Saturday, 31 December 2016

Record rainfall closes Australia's Uluru national park

A record amount of rainfall in Australia has closed its famous national park at Uluru in what meteorologists described as a "twice a century" weather event.

Waterfalls have formed all over the park's huge sandstone landmark, which is also known as Ayers Rock and is among Australia's top tourist attractions in the Northern Territory.

"There's a lot of water coming off the rock and what that does is just channels across the ring road around Uluru," said park ranger Mike Misso.

"Some of those roads there were flooded by about 300-400mm of rain. Quite spectacular but very hazardous road conditions."

Rangers were forced to close the park at 9am on Boxing Day due to flooded roads and a risk of car accidents.

The heavy rain also led to flash flooding in the nearby town of Kintore, which saw 25 houses flooded and forced dozens to evacuate the area.

"There's a significant number of houses that have been affected by flooding in some capacity," Acting Superintendent Pauline Vicary told ABC News.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

World first solar panel roadway opens in French town

It may be situated in a small French village that doesn't see that much sun, but the Normandy town of Tourouvre has opened the world's first solar roadway, bringing the hugely popular idea into reality.

The notion of paving roadways with solar panels to meet our energy needs is very appealing, but for the longest time it has remained largely a theoretical one.
The newly launched French roadway is just one kilometre long but that works out to be 2800 square metres of photovoltaic cells - enough, theoretically, to power the village's street lights.

The resin-coated solar panels were hooked up to the local power grid just in time for Christmas as France's Environment Minister Segolene Royal looked on last week.

"This new use of solar energy takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use ... to produce electricity without taking up new real estate," she said in a statement.

The one kilometre road is set to pave the way for to construction of much bigger solar highways in the future.

The minister announced a four-year "plan for the national deployment of solar highways" with initial projects in western Brittany and southern Marseille.

The idea, which is also under exploration in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, is that roadways are occupied by cars only around 20 per cent of the time, providing vast expanses of surface to soak up the sun's rays.

The simple idea bestowes and secondary - and equally important - purpose for roads by allowing them to double as an energy source.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Killer whale found dead off Canada part of endangered population


Killer whale found dead off Canada part of endangered population

Scientists say an orca found dead off the coast of British Columbia belongs to the endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters.

Center for Whale Research scientist Ken Balcomb said yesterday that he and others have confirmed the whale was an 18-year-old male called J-34. They based the identification on photographs and its unique markings.

The orca was seen floating near the shore Tuesday near Sechelt, about 40 miles northwest of Vancouver.

The whale was towed to a beach, and Canadian officials performed a necropsy on Wednesday. The centre is awaiting those results for a cause of death.

Balcomb said in a statement that at least four members of the J pod, one of three families of southern resident killer whales, have died this year. The pod now stands at 25 members. K pod has 19 members and L pod has 35.

He said the killer whales have not been getting enough salmon - their chief food source - for years. He said policymakers should be considering stricter salmon catch limits and strategic dam removals to improve wild salmon populations.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

Huge hole in the ocean floor near Australia could cause catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis A tear in the sea floor 7km deep just north of Australia could cause disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis.

A tear in the sea floor 7km deep just north of Australia could cause disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis.

The tear in the Earth's crust is in the Banda Sea, near Indonesia, and measures about 60,000sq km - roughly the size of Tasmania.

Geologists have now discovered the tear is one of the biggest faults on the planet and is running through the Ring of Fire, an area in the Pacific Ocean where a huge number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

According to the United States Geological Survey, 90 per cent of the world's earthquakes and 81 per cent of the world's worst earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.

The ring extends from New Zealand, around the top of Australia and past Indonesia. It curls around Japan and down the West Coast of the United States before ending at the bottom of South America.
Just last month it became even more evident how dangerous the Ring of Fire could be.

On November 14 Kaikoura was struck by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that casued widespread damage and killed two people.

On November 22, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 shook the Japanese coast of Fukushima prefecture and tsunami waves followed not long after.

This month, 84,000 people were left homeless after an 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck western Indonesia. The earthquake killed more than 100 people.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Humans have now sliced up the Earth's wilderness into 600,000 little pieces

Scientists yesterday provided a global quantification of one of the most pervasive, but least recognised, ways that humans are marring the coherence of the natural world - by building endless numbers of roads.

Roads fragment natural habitats, and the more of them there are, the smaller and more compromised those habitats become. At the same time, roads give humans access to remote, once pristine regions, where they can begin logging, mining, accidentally (or intentionally) starting fires and much else.

In the Amazon rain forest, for instance, the fragmentation of the landscape that occurs because of deforestation - to which roads also contribute - upends the entire nature of the ecosystem. Once sunlight can penetrate into the rain forest from a cleared area to its side, rather than being mostly blocked out by the lush canopy from above, the forest floor dries out, the forest itself heats up, trees collapse more easily, there isn't enough range for many key species, and on and on.

The new study, published in the journal Science by a team of 10 conservation scientists at institutions in Germany, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the United States, used an open-source, citizen science database of global roads. The researchers then combined this with an assessment from the research literature of the size of areas alongside roads that are compromised ecologically by them. This allowed them to count up the world's remaining truly untrammeled areas and assess their number and size.

