Tuesday, 15 August 2017

An Unprecedented Fire Is Raging Across Greenland Right Now

Wildfires are known for striking in hot, dry regions of the planet, but a huge fire is currently raging across the icy, cold surface of Greenland, one of the most northernmost countries in the world.
 
It's not clear what started the fire, but it seems to be made up of multiple blazes happening in the tundra on the coast of the country. Just before the fires started, relatively high temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded in the area.

Experts think climate change could be to blame – that dead plant matter usually encased in permafrost is catching fire as the frost melts due to warming temperatures. Scientists have spotted much more wildfire activity in Greenland so far during 2017 than in any other previous year on record.

"There are fires in Greenland, but it's not an African Savannah," Stef Lhermitte, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, told Maddie Stone at Gizmodo. "As far as I can see, the current fire is the biggest one recorded by satellites since 2000. I think it's the biggest on record."

http://www.sciencealert.com/a-huge-wildfire-is-ripping-through-the-icy-wilderness-of-greenland

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Fears rare native falcon could kill every dotterel on Eastbourne beach


A rare, native kārearea could wipe out the entire banded dotterel population on a popular Eastbourne beach.

The sight of one of the world's fastest flyers would normally be a source of  great enjoyment for Parker Jones, if it was not for the falcon's sinister intentions.

Jones is part of the Mainland Island Restoration Organisation (MIRO) and his pet project is looking after the local population of banded dotterel.

A tiny population of endangered banded dotterel on the Eastbourne beach is facing an unexpected threat from a rare karearea.

A tiny colony exists in front of houses where people walk their dogs, jog and enjoy the beach daily, without knowing they share it with the endangered bird.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/95589549/native-falcon-lurking-on-eastbourne-beach-with-sinister-intentions

Monday, 7 August 2017

HIV scientists get help from cattle



Prospects for defeating HIV, once considered an invincible killer, look brighter with major advances against the AIDS-causing virus discussed at an international conference recently.

One of those pieces of good news comes from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. In collaboration with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, its researchers have generated "broadly neutralising antibodies" that kill HIV using an unexpected source – cattle.

The startling feat was announced in a study published in the journal Nature. It marks another milestone step toward the long-elusive aim of creating a vaccine against the virus, with the antibodies perhaps also leading to creation of new HIV drugs.

"It takes humans years" for the immune system to trigger formation and full production of broadly neutralising antibodies. "The cows solved it in a couple of months," said Dennis Burton, co-author of the new report and a longtime researcher of such antibodies at Scripps Research.

In other news at the 9th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Paris, researchers highlighted the case of an HIV-infected child who has apparently been cured of the virus. They also announced success in using a long-lasting injection to suppress HIV levels.

Yet another study showed that certain HIV drugs were able to prevent transmission of the virus in hundreds of couples where at least one person was HIV-positive.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/95198045/hiv-scientists-get-help-from-cattle

Friday, 4 August 2017

eSecret possum rescuers: the people who love a hated New Zealand pest


Little Batman is fighting for his life.

The baby possum struggles to feed after the soft roof of his mouth when damaged when he was ripped from his mother's pouch by a hunter.
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Too young to regulate his body temperature, the six-week-old is fed through a tube by his carer, who tends to his every need, desperately trying to keep him alive.

Little Batman is critically ill. He has to be fed with a tube because his mouth was damaged when he was ripped from his mother's pouch by a hunter.

She may be breaking the law by doing so.

Sally (not her real name) is part of an underground network across the country, dedicated to saving the lives of animals that are, to most Kiwis, one of our most hated pests.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/95147937/secret-possum-rescuers-the-people-who-love-a-hated-new-zealand-pest

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

New Zealand's more than 2000 moth species at odds with LED street lights

LED street lights will save money, but could come at a cost to native moths, says one environment-lover.

All older, yellow, high-pressure sodium lighting in Auckland is to be replaced with new light-emitting diode (LED) street lights by about 2025.

