вторник, 20 ноября 2018 г.

Toxic mercury poisoning the Amazon

Alongside the all-too-visible deforestation, the Amazon is facing an invisible but increasing threat from mercury pollution according to a new WWF report released today at the 2nd Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury in Geneva, Switzerland.











Toxic mercury poisoning the Amazon
Credit: WWF

Healthy Rivers, Healthy People highlights the dangers mercury pollution poses across the Amazon and calls for urgent action to reduce the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining to protect the world’s largest river system and the people and species that depend on it.
According to the report, mercury, classified as “one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO), is estimated to have negatively affected the health of over 1.5 million people in the region already, while threatening the health and livelihoods of millions more through air and water pollution and plant and animal contamination.


“The mercury pollution crisis in the Amazon is unfortunately both invisible and largely ignored despite growing evidence of the dangers it poses for people and wildlife across the river system,” said Jordi Surkin, Director of WWF’s Amazon Coordination Unit. “Furthermore, the most vulnerable victims are indigenous peoples and local communities – and tens of thousands of unique species.”











Toxic mercury poisoning the Amazon
Credit: Luis Barreto/WWF-Colombia

The Amazon is estimated to have the richest biodiversity in the world. However, mercury pollution is threatening its wildlife, putting iconic predators such as jaguars and river dolphins as well as fish that are critical to the food security of indigenous, rural and urban communities at risk.
Around the world, freshwater species populations have suffered the greatest decline since 1970 according to WWF’s recent Living Planet Report – a catastrophic 83 per cent fall on average. The findings of Healthy Rivers, Healthy People indicate that this trend is unlikely to be reversed in the Amazon unless mercury pollution is tackled. One study cited in the report found that 81 per cent of carnivorous fish had detectable levels of mercury, while another showed that 26 per cent of river dolphins had mercury levels above the recommended World Health Organization level for people.


The main source of mercury pollution in the Amazon is artisanal and small-scale gold mining, which accounts for 15 per cent of the gold extracted from the region. Mercury is used in the gold purification process – contributing around 71 per cent of all mercury emissions each year.











Toxic mercury poisoning the Amazon
Credit: WWF

“Gold mining is an important source of income for millions of people in the Amazon but reliance on mercury is putting people’s lives and health at grave risk,” said Surkin. “Mercury travels far from the mines, contaminating plants and animals, and severely undermining the health, productivity and quality of life of people across the Amazon – along with hopes of sustainable development. Urgent action is needed tackle this toxic threat across the entire region.”
The report calls on governments, gold wholesalers and retailers, consumers, and miners to take immediate action to reduce the rampant use of mercury in the Amazon. While all Amazon governments have signed up to the Minamata Convention, the report calls on governments to take action and enforce meaningful anti-mercury policies. Governments also need to support miners to adopt alternative, environmentally sustainable livelihoods.


The report also urges gold buyers and retailers to commit to sourcing all gold through verified responsible supply chains, while calling on consumers, including banks, to purchase gold only from responsible retailers with verified supply chains.











Toxic mercury poisoning the Amazon
Credit: naturepl.com/Kevin Schafer/WWF

Finally, WWF urges mining communities and local authorities to work together to adopt new policies and regulations, and utilize available financial and technical assistance for adopting mercury-free mining practices.


To drive these actions, WWF promoted the creation of the Regional Alliance for a Mercury Free Amazon, a platform that brings together organizations, government representatives, researchers and indigenous leaders. The aim of this alliance is to consolidate information, share lessons learned and engage with this issue from a regional perspective. Representatives from the Alliance will participate at the Minamata Convention conference in Geneva.


“Ratification of the Minimata Convention was a first step but now the Amazon countries need to put in place the right investment, regulatory framework and enforcement to tackle mercury pollution and protect Amazon’s unique biodiversity and local populations,” said Surkin. “As countries meet this week in Geneva and also at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt, we have a chance to set an example for how we can take collective and decisive action to protect rivers and ecosystems for people and wildlife.”











Toxic mercury poisoning the Amazon
Credit: WWF

“Together, we can create safe, sustainable livelihoods for the Amazon’s small-scale gold miners and ensure that the region’s freshwater resources remain a source of life for people and nature,” added Surkin.


Source: WWF [November 19, 2018]



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Powerful new map depicts environmental degradation across Earth

A powerful new map by the University of Cincinnati illustrates one motivating force behind migrant caravans leaving Guatemala and Honduras to reach the United States.











Powerful new map depicts environmental degradation across Earth
UC used satellite images to track landscape change between 1992 and 2015. White reflects little change.
Darker shades reflect the greatest rate of change in each category [Credit: Tomasz Stepinski/UC]

UC geography professor Tomasz Stepinski created the new world map showing dramatic changes in land use over the last quarter century. Stepinski, a professor in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, turned high-resolution satellite images from the European Space Agency into one of the most detailed looks so far at how people are reshaping the planet.


“Right now there are caravans of people walking to the United States. Many of them are coming from Guatemala,” Stepinski said.


News agencies such as The Guardian have called some of the Central American migrants “climate-change refugees” since many are fleeing successive years of crop failure. But Stepinski said climate change tells only part of the story. His map shows how Guatemala has seen widespread deforestation.


“And they’ve lost the forest because people use wood for fuel,” Stepinski said. “It’s one part of the refugee crisis.”


The project was published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation.


The digital map illustrates how 22 percent of the Earth’s habitable surface has been altered in measurable ways, primarily from forest to agriculture, between 1992 and 2015.


“It’s very informative. There is nothing else like it,” Stepinski said. “There are maps of forest loss but no maps showing everything.”


The map tells a new story everywhere you look, from wetlands losses in the American Southeast to the devastation of the Aral Sea to deforestation in the tropics and temperate rainforests.


“Of course, it raises alarm bells. But they’re not new ones,” Stepinski said.


“We already knew about deforestation or wetland loss or increasing urbanization. But now we can see exactly where all of that is happening,” he said.