They defined these areas as starting 1 kilometre away from any road. "There are some effects that go far beyond 1km actually. It's a gradient of course, of impacts fading out, but the majority of problems is occurring in this belt or buffer of 1 kilometre," said Pierre Ibisch, the study's first author and a researcher at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development in Germany.

Using this metric, the study found that the Earth's land areas (excluding Antarctica and Greenland) were 80 percent roadless, which may sound like a good thing - but peering in closer, the researchers found that roads had divided that land area into some 600,000 pieces. More than half of these were less than a square kilometre in area.

Only 7 per cent of the fragments were very large - more than 100 square kilometres in area. Some of the largest untrammeled areas were in the Amazon rain forest, northern or boreal forests, and in Africa.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Warming at the top of the world has gone into overdrive

Warming at the top of the world is happening twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and extending unnatural heating into the northern autumn and winter, according to a new US federal report.

In its annual Arctic Report Card , the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today tallied record after record of high temperatures, low sea ice, shrinking ice sheets and glaciers.

Study lead author Jeremy Mathis, NOAA's Arctic research chief, said it shows long-term Arctic warming trends deepening and becoming more obvious, with a disturbing creep into seasons beyond summer, when the Arctic usually rebuilds snow and ice.

Scientists have long said man-made climate change would hit the Arctic fastest.
Mathis and others said the data is showing that is what's now happening.

"Personally, I would have to say that this last year has been the most extreme year for the Arctic that I have ever seen," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn't part of the 106-page report. "It's crazy."

NOAA's peer-reviewed report said air temperatures over the Arctic from October 2015 to September 2016 were "by far the highest in the observational record beginning in 1900." The average Arctic air temperature at that time was 2C warmer than the 1981-2010 average.

It's 3.5C warmer than 1900.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

New focus for ice-shelf fears in East Antarctica

East Antarctica's massive ice sheet may be more exposed to global warming than long assumed, according to a study yesterday that shows how strong winds can erode ice shelves that help hold it in place.

There is enough frozen water sitting on top of the world's polar continent to raise sea level by dozens of metres and redraw the world map if it melts.

But understanding the dynamics of the region - which includes the much smaller West Antarctica ice sheet - has proven difficult.

Up to now, scientists have focused on the threat of West Antarctica.

Recent studies have suggested that climate change may already have condemned large chunks of its ice sheet to disintegration, whether on a time scale of centuries or millennia.

In contrast, ice covering East Antarctica was seen as far more stable, even gaining mass.

The floating, cliff-like ice shelves straddling land and ocean that prevent inland ice from slipping into the sea, it was thought, were solidly anchored.

That remains largely true. But a mysterious crater on the King Baudoin ice shelf, due south from the tip of Africa, prompted a team of researchers from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to challenge that assumption.

"Our research has shown that East Antarctica is also vulnerable to climate change," said Jan Lenaerts, lead author of the study and a researcher at Utrech

Thursday, 15 December 2016

This stunning Antarctic lake is buried in ice. And that could be bad news

Atop the ice sheet covering the Arctic island of Greenland, you now see dramatic melting in the summer. It forms lakes, rivers and even dangerous "moulins" in the ice where rivers suddenly plunge into the thick ice sheet, carrying water deep below.

East Antarctica is supposed to be different. It is extremely remote and cold. It doesn't see such warm temperatures in the summer - yet - and so its ice tends to remain more pristine.

"Many people refer to East Antarctica as being too cold for significant melt," says Jan Lenaerts, a glaciologist with the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

"I mean there's marginal melt in summer, but there's not a lot."

That's the common wisdom, at least, but it is challenged in a new study in Nature Climate Change, by Lenaerts and his colleagues from universities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. They do so based on research they conducted atop the very large Roi Baudouin ice shelf in East Antarctica, which floats atop the ocean, and where they found a very Greenland-like situation in early 2016.

The researchers had traveled to investigate what had been described as a nearly 2-mile-wide "crater" in the shelf, glimpsed by satellite, which some sources believed had been caused by a meteorite. To the contrary, they found that it was a large, 10 foot deep, icy lake bed. In its center, meanwhile, were multiple rivers and three moulins that carried water deep down into the floating ice shelf.

And even this, perhaps, was not the most dramatic finding. The researchers also drilled through the ice and found what they called "englacial" lakes, sandwiched between the surface of the ice shelf and its base, which is in contact with the ocean beneath it. They found 55 lakes in total on or in the ice shelf, and a number of them were in this buried, englacial format.

This meant that the ice shelf is anything but solid - it had many large pockets of weakness throughout its structure, suggesting a greater potential vulnerability to collapse through a process called "hydrofracturing," especially if lake formation continues or increases. That's bad news because when ice shelves fall apart, the glacial ice behind them flows more rapidly to the ocean, raising sea levels.
But why was all this happening, and here?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reindeer becoming smaller because of global warming, study says

Reindeer are shrinking on an Arctic island near the North Pole in a side-effect of climate change that has curbed winter food for the animals.

