From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, a look at a spectacular vision far, far away [click on the image to enlarge]:
NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula
From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, a look at a spectacular vision far, far away [click on the image to enlarge]:
NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula
For generations, immigrants left their homes for a new land, and of homesteading farms on some of the millions of acres of virgin soil.
But now the land is under threat from giant agribusiness corporations, many of them owned by investment bankers, real estate developers, and, more ominously, by the threat of climate change, which is literally squeezing th last drops of water out of once-fertile soils.
While the first threat seeks to end the role of the smallholder, the latter two change the very nature of the land itself.
We come from a long line of farmers. The first Brennemans were political refugees, fleeing religious persecution in Europe in the 1600s in search of farmland in Pennsylvania, a colony founded by a religious dissident to provide a safe haven for other religious dissidents.
We know that small farmers care about their land, developing intimate relationships with each contour, learning which patches of soil bring the highest yields and which need special care, while investment bankers obsess only over the bottom line.
Many farmers agonize over the growing corporate control of their own land in an age when companies genetically alter the crops they plant by retaining ownership of the seeds themselves, barring farmers from doing what farmers have done for millennia — saving seeds from this year’s crop to grow next year’s harvest.
And then there are the patented chemicals made by those same corporations, chemicals needed to grow those same patented crops.
The investment funds move in
Like vultures, investment funds circle America’s wounded businesses and institutions, waiting for the opportunity to swoop in and harvest “troubled assets” everything from apartments and newspapers to — since the crash of 2008 — America’s farmland.
At the University of California, Santa Cruz, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Madeleine Fairbairn has been looking at the change of ownership of America’s farmland, as the university reported last year:
“We’re seeing growing interest in farmland acquisition, and we are seeing new investment vehicles being developed, but we have no idea what it means for small and mid-sized farmers,” said Fairbairn, who received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study “farmland financialization” in areas of peak agricultural production in California and Illinois.
Until about 2008, financial services companies looked askance at buying farmland, but today, they are snapping it up at an impressive pace: As an example, Fairbairn says TIAA, the leading retirement investor for the academic community, owned no agricultural land before about 2007; today, TIAA controls $8 billion worth of farmland globally, investing on behalf of itself as well as other institutional investors.
“We’re in the beginning stages of what could be a significant shift in land ownership,” said Fairbairn. “Pension funds have enormous resources because they manage money for so many individuals. This has potentially major implications, since access to affordable land is a cornerstone of American agriculture.”
A rural sociologist, Fairbairn has tracked the trend since it first emerged. She has attended agricultural investment conferences where “farmland funds” were pitched to potential investors, and witnessed the development of investment vehicles that cater to the phenomenon, including publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs) that first came on the U.S. market in 2013.
“Land ownership is a really important part of agriculture, but one that most people spend very little time thinking about,” said Fairbairn.
California and Illinois represent two poles of U.S. agriculture: California is dominated by high-value specialty crops and “permanent crops” like almonds and wine grapes; land is very expensive; and corporations already are major players. Illinois produces commodity row crops like corn and soybeans, and is home to more small, family-owned farms.
There’s another force at work too, and that’s overseas investors.
Consider, for example, the Saudi royals, who have been scooping up American soil, buying acreage to raise hay to feed the imperial horses.
But the extent of the land grab is much greater, as the Midwest Center for for Investigative Reporting revealed in a 22 June 2017 account:
[B]etween 2004 and 2014, the amount of agricultural land held by foreign investors doubled from 13.7 million acres to 27.3 million acres — an area roughly the size of Tennessee.
While representing only about two percent of total farmland, the value of the foreign-owned U.S. farmland soared from $17.4 billion (in today’s dollars) to $42.7 billion during that same time period, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Most of today’s foreign investment in agricultural land began to increase in 2005, according to the Midwest Center’s analysis.
Of the top foreign investors who own agricultural land, nine bought most of their land between 2004 and 2014, about $8.1 billion worth of farmland, the Midwest Center found.
The final threats: Destruction of the soil itself
Worse still are those threats that destroy the land itself.