Powerful new map depicts environmental degradation across Earth
UC used satellite images to track landscape change between 1992 and 2015. White reflects little change.
Darker shades reflect the greatest rate of change in each category [Credit: Tomasz Stepinski/UC]

The European Space Agency in 1992 began capturing satellite images of the Earth to study climate change, Stepinski said. Surface cover can dramatically influence temperature depending on whether it absorbs or reflects sunlight. Likewise, forest cover absorbs more carbon dioxide than shopping centers.


“The great achievement for the European Space Agency was to make sure the satellite images were compatible from year to year so you could compare them,” Stepinski said.


Stepinski said the map shows how finite natural resources are being exploited on a global scale.


“What makes this so depressing is that it’s examining a timescale that is shorter than our lifetime,” Stepinski said.


One of the most obvious examples of changing land use is found around cities, said the study’s lead author and former UC postdoctoral fellow Jakub Nowosad.


“The direct impact of human actions is reflected in the patterns of urbanization. For example, you can see suburbanization and cities densification in North America and Europe,” said Nowosad, now an assistant professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland.


UC geography researcher Pawel Netzel also contributed to the project.


Nowosad said western China has seen vast urbanization while India’s most obvious development has been in its smaller cities.


“I hope this map will make people more aware of the human impact on our planet,” Nowosad said. “As a society, we need to be better informed of the scale of changes we make to the Earth, and in my opinion, this awareness can influence future changes in environmental policies.”


Nowosad said his map does not draw any inferences about what the next 24 years might bring. But demographics suggest our footprint will only get bigger.


“Human population is still increasing, creating more demand for land and natural resources,” Nowosad said. “Also, we know that societies in developed countries use more resources; therefore, with increasing development in poorer countries we can expect that pressure on land will be even larger than just predicted as an effect of population growth.”


The satellite images are so detailed, UC geographers could organize them into 300-square-meter grids called pixels. Each pixel identified changes among 22 land-use categories describing various types of farmland, forest, wetlands, grasslands or urban development. But the tiny pixel sizes and large numbers of variables made a global analysis virtually impossible. In this incarnation, the map looked like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.











Powerful new map depicts environmental degradation across Earth
UC used satellite images to track landscape change between 1992 and 2015. White reflects little change.
Darker shades reflect the greatest rate of change in each category [Credit: Tomasz Stepinski/UC]

So Stepinski organized the pixels into larger 9-kilometer squares and narrowed the number of land uses to nine types reflecting broader descriptions such as agriculture, forest or development. In comparing differences between the 1992 and 2015 maps, he used three shades of color to identify the extent of change from one land use to another.


Soon the story of the the past 25 years began to take shape. The map shows that the Sahara Desert in North Africa is growing.


“This is the transition area called the Sahel. And if you notice, you see grassland losses because of climate change — more desertification,” Stepinski said.


The map of the United States shows huge losses of wetlands in the Southeast along with growing urbanization outside cities.


The map illustrates the dramatic disappearance of the Aral Sea, which dried up in the 1990s after farmers in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan diverted its tributaries for cotton fields.


“It was a total disaster. This was a big saltwater lake fed by two rivers. They diverted water for cotton and the sea dried up into grassland,” Stepinski said. “Today, you see huge boats sitting in the middle of fields.”


Stepinski has used maps before to tell similar fascinating stories. News website Quartz in 2017 called his map of racial diversity in the United States “insanely detailed.” Earlier this year, he used WorldClim data to compare climates anywhere on Earth and project how the climate is expected to change over the next 50 years.


His latest project presented unique challenges.


Since many world maps tend to exaggerate the size of countries farther from the equator, Stepinski plotted his results using a projection map first developed in 1943 by Buckminster Fuller that shows the comparative size of continents. But this required UC to develop special software that would maintain the integrity of the data for the translation.


While the map tells the story of development in broad strokes, researchers can examine any portion of it in fine detail. The map presents data from each 300-square-meter pixel.


Author: Michael Miller | Source: University of Cincinnati [November 19, 2018]



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Local drivers of amplified Arctic warming

Long-term observations of surface temperatures show an intensified surface warming in Canada, Siberia, Alaska and in the Arctic Ocean relative to global mean temperature rise. This warming pattern, commonly referred to as Arctic amplification, is consistent with computer models, simulating the response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. However, the underlying physical processes for the intensified warming still remain elusive.











Local drivers of amplified Arctic warming
The observations show a clear enhancement of warming In the Arctic region and across Siberia,
Northern Canada and Alaska [Credit: Institute for Basic Science (IBS)]

A new international research study on the cause of Arctic amplification published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that local greenhouse gas concentrations, and Arctic climate feedbacks outweigh other processes. Using complex computer simulations, the scientists were able to disprove previously suggested hypotheses, that emphasized the role of transport of heat from the tropics to the poles as one of the key contributors to the amplified warming in the Arctic.


“Our study clearly shows that local carbon dioxide forcing and polar feedbacks are most effective in Arctic amplification compared to other processes”, said corresponding author Malte Stuecker, project leader at the IBS Center for Climate Physics (ICCP) in Busan, South Korea.


Increasing anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations trap heat in the atmosphere, which leads to surface warming. Regional processes can then further amplify or dampen this effect, thereby creating the typical pattern of global warming. In the Arctic region, surface warming reduces snow and sea-ice extent, which in turn decreases the reflectivity of the surface. As a result, more sunlight can reach the top of layers of the soil and ocean, leading to accelerated warming. Furthermore, changes in Arctic clouds and of the vertical atmospheric temperature profile can enhance warming in the polar regions.


In addition to these factors, heat can be transported into the Arctic by winds. “We see this process for instance during El Niño events. Tropical warming, caused either by El Niño or anthropogenic greenhouse emissions, can cause global shifts in atmospheric weather patterns, which may lead to changes in surface temperatures in remote regions, such as the Arctic”, said Kyle Armour, co-author of the study and professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Oceanography at the University of Washington.


Moreover, global warming outside the Arctic region will also lead to an increase in Atlantic Ocean temperatures. Ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic drift can then transport the warmer waters to the Arctic ocean, where they could melt sea ice and experience further amplification due to local processes.


