Friday, 21 July 2017

When the world's glaciers shrunk, New Zealand's grew bigger


The question has puzzled scientists: when the world's glaciers were retreating, why were New Zealand's glaciers getting bigger?\

New research from a group of New Zealand scientists may have solved the mystery, but it's not good news; New Zealand's glaciers are now likely to continue melting at a dramatic rate.
Between 1983 and 2008, when the vast majority of the world's glaciers were shrinking in a warming world, at least 58 New Zealand glaciers grew bigger.

The Southern Alps was one of a handful of areas internationally where glaciers were growing – In 2005, 15 of the 26 advancing glaciers worldwide were in New Zealand.

In that time, Franz Josef Glacier regained nearly half the mass it had lost during the 20th century.
The unusual period of advance came after several decades or rapid decline, which for many glaciers has resumed since 2008.

Many of the country's largest glaciers have retreated substantially since 2011 with several on track to disappear entirely.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89403443/When-the-worlds-glaciers-shrunk-New-Zealands-grew-biggerhttp://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89403443/When-the-worlds-glaciers-shrunk-New-Zealands-grew-bigger.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89403443/When-the-worlds-glaciers-shrunk-New-Zealands-grew-bigger

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

There's a pressing need to value eco-friendly wool

OPINION

 Eco-friendl, sustainable and good for the environment are all well-worn admirable sentiments. Aspirations we should all be aiming towards.

But sometimes the interpretation can be interesting and somewhat biased. A garment is termed eco-friendly when made out of recycled plastic bottles.

The garment might be a product of clever manufacturing and it's a good idea to keep these bottles out of rubbish dumps, but it conveniently overlooks the fact that plastic is a synthetic product made from crude oil . And we are all well aware that extracting fossil fuels is certainly not a sustainable practise.
In addition there is the huge issue of microfibres shed when synthetic materials are washed. The estimate of 1.7 grams of microfibre lost off every garment in every wash doubles for older fabrics.
 
This pollution enters waterways, lakes, oceans and shorelines and also into fish and shellfish along the food chain.

Considering the amount of synthetic clothes washed every day, this is serious and not fixable by simply fencing waterways.

There is a choice of action. Either try to isolate the problem using anti-shed treatments, filters, nets or even waterless washing machines, or eliminate the problem by no longer using unsustainable, environmentally unfriendly fabrics and instead find alternatives.

We already have a wonderful natural product readily available. It can be used to create clothing, blankets, carpets, mats and furniture upholstery. Because of its amazing properties it is also used for making piano dampers, the fuzz on the outside of tennis balls, the stuffing inside baseballs and, ironically, even absorbent pads to mop up those eco-damaging oil spills.

Resistance to fire is a major advantage and it doesn't drip or melt, which gives a huge safety factor superior to synthetics. Any fibres shed are totally biodegradable so no pollution is washed into waterways
 
The unsung hero is, of course, a great product we grow efficiently in New Zealand, exporting about 84,000 tonnes last year. Whoopee for wonderful, warm wool.

The best action any enthusiastic environmentalist could do for sustainability is to proudly promote wool. As the "green movement " is sensibly returning to basic values like making compost, eating home-grown vegetables, upcycling clothing, using less chemical cleaners and being more aware of our footprint, it is high time we championed wool again, as our grandparents did.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/rural-women/94799701/pressing-need-to-value-ecofriendly-wool

Thursday, 13 July 2017

One trillion tonne iceberg breaks off from Antarctica


A one trillion tonne iceberg has broken off from an Antarctic ice shelf, changing the shape of the Antarctic Peninsula forever.

The much-anticipated calving from the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduces its area by more than 12 per cent, though the 5800 square km iceberg won't have an impact on sea levels as it was already floating before completely breaking away.

Researchers have previously shown the rift could increase the risk of instability leading to the wider ice shelf's collapse - a fate which befell its neighbour Larsen B, seven years after it experienced its own calving event in 1995.

A section of an iceberg - about 6000 sq km - broke away as part of the natural cycle of iceberg calving off the Larsen-C ice shelf in Antarctica in this satellite image released by the European Space Agency on July 12, 2017.

Believed to size up among the top ten on record (it is roughly 6000sqkm, siz times the size of Auckland city), the iceberg separated from Larsen C sometime between July 10 and July 12 - the event detected and confirmed separately by two Nasa satellites.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/94676841

Sunday, 9 July 2017

China builds a 100-hectare solar farm shaped like a giant panda


A new solar power plant in Datong, China, decided to have a little fun with its design.
China Merchants New Energy Group, one of the country's largest clean energy operators, built a 248-acre solar farm in the shape of a giant panda.

The first phase, which includes one 50-megawatt plant, was completed on June 30, according to PV magazine. The project just began delivering power to a grid in northwestern China, and a second panda is planned for later this year.

Called the Panda Power Plant, it will be able to produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy in 25 years, according to the company. That will eliminate approximately one million tonnes of coal that would have been used to produce electricity, reducing carbon emissions by 2.74 million tonnes.

China Merchants New Energy Group worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to make the Panda Power Plant a reality. The project is part of a larger effort to raise awareness among young people in China about clean energy, the UNDP wrote in a statement.

