The Environment Chronicle Notable environmental events between 2009 and 2009 Deselect
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Deforestation in tropical rain forests could have an even greater impact on climate change than has previously been thought. The combined biomass of a large number of small forest fragments left over after habitat fragmentation can be up to 40 per cent less than in a continuous natural forest of the same overall size. This is the conclusion reached by German and Brazilian researchers who used a simulation model on data from the Atlantic Forest, a coastal rain forest in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, around 88 per cent of which has already been cleared. The remaining forest fragments are smaller, so the ratio between area and edge is less favourable. The reason for the reduction in biomass is the higher mortality rate of trees at the edges of forest fragments, according to the results published by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the University of São Paulo in Ecological Modelling. This reduces the number of big old trees, which contain a disproportionately high amount of biomass.
The first comprehensive review of the state of Antarctica’s climate and its relationship to the global climate system was published on 1 December 2009 by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in London. The review - Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment – presents the latest evidence from 100 world-leading scientists from 13 countries, the review focuses on the impact and consequences of rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Southern Ocean; rapid ice loss in parts of Antarctica and the increase in sea ice around the continent; the impact of climate change on Antarctica’s plants and animals; the unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide levels; the connections between human-induced global change and natural variability; and the extraordinary finding that the ozone hole has shielded most of Antarctica from global warming. Key findings from the review are highlighted in 85 key points.
The world’s diverse regions and ecosystems are close to reaching temperature thresholds – or “tipping points” – that can unleash devastating environmental, social and economic changes, according to a new report by WWF and Allianz. The report ‘Major Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector’ documents that changes related to global warming are likely to be much more abrupt and unpredictable – and they could create huge social and environmental problems and cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars. The study explores impacts of these "tipping points," including their economic consequences and implications for the insurance sector. It also shows how close the world is to reaching "tipping points" in many regions of the world, or rises in temperature that will tip the scales toward disaster.
Levels of most greenhouse gases continue to increase. In 2008, global concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which are the main long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, have reached the highest levels recorded since pre-industrial times. Since 1990, the overall increase in radiative forcing caused by all long-lived greenhouse gases is 26% and the increase was 1.3% from 2007 to 2008. These latest figures, published on 23 November 2009 in the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, confirm the continued trend of rising atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases since 1750.
The calculation of variations in the sea level is relatively simple. It is by far more complicated to then determine the change in the water mass. A team of researchers from the University of Bonn, as well as from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Sciences have now, for the first time succeeded in doing this. The researchers were able to observe short-term fluctuations in the spatial distribution of the ocean water masses. In order to determine the ocean volume in a certain region, one only needs to know, in addition to the topography of the seabed, the height of the sea level. For this purpose, researchers have long been resorting to gauging stations and satellite altimetric procedures. The ocean mass depends, however, not only on the volume, but also on the temperature and on the salt content. Water expands when heated. Warm water, thus, weighs less than the same quantity of cold water. For the calculation of the ocean mass it is, therefore, necessary to know the temperature and salt content profiles. However, this is not easy to quantify. For the study different procedures were combined. On the one hand the researchers used data from the German-American satellite mission GRACE where the distances between two satellites are measured exactly to thousandths of millimetres. The larger the ocean mass at a certain point of the Earth, the stronger the gravitational strength. This influences the flight altitude of the satellites and thus the distance from each other. The gravitation and, hence, the mass distribution can be calculated from the change in distance between the two satellites. In addition, the scientists put to use an effect which frequent book readers will have perceived. The ocean floor bends similarly to that of the shelves of an overfilled bookshelf. Thus, stationary GPS-gauging stations on land drop by up to one centimetre and move closer by a few millimetres. The heavier the water, the stronger is this movement. They combined these data with numerical models of the ocean. By comparing the variation in volume and in mass the researchers want to determine changes in the amount of heat stored in the ocean. Therefore, in the near future, the long term changes are to be examined. The results will contribute to improved climatic models.
With increasing species richness, due to more plant introductions than extinctions, plant communities of many European regions are becoming more homogeneous. The same species are occurring more frequently, whereas rare species are becoming extinct. It is not only the biological communities that are becoming increasingly similar, but also the phylogenetic relations between regions. These processes have led to a loss of uniqueness among European floras, scientists from the DAISIE research project have published their findings in the current online edition of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS).
