Atlantic salmon, the native salmon that used to inhabit the northern Atlantic Ocean, rivers and seas, is a species now represented by an impostor: farmed salmon. Also known as cultured salmon, farmed salmon comes from hatchery genetic stock and unlike its native ancestors, lacks wild genetic variation. The wild fish our ancestors ate is gone. What appears on our dinner plates is a substitute copy, a genetic dilution of a once mighty fish, the adaptive king of the sea and a significant food for coastal humans since prehistoric times.
The change in genetic stock has been happening for decades, as farmed salmon are released into native waters via restocking programs (in an attempt to reduce the negative impacts of overfishing of wild salmon) and also unintentionally as a consequence of faulty containment in sea net-cages. The resulting “swamping out” effect—farmed in, wild out—along with several other insidious factors, has driven native salmon to effective extinction.
When I began to research the scientific literature on native Atlantic salmon, I was stunned to discover that this species (Salmo salar L.) is essentially extinct. How can this be possible? Is the fish before our eyes and on our platters not real? Yes, indeed it is, but the verified statistic is that 99.5 percent of all Atlantic salmon living today, whether farmed or fished from open ocean or rivers, is not what biologists call “wild type” and does not faithfully represent, in a genetic sense, the native fish that once broadly populated waters of our planet’s Holarctic zone, the ecological region that encompasses the majority of habitats found across the Earth’s northern continents.
The fish we eat today is not the fish that fed our ancestors or even the fish that fed our forebears of a century ago. Today’s salmon, because of the effects of a force called genetic erosion, is the diluted copy of a fish that once thrived on a wild genome, that tried and true set of original genes which, in the case of salmon, generated a fish capable of magnetic field navigation, survival in fresh and salt water and geochemical detection of spawning micro-habitats.
Genetic erosion, simply defined as the loss of genetic diversity over time, eliminates the potential of a species to adapt to new environments and leads to extinction. The swamping-out effect by farmed salmon has been one eroding genetic force working against wild salmon. We human predators have overfished, toxically farmed, illiterately stocked, dammed and blindly released, by millions, farmed and unfit Atlantic salmon fishes into the wild. The hatchery stock has bred with and overrun the native species, one that had been evolving for hundreds of thousands of years and which is now genetically eliminated, all in the quick human feeding frenzy of the last century.
In visual terms, the force of this steep genetic erosion has clear cut to an industrial hedge and burned to the biological bones, a body of irreplaceable, adaptive genetic material equivalent to a massive, old-growth forest, one which had stood for millennia over the entire Holarctic region of Earth and which is frankly not restorable. One could say that the old-growth forest of Atlantic salmon is dead.
This is not an easy tale to tell. The salmon, however, is an able storyteller, being a familiar and marvelous fish. Salmon is anadromous, a migrant from fresh water to salty sea, a fish who returns to its birth river to spawn in the family niche for the next generation, for the continuation of each clan, the many clans for each population and the many populations for each species.
Technically, the only way to explain why the salmon you think you are eating is extinct is through the lens of population and molecular genetics. Yet, the salmon is truly a salmon of knowledge and can tell its story in many ways, being a once highly diverse and differentiated, smartly pedigreed family of kin and clan. If you can follow maps and glaciations, rivers and open seas, then you can follow the clans of salmon and their ancestral family trees and the recent loss of their protective, genetic canopy.
The earliest salmon came from a diverse group of ocean vertebrates known as the ray-finned fishes and was part of a broad divergence of ocean fishes that adapted over eons to the cold, northern waters of the upper Northern Hemisphere, around the Arctic Circle. Early Atlantic and Pacific salmonid ancestors branched into separate ocean groups of early species types about 600,000 years ago.
Well before the coming of its most evolved predator, Homo sapiens sapiens, before the industrial degradation of the earth’s ecosystems, before and after the last retreat of the Last Glacial Maximum, salmon prospered, undisturbed and free to navigate the seas and inland rivers. The females raked their redds (spawning nests), the males attended, their black-eyed eggs developed. They grew into spotted fry, then young parr (juveniles) camouflaged in lines matured to silver-scaled adults, who when ready put out to sea to amass body weight as they navigated the ocean using the Earth’s magnetic fields to guide them.