The groups hope to build more panda-shaped solar plants throughout China in the next five years.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Third of turtles found dead on New Zealand beaches had ingested plastic



A third of turtles found dead on New Zealand beaches have swallowed plastic, an expert says, and single-use shopping bags are the most common culprit.

Dan Godoy, of Massey University's Coastal-Marine Research Group, said the turtles' intestinal tract got blocked when they mistook soft plastics for jellyfish, resulting in "horrific" deaths.
"They can't digest food, and they basically slowly die," Godoy said.
\
Dan Godoy, of Massey University's Coastal-Marine Research Group, said 30 per cent of stranded turtles had plastic in their stomachs.
"In the turtles that I've looked at, and [from] other studies around the world, it's the soft, white, and translucent plastics items – so plastic bags particularly – that are consumed in a higher proportion than other items."

The Government has been facing mounting pressure from local bodies, environmental groups, and schoolchildren to take action against the more than a billion plastic bags Kiwis discard annually. So far there's been no real movement on the problem.

Some of the samples of plastic found in turtles stomachs.
, and said of those with plastic in their stomachs, about half had died as a direct result.

He has seen instances where hard plastic had punctured the intestines and fishing line had cut through the intestinal wall, resulting in a horrific death for the reptile.

"Marine turtles aren't the only ones, we are seeing this in a huge range of species – seabirds, even whales," he said.

Up to half of turtles found to have eaten plastic died directly as a result.
On one occasion he was able to tell by the label that the plastic wrapping had come from Lower Hutt.​
\\
https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/94277174/third-of-turtles-found-dead-on-new-zealand-beaches-had-ingested-plastic

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Meet Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino


There is a small dusty patch of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya that is marked by 18 rocky headstones. On a plaque bolted to each is the name of a rhino that has been killed by poachers.

Nearby, past watch towers manned 24 hours a day by armed guards, stands - or, these days, more often sits - a mammoth two-ton herbivore munching the grass. He is Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino, and quite possibly the most famous animal on the planet.

Sudan is now 43 (or 100 in rhino years) and it is feared only has months left to live. As the last male of his species, he receives 40,000 visitors a year from all over the globe, Elizabeth Hurley and Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly among them.

Sudan is also a star of Instagram and boasts his own hashtag #lastmalestanding as well as a Tinder account, where he is described as the "most eligible bachelor in the world" and, inevitably, "horny". Such is the interest in him that competing film crews are restricted to one visit a day.

Award-winning filmmaker Rowan Deacon is the latest to tell his story. In a new BBC documentary, Sudan: The Last of the Rhinos, Deacon has pieced together Sudan's fascinating life.

After being born in the wild in South Sudan, he was captured by animal trappers employed by England's Chipperfield Circus and sold to a zoo in the then-communist Czechoslovakia, before finally being shipped back to Africa in a desperate attempt to make him breed.

Even now, as Sudan sees out his last days in Kenya, scientists in Berlin are attempting novel forms of rhino IVF with his sperm. When the inevitable moment arrives, a pre-written obituary is waiting to be sent out to newsdesks around the world.

Rhinos have been on this earth for 50 million years and it is not some quirk of evolution that has caused the demise of this magnificent species, but us, humans.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/africa/94069722/meet-sudan-the-last-surviving-male-northern-white-rhino

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Seafloor scans reveal what lurks beneath the surface of the Marlborough Sounds


Scans of Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel have wrapped up after eight months on the water.
Eight months, 30 terabytes and 40,000 hectares later, a state-of-the-art scanning project of the Marlborough Sounds seabed has wrapped up.

The scans of Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel will create three-dimensional maps of the depths below, and mark the first significant update to boat charts since 1942.

The joint project between Marlborough District Council, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) began in October last year.

Niwa national projects manager Dr Helen Neil said the Sounds had thrown up some challenges for the hydrographic and scientific survey.
 
"Successful work was carried out in a challenging marine environment, the palette of the Sounds changed each day with sunshine, fog and occasionally those windy bumpy seas," she said.

About 30 terabytes of information from the scans will be transformed into free charts for skippers.

"It has been a privilege to work within one of New Zealand's natural treasures, unlocking nature's secrets and working with a community that is passionate about the environment."

Multi-beam technology was used to map the seabed and capture water column features.

Scientists described the process as similar to "mowing the lawn" - where they proceeded up and back to scan each strip of the ocean floor.
.
The results would offer a data-rich snapshot of the sea floor to determine habitats, identify seeps and plumes and detect fish shoals and kelp beds.

The team from Niwa spent about 2800 hours on the water to finish the job, Neil said.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/93926578/seafloor-scans-reveal-what-lurks-beneath-the-surface-of-the-marlborough-sounds

Friday, 23 June 2017

Scientists rescue samples of melting Bolivian glacier before it disappears


A team of international scientists are transporting samples of ice from a melting glacier in Bolivia to Antarctica, for study and preservation before the glacier disappears.

The international "Ice Memory" expedition of 15 scientists took samples from the glacier on Mount Illimani in the Andes and will store them in Antarctica at the French-Italian base of Concordia.

