Destroying the world’s natural heritage: ‘Komodo is reaching a tipping point’

The Indonesian national park boasts some of the worlds best dive sites and spectacular marine life, but illegal angling and unsustainable tourism is threatening its Unesco status

It was the unusual thrashing on the water that caught their attention. As those onboard the dive boat in Indonesia’s Komodo national park described closer, it became clear it was a green turtle entangled in rubbish and thick angling net.

The divers managed to lift it out of the water, cut the blue bind from its shell and then set the turtle free, but dive operator Ed Statham says it is just one of the increasing and alarming signs the Unesco heritage site is fast being destroyed.

Each day Statham and his squad place barges illegally fishing inside the protected Coral Triangle area, atop some of the best dive sites in the world.

” It is not just fishing with lines and little boats, it is net fishing, anchoring on diving sites, obvious carcass lying around, shark finning. And it is happening on a bigger scale than it are applied to ,” explains Statham over the phone from Labuan Bajo.

” If things continue as they are now, Komodo is going to reach a tip-off phase in the next few years and we are not going to be able to recover .”

A
A photo taken in February of a dead reef shark missing its top fin. Photo: Arabi Balasubramanian

Located at the confluence of two oceans, Komodo national park is a series of dramatic hilly islands, home to the famous Komodo dragon, but also a spectacular and diverse marine life, including pelagic fish, manta rays and turtles.

In recent years local dive operators say illegal fishing has become rampant, and while daily park entrance fees were raised nearly 500% in 2015 to 175,000 rupiah( PS9)- it is now more expensive to dive in Komodo than the Galapagos- the number of marine patrols has only decreased.

On top of that, as term about Komodo spreads, tourism has grown rapidly.

Destructive and illegal fishing be included with unsustainable tourism are putting huge pressure on Komodo’s precious ecosystem. But what happens when a Unesco site is getting destoyed?

Dr Fanny Douvere, coordinator of Unesco’s world heritage marine programme, says there are numerous steps the heritage body can take to help preserve these areas.

Once a site is engraved as Unesco-heritage listed, it instantly becomes part of a regular evaluation system. If serious problems are seen they are addressed by the world heritage committee, which can include putting a site on its “in danger” list.

The danger listing often helps produce the attention and funding requirements to rescue a site in critical condition.

There are 29 Unesco marine sites around the world and several are on the hazard list, including the Belize Barrier Reef.

In collaboration with Unesco, the governmental forces of Belize has adopted new environmental management laws and a protection scheme, and introduced a moratorium on offshore drilling.

” Once it is on the peril listing there are strict indicators to get off ,” explains Douvere.

A
A pristine coral reef surrounded by fish at famous dive site, Batu Bolong, in Komodo national park, Indonesia. Photo: Christian Loader/ Alamy Stock Photo

In rare but worst-case scenarios, sites can be also be “delisted” by Unesco, as was the case in 2009 with Germany’s Dresden Elbe valley, after the government approved the construction of a four-lane bridge through the unique scenery, or Oman’s Arabian oryx sanctuary in 2007.

But there are success tales too. In July last year the Unesco site of Tubbataha reef in the Philippines was designated as a” particularly delicate sea region “, meaning that large boats are now required to avoid the area, reducing noise, pollution and future ship groundings.

Meanwhile in Kiribati, its Unesco listing led to a ban on commercial foreign fisheries operating around its Phoenix Islands.

When it comes to Komodo, Unesco tells recent concerns are being taken seriously.

” Komodo has not been submitted to the world heritage committee ,” tells Douvere.” But as people do write to us and that becomes a serious problem, then that’s definitely our official route forward .”

Pulau
Pulau Padar near Labuan Bajo in Indonesia. Photograph: Danaan Andrew/ Alamy

Aware that Komodo lacks a plan on how to manage its marine surrounding, the international heritage body sent a squad of experts to Komodo last December to start working with local authorities.

Back in Labuan Bajo, the gateway to the national park from the island of Flores, Statham is pushing for urgent action.

He says that when he first arrived in the area as a dive master more than five years ago, the diversity of Komodo” blew his intellect” and he is keen to make sure it bides that way.

Thanks to Komodo’s location at the meeting point of two oceans, it is unique in that it does not face the same warming of the seas, and harrowing coral bleaching that many reefs around the world are facing, he says.

” We should be ahead of the game, but we’re not ,” says Statham,” It’s not mother nature that’s destroying Komodo, it’s us .”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Advertisements

Poland violated EU laws by logging in Biaowiea forest, court rules

Judge dismisses claims by Polish government that logging was necessary to protect ancient forest from outbreak of bark beetles

The EU’s highest court has ruled that Poland’s logging of the ancient Bialowieza forest is illegal, potentially opening the door to multi-million euro fines.

At least 10, 000 trees have been felled in Bialowieza, one of Europe’s last parcels of primeval woodland, since the former Polish environment minister, Jan Szyzko tripled logging limits there in 2016.