Consistently, the salmon returned upriver to breed again, homing back to their place of ancestry, their birth location, not only to pass down the best surviving, evolutionary genetic lines, but the unique adaptive differences of their clan, which allowed them to detect, recall and locate that singular family place as being their own. Innumerable salmon clans eventually earmarked to all of the available niches within the species’ final broad biogeographical distribution.
On their way, during their travels, over time and in prehistory, salmon differentiated. Individuals of each clan began to accumulate small genetic differences by random chance, breeding and keeping those differences unto themselves and their families. Salmon clans became unique within their family’s geographic niche because they spawned among their own. The clans grew and multiplied, each clan at its own location, spreading and creating more clans, larger and more diverse populations, accumulating more of those familial differences.
Clan-genetic differentiation can now be measured by DNA fingerprinting, has been shown to correlate to geographical breeding location and, most importantly, became locally adaptive. Salmon evolved to cull the identity by smell of their home waters in the elegant genetic processes of gene co-adaptation and where the salmon bred was where the salmon was most fit. Dynasties of ecological fitness, each clan best suited to its own specific breeding location, certainly emerged.
Surviving a Frozen World
We know that the ancient, wild Atlantic salmon faced and survived Holarctic glaciation, for their genes also left a fingerprint of their biological survival gear in their molecular patterns. Well studied in northern Europe, there likely existed one or more refugia under the Weichlesian glacial plates, bodies of fresh water in which the prehistoric salmon survived as the rest of its world froze over, unable to migrate to sea.
Isolated in its clans, separated by distance and geological formations, in different rivers, breeding with no outsiders and accumulating differences, the ever-adaptable wild salmon colonies were yet diverse enough to self-populate over long periods of time, being naturally fit and self-sustaining. Meanwhile, saltwater clans were successfully breeding in the ocean. As the glaciers remained, the separated salmon clans accumulated and passed on those unique fitness differences for best survival in their different environments.
Then the glacial ice retreated upon the warming Holocene, about 12,000 years ago. The oceans rose and fingered inland into fjords and rivers as glaciers melted and individuals from refuge salmon clans began to spread into fresh territory. Some pioneered the newly opened, post-glacial rivers, challenging distance and falls, spawning further upstream again and again, as the case may be, until all of the available rivers of the north Atlantic islands, eastern Russia, the Baltic Sea and their appurtenant inland flows were filled with unique, wild salmon, a literal natural spectrum of glorious natural diversity.
In the lands abutting the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, this distribution and range included every river in and out of the sea coasts from the north of Spain to the Arctic latitudes and in North America from the Connecticut River northward. Here lived and bred the “wild type” Atlantic salmon, adaptive king of the sea and the “leaper,” the muscled fish of power, grace and fortitude. Meanwhile, our own species experienced an upturn during the advent of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago and spread around the globe. As far as the wild salmon was concerned, all was kept in checks and balances until our epoch of genetic erosion, the superseding Anthropocene, which began c. 1950. Ours is an historic epoch physically characterized by the plastic geological layer now forming as a permanent record in the crust of human industrial ways.
The salmon has taken a fatal series of genetic blows. Its “old growth forest” was set on fire by a human feeding frenzy that began with overfishing and was fed by industrial aquaculture. The genetic erosion is shocking and steep.
Today, 99.5 percent of all native Atlantic salmon has disappeared from the wild. In Europe, Scandinavia and around the Baltic Sea, native indigenous salmon has vanished from the Russian rivers Neva and Narva, the Luleälven and Umeälven of Sweden, from the Odra and Wisla in Poland and the Vilia of Belarus. In fact, only 10 of the many rivers which empty into the Baltic arm of the northern Atlantic Ocean sustain wild salmon populations any longer and the wild Baltic salmon genome is the only one with natural resistance to the destructive Gyrodactulus salaris parasite.
