For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide at the historic Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the same location where Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Charles David Keeling first established the âKeeling Curve,â a famous graph showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere. CO2 was around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. On May 9, the reading was a startling 400.08 ppm for a 24-hour period. But without the help of the oceans, this number would already be much higher.
Between regular 100-year storms, record heat waves and epic droughts watching the weather channel has certainly become more interesting of late. This is âdirty weatherâ according to the Climate Reality Project, that is, weather that is increasingly influenced by carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels. Thatâs why starting at 8pm tonight they are airing their Dirty Weather Report, a 24-hour live online broadcast hosted by former vice-president and Nobel laureate Al Gore and featuring comedians, musicians and experts to bring light to the many different ways a changing climate is changing the world around us.
As a record-breaking hurricane pummeled the Northeast almost into November--this on the heels of a scorching summer that saw arctic ice shrivel to its smallest extent ever recorded--the specter of climate change lurks just under the surface of any discussion of what can only be described as our freakish recent weather.
Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research talked to Slate about Sandy:
Most of what is going on with Sandy is weather, and there is a large chance element to it, but it is all occurring in an environment where the ocean is a bit warmer, the air above the ocean is warmer and moister, and that is fuel for the storm and especially adds to the risk of heavy rainfalls and flooding.
After the necessary caveats about tying any one event to global warming, the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert despairs about the notable absence of the elephant-in-the-room issue in our electoral politics.
The storm fits the general pattern in North America, and indeed around the world, toward more extreme weather, a pattern that, increasingly, can be attributed to climate change . . .â
Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque. In a year of record-breaking temperatures across the U.S., record drought conditions in the countryâs corn belt, and now a record storm affecting the nationâs most populous cities, neither candidate found the issue to be worthy of discussion.â
Environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, who earlier this year penned a jeremiad in Rolling Stone about climate change that went viral, sees in Sandy a frightful spectacle not unlike Frankenstein's monster, as he writes in the Daily Beast:
Our relationship to the world around us is shifting as fast as that world is shifting. âFrankenstormâ is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. Theyâre stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.
Sandy was likely influenced by a combination of factors that we know are tied to climate change such as a melting Arctic, a warming Atlantic Ocean and rising sea levels, but to what extent is not yet known. But under the water, and out of sight, the effects of emissions are just as severe. The oceans are absorbing 90 percent of the heat from climate change and carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans have led to a 30 percent increase in the ocean's acidity since the Industrial Revolution, a trend that threatens to topple coral reefs and food chains worldwide in the coming decades.
Learn more about climate change, what Oceana is doing to fight it, and what you can do to help.
Well these records seem to be falling by the wayside quickly. Last month we learned that arctic summer sea ice had shrunk to its smallest extent ever. By a lot. Today we learn that this past September tied September of 2005 for the hottest on record.
One stat released by NOAA and quoted in the Reuters story, though, truly boggles the mind:
"In addition to being hottest since 1880, the month was the 36th consecutive September and 331st consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
The last time September temperatures were below that average was 1976, and the last time any month was below that average was February 1985."
In other words, not since Marty McFly saved Hill Valley with his Delorean time machine has planet Earth experienced a month below the 20th century temperature average.
Learn more about climate change and what you can do to help.
Oceanaâs new report, Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World ranks nations to show which are most vulnerable to reductions in seafood production as a result of climate change and ocean acidification. While seafood is currently a primary source of protein for more than a billion of the poorest people in the world, carbon dioxide emissions are causing the oceans to warm and become more acidic, threatening fisheries and the people who depend on them.
Rising ocean temperatures are pushing many fish species into deeper and colder waters towards the poles and away from the tropics, while increased acidity is threatening important habitats such as coral reefs and the future of shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels.
Many coastal and island developing nations, such as Togo, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Madagascar and Thailand depend more heavily on seafood for protein and could suffer the greatest hardships because they have fewer resources to replace what is lost from the sea. For many developing countries, seafood is often the cheapest and most readily available source of protein, losing this resource could have serious impacts on livelihoods and food security.
The only way to address global ocean acidification and the primary path to ending climate change is by dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions. One of the first steps in this process should be to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies.
Some local measures may help make marine resources more resilient to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification such as stopping overfishing, bycatch and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, as well as establishing no take marine protected areas and limiting local pollution. But reducing carbon dioxide emissions is essential to make sure the oceans stay vibrant and productive for future generations.
To find the full ranking of nationsâ vulnerability to climate change and ocean acidification check out our report: http://oceana.org/en/HighCO2World
Humans have an unlikely ally in the fight against global warming: sea otters.
According to a new study out of the University of California Santa Cruz, the playful, foraging mammals play a vital role in managing kelp forests, which in turn are capable of absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. Sea otters prey on sea urchins, which, unchecked, can ravage kelp forests, but thriving sea otter populations help keep the urchins in check.
