The Environment Chronicle

Notable environmental events between 2011 and 2011 Deselect

  1. The Hula Painted frog - the first amphibian to be declared extinct - is rediscovered after almost 70 years. In 1996, an international commission evaluated the status of the Hula Painted Frog (Latonia nigriventer), an amphibian from northern Israel. The situation seems to be obvious: The habitat of the species is almost completely destroyed by intensified agriculture, and since 1955 no living individual has been observed. The species is thus declared as extinct, the first such case among amphibians worldwide. On 4 June 2013 a team researchers reported in the scientific journal Nature Communications on the rediscovery of the Hula Frog in November 2011. After intensive nature conservation efforts in its original habitat - near the borders to Syria and Lebanon -several specimens have now again been observed in the wild. Now for the first time an in-depth scientific analysis of this enigmatic amphibian became possible - and yielded the next surprise: the Hula Frog differs strongly from its living relatives, the painted frogs from northern Africa and western Africa. Instead the Hula Frogs is related to a genus of fossil giant frogs, Latonia, which were found over much of Europe during the past 10 million years.

  2. In the central Arctic the proportion of old, thick sea ice has declined significantly. Instead, the ice cover now largely consists of thin, one-year-old floes. This is one of the results that scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association brought back from the 26th Arctic expedition of the research vessel Polarstern.

  3. The global uptake of carbon by land plants may be up to 45 per cent more than previously thought. This is the conclusion of an international team of scientists, based on the variability of heavy oxygen atoms in the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere driven by the El Niño effect. As the oxygen atoms in carbon dioxide were converted faster than expected during the El Niño years, current estimates for the uptake of carbon by plants are probably too low. These should be corrected upwards, say the researchers in the scientific journal NATURE published online on 28 September 2011 . Instead of 120 petagrams of carbon, the annual global vegetation uptake probably lies between 150 and 175 petagrams of carbon. This value is a kind of gross national product for land plants and indicates how productive the biosphere of the Earth is. The reworking of this so-called global primary productivity would have significant consequences for the coupled carbon cycle-climate model used in climate research to predict future climate change.

  4. In 2011, World Ecological Debt Day or Earth Overshoot Day falled on 27 September 2011. Earth Overshoot Day, a concept devised by U.K.-based new economics foundation, marks the day when demand on ecological services begins to exceed the renewable supply.

  5. NASA's new Aquarius instrument has produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface. Aquarius, which is aboard the Aquarius/SAC-D (Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas) observatory, is making NASA's first space observations of ocean surface salinity variations -- a key component of Earth's climate. The map is a composite of the data since Aquarius became operational on Aug. 25. The mission was launched June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

  6. Researchers in Australia have discovered that dolphin colonies living around Melbourne are a species unlike any other in the world, they revealed on 15 September 2011. The dolphins that frolic in Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes, numbering around 150, were originally thought to be one of the two recognised bottlenose species. But Monash University PhD researcher Kate Charlton-Robb found they were different by comparing skulls, DNA and physical traits with specimens dating back to the early 1900s. She has named them Tursiops australis, although they will commonly be known as the Burrunan dolphin, an Aboriginal name meaning large sea fish of the porpoise kind.

  7. A new historic Arctic sea ice minimum has been reached on 8 September, 2011.

  8. Berlin, Stockholm and Copenhagen are the leading cities in Europe for combating air pollution according to a ranking of 17 European cities, with Rome, Madrid and London all gaining F grades for their lack of effort to improve air quality. The city ranking was released on 7 Septmebr 2011 by a coalition of green NGOs to highlight what has been done to improve air quality in western European cities. These cities are meant to follow European limits on the levels of a number of harmful pollutants in our air. Berlin took top spot in the ranking for its efforts to improve air quality. The green groups praised Berlin’s broad strategy to tackle high emitters of dangerous pollutants and reduce car use in the city.

  9. Scientists on a WWF-backed expedition in an unexplored part of Brazil have discovered a new species of monkey. It’s still being studied, but is thought to be a previously unknown kind of titi monkey. The discovery of this and other ‘new’ species highlights the importance of protecting these remote areas of the Amazon. The unknown monkey species was discovered during a 20-day expedition to one of the last unexplored parts of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state in December 2010. This long-tailed, ginger-tinged little primate is believed to be a titi monkey, from the Callicebus genus, but has features on its head and tail never seen before in other titi monkey species in the area.

  10. Research commissioned by Greenpeace International has revealed that clothing and certain fabric-based shoes sold internationally by major clothing brands are manufactured using nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). NPEs – which are used as surfactants in textile production - subsequently break down to form toxic nonylphenol (NP). Nonylphenol is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain, and is hazardous even at very low levels. The investigation involved the analysis of 78 articles of sports and recreational clothing and shoes bearing the logos of 15 leading clothing brands.