Around the British Isles, in Ireland and across the pond to North America, wild salmon populations are extinct or endangered or threatened. The Kola Peninsula of Russia is known to be a current refuge for wild type Atlantic salmon, yet is also known to harbor military and radioactive waste at ecologically harmful levels. The grand Torneälven of Sweden, called Tornionjoki where it traverses Finland, is one of the last rivers to host wild Atlantic salmon in the world. (For more on the status of Atlantic salmon, see the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List map. Researchers at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management have produced a report on the Baltic extinctions. Anna Tonteri, a conservation geneticist at the University of Turku in Finland has written an excellent doctoral thesis about the population genetics of north European Atlantic salmon).
The Baltic salmon extinctions were largely enabled by human destruction of migration routes for spawning, upon the building and operation of hydroelectric dams. Further molecular DNA studies of the hatchery stock salmon from this exemplary sea have demonstrated a genetic “homogenization.” Stock salmon populations constitute more of a weak puree than a chunky soup, in terms of “population genetic structure,” another statistical measure of diversity. This is why—although the map above may demonstrate a wide range and lesser areas of extinction—the actual number of wild salmon living within the extant areas is quite small at around 0.5 percent. In other words, the orange areas showing extant salmon are overall 99.5 percent inhabited by farmed stock salmon.
We have learned to overlay DNA diversity upon geography and geologic history, in a relatively new field called landscape genomics. The important data is not just in the map or the numbers of fish, but in the genetic quality and the relationships of the individual salmon that comprise the families, clans and populations. An apparent abundance by numbers does not mean a population is healthy, self-sustaining and diverse.
In Ireland, the release of farmed salmon has not only caused genetic erosion, but has disrupted the capacity of wild populations to adapt to warmer waters. This is a problem for salmon across its geographical range for the obvious reason of climate change. Strong and well founded recommendations for saving the remaining wild salmon include cessation of stock salmon releases and re-establishment of native spawning grounds. The future effects of warming waters, however, are unknown and not hopeful.
I can tell you a similar story about the Pacific salmon, the Oncorhynchusspecies—the chum, coho, sockeye and Chinook salmon—which are also extinct or endangered or threatened and which are also genetically eroded. The destruction of the 10-million-a-year run of wild salmon on the Columbia River is unfortunately historic. The Pacific salmon had populated its portion of the Holarctic range simultaneously with the Atlantic salmon. Recent research has verified that Pacific hatchery stock salmon differs genetically from wild salmon and does so from the first generation of breeding. More than 700 genes, according to the data, were associated with “wound healing, immunity and metabolism.” (Scientists at Oregon State University recently conducted a study published in the journal Nature that shows there is DNA evidence that salmon hatcheries cause significant and rapid genetic changes). The fish are raised in overcrowded, concrete tanks, eat an artificial, supplemented diet and live in polluted water that is released into the environment whether farmed inland or off coast.
Genetic variation is the key to survival. With variation, if the environment changes, those individuals with the right variation in their genes will be most able to survive, to adapt and to regenerate a population. That is why it is important to sustain a lot of different, varied individuals in the population, in the clan, in the tribe. Genetic diversity for living organisms is the biological foundation for long term survival, for adaptation to environmental changes and is essential to species for sustaining fit populations for future generations. Genetic diversity is essential for all life on earth to survive climate changes.
The old-growth forest of Atlantic salmon was the entire set of all native salmon genes required for response and adaptation to new environments, the genetic set encompassing all salmon diversity, before the beginning of overfishing and the industrial era of H. sapiens sapiens. This forest of genetic diversity stood, so to speak, in wild swimming, individual, native salmon genomes (not laboratories!) and was acquired over millennia of biological and environmental changes by natural selection. The old-growth forest contained the wild genes of each fish, a reliable molecular network, co-adapted, set like jewels in a biological filigree, fitness genes in a pedigree of clans that salmon had naturally conserved among themselves, to sustain themselves and to protect their own kind from and for environmental changes and to adapt, to diverge and to explore new places in their niches of the living ecosystem of our planet. The old-growth forest was everything genetically needed for wild salmon survival.
