New research predicts the future of coral reefs under climate change and the fate of one of Earth’s most important ecosystems. High-resolution projections predict that Taiwan and the Turks and Caicos islands will likely be among the world’s first areas to experience annual bleaching events. In the past, severe bleaching events usually coincided with the El Nino Southern Oscillation, an event that occurs roughly every couple years. In the future, annual events will become more common.
Republican businessman and reality-television star Donald Trump will be the United States’ next president. Although science played only a bit part in this year’s dramatic, hard-fought campaign, many researchers expressed fear and disbelief as Trump defeated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on 8 November.
“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.” […]
Tune in to the new educational film by Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio entitled Before the Flood. This movie will be free to stream starting Sunday October 30 at 9/8c thanks to National Geographic.
There exists a high degree of polarization when it comes to the issue of climate change. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, data shows a clear divide in not only the general public’s view of climate change, but also their trust in climate scientists.
“Specifically, the survey finds wide political divides in views of the potential for devastation to the Earth’s ecosystems and what might be done to address any climate impacts. There are also major divides in the way partisans interpret the current scientific discussion over climate, with the political left and right having vastly divergent perceptions of modern scientific consensus, differing levels of trust in the information they get from professional researchers, and different views as to whether it is the quest for knowledge or the quest for professional advancement that drives climate scientists in their work.”
–The Politics of Climate Change, Pew Research Center
In general, the public view on climate change over the last decade has remained relatively stable and currently only 48% of American adults agree that climate change is occurring due to human activities.
Of those that are concerned with climate change and the environment, only 1 in 5 Americans make a continued effort to protect the environment in their daily lives.
In a recent publication from the University of Hawai’i Manoa, researchers have found that long-standing records of historical ocean water levels do not match up with contemporary rates of sea level rise.
Dr. Philip Thompson in the School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOEST) states:
“It’s not that there’s something wrong with the instruments or the data, but for a variety of reasons, sea level does not change at the same pace everywhere at the same time. As it turns out, our best historical sea level records tend to be located where past sea level rise was most likely less than the true global average.”
Interestingly enough, locations where ice melting occurs create “ice melt fingerprints” that, when combined with Earth’s rotation and gravity, causes localized anomalies in sea level change that may not be as dramatically observed elsewhere. Global average sea level has typically increased about 3 millimeters (0.1 in) per year in recent decades, however it is important to note that global averages do not necessarily reflect rates of change in certain anomalous areas.
The study concluded that previous rates of global average sea level rise are likely lower than actual rates. Sea level rise depends on the amount of global warming that occurs, which in turn depends on future levels of greenhouse gases.
“Up to now, the oceans have shielded us from the worst impacts of climate change by absorbing most of the heat caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, and capturing around a quarter of the carbon dioxide released. The resulting ocean warming and acidification have added to other pressures on marine life, such as pollution and over-fishing, and the populations of many species are shrinking or shifting in response.
From the poles to the tropics, plankton, jellyfish, turtle, fish and seabird species are on the move, shifting by up to 10 degrees of latitude to find cooler habitats, while some breeding grounds for turtles and seabirds disappear.
The distribution patterns of species like pelagic tuna, Atlantic herring and mackerel, and European sprats and anchovies are gradually shifting in response to changing ocean temperatures. Some fish are moving tens to hundreds of kilometres per decade.
But not all species are able to cope.
Over the last three decades, as the planet has warmed, the frequency of coral bleaching has increased three-fold. In Western Australia, extensive areas of kelp forest were wiped out during a marine heatwave. In the Southern Ocean, progressive warming has been associated with a decline in krill, with populations of many seabirds and seals also decreasing.
“You worry about the polar bears; so do we. But nobody is worried about us, because we will lose our homes too with the melting ice and the rising sea level” – Anote Tong, Former President of Republic of Kiribati, the world’s lowest-lying island nation.
Ocean warming drives a chain of impacts that link to human society. Communities that rely on the ocean for daily subsistence – typically the poorest coastal nations – are likely to suffer the greatest losses. Ocean-based fisheries, tourism, aquaculture, coastal risk management and food security are all threatened by ocean warming combined with over-fishing and population growth.
