Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades

June 4, 2018 by  
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Climate change disproportionately impacts the Arctic, where rising global temperatures wrought by the burning of fossil fuels have brought rapid, fundamental changes to places like Alaska. In a new study published in Global Change Biology , researchers conclude that 67,000 square miles of land in Alaska, 13 percent of the total land, have been affected over the past three decades. The land has been impacted by what the study calls ‘directional change,’ in which a location has experienced fundamental change in its ecology from historic levels. For example, some areas have become greener and wetter and others have dried out as glaciers shrink and wildfires rage across the state. Even trees have shifted, with treelines moving farther north to adjust to a warming Arctic. To study the drastic changes in Alaska , scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey used satellite and aerial imagery integrated with field data to create a mapping algorithm that assesses the level of change throughout the state. The study analyzed 540,000 square miles of land, noting the various kinds of changes in different Alaskan ecosystems. Near the tundra, the environment is becoming greener as trees and other plants spread beyond their traditional northern border. Meanwhile, interior forests are drying out, resulting in increased and more intense wildfires, which the researchers conclude is the greatest factor in Alaska’s ecological change. “What impressed me [was] how extensive and influential the fires were,” study co-author Bruce Wylie told Earther . Related: One-third of the world’s protected areas face ‘shocking’ human impact Climate change has also disrupted the state’s historic water patterns. Melting permafrost has led to depressions, allowing wetlands to form in unusual places. This has also exacerbated erosion along the coasts, which are being tested by an ever-shorter season of sea ice. The comprehensive study of these varied changes may be helpful as scientists and policymakers plan for Alaska’s future. “Now with this study we have spatially explicit interpretations of the changes on the land, with specific drivers identified and attributed to the changes,” NASA carbon cycle scientist Peter Griffith told Earther . However, there is still so much more to learn. The study’s results, limited by available technology and resources, do not tell the whole story. + Global Change Biology Via Earther Images via Depositphotos and USGS

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Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades

Arctic sea ice is filled with record levels of microplastics

April 25, 2018 by  
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Even the Arctic can’t escape plastic pollution . Scientists gathered ice samples from five distinct regions in the Arctic Ocean , and some of those samples contained over 12,000 microplastic particles per liter of ice – a record-breaking amount. All told, they uncovered 17 different kinds of plastic , including paints and packaging. A team of 9 scientists at Alfred Wegener Institute recorded record levels of microplastics, or plastic fragments between a few micrometers to under five millimeters big, in sea ice collected in the Arctic. They gathered these samples aboard the research icebreaker Polarstern in 2014 and 2015. They utilized a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer to scrutinize the ice samples layer by layer to light up microparticles; particles reflect varying wavelengths depending on their ingredients so the scientists could determine their substances. Related: New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected Their methods helped them discover minuscule particles. Scientist Gunnar Gerdts, who runs the laboratory where the researchers carried out measurements, said in a statement , “In this way, we also discovered plastic particles that are tiny 11 microns in size. This is roughly a sixth of the diameter of human hair and was also the key reason why, with more than 12,000 particles per liter of sea ice, we were able to detect two to three times higher plastic concentrations than was the case in a previous study.” 67 percent of the particles in the ice samples fell in the 50 micrometers and below category: the smallest one. Biologist Ilka Peeken said, “We found out in our study that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were smaller than one-twentieth of a millimeter and thus easily eaten by Arctic microorganisms such as crayfish, but also copepods.” This is concerning, she said, because “so far no one can say to what extent these tiny plastic particles harm the sea dwellers or end up even endangering humans.” The journal Nature Communications published the research this week. + Alfred Wegener Institute + Nature Communications Images via Tristan Vankaan , Mar Fernandez , and Stefan Hendricks

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Arctic sea ice is filled with record levels of microplastics