Stock salmon cannot survive without human intervention. The overcrowded hatchery conditions in which it grows cause numerous fish body abnormalities and require nutritional supplementation to cover for shortfalls in bone development and other physiological problems.
Protect Whatever Remains
Human cultures rose around the salmon, which has fed and continues to feed a lot of people. In the wild, its orange flesh color comes from its consumption of shrimp and krill and the absorption of these carotenoids into its tissues. These natural pigments may actually have a protective effect for the salmon, as well as nutritional value for its consumers, humans and bears alike. Pellet-fed, farmed salmon must be supplemented to obtain its pink color.
Native, indigenous, wild Atlantic salmon, its distinguished clans and tribes, did not need human help to survive and yet we have lost the salmon to our anthropogenic ways, to overfishing, fish farming, dam construction, inbreeding, poor stock management and environmental degradation. And from these genetically eroded hills has been created a hatchery-dependent, diluted salmon, an inflexible, non-diverse and certainly not wild, genetic copy of salmon that we fish, farm, release and eat and even feed to our pets every day.
More than 99 percent of Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., live only as genetically eroded, hatchery stock fish today. That is a most sobering statistic considering the engineering of the Pacific Chinook salmon growth hormone into the Atlantic salmon genome (see my earlier article here). Whatever remnants still exist of our wild salmon populations must be protected without exception, especially given the potential introduction of a new, genetically engineered salmon to our frankly fragile food web.
Moreover, the pollution and operation of inland fish tanks is costly. At this point in the Anthropocene, conservation interests may want to rise up another step against the introduction of industrialized, non-native food species (call them what you will) into the only biosphere we have in which to live, until we are able to halt any further species genetic erosion. Salmon has been swimming upstream against the depleting force of “genetic erosion” for at least a century, a force that has claimed its wild genome, its clans and its tribes, its genetic diversity and which has nearly eliminated a once self-sustaining, powerful ocean species. Now, salmon cannot live without us.
Atlantic salmon is essentially extinct because we have demanded too much of this natural resource through over-consumption and environmental exploitation. The wild gene forest that once lived, the old trees, the towering antiquarians of genetic variation, are gone, lost in the fire of a rapid, wholesale, industrial Homo sapiens taking, consumed in an anthropocentric fire we could even see burning, when one looks at the timeline of scientific data.
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Image: Stuart Rankin via Flickr
By Tim Radford
Scientists poring over military and satellite imagery have mapped the unimaginable: a network of rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and even a waterfall, flowing over the ice shelf of a continent with an annual mean temperature of more than -50C.
In 1909 Ernest Shackleton and his fellow explorers on their way to the magnetic South Pole found that they had to cross and recross flowing streams and lakes on the Nansen Ice Shelf.
Now, U.S. scientists report in the journal Nature that they studied photographs taken by military aircraft from 1947 and satellite images from 1973 to identify almost 700 seasonal networks of ponds, channels and braided streams flowing from all sides of the continent, as close as 600km to the South Pole and at altitudes of 1,300 meters.
And they found that such systems carried water for 120km. A second research team reporting a companion study in the same issue of Nature identified one meltwater system with an ocean outflow that ended in a 130-meter wide waterfall, big enough to drain the entire surface melt in a matter of days.
In a world rapidly warming as humans burn ever more fossil fuels, to add ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, researchers expect to observe an increase in the volume of meltwater on the south polar surface. Researchers have predicted the melt rates could double by 2050. What isn't clear is whether this will make the shelf ice around the continent—and shelf ice slows the flow of glaciers from the polar hinterland—any less stable.
"This is not in the future—this is widespread now, and has been for decades," said Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led the research.
