Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Warmer oceans: 'We need to start planning for this now'

A report recommends sweeping changes to the recreational fishing sector.
New Zealand's fishing industry could hit a snag if it doesn't plan for warmer oceans significantly affecting marine life, say Niwa scientists.

As the ocean gets warmer it could affect phytoplankton - a key part of the oceans, seas and freshwater basin ecosystems - and could see a reduction in food supply for fish.

"This has already happened in the water just off Tasmania and the south-east corner of Australia, which is warming rapidly as the East Australian current pushes warmer water further south causing huge changes to the ecosystem," said Niwa marine biogeochemist​ Professor Cliff Law.

Tasmania's coastal ecosystems were changing with an increase in subtropical species, which can impact the economy, he said.

"The average warming around New Zealand is 2.5 degrees [Celsius] by the end of this century, which will affect how the ocean mixes and the nutrients available for plankton growth, with knock-on effects on the foodweb and fisheries.

"People tend to think of climate change from a terrestrial angle but obviously, as the ocean is a big part of the globe, there will be significant changes. As it's also a significant part of New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone we need to start planning for this now."

Near-record sea surface temperatures described as "off the charts" were reported on Monday.
La Nina pattern and higher than normal atmospheric pressure are warming sea surface temperatures by more than 6 degrees Celsius in some areas, compared to the average for this time of year.


Saturday, 16 December 2017

Yellow-eyed penguins at risk due to set net fishery

Almost half the breeding population of yellow-eyed penguins on Codfish Island, west of Stewart Island, have disappeared at sea, most likely because of commercial set nets, Forest and Bird says.

Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said the group was calling on the Government to gather those who work to protect the penguins, but also the fishing industry to agree an immediate set of actions to eliminate the risks from set netting in the penguins' feeding area.

"Unlike previous years where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea. There is an active set net fishery within the penguins' Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.

"We are asking DOC and MPI what they intend to do to save our hoiho from extinction, because at current rates of decline we are on track to lose hoiho completely from mainland New Zealand. We have also written to the Minister of Conservation, expressing our concern."

However, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says it is stepping up monitoring of the set net fisheries.

Almost every penguin killed in the set net fishery was killed on a boat that had an official observer on board, Hague said.

The first step was to get more observers onto set net vessels and prioritise putting cameras on set netting boats, he said.

Department of Conservation information showed only 14 yellow-eyed penguins were found on Codfish Island, down from 24 the previous year.

Forest & Bird said yellow-eyed penguins had also declined elsewhere this year. The Catlins had seen a drop of 10 per cent in nests and Otago Peninsula saw a small decline but not all areas have been searched yet.

The estimate for the entire southern east coast of the South Island was down 6 per cent.
However, it's not just yellow-eyed penguins at risk.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Our scorching sea: Marine heatwave unfolding as hot temperatures continue

The warm weather is predicted to continue for the rest of the week as a ridge of high pressure sits over the country.

The first weekend of summer was marked by scorching temperatures nationwide, and Monday is expected to be even hotter.

Hanmer Springs was the hottest place in the country on Sunday at 31 degrees Celsius, according to MetService.

It's not just air temperatures that have been hot. According to NIWA's Ben Noll, ocean temperatures around New Zealand have been on average 2C warmer than usual - and up to 6C warmer off the West Coast. Water around the country has been warmer than average for more than a month now.

MetService Meteorologist Ciaran Doolin said: "It's good news for the working week. The (high pressure ridge across the country) is set to persist until Friday, which means a continuation of warm, settled weather."

Friday, 1 December 2017

What lies beneath: Why NZ's slice of Antarctica is at the centre of an eco-mystery

There's a problem in Antarctica.

Most climate change models say ice around the southern continent should be decreasing. It should be melting as the planet heats up.

But sea ice around Antarctica isn't shrinking. It's been growing.

"Since the satellites went up – and that's about 30 or 40 years of records – there's been a gradual trend toward more sea ice around Antarctica," say Dr Natalie Robinson, a marine physicist at Niwa, New Zealand's Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research. "Which is not what you'd predict in a warming ocean."

Frozen icebergs in the Ross Sea. "There's something particular going on with the Ross Sea," Robinson says.

This sort of thing makes climate change skeptics shout from the roof tops. Obviously the world isn't heating up!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

More trees planted will boost NZ falcon's chances of survival

The threatened native falcon, one of the world's fastest flying birds, should prosper if the new Government holds to its promise to boost forest planting.

Under new Forestry Minister Shane Jones, the Government has set a target of an additional 50,000ha  of planting a year, mostly radiata pine.

