Thursday, 29 September 2016

Cranberries at 200: Market changes, drought create a crisis

All is not well in cranberry country this harvesting season, the 200th anniversary of the world's first known commercial cultivation.

A recent task force report found many Massachusetts growers whose families have tended bogs for generations were in "dire straits," facing challenges that include rising production costs, decreasing crop values, changing consumer habits and increasing competition from other U.S. states and Canada.
Adding to the problems is a severe drought that threatens to leave farms without enough water to flood their bogs.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

NZ air among world's cleanest, safest - report

New Zealand has some of the cleanest and safest air on the planet, a new World Health Organisation report suggests.

The report analysed data from more than 100 nations, comparing exposure to ambient air pollution and related death and illness.

It showed New Zealand was either in the top five or 10 nations with the best results for concentrations of PM2.5 - a key measure of air pollution - along with rates of deaths, disease and illness that could be attributed to pollution.

However, Associate Professor Simon Hales of Otago University's Department of Public Health questioned whether the report's methods accurately reflected rates in smaller countries such as New Zealand.

"Their estimates of PM2.5 exposure use data from satellites, which are excellent for large countries with little surface air pollution monitoring data, but do not perform so well at local scale in small countries like New Zealand," Hales said.

The resolution of their data is of the order of 10km, which was too coarse for most New Zealand urban areas, he said.

"The study authors did not assess health impacts of exposures below 5.9 μg/m3.'
"Again, this makes sense if exposures are high, as in countries with a lot of heavy industry or using biomass for heating and cooking.

"It is not so appropriate for New Zealand, since we know from epidemiological studies of mortality that the comparatively low levels of exposure do have a substantial health impact here.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Study says ice loss understimated

Rapidly melting Greenland may be shedding its ice even faster than anyone suspected, new research suggests.

A study just out in the journal Science Advances finds that previous studies may have underestimated the current rate of mass loss on the Greenland ice sheet by about 18 billion tonnes per year.
Generally, scientists estimate ice loss in Greenland (and elsewhere around the world) using data from satellites. But the new study suggests these satellite studies may have included some incorrect assumptions, causing them to miscalculate the amount of mass actually disappearing from the ice sheet each year.

The assertion revolves around a concept known as "glacial isostatic adjustment", or the tendency of land to bounce back after a large weight of ice has been removed from it. Over the past 25,000 years, since the last great Ice Age, the planet's surface has been slowly springing back into place.

An important part of this effect is driven by the flowing of the Earth's mantle, a layer of thick, oozing rock beneath the Earth's crust, said Michael Bevis, a geophysicist at the Ohio State University and a co-author on the new study. When a heavy weight, such as a huge ice sheet, forms on the Earth's surface, the resulting high pressure causes the rocky mantle to begin flowing out from underneath it. When the weight is removed, the mantle gradually begins to flow back into place.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Dolphins Recorded Chatting With Each Other Like Humans

Maybe we should  say, humans chatting like dolphins as they have been on this Earth three times longer than humans!

Friday, 16 September 2016

How will climate change hurt our species?

In New Zealand, climate change is particularly important as there are many rare and unique plants and animals, some of which are already under threat from invasive pests and habitat loss.

Using sophisticated mathematical models, scientists can forecast outcomes, but these models are only as good as the available data, say scientists in a new study published in the journal Science today.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

World 'completely unprepared for' the impacts of warming seas

The warming of the world's oceans is spreading dangerous diseases and affecting fish stocks and crop yields, a major new report has said.

Conservationists warned the world is "completely unprepared for" the impacts of warming oceans on wildlife, natural systems and humans, some of which are already being felt.

Even with action to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing ocean warming, there will still be a high risk of impacts, according to the report launched by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

IUCN director general Inger Andersen said: "Ocean warming is one of this generation's greatest hidden challenges - and one for which we are completely unprepared.

"The only way to preserve the rich diversity of marine life, and to safeguard the protection and resources the ocean provides us with, is to cut greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and substantially."
As part of the report, findings from University of Plymouth professors Camille Parmesan and Martin Attrill show that marine-related tropical diseases and harmful algal blooms are spreading to colder regions for the first time.

Outbreaks of Vibrio vulnificus, a relation of the bacteria causing cholera and which causes death in between 30 per cent and 48 per cent of cases, have been newly diagnosed further north than previously recorded.

The disease has previously been a problem in warm waters such as the Gulf of Mexico where mostly it has been contracted by eating infected oysters, but cases have recently occurred in the Baltic and Alaska, the report warns.

Warming sea surface temperatures in fishing grounds can also cause toxins from algal blooms to enter the food chain.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Giant panda is no longer endangered, experts say

The giant panda, one of the symbols of China, is off the endangered list thanks to aggressive conservation efforts.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report released Sunday that the panda is now classified as a "vulnerable" instead of "endangered" species, reflecting its growing numbers in the wild in southern China. It said the wild panda population jumped to 1,864 in 2014 from 1,596 in 2004, the result of work by Chinese agencies to enforce poaching bans and expand forest reserves.

