourist attractions in the Northern Territory.

"There's a lot of water coming off the rock and what that does is just channels across the ring road around Uluru," said park ranger Mike Misso.

"Some of those roads there were flooded by about 300-400mm of rain. Quite spectacular but very hazardous road conditions."

Rangers were forced to close the park at 9am on Boxing Day due to flooded roads and a risk of car accidents.

The heavy rain also led to flash flooding in the nearby town of Kintore, which saw 25 houses flooded and forced dozens to evacuate the area.

"There's a significant number of houses that have been affected by flooding in some capacity," Acting Superintendent Pauline Vicary told ABC News.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

World first solar panel roadway opens in French town

It may be situated in a small French village that doesn't see that much sun, but the Normandy town of Tourouvre has opened the world's first solar roadway, bringing the hugely popular idea into reality.

The notion of paving roadways with solar panels to meet our energy needs is very appealing, but for the longest time it has remained largely a theoretical one.
The newly launched French roadway is just one kilometre long but that works out to be 2800 square metres of photovoltaic cells - enough, theoretically, to power the village's street lights.

The resin-coated solar panels were hooked up to the local power grid just in time for Christmas as France's Environment Minister Segolene Royal looked on last week.

"This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use ... to produce electricity without taking up new real estate," she said in a statement.

The one kilometre road is set to pave the way for to construction of much bigger solar highways in the future.

The minister announced a four-year "plan for the national deployment of solar highways" with initial projects in western Brittany and southern Marseille.

The idea, which is also under exploration in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, is that roadways are occupied by cars only around 20 per cent of the time, providing vast expanses of surface to soak up the sun's rays.

The simple idea bestowes and secondary - and equally important - purpose for roads by allowing them to double as an energy source.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Killer whale found dead off Canada part of endangered population


Killer whale found dead off Canada part of endangered population

Scientists say an orca found dead off the coast of British Columbia belongs to the endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters.

Center for Whale Research scientist Ken Balcomb said yesterday that he and others have confirmed the whale was an 18-year-old male called J-34. They based the identification on photographs and its unique markings.

The orca was seen floating near the shore Tuesday near Sechelt, about 40 miles northwest of Vancouver.

The whale was towed to a beach, and Canadian officials performed a necropsy on Wednesday. The centre is awaiting those results for a cause of death.

Balcomb said in a statement that at least four members of the J pod, one of three families of southern resident killer whales, have died this year. The pod now stands at 25 members. K pod has 19 members and L pod has 35.

He said the killer whales have not been getting enough salmon - their chief food source - for years. He said policymakers should be considering stricter salmon catch limits and strategic dam removals to improve wild salmon populations.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

Huge hole in the ocean floor near Australia could cause catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis A tear in the sea floor 7km deep just north of Australia could cause disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis.

A tear in the sea floor 7km deep just north of Australia could cause disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis.

The tear in the Earth's crust is in the Banda Sea, near Indonesia, and measures about 60,000sq km - roughly the size of Tasmania.

Geologists have now discovered the tear is one of the biggest faults on the planet and is running through the Ring of Fire, an area in the Pacific Ocean where a huge number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

According to the United States Geological Survey, 90 per cent of the world's earthquakes and 81 per cent of the world's worst earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.

The ring extends from New Zealand, around the top of Australia and past Indonesia. It curls around Japan and down the West Coast of the United States before ending at the bottom of South America.
Just last month it became even more evident how dangerous the Ring of Fire could be.

On November 14 Kaikoura was struck by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that casued widespread damage and killed two people.

On November 22, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 shook the Japanese coast of Fukushima prefecture and tsunami waves followed not long after.

This month, 84,000 people were left homeless after an 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck western Indonesia. The earthquake killed more than 100 people.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Humans have now sliced up the Earth's wilderness into 600,000 little pieces

Scientists yesterday provided a global quantification of one of the most pervasive, but least recognised, ways that humans are marring the coherence of the natural world - by building endless numbers of roads.

Roads fragment natural habitats, and the more of them there are, the smaller and more compromised those habitats become. At the same time, roads give humans access to remote, once pristine regions, where they can begin logging, mining, accidentally (or intentionally) starting fires and much else.

In the Amazon rain forest, for instance, the fragmentation of the landscape that occurs because of deforestation - to which roads also contribute - upends the entire nature of the ecosystem. Once sunlight can penetrate into the rain forest from a cleared area to its side, rather than being mostly blocked out by the lush canopy from above, the forest floor dries out, the forest itself heats up, trees collapse more easily, there isn't enough range for many key species, and on and on.