The first stage of fitting 44,000 LED residential street lights, has been under way for the past 18 months.

The lights use just a third of the electricity the older style lights use, and last four to six times longer. They have the potential to save the city $32 million over the 20-year life of the lights.

But Geoff Reid wasn't glowing about it, saying the lights could negatively affect New Zealand's more than 2000 species of moth, as the tone of the light changes from golden yellow to white.

"Moths are really important in our ecosystem. They are kind of these central key species because they not only provide food for birds, they pollinate plants and also provide food for other insects," Reid said.

He said the new LED street lights, measured in kelvin, sit at more than 4000 while the current bulbs are around 2200. He said anything over about 2800 kelvin is bad for moths who are drawn to the blue light.

"They extract moths out of the ecosystem. It wears them out and they also congregate in one area around a light and what we're finding is mice are just cleaning them up."

https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/95124019/new-zealands-more-than-2000-moth-species-at-odds-with-led-street-lights

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Extreme El Nino events likely to become twice as common in New Zealand


Extreme El Nino events - the sort that can bring severe droughts to the east of New Zealand and more heavy rain to the west - are likely to happen twice as often if the global mean temperature rises by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

If the temperature increases more than that, they'll happen even more often, according to a new report published in the Nature Climate Change journal. It's not good news for weather-reliant industries like agriculture.

It also means that even if the 2015 Paris climate agreement - which aims to limit global warming to 2C - is kept to, more extreme El Nino events will occur.

Average annual rainfall in Rotomanu on the West Coast is 3.5 metres, but close to 6m in El Nino years. El Nino often causes increase rainfall west of the Southern Alps.
 
https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/95078291/extreme-el-nino-events-likely-to-become-twice-as-common-in-new-zealand

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Researchers map plastic patch bigger than Greenland floating in the South Pacific


A massive plastic patch larger than Greenland has been discovered in the South Pacific, and much of the waste is believed to have originated in New Zealand.

The discovery was made by a team of researchers led by Captain Charles Moore, and is vital to understanding the extent of plastic waste, he says.

Moore spent 180 days at sea, trawling a fine mesh net in order to discover the edges of the 2.5 million square-kilometre plastic patch, which sat around Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island.
mate how many particles are floating in the plastic patch.
"This area is enormous, it's heavily polluted with plastic fragments," he said.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/94879644/new-research-maps-massive-plastic-patch-floating-in-the-south-pacific

Monday, 24 July 2017

We are heading for Global Cooling not warming

  • On March 19 of this year, British scientists announced that sunspot counts had reached a seven-year low. In fact, as of that date, sunspots had been absent for 13 consecutive days. This coincides with the beginning of a new solar minimum (period of little or no sunspot activity) that should arrive sometime between 2019 and 2020. And that, we must note, can also be the beginning of a significantly colder period, global cooling, if you will.

    Of course lots of other factors bear upon whether our atmosphere will become warmer or cooler. Doctor Roy Spencer recently wrote: “The most obvious way for warming to be caused naturally is for small, natural fluctuations in the circulation patterns of the atmosphere and ocean to result in a 1 percent or 2 percent decrease in global cloud cover. Clouds are the Earth’s sunshade, and if cloud cover changes for any reason, you have global warming — or global cooling.”

    So here we find that the sun and earth’s clouds greatly influence worldwide temperatures. Volcanic activity also has a huge bearing upon our climate. Airborne particulate matter blocks solar radiation, causing a sudden chill. Who would have thought? But in the face of man-made global warming rhetoric, we overlook the real possibility of global cooling.

    http://waldo.villagesoup.com/p/sunspots-and-global-cooling/1
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Friday, 21 July 2017

When the world's glaciers shrunk, New Zealand's grew bigger


The question has puzzled scientists: when the world's glaciers were retreating, why were New Zealand's glaciers getting bigger?\

New research from a group of New Zealand scientists may have solved the mystery, but it's not good news; New Zealand's glaciers are now likely to continue melting at a dramatic rate.
Between 1983 and 2008, when the vast majority of the world's glaciers were shrinking in a warming world, at least 58 New Zealand glaciers grew bigger.

