Category Archives: Nature

2016 proved the hottest year ever recorded


But don’t worry. Donald Trump claims it’s all a hoax invented by China!

That set , the year just end was the third in a row to set a new global high temperature record.

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From the Notional Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual report on global temperatures:

  • During 2016, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 137 years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.07°F (0.04°C). The first eight months of the year had record high temperatures for their respective months. Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016). The record warmth in 2016 was broadly spread around the world.
  • During 2016, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.57°F (1.43°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record of 2015 by 0.18°F (0.10°C).
  • Record high temperatures over land surfaces were measured across Far East Russia, Alaska, far western Canada, a swath of the eastern United States, much of Central America and northern South America, southern Chile, much of eastern and western Africa, north central Siberia, parts of south Asia, much of southeast Asia island nations and Papua New Guinea, and parts of Australia, especially along the northern and eastern coasts. No land areas were cooler than average for the year.
  • During 2016, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record of last year by 0.02°F (0.01°C).
  • Record high sea surface temperatures were observed across the northern Pacific waters near Alaska, the Bering Sea, parts of the southern and western Pacific, a long swath of the western Atlantic stretching to the Gulf of Mexico, parts of the southern and eastern Indian Ocean extending across the waters of southeastern Asia island nations and Oceania. The only ocean area with record cold temperatures was east of the Drake Passage near the Antarctic Peninsula, an area that has been much cooler than average since late 2013.

NASA charted the global temperature spike:

blog-temps-chartNASA also created an animation depicting the changes in temperatures over the past 136 years:

Nicotine-based pesticides, bees, and the deniers


Nicotine, as we all know by now, is a powerful poison.

blog-black-leafSo powerful that on 22 November 1963 [yes, that day] the Central Intelligence Agency once sent an agent to kill Fidel Castro with a syringe disguised as a fountain pen and filled  Black Leaf 40, a powerful nicotine-based insecticide that our father used the stuff to kill mites on his roses.

Black Leaf 40 is no longer with us, following a 1992 ban on its use by the Environmental Protection Agency — you know, the department Trump wanted to eliminate — because of its widespread long-term environmental hazards as well as it’s propensity to poison people.

But the ban on Black Leaf 40 didn’t stop the widespread current use of nicotine-based insecticides, using nicotine-based chemicals called neonicotinoids.

How widespread is their use here in the U.S.?

Consider this chart from How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees — The Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees, a very informative new report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation:

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

More from the report’s Executive Summary:

Neonicotinoids have been adopted for use on an extensive variety of farm crops as well as ornamental landscape plants. They are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and have been for a decade. Developed as alternatives for organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonicotinoids are compounds that affect the nervous system of insects, humans, and other animals. Although less acutely toxic to mammals and other vertebrates than older insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic in small quantities to many invertebrates, including beneficial insects such as bees.

The impact of this class of insecticides on pollinating insects such as honey bees and native bees is a cause for concern. Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators that feed on them. The potentially long-lasting presence of neonicotinoids in plants, although useful from a pest management standpoint, makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made weeks before the bloom period. In addition, depending on the compound, rate, and method of application, neonicotinoids can persist in the soil and be continually taken in by plants for a very long periods of time.

Across Europe and North America, a possible link to honey bee die-offs has made neonicotinoids controversial. In December 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of clothianidin, imiadcloprid, and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops. In the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, local, state, and federal decision makers are also taking steps to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out all uses of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuges lands starting in January 2016.

The European Union has banned the used of three neonicotinoids —  clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — and restricted the use of a fourth, fipronil.

Given that bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat, impacts on apians is a cause for deep concern.

