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Climate Scientist: “There’s a substantial loss of ice going on…It’s not a good prescription.”: Scientists Saw Nearly Unheard Of Antarctic Meltdown

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2017 at 10:51 am

Surface melt became widespread over West Antarctica in January 2016. Credit: Nicolas et al,. 2017

Oldspeak:”Earth’s polar regions and planetary air conditioners are continuing to disintegrate at a fairly rapid clip. Annnnd as an added bonus, thanks to hordes of human activities, they’re turning green and moldy too- well, mossy and full of flies and other invasive species of plants and insects. Leading one scientist to say “The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of the region. In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic.” Green land,  near the south pole. How bout that.  Did you think you’d see any of this in your life time? The greening of polar regions? The loss of Polar Bears and likely the rest of the lifeforms in that food chain? The rapid melting of “Permafrost”? The disintegration of eons old ice shelves? I didn’t. It’s pretty breathtaking when you think about it. We’re bearing witness to loss of life and habitat on a pace and scale that is unparalleled in the geologic record. And the scores of other natural feedbacks to the monumental disruption of ecological balance brought about in a significant way by the activities of this hellacious, human generated, life-grinding gristmill, relentlessly and insatiably grinding the life out of all that Is. Monetizing and quantifying all activity. “warehousing wealth“. Disregarding and dismembering primordial biogeophysical cycles. Homogenizing and monoculturing Earth’s biodiversity. This omnicidal gristmill that is Industrial Civilization will likely grind on, until our Great Mother has nothing left to give.” -OSJ

Written By Brian Kahn @ Climate Central:

Antarctica is unfreezing. In the past few months alone, researchers have chronicled a seasonal waterfall, widespread networks of rivers and melt ponds and an iceberg the size of Delaware on the brink of breaking away from the thawing landscape.

A new study published in Nature Communications only adds to the disturbing trend of change afoot in Antarctica. Researchers have documented rain on a continent more known for snow and widespread surface melt in West Antarctica last summer, one of the most unstable parts of a continent that’s already being eaten away by warm waters below the ice.

The findings, published Thursday, indicate that last year’s super El Niño played a large role in driving the meltdown, but researchers are concerned that overlaying natural climate patterns onto the long-term warming driven by carbon pollution could put Antarctica’s ice in an even more precarious position.

“There’s a substantial loss of ice going on from warm water eating away at the bottom of some critical ice shelves,” David Bromwich, a climate modeler at Ohio State, said. “If we move into the future and we’ve got a lot of melting from the top as well, that means things would proceed even faster. It’s not a good prescription.”

The research, which Bromwich helped produced, stemmed from a series of coincidences starting at the top of the West Antarctic ice sheet, nearly 6,000 feet above sea level. Researchers stationed there in January 2016 noticed surface melt starting in the middle of the month and even reported seeing rain as warm, moist air poured into the region.

Bromwich said he had never heard of rain falling on that region of the ice sheet, though the Antarctic Peninsula further north will occasionally get a few showers. His and other researchers’ curiosity was piqued and using satellite imagery and high altitude balloon data, they were able to confirm the melt not just at the top of the ice sheet but across much of West Antarctica.

About 300,000 square miles of the ice sheet near the Ross Sea experienced melt, making it the second-largest surface melt ever documented in that region of Antarctica. The meltdown was caused by incredibly mild air. Temperatures spiked 27°F (15°C) above where they were at in early January in some locations, pushing them above freezing for a two-week period at lower elevations of the ice sheet.

The biggest driver of the Antarctic heat wave was the super El Niño, then at its peak in the tropical Pacific. It helped rearrange the atmosphere so a high pressure system off Chile’s coast could steer abnormally balmy weather toward West Antarctica. The pattern has played out in other El Niño years, causing similar widespread melt events.

Ted Scambos, a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said the study did a good job of explaining the mechanisms behind the meltdown and could be helpful in further understanding the forces at play in the region’s climate.

The rain that preceded the major melt also may have also played a role in preconditioning the surface melt that Bromwich said was essentially a thick layer of slush covering the ice sheet.

What happened in West Antarctica last January was driven by natural climate shifts, but overlaying it on climate change is bad news for the region where ice shelves are melting from below.

Research has shown that those disappearing ice shelves could trigger “unstoppable” melt as warm water eventually pushes up under parts of the marine ice sheet itself, sending sea levels at least 10 feet higher. Surface melt events like the one Bromwich and his colleagues documented will only compound the speed at which the ice sheet melts.

Previous research has shown that the odds of a super El Niño like the one that boiled the ocean in 2015-16 are likely to double as the climate warms, further compounding the risk. There were also strong winds out of the west that helped blunt some of the melting in January 2016, but if the meteorological odds don’t line up in the future, the region could be in even deeper trouble.

“What this particular event reported in this paper means is that regardless of how strong the westerlies are, we’re likely to get widespread melting,” Bromwich said. “And if they’re weak, we’ll get extreme melting.”

Hotbox Earth: ” A death zone is creeping over the surface of Earth, gaining a little more ground each year.” As Heatwaves Persist & Proliferate, 3/4ths Of Humanity To Be Exposed To Lethal Heat By 2100

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Keeping cool will get more difficult as heatwaves soar. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Oldspeak: As news breaks of extreme heat gripping the northern hemisphere, dangerously hellish 120 F heat grounding aircraft in Arizona, a heatwave in the UK creating conditions for dangerous air quality, California bracing for more brutal heat, and drought driven climate refugees being displaced by the ever swelling millions across Africa, the author summed the global heat situation up nicely: “The world is cooking and we should anticipate more of the same.” –OSJ

Written By Editor @ Nature:

Scott Pruitt achieved something of a political first last week. The controversial head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was grilled by the officials who control his budget and told that he had asked for too little cash. In fact, the officials insisted, they were determined to give his agency more than he had requested.

“I can assure you, you’re going to be the first EPA administrator that’s come before this committee in eight years that actually gets more money than they asked for,” said Oklahoma congressman Tom Cole, a member of the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations who, as a Republican, is nominally on the same side as Pruitt. In a gruelling session, Pruitt was left in no doubt of what the committee members thought of proposals from Donald Trump’s administration to slash both the spending and the remit of the EPA.

“I’ll get straight to it. The fiscal year 2018 budget request for EPA is a disaster,” said Nita Lowey, a Democratic representative for New York who sits on the committee. The intended cuts of US$2.4 billion to the agency budget, she said, would “surely impact EPA’s ability to fulfil its critical mission of protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink”.

Not so, Pruitt stated. With less money and fewer staff, the agency would do a better job and be able to focus more on its core mission. What’s more, President Trump’s high-profile exit from the Paris agreement on climate change, he has promised, does not undermine US leadership on and engagement with the problem.

Meanwhile on planet Earth the heat is rising. Britain was hit by a heatwave at the weekend that forecasters say could last for weeks, and temperatures in California are predicted to reach record levels in a few days’ time. The world is cooking and we should anticipate more of the same.

From extreme rainfall to rising sea levels, global warming is expected to wreak havoc on human lives. Sometimes, the most straightforward impact — the warming itself — is overlooked. Yet heat kills. The body, after all, has evolved to work in a fairly narrow temperature range. Our sweat-based cooling mechanism is crude; beyond a certain combination of high temperature and humidity, it fails. To be outside and exposed to such an environment for any length of time soon becomes a death sentence.

And that environment is spreading. A death zone is creeping over the surface of Earth, gaining a little more ground each year. As an analysis published this week in Nature Climate Change shows, since 1980, these temporary hells on Earth have opened up hundreds of times to take life (C. Mora et al. Nature Clim. Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3322; 2017). At present, roughly one-third of the world’s population lives for about three weeks a year under such conditions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise unchecked, that figure could climb, exposing almost three-quarters of the population by the end of the century.

The analysis also reveals that even aggressive reductions in emissions will lead the number of deadly heatwaves to soar in the coming decades. Cities including London, New York, Tokyo and Sydney have all seen citizens die from the effects of excessive heat. By 2100, people in the tropics could be living in these death zones for entire summers. It’s true that warmer winters will save lives further north. And those living in urban environments may find ways to adapt to the new norm of extreme heat. But, if the researchers are correct, the politics of Pruitt and those who try to hold him to account will seem quaint and anachronistic to our grandchildren. For they will live in a world in which most will see the environment less as something to protect, and more as something to protect themselves and their families from.


