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February 19 2014


August 22 2012


Polar Bears are Suffering from the Ravages of Climate Change

As climate change advances in the Arctic, polar bear populations continue to sufferThe polar bear is emblematic of the Canadian wilderness, but as an apex predator, they are also one of the species most at risk from climate change. The Arctic is experiencing the effects of global warming more than any other place on Earth. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world, and this is causing the early break-up of sea ice. Polar bears are dependent on the ice for their survival, which they use as a hunting platform, to secure mates and to travel.

There is a strong correlation between the decline in polar bears and the reduction in sea ice. The loss of sea ice is making it harder for polar bears to find enough seals to meet their dietary requirements. The result is leaner females that are less capable of successfully reproducing and less able to nurture their cubs once they are born.

As explained by the David Suzuki Foundation, the sea ice cover has declined by approximately nine per cent per decade since 1978, and the rate of melting appears to increase each year.

In 2009, polar bear biologists reported that declining sea ice in the Arctic was already harming some populations. At a meeting in Copenhagen, the Polar Bear Specialist Group made the claim that an increasing number of bear populations were in decline. The only population that was known to be doing well was the one in the Canadian high Arctic.

While more than half of the world’s polar bears live in Canada they can also be found in Alaska, Russia, Greenland and Norway. Many of Canada’s bears can be found in western Hudson Bay. In that part of the world ice is breaking up on average seven to eight days earlier with each passing decade. Melting sea ice is forcing the bears ashore where there is little prey for them to hunt. Increased time on land is leading to weight loss, physical deterioration and decreased rates of reproduction.

A recent aerial survey conducted on behalf of the Nunavut government suggests that there are about 1,013 polar bears in Canada’s western Hudson Bay. This number is similar to a 2004 mark-and-recapture or tagging study. Taken together these studies suggest that the number of polar bears is stable.

Andrew Derocher is one of many who do not agree with this assessment. Derocher is Professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, he has studied polar bears for 40 years. As he explained in a phone interview with The Star.com, the study actually revealed substantially reduced numbers of cubs and yearlings.

Derocher believes that two to five times more cubs were born in the 1980s through to the 1990s.

In recent years, Derocher and others have documented a decline in body weight of the bears, leading to less cubs being born and a smaller number surviving to adulthood.

“The science of the effects of climate change on polar bears in Hudson Bay is absolutely profound” Derocher said, “the loss of sea ice reduces the body conditions of bears and bears with lower body condition produce fewer cubs and the bears collectively have lower survival rates.”

Being on land where there is no prey, females end up being 30 to 40 kilograms lighter than they were in the early 1980s and they are producing fewer cubs.

“When you put it all together it summarizes a population that is not reproducing sufficiently to maintain the current abundance and that means the population is in decline,” Derocher said. He concludes by saying that the pattern observed in western Hudson Bay is being replicated in other parts of the Arctic.

This summer, in addition to less ice, the polar bears near Hudson Bay had to contend with high heat and even wildfires. As reported by Reuters, these fires encroached on areas where females make their dens.

A polar bear scientist named Steven Amstrup is concerned about the loss of habitat. Amstrup is a former polar bear specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey and now chief scientist at the nonprofit conservation organization, Polar Bears International.

“Not only is the permafrost no longer permanent, tree roots needed to stabilize the den structure are disappearing,” Amstrup said. “The kinds of habitats where mother polar bears in this area give birth to their cubs are simply disappearing as the world warms and [the cubs] survival depends upon the shelter of the den to protect them from the elements.”

As reviewed in another Reuters article, a 2011 study suggests that increasing mortality rates of polar bear cubs is due to the fact that with less ice they are forced to swim long distances. While adult animals can swim vast distances, this study suggests that protracted swims can prove deadly for the cubs.

Starving polar bears may even be cannibalizing each other. Discovery News reported an incident of cannibalism that was captured on film in Hudson Bay in 2009. This was but one of 8 cases alleged to have taken place in the area that year. In 2011, the journal Arctic published another account of cannibalism witnessed by photojournalist Jenny Ross of the Svalbard archipelago last year. Although not unprecedented, polar bear cannibalism is likely to increase as the bears find it increasingly difficult to gain access to their prey.

