Limiting warming to 1.5 degree C would save majority of global species from climate change

  • Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C would save the majority of the world’s plant and animal species from climate change. Species across the globe would benefit — particularly those in Southern Africa, the Amazon, Europe and Australia.
  • Reducing the risk to insects is important because they are vital for ‘ecosystem services’ such as pollinating crops and being part of the food chain.

Posted: 17 May 2018 11:36 AM PDT Read full Tyndall Research Center article here

Limiting global warming to 1.5oC would save the vast majority of the world’s plant and animal species from climate change — according to new research led by the University of East Anglia.

A new report published today in Science reveals that limiting warming to the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement would avoid half the risks associated with warming of 2oC for plants and animals, and two thirds of the risks for insects.

Species across the globe would benefit — but particularly those in Southern Africa, the Amazon, Europe and Australia.

Reducing the risk to insects is particularly important, the team say, because they are so vital for ‘ecosystem services’ such as pollinating crops and flowers, and being part of the food chain for other birds and animals.

Previous research focused on quantifying the benefits of limiting warming to 2oC above pre-industrial times — the upper limit for temperature as set out in the Paris Agreement — and did not look at insects.

This is the first study to explore how limiting warming to 1.5oC would benefit species globally….

R. Warren, J. Price, E. Graham, N. Forstenhaeusler, J. VanDerWal. The projected effect on insects, vertebrates, and plants of limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C. Science, 2018; 360 (6390): 791 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar3646

NASA satellites reveal major shifts in global freshwater; Groundwater depletion in Central Valley due to drought and agriculture

  • Researchers see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter — those are the high latitudes and the tropics — and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.
  • Significant groundwater depletion observed in California’s Central Valley from 2007 to 2015, is likely due to both decreased groundwater replenishment from rain and snowfall combined with increased pumping for agriculture.

May 16, 2018  Read full NASA article here

See related Guardian UK article here: Water shortages to be key environmental challenge of the century, Nasa warns

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists have combined an array of NASA satellite observations of Earth with data on human activities to map locations where freshwater is changing around the globe and why.

The study, published today in the journal Nature, finds that Earth’s wet land areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier due to a variety of factors, including human water management, climate change and natural cycles.

….”What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change,” said co-author Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which also managed the GRACE mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter — those are the high latitudes and the tropics — and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

For instance, although pumping groundwater for agricultural uses is a significant contributor to freshwater depletion throughout the world, groundwater levels are also sensitive to cycles of persistent drought or rainy conditions. Famiglietti noted that such a combination was likely the cause of the significant groundwater depletion observed in California’s Central Valley from 2007 to 2015, when decreased groundwater replenishment from rain and snowfall combined with increased pumping for agriculture.

Southwestern California lost 4 gigatons of freshwater per year during the period. A gigaton of water would fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools. A majority of California’s freshwater comes in the form of rainfall and snow that collect in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and then is managed as it melts into surface waters through a series of reservoirs. When natural cycles led to less precipitation and caused diminished snowpack and surface waters, people relied on groundwater more heavily….

M. Rodell et al. Emerging trends in global freshwater availability. Nature (2018) doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0123-1

Tree die-offs in CA can harm trees on the opposite coast

  • If a whole forest disappears, new research shows, this has ricocheting effects in the atmosphere that affect vegetation on the other side of the country.
  • The Pacific Southwest region, which covers most of California, has the smallest total area of tree cover. But removing those trees had the biggest influence on growing conditions nationally, by reducing vegetation in the Eastern U.S.
  • Forest loss is disrupting or changing the flow patterns in the atmosphere that is leading to a slightly different summertime climate in the eastern part of the country.

May 16, 2018 University of Washington Read full ScienceDaily article here

Large swaths of U.S. forests are vulnerable to drought, forest fires and disease. Many local impacts of forest loss are well known: drier soils, stronger winds, increased erosion, loss of shade and habitat. But if a whole forest disappears, new research shows, this has ricocheting effects in the atmosphere that can affect vegetation on the other side of the country.

….forest die-offs in specific regions of the United States can influence plant growth in other parts of the country. The largest impacts seen were from losing forest cover in California, a region that is currently experiencing dramatic tree mortality.

