The Beacon

Blog Tags: Climate Change

Obama's Climate Plan Will Reduce CO2, Increase Clean Energy

President Obama speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, about the future of our environment, and his climate plan for the years to come. 

In a speech today at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama laid out his climate plan for the United States moving forward in the months, years, and decades ahead. Oceana was pleased to hear President Obama promoting clean energy like wind and solar energy, but wishes that he had also mentioned offshore wind – a form of energy that is safe for our oceans and its creatures, and forever sustainable.


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Puffins Are Struggling with Warming Waters

Puffins like this one have become the "canary in the coal mine," showing us the real threat that climate change poses to the oceans and to the creatures that call it home. Photo: Andreas Trepte

Puffins are rightfully dubbed the “clowns of the ocean” from their animated appearance, but sadly, they might instead serve as the “canary in a coal mine” warning us about climate change threats to the ocean. 

The ocean is warming up in the Gulf of Maine from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia where ocean temperatures have hit a 150-year high, and these abnormally warm waters are altering marine food webs. Many fish species are moving into deeper and colder waters, and some are being replaced by fish from the south.


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What Do Historic CO2 Levels Mean for the Oceans?

“Keeling Curve” shows CO2 levels increase from 1958-2013. (Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD)


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 “Keeling Curve,” 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.


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The Dirty Weather Report

Between regular 100-year storms, record heat waves and epic droughts watching the weather channel has certainly become more interesting of late. This is “dirty weather” according to the Climate Reality Project, that is, weather that is increasingly influenced by carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels. That’s 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.

Make sure to tune in and learn more about climate change and what you can do to help.


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Sandy and Climate Change

On Monday Hurricane Sandy covered 1.8 million square miles. Photo courtesy NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

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 . . .”

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 country’s corn belt, and now a record storm affecting the nation’s most populous cities, neither candidate found the issue to be worthy of discussion.”

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. “Frankenstorm” is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. They’re 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.


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Hottest September Ever Recorded

©Wikimedia Commons

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.


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CO2 Emissions Threaten Ocean-Based Food Security

Oceana’s 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 nations’ vulnerability to climate change and ocean acidification check out our report:  http://oceana.org/en/HighCO2World


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Hungry Sea Otters Fight Climate Change

sea otter

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 study’s 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.”

The study’s 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 “no-otter zone” 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.


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Uncovering Surprising Blooms in the Arctic

polarbear

A changing Arctic spells bad news for polar bears and other animals ©Michael Stephens

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.’s 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 “blooms” 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.


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‘Frozen Planet’ Raises Climate Questions

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 – huddled by a sedated polar bear in the Arctic, hollering over the extreme winds at his Antarctic campsite – reminding the audience of a cold reality regarding any species’ survival: it’s adapt or die.


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