We Are Failing to Protect the Arctic From the Climate Crisis, Report Card Shows
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its 14th annual Arctic Report Card Tuesday, and the results are grim.
The average land temperature between October 2018 and August 2019 was the second-warmest on record since 1900, sea ice extent at the end of the summer was at its second lowest since satellite observations began and the Greenland ice sheet melted at rates that rivaled the record melt year of 2012.
"If I had gotten a report card like this as a kid, I would have been grounded," Dr. Donald Perovich, a professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College who led the writing of the sea ice chapter, told The New York Times. "It's not showing much improvement at all. Things are getting worse."
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and this has major consequences for the ecosystems and indigenous communities it supports, as well as for the whole Earth. That is why NOAA produces the report card every year. This year's efforts combined the expertise of 81 scientists from 12 countries, according to a NOAA press release.
"The speed and trajectory of the changes sweeping the Arctic, many occurring faster than anticipated, makes NOAA's continued investment in Arctic research and activities all the more important," Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA Timothy Gallaudet said in the release.
The report shone a special light on the Bering Sea, which suffered from record low winter sea ice in both 2018 and 2019, InsideClimate News reported. This makes it harder for the more than 70 indigenous communities that call the region home to sustain themselves, according to an essay by the Bering Sea Elders Group, included in the report. Less sea ice makes hunting and fishing more difficult.
"The way that the lower 48 relies on, say, citrus or grapes or the potato as garden food sources, the Bering Sea, when the sea ice comes, it is our garden," Bering Sea Elders Group member Mellisa Johnson told The New York Times. "It is our way of life."
At the same time, melting permafrost is causing sinkholes, and the lack of sea ice makes storm surges more intense. This puts homes and other structures at risk, the elders wrote.
But the thawing permafrost isn't just a local problem. Scientists have long worried that the carbon stored in the permafrost could release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere as it melts, The Washington Post explained. There is almost twice the amount of carbon stored in Arctic soil as there are greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. It won't all be released just yet, but the report suggests that the Arctic has now become a net emitter of greenhouse gasses. The region's permafrost could be emitting between 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, roughly equivalent to Japan or Russia's 2018 emissions.
Ted Schuur, a Northern Arizona University researcher who wrote the chapter on permafrost, said that the Arctic's permafrost emissions were equal to less than 10 percent of what is released by the burning of fossil fuels every year, but any new source of carbon dioxide makes lowering emissions more difficult.
"We've crossed the zero line," he told The Washington Post.
Fisheries are also changing. As Bering Sea ice melts, Arctic fish like Pacific Cod migrate farther north and southern species like northern rock sole move in.
"This is a big change to the ecosystem," NOAA Fisheries research biologist Lyle Britt told The Washington Post.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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