The Environment Chronicle

Notable environmental events between 2016 and 2016 Deselect

  1. Air temperatures sampled by at least five different buoys near the North Pole between 86 and 89 degrees north latitude reached from 0 to 1.2 degrees Celsius on 15 November 2016, according to the data from the International Arctic Buoy Programme.

  2. For each ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) that any person on our planet emits, 3 m² of Arctic summer sea ice disappear. This is the finding of a study that was published in the journal Science on 3 November 2016 by Dr. Dirk Notz, leader of Max Planck research group "Sea Ice in the Earth System" at the Max Planck Institute for Metorology (MPI-M) and by Prof. Julienne Stroeve from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, and the University College London, UK. These numbers allow one for the first time to grasp the individual contribution to global climate change. The study also explains why climate models usually simulate a lower sensitivity - and concludes that the 2 °C global warming target will not allow Arctic summer sea ice to survive.

  3. Unusually high air temperatures and a warm ocean have led to a record low Arctic sea ice extent for November, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctic sea ice extent also hit a record low for the month, caused by moderately warm temperatures and a rapid shift in circumpolar winds. Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers for November 2016, 1.95 million square kilometers below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for the month.

  4. The population of critically endangered Mekong River Dolphins (Irrawaddy Dolphins) in the Cheuteal trans-boundary pool between southern Laos and northern Cambodia has shrunk by 50 per cent this year alone and the population is functionally extinct in Laos, according to WWF. WWF survey teams from Laos and Cambodia conducted a dolphin abundance survey and confirmed the current number and breeding status of the dolphins in the transboundary pool. Down to just three individuals – from six just earlier this year – there is now little hope for a reversal of the situation, as the small population is no longer viable.

  5. Grauer's gorilla, which is confined to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is now Critically Endangered, according to a study published October 19, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Andrew Plumptre from Wildlife Conservation Society, USA, and colleagues. This is the first analysis of the Grauer's gorilla population since civil war broke out in the region in 1996. Before the war, the population was estimated at 16,900 individuals. The researchers now estimate that there are only 3,800 Grauer's gorillas left in the wild, a 77% decline in a single generation. While this species was previously classified as Endangered, the gorillas are now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species based on this new population estimate. The researchers believe that Grauer's gorilla could be lost from many parts of its range within five years, and call for greater conservation efforts.

  6. The mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet is bigger than previously estimated. This is the result of a study by international scientists to be published in Science Advances. The work shows that up to now the so-called glacial isostatic adjustment, i.e., the uplift of the bedrock, was not correctly taken into account when measuring the glaciers’ mass balance with data from GRACE satellite observations. The new calculations by the team yield 272 Giga tons (Gt) of mass loss per year from 2004 to 2015 compared to previously calculated 253 Gt per year. The uplift of the bedrock is due to thinning of the Greenland Ice Sheet since the Last Glacial Maximum, around 20,000 years before present. The scientists measured this upward movement with a new GPS network that has its sensors placed directly on the bedrock surrounding the ice sheet. They showed that the uplift rate is bigger than previously estimated and modelled. The results also point to a much greater ice loss since the Last Glacial Maximum. Current estimates put the sea level rise when spread over the whole global ocean due to the reduction of the size of the Greenland Ice Sheet at 3.2 meters over the last 20,000 years. The new study, however, gives a value of 4.6 meters since that time.

  7. Tropical coral reefs lose up to two thirds of their zooplankton through ocean acidification. This is the conclusion reached by a German-Australian research team that examined two reefs with so-called carbon dioxide seeps off the coast of Papua New Guinea. At these locations volcanic carbon dioxide escapes from the seabed, lowering the water's acidity to a level, which scientists predict for the future of the oceans. The researchers believe that the decline in zooplankton is due to the loss of suitable hiding places. It results from the changes in the coral reef community due to increasing acidification. Instead of densely branched branching corals, robust mounding species of hard coral grow, offering the zooplankton little shelter. In a study published on 19 September 2016 at the online portal of the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers report that the impact on the food web of the coral reefs is far-reaching, since these micro-organisms are an important food source for fish and coral.

