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A wildfire near the Kemerköy coal-fired power plant in Turkey on Aug. 4, 2021. YASIN AKGUL / AFP via Getty Images

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization released its annual State of the Climate report on Wednesday, and the result is a grim account of the progression of the climate crisis.

The report found that four key climate indicators broke records in 2021: greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean acidification, ocean temperature and sea level rise. 

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization released its annual State of the Climate report on Wednesday, and the result is a grim account of the progression of the climate crisis.

The report found that four key climate indicators broke records in 2021: greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean acidification, ocean temperature and sea level rise. 

“Today’s State of the Climate report is a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption. Fossil fuels are a dead end – environmentally and economically,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in response to the report, as The Guardian reported. 

A WMO press release outlined how human activity led to broken climate records.

Greenhouse gas concentrations: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 413.2 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, which is 149 percent of pre-industrial concentrations. There are indications that carbon dioxide levels have continued to climb since. They reached 419.05 ppm in April 2021 and 420.23 ppm in April 2022 according to monthly measurements taken at Mona Loa, Hawaii. 

Ocean Acidification: The ocean absorbs approximately 23 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, and this acidifies the ocean, lowering its pH and harming marine life. The ocean’s pH is now likely at its lowest in 26,000 years. 

Ocean Heat: The ocean also absorbs around 90 percent of the heat trapped in the atmosphere because of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. The heat content of the upper 2,000 meters (approximately 6,562 feet) of the ocean reached a record high in 2021. 

Sea Level Rise: Mean sea level rise reached its highest level yet in 2021. It has risen by an average of 4.5 millimeters per year between 2013 and 2021, more than double the rate between 1993 and 2002. This increased rate is mostly because of melting from ice sheets.

The report also saw evidence of climate change in other key indicators. The past seven years were the seven hottest on record. 2021 was cooler than it might have been otherwise because it began and ended with a La Niña event, but this typically cooling weather pattern didn’t reverse the overall warming trend. The average global temperature in 2021 was 1.11 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said in the press release. “Our climate is changing before our eyes.” 

The report also focused on extreme weather events, which the press release called the “day-to-day ‘face’ of climate change.” A heat wave in British Columbia, Canada saw temperatures spike to 49.6 degrees Celsius and killed more than 500 people, and heat waves also broke or equaled records in California and the Mediterranean. Devastating flooding cost $17.7 billion in China’s Henan province and more than $20 billion in Germany. 

Guterres took the opportunity to call for investments in renewable energy. 

“The only sustainable future is a renewable one,” he said, as The Guardian reported. “The good news is that the lifeline is right in front of us. Wind and solar are readily available and, in most cases, cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels. If we act together, the renewable energy transformation can be the peace project of the 21st century.”

However, UN officials also criticized governments for failing to act on the climate crisis. They observed that the emergency had been displaced in the news by issues like the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Reuters reported. 

“We are… seeing many choices being made by many major economies which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Guterres’s special adviser on climate action Selwin Hart told reporters, according to Reuters.

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Noyo Center for Marine Science

A mysterious deep-sea whale washed up on a California beach on Sunday. 

The 16-foot beaked whale was discovered by a passerby at Mendocino County’s Jug Handle State Natural Reserve near Fort Bragg, which is 3.5 hours north of San Francisco, SFGate reported. Because beaked whales live deep beneath the waves and can dive down as far as 10,000 feet, scientists seldom get a chance to observe them.

A mysterious deep-sea whale washed up on a California beach on Sunday. 

The 16-foot beaked whale was discovered by a passerby at Mendocino County’s Jug Handle State Natural Reserve near Fort Bragg, which is 3.5 hours north of San Francisco, SFGate reported. Because beaked whales live deep beneath the waves and can dive down as far as 10,000 feet, scientists seldom get a chance to observe them.

“It’s so rare for people to see them that it’s a really important stranding,” Moe Flannery, senior collections manager of ornithology and mammalogy at the Cal Academy of Sciences, told SFGate. “They’re not seen very often — alive or dead.”

Beaked whales have an unusual appearance with tiny flippers and long rows of teeth, Newsweek reported. They look somewhat like dolphins and are sometimes called giant bottlenose whales. Scientists still don’t know very much about them because they live at depths of around 3,300 feet below sea level. They can also dive deeper than any other marine mammal, the Noyo Center for Marine Science said on Facebook. 

Scientists still don’t know why the whale ended up on the beach or even which of the 22 species of beaked whale it is, according to Newsweek. However, Flannery told SFGate it was probably a Hubbs’ or a Stejneger’s beaked whale. The Noyo Center for Marine Science worked with the Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito to conduct a necroscopy to learn more.