The new study, published in the journal Science by a team of 10 conservation scientists at institutions in Germany, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the United States, used an open-source, citizen science database of global roads. The researchers then combined this with an assessment from the research literature of the size of areas alongside roads that are compromised ecologically by them. This allowed them to count up the world's remaining truly untrammeled areas and assess their number and size.

They defined these areas as starting 1 kilometre away from any road. "There are some effects that go far beyond 1km actually. It's a gradient of course, of impacts fading out, but the majority of problems is occurring in this belt or buffer of 1 kilometre," said Pierre Ibisch, the study's first author and a researcher at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development in Germany.

Using this metric, the study found that the Earth's land areas (excluding Antarctica and Greenland) were 80 percent roadless, which may sound like a good thing - but peering in closer, the researchers found that roads had divided that land area into some 600,000 pieces. More than half of these were less than a square kilometre in area.

Only 7 per cent of the fragments were very large - more than 100 square kilometres in area. Some of the largest untrammeled areas were in the Amazon rain forest, northern or boreal forests, and in Africa.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Warming at the top of the world has gone into overdrive

Warming at the top of the world is happening twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and extending unnatural heating into the northern autumn and winter, according to a new US federal report.

In its annual Arctic Report Card , the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today tallied record after record of high temperatures, low sea ice, shrinking ice sheets and glaciers.

Study lead author Jeremy Mathis, NOAA's Arctic research chief, said it shows long-term Arctic warming trends deepening and becoming more obvious, with a disturbing creep into seasons beyond summer, when the Arctic usually rebuilds snow and ice.

Scientists have long said man-made climate change would hit the Arctic fastest.
Mathis and others said the data is showing that is what's now happening.

"Personally, I would have to say that this last year has been the most extreme year for the Arctic that I have ever seen," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn't part of the 106-page report. "It's crazy."

NOAA's peer-reviewed report said air temperatures over the Arctic from October 2015 to September 2016 were "by far the highest in the observational record beginning in 1900." The average Arctic air temperature at that time was 2C warmer than the 1981-2010 average.

It's 3.5C warmer than 1900.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

New focus for ice-shelf fears in East Antarctica

East Antarctica's massive ice sheet may be more exposed to global warming than long assumed, according to a study yesterday that shows how strong winds can erode ice shelves that help hold it in place.

There is enough frozen water sitting on top of the world's polar continent to raise sea level by dozens of metres and redraw the world map if it melts.

But understanding the dynamics of the region - which includes the much smaller West Antarctica ice sheet - has proven difficult.

Up to now, scientists have focused on the threat of West Antarctica.

Recent studies have suggested that climate change may already have condemned large chunks of its ice sheet to disintegration, whether on a time scale of centuries or millennia.

In contrast, ice covering East Antarctica was seen as far more stable, even gaining mass.

The floating, cliff-like ice shelves straddling land and ocean that prevent inland ice from slipping into the sea, it was thought, were solidly anchored.

That remains largely true. But a mysterious crater on the King Baudoin ice shelf, due south from the tip of Africa, prompted a team of researchers from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to challenge that assumption.

"Our research has shown that East Antarctica is also vulnerable to climate change," said Jan Lenaerts, lead author of the study and a researcher at Utrech

Thursday, 15 December 2016

This stunning Antarctic lake is buried in ice. And that could be bad news

Atop the ice sheet covering the Arctic island of Greenland, you now see dramatic melting in the summer. It forms lakes, rivers and even dangerous "moulins" in the ice where rivers suddenly plunge into the thick ice sheet, carrying water deep below.

East Antarctica is supposed to be different. It is extremely remote and cold. It doesn't see such warm temperatures in the summer - yet - and so its ice tends to remain more pristine.

"Many people refer to East Antarctica as being too cold for significant melt," says Jan Lenaerts, a glaciologist with the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

"I mean there's marginal melt in summer, but there's not a lot."

That's the common wisdom, at least, but it is challenged in a new study in Nature Climate Change, by Lenaerts and his colleagues from universities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. They do so based on research they conducted atop the very large Roi Baudouin ice shelf in East Antarctica, which floats atop the ocean, and where they found a very Greenland-like situation in early 2016.

The researchers had traveled to investigate what had been described as a nearly 2-mile-wide "crater" in the shelf, glimpsed by satellite, which some sources believed had been caused by a meteorite. To the contrary, they found that it was a large, 10 foot deep, icy lake bed. In its center, meanwhile, were multiple rivers and three moulins that carried water deep down into the floating ice shelf.