The Southern Alps was one of a handful of areas internationally where glaciers were growing – In 2005, 15 of the 26 advancing glaciers worldwide were in New Zealand.

In that time, Franz Josef Glacier regained nearly half the mass it had lost during the 20th century.
The unusual period of advance came after several decades or rapid decline, which for many glaciers has resumed since 2008.

Many of the country's largest glaciers have retreated substantially since 2011 with several on track to disappear entirely.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89403443/When-the-worlds-glaciers-shrunk-New-Zealands-grew-biggerhttp://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89403443/When-the-worlds-glaciers-shrunk-New-Zealands-grew-bigger.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89403443/When-the-worlds-glaciers-shrunk-New-Zealands-grew-bigger

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

There's a pressing need to value eco-friendly wool

OPINION

 Eco-friendl, sustainable and good for the environment are all well-worn admirable sentiments. Aspirations we should all be aiming towards.

But sometimes the interpretation can be interesting and somewhat biased. A garment is termed eco-friendly when made out of recycled plastic bottles.

The garment might be a product of clever manufacturing and it's a good idea to keep these bottles out of rubbish dumps, but it conveniently overlooks the fact that plastic is a synthetic product made from crude oil . And we are all well aware that extracting fossil fuels is certainly not a sustainable practise.
In addition there is the huge issue of microfibres shed when synthetic materials are washed. The estimate of 1.7 grams of microfibre lost off every garment in every wash doubles for older fabrics.
 
This pollution enters waterways, lakes, oceans and shorelines and also into fish and shellfish along the food chain.

Considering the amount of synthetic clothes washed every day, this is serious and not fixable by simply fencing waterways.

There is a choice of action. Either try to isolate the problem using anti-shed treatments, filters, nets or even waterless washing machines, or eliminate the problem by no longer using unsustainable, environmentally unfriendly fabrics and instead find alternatives.

We already have a wonderful natural product readily available. It can be used to create clothing, blankets, carpets, mats and furniture upholstery. Because of its amazing properties it is also used for making piano dampers, the fuzz on the outside of tennis balls, the stuffing inside baseballs and, ironically, even absorbent pads to mop up those eco-damaging oil spills.

Resistance to fire is a major advantage and it doesn't drip or melt, which gives a huge safety factor superior to synthetics. Any fibres shed are totally biodegradable so no pollution is washed into waterways
 
The unsung hero is, of course, a great product we grow efficiently in New Zealand, exporting about 84,000 tonnes last year. Whoopee for wonderful, warm wool.

The best action any enthusiastic environmentalist could do for sustainability is to proudly promote wool. As the "green movement " is sensibly returning to basic values like making compost, eating home-grown vegetables, upcycling clothing, using less chemical cleaners and being more aware of our footprint, it is high time we championed wool again, as our grandparents did.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/rural-women/94799701/pressing-need-to-value-ecofriendly-wool

Thursday, 13 July 2017

One trillion tonne iceberg breaks off from Antarctica


A one trillion tonne iceberg has broken off from an Antarctic ice shelf, changing the shape of the Antarctic Peninsula forever.

The much-anticipated calving from the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduces its area by more than 12 per cent, though the 5800 square km iceberg won't have an impact on sea levels as it was already floating before completely breaking away.

Researchers have previously shown the rift could increase the risk of instability leading to the wider ice shelf's collapse - a fate which befell its neighbour Larsen B, seven years after it experienced its own calving event in 1995.

A section of an iceberg - about 6000 sq km - broke away as part of the natural cycle of iceberg calving off the Larsen-C ice shelf in Antarctica in this satellite image released by the European Space Agency on July 12, 2017.