"I think most polar scientists have considered water moving across the surface of Antarctica to be extremely rare. But we found a lot of it, over very large areas."
The big question is: has the level of surface melting increased in the last seven decades? The researchers don't yet have enough information to make a judgment.
"We have no reason to think they have," Dr Kingslake said. "But without further work, we can't tell. Now, looking forward, it will be really important to work out how these systems will change in response to warming, and how this will affect the ice sheets."
Many of the flow systems seem to start in the Antarctic mountains, near outcrops of exposed rock, or in places where fierce winds have scoured snow off the ice beneath. Rocks are dark, the exposed ice is of a blue colour, and during the long days of the Antarctic summer both would absorb more solar energy than white snow or ice. This would be enough to start the melting process.
The Antarctic is already losing ice, as giant floating shelves suddenly fracture and drift north. There is a theory that meltwater could be part of the fissure mechanism, as it seeps deep into the shelves.
But the companion study, led by the polar scientist Robin Bell of the Lamont-Doherty Observatory suggests that drainage on the Nansen Ice Shelf might help to keep the ice intact, perhaps by draining away the meltwater in the dramatic waterfall the scientists had identified.
"It could develop this way in other places, or things could just devolve into giant slush puddles," she said. "Ice is dynamic, and complex, and we don't have the data yet."
This time, the Department of Energy (DOE) has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.
The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—which could face deep funding cuts under Trump's budget proposal—has made "extensive changes and reorganizations" on websites for the Bioenergy Technologies Office, the Wind Energy Technologies Office and the Vehicle Technologies Office, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), a coalition of academics and nonprofits that has tracked changes to federal websites ever since Donald Trump took office.
Environmental Data and Governance Initiative
As The Washington Post explained:
"Under the Obama administration, these offices' websites emphasized the importance of cutting down on U.S. carbon emissions and reducing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels—a message in keeping with President Barack Obama's push to address climate change.
"But with the Trump administration de-emphasizing climate change and looking to promote climate-friendly and carbon-intensive energy sources—an agenda that coincides with a broad attempt to eliminate regulations on fossil fuels and particularly on coal—the priorities outlined on these offices' Web pages have been shifting since the inauguration."
For instance, on the wind technology office page, this sentence was entirely removed:
"Wind power is an emission-free and water-free renewable energy source that is a key component to the Administration's renewable electricity generation goals."
Instead, the new wording emphasizes the potential of wind for U.S. jobs and economic growth. For example, this sentence was added:
"Wind energy currently supports more than 100,000 U.S. jobs, and wind turbine technician is the nation's fastest-growing occupation. According to industry experts, the U.S. wind industry is expected to drive over $85 billion in economic activity from 2017 to 2020, and wind-related employment is expected to reach 248,000 jobs in all 50 states by 2020."
This, of course, is true. The renewable energy sector has been a major boon to the nation's job growth and even the DOE can't ignore that.
However, the Rick Perry-led agency gives little weight to the clear environmental benefits of renewable energy.
Take the wind technology office's "WHY IT MATTERS" description. The EDGI noticed that the wording changed from how wind can "help the nation reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, diversify its energy supply, provide cost-competitive electricity to key regions across the country, and reduce water usage for power generation" to how wind "helps the nation increase its competitiveness, diversify its energy supply, increase energy security and independence, reduce emissions of air pollutants, save water that would otherwise be used by thermal power generation, and provide cost-competitive electricity across the country."
Another subtle change was, "creating long-term, sustainable skilled jobs" to "creating long-term skilled jobs." Notice the difference?
As the Washington Post puts it:
"Together, the changes collectively downplay the climate benefits of each form of technology and distance the agency from the idea that they might be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, instead emphasizing their economic advantages. It's a move that's well in line with the Trump administration's generally dismissive attitude toward the issue of climate change."
"We are in a race against time to save our coast, and it is time we make bold decisions," Edwards said. "The Louisiana coast is in a state of crisis that demands immediate and urgent action to avert further damage to one of our most vital resources."