The scientists were helped by local guides and porters, who live near the base of Illimani. Clearly visible from Bolivia's capital La Paz, Illimani's "eternal snows" are frequently referenced in the music, mythology and literature of the Aymara people.

But scientists say global warming is rapidly melting the glaciers of the Andes, removing an important source of fresh water for many communities and threatening others with deadly avalanches.

Illimani itself has warmed by 0.7 degree Centigrade in the last 18 years, said Ice Memory glaciologist Patrick Ginot.

The team dug over 130 meters (430 ft) into the glacier to remove 75 ice samples, which they say yield some 18,000 years of climatic history.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/93953920/scientists-rescue-samples-of-melting-bolivian-glacier-before-it-disappears

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

No, the Black Sea isn't black, but it's not normally this turquoise either

The Black Sea has turned a striking shade of turquoise.

A natural phenomenon called a "phytoplankton bloom'' has turned the normally dark waters of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn near Istanbul into an opaque tone of light blue.

It's caused by microscopic organisms that have inundated the Black Sea just north of Turkey's largest city.

The Black Sea's turned turquoise in a show that can be seen from space.
It's so bright, it can be seen from space.

The aquatic artwork appears every summer, but this year's bloom is one of the brightest since 2012, The New York Times reported citing Norman Kuring, a NASA scientist.
 
Microscopic organisms have inundated the Black Sea just north of Turkey's largest city.

Berat Haznedaroglu, an environmental engineer, says it's a normal annual event.

"This year we got a lot of rain events that carried nutrients from the Saharan desert to the Black Sea, which created an optimal environment for this phytoplankton to bloom,'' said Haznedaroglu, who works at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Istanbul's public Bogazici University.

In a statement published with a satellite image of the Black Sea, NASA said the milky coloration is "likely due to the growth of a particular phytoplankton called a coccolithophore.''

 http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/93851205/no-the-black-sea-isnt-black-but-its-not-normally-this-turquoise-either

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Trev and Shirl are just a couple of lovebirds on the run


Trev and Shirl are two lovers on the run from scientists who want study their DNA. 

The pair are making their bid for freedom in the thick bush of the Purangi Kiwi sanctuary in eastern Taranaki

The two kiwis have so far evaded three human attempts to capture them and for now they are safe from further efforts to bring them in.  

Searchers are trying to get to Shirl, right, through her transmitting lover Trev.
"At the moment its Shirl 3, and humans nil," said  Purangi Kiwi chair Karen Schumacher.
 
The fear is if they make an attempt to find the pair again in the next couple of weeks the radio-transmitter wearing Trev will get fed up and "divorce" Shirl, thereby making Shirl all but impossible to find. 

Only male kiwis wear transmitters because they are the ones that sit on the eggs and so they are usually the ones that need to be found.

The trouble for the pair began during an annual health check when a photo was taken of Trev and the lightly coloured Shirl and sent to the Department of Conservation for assessment. 

The loved-up kiwis were then let go into the bush again.

The problem was DOC then put out an urgent call to get Shirl back because the bird might have the rare DNA of the little spotted kiwi that has been extinct from the mainland for close to 40 years. 

About 1600 little spotted kiwi exist, mostly in island sanctuaries around the country. 

"Shirl's genetics are very important for all of New Zealand." Schumacher said.

There was even a possibility Shirl could also be a new species.

"Unfortunately, Trev's done a runner, and while the searchers managed to get within 20 metres of him he then vanished." Schumacher said. 

Kiwi are highly territorial and it is likely Trev and Shirl are hanging around their burrow, Schumacher said. 

However steep cliffs and bluffs in the area mean if the pair don't want to be found, it's nearly impossible to get close. 

Schumacher said the hunt for Shirl, through Trev, would continue at a later date.

Shirl was a rare discovery, she said, and the team would not give up on her.
"We are hoping that if we can track him in a burrow, she will be there. Hopefully.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/93692519/trev-and-shirl-are-just-a-couple-of-lovebirds-on-the-run

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Remote, uninhabituth Pacific island becomes a plastic wasteland

video
When researchers travelled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches.

Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and colour.\


The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island's extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia's University of Tasmania, was lead author of the report, which was published on Tuesday in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.

"The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming," Lavers told The Associated Press. "It's both beautiful and terrifying."

She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerised by the variety and colours of the plastic that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.

Lavers and six others stayed on the island for 3 1/2 months in 2015 while conducting the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tonnes and that more than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.

Lavers said she noticed green toy soldiers that looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s, as well as red motels from the Monopoly board game.

She said the most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. One of the strangest was a baby pacifier.

She said they found a sea turtle that had died after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab that was living in a cosmetics container.

By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island, which is about 10 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide.


Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.
Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, when she showed up three days late, and she still got married.

Lavers said she is so appalled by the amount of plastic in the oceans that she has taken to using a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush.

"We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic," she said. "It's something that's designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away."

Melissa Bowen, an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, said that winds and currents in the gyre cause the buildup of plastic items on places like Henderson Island.