Believed to size up among the top ten on record (it is roughly 6000sqkm, siz times the size of Auckland city), the iceberg separated from Larsen C sometime between July 10 and July 12 - the event detected and confirmed separately by two Nasa satellites.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/94676841

Sunday, 9 July 2017

China builds a 100-hectare solar farm shaped like a giant panda


A new solar power plant in Datong, China, decided to have a little fun with its design.
China Merchants New Energy Group, one of the country's largest clean energy operators, built a 248-acre solar farm in the shape of a giant panda.

The first phase, which includes one 50-megawatt plant, was completed on June 30, according to PV magazine. The project just began delivering power to a grid in northwestern China, and a second panda is planned for later this year.

Called the Panda Power Plant, it will be able to produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy in 25 years, according to the company. That will eliminate approximately one million tonnes of coal that would have been used to produce electricity, reducing carbon emissions by 2.74 million tonnes.

China Merchants New Energy Group worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to make the Panda Power Plant a reality. The project is part of a larger effort to raise awareness among young people in China about clean energy, the UNDP wrote in a statement.

The groups hope to build more panda-shaped solar plants throughout China in the next five years.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Third of turtles found dead on New Zealand beaches had ingested plastic



A third of turtles found dead on New Zealand beaches have swallowed plastic, an expert says, and single-use shopping bags are the most common culprit.

Dan Godoy, of Massey University's Coastal-Marine Research Group, said the turtles' intestinal tract got blocked when they mistook soft plastics for jellyfish, resulting in "horrific" deaths.
"They can't digest food, and they basically slowly die," Godoy said.
\
Dan Godoy, of Massey University's Coastal-Marine Research Group, said 30 per cent of stranded turtles had plastic in their stomachs.
"In the turtles that I've looked at, and [from] other studies around the world, it's the soft, white, and translucent plastics items – so plastic bags particularly – that are consumed in a higher proportion than other items."

The Government has been facing mounting pressure from local bodies, environmental groups, and schoolchildren to take action against the more than a billion plastic bags Kiwis discard annually. So far there's been no real movement on the problem.

Some of the samples of plastic found in turtles stomachs.
, and said of those with plastic in their stomachs, about half had died as a direct result.

He has seen instances where hard plastic had punctured the intestines and fishing line had cut through the intestinal wall, resulting in a horrific death for the reptile.

"Marine turtles aren't the only ones, we are seeing this in a huge range of species – seabirds, even whales," he said.

Up to half of turtles found to have eaten plastic died directly as a result.
On one occasion he was able to tell by the label that the plastic wrapping had come from Lower Hutt.​
\\
https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/94277174/third-of-turtles-found-dead-on-new-zealand-beaches-had-ingested-plastic

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Meet Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino


There is a small dusty patch of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya that is marked by 18 rocky headstones. On a plaque bolted to each is the name of a rhino that has been killed by poachers.

Nearby, past watch towers manned 24 hours a day by armed guards, stands - or, these days, more often sits - a mammoth two-ton herbivore munching the grass. He is Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino, and quite possibly the most famous animal on the planet.

Sudan is now 43 (or 100 in rhino years) and it is feared only has months left to live. As the last male of his species, he receives 40,000 visitors a year from all over the globe, Elizabeth Hurley and Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly among them.

Sudan is also a star of Instagram and boasts his own hashtag #lastmalestanding as well as a Tinder account, where he is described as the "most eligible bachelor in the world" and, inevitably, "horny". Such is the interest in him that competing film crews are restricted to one visit a day.

Award-winning filmmaker Rowan Deacon is the latest to tell his story. In a new BBC documentary, Sudan: The Last of the Rhinos, Deacon has pieced together Sudan's fascinating life.

After being born in the wild in South Sudan, he was captured by animal trappers employed by England's Chipperfield Circus and sold to a zoo in the then-communist Czechoslovakia, before finally being shipped back to Africa in a desperate attempt to make him breed.

Even now, as Sudan sees out his last days in Kenya, scientists in Berlin are attempting novel forms of rhino IVF with his sperm. When the inevitable moment arrives, a pre-written obituary is waiting to be sent out to newsdesks around the world.