The melting Arctic is already changing the ocean’s circulation

March 15, 2018 by  
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In the far North Atlantic , scientists have uncovered new evidence that an unusual infusion of freshwater into the ocean may already be affecting the ocean’s circulation. Mostly likely sourced from melting glaciers in Greenland or Arctic sea ice, the freshwater remains on the surface of the ocean for longer than denser saltwater. This could affect the ocean’s natural process known as convection, in which northbound surface water becomes denser and colder, thus sinking then traveling south at great depths. “Until now, models have predicted something for the future … but it was something that seemed very distant,” study lead author Marilena Oltmanns told the Washington Post . “But now we saw with these observations that there is actually freshwater and that it is already affecting convection, and it delays convection quite a lot in some years.” The research team gathered data on Irminger Sea to the southeast of Greenland , where they used ocean moorings to take measurements regarding the circulation of ocean water at key convection sites. While the study does not make any specific predictions regarding how convection may be affected, or how quickly it may change, the conclusion that freshwater from melting glaciers or sea ice may be already affecting convection is noteworthy. In 2010, 40 percent of melted freshwater remained on the surface through winter and into the next year. The staying power of the melted freshwater may suggest a positive feedback loop that could drive further mixing. Related: Pre-industrial carbon found in Canadian Arctic waters “It is possible that there is a threshold, that if there is a lot of freshwater that stays at the surface, and mixes with the new freshwater from the new summer, it suddenly doubles, or increases a lot, and the next winter , it’s a lot more difficult to break through,” said Oltmanns. It is already established that Atlantic circulation has been weaker than average since 2008, with scientists crediting climate change , cyclical patterns, or both. While the changes to convection may occur over time, the latest study indicates that change may occur more rapidly than expected. “There might be a threshold that is crossed, and it’s harder to get back to where we were before,” said Oltmanns. “It’s possible.” Via The Washington Post Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Deep freeze in the UK causes massive die-off of sea creatures

March 6, 2018 by  
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Scientists and conservationists in the United Kingdom have observed a mass die-off of invertebrate sea creatures as a result of recent frigid weather . “There was a 3C drop in sea temperature last week which will have caused animals to hunker down and reduce their activity levels,” Bex Lynam of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said in a statement . “This makes them vulnerable to rough seas – they became dislodged by large waves and washed ashore when the rough weather kicked in.” Tens of thousands of mostly dead animals covered the beaches of the Holderness coast in Yorkshire, as well as locations in Kent and Norfolk. The bizarre, tragic phenomenon is all the more unsettling in context; while Europe froze, the Arctic thawed in the dead of polar winter . Although most creatures washed ashore were dead, some lobsters survived the frost . Those lucky few are being gathered up and cared for before they will be releasing back into the wild. “This area is very important for shellfish and we work alongside fishermen to promote sustainable fisheries and protect reproductive stocks,” said Lynam. “It’s worth saving them so that they can be put back into the sea and continue to breed.” While some fish did perish, most of the dead were invertebrate species. “Larger animals such as dolphins are more mobile and can save themselves by swimming away when this sort of thing happens,” explained Lynam. Related: World’s first floating wind farm performing better than anticipated While a specific deep freeze cannot be blamed on climate change , climate scientists predict that these extreme weather events will become more frequent as the change accelerates. Beyond confronting climate change, there are steps that humans can take to protect marine life. “We can’t prevent natural disasters like this,” Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s senior living seas officer Dr. Lisa Bassey said in a statement . “But we can mitigate against declining marine life and the problems that humans cause by creating enough protected areas at sea and by ensuring that these sites are large enough and close enough to offer fish , crustaceans, dolphins and other marine life the protection they require to withstand natural events such as this.” Via The Guardian Images via Bex Lynham/Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

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Redesigned Flow Hive 2 snags whopping $13.6 million on Indiegogo