  8. In September 2016, the Arctic sea ice extent has shrunk to 4.1 million square kilometres - the second lowest in the history of satellite measurements. It is exceeded only by the all-time record low of 3.4 million sq km in 2012. The Northeast and Northwest Passages have been ice-free again since the end of August 2016. For the past few weeks, Yachts and a cruise ship have been using the southern route of the Northwest Passage.

  9. Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology show catastrophic declines in wilderness areas around the world over the last 20 years. The researchers mapped wilderness areas around the globe, with “wilderness” being defined as biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance. The researchers then compared their current map of wilderness to one produced by the same methods in the early 1990s. This comparison showed that a total of 30.1 million km2 (around 20 percent of the world’s land area) now remains as wilderness, with the majority being located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and the Australian continent. However, comparisons between the two maps show that an estimated 3.3 million km2 (almost 10 percent) of wilderness area has been lost in the intervening years. Those losses have occurred primarily in South America, which has experienced a 30 percent decline in wilderness, and Africa, which has experienced a 14 percent loss.

  10. Endangered humpback whales in nine of 14 newly identified distinct population segments have recovered enough that they don’t warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries said on 6 September 2016. International conservation efforts to protect and conserve whales over the past 40 years proved successful for most populations. Four of the distinct population segments are still protected as endangered, and one is now listed as threatened.

  11. More than 300 million people in Asia, Africa and Latin America are at risk of life-threatening diseases like cholera and typhoid due to the increasing pollution of water in rivers and lakes, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said. Between 1990 and 2010, pollution caused by viruses, bacteria and other micro-organisms, and long-lasting toxic pollutants like fertilizer or petrol, increased in more than half of rivers across the three continents, while salinity levels rose in nearly a third, UNEP said in a report on 30 August 2016.

  12. On 8 August 2016, humanity used up nature’s budget for the year 2016, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that is changing how the world manages its natural resources and responds to climate change. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

  13. The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for August 2016 was the highest for August in the 137-year period of record, marking the 16th consecutive month of record warmth for the globe. The August 2016 temperature departure of 0.92°C above the 20th century average of 15.6°C (60.1°F) surpassed the previous record set in 2015 by 0.05°C. Fourteen of the 15 highest monthly land and ocean temperature departures in the record have occurred since February 2015, with January 2007 among the 15 highest monthly temperature departures.

  14. Mitrabah, Kuwait, set a new highest temperature record for the Eastern hemisphere and Asia, with a reported temperature of 54.0°C (129.2°F) on 21 July 2016.

  15. Sixty percent of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by local activities; 50% of all fish stock in large marine ecosystems (LMEs) are overexploited; 64 of the world’s 66 LMEs have experienced ocean warming in the last decades, according to new alarming figures from global assessments on the state of the world’s high seas and large marine ecosystems presented by Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO on 14 July 2016.

  16. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has estimated the degree of self- sufficiency in fish consumption achieved by the EU as a whole and for each of its EU27 member states; self-sufficiency is defined as the capacity of EU member states to meet demand for fish from their own waters. For the EU as a whole, fish dependence day is 13 July 2016, indicating that almost one-half of fish consumed in the EU is sourced from non-EU waters.

  17. On 11 July 2016 Norman Duke, spokesman for the Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Network, said an ‘unprecedented’ event has now been confirmed to have occurred, with surveys showing thousands of hectares of mangroves on the Gulf of Carpentaria suffering a severe dieback. Dr Duke of James Cook University said scientists first heard anecdotal evidence about the scale of the dieback in early 2016, and this has now been confirmed by aerial and satellite surveys. Dr Duke said around 7000 hectares of mangroves, or more than nine percent of the mangroves in the area stretching 700km west from Normanton, have been affected. He said it is the first recorded instance of its kind attributed to drying conditions and high temperatures and is likely associated with global climate change. He said current evidence favours the proposal that the mangrove dieback is most likely caused by the extended dry season rather than high temperatures alone.

  18. September ozone hole has shrunk by 4 million square kilometers since 2000. Scientists at MIT and elsewhere have identified the “first fingerprints of healing” of the Antarctic ozone layer, published on 30 June 2016 in the journal Science.