Government claims that the forest was bringing protected from a spruce beetle outbreak were rejected by European court of justice magistrates, who said that Poland’s own forest management plans showed that logging posed a greater threat to Bialowieza’s integrity.

A minimum fine of EUR4. 3m, potentially rising to EUR1 00,000 a day, could now be levied against Poland if the tree fells continue.

James Thornton, the chief executive of the green statute firm ClientEarth, told:” This is a huge victory for all defenders of Bialowieza forest. Hundreds of people were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable demolition .”

More to follow .

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Dutch island wants its rabbits to breed like

Biodiversity fears prompt emergency plan to use ferrets to round up the few rabbits left

It is not a pastime for which rabbits usually necessitate much encouragement. But a mystery depletion in numbers on the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog has led to an emergency effort to coax the local population into breeding … well, like rabbits.

Ferrets are being used in order to chase the reluctant remaining animals out of their warrens and into the hands of conservationists, who are bringing them together, safe from the stress of predators, in the said he hoped that romance will blossom.

It is believed that the number of rabbits on Schiermonnikoog, or Grey Monk island, has been declining for the last three years, although conservationists are only running from the memory of the 947 people who live there.

The concern is that the unexplained reduction could have a negative effect on the biodiversity of Schiermonnikoog, a 9.9 -mile-long nature reserve off the northern coastline, which attracts 300,000 visitors a year.

The rabbits play a vital role in nibbling away at the invasive American black cherry, a variety of the woody plant Prunus serotina that get in the way of other species. Birds on the island are also known to use the rabbit warrens to lay eggs.

Schiermonnikoog
Schiermonnikoog is a 9.9 mile-long nature reserve off the northern coastline that attracts 300,000 visitors a year. Photo: Getty Images/ Robert Harding World Imagery

Jan Willem Zwart, a forester on Schiemonnikoog who is working on the project, said the fall in the rabbit population was already noticeable.” Rabbits eat grasses and saplings that have just come up. That prevents the landscape from becoming shut. We do not know exactly how many rabbits are still here, but we clearly see that the vegetation on the island is increasing ,” he told.” It has been very difficult to find the rabbits. And that is what we are doing at the moment. It is just the beginning “.

The rabbit population has traditionally gone up and down, he said, often due to outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as myxomatosis, a virus introduced into Europe in the 1950 s as an agent to control numbers. But the consistently low number of newborn rabbits in recent years remains a mystery. Those surviving on the island have largely congregated around the village, Zwart added.

” It might be the wild cats in the dunes that are keeping the numbers down ,” he told.” We don’t know. But we are going to catch a number of rabbits on the island. In the village there are still enough, they like to dig under the houses. In the long run, we want to expand them elsewhere on the island, where they are needed.

” We want to do that in an animal-friendly style. That is why we are going to use … ferreting. The ferret goes into the rabbit hole and chases them out. We will catch them there and set them in a paddock, a safe place away from predators .”

It is hoped that in a secure region nature will follow its course, albeit with a little human help.

The project, aided by the Dutch national heritage organisation, the Natuurmonumenten, considered importing rabbits but the paperwork was deemed overwhelming because a permit is required for every animal.

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinkings bottles- by collision. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a trash dump in Japan. Scientists have now uncovered the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests presented they had unknowingly attained the molecule even better at breaking down the PET( polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles.” What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock ,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research.” It’s great and a real seeing .”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speed up the pace even further and become a viable large-scale process.

” What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic ,” told McGeehan.” It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment .”

About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest proportions, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood.” It is unbelievably resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific ,” said McGeehan.” It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well .”

However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be was transformed into opaque fibers for garb or carpets. The new enzyme indicates a route to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.

” You are always up against the fact that petroleum is inexpensive, so virgin PET is cheap ,” told McGeehan.” It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even to continue efforts to recycle. But I believe there is a public driver here: perception is changing so much that companies are starting to look at how they can properly recycle these .”

The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, began by determining the exact structure of the enzyme produced by the Japanese bug. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10 bn hours brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.

The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to investigate this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.

” It is a modest improvement- 20% better- but that is not the point ,” said McGeehan.” It’s incredible because it am saying that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It devotes us scope to use all the technology being implemented in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme .”

Play Video
3:32

Therefore welcomed Australia’s plastic beach- video

Industrial enzymes are widely used in, for example, washing powders and biofuel production, They have been made to work up to 1,000 hours faster in a few years, the same timescale McGeehan envisages for the plastic-eating enzyme. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

One possible improvement being explored is to transplanting the mutant enzyme into an” extremophile bacteria” that they are able survive temperatures above 70 C, at which point PET changes from a glassy to a viscous state, stimulating it likely to degraded 10 -1 00 periods faster.