Climatologist: “It’s a scale we haven’t seen in recent history and it’s very concerning.” Forest Fires Worldwide Burning Longer At Greater Frequency & Intensity Across Wider Areas

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Portugal forest fire (Reuters/R. Marchante)

Oldspeak: “In recent years, there have been big fires in Siberia and various other places around the world where we typically don’t see large-scale wildfires… The areas where wildfires are taking place are always areas that [have become] drier and hotter, and where spring has come earlier…They really take off and get out of control more frequently than in the past… We know that… pest outbreaks have been caused by climate change, because there hasn’t been anything like that in the past 500 years, perhaps even 1,000 years… We can link those effects to the warmer temperatures that we’ve seen in the places where wildfires have been taking place… It creates a feedback loop: the fires create more emissions, which in turn contribute to more global warming, which will then cause more fires… We’re likely to see more wildfires in more places than just the boreal forest in the future.” –Dr. Jason Funk, Senior Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists

“This irreversible, non-linear positive feedback loop is not going to do anything but get more destructive as temperatures rise. It brings with it a whole host of deleterious effects. Decreasing air quality, decreased biodiversity, increased flooding, habitat destruction, polar melt, greater greenhouse gas emissions…. Add to that acute human activity threats like logging and mining, and things are not looking good for Earth’s lungs atal. Since the advent of human “civilization” Earth has lost half of her forest cover. With humanity forecast to balloon to 10 billion in 30 years, expect Earth’s ravaged and overworked lungs to collapse sooner than later.” –OSJ

Written By Anne-Sophie Brändlin @ Deutsche Welle:

Have wildfires increased globally over recent years? And if so, is global warming to blame? Research has illuminated this, along with what wildfires do to us and our environment, and which areas are most vulnerable.

Are wildfires increasing around the world?

Unusually large wildfires ravaged Alaska and Indonesia in 2015. The following year, Canada, California and Spain were devastated by uncontrolled flames. In 2017, massive fires devastated regions of Chile – and now, a deadly blaze in Portugal has claimed dozens of lives.

So, have wildfires actually increased globally, or does it just seem that way because we’re tuned in more to bad news and social media?

Science suggests that over the past few decades, the number of wildfires has indeed increased, especially in the western United States. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), every state in the western US has experienced an increase in the average annual number of large wildfires over past decades.

Extensive studies have found that large forest fires in the western US have been occurring nearly five times more often since the 1970s and 80s. Such fires are burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer.

A fire blazes at Les Pennes-Mirabeau, near Marseille, southern France (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/B. Horvat) A wildfire has hit southern France in 2016 forced more than a thousand people to flee their homes


What’s more, wildfire season – meaning seasons with higher wildfire potential – has universally become longer over the past 40 years.

This trend is something Jason Funk, senior climate scientist with UCS, is very worried about.

“2015 was a record-breaking year in the US, with more than 10 million acres burned,” he told DW in an interview. “That’s about 4 million hectares, or an area of the size of the Netherlands or Switzerland.”

“It’s a scale we haven’t seen in recent history and it’s very concerning.”

According to Funk, not only US forests are endangered by increasing wildfires – the trend has been that wildfires are burning more area around the world.

“In recent years, there have been big fires in Siberia and various other places around the world where we typically don’t see large-scale wildfires,” he said.

Projections by the UCS suggest that wildfires could get four, five and even six times as bad as they currently are within this century.

Forest fire in Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal, 09 August 2016 (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Cunha) Portugal was on high alert after a wave of wildfires swept the country in 2016, with around 350 isolated fires


What is the main reason wildfires are increasing?

Funk has been researching the impact of climate change on landscapes in the US, and says there is very well documented scientific evidence that climate change has been increasing the length of the fire season, the size of the area burned each year and the number of wildfires.

Wildfires are typically either started accidentally by humans – such as a burning cigarette carelessly tossed out of a window – or by natural causes like lightning.

Portugal Waldbrand (REUTERS)

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has described raging forest fires in central Portugal as “the greatest tragedy of human lives that we’ve witnessed in our country in years.

These “ignition events” don’t have a major effect on the scale of the fire, says Funk. But what does affect scale are prevailing climate conditions. And these have become warmer and drier – due to climate change.

Greenhouse gas emissions, via the greenhouse effect, are causing the global temperature to increase and the climate to change. This enhances the likelihood of wildfires.

Why? Because warmer temperatures increase evaporation, which means the atmosphere draws more moisture from soils, making the land drier.

A warmer climate also leads to earlier snowmelt, which causes soils to be drier for longer. And dry soils become more susceptible to fire.

“The areas where wildfires are taking place are always areas that [have become] drier and hotter, and where spring has come earlier,” said Funk.

Drier conditions and higher temperatures increase not only the likelihood of a wildfire to occur, but also the duration and the severity of the wildfire.

A helicopter drops water on a wildfire burning in Artana, near Castellon, eastern Spain, on July 26, 2016 (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/J. Jordan) Climate change has increased the length of the fire season, the size of the area burned and the number of wildfires


That means when wildfires break out, they expand faster and burn more area as they move in unpredictable ways. “They really take off and get out of control more frequently than in the past,” said Funk.

What else is increasing wildfires?

A less direct climate-driven effect is pest outbreaks that have killed a lot of trees. Pests make forests more susceptible to wildfire, according to Funk.

“We know that these pest outbreaks have been caused by climate change, because there hasn’t been anything like that in the past 500 years, perhaps even 1,000 years,” he said.

Insects are responding to warmer conditions, Funk explained, taking advantage of the longer summer season which grants them longer breeding circles and faster reproduction. “We can link those effects to the warmer temperatures that we’ve seen in the places where wildfires have been taking place.”

While human activities such as logging and mining are known to influence the likelihood of wildfires as well, many of the areas that have seen recent increases in wildfires are relatively unaffected by human land use.

This suggests that climate change is a major factor driving the increase in fires, according to UCS.

A firefighter hoses down burning pipes near a water tank at the Sand Fire on July 23 2016 near Santa Clarita, California (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/D. Mcnew) Fires can be beneficial for ecosystems – but changes in climatic conditions are allowing them to burn out of control


What threats do these wildfires pose?

Forest fires aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, fire is a natural and beneficial part of many forest ecosystems, and we need to allow some fires to burn, as they are necessary for the ecosystems to stay healthy.

Over the decades, undergrowth builds up on the forest floor – so when a fire burns through, that provides space for larger, more mature trees that are more fire-resistant.

But the unnatural increase in wildfires is causing entire forests to burn down uncontrollably. This is bad for the environment – and for us.

Wildfires pose risks to human life, property and infrastructure – recent wildfires have already caused significant human health impacts across southeast Asia, says Funk.

Forest fires directly kill plants and animals, also causing a loss of habitat.

Sunlight shines through pine forest in Germany (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul) Humid boreal forest faces greater threats from wildfires


But the biggest problem is that the scale of these fires has increased to the degree that they themselves have become significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, trees absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere – so the more trees that burn down, the harder it is to combat climate change in the future. And this is dangerous, Funk said.

“It creates a feedback loop: the fires create more emissions, which in turn contribute to more global warming, which will then cause more fires,” Funk said.

“Fires are not the enemy – they are an effect of an underlying process, so we need to address the problem rather than the symptoms of that problem.”

What areas are most affected by wildfire?

According to US federal research, humid, forested areas are most likely to face greater threats from wildfires, as conditions there grow drier and hotter due to global warming.

Forests increasingly affected by fire and climate change, and which are thus the most vulnerable, are in the boreal region. This stretches across the northern hemisphere through Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia.

Wildfire rages through the town of Fort McMurray, Canada, in May 2016 (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Twitter.com/Jeromegarot) Wildfire raged through the Canadian town of Fort McMurray in 2016, forcing the evacuation of some 90,000 people


Boreal forest comprises almost a third of forested land in the world, and plays an important role in absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

Studies show that especially the Russian and Canadian boreal forests are increasingly threatened by wildfire, as temperatures are rising faster in these northern regions than in other areas of the planet.

Funk warns that since rising temperatures are transforming many landscapes, “we’re likely to see more wildfires in more places than just the boreal forest in the future.”