Of the two, we’ll consider the less threat first — the destruction of land through development.
We begin with a map, depicting the amount of farmland lost to the bulldozer between 1992 and 2012, as revealed in Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland, a new report from the American Farmland Trust [click on the image to enlarge]:
Conversion of agricultural land to urban and low-density residential development between 1992 and 2012From the report:
- Our analysis, the most comprehensive ever undertaken of America’s agricultural lands, shows that nearly twice the area of farmland was lost than was previously known. Additional major findings, include:
- Between 1992 and 2012, we lost nearly 31 million acres of land. That’s 175 acres an hour, or 3 acres every single minute
- 11 million of those acres were among the best farmland in the nation—classified as the most productive, most versatile and most resilient land
- Development disproportionately occurred on agricultural lands, with 62 percent of all development occurring on farmland
- Expanding urban areas accounted for 59 percent of the loss. Low-density residential development, or the building of houses on one- to 20-acre parcels, accounted for 41 percent
And the temperature’s rising
The final threat up for consideration today is the long-term and destructive impacts of global warming on the soil itself.
As any farmer can attest, soil is more than just inert dirt. Each soil is a complex ecosystem, harboring microbes that process soil minerals, digest dead organic matter, and release carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses.
Crops favor specific soil types as well, requiring significant levels of fertilizers when planted in less-favorable soils. A considerable body of science reveals that changing water levels changes the microbial community, and the drier soils become, the fewer species of soil microbe can thrive, resulting in a collapse of soil biodiversity.
And now a new study reveals that drier soils also play a direct role in global warming, as starkly captures in these maps, with the upper maps reflecting the regions average temperature increases between 1965 and 2014 compared. to a 1902-1951 baseline period. The lower maps feature of projection of temperature rises for 2050-2099 compared to a 1951-2000 baseline [click on the image to enlarge]:
More from the University of California, Irvine:
Dry months are getting hotter in large parts of the United States, another sign that human-caused climate change is forcing people to encounter new extremes.
In a study published today in Science Advances [open access], researchers at the University of California, Irvine report that temperatures during droughts have been rising faster than in average climates in recent decades, and they point to concurrent changes in atmospheric water vapor as a driver of the surge.
“Available soil moisture can remove surface heat through evaporation, but if the land is dry, there is no opportunity to transport it away, which increases the local temperature,” said lead author Felicia Chiang, a UCI graduate student in civil & environmental engineering. “Atmospheric conditions can influence soil, and we argue that they’re shaping the temperatures we experience during droughts.”
UCI’s research team analyzed observed temperature and precipitation data from the early and late 20th century and discovered that regions undergoing droughts warmed more than four times faster than areas in the southern and northeastern United States with average weather conditions. In addition, climate models showed a significant warming shift in Southern states between the late 20th century and early 21st century.
These changes point to a greater number of droughts and heat waves co-occurring. This can lead to such calamities as wildfires and loss of crop yields. Widespread conflagrations, spurred on by abnormally high summer temperatures, are currently burning around the world, including in parts of California, Scandinavia and Greece.
“Heat waves and droughts have significant impacts on their own, but when they occur simultaneously, their negative effects are greatly compounded,” said co-author Amir AghaKouchak, UCI associate professor of civil & environmental engineering and Earth system science. “Both phenomena, which are intensifying due to climate warming, are expected to have increasingly harmful consequences for agriculture, infrastructure and human health.”
He suggested that society has a responsibility to respond to the challenges presented by this new climate reality.
“The observed escalation in the number and intensity of wildfires is likely caused by the increase in frequency of hot droughts,” AghaKouchak said. “We need to bolster our resiliency against these threats to protect our population health, food supply and critical infrastructure.”
This study was partially supported by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
Before a detailed look at the alarming news from the Arctic, We begin with the latest on warming from the European Environment Agency, which concludes:
- According to different observational records of global average annual near-surface (land and ocean) temperature, the last decade (2008–2017) was 0.89 °C to 0.93 °C warmer than the pre-industrial average, which makes it the warmest decade on record. Of the 17 warmest years on record, 16 have occurred since 2000. The year 2017 was one of the world’s three warmest years on record together with the years 2016 and 2015.