Earlier work had shown that some fungis can break down PET plastic, which attains up about 20% of global plastic production. But bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses.

Other types of plastic could be broken down by bacteria currently evolving in the environment, McGeehan said:” People are now searching vigorously for those working .” PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating glitches might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.

” I suppose[ the new research] is very exciting work, indicating there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing trash problem ,” told Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team.

” Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in big quantities by microorganisms ,” he said.” There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable.[ But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction .”

Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, concurred the enzyme could be helpful but added:” A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem- trash- at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions .”

* This article was revised on 17 April 2018 to make clear that PET becomes viscous above 70 C. Its melting point is above 250 C.

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

‘Plastic is literally everywhere’: the epidemic attacking Australia’s oceans

It never breaks down and goes away, say scientists struggling to understand the impact of widespread pollution

While heading down the Brisbane river, Jim Hinds once pulled aboard a drunken half-naked man only seconds from” going down for the last period “.

But on this day, like most other days for Hinds, it’s back to the horribly predictable as he launches his barge into the Nerang river on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Instantly you see it.

Decaying plastic bags hanging from the branches of mangroves like dripping flesh; slicks of plastic water bottles and food containers waiting ashore for the liberation of the next rising tide; the misnamed “disposable” plastic and styrofoam drinking beakers; and other plastic paraphernalia in the different stages of disintegration.

” Everyone knows littering’s wrong- that’s not a secret. But it’s just nonsensical ,” tells Jim. His son Patrick, 21, has jumped ashore to pick up a vinyl football ball and about a dozen soft drinks bottles.

Hinds works for Queensland environmental conservation group Healthy Land and Water. His chore is to travel the coastal waterways and pick up rubbish- he’ll often have one of his two sons with him. His father also used to do the job.

In recent years, he has been grabbing about 10,000 items a month.” Consistently we’re getting plastic bottles- there are so many of them ,” Jim says.

Rubbish
Rubbish strewn on Chilli beach in Queensland. Photo: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Hinds is working at the coalface of an epidemic of plastic pollution which, Guardian Australia has procured, is attacking Australia’s beaches, waterways and oceans, and the animals that live there.

From the most remote wilderness idylls to city coastlines, scientists and citizens have collected and documented millions of pieces of plastic debris.

Out at sea, expeditions skimming ocean waters, circumnavigating the continent, help find concentrations of plastics as high as 9,000 pieces for every square kilometre.

Sediment taken from the bottom of estuaries operating through busy Australian township contains tiny microplastic pieces and scientists find the same thing when they analyse samples of the ocean floor hundreds of kilometres offshore.

” Plastic is everywhere, all of the time ,” tells Dr Denise Hardesty, a principal research scientist at CSIRO.” It is in the air, the wind, the water and the clay and we find it in as many places as we seem .”

In late 2012 and 2013, Hardesty experienced a series of “gut-wrenching” research trips by floatplane to some of the most remote parts of Australia- the west coast of Tasmania and the Kimberley region in Western Australia.

” These places are pristine … quote, unquote ,” she says.” You stroll on to these beaches and no matter where you are there’s junk and it’s so confronting. Everywhere you go, you see it .”

Hardesty is helping to lead a global CSIRO project to understand how and why plastics are escaping the legitimate waste and recycling streams and where and how they travel. Her team’s tackling trips to so-called pristine beaches were part of a study published in late 2016 that had eventually counted litter at 175 coastal sites around the continent.

About three of every four items documented were plastic and the study concluded a key cause was, simply, littering.” In general, most of the junk is coming from us ,” Hardesty tells.

Tangaroa
Tangaroa Blue volunteers retrieving ghost nets at a beach in Mapoon, Queensland. Photograph: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied- from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic.

Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm broad – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straw, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces.

Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has expended the past 15 years analyse the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote places on countries around the world– the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific- to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37 m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes– the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production.

Just one washed-up angling net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surround sand a lucid green splash.

” You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that ,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called ” ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles.

” Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere ,” tells Lavers.” No locating and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff .”

Plastic tsunami

Chilli beach is a two-hour drive north from the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River , north of Cairns in Kutini-Payamu national park.

Heidi Taylor, the founder of charity Tangaroa Blue, takes a squad of volunteers, school children and traditional proprietors up to the area each year to clear the beach. In 2013 the first year different groups did a full “clean sweep” of the 7km-long beach, they collected 5.5 tonnes of material.

” But for every one full item, there was probably 100 fragments that were scattered- like colourful confetti through the sand ,” Taylor tells.” Every hour you went to pick something up, it would disintegrate in your hands because it had been there for decades .”

In five years, different groups went from grabbing 5.5 tonnes a visit to only 2.3 tonnes. But in 2017, they assembled seven tonnes, probably thanks to hurricanes in the Pacific pushing older material on to Australia’s shores.