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, has fallen to 48kg from 55kg in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life as temperatures rise, experts say.

"Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough," Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland who led the study with Norwegian researchers, said.

Less chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food.

Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young. In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn - a pregnancy lasts about seven months.

Friday, 9 December 2016

There could be just two years left before the North Pole disappears

My 6-year-old asked me about Santa the other day. Luckily, it wasn't the moment where his innocence is shattered forever.

Instead, he was wondering how Santa was going, preparing for his annual voyage around the world, dispensing plastic junk from China to all the world's least-needy kids. (I added the last part, but you get the drift).

I painted the picture that my parents had passed on to me. I explained to him how the night is slowly descending across the North Pole at the moment, and by the time Santa sets off on his sleigh across the ice on Christmas Eve, it will be shrouded in continuous darkness, lit only by his Christmas candles, and one shiny red nose.

My son is very interested in fashion, and so we talked at length about Santa's warm red jacket. The sad thing that I didn't have the heart to tell my son is that, at the moment, Santa's big red jacket is probably too warm for Santa himself, even at the North Pole.
Santa is a fantasy but climate change is not, and it's started to do truly alarming things to the North Pole.

Over the past few weeks the temperature of the North Pole has been 22 degrees hotter than the average temperature for this time of year. That's not a typo. It's not 2.2 degrees hotter. It's 22 degrees Celsius hotter.

The reason it's such a huge difference is because even though night is now falling, the temperature around the poles is still getting hotter rather than colder. That's never happened before. What it means is that the gap between average temperature and this year's temperature is getting wider and wider by the day.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Dead Zone' threat to fisheries in the Indian Ocean

A huge, mysterious 'dead zone' - 60,000 sq km devoid of oxygen and life - has been discovered in the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia.

Such zones have already been found off the coasts of North and South America, western Africa and the Arabian Sea.

But this is the first time one has been found encroaching into South-East Asia.

A study published in the science journal Nature Geoscience reveals a new 'dead zone' appears to be emerging in the Bay of Bengal, in waters extending from 100m to 400m in depth.

Dead zones are normally associated with a lack of oxygen and concentrations of microbes stripping the vital nutrient nitrogen out of the water.

In the case of the Bay of Bengal, no such nitrogen loss has yet been detecte
And traces of oxygen have been found - at levels 10,000 times lower than normal air-saturated surface waters.

While this is less than is needed to support most life, it also impedes nitrogen-harvesting microbes.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Life on the ice: A glimpse of Antarctica

A field training instructor at Antarctica New Zealand's Scott Base has shared a video offering an insight into life on the frozen continent. 

Matt Windsor says his job generally involves providing training for scientists and providing safety support for their projects in the field.

His video chronicles an early summer trip to Granite Harbour, in which his job was to choose a route across the ice and identify and measure the cracks.

But in his downtime there was some fun to be had: his Antarctic leisure activities include kite skiing and snowmobiling.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

No, climate change won't kill us this decade

Guy McPherson, retired professor of conservation biology from the University of Arizona, has been on a speaking tour of New Zealand this month peddling a bleak message: we're going to push the planet's climate system over the edge and we've only got a decade to live.
A prominent New Zealand climate scientist sees no basis for that claim and says such alarmism, which has already generated a slew of scary headlines, is counter-productive to the crucial effort of combating the worst potential effects of climate change while we still can.

Science reporter Jamie Morton talked to James Renwick, a professor of physical geography at Victoria University of Wellington who served as a lead author on the last two IPCC reports and recently co-hosted a Royal Society of New Zealand-sponsored series of public talks on climate change.

What do you make of his claims? Is he misrepresenting climate science?

Misrepresenting - I'm not sure if that's quite the right word.
I've read stuff on his website and I've had a look at some of the papers that he's written and a lot of what he says is quite right and mainstream.

Where we seem to part company is this idea that [humans will be wiped out] in the next 10 years.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Mischievous Kea rearrange road cones on state highway

South Island kea are having fun with motorists by rearranging road cones on a popular tourist route.
The Kea Conservation Trust said the NZ Transport Agency's Milford Alliance team were puzzled to find their road cones in odd places on State Highway 94 at the Homer Tunnel, the entrance to Milford Sound.

After a few weeks they checked the footage from their cameras at each end of the tunnel and made a remarkable, and hilarious, discovery - it was cheeky kea.

The video, labelled The Kea Movie, starts with the road clear of any road cones before a kea can be seen dragging one onto the left hand lane. 

Another one then appears being brought into the middle of the road as cars weave around them, before the Kea again pops out and moves the cone again.

A third road cone is then brought out onto the road and the mischievous kea continue to rearrange the cones, popping out of sight as traffic goes by, before darting out and moving them again.

Friday, 25 November 2016

NZ's sinking and rising landscape

Parts of New Zealand are sinking at faster rates than others and rising faster, a scientist says.

The just-published tectonic research provides new information about how different parts of New Zealand are either rising or subsiding in relation to the centre of the earth.

Data was collected by GeoNet's GPS recorders between 2000 and 2015, and the first map has been produced of relative vertical movements of the Earth's surface based on measurements at 189 places across the country.