- The average annual temperature for the European land area for the last decade (2008–2017) was between 1.6 °C and 1.7 °C above the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record. In Europe, 2017 was colder than the previous 3 years.
- Climate models project further increases in global average temperature over the 21st century (for the period 2081–2100 relative to 1986–2005) of between 0.3 °C and 1.7 °C for the lowest emissions scenario (RCP2.6) and between 2.6 °C and 4.8 °C for the highest emissions scenario (RCP8.5).
- All UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] member countries have agreed on the long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C compared with pre-industrial levels and have agreed to aim to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. For the three highest of the four RCPs, the global average temperature increase is projected to exceed 2 °C compared with pre-industrial levels by 2050.
- Annual average land temperature over Europe is projected to increase by the end of this century (2071–2100 relative to 1971–2000) in the range of 1.0 °C to 4.5 °C under RCP4.5 and 2.5 °C to 5.5 °C under RCP8.5, which is more than the projected global average increase. The strongest warming is projected across north-eastern Europe and Scandinavia in winter and southern Europe in summer.
- The number of warm days (those exceeding the 90th percentile threshold of a baseline period) have doubled between 1960 and 2017 across the European land area.
Europe has experienced several extreme heat waves since 2000 (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017). Under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), extreme heat waves as strong as these or even stronger are projected to occur as often as every two years in the second half of the 21st century. In southern Europe, they are projected to be particularly strong.
The first graphic from the report tracks the soaring temperatures sparked by the Industrial Revolution [click on the images to enlarge]:
The second, a series of maps, tracks projected temperature rises under a regime in which emissions caps are imposed to a significant degree [upper maps], while the lower maps reflect higher levels under the regime so beloved by the White House:
Whichever regime prevails, temperatures, occasions, heat-associated deaths, extinctions, and more are all set to rise, with Home Sapiens able only to mitigate the degree.
Are we approaching a critical threshold?
Threshold events in which dramatic changes are triggered by small shifts in existing conditions. Water is water until it hits the freezing point, and ice stays ice until its temperature reaches the same point. What was liquid becomes solid, what was solid becomes liquid.
We also know from everyday experience that cold shows living things down, while freezing generally brings them to a halt.
The threshold at which ice melts is shaping up to have major impacts on global warming, both through the release of trapped methane in the Arctic permafrost [about which we’ve posted extensively] and for the generation of new greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide generated by microbes now able to digest dead organic matter at above-freezing temperatures.
The findings come from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a highsecurity facility in Richland, Washington, run by the Department of Energy and focusing on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyberwar, energy independence, and climate change.
Unlike the White House, th national security establishment sees climate change as a real threat, so much so that it’s a matter of national security.
The vast reservoir of carbon stored beneath our feet is entering Earth’s atmosphere at an increasing rate, most likely as a result of warming temperatures, suggest observations collected from a variety of the Earth’s many ecosystems.
Blame microbes and how they react to warmer temperatures. Their food of choice – nature’s detritus like dead leaves and fallen trees – contains carbon. When bacteria chew on decaying leaves and fungi chow down on dead plants, they convert that storehouse of carbon into carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.
In a study published August 2 in Nature, scientists show that this process is speeding up as Earth warms and is happening faster than plants are taking in carbon through photosynthesis. The team found that the rate at which microbes are transferring carbon from soil to the atmosphere has increased 1.2 percent over a 25-year time period, from 1990 through 2014.
While that may not seem like a big change, such an increase on a global scale, in a relatively short period of time in Earth history, is massive. The finding, based on thousands of observations made by scientists at hundreds of sites around the globe, is consistent with the predictions that scientists have made about how Earth might respond to warmer temperatures.
“It’s important to note that this is a finding based on observations in the real world. This is not a tightly controlled lab experiment,” said first author Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.
“Soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate, which in turn can convert more carbon into carbon dioxide which enters the atmosphere. Depending on how other components of the carbon cycle might respond due to climate warming, these soil changes can potentially contribute to even higher temperatures due to a feedback loop,” he added.