A 2010 Reuters article reviewed a study which concluded that significant reductions in carbon emissions could cool the planet and rebuild sea ice.

“This is very much scientific evidence that there is hope,” said Amstrup. “If people think that there’s nothing they can do, they will do nothing. Here we’ve demonstrated that we can conserve polar bears.”

Global warming is threatening the entire Arctic ecosystem and jeopardizing the fate of the polar bear. It is not too late to save these majestic creatures, but to do so we must get serious about reducing emissions.

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November 23 2011


Looking Way Back at the Rate of Arctic Melting

A new report on the rate of melting of Arctic sea ice shows the largest percentage of melting in well over 1,000 years.

September 14 2011


Dire warning over Arctic sea ice melt

Sea-ice coverage across the Arctic Ocean has dwindled to its second-lowest level since satellite records started in 1979.

August 03 2011


Interview with 'Kivalina' Author Christine Shearer - Trivia Challenge For Free Copy

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Shearer, author of "Kivalina: A Climate Change Story," an important new book that probes some of the tangible consequences of climate change denial. Shearer chronicles the very real experience of the melting and eroding community of Kivalina, Alaska, a smalll but resilient village community that sued ExxonMobil and 23 other polluters for contributing to the global warming that is tearing down their homes.

**Answer the trivia questions at the bottom of this post for a chance to win a free copy of Kivalina.

Brendan DeMelle (BD): What inspired you to write this book?

Christine Shearer (CS): In 2007 I became part of a science project assessing the biggest human impacts to marine ecosystems, which required getting data from over 100 scientists. And the more I worked on it, the more it became clear to me that the data on climate change was really alarming, and that if we did not get a handle on this problem soon, it could be too late - we'd set into motions feedbacks that could not be reversed. Which made me wonder about the disconnect between what scientists knew about climate change, and what many in the U.S. were hearing about the subject - you know, that it's not happening, or it's not that bad, or it's natural, etc.

At the same time I happened to be studying the disinformation campaigns of past industries in one of my graduate classes - like lead and asbestos, and also climate change. Academics and journalists have been documenting the tactics of industrial misinformation for decades now.

And so one night - it was 2008 - I was in my environmental law class, and the teacher read a news headline about this lawsuit, this tiny Alaska Native village suing fossil fuel companies for damaging their homeland and creating a false debate about climate change, and I just knew I had to write about it.

BD: What was the biggest surprise you discovered in researching Kivalina?

CS: That their situation was so much worse than I thought it would be. Like I said, my initial questions and interests had everything to do with the misinformation campaigns and the lawsuit. So I went to Kivalina thinking that would be my focus. And then I got there and realized the lawsuit was just one part of the story.

I knew Kivalina was eroding and its residents needed to be relocated, but I imagined it to be a slow, predictable process, and relocation far off. And I got there and stood on this tiny, tiny island, completely surrounded by water - one side the sea, the other a lake - with some homes already hanging a bit off the edge, while other homes had already been moved inland, and I heard about large storms that took away chunks of the island. And then I understood that the erosion is not slow and predictable at all - it usually comes suddenly, quickly, and severely, in ways that threaten peoples' safety.

Kivalina is racked every fall by very large, intense storms, which the island used to be able to handle, because ice would keep the shoreline firm and act as a buffer. But that ice is forming later and later in the year because of increasing average temperatures, so when the storms come, Kivalina is a sitting duck, there is little protection. A rock revetment on the sea side was being built when I was there, but the people still need to be relocated, that is inevitable. And the revetment offers some protection, but some of the people say they still get nervous about storms, that the revetment won’t be enough. And they wonder if they will ever be relocated, because there is no relocation policy in the U.S., and they have been trying to relocate since 1992.  

BD: What is the latest news about the lawsuit Kivalina v. ExxonMobil?  Where do things currently stand?

CS: The village's claim of public nuisance, or unreasonable harm, was dismissed as a "political question" for the executive and legislative branches, and unsuitable for the judicial branch, which is how three prior climate change public nuisance claims had been dismissed. The judge also denied Kivalina legal standing to bring the lawsuit, saying that the greenhouse gases that contributed to the harm of the people of Kivalina was not "fairly traceable" to emissions of the defendant fossil fuel companies, which the judge said was required by the claim. This meant that the secondary claims of conspiracy and concert of action, which had to do with the misinformation campaigns on climate change, were thrown out without being commented on.