"As we get more and more of these types of studies, it is bringing home the reality of plastic in the oceans," Bowen said.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/south-pacific/92663471/remote-uninhabited-south-pacific-island-becomes-a-plastic-wasteland

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Scientists to eavesdrop on Maui dolphins while seeking answers on their habits


Scientists are set to eavesdrop on the critically endangered Maui dolphin, as part of a year-long, Niwa-led project.

Latest estimates put the Maui dolphin population between 57 and 65 so scientists want to find out more about them in an effort to improve their chances of survival.

Maui dolphins are only found on the west coast of the North Island, with the greatest concentration between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato.

While they are known to congregate close to shore in water less than 20 metres deep, it is uncertain how far offshore they travel and what risks they might face in doing so.
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As part of a collaborative project between the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the University of Auckland, Niwa marine ecologists Dr Kim Goetz and Dr Krista Hupman are this month deploying a line of up to nine offshore acoustic moorings stretching from the shoreline to 12m offshore just south of Manukau Harbour.

Each mooring will carry two acoustic devices.

A cetacean and porpoise detector (CPOD) will record detections of the high frequency "clicks" the dolphins produce to hunt prey and navigate.
 
The second device, a soundtrap, will record a subset of both clicks and whistles.

Goetz said the first step was to establish how far offshore they can be detected.

"Acoustic monitoring provides a reliable way to detect the presence of marine mammals over a long time period," she said.

"In terms of Maui dolphins, we really know very little about their seasonal movements, offshore distribution, and ultimately why they appear to be confined to this area.

"They are an endangered animal so anything we can contribute to increasing our knowledge will be very useful."

A photographic survey of Maui dolphins takes place annually, where distinguishing marks and scars are correlated with known animals.

In addition, mark-recapture biopsy surveys to estimate the number of dolphins is conducted across two years, every five years.

The last one was completed in 2016 so the next one will begin in 2020.

While this provided a valuable snapshot at a given time, Goetz said the acoustic survey would add to this data by providing information collected over an entire year.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11871344

Monday, 5 June 2017

Man-made chemicals are destroying marine life of Great Barrier Reef


Chemicals from human cosmetics and drugs have been found in the blood of turtles living in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Green turtles were found to have hundreds of thousands of different chemicals in their blood stream, which had caused the animals to suffer from liver dysfunction.

Scientists said the discovery highlighted the devastating impact of man-made matter on marine life.
Medications for the heart (milrinone) and gout (allopurinol), as well as cosmetic and industrial chemicals, were among substances detected in the reptiles' bloodstream as part of an ongoing conservation project, reports Daily Mail.

Green turtles are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Scientists said exposure to the substances had caused side effects in the turtles, with indications of inflammation and liver dysfunction.

"Humans are putting a lot of chemicals into the environment and we don't always know what they are and what effect they are having," said Amy Heffernan of the University of Queensland.

"What you put down your sink, spray on your farms, or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef."

Researchers tested turtles at Cleveland Bay and Upstart Bay along the Queensland coast, as well as the more remote Howicks islands in the reef's north as part of the 'Rivers to Reef to Turtles' project led by WWF-Australia.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11869032

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A natural born killer


The weasel is the smallest member of the mustelids (ferrets, stoats, otters) and the world's smallest carnivore. It was introduced into New Zealand in 1885, to help reduce rabbit numbers, along with ferrets and stoats, but, although released in greater numbers, did not thrive.

The government changed its release policy in 1903 but it was too late. It was not until 1936 that legal protection was removed.

Weasels are found worldwide except for Antarctica and Australia. They inhabit a wide range of environments, from pastoral land and scrub to exotic forest and bush margins. They are great predators of mice but also prey on native birds, eggs, lizards, insects and frogs. They are efficient hunters, and will kill even when their belly is full.

Their slender shape and short legs allow them, uniquely, to enter the burrows of prey where they corner their victim, wrap themselves around the prey to immobilise it and then bite the back of the neck to kill. They then take over the burrow, lining it with fur and leaves to make it a den.

They hunt both day and night, mainly on the ground, but can climb. Hunts can cover 2.5km at speeds of up to 25km/h. Prey can include animals much larger than themselves, and surplus can be carried back to the den and cached for later use. Their body shape, size and metabolism mean they have a very high energy demand and need to eat one-third of their body weight in food each day.

They are known to 'hypnotise' their prey by dancing, but it is now thought this behaviour may be due to the discomfort of internal parasites.

Weasels have a deep brown-light brown body and a short brown tail. The belly is white with an irregular line where it meets the brown. Males are larger than females (150gm vs 80gm), and are 20-35cm long.

Territory size depends on food availability but can be 4-8ha. Females tend to stay within their own territory but males will roam further, especially during the breeding season. Being related to the skunk, they use scent marking, and will squirt anal sac secretions when scared.

Females have 4-6 kits per litter and can have two litters a year. Gestation is five weeks, with the kits weaned at 4-5 weeks. They are good hunters by eight weeks. Adults are solitary except at mating. Wild weasels can live up to three years but males rarely do, as their roaming makes them more susceptible to predation.