The IUCN report warned that although better forest protection has helped increase panda numbers, climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35 percent of its natural bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, potentially leading to another decline.

Still, animal groups hailed the recovery of the bamboo-gobbling, black-and-white bear that has long been a symbol of China and the global conservation movement.

The panda population reached an estimated low of less than 1,000 in the 1980s due to poaching and deforestation until Beijing threw its full weight behind preserving the animal, which has been sent to zoos around the world as a gesture of Chinese diplomatic goodwill.

The Chinese government and the World Wildlife Fund first established the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan province in 1980. Wild panda numbers have slowly rebounded as China cracked down on the skin trade and gradually expanded its protected forest areas to now cover 1.4 million hectares (5,400 square miles).

Friday, 9 September 2016

Global warming making oceans 'sick', scientists warn

Global warming is making the oceans sicker than ever before, spreading disease among animals and humans and threatening food security across the planet, a major scientific report said on Monday.

The findings, based on peer-reviewed research, were compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, experts said at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.

"We all know that the oceans sustain this planet. We all know that the oceans provide every second breath we take," IUCN Director General Inger Andersen told reporters at the meeting, which has drawn 9,000 leaders and environmentalists to Honolulu.

"And yet we are making the oceans sick."

The report, "Explaining Ocean Warming," is the "most comprehensive, most systematic study we have ever undertaken on the consequence of this warming on the ocean," one of the lead authors, Dan Laffoley, said.

The world's waters have absorbed more than 93 per cent of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean, he said.

"The ocean has been shielding us and the consequences of this are absolutely massive," said Laffoley, marine vice chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

World's largest gorilla now 'critically endangered'

An update to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, which assesses the extinction risk of the world's plants, animals, and fungi, moves a key gorilla subspecies, the Democratic Republic of Congo's Grauer's gorilla, to "critically endangered" status.

Just 3800 Grauer's gorilla remain - a sharp decline in numbers for the world's largest gorilla, and one largely driven by geopolitical upheaval as the Rwandan genocide drove large numbers of refugees into the gorilla's habitat.

The sharp decline of Grauer's gorilla meant that the larger species to which it belongs, the Eastern gorilla - which also includes the Mountain gorilla - was listed as "critically endangered".

The international meeting, which convenes every four years, is the world's largest environmental decision-making forum, bringing together heads of state and other government officials, civilians, indigenous peoples, business leaders, and academics to address the world's biggest conservation challenges.
Over 8000 delegates from 184 countries are in attendance.

The IUCN uses the Red List to classify organisms according to the severity of their extinction risk; in descending order of threat, the categories are "critically endangered," "endangered," "vulnerable," 

"near threatened" and "least concern," The list also includes categories for extinct and data-deficient species. Of the 82,954 species currently assessed, more than a quarter are threatened with extinction.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Africa's elephant population has plunged faster than almost anyone predicted, raising startling questions about the failure to protect one of the world's largest mammals.

There are now only 352,271 savanna elephants in nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa, according to Elephants Without Borders, a research organisation that just completed an 18-country census.

Between 2007 and 2014, the elephant population declined by at least 30 per cent, or 144,000 elephants, the study found.  African savanna elephants graze in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. 
Previous estimates had suggested that the population was considerably higher, making the results of the new study, called the Great Elephant Census, a devastating revelation.

"These dramatic declines in elephant populations are almost certainly due to poaching for ivory," the study said.

"Elephant poaching has increased substantially over the past 5-10 years, especially in eastern and western Africa."

Saturday, 3 September 2016

World Water Week kicks off this week as global leaders and experts discuss water issues around the world.
This year's World Water Week, held in Stockholm, Sweden, will focus on water and sustainable growth.
The campaign states 1.8 billion people are without safe water.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Drones capture incredible whale pictures

Scientists have successfully used drones to capture detailed images of Southern right whales during an expedition to New Zealand's naturally hostile subantarctic islands.

An international team of researchers aboard Otago University's research vessel RV Polaris II last week returned from a month-long voyage to the wild and windy Auckland Islands, 465km south of Stewart Island.

The team sought to gauge the status of right whales, which breed at Port Ross, and gain a deeper insight into how a warming world was affecting one of the most sensitive parts of the globe.

They also sought enough data to make useful comparisons with their counterparts the North Atlantic right whale, which now numbers only in its hundreds, to better understand the stresses on right whales globally.

Along with photographic surveys of the whales from small boats, the expedition used a drone - a small four-rotor helicopter equipped with a high-resolution camera - to document the condition of individual whales.

"We fitted our drone with a tiny laser range-finder to measure altitude with a high degree of precision," said expedition leader and Otago University marine biologist Professor Steve Dawson.
The technology allowed the researchers to measure the size and shape of right whales photographed from above.

"This helps us understand the population at the Auckland Islands, and is crucial for figuring out why some right whale populations, such as ours, are recovering strongly, while others, such as the North Atlantic right whale, are not," he said.

"The pictures were taken while the drone hovered 25 to 35m above the whales and the whales did not seem to react.