The decision is being appealed, and Kivalina is waiting on that decision. In another federal public nuisance climate change claim Connecticut v. AEP, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not bring federal public nuisance suits for an injunction - a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions - against large emitters because the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, even though the EPA has yet to regulate.

But Kivalina is different because here we have an identifiable, discrete harm, specific to the people of Kivalina, and a request for damages - the relocation costs - rather than an injunction. So Kivalina's lawyers argue that the claim fits the requirements of public nuisance, so we'll see.  

It might be like tobacco, where you have several lawsuits, but they only become successful after more and more documented evidence of deliberate corporate misinformation begins to emerge. Part of the reason we know so much about the tobacco industry was that their internal documents were released through the discovery process of litigation - no climate change claim has reached that stage yet.

BD: You focus a lot of blame for government inaction on climate change on what David Michaels coined the “Product Defense Industry” (PDI), which helps large industries to stave off regulations and avoid true accountability to the public.  If you had to pick 2-3 specific players, which individuals, companies or groups would you identify as the key actors most responsible for the success of this PDI network?

CS: Well, first I want to say that when I interviewed Michaels he was very reluctant to really tie the PDI to climate change, because his analysis of the PDI was based on his own experience and research, which was more focused on worker and consumer safety regulations.

But in my own research on climate change, I found his discussion of the PDI very applicable, because what you have is a dense connection of organizations, law firms, paid experts, and astroturf groups that represent corporate interests in fighting off regulations, lawsuits, and negative publicity.

So in terms of what makes the PDI in general most effective, I would say the tobacco industry. When I interviewed Michaels and asked him what separated tobacco from other industries that tried to mislead people, he said it was tobacco that turned misinformation into an art. And I would agree.

Before tobacco, you had manufacturers of things like asbestos and lead that would try to suppress scientific research that suggested their products were harmful, and either deny or downplay diseases like asbestosis or lead poisoning or try to blame it on other environmental or health factors, or even blame workers or children for getting sick.

But it was the tobacco industry that really seemed to perfect the tactic of creating doubt to try and discredit an entire body of scientific research. And it came out of litigation - the tactic was designed by their lawyers. They knew if they created doubt in jurors' heads about research connecting smoking to disease, they won, even if there was overwhelming evidence proving smoking is harmful, which there was.

And it was also effective as far as PR in shaping public opinion - you just give people that seed of doubt to sustain their skepticism. And they slowly and steadily built up all sorts of firms and organizations to spread this message of doubt, even on other issues, to give these organizations the appearance of being unconnected to tobacco.

Another big player was the PR firm Hill & Knowlton. It was started by a man named John Hill who was really appalled by the growth of government during the New Deal of the 1930s, and very much saw the firm's role as representing corporate interests, even if it meant doing things like shopping around for scientists to question peer-reviewed scientific research.

And that kind of work was picked up and continued by other organizations like APCO Worldwide, created by the law firm Arnold & Porter when it was defending tobacco companies - and now one of the firms representing fossil fuel companies in the Kivalina lawsuit. APCO really helped popularize the terms "junk" and "sound" science, and what that did was create a concept that allowed industries and their supporters to question scientific research without necessarily appearing to be anti-science, because they can say it's "junk" science. So research suggesting something is harmful? Junk science. Research suggesting it's not so bad? That's sound science.

And the third player I would say are the politicians who support this, because they are the enablers in turning certain corporate interests into established government policy. And I think the absolute worst was the Bush-Cheney Administration, which turned to fossil fuel industries and supporting firms to dictate U.S. climate change policy - or lack of policy - and even suppress or rewrite government reports on climate change science with think tank "research" funded by companies like ExxonMobil.

BD: You discuss the “discourse of doubt” created by the fossil fuel industry and its allies surrounding the science of human-driven climate change.   What do we have to do as a society to get beyond that confusion campaign and move towards action?

CS: That is the question.

I agree with the idea that there is no silver bullet to this issue, it will be a silver buckshot, a culmination of various efforts. So I wont lay out an exhaustive list of what people could do and are doing, which I think is all necessary and important, but just kind of sum up the main issue.