A Colorado city bans nicotine-derivative insecticides

More on the good reasons for concern, as summarized in the following, taken from  Boulder, Colorado city government website section on protecting pollinators:

One group of pesticides, the neonicotinoid insecticides (also called neonics), stand out as a major contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of bees and other animals. Neonicotinoid insecticides are extremely toxic to pollinators at very low doses. They are absorbed and taken up by the plant, ending up in all plant tissues, including the nectar and pollen collected by pollinators and the seeds, fruits, and leaves eaten by other animals. These products are often applied as soil treatments in the form of granules or drenches, where they can persist for many years and continue to contaminate plants, kill earthworms and other important beneficial soil organisms, and run off into surface water where they can kill aquatic invertebrates. An  analysis by a consortium of independent scientists from around the globe reviewed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a significant risk to the world’s pollinators, worms, birds and other animals and that immediate action is needed. Studies conclude that pesticide application rates that regulatory agencies consider protective to the environment actually harm aquatic organisms found in surface waters (dragonflies mayflies, snails and other animals that form the base of the food chain and a healthy, clean watershed) and build up in soils to levels that can kill soil organisms.

The city was so concerned that in May 2015, the city banned use of the chemicals on city land and urged similar actions by individuals, corporations, and state and federal government as well.

Canada to ban a popular neonicotnoid

One of the most widely used neonicitinoids in imidacloprid, and back in November CBC News reported that the Canadian government’s health agency is proposing a nationwide band on the substance based on its impacts on bees:

“Based on currently available information, the continued high-volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable,” the assessment states.

It proposes phasing out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid, and a majority of other uses, over the next three to five years.

“I’m really surprised,” said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University and senior fellow at the university’s Centre for Dialogue.

“To take an action to phase out a chemical that is so ubiquitous, and for which there is so much lobbying pressure from industry, I think that’s a really bold move.”

After the jump, impacts from use on one crop, the industry denial machine, and bee behavioral impacts. . . Continue reading

1829 fracking quakes rocked Oklahoma in 2016


Oklahoma wasn’t a state known for earthquakes before fracking was introduced,

But no more.

Pumping a whole lot of water deep underground, laced with chemical to force oik and gas out of layers of shale turns out to be the perfect way to unloicked long-dormant faults.

As a result, the Sooner State may soon top California as the earthquake capital of the United States.

From teleSUR English:

Oklahoma has registered about 1,829 earthquakes in the past year, attributable to wastewater injection from deep underground drilling wells — wells that will likely multiply under an incoming Donald Trump administration.

The state saw a record-breaking year, with a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in September and 4.5-magnitude and 5.0-magnitude ones in November, after which the governor declared a state of emergency and the state to introduce new restrictions on injection wells.

The injection often comes from a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has more notably affected seismic activity in several quiescent oil-drilling states like Kansas, Arkansas and Texas, which recorded 1,225, 200 and 51 earthquakes last year, respectively.

Fracking uses large quantities of chemicals and produces large amounts of waste fluid, which contains pollutants and emits methane. The injection of the waste increases seismic activity, and the toxins directly affect local populations.
Fracking: A Lethal Cocktail for Soil

Payne, Oklahoma hosts at least 200 of the state’s 4,000 gas wells that use fracking, and resident Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe and founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded, told IPS that the toxins and emissions are too strong to keep living there. IPS also cites 685 scientific studies that show the impact of those emissions and water polluters on human health.

An investigation by FracTracker calculated that earthquakes in Oklahoma and Kansas are becoming about 330 feet deeper per quarter and 12.5 times more frequent since two years ago, from 44 quakes per quarter in 2011 to 551 the past two years. Payne experienced more than an earthquake a day in 2016, which Hatley said were rare until 2007.

Global warming amplifies W. Pacific typhoons


Yet another destructive gift from a reality that Donald Trump and his Big Oil minions deny.

No wonder the incoming administration wanted the names of Department of Energy scientists engaged in climate research.

From the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:

An analysis of the strongest tropical storms, known as super typhoons, in the western Pacific over the last half-century reveals that they are intensifying. Higher global temperatures have enhanced global rainfall, particularly over the tropical oceans. Rain that falls on the ocean reduces salinity and allows typhoons to grow stronger.

“This work has identified an extremely important region affected by this, the western tropical Pacific known as Typhoon Alley. These storms are really destructive over that region,” said oceanographer Karthik Balaguru of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who published the work in a recent issue of Nature Communications.

The unique contribution of this work is that it identifies the need to study upper ocean salinity in addition to temperature in examining the intensity of typhoons.