There is an Aboriginal community at Mapoon , north of Weipa on the west of Cape York. Their 14 km beach is another regular location for Tangaroa Blue’s work.

In recent years, an Indonesian government crackdown on illegal angling in the Arafura Sea has watched a drop in the number of ghost nets making the beach.

But in 2017, the group was shocked when they arrived to find 10,601 plastic beverage bottles from a 7km stretch- and most of them were the popular Indonesian brand Danone Aqua.

Play Video
3:32

Welcome to Australia’s plastic beach- video

” Plastic is one of the most useful materials we have ever made. Our problem is not with plastic as training materials but what we utilize it for. We construct so many things that don’t involve the longevity that plastic has- we don’t need a straw that we will use to sip one drinking that will stay in the environment eternally ,” Taylor says.

As well as running beach cleanup, Tangaroa Blue has coordinated data from cleanups run by other groups around Australia since 2004.

The data encompass 2,460 different sites with more than 878 tonnes of material removed over 14 years , and it presents about three-quarters of what is collected is plastic. For comparison, that’s about the same weight as 535 Holden utes. The database has just recorded its 10 millionth piece of debris.

So, while the evidence for the ubiquity of plastics is clear, Lavers tells much less is known about the impact of this tsunami of plastics on the habitats and species that are taking it in.” When it comes to wildlife our knowledge is constrained to individual level impacts ,” she says.

Even though reports of single whales with stomachs filled with plastic bags and ropes are unbelievably graphic and distressing, Lavers says” the scientific question becomes … so what ?”

Understanding the impact of the ingestion of plastics on whole animal populations and habitats is now a major scientific challenge.” Is plastic either now, or likely to be, a driver of population decline for any devoted species ,” she asks.

” The answer to that question is almost invariably’ we don’t know .’ It isn’t that the plastic doesn’t have the capacity to do that, but it is very difficult to document .”

She says while it’s easier to observe the impact of plastic on a species in a laboratory environment, it is much more difficult to tease apart its impact in the real world when species are already being hit by other impacts such as climate change, coastal developments, disease or overfishing.” We are in a big data gap ,” she says.

In 2013 Lavers published a journal paper looking at Australian flesh-footed shearwater birds. She found they were likely more contaminated by plastic than any other known marine vertebrate studied anywhere else in the world.

But Lavers also hypothesised the plastic ingestion could be cutting the survival rates of chicks by about 11% annually.

” The smaller the piece of plastic, the more species devour it. Everything that’s tiny is at the base of the food web, so it’s not just albatross and sperm whales, you literally have microplastics and nanoplastics being feed by sea cucumbers, corals, clams and muscles, zooplankton and krill- right at the very base of the food web. You have all levels of the food web infiltrated. And where the plastics run, the chemicals follow .”

A
A dissected flesh-footed shearwater bird taken from Lord Howe Island in 2017, with plastic pieces from its belly arranged beside it. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers

According to Lavers, research has found that plastics act as a vehicle to transport toxins and metals such as leading, cadmium and arsenic into the tissues of animals.

Her own studies, and those of other scientists, have shown that such metals can be transferred from the plastics feed by animals into their tissues. Toxic chemicals have also been found to leaching into the tissues of animals via the plastics they have eaten.

” We should not simply wait for or demand more data before we can make a decision ,” she tells.” We should default to the likely outcome. If danger is possible, we should heed the warning and do something to prevent it .”

Policy answer

Campaigners have had some success in persuading governments to introduce receptacle deposit schemes where plastics can be recycled for money. South Australians have been returning plastics and other items since 1977.

In early 2013, the liquor giants Coca-Cola Amatil, Lion Nathan and Schweppes successfully opposed the Northern Territory’s then-new container deposit strategy in the courts. The government changed the rules but reintroduced the strategy, which has been running since August 2013.

The New South Wales scheme has been running since December 2017, while the Australian Capital Territory’s scheme is due to start at the end of June 2018. Queensland tells its scheme will be published in November 2018 and in Western Australia, a program will start in 2019. Tasmania and Victoria have no concrete plans.

These schemes do work. A CSIRO analyze in Australia and the US looked at the numbers of drinks receptacles found in coastal areas where receptacle deposit laws were in place. The analyze found that by financially incentivising members of the public to recycle, there were about 40% fewer plastic drinkings receptacles recorded in litter surveys.

Plastic
Plastic draping plants in the Torres Strait. Photo: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Bans on single-use plastic bags will roll out this year in Victoria, WA and Queensland, joining existing prohibits in NT, SA, the ACT and Tasmania.

There is a lot of evidence that these schemes have a significant impact on litter ,” Hardesty says.” Cash for receptacles works ,” she tells.” But what I keep coming back to is the thought that all the stuff we find out there was once in a person’s hand. That means you can make a change .”

Lavers agrees that the bans are welcome but tells governments have been far too slow to introduce schemes that have been shown to work.

