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NOAA Forecast: Great Barrier Reef Could Face Third Mass Bleaching Event in 4 Years
For any nature lover, one of the most sobering pieces of information from this month's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was that global warming of just two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels could kill off 99 percent of tropical coral reefs. And even if we act quickly and successfully limit warming to 1.5 degrees, 70 to 90 percent of these invaluable ecosystems will still be lost.
Now, an alarming forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that process could begin as early as this Australian summer in one of the most iconic reefs of all: the Great Barrier Reef.
The forecast shows a 60 percent chance that the entire reef will face extreme heat stress and coral bleaching between November 2018 and February 2019.
"This is really the first warning bells going off that we are heading for an extraordinarily warm summer and there's a very good chance that we'll lose parts of the reef that we didn't lose in the past couple of years," marine biologist and Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland Director Ove Hoegh-Guldberg told The Guardian. "These are not good predictions and this is a wake-up call."
The forecast further warns that the southern half of the reef has a 60 percent chance of experiencing a level two bleaching event, at which point coral death is likely, Australia's ABC reported.
The Great Barrier Reef suffered back-to-back bleaching events for the first time in 2016 and 2017, which killed 50 percent of the coral in shallow waters. If the reef suffers bleaching again in 2019, it will be the third time in four years, a frequency not predicted until the second half of the 21st century.
Coral bleaching data for part of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017.NOAA
Bleaching is what happens when waters get so warm that corals expel the algae that live inside them, providing them with nutrients. If the water does not cool and the algae does not return in time, the coral starves.
However, NOAA scientists said there was still hope that forecasts could change.
"Lots of things, including major weather patterns, can change the probabilities over the next three months," Dr Mark Eakin, the head of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch, told ABC. "I wouldn't say dire yet, but it is concerning."
In 2016, for example Cyclone Winston cooled water temperatures enough to save the southern part of the reef from bleaching. Eakin noted that predictions for March, when coral bleaching is most likely to occur, are still unclear.
The Australian government said they took the forecast seriously.
"We acknowledge that climate change has an impact on the reef," Australia Environment Minister Melissa Price told The Guardian. "That's one of the reasons that Australia is working with other countries to tackle climate change through the Paris agreement, and we will deliver on the commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030."
However, the most recent report showed Australia's greenhouse gas emissions were rising, and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told SkyNews that the country would continue to use its coal reserves despite the IPCC report.
"How much more of the Great Barrier Reef has to die before the Federal Government acts on climate change,"AMCS spokesperson Imogen Zethoven asked in a press release. "While our Reef is in danger, our politicians continue to ignore the issue of climate change with no credible plan to reduce pollution."
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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.