  19. Global warming results in fundamental changes to important ocean currents. As scientists from the Alfred-Wegener-Institute show in a new study, wind-driven subtropical boundary currents in the northern and southern hemisphere are not only going to increase in strength by the end of this century. The Kuroshio Current, the Agulhas Current and other oceanic currents are shifting their paths towards the pole and thus carry higher temperatures and thus the risk of storms to temperate latitudes. For this study, researchers evaluated a wealth of independent observational data and climate simulations. They showed the same pattern for all boundary currents, with the Gulf Stream as the only exception. According to the data, the latter will weaken over the next decades. On 28 June 2016 the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research professional journal.

  20. University of Queensland and Queensland Government researchers have confirmed that the Bramble Cay melomys – the only mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef - is the first mammal to go extinct due to human-induced climate change. In published report on 14 June 2016, the scientists conducted a comprehensive survey in 2014 but failed to find any trace of the rodent. The rodent was known only to live on a small (4 ha) coral cay, just 340m long and 150m wide in the Torres Strait, between Queensland in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

  21. In June 2016, a slow-moving weather system unleashed several days of heavy downpours on western Europe, pushing the Seine River to heights not seen in 34 years. With the Seine’s water levels 6.1 meters (20 feet) above normal in Paris, flood waters knocked out electricity for thousands of people, interrupted road and rail traffic, shut down schools, and caused an estimated 1 billion euros of damage. During the worst of the flooding, the world’s most visited museum, the Louvre, closed as employees scrambled to move artwork out of basement areas that were at risk of flooding.

  22. Temperature records were broken in Greenland 2016 after parts of the territory's vast ice sheet began melting unusually early, the Danish Meteorological Institute said on 13 September 2016. And with abnormal temperatures continuing through the summer, three stations, Narsarsuaq, in the south, and Danmarkshavn, in the north-east, and Tasiilaq, on the eastern coast, all ended the June-August period with the highest average temperature on the books. In Tasiilaq, the summer average of 8.2°C was the highest since record keeping began there in 1895, and exceeded the 1981-2010 average by 2.3°C.

  23. Mass bleaching has killed 35 per cent of the corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, Australian Coral reef scientists said on 30 May 2016. After months of intensive aerial and underwater surveys, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have released an initial estimate of the death toll from coral bleaching. The impact, which is still unfolding, changes dramatically from north to south along the 2300km length of the Reef. “We found on average, that 35% of the corals are now dead or dying on 84 reefs that we surveyed along the northern and central sections of the Great Barrier Reef, between Townsville and Papua New Guinea,” says Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

  24. Lab studies revealed that dung pats from cattles given a common antibiotic gave off more than double the methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than those of non-treated cows, a team wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 25 May 2016.

  25. On 23 May 2016, the Earth passed another unfortunate milestone when carbon dioxide surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) at the South Pole for the first time in 4 million years, NOAA confirms.

  26. On 20 May 2016, a city in northern India shattered the national heat record, registering a searing 51C – the highest since records began – amid a nationwide heatwave. The new record was set in Phalodi, a city in the desert state of Rajasthan, and is the equivalent of 123.8F. It tops a previous record of 50.6C set in 1956.

  27. From the morning of 7 May to the afternoon of 11 May 2016, Portugal's electricity consumption was fully covered by renewable sources. For 107 hours, Portugal powered all of its electricity from biofuels, hydropower plants, wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal heat.

  28. The global temperature for May 2016 was 0.93 °C warmer than the May base period. Every month since October 2015 has broken the record for that month.

  29. Nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, according to a WWF report, published on 6 April 2016. These sites provide vital services to people and the environment, but are at risk worldwide from activities including oil and gas exploration, mining and illegal logging. The report, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, shows how natural World Heritage sites contribute to economic and social development through the protection of the environment, but also details global failures to protect these areas of outstanding universal value. According to the study, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites out of 229 either have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity.