” If we want change and we want the quantity of plastics going into the ocean to go down, then the rate of change in our society needs to outstrip the rate of plastics going into the ocean ,” she tells.” And right now we are not even close .”

While the new legislation is likely to slow down the wave of plastic pollution hitting Australia’s coastal waters, there’s little that could be done about the mountains of plastic that’s already out there.” I don’t think going out there and cleaning it all up is a super viable proposition ,” she says.

Both Lavers and Hardesty think what’s needed is a societal switching in how communities and industries use and recycle plastics.

” Plastic never actually go forth … where is this magical mystic place we call’ away ‘,” asks Lavers.” We know plastics take anywhere between 100 and 10,000 years to break up … and I don’t use the term’ break down ‘. It never breaks down and goes away .”

Back on the Nerang river and the collect bin on Jim Hinds’s boat is full with plastic strips, balls, suitcases, bottles and food wrappers. He is feeling philosophical but not hopeless.

” I think people are careless ,” he tells.” I don’t think there are a lot of scoundrels.

” I always hope that it’s generational- that the next generation will be better than ours. I guess that’s the great hope .”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Gulf Stream current at its weakest in 1,600 years, studies show

Warm current that has historically caused dramatic changes in climate is experiencing an unprecedented slowdown and may be less stable than supposed – with potentially severe consequences

The warm Atlantic current links between severe and abrupt changes in the climate in the past is now at its weakest in at least 1,600 years, new research presents. The findings, based on multiple lines of scientific proof, throw into question previous predictions that a catastrophic breakdown of the Gulf Stream would take centuries to occur.

Such a collapse would see western Europe suffer far more extreme wintertimes, sea levels rise fast on the eastern seaboard of the US and would disrupt vital tropical rainfalls. The new research shows the current is now 15% weaker than around 400 AD, an exceptionally large difference, and that human-caused global warming is a matter of at the least a significant part of the weakening.

The current, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation( Amoc ), carries warm water northwards towards the north pole. There it cools, becomes denser and sinks, and then flows back southwards. But global warming hampers the cooling of the water, while melting ice in the Arctic, particularly from Greenland, floods the area with less dense freshwater, weakening the Amoc current.

Scientists know that Amoc has slowed since 2004, when instruments were deployed at sea to measure it. But now two new studies have comprehensive ocean-based evidence that the weakening is unprecedented in at least 1,600 years, which is as far back as the new research stretches.

Graphic 1, updated

” Amoc is a really important part of the Earth’s climate system and it has played an important part in abrupt climate change in the past ,” said Dr David Thornalley, from University College London who led one of the new analyzes. He said current climate models do not replicate the observed slowdown, is recommended that Amoc is less stable that thought.

During the last ice age, some big changes in Amoc led to winter temperatures changing by 5-10C in as short a hour as one to three years, with major consequences for the weather over the land masses bordering the Atlantic.” The[ current] climate models don’t predict[ an Amoc shutdown] is going to happen in the future- the problem is how certain are we “its not” going to happen? It is one of these tip-off points that is relatively low likelihood, but high impact .”

The study by Thornalley and colleagues, published in Nature, utilized cores of sediments from a key site off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to examine Amoc over the last 1600 years. Larger grains of sediment reflect faster Amoc currents and vice versa.

They also employed the shells of tiny marine beings from sites across the Atlantic to measure a characteristic pattern of temperatures that indicate the strength of Amoc. When it weakens, a large area of ocean around Iceland cools, as less warm water is brought north, and the waters off the east coast of the US get warmer.

The second study, also published in Nature, also utilized the characteristic pattern of temperatures, but assessed this using thermometer data collected over the last 120 years or so.

Both surveys found that Amoc today is about 15% weaker than 1,600 years ago, but there were also differences in their conclusions. The first analyse determined significant Amoc weakening after the end of the little ice age in about 1850, the result of natural climate variability, with farther weakening caused afterward by global warming.

The second study suggests most of the weakening arrived later, and can be squarely blamed on the burning of fossil fuel. Further research is now being undertaken to understand the reasons for the differences.

However, it is already clear that human-caused climate change will continue to slow Amoc, with potentially severe consequences.” If we do not rapidly stop global warming, “were supposed to” expect a further long-term slowdown of the Atlantic overturning ,” told Alexander Robinson, at the University of Madrid, and one of the team that conducted the second study. He advised:” We are only beginning to understand the consequences of this unprecedented process- but they might be disruptive .”

A 2004 tragedy movie, The Day After Tomorrow, saw a rapid shutdown of Amoc and a devastate freeze. The basics of the social sciences were portrayed correctly, told Thornalley:” Plainly it was overstated- the changes happened in a few days or weeks and were much more extreme. But it is true that in the past this weakening of Amoc happened very rapidly and caused big changes .”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Turning cities into sponges: how Chinese ancient wisdom is taking on climate change

Landscape architect Kongjian Yu is building friends with water to mitigate extreme weather events in modern metropolises

How does a city cope with extreme weather? These days, urban planning that doesn’t factor in some sort of catastrophic weather event is like trying to build something in a fictional utopia. For Kongjian Yu, one of the world’s leading landscape architects, the answer to coping with extreme weather events actually lies in the past.