Globally, soil holds about twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. In a forest where stored carbon is manifest in the trees above, even more carbon resides unseen underfoot. The fate of that carbon will have a big impact on our planet. Will it remain sequestered in the soil or will it enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, further warming the planet?
To address the question, the team relied heavily on two global science networks as well as a variety of satellite observations. The Global Soil Respiration Database includes data on soil respiration from more than 1,500 studies around the globe. And FLUXNET draws data from more than 500 towers around the world that record information about temperature, rainfall and other factors.
“Most studies that address this question look at one individual site which we understand very well,” said author Vanessa Bailey, a soil scientist. “This study asks the question on a global scale. We’re talking about a huge quantity of carbon. Microbes exert an outsize influence on the world that is very hard to measure on such a large scale.”
The study focused on a phenomenon known as “soil respiration,” which describes how microbes and plants in the soil take in substances like carbon to survive, then give off carbon dioxide. Soils don’t exactly breathe, but as plants and microbes in soil take in carbon as food, they convert some of it to other gases which they give off – much like we do when we breathe.
Scientists have known that as temperatures rise, soil respiration increases. Bond-Lamberty’s team sought to compare the roles of the two main contributors, increased plant growth and microbial action.
The team discovered a growing role for microbes, whose action is outstripping the ability of plants to absorb carbon. In the 25-year span of the study, the proportion of soil respiration that is due to microbes increased from 54 to 63 percent. Warmer temperatures can prompt more microbial action, potentially resulting in more carbon being released from carbon pools on land into the air.
“We know with high precision that global temperatures have risen,” said Bond-Lamberty. “We’d expect that to stimulate microbes to be more active. And that is precisely what we’ve detected. Land is thought to be a robust sink of carbon overall, but with rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever.”
On 28 June 1973, President Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican who launched his career with a furious barrage of Red-baiting, signed a new law, declaring:
Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans. I congratulate the 93d Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today.
The law passed with unanimous support in the Senate, with only four House Republicans voting no.
The law Nixon signed was accompanied by a report from the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries explaining what was known at the time about the extent of harm the bill was designed to ameliorate. One sentence stands out: “According to the Department of the Interior, there may be more than 100 species of fish and wildlife which are presently threatened with extinction.”
Today we know the problem is far greater than scientists knew at the time. As a 2005 scientific report noted, “Only about 15% of the known species in the United States have been studied in sufficient detail to determine whether or not they are imperiled. Any estimate of the total number of imperiled species in this country must therefore rely on extrapolations from this small number of comparatively well studied species to a much larger number of poorly studied ones.”
Despite the limited knowledge we possess, there are 2269 animals and plants in the U.S. and its territories identified as endangered, a number certain to grow as our knowledge base expands.
Here’s a look at species identified by state, via MSN [click on the image to enlarge]:
Enter the orange-ruffed Narcissus
Fast forward 45 years and the Republicans are singing a different tune,as Mother Jones reported a couple of weeks ago:
In a series of announcements. . . Trump administration officials and their Republican allies in Congress announced actions intended to weaken key portions of the Endangered Species Act. If implemented, these regulatory changes in agencies as disparate as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service could wholly transform the intention of the act by allowing economic considerations to supersede environmental concerns when classifying animals as “endangered or “threatened.” The changes would also shift the balance of authority from federal regulators to the states and strip protections from several animals whose habitats pose a nuisance for developers and oil firms. Stakeholders who benefit from these rollbacks do not reflect the majority of voters, or even the Republican Party, but their viewpoint, closely aligned with the GOP and Trump, has become ascendant in recent years.
“There’s been a pretty long-term campaign against the Endangered Species Act, really for 20 to 25 years,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Now, with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, the administration’s outspoken promise to protect the fossil fuel industry, and a president who has promised to revoke two regulations for every additional one he implements, the time is ripe for the campaign against the act to succeed.
But popular support for the act remains strong and solid
While the real estate developer in the Oval Office sees the Endangered Species Act as an obstacle to his real estate empire, the American public remains solidly behind the law’s protections for our fellow critters.