Oceanographer: “They’re going into new environments with a lot of environmental impacts. We are going to lose stuff before we ever discover it.” – In Deep Oceans Human Activities Taking A Toll

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Photo Courtesy of Diva Amon and Craig Smith, University of Hawaii

Oldspeak: “This is fucking certifiably INSANE. Earth’s oceans are already dying. And now the deep oceans, one of the greatest mitigators of climate change; already being ravaged human generated greenhouse gasses, heat and human generated wastes, is set to endure more devastating human abuses. Greed and profit driven mining companies are taking their destructive and extractive operations to the oceans deepest depths to destabilize & tear up one of the most stable & delicate ecosystems on earth. Hmm. I wonder, what could possibly go wrong? SMDH…. Profit Is Paramout. Everything else is fucked.” –OSJ

Written By Eric Vance @ Ensia:

Once seen as too remote to harm, the deep sea is facing new pressures from mining, pollution, overfishing and more.

Imagine sinking into the deepest parts of the Central Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Mexico and Hawaii. Watch as the water turns from clear to blue to dark blue to black. And then continue on for another 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) to the seafloor — roughly the distance from the peak of California’s Mount Whitney to the bottom of nearby Death Valley.

“As soon as you start to descend, all of the wave action and bouncing goes away and it’s like you’re just floating and then you sink really slowly and watch the light fade out through the windows and then you really are in another world,” says Erik Cordes, a researcher at Temple University and frequent visitor to the deep ocean.

Finally, you come to a stop 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) below the last bits of light from the surface. The water here is strangely viscous yet remarkably transparent, and the light from your flashlight extends for hundreds of yards. You are in the heart of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, a region of the ocean seafloor roughly the size of the United States, populated by colorless invertebrates adapted in astounding ways to the sparse, crushing conditions found here.

And all around you — as far as the eye can’t see — are small, spherical rocks. Varying from microscopic to the size of a volleyball, they look like something stolen from the set of “Gremlins” or maybe “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

And they’re worth millions. Because inside these mysterious little eggs are untouched stores of copper, titanium, cobalt and especially manganese — crucial for making anything from the steel in your car’s frame to the circuitry that tells you how much gas is left in it. Some metals exist in larger quantities here than on all the continents of the world — and you had better believe they have caught the eye of mining companies.

It’s hard to draw a line exactly where the deep ocean starts. Starting at about 650 feet (200 meters), there’s not enough light to support photosynthesis, and at around 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) there’s no light at all. From there to the deepest spot, at the bottom of the 36,000-foot-deep (11,000-meter-deep) Mariana Trench between Japan and Papua New Guinea (deep enough to hold Mount Everest with New Hampshire’s Mount Washington stuck on top of it) is loosely defined as the “deep sea.”

However it’s defined, the deep sea today is a place of change. Human activities already are affecting it — and are poised, as these mineral stores suggest — to radically affect it even more in the decades to come. Attention we pay and decisions we make now could make all the difference in its fate.

Mining the Depths

The mineral riches of this deep ocean are vast and nearly untouched for now. But that’s changing as new technologies are allowing humans to access ever-deeper parts of the seafloor.

Current mining strategies break down along two rough categories. First is nodule mining — gathering up those bizarre seafloor billiard balls that have slowly collected minerals over the centuries as they trickled down like rain from above or seeped up from below and congregated around some central particle like rock candy around a string. There is no industry standard for sweeping up nodules so far below the surface — about 4,000 to 6,000 meters (13,000 to 20,000 feet) — though companies have proposed ideas as varied as deepwater vacuum cleaners and massive trawlers dragging across the seafloor. One 1985 study estimated 550 billion metric tons (610 billion tons) of nodules in the sea.

The second form of mining is targeted around sulfur vents and other types of seeps. These operations would be in shallower water — 4,000 to 12,000 feet (1,200 to 3,700 meters) — and look more like traditional mining operations scraping sulfur, phosphorus or precious metals from the sides of underwater ridges.

So far, all of these projects are theoretical. Most of the permits currently granted for deep-sea mining are for nodules, but the first ones to actually break ground are likely to be around ocean vents. Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian company working off the coast of Papua New Guinea, has begun implementing a project to mine gold and copper at a ridge about 5,000 feet (2,000 meters) below the surface and in April began receiving equipment.

Company executives have pointed out that they have passed environmental impact reviews and that their project is friendlier to the Earth than other mining operations because the ore is so rich they can get more of it by disturbing less of the soil. But scientists point out that much remains unknown about what deep-water strip mining will do to the environment. In the case of ocean vents, there are some animals that may live only in that spot, and a single mine could wipe out entire species. In addition, both styles of mining would kick up potentially toxic plumes of ultra-fine sand that could travel hundreds of miles through a part of the ocean that has remained undisturbed for thousands of years.

“They’re going into new environments with a lot of environmental impacts,” says Lisa Levin, an expert in the deep sea at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. “We are going to lose stuff before we ever discover it.”

Climate Change and the Deep Ocean

Because life in the deep ocean is more sensitive to change than in the shallows, the smallest shift in pH, oxygen or temperature can have huge effects. Thus, one of the most serious concerns about the deep ocean is climate change.

According to Andrew Thurber, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, a quarter to a third of the CO2 humans have released has gone to the deep ocean. Some of it gets absorbed into the water itself or turns to particulate, thus lowering the pH and oxygen levels, and some is buried and turned to stone, where it effectively neutralized and stored for millions of years.

A quarter to a third of the CO2 humans have released has gone to the deep ocean.Ironically, the deep ocean is one of the greatest mitigators of climate change as well, since it absorbs a massive portion of the Earth’s heat and CO2. In fact, one recent study showed that the ocean is absorbing phenomenally more heat now than ever before — about the same amount between 1997 and 2015 as it had in the previous 132 years. As a result, scientists are already seeing incremental temperature rise in the deep sea. Though less than at the surface, changes down there tend to represent more permanent ocean shifts.

Trickle Down Effects

Then there is chemical pollution. While mining the deep sea might be new, polluting it is not. Recent studies have found toxic terrestrial chemicals like PCBs and PBDEs in the tissues of animals living in the deepest places on Earth. In fact, where once scientists assumed the deep ocean was rather isolated from the surface, new studies have shown that the two are closely connected and that material can pass quickly into the depths.

The most spectacular example of this was the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. It was assumed at the time that much of the millions of barrels of oil released by the faulty offshore drilling rig would float; they did not. It was assumed that the dispersant would neutralize the oil; in fact it was more toxic to deep sea corals than the oil itself.

“The probability of an accident goes up with depth,” and thus the potential for harming ocean life, Cordes says of deep-sea operations. “The deeper you go, the more stable the environment is; the more stable it is, the less those organisms can deal with changes.”

Cordes studies all sorts of pollution effects beyond the reach of sunlight. He and colleagues published pioneering research looking at the first evidence of acidification in the deep ocean in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Norway.

He says it’s easy to think of the deep sea as some kind of wasteland, while in fact it’s brimming with life.

“People don’t realize that there are massive coral reefs all over the Gulf of Mexico, there’s corals right off shore in California, there’s corals up in New England,” he says.

To overload this system or tinker with it at all is to play with fire.

“If we put something in the deep ocean, we pretty much can’t clean it up,” Thurber says.

And we can’t depend on the animals down there to adapt and clean up after us as they often do at the surface. Cordes says microbes at the surface can double their numbers in 12 hours; in the deep ocean it takes half a year. Because the generation time is so much slower, Thurber says, it takes decades for carbon-munching deep water microbes to battle, say, higher methane levels than the days or weeks it would take critters at the surface. Thus, our decisions around greenhouse gas emissions at the surface have now affected every ecosystem on Earth.

Permanent Decline

And it’s not just the microbes that grow slowly — fish in the deep ocean also take their time. As a result, fishing is another threat to the deep ocean. With most normal, surface fishing practices, it’s possible to manage a population such that what you take out is the same as what the population can replenish. But because fish found far from the surface grow slowly, some scientists have gone so far as to say that deep sea fishing is more analogous to mining than to fishing.

The classic case of this is the common slimehead. The slimehead is a delicious, bulky, dark red fish found from 180 to 1,500 meters (590 to 4,920 feet) below the surface in many of the world’s oceans. In the late 1970s, concerned that cod was on a permanent decline, seafood marketers in New Zealand began pushing slimehead under the more palatable name, orange roughy, because it turns orange after death.