  30. Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA. Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean for the months of December, January and February were 2 to 6 degrees Celsius above average in nearly every region. Sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean averaged 14.52 million square kilometers on 24 March 2016, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers on 25 February. The peak was later than average in the 37-year satellite record, setting up a shorter than average ice melt season for the coming spring and summer. This year’s maximum extent is 1.12 million square kilometers below the 1981 to 2010 average of 15.64 million square kilometers and 13,000 square kilometers below the previous lowest maximum that occurred last year.

  31. On 20 March 2016 the Great Barrier Reef marine park authority raised the threat level of coral bleaching to a peak of three, triggering its highest level of response to “severe regional bleaching” in the northernmost quarter of the 344,400 sq km marine park.

  32. WWF researchers are celebrating the first live sighting of a Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan, the Indonesia part of Borneo, since it was thought to be extinct there. This is also the first physical contact with the species in the area for over 40 years and is a major milestone for rhino conservation in Indonesia. The female Sumatran rhino, which is estimated to be between four and five years old, was safely captured in a pit trap in Kutai Barat in East Kalimantan on 12 March 2016. The captured female rhino is being held in a temporary enclosure before being translocated by helicopter to a new home – a protected forest about 150 km from the capture site. The rhino's new home is envisioned as the second Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.

  33. New research shows that more than 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India. The research, presented on 12 February 2016 at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), found that despite efforts to limit future emissions, the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution will climb over the next two decades unless more aggressive targets are set. “Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. “Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.“ For the AAAS meeting, researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India assembled estimates of air pollution levels in China and India and calculated the impact on health. Their analysis shows that the two countries account for 55 per cent of the deaths caused by air pollution worldwide. About 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India in 2013. In China, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality. In India, a major contributor to poor air quality is the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for cooking and heating.

  34. The February average temperature for the globe was 2.18°F above the 20th century average. This was not only the highest for the month of February in the 1880-2016 record (surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 0.59°F ), but it surpassed the all-time monthly record set just two months ago in December 2015 by 0.16°F. February 2016 also marks the 10th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken.

  35. The globally averaged temperature, over land and ocean surfaces for 2015, was the highest since record keeping began in 1880.

  36. The 27th annual State of the Climate report has confirmed that 2016 topped 2015 as the warmest year in 137 years of record keeping. The report found that most indicators of climate change continued to follow trends of a warming world, and several, including land and ocean temperatures, sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere broke records set just one year prior. This annual check-up for the planet, led by researchers from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from nearly 60 countries. Greenhouse gases were the highest on record. The 2016 average global CO2 concentration was 402.9 parts per million (ppm), an increase of 3.5 ppm compared with 2015 and the largest annual increase observed in the 58-year record. Global surface temperature was the highest on record. The 2016 combined global land and ocean surface temperature was record-high for a third consecutive year, according to four global analyses. The increase in temperature ranged from 0.45°–0.56°C above the 1981-2010 average. Average sea surface temperature was the highest on record. According to four independent datasets analyzed, the record-breaking globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2016 was 0.36–0.41 degrees C higher than the 1981–2010 average and surpassed the previous mark set in 2015 by 01–0.03 degrees C. Global upper-ocean heat content neared record high. Heat in the uppermost layer of the ocean, the top 2,300 feet (700 meters), saw a slight drop compared to the record high set in 2015. The findings are consistent with a continuing trend of warming oceans. Global sea level was the highest on record. The global average sea level rose to a new record high in 2016, and was about 3.25 inches (82 mm) higher than that observed in 1993, when satellite record-keeping for sea level began. Arctic sea ice coverage was at or near record low. The maximum Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) reached in March 2016 tied last year as the smallest in the 37-year satellite data record, while the minimum sea ice extent in September tied 2007 as the second lowest on record. Tropical cyclones were above-average overall. There were 93 named tropical cyclones across all ocean basins in 2016, above the 1981-2010 average of 82 storms.

  37. The globally averaged temperature in 2016 was about 1.1°C higher than the pre-industrial period. It was approximately 0.83° Celsius above the long term average (14°C) of the WMO 1961-1990 reference period, and about 0.07°C warmer than the previous record set in 2015. WMO uses data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. WMO also draws on reanalysis data from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which use a weather forecasting system to combine many sources of data to provide a more complete picture of global temperatures, including in Polar regions.