Control of weasels is generally by trapping. DoC 200 stoat traps baited with rabbit work well, and the newer Good Nature traps can be baited for mustelids too.

The collective nouns for weasels include boogle, gang, pack and confusion.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Great Barrier Reef is damaged beyond repair and can no longer be saved, say scientists


Scientists have concluded that the Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved because it is so damaged.

The plight of the reef is partly due to the "extraordinary rapidity" of climate change, according to experts.

The reef has been severely damaged by the warming of the oceans, and around 95 per cent of it suffers from bleaching, according to scientists who surveyed it in 2016.

Experts have said the ecological function of the reef should be maintained as much as possible in coming years, but that the reef itself will not be saved in its current form.

A committee of experts set up by the Australian government said the lesser target of "protecting the ecological function" of the reef is more realistic than salvaging it.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority explained what this would mean: "The concept of 'maintaining ecological function' refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today".

They said they were "united in their concern about the seriousness of the impacts facing the Reef and concluded that coral bleaching since early 2016 has changed the Reef fundamentally".

"Members agreed that, in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now.

"The planet has changed in a way that science informs us is unprecedented in human history. While that in itself may be cause for action, the extraordinary rapidity of the change we now observe makes action even more urgent."

"There is great concern about the future of the Reef, and the communities and businesses that depend on it, but hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades," their statement continued.

Because it is believed the coral bleaching is due to global warming, reducing carbon emissions is integral to the plans to maintain the ecological function of the reef.

They also said: "This needs to be coupled with increased efforts to improve the resilience of the coral and other ecosystems that form the Great Barrier Reef. The focus of efforts should be on managing the Reef to maintain the benefits that the Reef provides".

 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11866044

Saturday, 27 May 2017

How blue whales became giants of the sea



Blue whales are the most massive animals to exist in the history of animals. Dreadnoughtus and those other thundering, 60-tonne dinosaurs? Bantamweights next to one of today's 100-tonne Balaenoptera musculus.

"We truly live in an age of giants," said Nicholas D. Pyenson, an expert in the paleobiology of marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Blue whales, he said, can grow as long as three city buses parked end to end. Living blue whales would be even bigger, too, if it weren't for the sailors who killed most of the 33m, 110-tonne specimens 100 years ago.

Yet evolutionarily speaking, whales are recent leviathans. After the largest dinosaurs died off, land mammals bulked up, leading to elephant-size rhinoceroses, sloths and armadillos about 35 million years ago. The ancestors of today's giant whales, meanwhile, stayed curiously small.

"It is only since around the beginning of the so-called ice ages that whales have not just evolved to be huge, but titanic in size," Erich M.G.
 
Fitzgerald, a vertebrate paleontologist at Museum Victoria in Australia, said in an email. "Most baleen whales that ever lived were little fellows compared to their modern descendants."
 a mystery.

"It's such an obvious question," he said. "If you're an evolutionary biologist or a paleobiologist, you want to know how it came to be that way."

Relying on the extensive collection of fossil whale skulls at the Smithsonian, Pyenson and his colleagues tracked the evolution of baleen whale size. (Baleen whales lack teeth, instead using the moustache-like bristles that hang in their mouths to scoop up krill, fish and other tiny sea creatures.) 
From the skull sizes, the scientists could estimate the body lengths of about 60 species of modern and extinct whales.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11864229

Monday, 22 May 2017

Giant 19.4m wave recorded in Southern Ocean


A 19.4m wave has been detected south of New Zealand - and the company that recorded the behemoth believes monsters reaching over 20m were probably created by the same storm.

In a collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force, science-based consultancy MetOcean Solutions recently moored the high-tech instrument in the Southern Ocean off Campbell Island, nearly halfway between the South Island and Antarctica.

Persistent westerly winds and an unlimited area for waves to build combine to make Southern Ocean waves among the biggest in the world.

Yesterday, MetOcean Solutions confirmed it had picked up a 19.4m wave - close to the highest wave ever recorded, which was detected rolling through the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the UK last year.

It's expected the buoy may be ultimately register waves 25m high - the height of an eight-storey building - as it continues its real-time readings fixed in 150m of water.

But MetOcean Solutions senior oceanographer Dr Tom Durrant was nonetheless thrilled with Saturday's detection.

"This is one of the largest waves recorded in the Southern Hemisphere," he said.
"This is the world's southernmost wave buoy moored in the open ocean, and we are excited to put it to the test in large seas."

The company's managing director, Peter McComb, told the Herald that waves larger than 20m likely also occurred between the sampling times, which took place for 20 minutes every three hours.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11860343

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thanks to global warming, Antarctica is starting to turn green


Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

Amid the warming of the past 50 years, the scientists found two species of moss undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than 1mm a year, now growing more than 3mm a year on average.

"People will think of Antarctica quite rightly as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener," said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the UK and lead author of the study.

"Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human-induced climate change."

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with Cambridge University, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Durham.

Less than 1 per cent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But in parts of the peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer - when only about the first 30cm of soil thaws.

The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved because of the temperatures.

Amesbury said that made them "a record of changes over time".

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11858956

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Orcas are slaughtering sharks for their livers in precise attacks


Great white sharks are being killed in bizarre fashion off the coast of South Africa as carcasses have been found washed up with only their livers missing.

Killer whales are believed to be responsible for the strange predatory pattern, with one expert noting that the organs were removed with "surgical precision".

At least three liver-less white shark carcasses have washed up near the popular tourist town Gansbaai, South Africa, so far in an unprecedented set of killings.

Experts suggest that local killer whales have developed an appetite for squalene - an organic chemical compound found in abundance in shark liver oil.

"Obviously this is a very sad time for us all," Alison Towner, a biologist with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, wrote in a Facebook post after the third carcass was discovered near Gansbaai.

"Nature can be so cruel and the dexterity these enormous animals are capable of is mind blowing... almost surgical precision as they remove the squalene-rich liver of the white sharks and dump their carcass."

Gansbaai is widely considered one of the best regions in the world for shark diving.

Sharks generate millions in tourist revenue for the town, but the killer whales' spree appears to have driven many of the sharks away.

Local shark diving tour companies have complained that their trips are coming up empty.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11855378

Monday, 15 May 2017

Climate cycles that could mean we're about to get even hotter


El Nino, and its sister La Nina, have long been one of the key drivers of Australia's weather.

But environmental scientists now suspect they could be little more than the climactic equivalents of cheeky kids at the family barbecue. Instead, a "kindly aunty" and "cranky uncle" could have a far more wide reaching effect on our climate.

With El Nino being the Spanish for "the boy" and La Nina "the girl" scientists have named these overarching systems El Tio meaning, "the uncle," and La Tia "the aunt".

And if the boy and the uncle join forces, things may be about to get hairy. At the very least, you may want to slap on some more sunscreen, reports News.com.au.

Dr Benjamin Henly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, told news.com.au a prolonged La Tia may have "lulled us into a false sense of security" that global warming had slowed when the reality is climate change could be on the verge of accelerating.

That could spell disaster for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement which aimed to keep the world's average annual temperatures to 1.5C below pre industrial levels.

The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate cycle operating in the Pacific.

A negative ENSO phase, commonly known as an El Nino, sends hotter weather to Australia and can lead to less rain, sustained droughts and weather extremes. A positive ENSO, La Nina, sees cooler conditions and more rain.

Seven out of the 10 driest Australian summers have coincided with El Nino, including 2016 which was the hottest year on record.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11855216

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Oceans are at the 'edge' of losing all oxygen


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The world's oceans close to being starved of oxygen - and even that could lead to mass sea life extinction which could last a million years.

University of Exeter scientists fear the modern ocean is 'on the edge of anoxia' - when the oceans are depleted of oxygen.

And while this dramatic drop in oceanic oxygen comes to a natural end, it takes about a million years,

Studying what happened during the Jurassic period, they found the drop in oxygen causes more organic carbon to be buried in sediment on the ocean floor.

This eventually leads to rising oxygen in the atmosphere which ultimately re-oxygenates the ocean. But it took a million years to get the balance right again.
 
Lead researcher PhD student Sarah Baker said it was now 'critical' for modern humans to limit carbon emissions to prevent this.

She said: 'Once you get into a major event like anoxia, it takes a long time for the Earth's system to rebalance.

'This shows the vital importance of limiting disruption to the carbon cycle to regulate the Earth system and keep it within habitable bounds.'

The researchers studied the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, which took place 183 million years ago.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Alaska's tundra is 'filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, worsening climate change'


Even as the Trump Administration weighs withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a new scientific paper has documented growing fluxes of greenhouse gases streaming into the air from the Alaskan tundra, a long-feared occurrence that could worsen climate change.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that frozen northern soils - often called permafrost - are unleashing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the air as they thaw in summer or subsequently fail to refreeze as they once did, particularly in late fall and early winter.

"Over a large area, we're seeing a substantial increase in the amount of CO2 that's coming out in the [autumn]," said Roisin Commane, a Harvard atmospheric scientist who is the lead author of the study. The research was published by 19 authors from a variety of institutions, including Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, based on aircraft measurements of carbon dioxide and methane and tower measurements from Barrow, Alaska, found that from 2012 to the end of 2014, the state emitted the equivalent of 220 million tonnes of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere from biological sources (the figure excludes fossil fuel burning and wildfires). That's an amount comparable to all the emissions from the US commercial sector in a single year.

The chief reason for the greater CO2 release was that as Alaska has warmed up, emissions from once frozen tundra in winter are increasing - presumably because the ground is not refreezing as quickly.
"The soils are warmer deeper, and as they freeze in the [autumn], the temperature of every soil depth has to come to zero before they hard freeze," Commane said. "The temperature has to come to zero and equilibrate, for the soils to freeze hard through. And through that whole period you have emissions because the microbe are active."

In particular, the research found that since 1975, there has been a 73.4 per cent increase in the amount of carbon lost from the Alaskan tundra in the months of October through December as the climate warmed steadily.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11852064

Friday, 5 May 2017

New crack in one of Antarctica's biggest ice shelves could mean a major break is near


Another branch has appeared in a huge crack on one of Antarctica's largest ice shelves, and scientists fear it's only a matter of time before a massive chunk -- potentially containing up to 5200sq km of ice -- breaks away. If this happens, the ice shelf may become increasingly unstable and could even fall apart.
 