Why this seemed like a good idea is a mystery. Slimehead spawn only 4 percent of the number of eggs as cod and take 20 to 30 years to reach maturity (rather than about two for cod). Within a couple decades the Australian government started reducing allowable harvest and then closing fisheries altogether as they tried to figure out catch limits that wouldn’t decimate the creature.

Some scientists now say there is no such number. One team estimated The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries in 2009 estimated that a single 40-square-mile (100-square-kilometer) deep ocean fishery in the Pacific can only sustainably produce about 200 kilograms (400 pounds) of product per year. That’s about 57 adult slimehead. But that particular fishery produces 8,000 metric tons (9,000 tons) of slimehead per year. A similar story is playing out in other slimehead fisheries across the world, as well as other deepwater creatures like grenadiers, sharks and toothfish (otherwise known as Chilean seabass).

Direct Connection

In many ways, the deep sea truly is a new world waiting to be explored. But in our rush to exploit that new world, unless we think carefully about the impacts, we may find ourselves harming it before we even understand it — with implications for ourselves.

“[The deep oceans] are supporting these fish that we are depending on for food, they’re helping to recycle nutrients that come back to shallow waters, fuel the productivity of the ocean, produce half of the oxygen we breathe,” says Cordes. “We are directly connected to them.”

Scientist: “Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature…”

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Africa’s lions number only 10% of those the continent could sustain. Image: Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia Commons

Oldspeak: “It is a given that human economies depend entirely on what grows on the planet, and what can be excavated from its soils. The clearing of the forests and the settlement of the grasslands, pollution from the cities, overhunting and overgrazing, all driven by the swelling of human numbers, have now taken rates of species extinction to alarming levels.” –Tim Radford

“Human economies are indeed utterly dependent on Earth’s vast and rapidly dwindling biodiversity. Paradoxically, Human economies are driving Earth’s fastest progressing mass extinction. Unfortunately, humans are in a no win situation here. At present, Unfettered human industrial civilization, overpopulation and overconsumption REQUIRE the continued destruction, depletion and extinction of Earth’s biodiversity, irreplaceable water and mineral stores. These conditions don’t seem set to change dramatically in the foreseeable future. I mean for fucks sake, scientists are still quantifying the impact of mass extinction in human economic terms. As if human economies are the most important factor in this planetary death spiral. This is part of the problem. The root cause of mass extinction, human economies and human technology is somehow expected to “fix” this intractable predicament. This is of course, is highly unlikely.  How exactly is the way of being that created the conditions for mass extinction supposed to change the conditions it created? Albert Einstein said it best: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” It’s long past the time for the change in consciousness that would have been required for a even a small chance at the remote possibility of averting catastrophe.  The reality is the problem is no longer solvable on human time-scales.” -OSJ

Written By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

Climate change is multiplying existing threats to much of the natural world, and more species face an unparalleled extinction risk.

LONDON, 9 June, 2017 – Biologists have once again confirmed that the wild things face a growing extinction risk, and that the biggest losers could be humankind itself.

They point out that at a conservative estimate the economic benefits of biodiversity – the collective word for all the richness of the planet’s species – are at least 10 times the cost of conservation of that biodiversity.

And yet, they report, human actions already threaten a quarter of all mammal species and 13% of all birds. An estimated 21,000 plants and other kinds of animal are known to be at risk.

In one of the world’s richest habitats of all – the terrain where south-east Asia, India and China meet – people in the last 50 years have put at risk two thirds of all mammals that weigh more than 10kg.

This summary of waste and despoliation is in a series of papers in the journal Nature, one of which looks again at the threats to biodiversity, while another concentrates on the ways people influence and depend on the fruits of three billion years of natural evolution.

Human pressure

It is a given that human economies depend entirely on what grows on the planet, and what can be excavated from its soils. The clearing of the forests and the settlement of the grasslands, pollution from the cities, overhunting and overgrazing, all driven by the swelling of human numbers, have now taken rates of species extinction to alarming levels.

Climate change, too, has now become a factor: it has been linked to the potential extinction of species, and to the obliteration of species in particular regions

It has also been identified as a danger to the diversity of plant life as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change with rising ratios of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas emitted from internal combustion engines and coal-fired power stations.

No one yet claims that climate change itself is the principal hazard, but it exacerbates the impact of all the other pressures on wildlife.

Tropical targets

So a team led by David Tilman of the University of Minnesota has delivered a paper looking at the next 50 years, as human impact on habitat poses, they say “unprecedented levels of extinction risk on many more species worldwide” – especially the large mammals of tropical Africa, Asia and South America.

The world had lost half of its terrestrial mammalian megafauna – mammals heavier than 44kg – by 1,000 BC, and 15% of all bird species. In the last 3,000 years human numbers have multiplied 25-fold and another 4bn of us will join the human race by the century’s end. So, the scientists argue, unless steps are taken, extinction rates will accelerate.

But, they point out, some steps are being taken: 31 bird species have been saved by conservation programmes from total extinction, and the same efforts have halted the decline of one threatened vertebrate in five. Captive breeding programmes have reintroduced species that were once all but lost.

But there is much more to be done: lion numbers in Africa, for instance, have fallen to one-tenth of their potential.

And in a second paper, a team led by Forest Isbell of the University of Minnesota and backed by co-authors from eight nations on four continents, instances the benefits of conservation

“Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature”

Biodiversity in the form of trees and scrubland saves humans up to US$3 trillion just as carbon storage: that is, it keeps dangerous levels of carbon out of the atmosphere.

At a practical finance level, the calculated value of biodiversity to commercial forest productivity is set at between $166bn a year and $490bn.

Right now, the world spends about $25bn a year on conservation. It would cost $76bn annually to meet all the world’s conservation targets. And, the authors point out, a cash value simply cannot be set on many of biodiversity’s blessings. Some things are priceless.

“Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature, such as wood from forests, livestock forage from grasslands, and fish from oceans and streams,” said Dr Isbell. “It would be wise to invest much more in conserving biodiversity.” – Climate News Network


Scientist: “All the indicators are going in the wrong direction, and warning bells are ringing so loud as to be deafening.” 2016 Saw 2nd Biggest Jump in Annual CO2 Levels

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2017 at 1:37 am


Oldspeak: ” With news recently that in May 2017, CO2 set an all time high, these findings can’t be surprising.  Deafening warning bells are ringing ever louder, alerting us to rapidly increasing levels of greenhouse gases. Atmospheric CO2, Methane and Nitrous Oxide are on the rise, currently at levels not seen in 800 thousand years. Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement has zero impact on this reality. Even if countries were taking their pledged commitments seriously (they’re not), they’ll have no bearing on this reality. It’s time we stop pretending like Earth’s climate responds to our anthropocentric, non-binding, and non-enforceable climate policies. The die is cast. We could go to zero human generated emissions tomorrow, and earth would still be on course for at least 3.5c of warming, well over the proposed 2c “guardrail” concocted by humans. Environmental alarm bells will continue to grow louder and conditions will continue to deteriorate, as humans pretend to “fight climate change” with market based “solutions”. “Green energy”, eating less meat, going off fossil fuels, recycling, “sustainable” business practices, carbon capture and sequestration, etc, etc, etc, None of this shit we’re being encouraged to get all worked up about matters to Earth’s rapidly destabilizing life support systems. The jig is up. Tick, tick, tick, tick , tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

As President Donald Trump prepared to pull the United States out of the global Paris climate agreement this week, scientists at NOAA reported that 2016 had recorded the second-biggest jump in atmospheric carbon dioxide on record.

Last year’s increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration was nearly double the average pace since detailed measurements started in 1979.

Once CO2 is in the atmosphere, the heat-trapping gas persists there for decades as new emissions pile in, which means that even if global emissions level off—as they have started to do—the planet is on a path toward more warming, rising sea levels and increased heat waves and droughts in the decades ahead.

Concentrations of other greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, also increased last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest update to its greenhouse gas index. The heating effect of all combined greenhouses gases in the atmosphere increased by 2.5 percent in 2016, according to the index.

“The warming effect of these chemicals we’re tracking has increased by 40 percent since 1990,” said Steve Montzka, a NOAA scientist who co-authored the update. “Even though emissions are leveling off, CO2 is so long-lived that the concentration is still increasing.”

Getting the atmospheric concentration to also level off would require reducing emissions by 80 percent, he said.