  11. NASA-funded researchers have created the first complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica. The map, which shows glaciers flowing thousands of miles from the continent's deep interior to its coast, will be critical for tracking future sea-level increases from climate change. The team created the map using integrated radar observations from a consortium of international satellites. "This is like seeing a map of all the oceans' currents for the first time. It's a game changer for glaciology," said Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California (UC), Irvine. Rignot is lead author of a paper about the ice flow published on 18 August 2011 in Science. Rignot and UC Irvine scientists Jeremie Mouginot and Bernd Scheuchl used billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites to weed out cloud cover, solar glare and land features masking the glaciers. With the aid of NASA technology, the team painstakingly pieced together the shape and velocity of glacial formations, including the previously uncharted East Antarctica, which comprises 77 percent of the continent. The work was conducted in conjunction with the International Polar Year (IPY) (2007-2008.

  12. The researchers found that Greenland's longest-observed glacier, Mittivakkat Glacier, made two consecutive record losses in mass observations for 2010 and 2011. The observations indicate that the total 2011 mass budget loss was 2.45 metres, 0.29 metres higher than the previous observed record loss in 2010. The 2011 value was also significantly above the 16-year average observed loss of 0.97 metres per year.

  13. The Renewables 2011 Global Status Report (GSR) published by the REN21 policy network on 12 July 2011 confirms that there is a global trend toward renewable energy. Renewable energy accounted for some 16 per cent of final energy consumption worldwide and for almost 20 per cent of electricity consumption in 2010, reflecting continuous growth. Global investment in renewable energy increased by more than a third in 2010, reaching a total of 211 billion US dollars (in 2009, it was 160 billion US dollars). Political targets and support policies continue to be crucial for the expansion of renewable energy. There are at least 191 countries that have adopted relevant national goals or policies (in 2005, there were only 55). Developing and emerging economies are becoming more active in this regard. In 2010, the greatest increase took place in the field of wind energy, followed by hydropower and photovoltaics. However, 2010 was also the first year in which Europe saw a greater increase in photovoltaic capacity than in wind capacity.

  14. On 21 June 2011 the first map of sea-ice thickness from ESA’s CryoSat mission was revealed at the Paris Air and Space Show. From an altitude of just over 700 km and reaching unprecedented latitudes of 88º, CryoSat has spent the last seven months delivering precise measurements to study changes in the thickness of Earth’s ice. CryoSat measures the height of the sea ice above the water line, known as the freeboard, to calculate the thickness. The measurements used to generate this first map of the Arctic were from January and February 2011, as the ice approaches its annual maximum.

  15. An international research team including University of Pennsylvania scientists has shown that the rate of sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast is greater now than at any time in the past 2,000 years and that there is a consistent link between changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level. The research was conducted by members of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in Penn’s School of Arts and Science: Benjamin Horton, associate professor and director of the Sea Level Research Laboratory, and postdoctoral fellow Andrew Kemp, now at Yale University’s Climate and Energy Institute. Their work was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 20 June 2011.

  16. Initial tests of the 22 seaweed samples collected by Greenpeace along the coast North and South of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and up to 65km out to sea by its flag ship Rainbow Warrior registered significantly high levels of radioactive contamination. Ten samples show levels over 10,000 Bq/kg, while the official safety limits for seaweed are 2,000 Bq/kg for Iodine-131 and 500 Bq/kg for Caesium-137 (1).

  17. Aviation contributes significantly to anthropogenic climate change by emissions of greenhouse gases, particles and nitrogen oxides as well as by changes of high (cirrus) cloudiness. An important but poorly explored component of the latter are contrail cirrus, comprising the familiar line shaped contrails and the irregularly shaped cirrus clouds that evolve from them. The contrail cirrus radiative forcing (a measure of Earth’s radiative imbalance due to contrail cirrus) has been simulated for the first time with a climate model in the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at DLR Oberpfaffenhofen and published as a research article in Nature Climate Change.

  18. Radioactive iodine-131 at a concentration of 3,355 times the maximum allowable level under the law was detected in a seawater sample taken on 29 March 2011 near the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

  19. Plutonium has been detected in soil samples taken from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. On 28 March 2011 the plant operators Tepco say the samples, taken at the plant on 21 and 22 March, could have been discharged from nuclear fuel at the plant hit by the March earthquake and tsunami.