More than half of Louisiana's 4.65 million residents live on the coast. "Parts of our state remain unprotected from or vulnerable to future hurricane and flood events," Edwards emphasized, and estimated that 2,250 square miles of coastal Louisiana will be lost in the next 50 years unless immediate action is taken.
Edwards attributed the problem to factors including climate change, sea level rise, subsidence, hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, disconnecting the Mississippi River from coastal marshes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Louisiana is still reeling from last August's historic flooding, which killed 13 people and caused more than $8 billion in damage. The Shreveport Times reported in January that Edwards was vigorously seeking more federal flood recovery funding beyond the $1.6 billion, which was finally made available last week.
According to The Advocate, Edwards "is seeking $2.2 billion in additional federal flood aid, nearly half of which would go toward homeowner assistance programs."
Also on Wednesday, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority approved the 2017 Coastal Master Plan and the 2018 Annual Plan, in which spending priorities for restoration and protection were identified.
America's Wetland Foundation praised Edwards' announcement and said it could expedite federal help needed to enact coastal restoration projects.
"This declaration of emergency could greatly speed up the process and eliminate delays in permitting for some of these crucial projects," said King Milling, the foundation's chairman. "We urge President Trump to act on this declaration now."
According to the state of emergency announcement:
"Louisiana and its citizens have suffered tremendously as a result of the catastrophic coastal land and wetlands loss, and the threat of continued land loss to Louisiana's working coast threatens the viability of residential, agricultural, energy, and industrial development, and directly affects valuable fish and wildlife production that is vital to the nation;
Louisiana continues to experience one of the fastest rates of coastal erosion in the world, and this complex and fragile ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate—more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."
New Orleans Public Radio WWNO reported that Edwards has written letters to Trump and to Congress, and if Louisiana is to get more federal aid, it could take months.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has an urgent message for Americans, especially for some of our most powerful politicians.
Alongside the video post, Tyson wrote:
"Dear Facebook Universe, I offer this four-minute video on 'Science in America' containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken. As always, but especially these days, keep looking up."
The video shows how the U.S. rose from—as Tyson calls it— a "backwoods country" to "one of the greatest nations the world has ever known" because of science.
"But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me that people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not," he laments.
"When you have an established scientific emergent truth it is true, whether or not you believe in it," he says. "And the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us."
The video then shows debates on heated scientific topics, including GMOs, climate change and vaccines, as well as a clip of Vice President Mike Pence, then a congressman, saying on the House floor, "Let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory."
Tyson says this shift in attitudes is a "recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy."
Watch the video here:
This Saturday's March for Science is inherently connected to the April 29 People's Climate March, climate scientists and environmentalists say: one march is about listening to science, the other is about acting on it.
The March for Science, taking place on Earth Day, will march in defense of truth and scientific fact. A week later, these values will manifest at the People's Climate March where movements for climate, jobs and justice will put forward a vision to build bold solutions that tackle climate change, create and retain fair jobs, and bring forth justice truly for all.
"The Science March is about respecting science, the People's Climate March is about acting on it," said Ploy Achakulwisut, PhD Candidate in Atmospheric Science at Harvard University.
"Science has helped us understand the climate crisis, now we need to demand political action to help solve it. The March for Science calls for science-based policymaking, and the People's Climate March puts this value into practice by opposing Trump's reckless anti-climate agenda, defending the integrity of climate science and democracy, and standing up for justice."
The March for Science and People's Climate March will bring the fight for truth and justice right to the doorstep of the Trump administration. The week of action, dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," will see more than 50 events, including: climate education opportunities and the launch of visionary legislation, youth speak-outs and convergences, direct actions and more.
A series of climate education videos have been developed for use during the "Truth to Justice" week of action. The videos feature 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, actor and activist Maggie Gyllenhaal, renowned climate scientist James Hansen, longtime head of the EPA Environmental Justice program Mustafa Ali, and top atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
Many of the organizers and participants of the March for Science have backgrounds in climate science, and many have been advocating for bold climate action well before the election of Donald Trump.
