A domino effect in coral reefs?

USGS coral reefs
A diverse coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. PHOTO BY CAROLINE ROGERS/USGS.

Staff Report

Researchers who tended multiple patches of coral species in an underwater lab found that  diverse colonies are much more resilient than those comprised of single species.

A study led by Georgia Institute of Technology scientists found that the “effective extinction” of many coral species is making the remaining reef systems more vulnerable.

In experiments around Fiji, the marine scientists created single-species colonies of coral. When they dived down to monitor the patches, they found some of plots entirely wiped out and covered in algae.

“Rows of corals had tissue that was brown – that was dead tissue. Other tissue had turned white and was in the process of dying,” Cody Clements said in a press release describing the findings, published Jan. 2019 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The findings reinforce the idea that diverse ecosystems are often healthier, more resilient to impacts and more sustainable.

Working by kayak, Clements set up 48 concrete underwater tables with 864 coral “planters” made of cut-off plastic soda bottles. Then he planted different coral communities, some with single species, others mixed in different proportions. After 16 months, it was clear that the plots with more coral species grew better, while the single-species plots basically died.

The experiment will help scientists quantify biodiversity’s contribution to coral survival as well as the effects of biodiversity’s disappearance. It can also help improve reef restoration efforts.

Coral reefs around the world have been hit hard by global warming, especially during a recent mass global bleaching event from 2014 to 2016. Since the early 1980s, live coral reef cover in the Caribbean has declined from 60 percent to 10 percent.

As of 2008, about 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs had already been lost. Scientists expect another 20 percent to die within the next 10 to 15 years. By 2050, at least half of all coral reefs will be dead. If global warming can be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius, perhaps 10 percent of corals can survive through 2100, but on our current emissions path, corals will probably be wiped out.

That’s bad news for the oceans because reefs are the nurseries for marine life, including many species that help feed people in coastal communities in developing countries.

Climate science update: Not much time

Greenland and the Arctic are in big trouble, and you should care

Swirling sea ice off the coast of Greenland. @bberwyn photo.

I had a chance to do some in-depth reporting on climate change in the Arctic and on Greenland, and the news continues to get worse. We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and we need to start right now.

The changes that have already happened in the Arctic are already affecting millions of people who live in the Arctic, and they will affect many more around the world by shifting weather patterns, making drought and other extremes more likely.

The impacts to the Arctic are outlined in the latest Arctic Report Card. You can read about it in this story for InsideClimate News.

And last week I wrote about the acceleration of melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. If this rate keeps accelerating, coastal cities will be swamped long before they are ready for it.

Another backroom threat to endangered species

Colorado pika
A Quandary Peak pika enjoys some sunny weather on a rocky ledge in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

Could political appointees veto science-based decisions?

Staff Report

Conservation activists say they’ll legally challenge a blatant attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to politicize the endangered species listing process by including political officials with no science background to serve on review committees.

The new policy is detailed in a memorandum that was leaked to the press this week and dated Oct. 13. It specifies that each team will have two state representatives, one from a state fish and wildlife agency and one from the governor’s office.     Continue reading “Another backroom threat to endangered species”

Sunday set: Weinviertel Frost

Late-fall feel …

From the Rhine to the Danube, the fertile middle-European river-and-hill country is currently in a slow late-autumn transition toward winter that feels unusual compared to the snap changes in the high country of Colorado, where it’s either winter or summer.  More time to observe the subtle signs at a slower pace,  right down to the angular frost crystals on the leaves of last summer’s garden, and the gray gloom of an early December dawn yield to the glow of the sun.  Visit other recent Sunday Set photo essays in the Summit Voice archives. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram and visit our online gallery for fine art nature and travel prints.

Climate science is partly about measuring cow farts (and burps)

Ag methane emissions still a moving target

Methane from cows is a significant source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution. Exactly how much is still a moving target. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report
Meat production accounts for a huge slice of global methane emissions no matter how you count it, but as with other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, you need to have an accurate estimate to determine whether reduction efforts are working.

A new study, led by a Penn State researcher and partially funded by Exxon, suggests that the current estimates used by the EPA may be close to the mark, and that other recent estimates based on aerial sampling and satellite data may be too high.

According to the EPA, the top three sources of anthropogenic methane in the United States are the combined energy sector — natural gas, petroleum systems and coal mining — which makes up 40 percent of the total; livestock, 36 percent of the total; and landfills, 18 percent of the total.Continue reading “Climate science is partly about measuring cow farts (and burps)”

Sunday set: Bonn blues …

A climate change hangover?

