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By Alex Kirby
In an unusually stark warning, a leading international scientific body said the Arctic climate is changing so fast that researchers are struggling to keep up. The changes happening there, it said, are affecting the weather worldwide.
As ice melts, the liquid water collects in depressions on the surface and deepens them, forming these melt ponds in the Arctic. These fresh water ponds are separated from the salty sea below and around it.NASA
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said:
"The rate of change is challenging the current scientific capacity to monitor and predict what is becoming a journey into uncharted territory."
The WMO is the United Nations' main agency responsible for weather, climate and water.
"The Arctic is a principal, global driver of the climate system and is undergoing an unprecedented rate of change with consequences far beyond its boundaries," David Grimes, WMO president, said.
"The changes in the Arctic are serving as a global indicator—like 'a canary in the coal mine'—and are happening at a much faster rate than we would have expected," Grimes added.
He was speaking before addressing the first White House Science Ministerial meeting in Washington DC, held to develop international collaboration on Arctic science.
Climate change is causing global average temperatures to rise: 2014, 2015 and the first eight months of 2016 have all been record-breakers. The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the global average, in places even faster: the Canadian town of Inuvik has warmed by almost 4°C since 1948, about four times more than the global figure.
The increasing loss of Arctic sea ice is threatening polar bears across their range; melting sea ice is affecting the Arctic climate in a feedback loop; and scientists expect melting permafrost will release more carbon dioxide and methane.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the Arctic changes had also been a factor in unusual winter weather patterns in North America and Europe. He said the thawing of the permafrost could release vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
"These are part of the vicious circles of climate change which are the subject of intense scientific research," Taalas said.
Despite its certainty that the Arctic is in trouble, the WMO said it is hard to establish the implications of what is happening there. The Arctic makes up about 4 percent of the Earth's surface, but the WMO said it is "one of the most data-sparse regions in the world because of its remoteness and previous inaccessibility. Lack of data and forecasts in the Arctic does impact on the quality of weather forecasts in other parts of the world."
That's a worry which is echoed at the other end of the planet. A study led by Dr. Julie Jones, from the department of geography at the University of Sheffield, UK, says limited data on Antarctica's climate is making it difficult for researchers to disentangle changes caused by human activity from natural climate fluctuations.
It was only when regular satellite observations began in 1979 that measurement of surface climate over the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean became possible, says the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
To gain a longer view, Dr. Jones and her colleagues used a compilation of records from natural archives such as ice cores from the Antarctic ice sheet, which show how the region's climate has changed over the last 200 years.
They confirmed that human-induced changes have caused the belt of prevailing westerly winds over the Southern Ocean to shift towards Antarctica.
But they conclude that for other changes, including regional warming and sea ice changes, the observations since 1979 are not yet long enough for the signal of human activity to be clearly separated from the strong natural variability.
The shift in the westerly winds has moved rainfall away from southern Australia. This year is set to be the country's hottest on record.
"The Antarctic climate is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces still missing," Dr. Jones said. "There are some parts of the picture which are clear, particularly the way that climate change is causing westerly winds to shift southwards, but there are still huge gaps that we need to fill in order to fully understand how much human activity is changing weather in the region."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
By Kerstin Palme
Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.