To determine whether tropical warming, atmospheric wind and ocean current changes contribute to future Arctic Amplification, the team designed a series of computer model simulations. “By comparing simulations with only Arctic CO2 changes with simulations that apply CO2 globally, we find similar Arctic warming patterns. These findings demonstrate that remote physical processes from outside the polar regions do not play a major role, in contrast to previous suggestions”, says co-author Cecilia Bitz, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.


In the tropics – fueled by high temperature and moisture – air can easily move up to high altitudes, meaning the atmosphere is unstable. In contrast, the Arctic atmosphere is much more stable with respect to vertical air movement. This condition enhances the CO2-induced warming in the Arctic near the surface. In the tropics – due to the unstable atmosphere – CO2 mostly warms the upper atmosphere and energy is easily lost to space. This is opposite to what happens in the Arctic: Less outgoing infrared radiation escapes the atmosphere, which further amplifies the surface-trapped warming.


“Our computer simulations show that these changes in the vertical atmospheric temperature profile in the Arctic region outweigh other regional feedback factors, such as the often-cited ice-albedo feedback” says Malte Stuecker.


The new findings of this study highlight the importance of Arctic processes in controlling the pace at which sea-ice will retreat in the Arctic Ocean. The results are also important to understand how sensitive polar ecosystems, Arctic permafrost and the Greenland ice-sheet will respond to Global Warming.


Source: Institute for Basic Science [November 19, 2018]



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Greenhouse gases triggering more changes than we can handle

A new study published in Nature Climate Change provides one of the most comprehensive assessments yet of how humanity is being impacted by the simultaneous occurrence of multiple climate hazards strengthened by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This research reveals that society faces a much larger threat from climate change than previous studies have suggested.

An analysis of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers reveals 467 ways in which human health, food, water, economy, infrastructure, and security have been impacted by multiple climatic changes including: warming, drought, heatwaves, wildfires, precipitation, floods, storms, sea level rise and changes in land cover and ocean chemistry.


Until now, with few exceptions, climate hazards due to greenhouse gas emissions have been studied individually. However, focusing on one or few hazards may mask the impacts of other hazards resulting in incomplete assessments of the consequences of climate change on humanity.


Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions are known to increase atmospheric temperature, in turn enhancing soil water evaporation resulting in drought, wildfires and heatwaves in normally dry places, or massive rain and floods in commonly wet areas. In the oceans, warmer waters also evaporate faster, increasing wind speeds and the downpours of hurricanes, whose surges can be aggravated by sea level rise. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions can aggravate simultaneously multiple climate hazards.


In a systematic review of thousands of papers, the study details 467 ways of how these hazards have already impacted human health, including death, disease and mental well-being; food supply from animals and plants on land and sea; quantity and quality of freshwater; infrastructure including electricity, transportation and “life line” services such as water and sewage lines, and economic losses including property damage and reduced labor productivity; all while triggering multiple cases of migrations and violence. Over 3,000 documented case examples, with supporting papers, are listed at http://impactsofclimatechange.info/.


“Greenhouse gas emissions pose a broad threat to humanity by simultaneously intensifying many hazards that have proven harmful in the past,” said lead author Camilo Mora, associate professor of geography in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa “Further, we predict that by 2100 the number of hazards occurring concurrently will increase, making it even more difficult for people to cope.”


The study, co-authored by 23 scientists, combines exhaustive data mining and the technological abilities of Mora’s graduate students analyzing vast amounts of big data, with the longtime expertise of veteran climate scientists, including several lead authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.


In the year 2100, for instance, New York is projected to face up to four climate hazards, if greenhouse gas emissions are not mitigated, including sea-level rise and extreme precipitation. That same year, Sydney and Los Angeles will face three concurrent climate hazards, Mexico City will face four, and the Atlantic coast of Brazil will face five. Even under strong mitigation scenarios, increasing cumulative exposure to the multitude of climate hazards will impact rich and poor countries alike and especially in tropical coastal areas.


A web-application that accompanies the paper allows users to see the cumulative number of climate hazards likely to occur anywhere on Earth, under different emissions scenarios through 2100 (see figure).


“The study is a compelling review of how climate change is literally redrawing lines on the map, clearly showing the threats that our world faces at every level. The maps and data hammer home how much danger humanity truly faces, and the need for immediate action,” said Dawn Wright, ESRI Chief Scientist


“Our health depends on multiple factors, from clean air and water, to safe food and shelter and more,” said co-author Jonathan Patz, professor and director of the University of Wisconsin’s Global Health Institute. “So without a real systems approach to climate change impacts, we cannot adequately understand the full risks. If we only consider the most direct threats from climate change, for example heatwaves or severe storms, we inevitably will be blindsided by even larger threats that, in combination, can have even broader societal impacts.”


Said Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University who was not involved in the study, “This new research provides rigorous, quantitative support for a point we have emphasized for some time: the costs of inaction greatly outweigh the costs of taking action on climate change. It also provides robust support for another key point: we can still reduce future damage and suffering if we act quickly and dramatically to reduce carbon emissions.”


“The collision of cumulative climate hazards is not something on the horizon, it is already here,” said Mora. “Co-occurring and colliding climate hazards are already making headlines worldwide. Last year, for instance, Florida recorded extreme drought, record high temperatures, over 100 wildfires, and the strongest ever recorded hurricane in its Panhandle: the category 4 Hurricane Michael. Likewise, California is currently experiencing ferocious wild fires and one of the longest droughts, plus extreme heatwaves this past summer.”


“The evidence of climate change impacting humanity is abundant, loud and clear,” said Assistant Professor Daniele Spirandelli at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and co-author of the study. “Clearly, the outstanding question is–how many wake-up calls will it take to wake up?”


The paper concludes urgently: “Overall, our analysis shows that ongoing climate change will pose a heightened threat to humanity that will be greatly aggravated if substantial and timely reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are not achieved.”


Source: University of Hawaii at Manoa [November 19, 2018]



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From the Arctic to the tropics: Researchers present unique database on Earth’s...