I don't think the answer is arguing with diehard climate change "skeptics" over the science - that is a recipe for a long waste of time with no successful outcome. But you might be able to find common ground with some of them on things like energy efficiency being a smart investment. And we need to differentiate them from the people who are more on the fence about the science and still trying to sort through all the info, since there is so much misleading info out there. The more people we reach, the more we multiply our efforts.

But there is denial of the science, then there is denial of the implications - that we need to transform how we live. I agree with activists like Bill McKibben and scientists like James Hansen. A problem as severe as climate change requires a mass social movement. Because what we are dealing with is a small group of people that want to treat climate change like it's just bad PR, to prevent social change. That is incredibly dangerous and totally unacceptable.

So we all need to do what we can, and then push ourselves to do more, and link up with people on our efforts. And we need to find common ground - climate change is not some yuppie environmental movement, it's a social justice issue, it's an economic issue, it's a political issue, so there is a lot of overlap for broadly shared goals. And we need to be as vigilant, as demanding, and as unrelenting as the pro-corporate movement has been. And I know the challenges are enormous, but they will be good for us, our community well-being, and our democracy, so it's worth it.
**For a chance to receive a free copy of Kivalina: A Climate Change Story, please email Editor [at] DeSmogBlog [.] com, with the correct answers to the following three trivia questions about Christine Shearer.  The first five people to correctly answer all three questions will win a free copy of “Kivalina: A Climate Change Story.”

1) Christine co-wrote an article about grassroots resistance against a proposed coal mine in what country?

2) Christine wrote an article with climate scientist Richard Rood. What was it about?

3) Christine works for the organization CoalSwarm. What is CoalSwarm's mission?

Kivalina is available on Amazon.com and other top booksellers, and don't forget to seek it out or request it at a local independent bookstore near you.

May 07 2011


PRESS ALERT: Dramatic Sea Level Rise Expected From Faster Melting of Arctic Snow and Ice

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** Contact: Alex Viets, IGSD: +1.213.321.0911, aviets@igsd.org Dramatic Sea Level Rise Expected From Faster Melting of Arctic Snow and Ice Washington, DC, May 6, 2011 – Sea levels could rise up to 5 feet by the end of this century, driven by warming in the Arctic and the resulting melt of snow and ice, [...]

May 06 2011


Rapid Arctic Climate Change Could Intensify Sea Level Rise, Analysis Warns

Rapidly changing arctic will contribute to increased sea level riseAnalysis from the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) shows the pace of climate change in the Arctic is quickening and will significantly contribute to sea level rise by up to five feet by the end of the century.

AMAP will release its full report in Nuuk Greenland at next week’s ministerial meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council.

“The observed changes in sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, in the mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic ice caps and glaciers over the past 10 years are dramatic and represent an obvious departure from the long-term patterns,” AMAP said in a press statement.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected a purposefully conservative estimate of 7 to 23 inches of sea level rise by the end of the century in their 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. The Assessment warned that a rapid increase in ice melt from Antarctica or the Greenland ice sheet (which the IPCCC did not attempt to project) would push sea levels dramatically higher.

Several studies since the 2007 Fourth Assessment have shown telltale signs of just that sort of accelerating ice melt, and now the latest AMAP analysis adds to the warning that change is accelerating and will cause significant sea level rise. But like the IPCCC Assessment, the AMAP report says determining the full extent of sea level rise remains and open question, saying that ”high uncertainty surrounds estimates of future global sea level.”

Arctic warming double global average

The AMAP report describes the Arctic as a region undergoing rapid and accelerating change:

  • The Arctic has warmed at twice the rate of the global average since 1980.
  • Summer temperatures have been higher than at any time during the past 2,000 years.
  • The past five years have had higher surface temperatures than any five-year period since modern weather record-keeping began in 1880.
  • Snow cover and sea ice extent has decreased, while temperature of Arctic permafrost has increased by up to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.

The AMAP analysis also speaks of positive reinforcing feedbacks:

“There is now evidence that two components of the cryosphere — snow and sea ice — are interacting with the climate system to accelerate warming,” the report says.

With decreasing snow cover exposing the darker ground underneath, more heat is absorbed, causing increased melting. Similar reinforcing feedback is caused by decreased sea ice extent. As more open ocean is exposed, more heat is absorbed, accelerating the decrease in sea ice.

