Ocean Warming Is 'Greatest Hidden Challenge of Our Generation'
By International Union for Conservation of Nature
A new International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, Explaining ocean warming: causes, scale, effects and consequences, sets out the most recent and comprehensive review to date on this topic and shows a complex story of change in the ocean. This change is underway, often already locked in for many decades to come and has already begun to impact people's lives.
This is no longer a single story of ocean warming challenges to coral reefs, but a rapidly growing list of alarming changes across species at ecosystem scales and across geographies spanning the entire world. It is pervasive change, driven by ocean warming and other stressors already operating in ways we are only beginning to understand, where essential gaps in marine data, systems and capabilities are leaving the world poorly prepared to cope in the future.
Ocean warming may well turn out to be the greatest hidden challenge of our generation. More than 93 percent of the enhanced heating since the 1970s resulting from human activities has been absorbed by the ocean and data show a sustained and accelerating upward trend in ocean warming. The scale of ocean warming depicted in the report is truly staggering: If the same amount of heat that has gone into the top 2 km of the ocean between 1955 and 2010 had instead gone into the lower 10 km of the atmosphere, the Earth would have seen a warming of 36 C.
Compiled for IUCN by 80 scientists in 12 countries, the report explores the impacts of ocean warming on ecosystems and species and on the every-day benefits derived from the ocean—its "goods and services."
Major changes caused by ocean warming and other stressors described in the report include impacts on entire ecosystems from polar to tropical regions, predicted to increase further in scale, stretching from accessible coasts to the deep ocean seabed; entire groups of species such as plankton, jellyfish, fish, turtles and seabirds being driven by up to 10 degrees of latitude towards the Earth's poles to keep within reasonable environmental conditions; loss of breeding grounds for groups such as turtles and seabirds, and impacts on the breeding success of birds and sea mammals; and seasonality shifts by plankton, leading to potential mismatch between plankton species with fish and other marine wildlife.
We now know that the changes in the ocean are happening between 1.5 and 5 times faster than those on land. Such range shifts are potentially irreversible, with great impacts on ecosystems. What this will result in, decades down the line, is less clear. It is an experiment where, rather than being a casual observer in the lab, we have unwittingly placed ourselves inside the test-tube.
The report also describes the inadequacy of current knowledge, capabilities and capacity to adequately study ocean warming and to advise and cope with the associated challenges. The global community is increasingly committing itself to a high-carbon future which it is poorly equipped to understand, let alone cope with. The impacts are already outstripping what is fully understood and the capacity of the global community to act.
The world, perhaps distracted by the bustle of daily issues on land, has been ignoring the impact climate change has been having on the largest living space on the planet—the ocean. The ocean lies at the heart of the climate system and it must now lie at the heart of climate discussions. Through the implementation of the Paris agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, parties should now consider ocean impacts in the so-called "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs) outlining national best efforts towards a sustainable low carbon future. It is now critical to address atmospheric CO2—the root cause of these and so many other problems—and achieve rapid and significant reductions of what we emit.
The report was launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, a key moment to press home the urgency with which such reductions now need to be achieved. We should reflect that we are locking in a worrying warming trend in the ocean, the only ocean we have, on the only world we know, teeming with life. Now is the moment to be wise and act. Future generations will then no doubt thank us for the wisdom of our deeds. In the end, it is perhaps poetic to return to the words of Edward Young: "Be wise today; 'tis madness to defer."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.