Yu is the founder and dean of the school of landscape architecture at Peking University, founding director of architectural firm Turenscape, and famous for being the person who is reintroduced ancient Chinese water systems to modern design. In the process he has transformed some of China’s most industrialised cities into standard bearers of green architecture.

Yu’s designs aim to build resilience in cities faced with rising sea level, droughts, deluges and so-called ” once in a lifetime” cyclones. At 53, he is best known for his” sponge cities”, which use soft material and terraces to capture water which can then be extracted for employ, rather than the usual concrete and steel materials which do not absorb water.

European methods of designing cities involve drainage pipelines which cannot be dealt with monsoonal rain. But the Chinese government has now adopted sponge cities as an urban development and eco-city template.

Kongjian
Kongjian Yu, founder of Turenscape and proponent of sponge cities. Photograph: Turenscape/ NGV

Yu spoke in Melbourne on Tuesday at a symposium on water-conscious design held as part of Melbourne Design Week at the National Gallery of Victoria. Speaking to Guardian Australia ahead of his appearance, Yu, who is based in Beijing, explained the key benefit of sponge cities is the ability to reuse water.” The water captured by the sponge can be used for irrigation, for recharging the aquifer, for cleansing the soil and for productive use ,” Yu said.

” In China, we retain storm water and reuse it. Even as individual families and homes, we collect storm water on[ the] rooftop and use the balcony to irrigate the vegetable garden .”

When it comes to water, the motto of the sponge city are:” Retain, adapt, slow down and reuse .”

His firm currently has 600 employees and works across 200 cities in China. The firm has completed more than 600 projects and won a swag of major architecture and design awards.

The strategies Yu utilizes are” based on peasant farming techniques, adapting peasant irrigation systems to urban environments and experience in accommodating buildings to a monsoon climate “.

The first strategy-” based on thousands of years of Chinese wisdom”- is to” contain water at the origin, when the rain falls from the sky on the ground. We have to keep the water “.

” In China, there is a shortage of fresh water ,” Yu tells.” China has only 8% of fresh water of the world and feeds 20% of the population- so any fresh water from the sky will need to be kept in an aquifer .”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

John Kelly shut down Pruitts climate denial red team, but they have a Plan B | Dana Nuccitelli

Dana Nuccitelli: Let fossil fuel-funded think tanks make their suit, then ignore it

In 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, which means that if it poses a threat to public health or welfare, the EPA must regulate it under the Clean Air Act. In 2009, the EPA completed its review of the climate science literature and correctly concluded in its Endangerment Findingthat carbon pollution poses these threats via climate change. That document provides the basis for all government climate policies, including the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Climate deniers have thus long had their sights set on revoking the Endangerment Finding.

That’s a tall order, since the scientific literature is crystal clear on this question. House Republican first tried to simply rewrite the Clean Air Act to country the greenhouse gases aren’t pollutants, but they failed to get nearly enough support to pass the existing legislation. Next they proposed setting up a’ Red Team’ of climate deniers to debate the mainstream climate science’ Blue Team .’ But Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly worried that having this prominent debate on the record would be a distraction and potentially expose the administration to litigation, so he killed the idea.

However, E& E News reports that Pruitt has a safer Scheme B: take public comments on petitions asking EPA to revisit the Endangerment Finding. This would appease the deniers by allowing them to officially making such a lawsuit, but the EPA wouldn’t be under any obligation to take action. It’s a fight Pruitt knows he would lose in court, because the science is not on the deniers’ side, so he would prefer to simply weaken the Clean Power Plan, eradicate as many other federal climate policies as possible, and delay all US climate action until the clock runs out on the Trump administration.

The denier arguments are really bad

There have been two petitions filed against the Endangerment Finding. The first was submitted by a group of climate contrarians who failed to understand basic climate science. I discussed the fundamental mistakes in their arguments last year.

The second petition was submitted by two fossil fuel-funded think tanks: the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Science and Environmental Policy Project. It tried to refute the Endangerment Finding’s three lines of proof supporting human-caused global warming:

1) Scientists’ basic physical understanding of factors that impact the climate system like the increasing greenhouse effect and natural influences.

2) Scientific evidence that global warming over the last several decades is’ unusual.’

3) The use of climate models to simulate the specific characteristics resulting from natural and human-caused climate change.

The first counter-argument denies global warming

To refute the first phase, the petition claimed that there’s been” the absence of any strong warming trend .” To support this argument, the deniers considered only atmospheric temperature estimations from satellite data, which have much larger uncertainty than data collected by thousands of thermometers at Earth’s surface. Even the satellite data best calculates is that the lower atmosphere has warmed 0.15 -0.3 degC over the past 20 years, depending on which data set we use.