The study looked at 40 years of otter and kelp data from Vancouver Island to the Western Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The researchers found that in areas where otters flourished, so too did kelp. In fact, the kelp was able to absorb 12 times more carbon in areas that were not overrun by sea urchins. Giant kelp can grow as tall as 30 meters and kelp forests are provide important habitat for a number of fish species, including blue sharks.
"Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals," one of the studyâs lead authors, professor Chris Wilmers said. "But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the carbon cycle, might actually have a large impact.â
The studyâs authors noted that the carbon sequestered by otter-aided kelp forests alone could be worth between $205 million and $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange, a market for trading carbon credits.
Populations of California sea otters, which once numbered around 15,000 along the Pacific coast, were decimated in the 18th and 19th centuries by hunters. In 1938, one lone colony of 50 otters discovered near Big Sur represented the entire population. Today that number has rebounded to almost 3,000 but the animal still faces threats, especially from parasites and infectious diseases which thrive in polluted waters. Otters, which depend on their fur coats for insulation, are also especially vulnerable to oil spills.
A decision is expected this December about whether to reopen a âno-otter zoneâ enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service which extends from just North of Santa Barbara to the Mexican border in California. The zone was originally established in 1987 to help the fishing industry, and sea urchins have removed large swaths of kelp forest in the area.
Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to be on board the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy, in partnership with N.A.S.A.âs ICESCAPE mission to study the effects of ocean acidification on phytoplankton communities in the Arctic Ocean. We collected thousands of water samples and ice cores in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
While in the northern reaches of the Chukchi Sea, we discovered large âbloomsâ of phytoplankton under the ice. It had previously been assumed that sea ice blocked the sunlight necessary for the growth of marine plants. But the ice acts like a greenhouse roof and magnifies the light under the ice, creating a perfect breeding ground for the microscopic creatures. Phytoplankton play an important role in the ocean, without which our world would be drastically different.
Phytoplankton take CO2 out of the water and release oxygen, almost as much as terrestrial plants do. The ecological consequences of the bloom are not yet fully understood, but because they are the base of the entire food chain in the oceans, this was a monumental discovery that will shape our understanding of the Arctic ecosystem in the coming years.
The Arctic is one of the last truly wild places on our planet, where walruses, polar bears, and seals out-number humans, and raised their heads in wonderment as we walked along the ice and trespassed into their domain. However, their undeveloped home is currently in grave danger. The sea ice that they depend on is rapidly disappearing as the Arctic is dramatically altered by global warming.
Some predictions are as grave as a seasonally ice-free Arctic by 2050. Drilling for oil in the Arctic presents its own host of problems, most dangerous of which is that there is no proven way to clean up spilled oil in icy conditions. An oil spill in the Arctic could be devastating to the phytoplankton and thereby disrupt the entire ecosystem. The full effects of such a catastrophe cannot be fully evaluated without better information about the ocean, and we should not be so hasty to drill until we have that basic understanding.
Unless we take drastic action to curb our emissions of CO2 and prevent drilling in the absence of basic science and preparedness, we may see not only an ice-free Arctic in our lifetimes, but also an Arctic ecosystem that is drastically altered.
Sunday night, Discovery Channel aired the final episode of the Frozen Planet series that aired on the BBC last year.
This episode featured Sir David Attenborough visiting both poles â huddled by a sedated polar bear in the Arctic, hollering over the extreme winds at his Antarctic campsite â reminding the audience of a cold reality regarding any speciesâ survival: itâs adapt or die.
Weâre excited to be a partner of âTo the Arctic,â a new IMAX film by MacGillivray Freeman coming out April 20.
The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, follows a mother polar bear and her two seven-month-old cubs as they navigate the changing Arctic wilderness they call home. Extraordinary footage brings you up close and personal with this familyâs struggle to survive.
Check out the trailer, share it and spread the word!
Each of the six sea turtle species found in the United States are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Every day, sea turtles face a number of threats including pollution, boat strikes, hunting, accidental capture by fisheries, as well as the development of many coastal beaches that female sea turtles use for nesting sites.
But a growing threat to sea turtles is climate change. Rising sea levels and increased numbers of storms will likely limit the number of beaches that are suitable for nesting, and warmer temperatures could have a significant effect on sea turtle reproduction since the sex of sea turtle eggs is determined by the nest temperature. Warmer sands will result in more females, while cooler sands favor males. The magic temperature seems to be about 82Â°F, but this can vary depending on the species.
Temperatures are predicted to rise by 2.5-10Â°F in the next century, which could alter hatchling sex ratios especially in areas that are already warm like the Caribbean. In Florida, loggerhead nests are already producing more than 90% females, and further warming could mean that no males hatch from these nests at all.
In a new study, however, a group of researchers used screens to shade nests, and they found that it effectively reduced nest temperatures and produced a higher proportion of male hatchlings. By protecting beaches where males are more common and by applying artificial shading, if necessary, a healthy ratio of male and female sea turtles will be born.
Although shading may provide some relief to sea turtle populations already threatened with extinction, it is only a temporary solution to a much larger problem. To help take action against climate change, here are a few steps you can take at home and in your community.