That 80 percent cut is exactly what is targeted under the Paris climate agreement, but the goal is in doubt as the Trump administration rolls back climate and energy policies meant to lower emissions in the United States, historically the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution.

“All the indicators are going in the wrong direction, and warning bells are ringing so loud as to be deafening,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist in the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Without the Paris agreement, the acceleration will likely continue and we will exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial by the 2050s or earlier.”

The index was established in 1979, when NOAA expanded the global network of 80 land- and ocean-based measurement sites, including the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. In the 1980s and 1990s, the CO2 level increased at about 1.5 parts per million each year. The last two years, it’s been rising at nearly twice that rate—2.9 ppm—as emissions overwhelm the oceans’ and forests’ ability to take CO2 out of the air.

The new data also show that the powerful effect of heat-trapping and ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—once widely used as refrigerants and propellants—continues to decrease. That decline reflects the success of the 1989 Montreal Protocol, one of the early global efforts to tackle an environmental challenge.

“That’s given us a little reprieve from even more warming,” according to Montzka, who said the continued use of CFCs could have had a substantial additional heating effect.

Methane, which is a much more powerful heat-trapping gas than CO2, increased in 2016 at about the same rate as the previous two years, which is double the pace set between 2007 and 2013. Scientists suspect the methane increase is mainly from decomposition of plant matter in the tropics, where global warming is speeding biological processes. Earlier spikes in methane have also been linked with warmer Arctic temperatures that release the gas by thawing permafrost.

Since 2013, the methane concentration has increased between 8.7 and 12.6 parts per billion each year, compared to an average annual increase of about 5.7 ppb between 2007 and 2013. Methane is measured in parts per billion rather than parts per million because the total amounts are much smaller.

Even though the latest figures are sobering, the fact that global carbon emissions are starting to plateau is a hopeful sign, said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

“This emphasizes a key basic truth: There is nothing Trump can do to stop the dramatic global transition away from fossil fuels toward clean and renewable energy,” he said. “The world is moving on, and we will tackle this problem. At this point, it is simply a question of whether we get onboard the great economic revolution of this century, or whether we get left behind.”



Report: Climate Change Estimated To Slash Major Crop Production Worldwide By 23% Over Next 30 Years

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Photo – Oxfam International/flickr

Oldspeak: “Hmm. 23% Less food for nearly 10 billion people equals a clusterfuck of monumental proportions. Resource wars, mass migration and mass mortality events become more probable. In fact, we’re bearing witness to 2 of 3 of those consequences as I type. As usual, the world’s poorest and least responsible for this planetary predicament are likely to be hit the hardest. With each passing day, the threats to “civilization” multiply, largely unnoticed by those most responsible for creating the threats. Sigh. Same fuckery, different day.” -OSJ

Written By Brian Bienkowsky @ The Daily Climate:

Extreme weather and temperature swings are estimated to cut production of major crops by 23 percent over the next 30 years, scientists warn.

Climate change, and its impacts on extreme weather and temperature swings, is projected to reduce global production of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans by 23 percent in the 2050s, according to a new analysis.

The study, which examined price and production of those four major crops from 1961 to 2013, also warns that by the 2030s output could be cut by 9 percent.

The findings come as researchers and world leaders continue to warn that food security will become an increasingly difficult problem to tackle in the face of rising temperatures and weather extremes, combining with increasing populations, and volatile food prices.

The negative impacts of climate change to farming were pretty much across the board in the new analysis. There were small production gains projected for Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in the 2030s, but by the 2050s, the models “are negative and more pronounced for all countries,” the researchers wrote in the study published this month in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change.

Lead author, Mekbib Haile, a senior researcher at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, said that an increase in average temperatures during the growing season isn’t projected to have much impact on the staple crops. But this is only true until that increase hits a certain “tipping point”, he said, which is about 89 degree Fahrenheit for these crops.

“Rising temperature at the two extremes—minimum temperature in the case of rice and maximum temperature in the case of corn—are detrimental to production of these crops,” he said.

In addition to temperature, extreme weather—including droughts and excessive rainfall—was predicted to slow production.

Haile’s study is one of two major studies this month reporting big impacts to major crops in the future. Just this week UC Davis researchers released a study in the Environmental Research Letters journal reporting that by the end of the century climate change is likely to cause France’s winter wheat yields to decrease 21 percent, winter barley yields to decrease by 17 percent and spring barley to decrease by about to 33 percent.

The reports are concerning as wheat and rice are two of the top calorie sources in the world, and decreases in such staple crops could add to the current total of 795 million people suffering from hunger and more than 2 billion people with nutrient deficiencies.

And there will be more mouths to feed as the world population is projected to grow by more than 2 billion, reaching about 9.7 billion people, by 2050.

Haile said some farming changes—such as improved irrigation or genetically modified crops, or more sustainable practices like increased organic production or tilling less—could help offset some climate-induced losses.

Agricultural crop production more than tripled between 1960 and 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ new report on the future of food and agriculture.

But farms will have to produce about 50 percent more food in 2050, and in some areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, output will have to more than double to meet increased demand from growing populations.

“Despite overall improvements in agricultural efficiency, yield increases are slowing due to climate change and so maintaining the historic pace of production increases may be difficult,” according to the FAO report.


The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering energy, the environment and climate change. Find us on Twitter @TheDailyClimate or email editor Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski [at] EHN.org


Oceanographer: “The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound…” Ocean Oxygen Decline Greater Than Predicted

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2017 at 6:06 pm


Oldspeak: “From the department of Faster Than Expected, we find that one of the least studied of the ocean’s “deadly trio“, deoxygenation, is occuing 3 times faster than predicted. One of the “profound effects” scientists have observed is likely the continued collapse of the marine food chain resulting from the decline of its basis and producer of 70% of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, plankton. As Trump sucks up all the air in the room, the air gets more scarce worldwide. Couple this with recent reports that Global warming could breach 1.5c in less than ten years and what you have is a world of shit, friends.  And we’re alllll gonna have to take a bite. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

Written By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

Circulation changes caused by warming waters and melting polar ice are the most probable explanations for the rapidly falling levels of oxygen in the ocean.

LONDON, 10 May, 2017 US scientists who have been warning that warmer oceans are more likely to be poorer in dissolved oxygen have now sounded the alarm: ocean oxygen levels are indeed falling, and seemingly falling faster than the corresponding rise in water temperature.

That colder water can hold more dissolved gas than warmer water is a commonplace of physics: it is one reason why polar seas are teeming with marine life and tropical oceans are blue, clear and often relatively impoverished.

In 2013, an international consortium of marine scientists warned that oxygen levels in the oceans could fall by between 1% and 7% by the century’s end. And this could, other scientists predicted, lead to what they politely called “respiratory stress” for some marine life.

Ocean warming

Ocean ecologists in the US and Germany warned last year that parts of the deep oceans were already showing signs of oxygen deprivation with corresponding dead zones.

Earlier this year, another research group looked at the computer simulations for the years 1920 to 2100 and predicted that the hazards were likely to increase with warming.

Now the team have returned to the issue. They report in Geophysical Research Letters that they looked at data for the last 50 years and found the oxygen levels started dropping in the 1980s, as ocean temperatures began to climb and falling unexpectedly rapidly.

“The trend of oxygen falling is about two to three times faster than what we predicted from the decrease of solubility associated with ocean warming,” says Takamitsu Ito, of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who led the study.

“This is most likely due to the changes in ocean circulation and mixing associated with the heating of the near-surface waters and the melting of polar ice.”

“If it is a warming signal, we should expect to see
continued widespread declines in oceanic O2.
The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound”

The sea’s oxygen content comes from air absorbed at the surface or released by phytoplankton photosynthesis, and carried deeper by ocean currents. But as water warms it becomes more buoyant, which means mixing with cooler subsurface waters becomes less likely. And melting ice delivers more fresh water to the ocean surface, which also interferes with the pattern of circulation.

“After the mid-2000s, this trend became apparent, consistent and statistically significant beyond the envelope of year-to-year fluctuations,” Dr Ito says. “The trends are particularly strong in the tropics, eastern margins of each basin and the sub-polar North Pacific.”

That the oceans are warming is well established. That the seas are becoming more acidic as extra carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions increases in the atmosphere is now widely accepted.