"The March for Science and the People's Climate March go hand-in-hand," said MIT and Harvard renewable energy modeler Dr. Geoffrey Supran.
"Because attacks on science don't just hurt scientists, they hurt scientists' ability to protect the people, and climate change epitomizes that. When politicians cater to fossil fuel interests by denying the basic realities of climate science and pursuing anti-science climate policy, they endanger the jobs, justice, and livelihoods of ordinary people everywhere. The People's Climate March is about scientists and citizens uniting to protect the people and places we love by demanding that evidence, not ideology, inform policy."
The United Kingdom's grid operator just announced an incredible prediction—April 21 is probably going to be the country's first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution.
"Great Britain has never had a continuous 24 hour period without #coal. Today is looking like it could be the first," according to a tweet from the National Grid's Electricity National Control Centre.
The National Grid confirmed with the Mirror that Friday is on track to be "the first time the UK has been without electricity from coal since the world's first centralized coal fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882."
"The first day without coal in Britain since the industrial revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition," Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian. "A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years' time our energy system will have radically transformed again."
"The direction of travel is that both in the UK and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy. It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritize making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology," Martin added.
Great Britain's use of
renewable energy has vastly expanded in recent years and the country is now a world leader in offshore wind. And last month, the nation's large expanse of solar fields and rooftop panels reached a milestone when the amount of electricity demanded by homes and businesses was lower in the afternoon than at night.
Solar power turned the country's grid demand "upside down," Duncan Burt, National Grid's head of real time operations, explained in a tweet at that time.
Retreat of the Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA, by ~6.5 km between 2009 and 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
The photos appeared in the new paper "Savor the Cryosphere," published in the peer-reviewed GSA Today, a publication of the Geological Society of America. The cryosphere is the Earth's frozen waters.
"We have unretouched photographic evidence of glaciers melting all around the globe," co-author Gregory Baker, adjunct professor of geology at the University of Kansas, said.
"That includes the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica—they're reduced in size. These aren't fancy computer models or satellite images where you'd have to make all kinds of corrections for the atmosphere. These are simply photos, some taken up to 100 years ago, and my co-authors went back and reacquired photos at many of these locations. So it's just straightforward proof of large-scale ice loss around the globe."
Baker's research career centers on geophysical imaging of Earth's subsurface and geoscience education.
Stein Glacier, Switzerland, retreat of ~550 m from 2006 to 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
Photographer James Balog, who was featured in the Emmy Award winning climate change documentary, Chasing Ice, contributed photographs from the Extreme-Ice Survey.
Other co-authors of the paper include Richard Alley, an American geologist who was invited to testify about climate change by Vice President Al Gore; Patrick Burkhart of Slippery Rock University; Lonnie Thompson of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University; and Paul Baldauf of Nova Southeastern University also contributed to the paper.
The team hopes the paper will raise awareness about the world's melting glaciers.
"We have all heard of the impact of melting ice on sea level rise, but the public also need to be aware that places around the world depend on glaciers for their water and are going to come under increasing stress, and we already see how water shortages lead to all kinds of conflict," Baker said.
"The other critical point often overlooked is that when glaciers melt we're losing these scientific archive records of past climate change at specific locations around the Earth, as if someone came in and threw away all your family photos."
Solheimajokull, Iceland, retreat of ~625 m from 2007 to 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
"Glacier ice contains fingerprint evidence of past climate and past biology, trapped within the ice," Baker continued.
“Analyzing ice cores is one of the best ways to analyze carbon dioxide in the past, and they contain pollen we can look at to see what kind of plant systems may have been around. All of this information has been captured in glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years, and sometimes longer—Greenland and Antarctica cover perhaps up to a million years. The more that glacial ice melts, the more we're erasing these historical archives that we may not have measured yet in some remote glaciers, or deep in ice caps, that can tell us the history of the Earth that will be gone forever."
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