Typhoons — the same storms as their Atlantic cousins known as hurricanes — normally have a natural check on how intense they grow. The storms rely on heat from the ocean to build. Their strong winds whip up the ocean surface. This churns the ocean and brings deeper colder water to the surface, which cools off the surface and reduces the typhoon’s power.

Previous studies suggested that as the planet warms, so does the surface of the ocean. As the temperature difference between surface ocean water and deeper water increases, ocean churning by typhoons cools the surface more strongly, which ultimately might decrease the intensity of tropical storms in the future.

But freshwater is less dense than saltwater. A warmer atmosphere brings more rainfall to the ocean than a cooler one. This freshwater collecting on top prevents the churning, keeping the surface warmer. Thus, a lack of ocean water mixing might mean a more intense storm.

Previously, studies that focused on global warming’s effect on typhoons did not generally include the salinity factor, so Balaguru and colleagues at PNNL, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to incorporate it. This allowed them to look at the effect of freshwater on the ocean both in the past and the future.

Continue reading

DroughtWatch: Another week and more relief


California’s epic drought declined a little more over the past week, with a 2.43 percent reduction in the Extreme Drought category and a 3.77 percent drop in the Severe Drought category.

Overall, 18.07 percent of the Golden State is now drought-free this week, including nine of the state’s fifty-eight counties, compared to 17.47 percent and eight counties last week.

From the United States Drought Monitor:

blog-drought

Calls to end a dangerous new GMO technology


What if scientists devised to introduce new genetic alternations in a way that ensured the altered genes spread rapidly through a species in the wild?

The scientists who have done just that contend their inventions would ensure the rapid diffusion of genetic traits that would benefit humanity.

But that assertion implies a godlike omniscience, and if we know anything of the fathomless human capacity for hubris, just sucj thinking invariably leads to catastrophe.

The technology is called the gene drive, and its so scary that the even Pentagon has grown wary of a technology they have supported, as Scientific American reported last month:

Over the next four years a new program in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to cultivate, among other things, a kind of cleanup crew for engineered genes deemed harmful to or undesirable in an ecosystem. The initiative, called Safe Genes, comes at a time when so-called “gene drive” systems, which override the standard rules of gene inheritance and natural selection, are raising hopes among some scientists that the technology could alter or suppress populations of disease-carrying insects or other pests in as few as 20 generations.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sees so much promise in gene drive technology that it plans to double spending on its Target Malaria initiative, which aims to create systems for driving genes in two species of malaria mosquitoes, to $70 million. Yet without careful precautions, a gene drive released into the wild could spread or change in unexpected ways. Kevin Esvelt, head of the Sculpting Evolution lab at MIT Media Lab, which is applying for Safe Genes funding in collaboration with eight other research groups, predicts that eventually, perhaps around 15 years from now, an accident will allow a drive with potential to spread globally to escape laboratory controls. “It’s not going to be bioterror,” he says, “it’s going to be ‘bioerror.’”

DARPA itself has been one of the largest public funders of synthetic biology research in the U.S. in recent years, upping its spending on synthetic biology projects to more than $100 million in 2014 from nothing in 2010, according to one analysis. The agency announced its Safe Genes program in September 2016 and plans to award funding to multiple research teams by the first half of 2017. “If we’re going to be really bullish about genome engineering,” says DARPA program manager Renee Wegrzyn, “we need to be just as aggressive with tools to reverse those changes.”

The fact that t’s the Pentagon which has backed the technology should be frightening enough, given that the building they’re in was built by the same fellow who headed the American nuclear weapons program for what was then called [more honestly than today] the Department of War.

Civil groups call for a stop to gene drives

And now a coalition of global environmental , labor, and other civil groups is calling for a halt to the new technology.

From Via Campesina News:

At the 2016 UN Convention on Biodiversity held in Cancun Mexico this month, international conservation and environmental leaders called upon governments to establish a moratorium on the controversial genetic extinction technology called gene drives.

Gene drives, developed through new gene-editing techniques- are designed to force a particular genetically engineered trait to spread through an entire wild population – potentially changing entire species or even causing deliberate extinctions. The statement urges governments to put in place an urgent, global moratorium on the development and release of the new technology, which poses serious and potentially irreversible threats to biodiversity, as well as national sovereignty, peace and food security.