Methane gas emissions could have a larger warming effect on climate than has been previously thought. A recent study has found that the interactions between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and aerosols in the atmosphere can change the impact of various emissions, and that mitigation policies should take these effects into account.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) has launched the most comprehensive map of noise exposure to date, revealing the extent to which European citizens are exposed to excessive acoustic pollution. This database contains information reported by EU member states and EEA member countries in accordance with the requirements of Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise. This database covers the data reported by member states and member countries as of 20th February 2009.
Germany is in a position to save 43 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. This is the outcome of the Policy Scenarios V – towards a structural change; Greenhouse Gas Emissions Scenarios up to 2030 study, which commissioned by UBA to a research consortium associated with the Öko-Institut. By 2030, that figure could reach a nearly 60-percent reduction over 1990.
On 6 October 2009 the Federal Agency for Nature presented the new red list of vertebrates in Germany.
A new report by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) which accounts for the emissions from renewable energy sources (Emissionsbilanz erneuerbarer Energieträger) concludes that roughly 106 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) were saved through the use of renewable energies in 2007. The report provides an account of renewable energy sources that has been updated in terms of method as well as content.
The Federal Environment Agency provides a new online service, which shows the annual average level of atmospheric particulates (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone pollution in Germany. The data in this geographic information system (GIS) provide a quick look at the regional distribution of air pollution in Germany, dating back to 2001. Site visitors can enhance the data on air with other geographical information about cities, rivers, and metropolitan areas, and by focusing on certain characteristics such as peak loads.
The Climate Change Science Compendium is a review of some 400 major scientific contributions to our understanding of Earth Systems and climate that have been released through peer-reviewed literature or from research institutions over the last three years, since the close of research for consideration by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Based on current reduction targets, the world’s largest companies are on track to reach the scientifically-recommended level of greenhouse gas cuts by 2089 – 39 years too late to avoid dangerous climate change, reveals a research report – The Carbon Chasm – released by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). It shows that the Global 100 are currently on track for an annual reduction of just 1.9% per annum which is below the 3.9% needed in order to cut emissions in developed economies by 80% in 2050. According to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), developed economies must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050 in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
The WWF report The Eastern Himalayas – Where Worlds Collide details discoveries made by scientists from various organizations between 1998 and 2008 in a region reaching across Bhutan and north-east India to the far north of Myanmar as well as Nepal and southern parts of Tibet Autonomus Region (China). Eastern Himalayas- Where Worlds Collide describes more than 350 new species discovered - including 244 plants, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, 2 birds, 2 mammals and at least 60 new invertebrates.
A study released by the environmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on 3 August 2009 says that people living in Germany use 159,5 billion cubic meters of water each year. However, not quite half of that, about 79.5 billion cubic meters, is water that is not consumed directly, but "virtually", i.e. in the production of agricultural and industrial goods the country imports. While direct consumption of water has decreased significantly to 124 liters per person per day in Germany, the indirect consumption now stands at around 5.288 liters per person per day, according to the study. That's the amount one person would use to take 25 baths in a single day.
Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between the winters of 2004 and 2008, with thin seasonal ice replacing thick older ice as the dominant type for the first time on record. The new results, based on data from a NASA Earth-orbiting spacecraft, provide further evidence for the rapid, ongoing transformation of the Arctic's ice cover. Using ICESat measurements, scientists found that overall Arctic sea ice thinned about 0.17 meters (7 inches) a year, for a total of 0.68 meters (2.2 feet) over four winters. The total area covered by the thicker, older "multi-year" ice that has survived one or more summers shrank by 42 percent.
NASA and Japan released a new digital topographic map of Earth that covers more of our planet than ever before. The map was produced with detailed measurements from NASA's Terra spacecraft. The new global digital elevation model of Earth was created from nearly 1.3 million individual stereo-pair images collected by the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or Aster, instrument aboard Terra. NASA and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, known as METI, developed the data set. It is available online to users everywhere at no cost.
The levels of harmful particulate matter pollution in Germany’s inner cities continues to remain too high. The ceiling (daily mean) of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre of air (µg/m3) has already been exceeded more often than the allowable 35 days a year in six cities, including Stuttgart and Munich. Another ten cities in North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Thuringia, Hesse, and Saxony are just short of exceeding the limit. One explanation is traceable to the weather conditions at the beginning of this year: high-pressure areas with weak winds that occurred more frequently than in 2007 and 2008 hampered removal of air pollutants.
The environmental record of the outgoing European Commission is worryingly off target, the Green 10 coalition of leading environmental organisations said on 10 June 2009 in Brussels. Environmental groups published an assessment of the Barroso Commission, giving it an overall mark of 4.4/10.