Which plant species grow where, alongside which others – and why? The diversity of global vegetation can be described based on only a few traits from each species. This has been revealed by a research team led by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. In a new study published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, they present the world’s first global vegetation database which contains over 1.1 million complete lists of plant species sampled across all Earth’s ecosystems. The database could help better predict the consequences of global climate change.











From the Arctic to the tropics: Researchers present unique database on Earth's vegetation
“sPlot” is the world’s first global vegetation database which contains over 1.1 million complete lists
of plant species for all terrestrial ecosystems [Credit: Francesco Maria Sabatini/MLU]

All plants face the same challenges, whether they are small grasses, shrubs or trees. “For example, they have to find an efficient way to conduct photosynthesis in order to obtain the energy they need. At the same time, they compete with neighbouring plants for limited resources in the soil, like water and nutrients,” explains Professor Helge Bruelheide from the Institute of Biology / Geobotany at MLU and co-director of iDiv.


Currently around 390,000 plant species are known to science. Over time, each species has developed very different traits in reaction to external factors at their location. These include the plant’s size, the thickness and the chemical constituents of its leaves. These properties are also referred to as functional plant traits. “These functional traits directly influence a plant’s ecosystem function, such as how much biomass it produces or how much carbon dioxide it absorbs from the air,” says Bruelheide.


Until now, researchers have primarily investigated different combinations of these functional traits from the perspective of individual plant species. “In reality, however, plant species rarely occur alone; plants live in communities,” says Bruelheide. Therefore, so-called vegetation databases are needed that contain data on all of the plants growing at a specific location. The German Vegetation Reference Database is an example. It is managed at MLU by Dr. Ute Jandt, a member of Helge Bruelheide’s research group. It contains about data on about 200,000 vegetation plots from published and unpublished vegetation studies. Similar databases exist, or are being compiled, in many other countries.


Up until now there has been no database of databases, to compile and harmonize all these different datasets. As a result, the “sPlot” initiative was launched at the iDiv research centre to develop and set up the first global vegetation database, unifying and merging the existing datasets. “sPlot” currently contains more than 1.1 million vegetation lists from every continent, collected over the past decades by hundreds of researchers from all over the world. “Each point in our database is a real place with precise coordinates and information about all the plant species that co-exist there,” explains Bruelheide.


The research group combined this massive dataset with the world’s largest database for plant traits called “TRY” which is also an iDiv database platform. “It has enabled us to answer questions that nobody has been able to tackle before,” Bruelheide continues. The research tested, for instance, to what extent global factors influence the functional traits of plant communities. Contrary to current opinion, they found that temperature and precipitation play a relatively limited role. “Surprisingly, these two macro-factors are not so important. Our analysis shows, for example, that plant communities are not consistently characterised by thinner leaves as the temperature increases – from the Arctic to the tropical rainforest,” says Bruelheide. Instead the researchers found a close tie between climate variables and the phosphorus supply in the leaves, reflected in the ratio between nitrogen and phosphorus content in the leaf, which is an indicator of plants’ nutritional status. For example, the longer the vegetation period, the lower the phosphorus supply – which also affects leaf thickness. Local land use and the interaction of different plants at a specific location have a much greater impact on the functional traits of plant communities. According to Bruelheide, these findings show that future calculations of plant production in a region cannot only be determined on the basis of simplistic temperature-precipitation models.
The current study is the first of a series of upcoming papers by the “sPlot” consortium. Being available on request to other scientists, the “sPlot” database is disclosing unprecedented opportunities to tackle numerous biodiversity questions at the global scale, including the issues pertaining to the distribution of non-native plant species and the similarities and differences of plant communities across world regions.


Source: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg [November 19, 2018]



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True polar wander’ may have caused Ice Age

Earth’s latest ice age may have been caused by changes deep inside the planet. Based on evidence from the Pacific Ocean, including the position of the Hawaiian Islands, Rice University geophysicists have determined Earth shifted relative to its spin axis within the past 12 million years, which caused Greenland to move far enough toward the north pole to kick off the ice age that began about 3.2 million years ago.











True polar wander' may have caused Ice Age
Illustration depicting the minimum (interglacial, black) and maximum (glacial, grey) glaciation
of the northern hemisphere during the ice age that began about 3.2 million years ago
[Credit: Hannes Grobe/AWI/Wikimedia Commons]

Their study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters is based on an analysis of fossil signatures from deep ocean sediments, the magnetic signature of oceanic crust and the position of the mantle “hot spot” that created the Hawaiian Islands. Co-authors Richard Gordon and Daniel Woodworth said the evidence suggests Earth spun steadily for millions of years before shifting relative to its spin axis, an effect geophysicists refer to as “true polar wander.”


“The Hawaiian hot spot was fixed, relative to the spin axis, from about 48 million years ago to about 12 million years ago, but it was fixed at a latitude farther north than we find it today,” said Woodworth, a graduate student in Rice’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. “By comparing the Hawaiian hot spot to the rest of the Earth, we can see that that shift in location was reflected in the rest of the Earth and is superimposed on the motion of tectonic plates. That tells us that the entire Earth moved, relative to the spin axis, which we interpret to be true polar wander.”


By volume, Earth is mostly mantle, a thick layer of solid rock that flows under intense pressure and heat. The mantle is covered by an interlocking puzzle of rocky tectonic plates that ride atop it, bumping and slipping against one another at seismically active boundaries. Hot spots, like the one beneath Hawaii, are plumes of hot solid rock that rise from deep within the mantle.


Gordon, the W.M. Keck Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science, said the new findings build on two 2017 studies: one from his lab that showed how to use hot spots as a global frame of reference for tracking the movement of tectonic plates and another from Harvard University that first tied true polar wander to the onset of the ice age.


“We’re taking these hot spots as marked trackers of plumes that come from the deep mantle, and we’re using that as our reference frame,” he said. “We think the whole global network of hotspots was fixed, relative to the Earth’s spin axis, for at least 36 million years before this shift.”











True polar wander' may have caused Ice Age
True polar wander occurs when the entire Earth shifts relative to its spin axis
[Credit: Victor C. Tsai/Wikimedia Commons]

Like any spinning object, Earth is subject to centrifugal force, which tugs on the planet’s fluid interior. At the equator, where this force is strongest, Earth is more than 26 miles larger in diameter than at the poles. Gordon said true polar wander may occur when dense, highly viscous bumps of mantle build up at latitudes away from the equator.