Analysis of the data shows that parts of New Zealand, like the North Island's east coast, have subsided by as much as 3mm a year for the past 15 years.

This means this region is effectively subjected to a maximum sea level rise of up to 6mm a year, which is twice the global average.

Co-author Professor Tim Stern, of Victoria University's School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, said other parts of New Zealand were rising.

"For example, along parts of the Bay of Plenty coast, the Whanganui coast and south to the Kapiti region, and along the Otago, Westland and Southland coastlines, there are small rises of 1mm per year or less."

This meant sea level rise in these areas would be less than the global average.

"The data also show inland areas of the South Island and the Southern Alps are rising by up to 6mm per year, while in the Rotorua area there is a remarkable subsidence rate of 15 mm per year.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Kaikoura Quake: How has wildlife fared?

Recent sightings of whales, as well as Hector's and Dusky dolphins, off the coast of Kaikoura have brought immense relief to locals and tour operators.

Forest and Bird marine advocate Anton van Helden was optimistic about the welfare of Kaikoura's many deep-diving species - among them sperm whales, humpback whales, Southern right whales, orca and several dolphin species.

While the submarine Kaikoura Canyon provided a productive ecosystem for whales and dolphins, there were similarly productive habitats elsewhere that could have served as alternatives.

But he expected that, even with considerable uplift around the canyon area - and the potential of landslides - the systems would have been easily large enough to sustain the quake's effects.

"The other thing, with sperm whales, it is only males that would effectively be there at the moment, so this is the time of year when there would be fewer of them in the region."

However, early indications showed Kaikoura's resident fur seals would have fared worse.

At Ohau Point, a large slip had caused heavy damage to a specially protected seal sanctuary, and it was likely some animals would have perished.

"It's too soon to be able to know the full impact that the earthquake will have had on the local population," Department of Conservation science adviser Laura Boren said.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Scientists scratch their heads over Arctic winter

Political people are watching the chaos in Washington at the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else - the Arctic.

It's polar night there now - the sun isn't rising in much of the Arctic. That's when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

But in fall 2016 - which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice - something is totally off. The Arctic is super hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia.

At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic - the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean - is at a record low right now. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn't doing so as rapidly as usual. In fact, the ice's area is even lower than it was during the record-low 2012.

Twitter's expert Arctic watchers are stunned. Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who studies the Arctic, tweeted out an image on Thursday from the Danish Meteorological Institute showing Arctic temperatures about 20C higher than normal above 80 degrees north latitude.
"Today's latest #Arctic mean temperature continues to move the wrong direction ... up. Quite an anomalous spike!," Labe wrote.

"Despite onset of #PolarNight, temperatures near #NorthPole increasing. Extraordinary situation right now in #Arctic, w/record low #seaice," added Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

This is the second year in a row that temperatures near the North Pole have risen to freakishly warm levels.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The North Pole is an insane 20 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends

Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else - the Arctic.

It's polar night there now - the sun isn't rising in much of the Arctic. That's when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

But in fall 2016 - which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice - something is totally off. The Arctic is superhot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia.

At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic - the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean - is at a record low right now. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn't doing so as rapidly as usual.

In fact, the ice's area is even lower than it was during the record-low 2012.

Twitter's expert Arctic watchers are stunned. Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who studies the Arctic, tweeted out an image on Wednesday from the Danish Meteorological Institute showing Arctic temperatures about 20 degrees Celsius higher than normal above 80 degrees North Latitude.

"Today's latest #Arctic mean temperature continues to move the wrong direction ... up. Quite an anomalous spike!," Labe wrote.

"Despite onset of #PolarNight, temperatures near #NorthPole increasing. Extraordinary situation right now in #Arctic, w/record low #seaice," added Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Set for another year of record heat

This year is on track to be the hottest on record, the United Nations forecast yesterday.

Scientists, meanwhile, reported that greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, the main driver of global warming, remained constant for the third year running last year, while the World Bank calculated that 26 million people slip into poverty annually due to natural disasters, reflecting the risks posed by climate change.

All three reports were issued on the sidelines of high-level United Nations climate talks in Marrakesh still reeling from news that Donald Trump, who denies climate change, had captured the White House.

The fact that economic growth and CO2 pollution no longer move in lock-step is an encouraging sign, the scientists said.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Climate warning despite carbon emissions levelling off

Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have been nearly flat for three years in a row - a "great help" but not enough to stave off dangerous global warming, a report said yesterday.

Emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide stayed level last year at 36.3 billion tonnes (GtCO2) and were projected to rise "only slightly", by 0.2 per cent this year, according to the annual Global Carbon Budget report compiled by teams of scientists from around the world.

"This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth," said research leader Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia.

Driven largely by reduced coal use in China, this was a "clear and unprecedented break" with the preceding decade's fast emissions growth, at a rate of some 2.3 per cent per year from 2004 to 2013, before dipping to 0.7 per cent in 2014.

"This is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough," said Le Quere.
For the world's nations to make true on the global pact to limit average global warming to 2C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, emissions must do more than level off, the study found.
A decrease of 0.9 per cent per year was needed to 2030.