A new report, the first-ever attempt to take stock of the marine litter situation in the 12 major regional seas around the world, was launched on World Oceans Day by the UN Environment Programme(UNEP) and Ocean Conservancy in Washington DC and Nairobi. From discarded fishing gear to plastic bags to cigarette butts, a growing tide of marine litter is harming oceans and beaches worldwide, says the report.
The global premiere of the new film 'HOME', by world-renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, was one of the major worldwide events taking place for World Environment Day (5 June 2009), with more than 100 locations around the world. Screenings - including star-studded premieres at the Eiffel Tower and in New York City's Central Park - were free of charge, and the film was also available for free download on YouTube.
The new Greenpeace report Slaughtering the Amazon tracks beef, leather and other cattle products from ranches involved in illegal deforestation, invasion of indigenous lands and slavery in Brazil back to the supply chains of top brands such as Adidas/Reebok, Timberland, Geox, Carrefour, Eurostar, Honda, Gucci, IKEA, Kraft, Clarks, Nike, Tesco and Wal-Mart.
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows industrialized countries and companies under the European Emission Trading Scheme to meet a part of their commitments by investing in climate change mitigation projects carried out in developing countries. Such projects must be validated by independent audit companies, called Designated Operational Entities (DOEs). In a study published on 27 May 2009, performed on behalf of WWF, the Öko-Institut has produced a rating system for DOEs. The rating is based on the frequency with which projects that were considered satisfactory in the validation report produced by the DOE were in fact found to be faulty or were even rejected by the UN approval authority. “Overall, the auditing of projects remains seriously deficient”, says lead author Lambert Schneider of the Öko-Institut. In more that 50 percent of cases in which auditors give the thumbs-up for a project, the UN demands corrections or even rejects the project outright. DOEs are rated on a scale from A (best mark) to F (worst mark). Of the five companies rated, TÜV-Nord and TÜV-Süd get a D mark – which is the best in the field.
One fifth of Europe’s reptiles and nearly a quarter of its amphibians are threatened, according to new studies commissioned by the European Commission and carried out by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The studies, to be presented on World Biodiversity Day, constitute the first European Red Lists for amphibians and reptiles, and reveal alarming population trends. More than half of all European amphibians (59 percent) and 42 percent of reptiles are in decline, which means that amphibians and reptiles are even more at risk than European mammals and birds. For 23 percent of amphibians and 21 percent of reptiles the situation is so severe that they are classified as threatened in the European Red List. Most of the pressure on these declining species comes from mankind's destruction of their natural habitats, combined with climate change, pollution and the presence of invasive species.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, launched the first Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction on 17 May, 2009 in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Report is the first biennial global assessment of disaster risk reduction prepared in the context of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). The Report provides hard-hitting evidence to demonstrate how, where and why disaster risk is increasing globally and presents key findings from a global analysis of disaster risk patterns and trends, including where high mortality and economic loss is concentrated. The Report’s foundation is a massive database drawing together from a cross-section of UN, governmental, scientific and academic sources over a 32-year period, 1975-2007.
BirdLife International, which conducted the research for the IUCN Red List, found 1,227 species (12 percent) are classified as globally threatened with extinction. The IUCN Red List now lists 192 species of bird as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category, a total of two more than in the 2008 update.
WWF launched a Climate Scenarios Report headed by Prof. Ove Hoegh Guldberg (the world's leading climate and coral expert based at Queensland University in Australia), at the World Ocean Conference in Manado, Indonesia on May 13. The Coral Triangle and Climate Change: Ecosystems, People and Societies at Risk report considers over 300 published scientific studies and includes the work of over 20 experts in fields such as biology, economics and fisheries science to present two different possible futures this century for the world’s richest marine environmen.
A recent study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI together with European research partners looked at the long-term impacts of extra long and heavy trucks up to 25.25 m and 60 tons gross weight, so-called mega trucks, on the climate balance of freight transport. The study finds no positive impact on CO₂ emissions as there is a considerable risk that large volumes of goods will be shifted from rail to roads. This finding contradicts the common assumption that two mega trucks would replace three standard trucks and thus reduce harmful environmental impacts.
An international team of researchers have just discovered 130, possibly even as many as 200, new frog species in Madagascar. The team of Prof. Miguel Vences from the Technical University Braunschweig reported this in the "Proceedings" of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The discoveries are the results of the intensive search on the island, as well as genetic analyses of frogs and tadpoles.