But atmospheric temperatures are just a small part of the global warming story. Surface temperatures have warmed about 0.35 degC during that time. 2014, 2015, and 2016 each broke the record, and 2017 was the hottest year on record at Earth’s surface without an El Nino event. Furthermore, the oceans have continued to break heat records and natural thermometers like melting ice and earlier seasons have also continued to show signs of rapid global warming.

And the petition didn’t even dispute the Endangerment Finding’s point that climate scientists understand the factors like the greenhouse effect that impact global temperatures. So their effort to refute this point failed on every possible level. Instead of successfully refuting the Endangerment Finding’s basis, they basically only denied the very existence of global warming once again.

The second and third counter-points are just as bad

To refute the Endangerment Finding’s second point that recent global warming is unusual, the petition argued that global temperatures have been both hotter and colder in the past, so we’re” within the bounds of natural variability .” This fails to address the point that global temperatures are now warming 20 to 50 days faster than during Earth’s fastest natural climate changes. The petition then again went off-topic, arguing that recent warming is due to solar activity( which has had a cooling consequence over the past 60 years) and natural cycles( which don’t cause long-term temperature trends ).

And to refute the Endangerment Finding’s third phase, the petition was contended that climate models are inaccurate. To make this argument, the deniers relied on an error-riddled chart produced by John Christy, which was refuted by a peer-reviewed examine last year( which the petition neglects to mention ). And again, the chart merely considered atmospheric temperature estimations from satellite data; the petition ignored the remarkable accuracy of climate models in simulating global surface temperatures and other climate change patterns.

John
John Christy’s chart, annotated to detail its problems. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

This is why Kelly shot down Plan A

The evidence supporting human-caused global warming is overwhelming, which is why there’s a 97% expert consensus on the subject. To argue the contrary, or at least that global warming is overblown, deniers are forced to resort to cherry picking data. And even their cherry-picked data confirms global warming.

Deniers have already lost this debate in the peer-reviewed literature. John Kelly is right to fear the distraction and potential liability of associating the Trump administration with these terrible arguments. Kelly is a military man, and the military doesn’t have the luxury of denying the threats posed by climate change.

But if they can mollify the deniers by allowing them to stimulate these bogus arguments in comments that the EPA can largely ignore, Pruitt and Kelly will view it as a win-win outcome. As long as the Endangerment Finding stands so that the next administration can use it to implement climate policies, it’s a win for all of us.

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Billion-dollar polar engineering needed to slow melting glaciers

Underwater sea walls and artificial islands among projects urgently required to avoid devastation of global flooding, tell scientists

Scientists have outlined plans to build a series of mammoth engineering projects in Greenland and Antarctica to assist slow down the disintegration of the planet’s main glaciers. The controversial proposals include underwater walls, artificial islands and huge pumping stations that would channel cold water into the bases of glaciers to stop them from melting and sliding into the sea.

The researchers say the run- costing tens of billions of dollars a hour- is urgently needed to prevent polar glaciers melting and creating sea level. That would lead to major inundations of low-lying, densely populated areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, Japan and the Netherlands.

Flooding in these areas is likely to cost tens of trillions of dollars a year if global warming continues at its present rate, and vast sea-wall defences will need to be built to limit the devastation. Such expenses attain glacier engineering in polar regions a competitive alternative, according to the team, which is led by John Moore, professor of climate change at the University of Lapland.

” We think that geoengineering of glaciers could delay much of Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global warming ,” the scientists write in the current issue of Nature .” Geoengineering of glaciers has received little attention in publications. Most people assume that it is unfeasible and environmentally undesirable. We disagree .”

Ideas put forward by the group specifically target the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctic because these will contribute more to sea rise this century than any other source, they say. Their proposals include 😛 TAGEND

* Building a 100 -metre high wall on the seabed across a 5km broad fjord at the end of the Jakobshavn glacier in western Greenland. This would reduce influxes of warming sea water which are eroding the glacier’s base ;P TAGEND

* Constructing artificial islands in front of glaciers in Antarctica in order to buttress them and limit their collapse as their ice melts due to global warming ;P TAGEND

* Circulating cooled brine underneath glaciers such as the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica- in order to prevent their bases from melting and sliding towards the sea.

In each case, the team- which includes scientists in Finland and the US- acknowledges that costs would be in the billions. Construction is also likely to cause considerable interruption. For example, constructing a dam across the Jakobshavn fjord could affect ecology, fisheries and tourism, and large numbers of employees would have to be shipped in to complete the project.

Similarly, constructing artificial islands in front of glaciers would entail importing about six cubic kilometres of material, a task that would be vastly difficult in stormy Antarctic waters. And drilling through ice that is kilometres thick to pump down cooled water would also stretch the capabilities of engineers.