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has continued to grow, the report warned, hitting a record level of 23 GtCO2 last year that looked set to reach 25 GtCO2 in 2016.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Extreme weather linked to man-made global warming

Many of the deadly heatwaves and hurricanes, droughts and floods this decade have borne the imprint of man-made global warming, said a series of reports yesterday that warned of worse to come.

United Nations envoys yesterday gathered in Morocco for a second day of talks on putting the Paris Agreement into action.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the half-decade from 2011 to 2015 was the warmest five-year stretch on record, with 2014 and 2015 the hottest of all.

In a report issued on the sidelines of the Marrakesh gathering, it warned of "the increasingly visible human footprint on extreme weather and climate events with dangerous and costly impacts". Climate change "has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods", WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said.

In a separate report, risk analysts Germanwatch said more than half-a-million people worldwide died as a result of almost 11,000 extreme weather events from 1996 to 2015.

These caused damage upwards of US$3 trillion ($3.07t).
Four of the 10 countries hardest hit by extreme weather events last year were in Africa, said Germanwatch.

Poor countries, which contributed least to the planet-warming greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, were least prepared to deal with the fallout - superstorms, extreme drought, heatwaves and flooding.

The Paris Agreement, the world's first universal climate pact, vows to cap global warming to under 2C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, while aiming for 1.5 C.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Record hot year may be new normal by 2025

The hottest year on record globally in 2015 could be an average year by 2025 and beyond if carbon emissions continue to rise at the same rate, new research has found.

An Australian study published today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society indicated that human activities had already locked in this new normal for future temperatures - but immediate climate action could prevent record extreme seasons year after year.

Its lead author, Dr Sophie Lewis of the Australian National University, said if the world continued with business-as-usual emissions, extreme seasons would inevitably be the norm within decades and Australia was the "canary in the coal mine" that would experience the change first.

"This research tells us we can potentially prevent record-breaking season
"If we don't reduce our rate of emissions the record hot summer of 2013 in Australia - when we saw temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius in some areas - could be just another average summer season by 2035," she said

The idea of a "new normal" had been used repeatedly when talking about climate change but had never been clearly defined until Lewis and colleagues developed a scientific definition for the term.
"Based on a specific starting point, we determined a new normal occurred when at least half of the years following an extreme year were cooler and half warmer," she said.

"Only then can a new normal state be declared."

Monday, 7 November 2016

The scientific study that found a direct link between carbon dioxide and shrinking Arctic ice

Drive your car 4000km and its greenhouse gas emissions will melt three square metres of ice on the Arctic Ocean, according to a study that has found a direct link between carbon dioxide and shrinking ice.

Examining long-term trends for ice floating on the ocean since the 1950s, scientists in Germany and the United States projected the ocean around the North Pole would be ice-free in summers by the mid-2040s at current levels of emissions.

In the historical records, they found that every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere meant on average the loss of three square metres of ice in September, when the ice reaches a minimum extent before expanding in winter.

That made it possible to "grasp the contribution of personal carbon dioxide emissions to the loss of Arctic sea ice," scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center wrote in the journal Science.

Each passenger taking a return flight from New York to Europe, or driving a car 4000km, would emit about a tonne of carbon dioxide, they estimated.

A long-term retreat of Arctic sea ice is already causing profound changes, disrupting the lives of indigenous peoples while opening the region to more oil and gas exploration and shipping.

Scientists usually deal in more abstract terms such as billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

United Nations warning ahead of climate talks

The world's nations must urgently ramp up commitments to cut planet-warming carbon emissions to avoid "human tragedy", the United Nations warned yesterday.

As they stand, these commitments - which do not kick in until 2020 - would still allow average global temperatures to climb as high as 3.4C by the end of the century, a recipe for massive climate damage, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in its annual Emissions Gap report.

"If we don't start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy," said UNEP head Erik Solheim.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

How did Sophie the shark elude scientists?

Scientists who sought to solve mysteries about hammerhead sharks were only left with another when one of the first adults ever tagged ended up eluding them.
Last week, eight months after the smooth hammerhead shark was caught and tagged in the Hauraki Gulf, the electronic pop-up tag started transmitting data back via satellite.

But they soon discovered the 3.2m shark, named Sophie, had long since shed the device.
Sophie was hooked at Simpsons Rock, near the Mokohinau Islands, by long-time research collaborators and Auckland fishers Scott and Sue Tindale.

Finding an adult smooth hammerhead shark had been a coup; while previous studies had successfully tracked juveniles, only one other adult in the species had ever been tagged with an electronic tag, and was thought to have died soon after.

"They're hard to find, they're hard to tag and they're quite susceptible to stress and handling," National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (Niwa) marine scientist Dr Malcolm Francis said.
"Elsewhere in the world, it's been found that hammerheads die a lot more easily after capture than a lot of other sharks do."

The scientists had been optimistic about Sophie, which proved a challenge to tag and appeared to be healthy and lively when released.