Scientists have been closely monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf, located on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a large rift in the ice -- now about 180km long -- has been advancing in rapid bursts in recent years. Between the beginning of December and the middle of January alone, the crack lengthened by about 27km. And since 2011, it has grown by about 80km.

Over the past few months, scientists have noticed that the crack has stopped extending in length but has continued to widen at a rate of more than a metre a day. It's already more than 300m wide.

And now, scientists have noticed a worrying development: A new branch has split off from the main rift, about 10km below the tip of the original crack, and has splintered off in the direction of the ocean. The new branch is about 15km long. Altogether, only about 20km of ice now stands in the way of the whole chunk splitting off into the sea.

Researchers from Project Midas, a British-based Antarctic research project based at Swansea University and Aberystwyth University, observed the new crack in satellite images on May 1.
The biggest concern is not whether the chunk will break off -- that seems to be inevitable at this point -- but what will happen after it does. The break will sweep away about 10 per cent of the ice shelf's total area, and scientists have previously speculated that the shelf will become increasingly unstable after this point.

"We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was before the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event," Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, a leader at Project Midas, said in a statement.


http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11850335

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Penguin chick raised by two foster mothers


A penguin chick is being raised by two "mums" at Kelly Tarlton's aquarium in Auckland.
The aquarium fostered the chick with the two female king penguins after the chick's mother, Shaq, was abandoned by her male partner.

The two females, dubbed Thelma and Louise after a 1991 Hollywood road film, are the only same-sex couple at Kelly Tarlton's, but same-sex couples are known in other king penguin populations.

"Usually king penguins will bond with a mate. This can be male-male, female-female or male-female," said Kelly Tarlton's guest experience team leader Ebony Dwipayana.

"King penguins have to incubate their egg on their feet for 55 days, so if you think of all of that stress - you need to eat, bathe and even exercise - Shaq was not able to do it by herself as a single mum.
"Shaq unfortunately had her partner leave her, so instead of being able to swap and change every three days with her partner, she had to incubate the egg by herself.

 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/environment/news/article.cfm?c_id=39&objectid=11844319

Friday, 28 April 2017

Wasps' bedroom behaviour under microscope


Kiwi scientists have studied the bedroom behaviour of a parasitoid wasp to reveal its mating habits.
Cotesia urabae is a natural enemy of the eucalypt feeding pest Uraba lugens, an Australian moth whose larvae can cause severe damage to a range of Eucalyptus tree species.

Severe outbreaks of U. lugens have been reported in Western Australia, where more than 250,000 hectares have been affected.

Scientists say a similar outbreak in New Zealand could potentially devastate commercial plantations of Eucalyptus and cost the industry many millions of dollars.

Using a special Y-shaped olfactory tube, scientists from Plant and Food Research, B3 (Better Border Biosecurity), Scion and the University of Auckland investigated how odours emitted by both male and female wasps influenced attraction.

The tube presented the target wasp with a choice of odours emitted down the arms of the tube.

The researchers found that male wasps were overwhelmingly attracted to the odour of virgin females and not previously mated ones.

They also explored how male competition and body size affect mating outcomes.

"We discovered that mating success was more likely and the time taken for mating to commence was lower when two males were competing, as opposed to scenarios involving solitary or non-competing males," Plant and Food Research entomologist Dr Gonzalo Avila said."
 
We also found that the actual duration of mating was longer when two males had been competing for a female.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Man-made clouds could save bleached Great Barrier Reef


Scientists in Australia are examining the possibility of enlarging and brightening the clouds around the Great Barrier Reef to save it from bleaching.

Making the low-lying clouds off the north-east coast larger and more reflective could cool the waters below and help to stem the widespread coral bleaching that is occurring with growing intensity across vast swathes of the 2415km reserve.

Dr Daniel Harrison, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney, said preliminary testing indicated that cloud brightening was a "plausible" solution.

"If you're in a hot sunny day and a cloud comes across overhead, you can feel right away there's quite a lot less heat coming through," he told ABC News.

Cloud brightening was first proposed as a way to address global warming by British physicist John Latham in a short article in the journal Nature almost 30 years ago.

He proposed deploying fleets of ships to spray tiny particles of salt at low-lying clouds above the ocean. The particles would cause additional droplets to form, producing larger, denser and whiter clouds, which would reflect more heat back into space.

Australian scientists at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science believe cloud brightening could prove to be the most feasible and "environmentally benign" way to try to save the reef.

The institute has awarded a fellowship to Harrison to explore the scheme. The scientists have been meeting for the past six months to discuss the options.

"If we can make just a little bit less heat over the reef for a few months during say, an El Nino year, when it's at most risk of getting bleached, we should be able to cool the water a degree or two, which is enough to prevent most of the damage," he said.

 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11845417

Monday, 24 April 2017

'Happy wife happy life' for New Zealand robins


Male New Zealand robins have worked out a way to keep their mate happy: making sure they bring her the right food.