March 6, 2018 by  
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Record-smashing crowdfunding project Flow Hive offered honey on tap: a beehive that makes it easier for beekeepers to harvest honey. Over 50,000 Flow Hives have gone out to 130 countries around the world, and now the Australian father-son team behind the design are back. The pair redesigned their groundbreaking hive, drawing on customer feedback and adding brand new features, and took to Indiegogo again with the Flow Hive 2 for a campaign that was just 18,983 percent funded. Flow Hive 2’s design is simple: inside a body comprised of laser-cut sustainable Western red cedar rest Flow Frames, which Stuart Anderson and Cedar Anderson, father and son, describe as “the most revolutionary beekeeping invention since the Langstroth hive was designed in 1852.” The frames are partially built honeycomb: add bees to do their thing — covering the honeycomb in wax, completing the cells, filling them with honey, and capping with wax — and then, when it’s time to harvest the honey, beekeepers insert and turn a handle to allow channels to form inside. The honey flows down into a waiting jar with minimal disturbance to the bees, who “are left to be, still standing on their wax capping.” A few hours later the bees realize the honeycomb is empty and they get right back to work, busy as bees. Related: How a simple honey harvester demonstrates the sweet success of viral crowdfunding campaign The Flow Hive 2 features an adjustable hive stand making it easier to set up on uneven ground. A multi-functional tray helps beekeepers trap pests. Deeper handles, a ventilation control system, a harvesting shelf, and observation windows on both sides are among the other upgrades to the hive. Beekeepers can obtain around five-and-a-half to six-and-a-half-pounds of honey per frame. The Flow Hive 2 costs $932; earlybird backers snagged it for $699. The Indiegogo campaign is over, raising an incredible $13,662,173. But it seems Flow Hive’s journey is really just beginning. You can find out more on the campaign page or their website . + Flow Hive + Flow Hive 2 Indiegogo Image via Flow Hive

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Redesigned Flow Hive 2 snags whopping $13.6 million on Indiegogo

Polar bears could go extinct sooner than scientists previously thought

February 5, 2018 by  
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We’ve long known climate change will cause trouble for polar bears in the wild, but a new study reveals their metabolic rates are higher than we thought, and a changing environment is making it harder for them to snare enough food to satisfy energy needs. As they struggle to find prey, The Guardian reported they could go extinct faster than scientists previously feared. A team of scientists led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) studied nine polar bears over three years during a time period in April, in the Beaufort Sea near Alaska . They discovered the bears required three juveniles or one adult ringed seal every 10 days. But five of the nine polar bears didn’t reach that goal during the study, and their body weight plummeted as a result – up to around 44 pounds, during one study period of 10 days. Related: Video of starving polar bear ‘rips your heart out of your chest’ USGS biologist Anthony Pagano told The Guardian, “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them. We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Metabolic rates the scientists measured in the field averaged over 50 percent higher than previous studies predicted. Combined with other studies on drops in the numbers of polar bears recently, and their body condition, scientists say this new study, published this month in Science , reveals the bears are in a worse plight than we thought. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, per The Guardian. Polar bears hunt for prey on sea ice , but as that ice diminishes, many polar bears must resort to foraging for food on land – like in garbage bins of remote towns, according to The Guardian. + University of California, Santa Cruz + Science Via The Guardian Images via Jessica K. Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey and Anthony M. Pagano, USGS

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Tesla inks deal to turn 50,000 Australian homes into solar power generators

February 5, 2018 by  
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50,000 homes in South Australia will soon receive solar panels and Tesla batteries as part of a groundbreaking plan to transform homes into grid-connected power generators. This latest collaboration between the state of South Australia and Tesla seeks to create an interconnected energy system in which homes can share energy through a smart-grid system. Select homes will receive solar panels and rechargeable batteries for free, while the project will be funded by the sale of excess energy produced by linked, energy-producing homes. The recently announced plan is only the latest renewable energy initiative in South Australia, which began its comprehensive efforts towards clean power after a state-wide blackout in 2016. “My government has already delivered the world’s biggest battery, now we will deliver the world’s largest virtual power plant,” said state Premier Jay Weatherill in a statement . “We will use people’s homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills.” To be fair, South Australia’s big battery was a collaborative effort with Tesla, one that began with a bet in which Elon Musk offered to offer the battery for free if it was not built within 100 days. Related: South Australia to host world’s largest thermal solar plant Musk won that bet, but South Australia is reaping the victorious benefits of clean energy. The latest plan will begin with a trial phase in which 1,100 public housing projects will be equipped with a 5kW solar panel system Tesla battery. This will then be followed by similar installations at 24,000 public housing projects, with further accepted homes over the next four years. With up to 250 megawatts of solar energy and 650 megawatt hours of battery storage, the clean energy potential of the interlinked 50,000 homes will be invaluable as Australia seeks to turn away from coal, the country’s main energy source. Via Phys.org Images via Tesla