For Francis - whose Government-funded research has led to stunning new insights into the behaviour and range of hammerhead, mako and great white sharks - the tag presented the first real opportunity to learn where adult smooth hammerhead sharks travel over a year, and why.

Monday, 31 October 2016

World's biggest marine protected area in Antarctic gets green light

A joint New Zealand-US proposal to create the world's largest marine protected area in Antarctic waters has finally got across the line.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully confirmed this afternoon that member countries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) had agreed to the sanctuary in the Ross Sea after talks in Hobart this week.

The marine protected area (MPA) will cover roughly 1.55m square kilometres, of which 1.12m sq km will be a no-take zone.

"New Zealand has played a leading role in reaching this agreement which makes a significant contribution to global marine protection," McCully said.

Now that it has the approval of the 25 countries which govern the Antarctic, the MPA will come into force in December 2017.

It is one of New Zealand's major foreign policy objectives, and it has taken six years of diplomatic wrangling to get all countries to agree to the proposal.

CCAMLR decisions require a consensus, and proposals can fail if any single country objects. Previous attempts to reach agreement have been scuppered by opposition from fishing countries, mainly Russia and Ukraine.

McCully lobbied his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the issue during a recent trip to Moscow.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry - who has a strong interest in marine protected area - had also held talks with Lavrov.
"At a time when relations on so many fronts are difficult with the Russians, some co-operation and a constructive dialogue is very pleasing to us."

NZ's oceans are under rising pressure - report

New Zealand's marine environment is under increasing pressure from climate change, pollution and 
pests, a new Government stocktake has found.

Yet the major report, released this morning by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, fails to show the full impact fishing is having on our oceans.
The paper pin-points three major concerns:

• Global greenhouse gas emissions are causing ocean acidification and warming - changes that will continue for generations.

• Most of our native marine birds and many mammals are threatened with, or at risk of extinction.
• Our coasts are the most degraded of all marine areas, due to sediment and nutrients washed off the land, introduced marine pests, and seabed trawling and dredging.

But it found the full ecological impact of fishing "was not clear" - and did not draw firm conclusions about specific effects of commercial, recreational and customary fishing.

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said our oceans are facing multiple, and cumulative pressures that have been building over generations.

"Our waters have become more acidic from absorbing excess CO2," she said.

"This affects the creatures that live there. Among other things, ocean acidification makes it more difficult for shellfish, like pa and mussels, to form shells."

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Scientists report 'devastating' coral death in new Great Barrier Reef survey

We knew this news was coming, perhaps. Now that it is here, it is no less shocking.

Ever since a historic coral bleaching event hit the treasured Great Barrier Reef in March - courtesy of a dramatic influx of warm water in the region - scientists have been trying to take a toll of the damage. And the latest report, from researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, seems to reaffirm some of the worst fears.

It's important to caution that not all of the evidence is in yet. The Great Barrier Reef is enormous and takes time to survey.

Still it appears that in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, large volumes of corals may have died. That's the part of the reef researchers say was, previously, the most "pristine" - in other words, the least damaged by pollution and other human influences.

"In the area [where] I am, I'm at Lizard Island, about 250 kilometres north of Cannes, around about 80 per cent and upwards of the corals have died," said Andrew Hoey, a senior research fellow with the Centre, during a break yesterday from the ongoing research.

In a press release from the ARC Centre, one of Hoey's colleagues, Greg Torda, said "millions" of corals in the northern sector of the reef have died.

Even though their studies are not complete, the researchers are already asserting that this is far worse than prior bleaching events that occurred in 1998 and 2002.

"The mortality is devastating really," said Hoey. "It's a lot higher than we had hoped."

Thursday, 27 October 2016

These Antarctic glaciers have had staggering ice loss in the past 15 years

Few regions of the world are as unstable in the face of advancing climate change as frozen West Antarctica, where rapidly melting glaciers have scientists on edge about the potential for huge amounts of future sea-level rise.
Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the most rapid ice losses observed in the region in the past 15 years - and it supports a growing scientific belief that warm ocean water is behind the melting.

"[The study] seems to provide a strong piece of evidence to support a general hypothesis about what's happening in the Amundsen Sea," said Ala Khazendar, a polar scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the new paper's lead author.

Much of the focus on West Antarctica centres around the Amundsen Sea region, whose glaciers may already be experiencing irreversible ice loss. The glaciers backing up to this sea have the potential to cause about 1.2m of sea-level rise, and the ice contained in West Antarctica as a whole could raise sea levels by 3m.

Several of the region's largest glaciers have inspired some of the greatest concern. Just last week, US and British science agencies announced a joint multimillion-dollar research mission to study the massive Thwaites Glacier, which scientists believe may already be contributing about 10 per cent of all global sea-level rise. And a recent study on the nearby (and slightly smaller) Pine Island Glacier has documented recent rapid retreat .

Now, research increasingly suggests it's not just atmospheric warming that's causing all the problems in West Antarctica, but the influence of the ocean as well . Many glaciers in this region back right up to the edge of the sea, terminating in what's known as an ice shelf - a ledge of floating ice that's disconnected from the bedrock and juts out into the water, helping to stabilise the glacier and hold back the flow of ice behind it.