National Geographic and the international polling firm GlobeScan have just conducted their second annual study measuring and monitoring consumer progress toward environmentally sustainable consumption in 17 countries around the world. This quantitative consumer study of 17,000 consumers in a total of 17 countries (14 in 2008) asked about such behavior as energy use and conservation, transportation choices, food sources, the relative use of green products versus traditional products, attitudes towards the environment and sustainability, and knowledge of environmental issues. The top-scoring consumers of 2009 are in the developing economies of India, Brazil and China. Argentina and South Korea, both new additions to the survey, are virtually tied for fourth, followed by Mexicans, Hungarians and Russians. Ranks ninth through thirteenth, the latter a three-way tie, are all occupied by Europeans, as well as Australians in twelfth. Japanese, U.S. and Canadian consumers again score lowest.
The German edition of the report "State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World" of the Washington World Watch Institute was presented in Berlin on 28 April 2009.
A group of EU-funded researchers are counting the costs of the damage caused by invasive species in Europe. In the study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-view, they have listed the invasive species that cause the most harm to environment and cost the most money to combat. The ecologists used data from the Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe (DAISIE) project. Ecosystem services are broken down into four categories: supporting major ecosystem resources, such as water and energy cycles; provisioning by producing goods, such as pollination of crops; regulating ecosystem processes, such as water filtration; and cultural or non-material benefits, such as recreation and aesthetics. They produced a list of the top 100 invasive species in Europe by assessing which species had the most impacts in the most categories. Among the top invaders were Canada geese, zebra mussels, brook trout, the Bermuda buttercup and coypu, also known as nutria.
Researchers at UC Berkeley and Texas Tech are out with a new study that predicts climate change will alter global forest fire patters, making some areas more prone to fire while lessening the risk to others. The result could mean big changes for areas that either depend on fire or those that fear it.
The latest Arctic sea ice data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that the decade-long trend of shrinking sea ice cover is continuing. New evidence from satellite observations also shows that the ice cap is thinning as well. Scientists who track Arctic sea ice cover from space announced that this winter had the fifth-lowest maximum ice extent on record. The six lowest maximum events since satellite monitoring began in 1979 have all occurred in the past six years (2004-2009).
The report was presented to the press on 17. March 2009 during the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. The EEA report 'Water resources across Europe – confronting water scarcity and drought' highlights that while southern Europe continues to experience the greatest water scarcity problems, water stress is growing in parts of the north too. Moreover, climate change will cause the severity and frequency of droughts to increase in the future, exacerbating water stress, especially during the summer months. Excluding illegal water use, Europe abstracts around 285 km3 of freshwater annually, representing on average 5 300 m3 per capita, roughly equivalent to two olympic swimming pools.
Commissioned by Siemens, the Wuppertal Institute examined how a modern metropolis like Munich can drastically reduce the amount of CO2 it emits. Using a specific model urban district, the analysis concretely demonstrates how the transformation to a virtually carbon-free metropolis can be accomplished in terms of infrastructure and technology. Key levers for cutting CO2 emissions are high-efficiency energy applications, in particular in buildings; infrastructure modifications in the areas of heating, electricity and transportation; and a transition to renewable and low carbon energy sources wherever possible.
Businesses will soon not only be leading cars and computers but also chemicals. The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) makes this proposal in its “Sustainable Chemicals” paper. The idea is simple: producers or importers no longer sell a chemical, say a solvent used in platinum production, but instead provide the benefits obtained from the chemical, including its professional and ecological application. After use the supplier recovers the used chemicals, treats them, and handles their ecological disposal. According to the chemical leasing concept suppliers will benefit from providing their know-how and not from the volumes of chemicals sold as in the past.
The Amazon is surprisingly sensitive to drought, according to new research conducted throughout the world's largest tropical forest. The 30-year study, published in Science, provides the first solid evidence that drought causes massive carbon loss in tropical forests, mainly through killing trees. The study was based on the unusual 2005 drought in the Amazon. In normal years the forest absorbs nearly 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. The drought caused a loss of more than 3 billion tonnes. The total impact of the drought - 5 billion extra tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - exceeds the annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined.
FAO has published the new edition of its biennial report The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) as over 60 countries gather in Rome for the 28th meeting of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI). The fishing industry and national fisheries authorities must do more to understand and prepare for the impacts that climate change will have on world fisheries, says the FAO report. Existing responsible fishing practices need to be more widely implemented and current management plans should be expanded to include strategies for coping with climate change.