“I think it’s sometimes very humbling to see these animals washed ashore and to get a really good look at them so close, versus being in the water or seeing it on video,” Trey Petrey, the Noyo Center’s interpretive facilities manager, told SFGate. “It’s kind of heart-breaking to see them dead, but it’s a good experience in terms of anyone interested in marine science to have the opportunity to see a specimen like that.” 

Petrey said the whale appeared to have trauma near its jaw, but the scientists need to examine the body more closely to determine its cause. 

Generally, marine mammals end up stranded because they fall ill and become too weak to swim, because they get caught in fishing gear or because they get rammed by ships, according to Newsweek. However, strandings can also be an opportunity for scientists. 

“Strandings provide scientists with important information on the biology and health of marine mammals and, in turn, the health of our marine ecosystems,” the Noyo Center wrote on Facebook. “They provide basic information on the biology and ecology of marine mammal species, such as an animal’s range, age, the types of prey it consumes, and the occurrence of diseases within populations. Strandings also provide important information on human impacts to marine mammals.” 

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A shopper looks at a shelf of packaged foods at a grocery store in Bangkok, Thailand. ROMEO GACAD / AFP via Getty Images

As food processing and packaging has become increasingly more complex, the question, “What’s in our food?” has become harder to answer. A team of international scientists has compiled a new database of 3,240 potentially harmful chemicals that have been measured in “food contact materials (FCMs),” like packaging and processing equipment, utensils and reusable food containers. Sixty-five percent of these chemicals had not previously been known to be used in FCMs, according to a report released by the Switzerland-based nonprofit Food Packaging Forum.

The report, “Systematic evidence on migrating and extractable food contact chemicals: Most chemicals detected in food contact materials are not listed for use,” was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

As food processing and packaging has become increasingly more complex, the question, “What’s in our food?” has become harder to answer. A team of international scientists has compiled a new database of 3,240 potentially harmful chemicals that have been measured in “food contact materials (FCMs),” like packaging and processing equipment, utensils and reusable food containers. Sixty-five percent of these chemicals had not previously been known to be used in FCMs, according to a report released by the Switzerland-based nonprofit Food Packaging Forum.

The report, “Systematic evidence on migrating and extractable food contact chemicals: Most chemicals detected in food contact materials are not listed for use,” was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

“Food packaging is important for today’s globalized food system, but food contact materials (FCMs) can also be a source of hazardous chemicals migrating into foodstuffs. Assessing the impacts of FCMs on human health requires a comprehensive identification of the chemicals they contain,” the report said.

In compiling the database, the scientists used information from 1,210 studies and found that 2,881 FCMs had been found previously, which they organized into six FCM groups, including plastics, metal, paper and board, glass and ceramic, “multi-materials” and what they categorized as “other FCMs.”

Many of the chemicals that make it into our food, like PFAS, phthalates, bisphenols and heavy metals, are known to be harmful, but not a lot is known about many of the others, including how they affect people.

Co-author of the report Pete Myers, who is the founder of nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Health Sciences and chief scientist of the organization, said the chemicals are sometimes added to food intentionally by manufacturers, but other times their presence is unintended, reported The Guardian. The problem is, the unknown chemicals are ending up in the bodies of consumers.

“If we don’t know what it is, we don’t know its toxicity,” said Myers, as The Guardian reported. “The mix of chemicals is just too complicated to allow us to regulate them safely.”

Some of the chemicals are what are called oligomers, molecular by-products of the plastics production process that are made up of smaller building blocks known as monomers, reported myScience.

“It’s difficult to look for them because they aren’t deliberately added – they are unexpected by-products,” said molecular and systems toxicologist professor Alex Odermatt of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Basel, who was a co-author of the study, as myScience reported. Odermatt said that, because of this, their concentration and level of safety wasn’t known.

Odermatt said that understanding the behavior of oligomers is still in the early stages.

“The assumption was that because they are larger molecules, it’s harder for them to enter the human body, or they are rapidly broken down into their monomers in the body – but this hasn’t been proven yet,” Odermatt said, as reported by myScience.

Associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley Alastair Iles, who wasn’t involved with the study, said that many of the unidentified chemicals are likely to be unhealthy, The Guardian reported.

“The report only underlines our gross ignorance when it comes to the chemicals that people are being exposed to every day,” said Iles, as reported by The Guardian. “If we didn’t know that there were so many chemicals in packages, what does that say about our knowledge about chemical risks?”

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