By Bob Berwyn

When I left Paris in mid-December of 2015 after the COP21 climate summit that resulted in the Paris Agreement, I was definitely feeling pretty good about the world. For the first time ever, the majority of nation’s agreed on single goal — to limit global to well below 2 degrees Celsius. That’s the threshold scientists say we shouldn’t pass if we want to avert dangerous climate disruptions. Decades of research led to that conclusion, so there’s no reason to doubt it, unless you are willingly sticking your head in the sand.

Say what you want about the global climate deal, it’s significant just for the fact that there was agreement among so many countries with so many varied interests, and the U.S. helped lead the way to making the agreement happen.

A couple of years later and that heady Paris buzz has turned into a bit of a climate hangover, with the realization that the truly hard work of actually cutting emissions is still ahead.

In late November I attended the latest edition of the annual powwow, and it was encouraging to see that, even in the absence of U.S. leadership, the rest of the world is determined to save us from ourselves. If this process works, the U.S. will owe the rest of the world a huge debt of gratitude, because this is truly a case of pulling the bacon out of the fire.

I wrote several stories about the COP23 conference, including a story about what, exactly, the negotiators were trying to achieve in Bonn: COP23: Writing the Paris accord rule book.

Germany is supposed to be one of the new global leaders on climate policy, but is that really the case? Here’s what I found out: How Germany Can Lead on Climate, Despite Setbacks.

Then the was the fossil fuel sideshow put on by the White House: America’s Mortifying Performance at the Bonn Climate Talks.

The issue of climate financing (who pays for the damage that’s already been caused; who helps pay to help poorer, developing countries cope with impacts that rich countries for the most part caused?) was on the table, and it’s a question of how to make sure the money is getting to where it’s needed.

It looks like one of the most promising avenues for climate action is in the courts, as lawsuits will force energy companies and governments to accept liability for failing to avoid actions that hard harmful consequences. The message from environmental attorneys is that, if climate policies fail, “We’ll see you in court.”

And in the end, the U.S. negotiators actually didn’t try to disrupt the negotiations at all, and didn’t try to impede global progress toward the Paris Agreement. In some areas, they actually helped make progress, according to European experts.


Can a last-ditch lawsuit save the vaquita?

Conservation advocates seek to ban U.S. seafood imports from Mexico

Staff Report

Last-ditch efforts to save the world’s most endangered marine mammal may include a lawsuit against the U.S. government that could force a ban on seafood imports from Mexico.

There are probably less than 30 vaquitas remaining in the upper Gulf of California, and continued use of gill nets in the region is the biggest threat to their survival, according to conservation activists. Other efforts to prevent extinction of the species appear to be faltering, so three conservation groups — the Natural Resources Defense Council, Animal Welfare Institute and Center for Biological Diversity — notified the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service that its failure to ban imports of seafood from the vaquita’s habitat in Mexico violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act.Continue reading “Can a last-ditch lawsuit save the vaquita?”

Bubbling up: Warmer temps release more methane from lakes

New study quantifies climate change feedback loop

Frozen gas bubbles trapped in the ice of a Colorado reservoir are a sign that emissions of heat-trapping pollution like methane are increasing as the planet warms. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Scientists in the Netherlands say they’ve established “unequivocal, strong relations” between global warming and increasing methane emissions from lakes and wetlands. Their study focused on shallow lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands. Those ecosystems are relevant in the context of climate change because bubbles filled with methane gas form in sediments and are released to the atmosphere when the gases bubble up. Continue reading “Bubbling up: Warmer temps release more methane from lakes”

Sunday set: Snow glow

Atmospheric alchemy …

It’s amazing how fast sky colors can change during a Rocky Mountain sunrise. Look up, set you camera, snap a frame and then look up again — totally new hues and tones. The first four images in this set were all taken within about a half hour under a dynamic sky that changed from minute to minute in an atmospheric  alchemy that always makes me think of Cat Stevens’ song, Morning has Broken. Every new day is a miracle, so don’t take it for granted. These images, as well as others, are available as fine art prints at our online gallery, and visit the Summit Voice Sunday Set archives for more travel and nature photography.

Court stands up for jaguar habitat in New Mexico

A motion-sensor camera captured this image of a jaguar in Arizona last year. Photo courtesy BLM.

Cattle ranchers come up empty in bid to cut protection

Staff Report

Endangered jaguars in North America don’t really know whether they are in Mexico or Arizona, so there need to be continued recovery efforts on both sides of the border. A federal court in New Mexico recently recognized that fact when it turned aside an attempt by ranching and cattle groups to eliminate habitat protections for the wild cats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated about 59,000 acres of critical habitat in 2014. The court ruling upholds protections under the Endangered Species Act that prevent the federal government from rendering the habitat unusable for jaguars. An additional 705,093 acres were designated in Arizona but not challenged.Continue reading “Court stands up for jaguar habitat in New Mexico”