And even this, perhaps, was not the most dramatic finding. The researchers also drilled through the ice and found what they called "englacial" lakes, sandwiched between the surface of the ice shelf and its base, which is in contact with the ocean beneath it. They found 55 lakes in total on or in the ice shelf, and a number of them were in this buried, englacial format.

This meant that the ice shelf is anything but solid - it had many large pockets of weakness throughout its structure, suggesting a greater potential vulnerability to collapse through a process called "hydrofracturing," especially if lake formation continues or increases. That's bad news because when ice shelves fall apart, the glacial ice behind them flows more rapidly to the ocean, raising sea levels.
But why was all this happening, and here?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reindeer becoming smaller because of global warming, study says

Reindeer are shrinking on an Arctic island near the North Pole in a side-effect of climate change that has curbed winter food for the animals.

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, has fallen to 48kg from 55kg in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life as temperatures rise, experts say.

"Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough," Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland who led the study with Norwegian researchers, said.

Less chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food.

Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young. In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn - a pregnancy lasts about seven months.

Friday, 9 December 2016

There could be just two years left before the North Pole disappears

My 6-year-old asked me about Santa the other day. Luckily, it wasn't the moment where his innocence is shattered forever.

Instead, he was wondering how Santa was going, preparing for his annual voyage around the world, dispensing plastic junk from China to all the world's least-needy kids. (I added the last part, but you get the drift).

I painted the picture that my parents had passed on to me. I explained to him how the night is slowly descending across the North Pole at the moment, and by the time Santa sets off on his sleigh across the ice on Christmas Eve, it will be shrouded in continuous darkness, lit only by his Christmas candles, and one shiny red nose.

My son is very interested in fashion, and so we talked at length about Santa's warm red jacket. The sad thing that I didn't have the heart to tell my son is that, at the moment, Santa's big red jacket is probably too warm for Santa himself, even at the North Pole.
Santa is a fantasy but climate change is not, and it's started to do truly alarming things to the North Pole.

Over the past few weeks the temperature of the North Pole has been 22 degrees hotter than the average temperature for this time of year. That's not a typo. It's not 2.2 degrees hotter. It's 22 degrees Celsius hotter.

The reason it's such a huge difference is because even though night is now falling, the temperature around the poles is still getting hotter rather than colder. That's never happened before. What it means is that the gap between average temperature and this year's temperature is getting wider and wider by the day.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Dead Zone' threat to fisheries in the Indian Ocean

A huge, mysterious 'dead zone' - 60,000 sq km devoid of oxygen and life - has been discovered in the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia.

Such zones have already been found off the coasts of North and South America, western Africa and the Arabian Sea.

But this is the first time one has been found encroaching into South-East Asia.

A study published in the science journal Nature Geoscience reveals a new 'dead zone' appears to be emerging in the Bay of Bengal, in waters extending from 100m to 400m in depth.

Dead zones are normally associated with a lack of oxygen and concentrations of microbes stripping the vital nutrient nitrogen out of the water.

In the case of the Bay of Bengal, no such nitrogen loss has yet been detecte
And traces of oxygen have been found - at levels 10,000 times lower than normal air-saturated surface waters.

While this is less than is needed to support most life, it also impedes nitrogen-harvesting microbes.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Life on the ice: A glimpse of Antarctica

A field training instructor at Antarctica New Zealand's Scott Base has shared a video offering an insight into life on the frozen continent. 

Matt Windsor says his job generally involves providing training for scientists and providing safety support for their projects in the field.

His video chronicles an early summer trip to Granite Harbour, in which his job was to choose a route across the ice and identify and measure the cracks.

But in his downtime there was some fun to be had: his Antarctic leisure activities include kite skiing and snowmobiling.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

No, climate change won't kill us this decade

Guy McPherson, retired professor of conservation biology from the University of Arizona, has been on a speaking tour of New Zealand this month peddling a bleak message: we're going to push the planet's climate system over the edge and we've only got a decade to live.
A prominent New Zealand climate scientist sees no basis for that claim and says such alarmism, which has already generated a slew of scary headlines, is counter-productive to the crucial effort of combating the worst potential effects of climate change while we still can.

Science reporter Jamie Morton talked to James Renwick, a professor of physical geography at Victoria University of Wellington who served as a lead author on the last two IPCC reports and recently co-hosted a Royal Society of New Zealand-sponsored series of public talks on climate change.

What do you make of his claims? Is he misrepresenting climate science?

Misrepresenting - I'm not sure if that's quite the right word.
I've read stuff on his website and I've had a look at some of the papers that he's written and a lot of what he says is quite right and mainstream.

Where we seem to part company is this idea that [humans will be wiped out] in the next 10 years.