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Tesla inks deal to turn 50,000 Australian homes into solar power generators

Antony Gibbon’s minimalist wooden Jutt House appears to float above the earth

February 5, 2018 by  
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UK-based architect Antony Gibbon just shared his latest nature-inspired design with Inhabitat – and it’s a stunner. The Jutt House is minimalist wooden home designed to bring its occupants closer to serenity of the natural environment. Thanks to a glazed front facade and a “floating” entryway, the home blends into virtually any environment. The Jutt House is part of Antony Gibbon’s Inhabit treehouse series, and it’s specifically geared towards clients looking for an affordable, yet visually pleasing home. The building is strategically designed for an affordable and simplified construction process. The home sits flat on the ground, with a one or two meter overhang at the front, and it requires very little structural engineering. Related: Antony Gibbon’s Ventt House is a minimalist retreat embedded into the rocky landscape The home’s “floating” entryway allows it to be set on virtually any landscape, and amazing views are all but guaranteed with the home’s fully glazed front wall. Inside, natural light floods the living space. The home’s elongated volume has an efficient open layout with a second floor sleeping loft accessible via a spiral staircase. + Antony Gibbon Designs + Antony Gibbon on Instagram Images via Antony Gibbon

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Antony Gibbon’s minimalist wooden Jutt House appears to float above the earth

A president confronts the existential threat of climate change

January 20, 2018 by  
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Towards the end of his second term, former president Barack Obama toured the Arctic with a Rolling Stone journalist. There, they faced our uncertain future.

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A president confronts the existential threat of climate change

512-year-old Greenland shark may be the oldest living vertebrate on Earth

December 14, 2017 by  
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A recently identified 512-year-old Greenland shark may be the world’s oldest living vertebrate. Although scientists discovered the 18-foot fish in the North Atlantic months ago, its age was only recently revealed in a study published in the journal Science .  Greenland sharks have the longest lifespan of any vertebrate animal, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the species would boast the oldest living individual vertebrate as well. Nonetheless, the fact that this creature may have been born as early as 1505 is remarkable. “It definitely tells us that this creature is extraordinary and it should be considered among the absolute oldest animals in the world,” said marine biologist Julius Nelson, whose research team studied the shark’s longevity. To determine the shark’s age, scientists used a mathematical model that analyzes the lens and cornea of a shark’s eye and links size of the shark to its age. Greenland sharks grow at a rate of about 1 centimeter per year, which allowed scientists to estimate a particular shark’s age. The ability to measure the age of this mysterious shark is relatively new. “Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success,” said Steven Campana, a shark expert from the University of Iceland. “Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1,000 years.” Related: Airbnb is offering a night in an underwater bedroom surrounded by 35 sharks The Greenland shark thrives in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Despite its considerable size, comparable to that of a great white shark, the Greenland shark is a scavenger and has never been observed hunting. Its diet primarily consists of fish, though remains of reindeer, polar bear , moose, and seals have been found in the species’ stomachs. To cope with life in deep water, the living tissues of a Greenland shark contains high levels of trimethylamine N-oxide, which makes the meat toxic. However, when the flesh is fermented, it can be consumed, as it is in Iceland as a dish known as Kæstur hákarl. Via International Business Times Images via Wikimedia and Julius Nelson

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512-year-old Greenland shark may be the oldest living vertebrate on Earth

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