Scientists now believe that rising water temperatures may be helping to weaken ice shelves by seeping into the cavities beneath them and lapping up against the exposed ice. If an ice shelf thins or breaks, the glacier behind it begins to pour ice into the ocean and retreat inland. The point where the bottom of the glacier actually joins to the bedrock is known as the grounding line, and scientists often use it as a point of reference to measure how far a glacier has retreated over time.

Scientists believe this is what's driving the retreat of the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. But while these glaciers hold some of the greatest potential to raise sea-levels, smaller glaciers in the area can also offer some important insights into the processes driving ice loss in the region.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Humans blamed for rise in shark attacks

Shark attacks on humans are at a record number with scientists concluding people interfering with the ocean beasts' environment is the main reason for the rise.
Last year, there were 98 unprovoked shark attacks around the world, six of those fatal.
That's 10 more than the previous record of 88 in 2000.

Researchers at Bond University in Queensland have looked at areas where shark attacks are most common, reported The Australian.

Their studies, published in the Ocean & Coastal Management journal, showed that 84 per cent of attacks occurred in six areas - the United States, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, the Bahamas and the [Indian Ocean] island of Reunion.

In the Bahamas, one factor in attacks was the rise in careless shark diving and handfeeding.
Off Reunion, shark populations surged after hunting them was banned - which researchers said could have led to food shortages for the sharks. It coincided with an increase in scuba

More than half the attacks happened in America, with the majority in Florida, in particular around the city of Daytona on surfing beaches.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ancient crater lake in Central Otago offers clues for Antarctica

An ancient crater lake in Central Otago has given a Kiwi scientist a unique insight into how quickly climate change could cause the Antarctic ice sheet to melt.
Fossilised leaves found at Foulden Maar near Middlemarch have been found to contain evidence of a sharp increase in atmospheric CO2 levels associated with a major collapse of the ice sheet 23 million years ago.

University of Waikato paleoclimatologist Dr Beth Fox and colleagues from Columbia University in New York calculated the CO2 levels by studying stomatal cells and carbon isotope ratios in the fossils.

They found CO2 levels rose from about 500 parts per million (ppm) to up to 1550ppm over a geologically short span of less than 10,000 years.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Antarctica: science at the end of the Earth

With global models drawing an ever-clearer picture of unchecked warming, there has never been a more urgent time to answer the big questions about climate change's vast, frozen elephant in the room: Antarctica. As top Kiwi scientists fly south for New Zealand's 60th research season on the ice, science reporter Jamie Morton takes a look at some of the fascinating studies planned for this summer.

1. Antarctica from the air

Antarctica's sea ice, swelling and retreating with the seasons like a breathing organ, plays a crucial yet poorly understood role in our planet's climate system.

The immensely complex natural sequence helps maintain the cold conditions that ultimately sustain the continent, while also influencing storms across the Southern Hemisphere and affecting the amount of heat the Southern Ocean can absorb as the Earth warms.
Experimental observations during the polar winter have shown increased losses of ozone that were caused by solar-generated
But some of the sea ice's most intriguing behaviour isn't captured by the giant Earth System Model (ESM) used to predict our planet's future climate, prompting a team of Kiwi researchers to fill in the gaps.

They'll do it using an airborne electromagnetic device called the "EMBird", which will be slung below a DC3 utility aircraft to map snow and sea ice thickness as it flies over the southwest Ross Sea.

The research team, from Otago University, Canterbury University, the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (Niwa) and US collaborators, wants to tease out the influence on coastal sea ice of the very cold water that emerges from beneath ice shelves, the huge glaciers that float on the ocean.

"We have flown the EMBird from a helicopter before, but it has never been flown below an aircraft in Antarctica," says project leader Professor Pat Langhorne, of Otago University.
"There will be the challenges of the weather and inevitable delays and the preparation of the aircraft - we have to change from skis to wheels and back."
The observations they collect will contribute toward a new part of an improved ESM able to create region-specific forecasts of future climate for New Zealand and its nearest neighbours.
There will be the challenges of the weather and inevitable delays and the preparation of the aircraft - we have to change from skis to wheels and back.
Professor Pat Langhorne

2. Drilling down into the ice world's past

Earth's future sea level - projected to be around a metre higher by 2100, but potentially much higher if carbon emissions continue unabated - is one of the most worrying prospects of climate change.

We know the biggest potential contributor to sea level rise is ice stored in Antarctica - oceans could rise by an estimated average 60m if all of it melted - but scientists still can't put their finger precisely on how the continent is responding.

A collaboration led by Dr Gavin Dunbar, of Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre, is zeroing in on a region thought to be particularly susceptible to collapse in a warmer world.

At the Ross Ice Shelf, near the Kamb ice stream and 1000km from Scott Base, they plan to drill deep into rocks beneath the ocean and ice to reveal a detailed record of the environment in which they were once deposited, millions of years ago.
 "By reading the rock we can get some idea of how extensive the ice was under climates of the past when Earth was warmer than today," Dunbar says.

"This helps us calibrate our computer models that are trying to project how much and how fast sea level will rise in future."