“These smaller areas of forest can have continental-scale impacts, and we really need to be considering this when we’re thinking about ecological changes,” said first author Abigail Swann, a UW assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and of biology. Such far-off effects are accepted in the atmospheric sciences community, Swann said, but the idea is only beginning to be accepted by ecologists….

“Forest loss is disrupting or changing the flow patterns in the atmosphere that is leading to a slightly different summertime climate in the eastern part of the country,” Swann said. “It’s very analogous to El Niño or ‘the blob,’ something that’s occurring that causes the atmosphere to move around, which causes these warmer or cooler conditions, or wetter and drier conditions, somewhere else.”…

…The study suggests that current forest loss in Western regions is big enough to trigger changes in plant growth, though it might not be possible to detect these small changes over large areas of the country…

Abigail L S Swann, Marysa M Laguë, Elizabeth S Garcia, Jason P Field, David D Breshears, David J P Moore, Scott R Saleska, Scott C Stark, Juan Camilo Villegas, Darin J Law, David M Minor. Continental-scale consequences of tree die-offs in North America: identifying where forest loss matters most. Environmental Research Letters, 2018; 13 (5): 055014 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aaba0f

Climate change ruining California’s environment, report warns

By Peter Fimrite  May 8, 2018  Read full SF Chron article here

Bigger, more intense forest fires, longer droughts, warmer ocean temperatures and an ever shrinking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada are “unequivocal” evidence of the ruinous domino-effects that climate change is having on California, a new California Environmental Protection Agency report states.

The 350-page report released Wednesday tracks 36 indicators of climate change, including a comprehensive list of human impacts and the effects on wildlife, the ocean, lakes, rivers and the mountains.

The study pulled together research from scientists, academia and research institutions and found that despite a marked downward trend in greenhouse-gas emissions in California, including a 90 percent drop in black carbon from tailpipe emissions over the past 50 years, CO2 levels in the atmosphere and in seawater are increasing at a steady rate.

“To me, it shows how important it is to bring carbon emissions down to zero and to limit the amount of climate change that occurs as much as possible,” said Christopher Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute and a top climate scientist whose research is reflected in the report. “The risks are coming into sharper focus, the range of impacts are coming into sharper focus. (The report) reinforces and amplifies the messages we’ve already seen.”

The report, called Indicators of Climate Change in California , shows a dramatic increase in temperatures since 1895, especially since the early 1980s. The warmest year in California history was 2014, followed closely by 2015, 2017 and 2016. Most alarming of all, though, are night temperatures, which have increased 2.3 degrees over the past century, the report notes….

Hurricane season may be even worse in 2018 after a harrowing 2017

  • The initial forecasts of an above-average season for hurricanes, beginning on 1 June, follow a punishing spate of storms last year

Oliver Milman Fri 11 May 2018 Read full GuardianUK article here

The US may have to brace itself for another harrowing spate of hurricanes this year, with forecasts of an active 2018 season coming amid new research that shows powerful Atlantic storms are intensifying far more rapidly than they did 30 years ago.

The peak season for Atlantic storms, which officially starts on 1 June, is set to spur as many as 18 named storms, with up to five of them developing into major hurricanes, according to separate forecasts from North Carolina State University and Colorado State University. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will soon provide its own 2018 hurricane predictions.

The initial forecasts of an above-average season for hurricanes follow a punishing 2017, most notable for Hurricane Harvey, which drenched large areas of Texas, Hurricane Irma’s sweep over Florida and the devastation that stubbornly lingers in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria.

These huge hurricanes brought winds of up to 185mph and lashing rains, causing hundreds of deaths, flattening homes, felling power lines and ruining roads. Combined, the three storms caused around $265bn in damage, and all ranked in the five most destructive hurricanes ever recorded.

Many communities, particularly in Puerto Rico and Texas, are still struggling to recover from last year’s hurricanes as the upcoming storm season approaches. And while the US may be spared 2017 levels of devastation this year, scientists have warned that the warming of the oceans, driven by climate change, is likely to stir greater numbers of prodigious storms in the future….

Mixed forests: Ecologically and economically superior around the globe

  • Meta-analysis provides facts on mixed-species forest stand productivity for science and practice
May 9, 2018 Technical University of Munich (TUM)
Mixed forests are more productive than monocultures. This is true on all five continents, and particularly in regions with high precipitation. These findings are highly relevant for forest science and forest management on a global scale….