In the past two years, nearly 150 amendments, bills and riders aimed to weaken the U.S. Endangered Species Act. However, a new study indicates that four in five Americans support the act and this support has remained stable over two decades.
The Endangered Species Act is portrayed – by critics of the law, often by the media, and sometimes by conservation professionals – as increasingly controversial, partly due to the protection of species such as wolves and spotted owls. These portrayals suggest that public support for the law may be declining. However, new research indicates that support for this law has remained consistently high over the past two decades.
The fresh survey data and analysis are laid out in a new paper, published last week in the Society for Conservation Biology’s journal Conservation Letters[open access], by a team from Michigan Technological University, the Ohio State University and California State University.
Because of the rift between citizens and government officials, the authors say the Endangered Species Act has joined the ranks of issues like gun control and climate change where political action veers from public opinion.
From Bloomberg, a look at how the nation uses it’s land, with each color representing the total of land occupied by the accompany usage [click on the image to enlarge]:
On 1 June 2017, Donald Trump made a momentous and lethal declaration:
I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord — (applause) — thank you, thank you — but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.
As President, I can put no other consideration before the wellbeing of American citizens. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.
Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund which is costing the United States a vast fortune.
Trump’s agenda is simple: Anything that gets in the way of the aspirations of billionaires to become the world’s first trillionaires must be abolished, even is millions of deaths ensue.
What else would you expect from a narcissistic real estate developer [and always remember that he is precisely and simply that]. And from our decades on reporting on real estate developers, we have learned that they hate nothing more than environmental regulations.
Among the many consequences of his anti-environmentalism will be a massive spike in global deaths associated with the heat waves that have set new records and spawned a lethal rash of wildfire across the globe.
This map from a just-published worldwide study of the soaring rates of heat waves associated with climate change reveals some of the extent of the crisis [click on the image to enlarge]:
So how did they arrive at their alarming conclusions, and what did they find? From the study:
- We developed a model to estimate heatwave–mortality associations in 412 communities within 20 countries/regions from January 1, 1984 to December 31, 2015. The associations were used to project heatwave-related excess mortality, with projected daily mean temperature series from four scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions during 1971–2099.
- We used three scenarios of population changes (low, moderate, and high variant) and two adaptation scenarios (no adaptation and hypothetical adaptation).
- If people cannot adapt to future climate change, heatwave-related excess mortality is expected to increase the most in tropical and subtropical countries/regions, while European countries and the United States will have smaller increases. The more serious the greenhouse gas emissions, the higher the heatwave-related excess mortality in the future.
- If people have ability to adapt to future climate change, the heatwave-related excess mortality is expected to still increase in future under the most serious greenhouse gas emissions and high-variant population scenarios. However, the increase is expected to be much smaller than the no adaptation scenario.
A somber warning from Down Under
More on the study, including it’s impacts on one lesser-impacted nation, there’s this more Australia’s Monash University, via Newswise:
If people cannot adapt to future climate temperatures, deaths caused by severe heatwaves will increase dramatically in tropical and subtropical regions, followed closely by Australia, Europe and the United States, a global new Monash–led study shows.
Published today in PLOS Medicine, it is the first global study to predict future heatwave-related deaths and aims to help decision makers in planning adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.
Researchers developed a model to estimate the number of deaths related to heatwaves in 412 communities across 20 countries for the period of 2031 to 2080.
The study projected excess mortality in relation to heatwaves in the future under different scenarios characterised by levels of greenhouse gas emissions, preparedness and adaption strategies and population density across these regions.
Study lead and Monash Associate Professor Yuming Guo said the recent media reports detailing deadly heatwaves around the world highlight the importance of the heatwave study.
“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer,” Associate Professor Guo said.
“If we cannot find a way to mitigate the climate change (reduce the heatwave days) and help people adapt to heatwaves, there will be a big increase of heatwave-related deaths in the future, particularly in the poor countries located around the equator.”
A key finding of the study shows that under the extreme scenario, there will be a 471 per cent increase in deaths caused by heatwaves in three Australian cities (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) in comparison with the period 1971-2010.