Over November and December, the team will pin-point a drilling target, revealed by generating sound waves with explosives that travel through the ice and rock and bounce back when they hit changing rock type, up to 500m below the surface.

Beyond seeing whether the record will give them the kind of information they're after, the seismic data should also be useful for ongoing studies of Antarctic glaciology and informing the bigger picture of how Antarctica works.

"We also hope to deploy an array of weather stations in this remote part of Antarctic to get some idea of how the atmosphere circulates there for the first time."

The expedition would face the ever-present dangers that come with working in freezing conditions.
"However, the ice shelf itself is probably the most featureless part of Antarctica, so fingers are crossed that we don't get any unpleasant surprises from nature."

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Planet at its hottest in 115,000 years thanks to climate change, experts say

Global warming is said to be bringing temperatures last seen during an interglacial era, when sea level was 6-9 meters (20-30ft) higher than today

In order to meet targets set at last year’s Paris climate accord to avoid runaway climate change, “massive CO2 extraction” costing an eye-watering $104tn to $570tn will be required over the coming century with “large risks and uncertain feasibility” as to its success, the paper states.

“There’s a misconception that we’ve begun to address the climate problem,” said Hansen, who brought climate change into the public arena through his testimony to the US congress in the 1980s. “This misapprehension is based on the Paris climate deal where governments clapped themselves on the back but when you look at the science it doesn’t compute, it’s not true.

“Even with optimistic assumptions (future emissions reduction) will cost hundreds of trillions of dollars. It’s potentially putting young people in charge of a situation that is beyond their control. It’s not clear they will be able to take such actions.”

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

European experts have announced that the winter 2016 – 2017 will be the coldest in the last 100 years as Arctic air masses arrive over the European continent.  

Europeans brace for coldest winter in a century

European experts have announced that the winter 2016 – 2017 will be the coldest in the last 100 years as Arctic air masses arrive over the European continent.  

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Deal set to limit emissions from international flights

    Just a day after the historic announcement that the Paris climate agreement will enter into force this year, countries of the world yesterday agreed to a new regime to curb a large source of greenhouse gas emissions not covered under that agreement - those from international aircraft flights.

    At an assembly in Montreal, the member states of the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) agreed to a "market-based measure" to reduce the emissions from international fights, beginning on a voluntary basis for countries in 2020 and then entering a second phase in 2027. Emissions would be fixed at 2020 levels, and airlines that exceeded those levels would have to buy credits to offset the additional emissions.

    The gist is that while international aviation will grow in volume in the future, its emissions should nevertheless be held constant at 2020 levels.

    "Aviation can now claim its Paris moment," said Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, the president of the ICAO council, in a statement following the news.

    While some environmental groups hailed the decision as significant in light of what Paris left unfinished, others suggested the emissions cuts won't be strong enough.

Friday, 7 October 2016

How US scientists tagged and tracked 770kg shark

She isn't quite an adult, but at 3.8m long and weighing in at just under 1700 pounds (770kg), scientists were eager to tag Miss Costa to follow her feeding and living habits.

They got their chance when the white shark first appeared in late September off the coast of Nantucket in Massachusetts. An added bonus came on Monday when her GPS-like tracking device showed her swimming near the surface just off the coast, east of the Virginia-North Carolina state line.
While it might surprise the average beachgoer to hear that the shark, nicknamed Miss Costa, was spotted along Virginia's coastline, scientists who specialise in studying sharks said it isn't all that rare.

"It's not unusual for white sharks to come into the Carolina area close to the coast in winter time," said Robert Hueter, who is the lead scientist on the expedition run by, a research operation on sharks.

He said Miss Costa is likely headed to her winter feeding grounds in Florida.

The shark is one of dozens of sharks the group tracks. They are often named for the sponsors involved (Miss Costa is named for Costa Sunglasses).

The information scientists are able to track and glean once a shark is tagged is important, they said, to understanding the animals and helping to preserve their habitat.

Using a 38m boat and a special hydraulic lift, scientists are able to get access to the sharks for a brief time. In about 15 minutes, they take genetic samples, blood and other samples, then attach a transmitter to the shark's dorsal fin.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Russia plans to kill a quarter-million Siberian reindeer amid anthrax fears

You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid . . . ?
Their cousins may all be dead soon.

Faced with a public health crisis straight from a dystopian horror movie, officials in a remote region of Siberia have proposed killing off 250,000 reindeer by Christmas to minimise the possible spread of deadly anthrax bacteria, according to the Siberian Times.

The alarm started in July, when an outbreak of the bacteria killed a 12-year-old nomadic boy and sickened nearly 100 people in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a vast northwestern region of the Siberian tundra. More than 2300 reindeer also died.

ergency but also tried to reassure the Nenets, the nomadic indigenous people of the region, who roam with the herds of reindeer and depend on them for their existence.

"There is no epidemic in Yamal," Kobylkin told the Associated Press then. "Only a small area was quarantined."

The Yamal Peninsula, where the outbreak occurred, was immediately closed off and the carcasses of the dead animals burned. Kobylkin said all the reindeer on the peninsula - some 300,000 - were vaccinated, the AP reported.