“Imagine you have really, really cold syrup, and you’re putting it on hot pancakes,” Gordon said. “As you pour it, you temporarily have a little pile in the center, where it doesn’t instantly flatten out because of the viscosity of the cold syrup. We think the dense anomalies in the mantle are like that little temporary pile, only the viscosities are much higher in the lower mantle. Like the syrup, it will eventually deform, but it takes a really, really long time to do so.”


If the mantle anomalies are massive enough, they can unbalance the planet, and the equator will gradually shift to bring the excess mass closer to the equator. The planet still spins once every 24 hours and true polar wander does not affect the tilt of the Earth’s spin axis relative to the sun. The redistribution of mass to a new equator does change Earth’s poles, the points on the planet’s surface where the spin axis emerges.


Woodworth said the hot spot data from Hawaii provides some of the best evidence that true polar wander was what caused Earth’s poles to start moving 12 million years ago. Islands chains like the Hawaiians are formed when a tectonic plate moves across a hot spot.


“True polar wander shouldn’t change hot spot tracks because the hot spot track is the record of the motion of the plate relative to the hot spot,” Woodworth said.


Gordon said, “It was only about a 3 degree shift, but it had the effect of taking the mantle under the tropical Pacific and moving it to the south, and at the same time, it was shifting Greenland and parts of Europe and North America to the north. That may have triggered what we call the ice age.”











True polar wander' may have caused Ice Age
The movement of the Pacific plate across a mantle hotspot created the Hawaiian islands over millions of years
[Credit: National Geophysical Data Center/USGS/Wikimedia Commons]

Earth is still in an ice age that began about 3.2 million years ago. Earth’s poles have been covered with ice throughout the age, and thick ice sheets periodically grow and recede from poles in cycles that have occurred more than 100 times. During these glacial cycles, ice has extended as far south as New York and Yellowstone National Park. Earth today is in an interglacial period in which ice has receded toward the poles.


Gordon said true polar wander is not merely a change in the location of Earth’s magnetic poles. As the planet spins, it’s iron core produces a magnetic field with “north” and “south” poles near the spin axis. The polarity of this field flips several times every million years, and these changes in polarity are recorded in the magnetic signatures of rocks the world over. The paleomagnetic record, which is often used to study the movement of tectonic plates across Earth’s surface, contains many instances of “apparent polar wander,” which tracks the motion of the spin axis and which includes the effects of both plate motion and true polar wander, Gordon said.


He said Earth’s mantle is ever-changing as new material constantly cycles in and out from tectonic plates. The drawing down and recycling of plates via subduction provides a possible explanation for the highly viscous mantle anomalies that probably cause true polar wander.


“In class, I often demonstrate this with lead fishing weights and pliers,” Gordon said. “It’s easy to deform the lead with the pliers, and it’s not brittle. It doesn’t crack or fly apart when it fails. That’s a pretty good analogy for mantle flow because that’s the way silicate rock deforms under intense heat and pressure.”


He and Woodworth are working with colleagues to extend their analysis, both from 12 million years ago to the present as well as further into the past than the 48-million-year start date in the newly published study.


Source: Rice University [November 19, 2018]



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20 memorable moments from the International Space Station


ISS – International Space Station patch.


Nov. 20, 2018


Tuesday 20 November, 2018 marks 20 years of collaboration on the greatest international project of all time: the International Space Station.



Artist’s view of International Space Station (ISS)

Built, crewed and operated in partnership between the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe, the Station flies at approximately 400 km above Earth and circles the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of around 28,000 km/h.


In its 20 years, the International Space Station has produced many memorable moments for Europe. Here we reflect on 20 of the best, as we celebrate yet another significant milestone for ESA and our partners in space.


1. 20 November, 1998 – The International Space Station is born. First module Zarya launches into low Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on board a Russian Proton rocket.



Zarya

2. 2 November, 2000 – Continuous occupation of the International Space Station begins. NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev become the first crew to live on board the Station, staying several months.


3. 23 April, 2001 – Umberto Guidoni makes history as the first European astronaut to board the International Space Station.


4. 9 June, 2002 – Philippe Perrin becomes the first European astronaut to undertake a spacewalk (known to the crew as an Extravehicular Activity or EVA) as part of International Space Station construction.


5. October, 2004 – ESA’s Columbus Control Centre officially opens in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, Germany, providing a vital link between astronauts in space and teams of European scientists and engineers on the ground.



ESA flight directors at Col-CC

6. July – December 2006 – Thomas Reiter becomes the first European astronaut to stay long-term on board the International Space Station during his Astrolab mission.


7. 7 February, 2008 – ESA’s Columbus Laboratory launches to the International Space Station aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. This is ESA’s largest single contribution to the International Space Station and the first permanent European research facility in space.


8. 9 March, 2008 – ESA launches its first resupply ship, the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-1), to the International Space Station atop an Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.


9. 14 November, 2008 – Almost 60 years after its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris on 10 December 1948, the Declaration of Human Rights is flown to space to be stored on a permanent basis inside ESA’s Columbus laboratory.


10. 10 October, 2009 – Frank De Winne takes over as the first ever European Commander of the International Space Station. Frank’s OasISS mission also marks the first time the crew includes representatives from all International Space Station partners.



Frank De Winne near a window in the Japanese Kibo laboratory

11. 14 May, 2011 – Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts off on her second to last mission to the International Space Station carrying ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori.


12. 23 May, 2011 – Paolo Nespoli snaps historic images of the completed Space Station from the Soyuz TMA-20. Earlier in his MagISStra mission, Paolo also became first European astronaut to tweet from space.


13. 29 May, 2013 – Luca Parmitano becomes the first astronaut from ESA’s Class of 2009 to serve on board the International Space Station.


14. 22 December, 2014 – Timelapse imagery captured by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is used to create ESA’s first ever 4K video from space.