The AMAP reports projects a “nearly” ice-free Arctic within the 30 to 40 years.

ClimateWire (subscription required)

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April 18 2011


Penguins That Shun Ice Still Lose Big from a Warming Climate

ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2011) — Fluctuations in penguin populations in the Antarctic are linked more strongly to the availability of their primary food source than to changes in their habitats, according to a new study published online on April 11  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funded in part by the Lenfest [...]

February 10 2011


Requiem for the Bears?

With polar bears getting less time on the shrinking ice to fatten up on seals, they are coming ashore with less energy stored up for the difficult summer months.

February 09 2011


Take a Number, Mr. Walrus

The walrus will be designated a "candidate" species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but it will be near the end of the list, the government says.

November 14 2010


October 21 2010


October 06 2010


September 17 2010


Tracking Sea Ice in the Arctic

This year's minimum level of sea ice is the third lowest ever recorded.

September 16 2010


Walrus Again Forced to Flee Melting Arctic Sea Ice

Walrus on melting iceWe first reported in 2007 of Walrus pushed off Arctic sea ice due to unusually an unusually low Arctic sea ice extent in the eastern Chukchi Sea, where they normally spend their summers breeding and feeding in the shallow waters of the continental shelf. For the third time in the past four years Walrus again find themselves forced onto land due to retreating sea ice.

This year marks the third lowest Arctic sea ice extent since sattellite monitoring of seasonal sea ice melt began, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, continuing the trend toward an ice free summer for the Arctic. Thus far 2010 is tied with 1998 as the warmest year on record. The disappearing ice and warming climate is bad new not only for walrus, but polar bear and other marine mammals that depend on the northern ice.

Recent reports from the US Geological Survey have shown between ten and twenty thousand Walrus have congregated in a “desne clump” at Point Lay, Alaska. Forced onto land, feeding becomes more difficult and raises concerns that the easily spooked animals will stampede, say wildlife experts.

Our biggest concern right now is stampeding,” says Bruce Woods from the US Fish and Wildlife regional office in Alaska, “That’s the big risk posed to these animals.”

With adult female Walrus typically weighing in at about one ton, the risk is  greatest for the younger members of the group. Last year 131 Walrus were trampled when they sought shelter from retreating ice along the shore of Icy Cape, Alaska. Most of the animals killed were juveniles. Similar reports of deadly stampedes have also been reported in the Russian Arctic.

In response to the propensity of Walrus to be easily frightened, a buffer zone has been suggested by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), asking ships to maintain a distance of one-half mile from the coast and airplanes to maintain an altitude of at least 1500 feet and lateral distance of one-half mile.

The FWS is in the process of considering protecting the Walrus under the Endangered Species Act, and must decide whether or not to proceed with listing by January of 2011.

August 22 2010


New Computer Model Advances Climate Change Research

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100818154730.htm ScienceDaily (Aug. 19, 2010) — Scientists can now study climate change in far more detail with powerful new computer software released by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The Community Earth System Model (CESM) will be one of the primary climate models used for the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate [...]

August 12 2010


Biodiversity Hot Spots More Vulnerable to Global Warming Than Thought

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100607165746.htm ScienceDaily (Aug. 12, 2010) — Global warming may present a threat to animal and plant life even in biodiversity hot spots once thought less likely to suffer from climate change, according to a new study from Rice University Research by Amy Dunham, a Rice assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, detailed for the [...]

July 21 2010


“Earth Observation for Climate Change”

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2010 – The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) James Lewis, director of the CSIS Technology and Public Policy Program (TPP); Sarah Ladislaw, a senior fellow in the CSIS Energy and National Security Program; and Denise Zheng, a research assistant in TPP, have written a new report, “Earth Observation for Climate [...]

March 30 2010


Catlin Arctic Survey 2010: Weekly update 29th March 2010

Tough week but Explorer Team still cross 850 parallel Bitterly cold temperatures, even for the Arctic, have been driving into the Catlin Arctic Survey’s explorer team as strong winds continue to batter them at the end of a week of demanding conditions. With wind chill, the temperatures of minus 35 can feel like minus 60 and [...]
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