Oxygen loss

That the oceans are at risk of oxygen loss is harder to establish: the oceans cover seven-tenths of the planet, and systematic study of the oceans began only relatively recently. And, of course, such research is bedevilled by natural patterns of local variation: it becomes harder to make any link with manmade global warming.

But, the researchers conclude, “the evidence is consistent with anthropogenic warming acting as the primary driver of long-term trends in ocean O2. The trends we document are suggestive of the effects of warming beginning to supersede natural variability and emerge as a recognisable signal.”

And, they add: “If it is a warming signal, we should expect to see continued widespread declines in oceanic O2. The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound.” Climate News Network


The Absurd Economics Of 7.5 Billion People On One Planet

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2017 at 7:13 pm


Oldspeak: “Population overshoot is behind many of our most pressing economic problems. But the best intelligent response faces terrible obstacles….Virtually every major problem, from climate change and wars to mass migrations and resource scarcity has its root in too many people. Economics are not immune. The lowered prospects of the politically potent white working class, for example, have much to do with millions overseas who can do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost. When you hear about theories of “secular stagnation” and the like, think 7.5 billion.

The enormous and growing costs of human-caused climate change are juiced by those 7.5 billion. Globalization has created large middle classes in nations such as China and India — and its members want the sprawly car-dependent “American lifestyle” and the rights to their share of the atmosphere to heat in order to get it. The greatest deprivation, and lost economic potential, happens in countries with the biggest population overshoot.

Don’t think America is immune, either. The Southwest is at population overshoot and directly in the path of climate change. Possibly the Southeast, too, beyond soon-to-be-submerged Florida.” –Jon Talton

“Population overshoot. Two of the most undesirable words one could ever utter in a globalized consumer culture predicated on buying ever more stuff and having ever more babies to plug in to the hyperconsumption matrix and perpetually restart the cycle. (closely followed by two other most undesirable words; ecological overshoot.) These conditions are unsustainable and omnicidal. At some point there’s likely to be a global regime shift to a significantly less hospitable state than present conditions. That regime shift is quite possibly underway now, one need only witness the disintergration of the cryosphere, worldwide…  As time passes and irreplaceable resources dwindle, these words will be harder to avoid saying. There is no infinite exponential growth on a finite planet. In my view, the economics of 7.5 billion people on one planet point to one outcome, 2 more undesirable words; population dieback. ” –OSJ

Written By Jon Talton @ The Seattle Times:

Population overshoot is behind many of our most pressing economic problems. But the best intelligent response faces terrible obstacles.

The most disheartening story in today’s Seattle Times today is about the 38 million pieces of trash, almost all plastic, strewn on remote and uninhabited Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean. When some future alien starship discovers post-apocalyptic Earth, their first impression will be, “What a bunch of slobs once lived here.”

This story can be told in many ways: A runaway consumer culture, globalization and the 10,000-mile supply chain, more affluence even in developing nations, environmental catastrophe from polluting the oceans. But don’t forget the latest estimate of the planet’s population: 7.5 billion. At the turn of the 19th century, it was only 1 billion. It took more than another century to add another billion. Since then, the billions have been piling on with astonishing speed. The world held “only” a little more than 6 billion in 2000.

Virtually every major problem, from climate change and wars to mass migrations and resource scarcity has its root in too many people. Economics are not immune. The lowered prospects of the politically potent white working class, for example, have much to do with millions overseas who can do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost. When you hear about theories of “secular stagnation” and the like, think 7.5 billion.

The enormous and growing costs of human-caused climate change are juiced by those 7.5 billion. Globalization has created large middle classes in nations such as China and India — and its members want the sprawly car-dependent “American lifestyle” and the rights to their share of the atmosphere to heat in order to get it. The greatest deprivation, and lost economic potential, happens in countries with the biggest population overshoot.Don’t think America is immune, either. The Southwest is at population overshoot and directly in the path of climate change. Possibly the Southeast, too, beyond soon-to-be-submerged Florida. They’ll be moving here in the coming decades unless they go back to the Midwest and Northeast (so our mantra must be: “Seattle, it’s cold and rainy all the time”).

The most constructive response is to have societies where women have control over their bodies, including having access to birth control and abortion. Yet we have reached this population crisis at the same moment as religious fundamentalism has revived and, in many places, muscled out or exterminated moderate opposition. Women are considered little more than baby-making chattel in many nations, the ones that most need lower populations. This, as much as advances in medicine and agriculture, is to blame for population overshoot.

President Trump revived the Reagan-era ban on foreign aid for organizations that offer counseling on family planning that includes abortion. A powerful faction in the Republican Party also opposes most forms of birth control. Trump and the GOP show a curious lack of care for the fetus once it is born and needs, say, health care. Interestingly, abortion rates have declined sharply in advanced nations. In the United States, it is at the lowest level since the procedure was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973.

Conservatives such as William F. Buckley used to argue that every new life was an asset, not a cost. And people of good will can certainly disagree over abortion. But when the new lives are born into radicalized traditional societies, where is their opportunity? And whatever the argument over abortion, the United States and advanced nations should be doing more to make birth control available in the developing world and advance the rights of women (offending our powerful Saudi “allies”). Nations with a modicum of freedom for women prosper…and birth rates go down. Those same nations turn economics from a zero-sum game into wide prosperity and breakthroughs.

Henderson Island is another marker for the slow crisis enveloping our larger common island in the black outland of space, and we have no lifeboats.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Wall Street just woke up

Bullish greed is put on hold

While Don gores himself





“It may well be one of the first epidemics because of global warming” : Climate Change Major Factor In Turning Dehydration Into A Deadly Disease

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

© Brett Gundlock/Boreal Collective

Oldspeak: “Climate change brings dire predictions of extreme weather and sea-level rise in the future, but it is affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations right now, he says. And although heat exposure can affect the body in many ways, our kidneys are in the first line of attack, as their role is to keep electrolytes within the normal range and blood volume stable. “We predict the kidney is going to be one of the prime targets as heat increases.” 

Researchers currently classify the new form of chronic kidney disease as ‘climate-sensitive’, which means that climate is one ingredient contributing to the epidemic. As temperatures continue to rise, many such climate-sensitive diseases will become climate-driven, and monitoring and bringing attention to them will become even more crucial.” –Jane Palmer

“Mmm. Chronic kidney disease, brought on by chronic dehydration and re-hydration with sugary drinks and not water. Look for this epidemic to propagate as temperatures rise. I imagine if the studies done among poor outdoor workers in Central America and Mexico were conducted among similar workers in the mid latitudes around the world, similar results would be found. Poor people globally have limited access to clean water and in many cases the water they do have access to is contaminated.  Then you add to the mix rising temperatures, debilitating drought, and re-hydrating with basically artificially sweetened and acidified water that makes for a deadly situation among people who spend lots of time outdoors engaged in strenuous activity in earth’s mid-latitudes.” –OSJ

Written By Jane Palmer @ Mosaic Science:

By 10am in the sugarcane fields outside the town of Tierra Blanca in El Salvador, the mercury is already pushing 31°C. The workers arrived at dawn: men and women, young and old, wearing thick jeans, long-sleeved shirts and face scarves to prevent being scorched by the sun’s rays. They are moving quickly between rows of cane, bending, reaching, clipping and trimming in preparation for harvesting the crop in the weeks to come. In the scant shade, old Pepsi and Fanta bottles full of water swing from tree branches, untouched. Gulping only the thick air, the workers won’t stop until noon, when their shift is over.

Among them is 25-year-old Jesús Linares. His dream, he explains in English, was to be a language teacher, but like many Salvadoran children he went to work to help support his parents and siblings. Aged eight, he learned to hide in the towering canes whenever the police sought out underage workers; since then, he’s tended sugarcane from dawn to noon and then pigs until dusk. In the evenings, he tries to listen to English audio programmes or read a language book, but for the last year he’s been too tired to concentrate. So tired, in fact, that a few months ago he visited the Tierra Blanca clinic. Blood tests revealed that Linares was in the early stages of chronic kidney disease.

It’s a familiar story here in the Bajo Lempa region, where recent studies suggest that up to 25 per cent of its nearly 20,000 inhabitants have chronic kidney disease. Across El Salvador, kidney failure is the leading cause of hospital deaths in adults. But while chronic kidney disease is most commonly caused by hypertension and diabetes, two-thirds of patients in Bajo Lempa don’t have either of those conditions and the cause of their illness remains uncertain.