15. 6 June, 2015 – At 199 days, Samantha Cristoforetti breaks world record for longest single spaceflight by any female astronaut (subsequently surpassed by NASA’s Peggy Whitson).


16. 2015 – ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen captures rare footage of blue jets from the International Space Station during his Iriss mission.



Thunderstorm seen from Space Station

17. 24 April 2016 – Tim Peake gains Guinness World Record for fastest marathon run in space (3 hours, 35 minutes and 21 seconds).


18. November 2016 – Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong record a message for ESA and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet from on board the Chinese space station Tiangong-2. Thomas responds.


19. 6 March 2017 – ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson, and cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky, Andrei Borisenko and Sergei Ryzhikov set the record for most time spent on science in space – clocking a combined 99 hours of science over the course of a week.



The record-breaking Expedition 50 crew

20. 5 June 2018 –The first European facility for commercial research on the International Space Station (known as ICE Cubes) is installed in Europe’s space laboratory Columbus.


Eager to take part in celebrations online? Share your most memorable International Space Station moments, photos or footage using hashtag #SpaceStation20th.


Related links:


ESA’s Columbus Control Centre: https://www.dlr.de/dlr/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-10393/737_read-492/


Astrolab mission: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Astrolab/About_Astrolab


ESA’s Columbus Laboratory: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Columbus/Columbus_laboratory


Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-1): https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/03/X_marks_the_Vehicle


Declaration of Human Rights: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Columbus/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights_flies_into_space


First ever European Commander of ISS: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/OasISS_Mission/First_European_commander_of_the_International_Space_Station_media_opportunity


OasISS mission: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/OasISS_Mission/About_the_OasISS_mission


First astronaut from ESA’s Class of 2009: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Volare/About_Volare


Guinness World Record for fastest marathon run in space: http://blogs.esa.int/tim-peake/2016/04/25/marathon-run/


ICE Cubes: https://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2018/07/Horizons_science_installing_ICE_Cubes


Building the ISS: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/International_Space_Station/Building_the_International_Space_Station3


#SpaceStation20th: https://twitter.com/hashtag/spacestation20th


Horizons mission: http://alexandergerst.esa.int/


Where is the International Space Station?: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/International_Space_Station/Where_is_the_International_Space_Station


International Space Station Benefits for Humanity: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/International_Space_Station_Benefits_for_Humanity


Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA.


Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link


Yamnaya: home-grown

I have some interesting news. It looks like Khvalynsk_Eneolithic I0434 can be used as essentially a perfect proxy for the Eneolithic steppe trio from Wang et al. 2018 when modeling the ancestry of the Yamnaya people of what is now the Samara region of Russia. Consider the qpAdm mixture models below, sorted by taildiff.
One of the best fitting models that also fairly closely matches archeological data, which suggest that Yamnaya was an amalgamation of the Khvalynsk, Repin and Sredny Stog cultures, is in bold. The worst fitting, and basically failed, models are listed below the dotted line. Note that almost all of these models feature reference populations from West and Central Asia.



Khvalynsk_I0434 + Iberia_ChL 0.681534184 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Globular_Amphora 0.525961242 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Iberia_Central_CA 0.515960444 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Sredny_Stog_I6561 0.485311962 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Varna 0.430411416 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Blatterhole_MN 0.328782809 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Baden_LCA 0.234307235 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Protoboleraz_LCA 0.231310724 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + ALPc_MN 0.200002422 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Trypillia 0.193900977 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Balaton_Lasinja_CA 0.187031564 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Tiszapolgar_ECA 0.153940224 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Tisza_LN 0.145465993 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Balkans_ChL 0.111720163 > full output

Khvalynsk_I0434 + Armenia_EBA 0.0108890099 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Armenia_ChL 0.00882375703 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Levant_BA_North 0.0078751978 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Minoan_Lasithi 0.0675240088 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Peloponnese_N 0.046998906 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Hajji_Firuz_ChL 0.00269860335 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Shahr_I_Sokhta_BA1 0.00261908387 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Sarazm_Eneolithic 0.00120345503 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Seh_Gabi_ChL 0.00111898703 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Geoksiur_Eneolithic 0.000178295163 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Tepe_Hissar_ChL 0.000163698274 > full output
Khvalynsk_I0434 + Bustan_BA 0.000151088148 > full output



Why is this potentially important? Because unless Khvalynsk_Eneolithic I0434 was a recent migrant from the North Caucasus piedmont steppe, which is where the remains of the Eneolithic steppe trio were excavated, then Yamnaya’s ethnogenesis might not have anything at all to do with Asia or even the Caucasus region. At least not within any reasonable time frame anyway. Here’s a map showing the geographic locations of all of the populations relevant to the bolded mixture model above.



I won’t be fussed if it turns out that the majority of the ancestry of the Yamnaya, Corded Ware and other closely related ancient peoples was sourced from the Eneolithic populations of the North Caucasus piedmont steppe. But I think it’s useful to make the point that there are still very few ancient samples available from the steppes between the Black and Caspian seas, so we don’t yet have much of a clue how the groups living throughout this region during the Eneolithic and earlier fit into the grand scheme of things.
See also…
Big deal of 2018: Yamnaya not related to Maykop
“The Homeland: In the footprints of the early Indo-Europeans” time map
Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but…

Source


2018 November 20 The Unexpected Trajectory of Interstellar…


2018 November 20


The Unexpected Trajectory of Interstellar Asteroid ‘Oumuamua
Image Credit: NASA, JPL, Caltech


Explanation: Why is ‘Oumuamua differing from its expected trajectory? Last year, 1I/2017 U1 ‘Oumuamua became the first known asteroid from interstellar space to pass through our Solar System. Just over a year ago, this tumbling interstellar rock even passed rather close to the Earth. The asteroid’s future path should have been easy to predict given standard gravity – but ‘Oumuamua’s path has proven to be slightly different. In the featured animation, ‘Oumuamua is shown approaching and exiting the vicinity of our Sun, with the expected gravitational and observed trajectories labelled. The leading natural hypothesis for this unexpected deviation is internal gas jets becoming active on the Sun-warmed asteroid – but speculation and further computer simulations are ongoing. ‘Oumuamua will never return, but modern sky monitors are expected to find and track similar interstellar asteroids within the next few years.


∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap181120.html


HiPOD (19 November 2018): A Candidate Human Exploration Zone in…




HiPOD (19 November 2018): A Candidate Human Exploration Zone in Ausonia Cavus 


   – For additional information, view this PDF about this and another zones and why they are possible areas for human exploration. (Alt: 260 km. Black and white is less than 5 km across; enhanced color is less than 1 km.)


NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


Cosmic Serpent


Coils of Apep




Apep in the constellation of Norm


Digitized Sky Survey image around Apep




Videos


ESOcast 185 Light: Cosmic Serpent



ESOcast 185 Light: Cosmic Serpent


Zooming in on Apep



Zooming in on Apep





ESO’s VLT captures details of an elaborate serpentine system sculpted by colliding stellar winds

The VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope has captured this stunning image of a newly discovered massive triple star system. Nicknamed Apep after an ancient Egyptian deity, this may be the first ever gamma-ray burst progenitor found.


This serpentine swirl, captured by the VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), has an explosive future ahead of it; it is a Wolf-Rayet star system, and a likely source of one of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe — a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB).


“This is the first such system to be discovered in our own galaxy,” explains Joseph Callingham of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), lead author of the study reporting this system. “We never expected to find such a system in our own backyard” [1].


The system, which comprises a nest of massive stars surrounded by a “pinwheel” of dust, is officially known only by unwieldy catalogue references like 2XMM J160050.7-514245. However, the astronomers chose to give this fascinating object a catchier moniker — “Apep”.


Apep got its nickname for its sinuous shape, reminiscent of a snake coiled around the central stars. Its namesake was an ancient Egyptian deity, a gargantuan serpent embodying chaos — fitting for such a violent system. It was believed that Ra, the Sun god, would battle with Apep every night; prayer and worship ensured Ra’s victory and the return of the Sun.


GRBs are among the most powerful explosions in the Universe. Lasting between a few thousandths of a second and a few hours, they can release as much energy as the Sun will output over its entire lifetime. Long-duration GRBs — those which last for longer than 2 seconds — are believed to be caused by the supernova explosions of rapidly-rotating Wolf-Rayet stars.


Some of the most massive stars evolve into Wolf-Rayet stars towards the end of their lives. This stage is short-lived, and Wolf-Rayets survive in this state for only a few hundred thousand years — the blink of an eye in cosmological terms. In that time, they throw out huge amounts of material in the form of a powerful stellar wind, hurling matter outwards at millions of kilometres per hour; Apep’s stellar winds were measured to travel at an astonishing 12 million km/h.


These stellar winds have created the elaborate plumes surrounding the triple star system — which consists of a binary star system and a companion single star bound together by gravity. Though only two star-like objects are visible in the image, the lower source is in fact an unresolved binary Wolf-Rayet star. This binary is responsible for sculpting the serpentine swirls surrounding Apep, which are formed in the wake of the colliding stellar winds from the two Wolf-Rayet stars.


Compared to the extraordinary speed of Apep’s winds, the dust pinwheel itself swirls outwards at a leisurely pace, “crawling” along at less than 2 million km/h. The wild discrepancy between the speed of Apep’s rapid stellar winds and that of the unhurried dust pinwheel is thought to result from one of the stars in the binary launching both a fast and a slow wind — in different directions.


This would imply that the star is undergoing near-critical rotation — that is, rotating so fast that it is nearly ripping itself apart. A Wolf-Rayet star with such rapid rotation is believed to produce a long-duration GRB when its core collapses at the end of its life.




Notes



[1] Callingham, now at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), did part of this research while at the University of Sydney working with research team leader Peter Tuthill. In addition to observations from ESO telescopes, the team also used the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia.




More information


This research was presented in a paper entitled “Anisotropic winds in Wolf-Rayet binary identify potential gamma-ray burst progenitor” which appeared in Nature Astronomy on 19 November 2018.



The team was composed of: J. R. Callingham (ASTRON, Dwingeloo, the Netherlands), P. G. Tuthill (Sydney Institute for Astronomy [SIfA], University of Sydney, Australia), B. J. S. Pope (SIfA; Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, New York University, USA; NASA Sagan Fellow), P. M. Williams (Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, UK), P. A. Crowther (Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Sheffield, UK), M. Edwards (SIfA), B. Norris (SIfA), and L. Kedziora-Chudczer (School of Physics, University of New South Wales, Australia).



ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.




Links






Contacts


Joseph Callingham


Postdoctoral Research Fellow — Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON)

Dwingeloo, The Netherlands

Tel: +31 6 2929 7915



Calum Turner

ESO Public Information Officer

Garching bei München, Germany

Tel: +49 89 3200 6670




Source: ESO/News






Archive link


Long March-3B launches BeiDou-3 MEO-17 and BeiDou-3 MEO-18


BeiDou Navigation Satellite System patch.


Nov. 19, 2018



Long March-3B rocket launches BeiDou-3 MEO-17 and BeiDou-3 MEO-18 navigation satellites

A Long March-3B rocket launched BeiDou-3 MEO-17 and BeiDou-3 MEO-18 navigation satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, southwest China, on 18 November October 2018, at 18:07 UTC (19 November at 02:07 local time).



Long March-3B launches BeiDou-3 MEO-17 and BeiDou-3 MEO-18

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket with a Yuanzheng upper stage launches two satellites for the country’s Beidou navigation network into Medium Earth Orbit.



 BeiDou navigation satellite

The satellites are the 42nd and 43rd in the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), respectively the 17th and 18th for the BeiDou-3 system.



Beidou Constellation

China plans to launch six other BDS-3 satellites to the medium earth orbit, three satellites to the inclined geosynchronous earth orbit and two satellites to the geostationary earth orbit from 2019 to 2020.


For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit: http://english.spacechina.com/n16421/index.html


For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit: http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/


For more information about Beidou navigation system: http://www.beidou.gov.cn/


Images, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/CNSA/CCTV/SciNews/Günter Space Page.


Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link


NASA’s Quiet Supersonic Technology Project Passes Major Milestone


NASA – X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) patch.


Nov. 19, 2018



Image above: Illustration of the X-59 QueSST as it flies above NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.


NASA has officially committed to a development timeline that will lead to the first flight of its X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft in just three years.


This critical milestone comes after a rigorous review, Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C), that confirmed NASA’s continued support of the X-59, in terms of funding, and established an achievable development timeline for NASA’s first piloted, full-size X-plane in more than three decades.


“This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the United States and around the world by making faster-than-sound air travel over land possible for everyone,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We can’t wait to see this bird fly!”


KDP-C commits NASA to the full X-59 development effort through flight-testing in 2021. The cost and schedule commitments outlined in KDP-C align the project with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the project’s control.


“This is a monumental milestone for the project,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “I’m extremely proud of the team for its hard work getting to this point, and we all look forward to watching this aircraft take shape and then take flight.”


The X-59 QueSST is shaped to reduce the loudness of a sonic boom to that of a gentle thump, if it’s heard at all. The supersonic aircraft will be flown above select U.S. communities to measure public perception of the noise – data that will help regulators establish new rules for commercial supersonic air travel over land.


Management of X-59 QueSST development falls under the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator project, part of the Integrated Aviation Systems Program in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.


Related links:


Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST): https://www.nasa.gov/feature/the-quesst-for-quiet


Low Boom Flight Demonstrator project: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/lowboom/index.html


For more information about NASA’s aeronautics research, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/aeroresearch


Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/J.D. Harrington/Sean Potter.


Greetings, Orbiter.chArchive link


Climate change/biodiversity loss: Inseparable threats to humanity that must be addressed...

Demand for bioenergy to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels could cause a 10- to 30-fold increase in green energy-related land use in years to come, adding crushing pressure on habitat for plants and animals and undermining the essential diversity of species on Earth.











Climate change/biodiversity loss: Inseparable threats to humanity that must be addressed together
Credit: IPBES

Speaking to government ministers and other high level representatives at a major UN biodiversity meeting in Egypt, Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said climate scientists foresee far more land needed for corn and other crops for bioenergy to mitigate climate change in decades to come.


Citing the latest report from the Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change (on limiting climate warming to 1.5C), Dr. Larigauderie noted that most IPCC scenarios foresee a major increase in land area for cultivating bioenergy crops by 2050 — up to 724 million hectares in all, an area almost the size of Australia.


“The key issue here is: where would this huge amount of new land come from?” she asked. “Is there currently such a large amount of ‘marginal land’ available or would this compete with biodiversity? Some scientists argue that there is very little marginal land left.”


“This important issue needs to be clarified, but the demand for land for energy will almost certainly increase, with negative consequences for biodiversity.”


Dr. Larigauderie made the remarks at the start of the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 14), convened with the Government of Egypt in Sharm el Sheikh, 14-29 November.


Meeting strong climate mitigation goals without massive bioenergy is possible, she added, but scenarios indicate that this requires substantial reductions in energy use and rapid increases in low carbon energy production from wind, solar and nuclear sources.


Safeguarding plant and animal species diversity and the services nature provides is itself key to the mitigation of planetary warming, she said.


For example:


– Land ecosystems, with their diverse plants and soils, today sequester about one third of annual CO2 emissions.


– Similarly, the ocean sequesters about a quarter of annual carbon emissions.


– Reforestation is better at mitigating climate than most bioenergy crops. In temperate climates, one reforested hectare is four times more effective in climate mitigation than a hectare of corn used for biofuel.


“All methods that produce healthier ecosystems should be promoted as a way to combat climate change,” she said. “This includes afforestation and reforestation, as well as restoration — implemented properly using native species, for example.”


The latest IPCC report, she said, “has given a sense of extreme urgency for these exchanges on tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”


Efforts are underway to enhance much needed inter-disciplinary collaboration, she added, between the IPCC and IPBES, in the context of the second work programme of IPBES to be approved in 2019.


“In the background to all of these discussions is the need to elevate the topic of biodiversity much higher on the political agenda — to the same level as climate. I sense that we may be closer … but we have to intensify our efforts as a community even further over the next couple of years.”


In separate remarks to business leaders at the UN meetings, Dr. Larigauderie said that COP 14 was expected to make a decision to request from IPBES a report on criteria, metrics and indicators of the impacts different business sectors have on biodiversity and ecosystem services, which could be undertaken in 2019 if approved by the next IPBES Plenary.


Businesses have several compelling reasons to protect and use biodiversity sustainably, she noted.


Among them:


– Many businesses depend directly or indirectly on biodiversity and the health of ecosystem services


– They are often responsible for the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services and consumers will increasingly favour companies with a biodiversity policy, just as they make choices now that reflect climate and pollution concerns


– Proper management of the impact on biodiversity would not only minimise operational, regulatory, reputational and market risks, but also bring business opportunities for companies in the form of new markets, efficiencies in production, staff buy-in, and competitive advantage.


Recently published IPBES assessments of regional biodiversity and ecosystem services reports contain case studies, policy options and opportunities for mainstreaming biodiversity in different economic sectors, she noted.


“They show in particular that proactive environmental action by businesses is fundamental and needs to increase, but also that they must be supported by complementary regulatory measures as well as economic incentives / disincentives by governments.”


A stronger emphasis on this is expected in a major global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services being prepared for release in Paris next May, said Dr. Larigauderie. It will be the first such report since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005.


A primer detailing elements of the IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity will be released on Monday, 19 November.


About the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity


High-Level Segment (14-15 November). As many as 80 ministers of Environment, Infrastructure, Energy, Industry and other sectors are expected to join in discussions on mainstreaming biodiversity into their respective fields of work.


From 17-29 November, negotiations will be undertaken among 196 Parties to the CBD on the following main themes: Achieving the globally-agreed Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2010-2020); mainstreaming biodiversity issues; and the beginning of two years of negotiation of the post 2020 global framework for biodiversity, scheduled for final agreement at CBD COP15 in China in 2020.


Source: Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) [November 15, 2018]



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