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5 Things to Know About Earth’s Warming Oceans
By Tara Lohan
Part of Joellen Russell's job is to help illuminate the deep darkness — to shine a light on what's happening beneath the surface of the ocean. And it's one of the most important jobs in the world right now.
Russell is a professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the University of Arizona. From that dry, landlocked state, she's become a leading expert on how the climate is changing in the Southern Ocean — those vast, dark waters swirling around Antarctica.
"This is an age of scientific discovery," she says. But also, "it's very scary what we're finding out."
Researchers like Russell have been ringing alarm bells in report after report warning that the world's ocean waters are dangerously warming. Most of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gas emissions we've spewed into the air for decades has actually been absorbed by the ocean. Over the past 25 years, that heat amounts to the equivalent of exploding 3.6 billion Hiroshima-sized atom bombs, according to Lijing Cheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of a new study on ocean warming.
Now we're beginning to witness the cascading repercussions of that oceanic warming — from supercharged storms to dying coral reefs to crashing fisheries.
There's still a lot left to learn about these problems, but here's a look at some of the top findings from researchers, along with what they hope to uncover next.
1. Yes, It’s Definitely Getting Warmer
There's no doubt among scientists that the ocean is heating and we're driving it.
The latest confirmation is the study by Cheng and colleagues, published this month in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, which bluntly stated, "Ocean heating is irrefutable and a key measure of the Earth's energy imbalance."
The study found ocean waters in 2019 were the warmest in recorded history. And that follows a pattern: The past decade has also seen the warmest 10 years of ocean temperatures, and the last five years have been the five warmest on record.
"Every year the ocean waters get warmer, and the reason is because of the heat-trapping gases that humans have emitted into the atmosphere," says John Abraham, one of the study's coauthors and a professor in mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas. "It's concerning for sure."
2. The Southern Ocean Has Been Hit Worst
Much of this warming occurs between the surface and a depth of 6,500 feet. It's happening pretty consistently across the globe, but some areas have experienced higher rates of warming. One of those is the Southern Ocean, which has acted as a giant sink, absorbing 43 percent of our oceanic CO2 emissions and 75 percent of the heat, scientists have concluded.
That's because the ocean basin functions like an air conditioner for the planet, says Russell. Strong winds pull up cold water from deep below, and then the cold surface water takes up some heat from the air. When the winds slow, the water sinks, more cold water rises, and the process repeats.
"The sinking water isn't warm, per se, just a bit warmer than it was when the wind pulled it up," she says. "In this way the Southern Ocean can sequester a lot of heat well below the surface."
For that reason what happens in the Southern Ocean is globally important. And it makes new findings all the more concerning.
Normal upwelling of waters from deep in the Southern Ocean has traditionally brought nutrients to the surface, where they then get moved by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the world's strongest ocean current, to feed marine life in other areas. But new research from Russell and colleagues found that this process will be disrupted as warm waters cause the Southern Ocean's ice sheets to melt even faster. This will change the historical upwelling and could trap nutrients instead of pushing them out.
That, she says, will "begin to starve the global ocean of nutrients."
3. A Lot of Changes Are Happening
As bad as that sounds…there's a lot more.
One of the most obvious results of ocean warming is higher sea levels. That's caused in part because water expands as it warms.
But there's also the effect on sea ice. The warmer the water gets, the more ice melts — as is happening in Antarctica. Not surprisingly rates of global sea-level rise are accelerating. This means more property damage, storm surges, and waves lapping at the heels of our coastal communities.
Warmer waters also mean more supercharged storms. An increase in heat drives up evaporation and adds extra moisture to the atmosphere, causing heavy rains, more flooding and more extreme weather events.
The aftermath of Cyclone Idai, one of the deadliest storms in history, in Mozambique, March 2019. Denis Onyodi / IFRC / DRK / Climate Centre / CC BY-NC 2.0
it can make drier conditions worse, too. When air rises and cools below the dew point, it turns into clouds or precipitation. "But in places like Arizona or Australia, where rain is generally formed when air is pushed upward over mountains, "the warmer atmosphere might not be cold enough to cause rain," explains Russell. "This is how a warmer atmosphere carrying more moisture might actually rain less in some places — contributing to drought and therefore fire."
The recent study in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences identified warming waters as "one of the key reasons why the Earth has experienced increasing catastrophic fires in the Amazon, California, and Australia in 2019 (extending into 2020 for Australia)."
And that's not all.