Scientists have identified certain key themes. The majority of people with the unexplained disease are men, and it strikes predominantly in hot, humid regions where people are engaged in strenuous outdoor labour: farming, fishing or construction work. Dehydration, which seems an obvious factor, causes acute kidney disease that is easily reversed by drinking water, rather than this chronic form. This has left two burning questions: what causes this new form of kidney disease, and will it be likely to spread as the world gets warmer?

Meanwhile, in El Salvador over the last two decades, more and more patients have arrived at clinics and hospitals, often taxing them to their limit. Many people, unable to get treatment, simply return to their homes to die.

“This is really a silent massacre,” says Ramón García-Trabanino, a Salvadoran kidney specialist.

The patients at the Hospital Nacional Rosales in San Salvador all have the same story: until three months ago they were perfectly fine. Most of them had never seen a doctor in their life before, and had ignored any early signs of ill health this time as well. The turning point came only when they were too sick to work.

Working hard lies at the heart of Salvadoran culture. During the 1980–92 civil war, the armed forces carried out a scorched-earth strategy, targeting the civilian population in the countryside to remove any possible support base for the rebels. Tens of thousands died and a quarter of the populace fled. When peace finally came, the rural communities were able to return to their land, which was parcelled out to cooperatives, industry and independent farmers. For the survivors, the only way forward was to work, and work hard, to overcome other challenges that peace could not resolve.

At 8,124 square miles, El Salvador is one of the world’s smallest countries, yet within its boundaries lie endless stretches of coastline, mountain ranges and an abundance of agricultural lowlands, which owe their fertility to rich volcanic soil. There are 23 volcanoes in El Salvador, standing over the cities and central plateaus like guardians. In 2013, people in the San Miguel province fled their homes when the Chaparrastique volcano began spewing hot ash and smoke into the air.

Volcanoes aren’t the only natural hazard. The country sits right where the western part of the Caribbean Plate overrides the Cocos Plate, making it one of the most seismologically active regions on earth. In 2001, two earthquakes south-west of San Miguel killed at least 1,000 people and destroyed or damaged nearly 300,000 homes.

Such challenges only add to the determination to work hard, and in keeping with this cultural work ethic, many agricultural labourers don’t admit to getting ill, even to themselves. But kidney disease is a sneaky opponent. It can totally destroy one kidney while the individual remains blissfully unaware. Only in the final stages of the disease do the workers get a hint that all is not well, and by the time they arrive at the emergency ward, they are dying.

García-Trabanino started a fellowship at the Rosales hospital as a young doctor in 1998, and what he encountered resembled a scene from a battlefield. He had expected to be treating heart disease, neurological patients, eye problems – the full gamut of medical conditions. Instead all he encountered were men dying – sometimes slowly, but usually quickly – from kidney failure. They came in such numbers that they overwhelmed the beds and spilled into the corridors.

“Sometimes, even with [our] obsolete dialysis techniques, we managed to get some of them to survive a night. A day. A week,” he says. Most died within a month, however, and no one seemed interested in finding out why, or even how many cases there were. So García-Trabanino and a colleague started counting them, one by one, at the door of the emergency ward until, after a few months, their count reached more than 200. The Ministry of Health in El Salvador didn’t follow up on their findings, but it did grant the doctors a medal, which garnered media attention.

“The next month people from the social organisations of the coastlands came,” García-Trabanino recalls. The visitors told him stories of years of living with unexplained deaths among their otherwise healthy young people. Every other week they had to burn the dead.

“You’ve just discovered what we have been living for years,” they said. “Tell me, doctor, what is the cure?” He had no answer.

Today, the hospital has 1,000 cases of chronic kidney disease, with more than 30 new patients arriving each month. “But we only have resources for half of them,” says Ricardo Leiva, head of the nephrology unit. By the time the new victims arrive they typically need dialysis, but the waiting list is long. Sometimes the nephrologists can administer peritoneal dialysis instead, using a hard plastic tube inserted into the belly by surgery. “It is an old technique that is not being used anywhere else in the world,” says Leiva. “But we need it.”

Back in Tierra Blanca, Juan Pablo Paniagua, a lean 60-year-old with a permanent toothy grin, talks about how the disease caught him totally by surprise. Working in the cornfields since he was a boy, then as a fisherman, he felt fine until seven years ago. “Then your body starts feeling something strange. You don’t know what it is,” he says. “You don’t feel any kind of pain, but you feel like you are slowly decaying.”

Paniagua received dialysis three times a week for two and a half years. After that, he was unable to pay for the regimen, which typically runs to about $120 for a single blood-cleansing session. So the doctors showed him how to take care of a catheter in his abdomen and instructed him in how to do peritoneal dialysis at home. “I’ve had moments of nearly dying but,” he says, “once I started dialysis, I realised that I was actually improving.”

Early in 2016, 32-year-old José Luis Morales, a healthy-looking man with a footballer’s physique, began to feel cramps in his legs and became so weak he couldn’t pick up a glass of water. Morales works as a truck driver in Chalatenango, a humid lowland area in northern El Salvador and another hotspot for chronic kidney disease. Unable to work, he went to San Salvador to see García-Trabanino.

“He had the classic picture of this disease,” García-Trabanino says. “He is not diabetic, he is not hypertensive. He is young without any past medical history.” Blood tests revealed low potassium and high uric acid levels, which García-Trabanino treated with medication. Currently in stage two of the disease, Morales will need to take medication for the rest of his life. “We can’t revive or bring back to life the lost kidney tissue, but we can take care of what is left,” says García-Trabanino.

Chronic kidney disease destroys kidney tissue until it can no longer filter waste from the blood. Without dialysis, this can lead to high blood pressure, weakness, dizziness and a host of other symptoms. But while diabetic kidney disease damages the glomeruli, the tiny units that clean the blood, the new form destroys the renal tubules, where urine is made and transported, and the interstitium, which surrounds the other structures in the kidneys and helps maintain the right balance of fluid. This is the same pattern of damage caused by some toxins, and because the new disease hit the agricultural communities so heavily, García-Trabanino suspected that exposure to herbicides and insecticides might be to blame.

To investigate, he teamed up with the Emergency Social Fund for Health in Tierra Blanca, as well as with Emmanuel Jarquín, an occupational health and safety consultant. Together, they investigated the incidence of chronic kidney disease in agricultural labourers in the lowlands, and compared them with similar workers in a region 500 metres above sea level. In the latter group, however, they found almost no cases of the mysterious disease. “They were working the same crops and using the same chemicals, but they were not getting sick,” García-Trabanino says. “We were clueless.”

The physicians began to wonder if they were just seeing a local problem, as most of the patients in Rosales hospital had come from the Bajo Lempa region. So Jesús Domínguez, a Spanish volunteer physician in Tierra Blanca, went on a mission. Renting a car and equipment, he drove from Mexico to Nicaragua, stopping by fields and taking urine samples from outdoor labourers toiling under the sun. His study indicated that many of the workers were already in the first stages of chronic kidney disease.

Far from being local, says García-Trabanino, “we realised the problem was bigger than we thought, and it was all across Central America and southern Mexico”.

Richard J Johnson, a kidney specialist at the University of Colorado, helped organise the World Congress of Nephrology in Canada in 2011. There, he learned about the strange new form of chronic kidney disease spreading through Central America. Researchers from various countries were beginning to get together and discuss the evidence. Like others, Johnson began to think about possible causes.

His own research was focused on the sugar fructose – identifying its role in obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. When a person eats fructose, the liver bears most of the brunt, but some of the sugar eventually ends up in the kidney. With each meal, fructose enters the kidney tubules, where it is metabolised into uric acid and causes oxidative stress, both of which can damage the kidney.

At first, Johnson thought people in the sugarcane fields could be eating so much of the plant itself that they were generating high levels of uric acid and oxidative stress in their kidneys. But, he calculated, even sucking on sugarcane all day wouldn’t produce enough fructose to cause disease. Then he discovered that, under certain conditions, the body processes regular carbohydrates to make its own fructose. And one of the triggers of this deadly alchemy is simple dehydration.

Until that point, nephrologists had thought that dehydration could only cause acute kidney injury, but Johnson’s findings put a new spin on the role of insufficient water intake. Could dehydration day in, day out be causing continuous fructose overproduction that, in turn, could be leading to long-term kidney damage?