New research from Victoria University of Wellington shows the wild male birds read their partner's behaviour to make sure they bring her the food she wants.

Dr Rachael Shaw conducted the study on a group of North Island robins based at Wellington's Zealandia.

She said robins were monogamous and food sharing, but the mating pairs still showed an impressive level of communication.

"We found male robins appropriately catered to their mates' desire, even when the female's behaviour was the only cue available to guide their choices.

"This suggests that females can signal their current desires to their mates, enabling males to respond to that."

The researchers first investigated the female robins' eating habits, by feeding them either mealworms or waxworms.

They were then given the choice between the two types of insect larvae. The researchers found the female would pick to eat the other type on the second time around.
 
They then tested if the male would be able to choose the insect his partner would be likely to want to eat.

They found that, whether or not he'd seen what she'd eaten previously, the male still usually made the approprte choice.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/environment/news/article.cfm?c_id=39&objectid=11840914

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Decline of coral


United States government scientists have found a dramatic impact from the continuing decline of coral reefs: The sea floor around them is eroding and sinking, deepening coastal waters and exposing nearby communities to damaging waves that reefs used to weaken.

The new study, conducted by researchers with the US Geological Survey, examined reefs in Hawaii, the Florida Keys, and the US Virgin Islands, finding sea floor drops in all three locations. Near Maui, where the largest changes were observed, the researchers found that the sea floor had lost so much sand that, by volume, it would be the equivalent of 81 Empire State Buildings.

"We knew that coral reefs were degrading, but we didn't really know how much until we did this study," said USGS oceanographer Kimberly Yates, the lead study author. "We didn't really realise until now that they're degrading enough that it's actually affecting the rest of the sea floor as well."
The work was published yesterday in the journal Biogeosciences.

Coral reefs naturally generate sand as hard coral skeletons die, and their calcium carbonate bodies become the next layer of the sea floor.

Meanwhile, the living tops of coral columns grow taller and taller, which allows them to keep pace in eras of rising seas.

But as corals are subjected to more and more assaults from a combination of global climate change, local pollution, and direct human-caused damage, this natural dynamic appears to have been undermined, and sea floor accretion has swung to erosion.ocesses may well also be afoot - reefs across the world are generally threatened.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11842949

Monday, 17 April 2017

New crack in one of Greenland's glaciers



The first photographs of a new and ominous crack in Greenland's enormous Petermann Glacier were captured by a Nasa airborne mission at the weekend.

Nasa's Operation IceBridge, which has been flying over northwest Greenland for the past several days, took the photos after being provided coordinates by Stef Lhermitte, a professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who had spotted the oddly located chasm by examining satellite images.

The Nasa pictures make clear that a significant new rift has opened near the centre of the glacier's floating ice shelf - an unusual location that raises questions about how it formed. Moreover, this crack is not so distant from another much wider and longer crack that has been slowly extending toward the shelf's centre from its eastern side wall.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11839410

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Climate change: Turbulence to get a whole lot worse on airplanes


A scary new study has warned one of the worst things about flying is about to get much worse: turbulence.

Bouts of turbulence that are strong enough to toss passengers around the cabin could become up to three times more common - and it's all thanks to climate change, according to news.com.au.

Scientists at the University of Reading in the UK have carried out a first-ever study into the relationship between anthropogenic climate change and clear-air turbulence.

They looked at different strengths of turbulence and how each will change in the future, based on a study of the North Atlantic flight corridor between Europe and the United States.

According to the results, light turbulence in the atmosphere would be likely to increase by about 59 per cent in the future, moderate turbulence would increase by 94 per cent and moderate-to-severe turbulence by 127 per cent.

The strongest kind - severe turbulence - was to increase by a whopping 149 per cent, according to the report.

The scientists found these increases would be caused by climate change generating stronger wind shears within the jet stream, which is a major cause of turbulence.

And while even the scariest jolts are unlikely to cause a plane to fall out of the sky, turbulence does cause injuries, including serious injuries, as a result of loose objects and unbuckled passengers and crew being thrown around the cabin

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11835733

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

1450km of Great Barrier Reef has bleached badly

Scientists just back from a 8045km aircraft survey of Australia's Great Barrier Reef pronounced a dire verdict: Warm waters have severely bleached large swaths of its corals for the second year in a row in a deadly one-two punch.
In 2016, two thirds of corals in the northern sector of the reef died after severe bleaching from unusually warm waters.

Now this year, researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, who reported the previous findings, say that the reef's central sector has been hit by another year of damaging warmth.
"We've had a back-to-back bleaching for the first time," said Terry Hughes, who directs the centre.
"So we redid our aerial surveys again, which was a bit tough. I was hoping to never have to do it again."

After that first survey, Hughes tweeted: "I showed the results of aerial surveys of #bleaching on the #GreatBarrierReef to my students, And then we wept."

Coral bleaching occurs when unusually warm waters provide a stress to corals that in turn trigger a mass exodus of photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae, from their cells. The corals lose colour and turn white, an outward indicator that their metabolism has been upended. The stronger the bleaching and the longer it goes on, the more likely corals are to die.
 
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11835464