With a population of between 5000-8000, the karearea has thrived in pine forests, provided it has the right mix of mature trees from where it can see to hunt prey, and open spaces where it can nest.
Chifuyu Horikoshi, who has just completed a PhD in falcon behaviour and non-breeding ecology in Kaingaroa Forest in the central North Island last breeding season, welcomed the promise of more trees, saying the more the better for the raptor, one of New Zealand's few birds of prey.
"It's undoubtedly much better to plant more forest because that's a more suitable breeding habitat for falcons than farmland, and in the central North Island a lot of small areas of forest have been converted to farms."
She also worked in Otago forests on karearea. The two regions were in striking contrast. Kaingaroa, managed by Timberlands, is one of the largest plantation forests in the world, whereas Otago features many small forest blocks among farmland.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

More big earthquakes in 2018 as Earth slows slightly, theory suggests

Two US scientists have come up with a theory that suggests a big increase in devastating earthquakes, particularly near the Equator, in 2018 following a tiny slowing in the Earth's rotation.

"The correlation between Earth's rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year," Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado told The Observer.

Bilham and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana presented a paper on the link between seismic activity and the Earth's rotation speed at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

The slowdown in Earth's rotation is tiny - a millisecond a day sometimes - which can be measured by atomic clocks.

Bilham and Bendick found that periods when the number of intense earthquakes had increased followed periods of about five years when the Earth's rotation slowed slightly.

Earth's rotation began one of the periodic slowdowns more than four years ago.

"Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes," Bilham said. "We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes. We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018."
The link between the Earth's rotation and the number of big earthquakes was unclear, but slight changes in the behaviour of the Earth's core could be causing both effects.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Trump to reverse ban on elephant trophies from Africa

The Trump administration plans to allow hunters to import trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States, reversing a ban put in place by the Obama administration in 2014, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News today.

Even though elephants are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import these trophies if there is evidence that the hunting actually benefits conservation for that species. The official said they have new information from officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia to support reversing the ban to allow trophy hunting permits.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said in a statement.

This change only applies to elephants in those two countries but questions about using game hunting to generate money for conservation efforts also came up during the controversy after Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe in 2015.

The government has not actually announced this policy change yet but it was reportedly announced at a wildlife forum in South Africa this week, according to Safari Club International, which filed a lawsuit to block the 2014 ban.


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

As disasters surge, nations must slash emissions faster, climate experts urge

The Trump administration has formally released a report that details the growing threats of climate change.

With hurricanes, floods and other impacts of climate change becoming increasingly destructive, countries urgently need to step up their ambitions to cut emissions if they are to keep global warming within safe limits, experts said ahead of UN climate talks starting in Germany on Monday.

About 163 countries have submitted plans on how they will contribute to meeting the Paris climate agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
But put together, the plans are likely to lead to a 3 degree temperature rise this century, according to the United Nations.

Out-of-control wildfire tore through parts of California, US, in October.

Nicholas Nuttall, spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the national plans delivered in advance of Paris, "were well known at the time to fall short of the Paris Agreement's long-term goals".

But the agreement also calls for countries to take stock of international progress on climate action and ratchet up the ambition of their national plans accordingly.


Thursday, 9 November 2017

China's recyclers eye looming electric vehicle battery mountain

While electric car makers are technically liable for recycling batteries, in practice they sign deals with suppliers to recycle batteries on their behalf.
After years of dismantling discarded televisions and laptops, a Shanghai recycling plant is readying itself for a new wave of waste: piles of exhausted batteries from the surge of electric vehicles hitting China's streets.

The plant has secured licences and is undergoing upgrades to handle a fast-growing mountain of battery waste, said Li Yingzhe, a manager at the facility, run by the state-owned Shanghai Jinqiao Group.

"We believe there will be so much growth in the number of electric vehicles in the future," he said.
Shanghai Jinqiao will be entering a market that includes Chinese companies like Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium and GEM, whose share prices have risen as they invest in battery recycling facilities of their own. That confidence comes even as companies face considerable hurdles launching battery recycling businesses, including high operating costs.

The growth of China's electric vehicle industry - and the ambitions of recycling companies - is underpinned by a government drive to eventually phase out gasoline-burning cars, part of a broader effort to improve urban air quality and ease a reliance on overseas oil.

Led by companies like BYD and Geely, sales of electric vehicles in China reached 507,000 in 2016, up 53 per cent over the previous year. The government is targeting sales of 2 million a year by 2020 and 7 million five years later, amounting to a fifth of total car production by 2025.

According to the International Energy Agency, China accounted for more than 40 per cent of global electric car sales in 2016, followed by the European Union and the United States. It also overtook the United States as the market with the greatest number of electric vehicles.

Production in China of the lithium batteries that power those cars has also soared. In the first eight months of 2017, Chinese manufacturers produced 6.7 billion batteries, up 51 per cent from the year-earlier period, according to industry ministry data.

All that activity could put China in pole position for dominating the global electric car industry, as well as related businesses like batteries and recycling.