  20. The effects of the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated areas of Japan can be seen as far away as Antarctica. Satellite images show new icebergs were created after the tsunami hit the Sulzberger Ice Shelf. Using radar images acquired by ESA’s Envisat satellite, a NASA team was able to spot the icebergs – the largest measuring about 6.5 by 9.5 km in surface area and about 80 m in thickness. The findings were published in the online Journal of Glaciology on 8 August 2011.

  21. Germany has registered the sunniest and second driest spring since records began, the German Weather Service (DWD) said on 30 May 2011. “No spring on record has brought more sunshine, and only the spring of 2007 was warmer. Indeed, the months of March, April and May haven’t seen such little rainfall since 1893,” said DWD meteorologist Uwe Kirsche in a statement.

  22. Dramatic new video footage of two critically endangered Javan rhinos and their calves was released on 28 February 2011 by WWF-Indonesia and Indonesia’s National Park Authority. The Javan rhino is possibly the rarest mammal on the planet with as few as 40 left. Once numerous throughout Southeast Asia, its population is now likely isolated to Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia. This small population size makes it extremely vulnerable to any threat, including poaching for its horn, which is traditionally believed to have medicinal properties. The video trap, installed by WWF-Indonesia and Ujung Kulon National Park Authority, captured images of the rhinos and their calves between November and December of last year in the dense tropical rainforests of Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java. WWF is working with Ujung Kulon National Park authorities, International Rhino Foundation, Indonesia Rhino Foundation, Asian Rhino Project, IUCN/SSC Rhino Specialist Group and local communities to protect this species from poaching, monitor the remaining rhinos, and establish a new population by relocating several individuals.

  23. New satellite imagery showed Malaysia was destroying forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined, and its carbon-rich peat soils of the Sarawak coast were being stripped even faster, according to a study released 1 February 2011. The report commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International said Malaysia was uprooting an average 2 percent of the rain forest a year on Sarawak, its largest state on the island of Borneo, or nearly 10 percent over the last five years. Most of it is being converted to palm oil plantations, it said. The deforestation rate for all of Asia during the same period was 2.8 percent, it said.

  24. Never before in the past 2,000 years the Atlantic Water in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard was as warm as today. This was revealed by a study of marine sediments from the western Svalbard continental margin which was led by German researchers from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) and the Academy of Sciences, Humanities, and Literature Mainz, and performed together with colleagues from Bremerhaven (Germany), Tromsø (Norway) and Boulder (USA). The scientists assume that the recent decrease in sea ice coverage and the rapid warming of the Arctic are connected to the enhanced heat transfer from the Atlantic.

  25. Toxic pollution from flooded farms and towns along the Queensland coast will have a disastrous impact on the Great Barrier Reef’s corals and will likely have a significant impact on dugongs, turtles and other marine life, WWF warned on 10 Januar 2011.

  26. The Arctic sea ice has not only declined over the past decade but has also become distinctly thinner and younger. Researchers are now observing mainly thin, first-year ice floes which are extensively covered with melt ponds in the summer months where once metre-thick, multi-year ice used to float. Sea ice physicists at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), have now measured the light transmission through the Arctic sea ice for the first time on a large scale, enabling them to quantify consequences of this change. They come to the conclusion that in places where melt water collects on the ice, far more sunlight and therefore energy is able to penetrate the ice than is the case for white ice without ponds. The consequence is that the ice is absorbing more solar heat, is melting faster, and more light is available for the ecosystems in and below the ice. The researchers have published these findings in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters (Volume 39, Issue 24, December 2012).

  27. The air in Germany in 2011 had excessive levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide pollution. Mean particulate matter levels were above those of the previous four years, and nitrogen dioxide pollution remained high. Limit values for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are often exceeded in the immediate vicinity of urban roads. Daily averages for particulate matter were above the allowable limit at 42 per cent of stations near roads. The limit allows for daily averages of more than 50 micrograms of fine particles (PM10) per cubic metre air (µg/m3) on no more than 35 days. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels were above the allowable yearly average of 40 µg/m3 at 57 per cent of urban stations located near traffic.

  28. An exceptional accumulation of very severe natural catastrophes makes 2011 the highest-ever loss year on record, even after the first half-year. Already, the approx. US$ 265bn in economic losses up to the end of June easily exceeds the total figure for 2005, previously the costliest year to date (US$ 220bn for the year as a whole). Most of the losses were caused by the earthquake in Japan on 11 March. Altogether, the loss amount was more than five times higher than the first-half average for the past ten years. The insured losses, around US$ 60bn, were also nearly five times greater than the average since 2001. First-half losses are generally lower than second-half losses, which are often affected by hurricanes in the North Atlantic and typhoons in the Northwest Pacific. The total number of loss-relevant natural events in the first six months of 2011 was 355, somewhat below the average for the previous ten years (390).