…This meta-analysis and overview study now shows that a prudent selection of the combination of tree species leads not only to more ecological and resilient forests, but also to greater productivity, explains Pretzsch. The study documents that mixed stands perform better in terms of productivity than monocultures, particularly in areas with favorable water supplies, such as in Central Europe….

H. Jactel, E. S. Gritti, L. Drössler, D. I. Forrester, W. L. Mason, X. Morin, H. Pretzsch, B. Castagneyrol. Positive biodiversity–productivity relationships in forests: climate matters. Biology Letters, 2018; 14 (4): 20170747 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0747

Hemp Legalization Poised to Transform Agriculture in Arid West

  • Since 2014 it has been legal to grow hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, in small “research” batches. Legislation passed this year could open the door to full-scale farming of this versatile, drought-tolerant plant.

Matt Weiser May 16 2018 Read full NewsDeeply article here

…..Hemp can be grown to harvest on about half as much water as corn can, for example. Hemp also tolerates a wide variety of soils and temperatures, requires no pesticides and grows extremely fast, soaring to as much as 20ft in 100 days.

Thus, if hemp eventually replaces other crops across large acreages, it could free up precious water supplies in the arid West for other uses. This could become especially important with climate change expected to shrink Western mountain snowpacks…

….CBD oil products are currently the main market for hemp growers in the United States. But there are more than 25,000 other products that can be made from hemp, given the right processing equipment, including food for people and livestock, fabrics, building materials, ethanol and biodiesel.

For all these reasons, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed hemp cultivation to resume in America for “research” purposes. The law required states to set up a permitting process, and an individual farmer’s crop could cover no more than 50 acres….

….Hemp farming may get a big boost this year with legislation in Congress that would fully legalize it as an agricultural crop. The bill has bipartisan support and was introduced by the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. If passed, it would eliminate all legal impediments to hemp-growing and make farmers eligible for many of the benefits available to other crops, including crop insurance and federal research grants.

Rising emissions of ozone-destroying chemical banned by Montreal Protocol

  • A new study documents an unexpected increase in emissions of CFC-11, likely from new, unreported production.
  • Measurements from Hawaii indicate the sources of the increasing emissions are likely in eastern Asia.

May 16, 2018 University of Colorado at Boulder  Read full ScienceDaily article here

Emissions of one of the chemicals most responsible for the Antarctic ozone hole are on the rise, despite an international treaty that required an end to its production in 2010, a new study shows.

Trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, is the second-most abundant ozone-depleting gas in the atmosphere and a member of the family of chemicals most responsible for the giant hole in the ozone layer that forms over Antarctica each September. Once widely used as a foaming agent, production of CFC-11 was phased out by the Montreal Protocol in 2010.

…These findings represent the first time emissions of one of the three most abundant, long-lived CFCs have increased for a sustained period since production controls took effect in the late 1980s.

If the source of these emissions can be identified and mitigated soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor. If not remedied soon, however, substantial delays in ozone layer recovery could be expected, Montzka said….

Stephen A. Montzka et al. An unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of ozone-depleting CFC-11. Nature, 2018; 557 (7705): 413 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0106-2

Global 2 degrees C rise doubles population exposed to multiple climate risks compared to 1.5 degrees C

  • New research identifying climate vulnerability hotspots has found that the number of people affected by multiple climate change risks could double if the global temperature rises by 2 degrees C, compared to a rise of 1.5 degrees C.
  • The poorest in society will likely be disproportionately impacted by climate change, and greater efforts to reduce inequality and promote adaptation are urgently needed.
  • 91-98% of the exposed and vulnerable population live in Asia and Africa

May 16, 2018 International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Read full ScienceDaily article here

….Researchers developed 14 impact indicators in three main sectors — water, energy, and food & environment — using a variety of computer models. The indicators include a water stress index, water supply seasonality, clean cooking access, heat stress events, habitat degradation, and crop yield changes. They compared the potential risks at the three global temperatures and in a range of socioeconomic pathways, to compare more equitable, sustainable development with pathways characterized by development failures and high inequality….

