The Environment Chronicle Notable environmental events
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The number of monarch butterflies hibernating in Mexico reached an all-time low in 2013, according to data collected by the WWF-Telcel Alliance and Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP). Surveys of forested area used by hibernating monarchs showed that just 1.65 acres of forest were inhabited by monarchs during December of 2013, a 44% drop from the same time the previous year. The findings represent the lowest area since surveys began in 1993.
Scientists from University of Toronto’s Department of Chemistry have discovered a novel chemical lurking in the atmosphere that appears to be a long-lived greenhouse gas (LLGHG). The chemical – perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) – is the most radiatively efficient chemical found to date, breaking all other chemical records for its potential to impact climate. PFTBA has been in use since the mid-20th century for various applications in electrical equipment and is currently used in thermally and chemically stable liquids marketed for use in electronic testing and as heat transfer agents. It does not occur naturally, that is, it is produced by humans. There are no known processes that would destroy or remove PFTBA in the lower atmosphere so it has a very long lifetime, possibly hundreds of years, and is destroyed in the upper atmosphere. The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and was published online at Geophysical Research Letters on November 27, 2013.
On 26 November 2013, the International Union of Conversation (IUCN) published the latest update of the Red List of Threatened Species. A total of 71,576 species have now been assessed, of which 21,286 are threatened with extinction according to the international organisation. The update highlights serious declines in the population of the Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), a close relative of the giraffe, unique to the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The species is now Endangered, only one step away from the highest risk of extinction, with numbers dwindling across its range. Poaching and habitat loss, as well as the presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners, are the principal threats to its survival. According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now Critically Endangered, facing the highest risk of extinction.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production increased by 2.1% in 2012, with a total of 9.7±0.5 GtC emitted to the atmosphere. These emissions were the highest in human history and 58% higher than in 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol reference year). In 2012, coal burning was responsible for 43% of the total emissions, oil 33%, gas 18%, cement 5.3%, and gas flaring 0.6%. Emissions are projected to increase by 2.1% in 2013, to a record high of 9.9±0.5 GtC (36 billion tonnes of CO2), 61% above emissions in 1990.
According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for November 2013 was the highest for November since record keeping began in 1880.
As a result of climate change the Atlantic cod has moved so far north that it’s juveniles now can even be found in large numbers in the fjords of Spitsbergen. This is the conclusion reached by biologists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), following an expedition to this specific region of the Arctic Ocean, which used to be dominated by the Polar cod. The scientists now plan to investigate whether the two cod species compete with each other and which species can adapt more easily to the altered habitats in the Arctic.
Scientists have uncovered strong evidence that soot, or black carbon, sent into the air by a rapidly industrializing Europe, likely caused the abrupt retreat of mountain glaciers in the European Alps. The research, published Sept. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help resolve a longstanding scientific debate about why the Alps glaciers retreated beginning in the 1860s, decades before global temperatures started rising again.
Tokyo Electric Power Co the operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant said on 31 August 2013, it had found new radiation hotspots near tanks storing toxic water, with one reading peaking at 1,800 millisieverts per hour.
Antarctic krill are the primary food source for many species of whales, seals, penguins and fish. Krill are known to be sensitive to sea temperature, especially in the areas where they grow as adults. This has prompted scientists to try to understand how they might respond to the effects of further climate change. Using statistical models, a team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Plymouth Marine Laboratory assessed the likely impact of projected temperature increases on the Weddell Sea, Scotia Sea and Southern Drake Passage, which is known for its abundance of krill. This region has experienced sea surface warming of as much as 1°C over fifty years. Projections suggest this could rise by another 1°C by the end of the 21st century. The models are based on equations which link krill growth, sea surface temperature, and food availability. An analysis of the results, published on 21 August 2013, in the online journal PLOS ONE, suggests warming, if continued, could reduce the area of growth habitat by up to 20%. The projected effects of warming are not evenly spread. The island of South Georgia is located within the area likely to be worst affected. Here the reduction in krill habitat could be as much as 55%.
Extremes heat wave are likely to be seen much more often in the near future. This is projected to double by 2020 and quadruple by 2040, according to a study by scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). The scientists focus on heat waves that exceed the usual natural variability of summer month temperatures in a given region by a large margin, namely so called 3-sigma events. These are periods of several weeks that are three standard deviations warmer than the normal local climate – often resulting in harvest losses, forest fires, and additional deaths in heat-struck cities. Such heat extremes might cover 85 percent of the global land area in summer by 2100, if CO2 continues to be emitted as it is today, the study shows. In addition to this, even hotter extremes that are virtually non-existent today would affect 60 percent of the global land area. Published 21 August 2013
August 20 is Earth Overshoot Day 2013, marking the date when humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year.