Johnson took his theory to the lab, where his team put mice in chambers and exposed them to hours of heat at a stretch. One group of mice was allowed to drink unlimited water throughout the experience, while a second group had water only in the evenings. Within five weeks the mice with a restricted water intake developed chronic kidney disease. During the day, loss of salt and water caused the mice to produce high levels of fructose, and crystals of uric acid would sometimes form as water levels dropped in their urine. When the scientists disabled the gene that metabolises fructose and repeated the experiment, neither group developed chronic kidney disease.

Johnson took these results to a meeting of the Program on Health and Work in Central America, or SALTRA, in Costa Rica in 2012, where they caught the attention of García-Trabanino: “I was astonished. His animal models were absolutely in line with our findings.”

The two collaborated to investigate the biochemical effects of dehydration on workers in the fields of El Salvador. Levels of uric acid started high in the morning and increased throughout the day. “Some patients just had sheets of uric acid crystals in their urine,” Johnson says.

From these studies, Johnson believes that heat stress and dehydration drive the production of fructose and vasopressin, which also damages the kidney. However, he believes that another mechanism may also play a part in the epidemic: rehydration with sugary drinks. Frequently, not trusting the quality of local drinking water, workers drink sodas and soft drinks, and experimental evidence suggests that doing so can lead to even more kidney damage.

“At this stage, that heat stress and dehydration might be causing this problem is still a hypothesis,” Johnson admits. “Although it is a strong one.”

Each month, in the blistering afternoon heat, men sporting cowboy hats or baseball caps and women wearing short frilly aprons over their dresses gather at the Centro Cultural Monseñor Romero in Tierra Blanca. Seated in a shady area next to a garden overgrown with tropical plants, the 40-odd throng hold bottles of water provided for the occasion.

On a makeshift table, a volunteer nurse straps the inflatable cuff of a blood pressure monitor on thick arms, skinny arms, arms hardened by years of labour, wrinkled arms softened by old age. Amid the ministrations, raising his voice to drown out the chaos and laughter of children learning traditional dances nearby, Julio Miranda, the imposing leader of the Emergency Social Fund for Health, takes centre stage: “If you want to tell your experience, it will bring benefit to the community,” he says.

One by one, men and women stand to tell their stories. As they talk, heads nod in assent, some ask questions. But in true El Salvadoran style, despite the gravity of the accounts, good-humoured jibes prevail alongside the murmurs of empathy.

For Santos Coreas, an emaciated 57-year-old man who has worked in the fields since his teenage years, the money he receives from his sons working in the USA is the difference between life and death. It pays for his weekly haemodialysis, although that still falls short of the recommended three-times-a-week regime. His wife quickly interjects: “We can’t afford more; we do what we can.”

In El Salvador, social security benefits cover health costs for only a quarter of the population. Private, military and teachers’ schemes cover a further 5 per cent, and the Ministry of Health provides public healthcare to the remaining 70 per cent, according to García-Trabanino. From 2004 to 2013, in this area, 271 patients reached end-stage renal disease, the point at which the only options are dialysis or death. Only a third of them received any type of dialysis, a quarter of these relying on El Salvador’s largest source of income: relatives sending money home from abroad.

Of the 235 patients who relied on the public health system, many didn’t have access to dialysis or were afraid of outdated techniques that are associated with a high death toll. Transport costs to and from the city for treatment often proved beyond their means, too. Only 12 of these people were alive one year after diagnosis.

“You need dialysis or transplantation or you die, and we lose one or two people from this region every week,” García-Trabanino says. “It’s poverty, not the disease, that kills them.”

But dialysis isn’t the only line of defence if you can act early enough. For Rogelio Sánchez, a bout of ocmore than 10 years ago indirectly saved his life. Blood tests revealed his kidneys were in the early stages of chronic disease and, since then, medication has stopped the disease from progressing.

Sánchez has come to the meeting today with one of his four sons, Henry, a doe-eyed and healthy-looking boy who appears much younger than his 23 years. Five years ago, Henry started to feel sick and blood tests revealed that he also had the new form of chronic kidney disease. García-Trabanino, who is a volunteer physician at the meetings, prescribed a drug to boost his potassium levels, along with potassium and calcium supplements, and advised Henry to seriously reduce his football playing, avoid sun exposure and drink lots of water. Like his father, Henry now has the disease under control.

In 2006, the Emergency Social Fund for Health started taking blood samples from all the locals. In 6,000 samplings since, they have found 1,500 people in various stages of the disease. Only 100 have died, and these were workers already in the final stage. For the others, early diagnosis and medication can keep end-stage disease at bay for decades. This requires funding, however. Unsupported by the government, the organisation relies on donations. But in recent years, the number of people who need such treatment has continued to rise.

For Johnson, a clue as to why the epidemic is escalating came from a disturbing occurrence during his research with García-Trabanino. One day, when the field researchers were measuring uric acid levels, only seven workers showed up for work. “But they all had uric acid crystals in their urine. All of them,” Johnson says. “It was bad news for these seven.”

Alarmed, he contacted the lead investigator of the study, who felt that the team should ignore the finding as so few workers had turned up that morning. “But I said that maybe this is the most interesting group, because 100 per cent of the workers got it that day.”

He looked up the weather and found out that it had, in fact, been the hottest day of the year at the study location. “Suddenly a really, really big heatwave came in and the workers weren’t ready,” he says. “They went out because they were expecting it to be a relatively normal day and they got hit.”

Instead of his usual fare of nephrology and diabetes papers, Johnson began to pore over global maps of climate and solar radiation. The rise in average temperatures over the last few years in Central America had been incremental, but the number of extreme events had gone up disproportionately. “And, by gosh, the areas that have the highest solar radiation and heatwaves are overlapping the places right where the epidemics are.”

He contacted climate experts at the nearby National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado. They verified and finessed his original discovery, and the team published an assessment report in May 2016, which suggested a connection between climate change and the epidemic. Johnson says it “may well be one of the first epidemics because of global warming”.

Climate change brings dire predictions of extreme weather and sea-level rise in the future, but it is affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations right now, he says. And although heat exposure can affect the body in many ways, our kidneys are in the first line of attack, as their role is to keep electrolytes within the normal range and blood volume stable. “We predict the kidney is going to be one of the prime targets as heat increases.”

Researchers currently classify the new form of chronic kidney disease as ‘climate-sensitive’, which means that climate is one ingredient contributing to the epidemic. As temperatures continue to rise, many such climate-sensitive diseases will become climate-driven, and monitoring and bringing attention to them will become even more crucial.

“Climate change is not like a new thing, it has been here for a long time,” says Emmanuel Jarquín, who has seen the impacts of rising temperatures on farmers in El Salvador. Already the country has had hotter summers and longer, drier winters. Coffee plantations, usually between 600 and 1,000 meters above sea level, where ideal cool conditions exist for the crop, have shrunk upwards towards the top of the hillsides. The heat has also increased the number of pests and droughts, and some farmers have begun to swap coffee for cocoa trees.

And while climate change isn’t the root cause of the new chronic kidney disease, it is making it a lot worse, he says. “It will hit the poor people harder. It starts as a little problem and it will grow and grow and grow.”

For the people of El Salvador, then, this is yet another life-threatening obstacle to work hard to overcome. Living under constant threat from earthquakes and volcanoes, but also gang violence, political unrest and poverty, they have developed a strong defence mechanism: a forceful loyalty to family, community and fellow countrymen. “Even taking into account the conditions we live in, we still believe in good things and we are fighters,” says Jarquín. “We always try to do good things, against all odds.”

References and resources

A recent article by García-Trabanino, Johnson and colleagues sets out the link between climate change and the new form of chronic kidney disease.

The Nefrolempa study published results of its investigation into chronic kidney disease in the Bajo Lempa region in 2011. (In Spanish, with an English abstract.)

The Emergency Social Fund for Health (FSES) published results of its 10-year research in the same region in 2016. (In Spanish, with an English abstract.)

For García-Trabanino, the towering volcanoes have come to symbolise what it means to be El Salvadoran: “I used to think we were stupid people when I was younger, to build under the volcanoes,” he says. “But then I realised they were everywhere.” But living underneath the volcanoes gives people both an appreciation of life – because they can die any day – and a sense of strength.

“We have survived the civil war, earthquakes and volcanoes, but El Salvadorans fight, and they will fight again.”