Warming ocean waters also contribute to the rise of colonies of algae that can produce toxins deadly to wildlife and sometimes people.
These harmful algal blooms pose a problem even way up in the Gulf of Alaska, where the annual algae season has gotten longer, says Rick Thoman, a climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
"That's all, of course, due to warmer water," he says.
The biggest change in the region may be along the coast of the Bering Sea, where water temperatures have historically been too cold for the blooms to occur — but that's starting to change.
"Now the water temperatures are getting up to the point where they're warm enough to support these harmful algal blooms," Thoman says. Toxins from the blooms can work their way up the food chain and have even shown up in some marine mammals in the areas. "People are concerned about whether it's safe to eat their staple foods," he says.
4. Marine Heat Waves Are Getting Worse
While temperatures are rising across the world's oceans, some areas are also seeing dangerous short-term spikes known as marine heatwaves.
Scientists anticipate that these heatwaves, which can be fatal to a long list of sea creatures, will continue to get more severe and more frequent as the ocean warms. By the end of the century, conditions in some areas may be akin to a permanent heatwave.
That's likely to be bad news for everything from seaweed to birds to mammals, and it could result in fundamental changes for food webs and the animals and coastal economies that depend on those resources.
"Collectively, and over time, an increase in the exposure of marine ecosystems to extreme temperatures may lead to irreversible loss of species or foundation habitats, such as seagrass, coral reefs and kelp forests," a December 2019 study in Frontiers in Marine Science found.
And these changes likely aren't far off. These marine heatwaves "will emerge as forceful agents of disturbance to marine ecosystems in the near-future," the researchers wrote.
We're already seeing what that would look like.
Marine heatwaves off Australia have spurred oyster die-offs and losses to the abalone fishery, and one event in 2016 caught the world's attention when it caused severe bleaching of the biodiverse Great Barrier Reef, triggering mass coral deaths.
An aerial view of widespread coral bleaching in the northern Great Barrier Reef, 2016. Terry Hughes / ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies / CC BY-ND 2.0
And scientists now believe that "the blob," a mass of warm water that persisted off the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska from 2014 to 2016, led to the starvation of an estimated 1 million common murres (Uria aalge) — a normally resilient seabird. The warm waters likely reduced and changed phytoplankton communities — an essential part of the marine food web. But that's not all. The warm waters increased the metabolism — and the appetite — of big fish like pollock and salmon. That demand spike crashed populations of forage fish that murres usually find plentiful.
Most recently a prolonged marine heatwave off the coast of Alaska led to the closure of region's commercial Pacific cod fishery for 2020 — the first time that's ever happened.
"When you cancel whole fisheries, that really impacts people's lives and livelihoods," says Thoman.
5. What We Don’t Know
Scientists have enough information now to tell us that we need to quickly change course. But there's still a lot to learn about how warming temperatures will affect myriad species in the sea, not to mention weather patterns and coastal economies.
One current line of research is to better understand how ocean warming affects weather.
"We know that a warmer ocean means more water evaporates into the atmosphere," says Abraham. "Consequently, it makes the weather more severe because humidity drives storms. We would like to quantify this. So how much worse is weather now and how bad will it be?"
Some of that information will come from existing systems.
"We live in a time of great change, and the ocean is telling us these stories mostly through our incredible Argo floats," says Russell. This global network of nearly 3,900 floating sensors can measure temperature, salinity and pressure at varying depths across the world's oceans.
But in the Southern Ocean, Russell works with an even more advanced group of biogeochemical sensors. They measure nitrates, which can tell researchers about the building blocks of nutrients for the food web. They also measure oxygen, "how the ocean is breathing," she says, and pH, which helps tell the carbon content of the water.
Russell says she'd like to see this technology put to use in more waters around the world.
"We're trying to get a global biogeochemical Argo array, but so far haven't gotten funding for it," she says. "I'm desperate to see the rest of the ocean because it's all connected and it's mixing quickly."
The Arctic, she says, is one place where this technology would play a particularly valuable role.
"It's so shallow in many places, and under ice for so much of the year, that we haven't really been able to get a big float array up there," she says. "But the Arctic is critical to our national interest and it's relatively unstudied. Can you imagine that, in this day and age?"
There's plenty to keep researchers busy, but the rest of us also need to act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because, the researchers of the Advances in Atmospheric Sciences study concluded, the oceans are so vast that they'll require years to dissipate all of this excess heat and register the changes we're starting to make today. Cutting emissions, they wrote, is the only way to reduce "the risks to humans and other life on Earth."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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