Antarctic sea ice extent for 19 August 2013 was 18.70 million square kilometers (7.22 million square miles), a record or near-record high level (August 19, 2010 was similarly high), led by unusually extensive ice in the Bellingshausen, Amundsen, and Ross seas, and in the western Indian Ocean sector.
At an announcement on 15 August 2013, in Washington, D.C., Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, presented anatomical and DNA evidence that establish the olinguito (pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-toe) as a living species distinct from other known olingos, carnivorous tree-dwelling mammals native to Central and South America. His team’s work, also published on 15 August 2013, in the journal ZooKeys, represents the first discovery of a new carnivorous mammal species in the American continents in more than three decades.
On 8 July 2013, a huge area of the ice shelf broke away from the Pine Island glacier, the longest and fastest flowing glacier in the Antarctic, and is now floating in the Amundsen Sea in the form of a very large iceberg. Scientists from the American space agency NASA discovered the first crack in the glacier tongue on 14 October 2011 when flying over the area. At that time it was some 24 kilometres long and 50 metres wide. ”As a result of these cracks, one giant iceberg broke away from the glacier tongue. It measures 720 square kilometres and is therefore almost as large as the city of Hamburg“, reports Prof. Angelika Humbert, ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (as amended), an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) has been declared for bottlenose dolphins in the Mid-Atlantic region from early July 2013 through the 20 August 2013. Elevated strandings of bottlenose dolphins have occurred in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Current bottlenose dolphin strandings are over seven times the historical average for the month of July for the Mid-Atlantic Region. All age classes of bottlenose dolphins are involved and strandings range from a few live animals to mostly dead animals with many very decomposed.
On 21 Jnue 2013, at 12:00 p.m. local time, the Pollution Standards Index — a scale of 0 to 500 to measure air pollution — hit 401 in Singapore, the highest in the country's history. Before this week, the record had been 226, set in 1997.
At least 26 elephants were massacred in the Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site in the Central African Republic, after 17 individuals armed with Kalashnikov rifles on 6 May 2013 entered this unique elephant habitat, known locally as the “village of elephants”. WWF sources on 8 May said they had counted at least 26 elephant carcasses in and around the Bai, a large clearing where between 50 and 200 elephants congregate every day to drink nutrients present in the sands.
"On May 9, 2013 the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958. This marks an important milestone because Mauna Loa, as the oldest continuous carbon dioxide (CO2) measurement station in the world, is the primary global benchmark site."
May 2013 tied with 1998 and 2005 as the third warmest May in the 134-year period of record across global land and ocean surfaces, at 0.66°C above the 20th century average. As indicated by the global temperature percentile maps above, several regions around the world had record warmth, including north central Siberia, west central Australia, parts of northern and eastern Europe, parts of Libya and Algeria in northern Africa, part of northeastern China, the Philippines, and part of northern South America. Overall, the average global temperature across land surfaces was 1.11°C (2.00°F) above the 20th century average, marking the third warmest May on record.
On 18 April 2013, the generation of power from renewable energy sources hit a new record. IWR, a renewable energy institute, reported that for the first time wind farms and solar plants in Germany generated power with a capacity of about 36,000 megawatts (MW). This is equivalent to the power plant output of more than 30 nuclear power plants. At times, the renewable plants fed more electricity into the German national grid than did conventional power plants. “For the first time, on a high-load working day Germany was at times supplied with more than 50 percent of its power from wind farms and solar plants”, said IWR director Dr. Norbert Allnoch.
Glyphosate is the world's best-selling weed killer and one of the most widely used herbicides in Europe. Now tests have shown that glyphosate is present in the human body. Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned an independent laboratory in Germany to test urine samples from people in 18 countries for glyphosate. The results showed that traces of the chemical were found in samples from all countries, with 44 per cent of samples found to contain glyphosate on average. The analytical phase of the study was started on March 28, 2013 and was completed June 6, 2013.
Poachers in Chad have slaughtered 86 elephants, including 33 pregnant females, in less than a week. The elephants were killed close to the Chad border with Cameroon and their ivory hacked out.
The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years. Behind devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The study was published on 20 March 2013, in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and suggests that man-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe's Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism.
Average sea ice extent for February 2013 was 14.66 million square kilometers (5.66 million square miles). This is 980,000 square kilometers (378,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average for the month.