‘The effects on food security are likely to be greatest in tropical and subtropical countries where the largest reductions in fisheries production are generally expected to occur. However, as profound as the effects of ocean warming on productivity of marine fisheries are likely to be in many of these countries, population growth and the quality of resource management will probably have a much greater influence on availability of fish per capital for the next few decades’ – IUCN report, Explaining Ocean Warming.
Oceans at the crossroads.
The report recommends a series of actions to address these impacts, including mitigating CO2 emissions, enhancing marine protected areas, and protecting the high seas and ocean seabed under the Law of the Sea and by expanding the World Heritage Convention.
‘We need to protect our oceans as if our lives depend on it – because they do’ – Sylvia Earle, ‘Ocean Elder’ and Founder, Mission Blue.”
-IUCN World Conservation Congress
James Balog, an environmental photographer for the Extreme Ice Survey and documentary Chasing Ice, was able to capture stunning images of glaciers using time-lapse photography in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Over relatively short periods of time, glaciers have been shown to virtually disappear, melting away into waterways below.
He and his team also found that in the past decade or so, glacial ice has been receding at an alarming rate when compared to historical values of glacial recession. If the world continues ‘business as usual,’ there may not be many glaciers left in the decades to come.
Human-induced climate change is clearly the culprit for the significant loss of the planet’s ice sheets, however it has been disputed by some scientists. The vast majority of scientific publications support anthropogenic causes of rapid climate change since the Industrial Revolution.
It’s not a matter of whether or not climate change exists, it’s now a matter of what we are doing about it. Currently underway is the World Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris, France where world leaders are discussing the many issue regarding climate change. Nations are now in agreement that changes should be made, specifically in greenhouse gas emissions that would limit temperature change to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial values.
Photos courtesy of chasingice.com
“As destructive as the effects of warmer oceans and higher seas are, there is one other form of oceanic disruption caused by CO2 overload that tops everything else in terms of its extent and impact. It’s happening right now, under our noses, and it’s visible in the coral reefs, ocean beds, and bottom-dwelling shellfish all over the planet: They are literally being eaten away by a chemical process called acidification.
The catastrophic effects of this assault on the very foundation of the ocean’s food web are immeasurable. But when was the last time you saw a headline about it?
Once again– out of sight, out of mind…
Again, for ages before the Industrial Revolution kicked in, there was a beautiful natural balance in this oceanic scrubbing system. But in the more than two hundred years since then, those extra 500 billion metric tons of CO2 the oceans have absorbed have pushed the undersea filtering system to its limits. The balance has been completely lost as the levels of acidity in the seawater all over the planet have risen substantially. Here are just a few numbers that show how severely things have shifted.
The acidity of the planet’s oceans has risen by nearly 30 percent since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
The current rate of ocean acidification is at least a hundred times faster than the maximum rate over the previous hundreds of thousands of years…
Acidification is just as destructive to coral reefs as it is to individual calcifying organisms. Besides their magnificent beauty, coral reefs are treasured for their critical role as marine habitat. Despite the fact that their total mass constitutes just over 1 percent of the oceans’ continental shelves–about half the size of France–more than 25 percent of all marine life depends on coral reefs. The disappearance of these reefs, say scientists, would be akin to wiping out the world’s rain forests…
The current rate of destruction and death among the world’s coral reefs due to a multitude of threats including trawling and bleaching is–there’s no better word for it–horrifying. Close to 30 percent of the world’s tropical reefs have vanished since 1980, including more than half of the reefs in the Caribbean. At this rate, scientists forecast that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef may be dead by the year 2050, and all tropical reefs on the planet could be gone by the end of this century.”
“Along with warmer water temperatures, the other contributor to rising sea levels is melting ice. Again, we only need to look to the polar regions to see what’s headed our way to the south. By studying the shrinking, receding glaciers and ice fields of the Arctic and Antarctica, we can get a good idea of what other climatic and ecological changes loom as warming proceeds. Sure enough, studies show that over the past hundred years, the Arctic has warmed at a rate twice as fast as the global average. This is truly taking its toll.“
As of July 2015 large portions of sea ice can be seen melting and breaking off into the ocean around Greenland. According to satellite observations, this summer has one of the lowest recorded extent of sea ice in the polar regions.
Image Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC