Previously stable zones of Antarctica are now falling victim to climate change

August 1, 2018 by  
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Unlike its counterpart, West Antarctica, which has long been decimated by melting ice caps, East Antarctica used to be a safe zone – something scientists could depend on as a constant while they solved the more pressing destruction in the western part of the continent. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. According to  research unveiled last week in the journal  Geophysical Research Letters , despite the higher elevation and colder temperatures found in the eastern portion of the Antarctic continent, warm ocean currents and rising global temperatures are now destabilizing two of its glaciers. The research has chronicled the lives of two glaciers in the coldest region on Earth for the past 15 years. These glaciers shield the Eastern zone’s land ice, descending from the ice directly toward the sea. This creates a naturally formed dam that, if disturbed, would affect the ice that covers the rest of the region by subjecting it to the warming ocean waters. The melting of these two massive glaciers alone would raise sea levels more than 16 feet (five meters), undoubtedly compromising the rest of the territory. In an interview with Earther , Yara Mohajerani, lead expert in the study and PhD candidate at the University of California, explained, “The East Antarctic ice sheet contains much more ice and sea level potential than any other ice sheet by far, making it of crucial global significance.” Past research has shown the disappearance of similar glaciers in the East Antarctic region when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have reached levels comparable to those found today as a result of human activities. Related: Scientists uncover giant canyons under the ice in Antarctica Scientists believe that, due to the circulation of warm ocean water under the two glaciers, they’ve been losing mass for quite some time. To help quantify the losses, NASA provided the researchers with its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, which measures small changes in gravity. GRACE collected data from 2002 to 2017, and the new study reveals that the glaciers are losing 18.5 gigatons of ice each year, or the equivalent of 7.4 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. While this is minuscule in comparison to losses in the rest of Antarctica, the location of these glaciers makes their survival central to the discussion of East Antarctica’s stability and, therefore, the state of the continent as a whole. + Geophysical Research Letters Via Earther

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Previously stable zones of Antarctica are now falling victim to climate change

Deadly heatwaves may make parts of China uninhabitable by the end of the century

August 1, 2018 by  
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It is no surprise that the world’s most populous country, China , is also the largest polluter on Earth. However, for individuals living in China’s northern plain, the most densely populated region on the planet, it may come as a shock that their homes could become uninhabitable by the end of the century. The region is expected to be subject to aggressive heatwaves that could kill even the healthiest of people in just a matter of hours if carbon emissions are not reduced. In a recent study published by MIT’s Center for Global Change Science , researchers found that China’s northern plain will be the worst spot in the world for future deadly heatwaves. “China is currently the largest contributor to the emissions of greenhouse gases , with potentially serious implications to its own population,” said Professor Elfatih Eltahir, speaking on behalf of his team who ran extensive computerized climate models to research the unfolding event. “Continuation of current global emissions may limit the habitability of the most populous region of the most populous country on Earth.” Related: 6 ways that scientists are hacking the planet This is especially worrisome, because a large portion of the region’s 400 million people are farmers dependent on both the land and outdoor conditions for their livelihoods. According to Bloomberg , Chinese diets are becoming increasingly more like western ones — and it takes about 1 acre to feed the average individual in the U.S. When considering fields that are affected by pollution, which produce mercury-infected rice and milk powder with melamine, China barely has 0.2 acres of arable land per citizen. Pair the degradation of prime land by pollution with the dangerous heatwaves, and China will have a major humanitarian crisis in the near future. Eltahir and his team have previously published global models noting that the key driver to these heat waves is climate change, but that irrigation for farmland is also a serious contributor as water evaporation leads to harmful humidity levels. This combination of heat and humidity is measured in units called “wet bulb” temperature or WBTs. According to the U.S. National Weather Service, WBTs above 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit are classified with an “extreme danger” warning and, “If you don’t take precautions immediately, you may become seriously ill or even die.” WBTs above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will kill even the healthiest individuals sitting in the shade within just six hours. The country will be gambling with the lives of their citizens — not only those living in the northern region — if stricter regulations on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are not adopted. + MIT Center for Global Change Science + Nature Communications Via The Guardian

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Deadly heatwaves may make parts of China uninhabitable by the end of the century

Hunters killed 122 pregnant minke whales

May 31, 2018 by  
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Hunters in Japan recently killed 122 pregnant minke whales  as part of a so-called field survey, the BBC reported . The hunters caught the whales for scientific study — even though in 2014 the United Nations ruled against the country’s “lethal research.” The whale meat collected for research is sold for consumption. Japan’s New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean (NEWREP-A) sent a report to the International Whaling Commission for its “third biological field survey.” The hunters caught 333 Antarctic minke whales. 181 were females, and 67 percent of those were pregnant, while 29 percent of the whales were not yet adults. The team caught the animals within 12 weeks before heading back to Japan. Related: A spike in tailless whale sightings worries scientists Humane Society International Senior Program Manager Alexia Wellbelove said in a statement , “The killing of 122 pregnant whales is a shocking statistic and sad indictment on the cruelty of Japan’s whale hunt . It is further demonstration, if needed, of the truly gruesome and unnecessary nature of whaling operations, especially when non-lethal surveys have been shown to be sufficient for scientific needs.” Japan’s whaling program has been subject to controversy over the years; the UN’s International Court of Justice ruled the JARPA II program was illegal in 2014, but the country relaunched its program in 2015, the Humane Society said. The country withdrew its recognition of the UN court “as an arbiter of disputes over whales.” Governments of “Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the U.S. and everywhere else sit on their hands and say this criminal behavior is okay because the Japanese government is funding it,” Bob Brown, former Australian politician and founder of the Bob Brown Foundation , told The Telegraph . “The leaders who are today failing to take action have the blood of these innocent whales on their hands. This is an international disgrace and an environmental crime.” Japan says it follows Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling that rules countries can “kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research.” The agreement was signed in 1946. + Humane Society International Australia Via the BBC and The Telegraph Images via National Marine Sanctuaries  and Kobakou

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Hunters killed 122 pregnant minke whales

The world’s largest wildlife sanctuary proposed for Antarctica

January 17, 2018 by  
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While the US is busy trying to open more precious areas to fishing and drilling , a campaign led by the EU and Greenpeace seeks to protect an area the size of Germany in Antarctica. A nearly 700,000 square-mile area around the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea would become the world’s largest sanctuary if the proposal is accepted, protecting killer and blue whales, seals, penguins and other sea life. The idea for the massive sanctuary was initially put forth by the EU and then backed by Greenpeace. Multiple EU countries support the idea, and the concept will go to conference in October. Not only will the sanctuary be essential for protecting wildlife, it will also go a long way towards mitigating the effects of climate change. Related: Meteorologist warns collapse of two Antarctic glaciers could flood every coastal city on Earth One of the major impacts of protecting this area is that it would eliminate krill fishing within its borders. Krill is a major component of the diet of many animals, from penguins to whales. Countries including Russia, Norway and China are active in the krill fishing industry, which means getting their approval will be essential in the process. Via The Guardian Images via Deposit Photos ( 1 , 2 )

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The world’s largest wildlife sanctuary proposed for Antarctica

Meteorologist warns collapse of two Antarctic glaciers could flood every coastal city on Earth

November 24, 2017 by  
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Two of Antarctica’s glaciers are holding our civilization hostage, meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote in a piece for Grist . Pine Island and Thwaites are among the continent’s biggest and fastest-melting glaciers , together holding back ice that could unleash 11 feet of sea level rise . If they collapse, every coastal city on our planet could flood. Thwaites and Pine Island sprawl across a plain over 150-miles-long, and inland widen to a reserve of ice two-miles-thick that’s about the size of Texas, according to Holthaus, who says there’s no doubt the ice will melt. The question is not if, but how soon. Should the two glaciers collapse, every shoreline and coastal city could be inundated with water, leaving hundreds of millions of climate refugees homeless. And those events could happen in 20 to 50 years – too fast for humans to adapt. Related: Antarctica’s newest iceberg may destabilize the entire ice shelf Two climatologists, in a study published in Nature last year, said an increase of six feet in ocean levels by 2100 was more likely than three feet – but if carbon emissions continue increasing in a worst case scenario, all 11 feet of ice held back in Antarctica could be freed. But if these glaciers are miles thick, wouldn’t it take an incredibly long time for them to collapse? That may not be the case in our warming world. Holthaus pointed to new evidence saying once we reach a certain temperature threshold, glacier ice shelves extending into the sea – like those of Thwaites and Pine Island – could melt from below and above, quickening their demise. Holthaus noted not every scientist thinks there’s cause for panic. National Snow and Ice Data Center lead scientist Ted Scambos said the two glaciers may not collapse all at once – and rapid collapse would still produce several icebergs that could slow the rate of retreat and act as a temporary ice shelf. But the scientific community is starting to think we need more research into the risk of rapid sea level rise, according to Holthaus. University of Michigan leading ice sheet scientist Jeremy Bassis said, “Every revision to our understanding has said that ice sheets can change faster than we thought. We didn’t predict that Pine Island was going to retreat, we didn’t predict that Larsen B was going to disintegrate. We tend to look at these things after they’ve happened.” Via Grist Images via Wikimedia Commons and NASA

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Meteorologist warns collapse of two Antarctic glaciers could flood every coastal city on Earth

Critical climate record satellite program at risk after Congress slashes funding

November 6, 2017 by  
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Scientists all over Earth depend on sea ice data from United States military satellites . But one of those satellites recently broke down – and only three aging ones remain. Even worse, the United States Congress  said a new backup probe had to be dismantled because they reportedly didn’t want to pay to keep it in storage. Almost four decades of essential  Arctic and Antarctic sea ice satellite measurements could soon be disrupted. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) puts together a sea ice record used by scientists worldwide with satellite information. That record is at risk, as a new satellite can’t be launched until at least 2023, according to scientists. Related: Total sea ice levels on Earth lower than ever before recorded Satellites have aided scientists in measuring Earth’s dramatically shrinking sea ice. Over the years, America’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) has overseen the building of eight F-series satellites monitoring sea ice, but now just three aging probes, DMSP F16, F17, and F18, are operating. And they’re starting to drift out of their orbits. The satellites have lifespans of up to five years – but these three are over eight, 11, and 14 years old. F19 is the satellite that broke, and should have been replaced with F20, which was being stored by the United States Air Force . But it was dismantled in 2016 after Congress cut funding for the program, according to the Scientific American. The Air Force reportedly spent $518 million on F20. NSIDC satellite remote sensing expert David Gallaher said, “This is like throwing away the medical records of a sick patient. Our world is ailing and we have apparently decided to undermine, quite deliberately, the effectiveness of the records on which its recovery might be based. It is criminal.” Scientific American said a Japanese satellite is collecting sea ice data – but it was designed to last five years and is already five years old. A Chinese satellite might offer an alternative – and experts will discuss options at a December meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Via The Guardian and Scientific American Images via Depositphotos

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Critical climate record satellite program at risk after Congress slashes funding

World’s first ocean pollution-eating Seabin launches in the UK

October 11, 2017 by  
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UK waterways are about to get a lot cleaner with the launch of the world’s first production Seabin in Portsmouth harbor. The device, which was developed by a pair of Australian surfers, works by sucking in various kinds of pollution (including oil) and spitting out clean water. The Seabin can collect approximately 1.5 kg of waste each day and has a capacity of 12 kg — and in a given year, a single bin can collect 20,000 plastic bottles or 83,000 plastic bags. The Seabin was first unveiled in December 2015. To fund the invention , founders Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski created an IndieGoGo campaign. With little time to spare, the campaign exceeded its goal. Equipped with $250,000, Turton and Ceglinski are now prepared to follow through with their plan, which entails cleaning up marinas with the natural fiber garbage bin and an automated, above-the-water pump. The device was designed with marine safety in mind – only debris and chemical pollution on the surface of the water is collected; fish and other aquatic creatures are left alone. The Times reports that the Seabin was installed near the base of the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team in the Portsmouth harbor. The group is passionate about environmental efforts – not only have members pledged to give up meat every Monday, they only consume sustainable seafood. Now, they’ve agreed to oversee the Seabin, which will improve the quality of water while protecting the cage of over 1,000 oysters near the pontoon. Related: New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected The Seabin team are also conducting trials at Spain’s Port Adriano and the Port of Helsinki (Finland). In early November, the innovative device will go on sale for £3,000 ($3,957). + Seabin Project Via The Times , Engadget Images via Seabin

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World’s first ocean pollution-eating Seabin launches in the UK

Boston man crosses harbor in a pumpkin boat

October 11, 2017 by  
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Tis the season… to get nuts with pumpkins . Christian Isley of Boston , Massachusetts took infatuation with that adorable, orange squash to a new level; he made a boat out of his homegrown pumpkin and sailed across Boston Harbor. “If there’s something odd to be done, he’ll do it,” said Steve, the squash sailor’s father. “Once he puts his mind to something it gets done, no matter how crazy it is.” Appropriately on the morning of the first day of October, Isley the Younger took a ride in his 520-pound vegetable boat, carved by himself and reinforced by wooden planks, foam, screws, and rope. Boston Harbor itself is a story of success for its historic restoration after decades of neglect and pollution . By the 1970s, the Boston Harbor and the feeding Charles River were toxic. After the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) was compelled by the courts to clean up the region’s water in the 1980s, the rich coastal ecosystem recovered rapidly. Today, the Harbor is swimmable and the Charles is teeming with life. Related: How to cook a whole pumpkin (seeds, guts and all) Native to North America , pumpkins are an excellent source of Vitamin A. The “classic pumpkin” variety is the Connecticut Field; Isley’s boat was made out of an Atlantic Giant. Grown in Belgium , the largest pumpkin ever weighed 2,624.6 lbs, setting the record in 2016. Prior to setting his prize-winning gourd vessel onto the open waters, Isley informed the United States Coast Guard of his plans. Although they expressed their wish that Isley not take the plunge, they did not stop him. Although the cucurbit ship did face some choppy seas , it navigated quite smoothly. “It’s a [expletive] journey,” Isley shouted as he finished the first leg of his adventure. Isley, thanks to his years of experience with boats, completed the quest, as friends and family cheered him on from nearby vessels. “That’s victory right there,” said Isley. “Absolutely. [Expletive] yeah.” Via the Boston Globe Images via the Boston Globe

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Boston man crosses harbor in a pumpkin boat

Colossal iceberg weighing a trillion metric tons finally breaks off in the Antarctic

July 12, 2017 by  
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It finally happened. For several months scientists have had their eyes on the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica , where a massive iceberg has been dangling by a thread. Now they report the iceberg has indeed calved, and is floating in the Weddell Sea. The volume of this iceberg is twice that of Lake Erie. It’s thought to be one of the 10 biggest icebergs we’ve ever recorded. The new iceberg, which will likely be called A68, is around 2,239 square miles. It weighs over a trillion metric tons. Project Midas , which has been monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf, reported the calving happened sometime between July 10 and July 12. Scientists noted the break in NASA satellite data. Related: A colossal iceberg is breaking off Antarctica right now – and it’s big enough to fill Lake Michigan The Larsen C ice shelf has been reduced by 12 percent, meaning it’s at its lowest extent we’ve ever recorded. There isn’t evidence this event is linked to climate change , according to Project Midas leader Adrian Luckman of Swansea University . He said it is possible, but recent data shows that the ice shelf has actually been thickening. United States National Ice and Snow Data Center glacial expert Twila Moon agreed but did say climate change makes it easier for such events to occur. Project Midas team member and Swansea University glaciologist Martin O’Leary said in a statement, “Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position. This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history.” Scientists don’t yet know what will happen to the rest of the Larsen C ice shelf. Luckman said more icebergs might break off, or the ice shelf could regrow. But the team’s prior research indicates an ice shelf is likely less stable now that A68 is floating free. Luckman told The Guardian, “We will have to wait years or decades to know what will happen to the remainder of Larsen C.” Via The Guardian and Project Midas Images via NASA/John Sonntag and Project Midas

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Colossal iceberg weighing a trillion metric tons finally breaks off in the Antarctic

Dubai firm wants to tow icebergs from Antarctica for fresh water

May 18, 2017 by  
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As global temperatures increase due to global warming , ice caps and glaciers continue to melt at an increasing pace. While this reality disturbs some, it is being regarded as positive news by the National Advisor Bureau Limited, based in Dubai, India. This is because the firm seeks to harvest icebergs in the southern Indian ocean and tow them 5,700 miles (9,200 kilometers) away to the Gulf, where they could be melted and sold to local businesses or marketed as a tourist attraction. However ambitious, the Dubai firm faces many challenges in its ambition, including opposition from environmental activists . Phys reports that to accomplish the task of harvesting icebergs, the firm would send ships to Heard Island, an Australian nature reserve , and steer between massive icebergs the size of cities in search of truck-sized chunks. Then, the smaller icebergs would be secured to boats with nets and dragged thousands of miles back to the intended destination. Managing director of the company, Abdullah al-Shehi, believes that the icebergs would not melt significantly during the voyage as the majority of an iceberg’s mass is underwater. Al-Shehi is largely excited about the payday that could await someone who successfully transports an iceberg capable of holding 20 billion gallons of fresh water to the Gulf’s region water. This is because in Norway, for instance, one distillery sells 750 ml bottles of melted Arctic iceberg for $100 each. However, ice sourced from Antarctica is the driest in the world, therefore, yields much less water. If all the permits required are obtained, harvesting will begin in 2019. According to Robert Brears, the founder of Mitidaption, the project would require an initial investment of at least $500 million. Additionally, the firm faces a variety of obstacles. For one, Australia strictly limits access in order to preserve the diverse ecosystem of migratory birds, penguins, seals and fish. This could be disrupted by large ships. Additionally, Antarctica is subject to global treaties that mandate strict environmental regulations and ban mining and military activities. Said Christopher Readinger, head of the Antarctic team at the U.S. National Ice Center, “There are thousands and thousands of icebergs drifting around and they can move without warning. Storms down there can be really brutal, and there’s really not anyone that can help.” Environmentalists are also offering staunch resistant to the Dubai firm’s plan, as they argue there is a simpler method to address climate change in the Middle East. Examples given include drip-irrigation, fixing leaks and water conservations. Hoda Baraka, spokeswoman for the climate advocacy group 350.org , said , “This region is the heartland of the global oil industry, it will be at the forefront of experiencing these massive, insane heat waves, and there’s only one way to avoid this—reducing emissions and keeping all fossil fuels in the ground.” Related: 70-mile crack in Antarctic ice shelf could create Delaware-sized iceberg Because the project is “an exceptionally futile and expensive way” to combat climate change and “seems to run counter to all ideas of climate change adaptation,” says Charlotte Streck, director of the consultancy firm Climate Focus, the Dubai firm is unlikely to receive financing from green investment groups. Via Phys Images via Pixabay

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Dubai firm wants to tow icebergs from Antarctica for fresh water

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