However, the team insists that such projects should be carefully assessed now as the likely costs appear to be compatible with those of other major energy and civilian engineering works being planned across the globe. The issue is simple, they country: should we spend vast sums to wall off all the world’s coasts, or can we address the problem at its source?

” Potential risks, especially to local ecosystems, require careful analysis ,” they conclude.” In our view, however, the greatest hazard is doing nothing .”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

Extreme winter weather becoming more common as Arctic warms, study finds

Scientists find a strong link between high temperatures near the pole and remarkably heavy snowfall and frigid weather farther south.

The sort of severe wintertime weather that has rattled parts of the US and UK is becoming more common as the Arctic warms, with scientists detecting a strong link between high temperatures near the pole and remarkably heavy snowfall and frigid weather farther south.

A sharp increase in temperatures across the Arctic since the early 1990 s has coincided with an uptick in abnormally cold snaps in wintertime, especially in the eastern US, according to new research that analyzed temperature data regarding 1950 onwards.

Extreme cold wintertime weather is up to four times more likely when temperatures in the Arctic are unusually high, such studies saw. Researchers compared daily temperatures from across the Arctic region with something “ve called the” accumulated winter season severity indicator, which grades wintertime weather based on temperature, snow fall and snow depth, across 12 US cities.

” There’s a remarkably strong correlation between a warm Arctic and cold winter climate further south ,” told Judah Cohen, a climatologist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research.” It’s a complex narrative- global warming is contributing to milder temperatures but is also having unforeseen outcomes such as this .”

The Arctic has just experienced its toastiest winter on record, with parts of the region 20 C( 68 F) warmer than the long-term median, a situation scientists have variously described as “crazy,” ” weird ,” and” simply shocking “. The far north latitudes are warming around twice as quickly as the global average, decreasing glaciers and sea ice and imperiling beasts such as polar bears.

Two large wintertime blizzards lately swept the US east coast in less than a week, unloading up to three inches of snow per hour in places, resulting in several deaths, thousands of cancelled flights, closed schools and snarled traffic.

The cold front even reached Florida, contributing to a recent surge in manatee demises. So far this year, 166 of the marine mammals have been found dead off the state’s coast, with stress from the cold the leading cause of mortality.” Manatees may join polar bears as one of the first iconic victims of extinction in the wild from climate change ,” told Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The US cyclones follow freezing gales from Siberia- dubbed the’ beast from the east‘- that battered parts of Europe, with the British army deployed to help liberate hundreds of stranded drivers on UK motorways.

” This wintertime is a great instance of what we can expect from climate change ,” said Cohen.” In the US we had the’ bomb tornado’ in January, followed by July-like warm weather in February that I’d ever seen before. And now we’ve had a procession of powerful wintertime blizzards and the animal from the east. It’s mind boggling .”

The research didn’t look at the reasons behind the trend of see-sawing temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south but Cohen said it was consistent with the hypothesi that the polar vortex- which shot to public consciousness during a 2014 cold spell- is being disrupted as the earth heats up.

The polar vortex is a low pressure system that swirls around the polar region. Sometimes it can stray further south, bringing cold Arctic air with it. There is continuing speculation over potential impacts climate change is having but some scientists believe warming temperatures could be weakening the polar vortex’s flowing, allowing it to meander towards the equator.

This nuanced picture of the consequences of climate change has been derided by Donald Trump, with the president use Twitter to mockingly reference cold weather during almost every winter in recent years. In December, Trump tweeted that” perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming” amid plunging temperatures.

Scientists say this stance overlooks the complicated changes underway in the environment as the world warms due to human activity, by an average of around 1C over the past century. This temperature rise hasn’t been uniform across the globe and has fueled an array of conditions, from increased deluge risk in some areas to drought conditions and heatwaves in others.

Richard Alley, a resulting glacier and climate expert at Penn State who was not involved in Cohen’s research, said the study is “fascinating” and “important” but added the discrepancy between Arctic temperatures and wintertime weather elsewhere could have other drivers, such as a warm Gulf of Mexico feeding extra energy into cyclones along the US east coast.

” The broadest image is that we are indeed warming the world’s climate, mainly from carbon dioxide emissions release from fossil-fuel burning, and this will impact us and other living things ,” said Alley.

The Arctic’s role is ensure quite differently by some other scientists, however, who point out that occasional outbursts of cold weather haven’t altered the trend that winters in the US northeast have been getting warmer, especially since the 1970 s.

” There have always been cold outbreaks. The cold air has to go somewhere ,” said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

” The questions is whether the air bides put or gets loose. Some years it is contained, other years it breaks out. The question is where and what is the cause. This study reaffirms the relationship but not its cause. The Arctic likely plays a modest role in terms of feedbacks but it is unlikely it is a cause .”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com