“If the Australia government cannot put effort into reducing the impacts of heatwaves, more people will die because of heatwaves in the future,” Associate Professor Guo said.
The study comes as many countries around the world have been affected by severe heatwaves, leaving thousands dead and tens of thousands more suffering from heatstroke-related illnesses. The collective death toll across India, Greece, Japan and Canada continues to rise as the regions swelter through record temperatures, humidity, and wildfires.
Associate Professor Antonio Gasparrini, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and study co-author, said since the turn of the century, it’s thought heatwaves have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, including regions of Europe and Russia.
“Worryingly, research shows that is it highly likely that there will be an increase in their frequency and severity under a changing climate, however, evidence about the impacts on mortality at a global scale is limited,” Associate Professor Gasparrini said.
“This research, the largest epidemiological study on the projected impacts of heatwaves under global warming, suggests it could dramatically increase heatwave-related mortality, especially in highly-populated tropical and sub-tropical countries. The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under scenarios that comply with the Paris Agreement, then the projected impact will be much reduced.”
Associate Professor Gasparrini said he hoped the study’s projections would support decision makes in planning crucial adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.
In order to prevent mass population death due to increasingly severe heatwaves, the study recommends the following six adaption interventions, particularly significant for developing countries and tropical and subtropical regions:
- Individual: information provision, adverting
- Interpersonal: Information sharing; communication; persuasive arguments; counseling; peer education
- Community: Strengthening community infrastructure; encouraging community engagement; developing vulnerable people group; livelihoods; neighborhood watch
- Institutional: Institutional policies; quality standards; formal procedures and regulations; partnership working
- Environmental: Urban planning and management; built environment; planting trees; public available drink water; house quality
- Public policy: Improvement of health services; poverty reduction; redistribution of resources; education; heatwave-warning system
Wilderness is a word we don’t typically associate with ocean, but the concept of an ocean wilderness makes sense when we realize that a grounded wilderness [the object of our usual association] is an environment where flora and fauna have been unaffected by human actions [though the ravages of pollution reach everywhere, to some degree].
And now a major new study reveals the true extent of damage of the oceans that gave us life, a legacy left in the very brininess of our bloodstreams.
From the Wildlife Conservation Society:
An international study published today in the journal Current Biology [open access]discovered that only 13 percent of the ocean can still be classified as wilderness.
“Those marine areas that can be considered ‘pristine’ are becoming increasingly rare, as fishing and shipping fleets expand their reach across almost all of the world’s oceans, and sediment runoff smothers many coastal areas” said lead author Kendall Jones of WCS.
The study found that most remaining wilderness is unprotected, leaving it vulnerable to being lost.
“Improvements in shipping technology mean that even the most remote wilderness areas may come under threat in the future, including once ice-covered places that are now accessible because of climate change” said Jones.
The authors used fine scale global data on 19 human stressors to the ocean, including commercial shipping, sediment runoff and several types of fishing, to identify Earth’s remaining marine wilderness – areas devoid of intense human impacts.
They found that most wilderness is located in the Arctic and Antarctic or around remote Pacific island nations such as French Polynesia. Because human activities are concentrated near land, very little wilderness remains in coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs.
Professor James Watson, of the University of Queensland and Director of Science at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and senior author of the research paper, said the findings highlight an immediate need for conservation policies to recognize and protect the unique values of marine wilderness.
“Marine wilderness areas are home to unparalleled levels of life – holding massive abundances of species and high genetic diversity, giving them resilience to threats like climate change,” said Watson. “We know these marine wilderness areas are declining catastrophically, and protecting them must become a focus of multilateral environmental agreements. If not, they will likely disappear within 50 years.”
The authors said that preserving marine wilderness also requires regulating the high seas, which has historically proven difficult since no country has jurisdiction of these areas. However, Jones noted that a recent United Nations resolution could change this.
“Late last year the United Nations began developing a legally binding high seas conservation treaty – essentially a Paris Agreement for the ocean. This agreement would have the power to protection large areas of the high seas and might be our best shot at saving some of Earth’s last remaining marine wilderness,” said Jones.