….Multisector risk is one where the risk goes beyond tolerable in at least two of the three main sectors. At lower temperatures, hotspots occur primarily in south and east Asia, but with higher global temperatures, hotspots further spread to Central America, west and east Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The actual global land mass affected is relatively small, at 3-16% depending on the scenario. However, the areas at highest risk tend to be densely populated. At 1.5°C of warming, 16% of the population of the world in 2050, 1.5 billion people, will have moderate-to-high levels of multisector risk. At 2°C of warming, this almost doubles to 29% of the global population, 2.7 billion people. At 3°C of warming, that figure almost doubles again, to 50% of the population, or 4.6 billion people.

Depending on the scenario, 91-98% of the exposed and vulnerable population live in Asia and Africa. Around half of these live in south Asia alone, but Africa is likely to face greater risks as the least developed region with high social inequality…

Edward Byers et al. Global exposure and vulnerability to multi-sector development and climate change hotspots. Environmental Research Letters, 2018; 13 (5): 055012 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aabf45

Shorebirds, the world’s greatest travelers, face extinction

By John W. Fitzpatrick and Nathan R. Senner  April 27 2018  See full NYTimes Opinion article here

Dr. Fitzpatrick is director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Dr. Senner is a scientist who studies migratory shorebirds.

A worldwide catastrophe is underway among an extraordinary group of birds — the marathon migrants we know as shorebirds. Numbers of some species are falling so quickly that many biologists fear an imminent planet-wide wave of extinctions.

These declines represent the No. 1 conservation crisis facing birds in the world today. Climate change, coastal development, the destruction of wetlands and hunting are all culprits. And because these birds depend for their survival, as we do, on the shorelines of oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes, lagoons and marshes, their declines point to a systemic crisis that demands our attention, for our own good.

No doubt you’ve seen some of these birds while on vacation at the beach, skittering back and forth along the cusp of waves as they peck with their long beaks for tiny sand flies or the eggs of horseshoe crabs. They can seem comic in their frenetic exertions, tiny Charlie Chaplins in bird suits.

But these birds are remarkable in ways that defy not only belief but scientific understanding: They are, by far, the planet’s most extraordinary global travelers. Worldwide, about 70 shorebird species travel from the top of the world to its very bottom and back each year. The smallest weigh barely an ounce. Each species has its own story, but in every case these annual migrations are among nature’s most epic dramas….

….Shorebirds also require safe passage. Here again, there’s progress. Several years ago, two whimbrels being tracked via a satellite transmitter somehow survived a harrowing migratory flight through Hurricane Irene, only to be shot by bird hunters shortly after touching down for a rest in the West Indies. Afterwards, hunting of certain shorebirds was limited or banned by French-governed Guadeloupe and Martinique, and neighboring Barbados. In China, officials began enforcing no-hunting laws following a television news exposé about illegal bird netting.

These are promising first steps but we need to do more, fast, for our own good. Hurrricane Sandy was a reminder that natural seacoasts are good not just for shorebirds but also for humans, serving as buffers against powerful waves and storm surges. Damage from the storm was especially severe where natural shoreline habitats had been sacrificed to buildings.

The global collapse of migratory shorebird populations is much more than a calamity facing a group of exquisitely evolved birds. It also tells us that our global network of aquatic systems is fraying. If water is the world’s lifeblood and aquatic systems are its connective tissue, then the decline of the planet’s most spectacular global travelers signals a systemic illness that demands our attention and action.


Each spring, for instance, Hudsonian godwits depart from the southernmost coastlines of South America and fly north more than 9,000 miles to breed in the Arctic. Most make just one stop on the way — perhaps at a rice field in East Texas or a prairie wetland in South Dakota.

Outclassing Hudsonian godwits in long-distance travel are their close cousins, the bar-tailed godwits. Weighing barely a pound, they have made the longest continuous flights ever recorded for a bird. Individuals tracked by satellite have traveled nonstop more than 7,000 miles, flying for nine days over the Pacific Ocean between Alaska and New Zealand. To do this, a godwit must eat voraciously before flight. By liftoff day, it will have doubled in size, half its body weight a gas tank of fat.

Migrating godwits fly continuously through dark of night, buffeting winds and swirling storms, guided only by neural capacities packed into a hazelnut-size brain. To navigate, they may rely on sun and star alignments, a sense of the earth’s magnetic field and perhaps even a map in their brain of the entire Pacific, with its far-flung tiny islands representing visual way points.