Beijing's air quality reached extremely hazardous levels in mid-January 2013. According to the air quality monitoring by the U.S. Embassy, levels of PM2.5 particles were at 886 micrograms per cubic meter.
More than 41 tonnes of elephant ivory have been seized in 2013, the largest quantity in 25-years.
NASA scientists say 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record all have occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record. On 21 January 2014 NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, which analyzes global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis, released an updated report on temperatures around the globe in 2013. The average temperature in 2013 was 14.6 Celsius, which is 0.6 C warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The average global temperature has risen about 0.8 C since 1880, according to the new analysis. NOAA reports 2013 tied as 4th hottest year on record.
Global CO2 emissions hit a new record level again in 2013. At 35.1 billion tonnes, about 670 million more tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels was blown into the atmosphere than in the previous year (2012: about 34.4 billion tonnes), IWR, a Muenster-based renewable energy institute reported. This represents an increase of 1.9 percent and a continuous rise since the advent of the economic and financial crisis in 2009 (31.1 billion tonnes). 2013 saw the 35 billion tonne mark exceeded for the first time.
2013 was Australia’s warmest year since records began in 1910. Mean temperatures across Australia have generally been well above average since September 2012. Long periods of warmer-than-average days have been common, with a distinct lack of cold weather. Nights have also been warmer than average, but less so than days. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature for 2013 was +1.20 °C above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 °C above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 °C above average. Temperatures were above average across nearly all of Australia for maximum, mean and minimum temperatures, with large areas of inland and southern Australia experiencing the highest on record for each.
The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the last 27 years. The loss was due to storm damage (48%), crown of thorns starfish (42%), and bleaching (10%) according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 2 October 2012, by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong.
Measurements of the ESA ice thickness satellite CryoSat-2 have shown that the total mass of the Arctic sea ice was 36 per cent smaller autumn 2012 than during the same period in the years 2003 to 2008. Five years ago the autumn ice volumes averaged 11900 km3. But in the second quarter of 2012 they had declined to 7600 km3. This conclusion is reached by an international research team after comparing the CryoSat data of the past two years with measurements of a former NASA satellite and with the results of sea ice investigations of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. The study is published in the online issue of the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters on 28 January 2013 and for the first time shows how precisely scientists can observe the development of the Arctic sea ice using CryoSat-2.
Arctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record on August 26, 2012, breaking the previous record low observed in 2007. Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles. This was 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) below the September 18, 2007 daily extent of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles).
On 16 July 2012 Petermann Glacier calved another large ice island, about half the size of the calving of two years ago, which amounts to about two Manhattans.
For several days in July 2012, Greenland's surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists. On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. Measurements from three satellites showed that on 8 July 2012, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by 12 July 2012.
On 24 June 2012, Lonesome George, the sole remaining Pinta Island tortoise and Galapagos conservation icon, was found dead in his corral at the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, by members of the Galapagos National Park Service. Lonesome George was found on Pinta Island in 1972, although Pinta tortoises were thought to be extinct. Since then, Lonesome George has been part of the Tortoise Program of the Galapagos National Park Service. Over the years, various efforts were made to get George to reproduce.
On 29 June 2012 scientists were at a loss to explain the mysterious deaths of more than 70 green turtles (Chelonia mydas) that have washed up on beaches in northeast Australia over June 2012.
A newly discovered frog in Panama is bright yellow and dyes your fingers yellow if you touch it. The frog was discovered in 2010 in the mountains of western Panama by Andreas Hertz and colleagues, who are reptile and amphibian specialists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The analysis of the new frog was published May 21 in the journal ZooKeys .
Results from ESA’s CryoSat mission were presented on 24 April 2012 at the Royal Society in London. The complete 2010–11 winter season data have been processed to produce a seasonal variation map of sea-ice thickness. This is the first map of its kind generated using data from a radar altimeter at such a high resolution compared to previous satellite measurements.
After 10 years of service, Envisat has stopped sending data to Earth. On 8 April 2012 the contact with the satellite was unexpectedly lost. Envisat has exceeded its planned life of five years by far. Since it was launched in 2002, this remarkable satellite has orbited Earth more than 50 000 times delivering thousands of images and a wealth of data to study and understand our changing planet, establishing itself as a landmark success in observing Earth from space.
Scientists have identified a new species of leopard frog in and around New York City. The frog was found hiding in plain sight on the borough of Staten Island. In the research, available online in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, scientists used mitochondrial and nuclear DNA data to compare the new frog to all other leopard frog species in the region and determined that it is an entirely new species.