Over 170 civil society organisations from six continents have joined the call. Among them were environmental organizations including Friends of the Earth International; trade unions such as the International Union of Food Workers representing over 10 million workers in 127 countries; the largest global organization  of small-scale famers La Via Campesina International, and organics movements like the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements; the international indigenous peoples’ organization Tebtebba; scientist coalitions including European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (Mexico); as well as ETC Group and Third World Network.

We can be certain that corporations seeking to release the new technology into the world will lie about it, just as Monsanto conducted a massive smear campaign to destroy the reputations and careers of scientists like Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley [previously] when he reported that genes from Monsanto’s patented corn strains had escaped into the wild, infecting root race varieties of maize in Mexico.

The Law of Unintended Consequences speaks to the inevitability that  actions on complex system designed to create a similar response will inevitably lead to other consequences unanticipated by those who initiate the actions.

And when those actions could impact the whole biosphere, we should tremble in our boots.

Greenland’s ice cap marches towards extinction


We begin with a brief excerpt from a report By Clare Foran, associate editor of and political writer for The Atlantic:

Denial of the broad scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming could become a guiding principle of Donald Trump’s presidential administration. Though it’s difficult to pindown exactly what Trump thinks about climate change, he has a well-established track record of skepticism and denial. He has called global warming a “hoax,” insisted while campaigning for the Republican nomination that he’s “not a big believer in man-made climate change,” and recently suggested that “nobody really knows” if climate change exists. Trump also plans to nominate Republicans to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department who have expressed skepticism toward the scientific agreement on human-caused global warming.

Indeed, Trump’s election is a triumph of climate denial, and will elevate him to the top of a Republican Party where prominent elected officials have publiclyrejected the climate consensus. It’s not that the presidential election was a referendum on global warming. Climate change barely came up during the presidential debates, and voters rated the environment as a far less pressing concern than issues like the economy, terrorism, and health care. But that relative lack of concern signals that voters have not prioritized action on climate change, if they want any action taken at all. Trump’s victory sends a message that failing to embrace climate science still isn’t disqualifying for a presidential candidate, even as scientists warn that the devastating consequences of global warming are under way and expected to intensify in the years ahead.

Trump’s elevation of the Republican booboisie to positions of unprecedented power over the national climate agenda represents the start of a truly dystopian nightmare.

It would all be bizarrely humorous were the consequences not so great and at what history may well look back on as a nexial moment in world politics.

and as for that evidence, consider this from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

blog-greenland

And the report:

Although surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet did not set a new record in 2016, the long-term trend of decreasing mass continued, according to the latest Arctic Report Card from NOAA and its partners. Multiple factors likely contributed to ice loss in 2016: early melt-season onset, low reflectiveness (“albedo” to climate experts), and unusually high air temperatures and prolonged melt in some regions.

Adapted from the 2016 Arctic Report Card, this graph shows monthly changes in Greenland’s total ice mass between April 2002 and April 2016. The ice mass amounts measured (vertical axis) are relative to the ice mass as of April 2002 (horizontal line set to 0). Report card authors estimated the changes based on measurements by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). The background photo is from Operation IceBridge.

The ups and downs in the graph track the accumulation of snow in the cold season and the melting of the ice sheet in the warm season. The Arctic Report Card: Update for 2016 reported that between April 2015 and April 2016, Greenland lost approximately 191 gigatonnes of ice, roughly the same amount that was lost between April 2014 and April 2015. Though the April 2015–April 2016 mass loss was lower than the average April-to-April decline over the entire observation period, it continued the long-term melt trend: approximately 269 gigatonnes per year from 2002 to 2016.

Over the course of the  2016 warm season, melting was especially pronounced in Greenland’s southwest and northeast. Melt season lasted about 30 to 40 days longer than usual in the northeast, and about 15 to 20 days longer along the west coast. Albedo (the proportion of incoming solar radiation reflected back into space) was the fifth lowest since the year 2000. Albedo was particularly low in the southwest, and near normal only in the northwest.