Rhinos have been on this earth for 50 million years and it is not some quirk of evolution that has caused the demise of this magnificent species, but us, humans.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/africa/94069722/meet-sudan-the-last-surviving-male-northern-white-rhino

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Seafloor scans reveal what lurks beneath the surface of the Marlborough Sounds


Scans of Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel have wrapped up after eight months on the water.
Eight months, 30 terabytes and 40,000 hectares later, a state-of-the-art scanning project of the Marlborough Sounds seabed has wrapped up.

The scans of Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel will create three-dimensional maps of the depths below, and mark the first significant update to boat charts since 1942.

The joint project between Marlborough District Council, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) began in October last year.

Niwa national projects manager Dr Helen Neil said the Sounds had thrown up some challenges for the hydrographic and scientific survey.
 
"Successful work was carried out in a challenging marine environment, the palette of the Sounds changed each day with sunshine, fog and occasionally those windy bumpy seas," she said.

About 30 terabytes of information from the scans will be transformed into free charts for skippers.

"It has been a privilege to work within one of New Zealand's natural treasures, unlocking nature's secrets and working with a community that is passionate about the environment."

Multi-beam technology was used to map the seabed and capture water column features.

Scientists described the process as similar to "mowing the lawn" - where they proceeded up and back to scan each strip of the ocean floor.
.
The results would offer a data-rich snapshot of the sea floor to determine habitats, identify seeps and plumes and detect fish shoals and kelp beds.

The team from Niwa spent about 2800 hours on the water to finish the job, Neil said.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/93926578/seafloor-scans-reveal-what-lurks-beneath-the-surface-of-the-marlborough-sounds

Friday, 23 June 2017

Scientists rescue samples of melting Bolivian glacier before it disappears


A team of international scientists are transporting samples of ice from a melting glacier in Bolivia to Antarctica, for study and preservation before the glacier disappears.

The international "Ice Memory" expedition of 15 scientists took samples from the glacier on Mount Illimani in the Andes and will store them in Antarctica at the French-Italian base of Concordia.

The scientists were helped by local guides and porters, who live near the base of Illimani. Clearly visible from Bolivia's capital La Paz, Illimani's "eternal snows" are frequently referenced in the music, mythology and literature of the Aymara people.

But scientists say global warming is rapidly melting the glaciers of the Andes, removing an important source of fresh water for many communities and threatening others with deadly avalanches.

Illimani itself has warmed by 0.7 degree Centigrade in the last 18 years, said Ice Memory glaciologist Patrick Ginot.

The team dug over 130 meters (430 ft) into the glacier to remove 75 ice samples, which they say yield some 18,000 years of climatic history.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/93953920/scientists-rescue-samples-of-melting-bolivian-glacier-before-it-disappears

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

No, the Black Sea isn't black, but it's not normally this turquoise either

The Black Sea has turned a striking shade of turquoise.

A natural phenomenon called a "phytoplankton bloom'' has turned the normally dark waters of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn near Istanbul into an opaque tone of light blue.

It's caused by microscopic organisms that have inundated the Black Sea just north of Turkey's largest city.

The Black Sea's turned turquoise in a show that can be seen from space.
It's so bright, it can be seen from space.

The aquatic artwork appears every summer, but this year's bloom is one of the brightest since 2012, The New York Times reported citing Norman Kuring, a NASA scientist.
 
Microscopic organisms have inundated the Black Sea just north of Turkey's largest city.

Berat Haznedaroglu, an environmental engineer, says it's a normal annual event.

"This year we got a lot of rain events that carried nutrients from the Saharan desert to the Black Sea, which created an optimal environment for this phytoplankton to bloom,'' said Haznedaroglu, who works at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Istanbul's public Bogazici University.

In a statement published with a satellite image of the Black Sea, NASA said the milky coloration is "likely due to the growth of a particular phytoplankton called a coccolithophore.''

 http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/93851205/no-the-black-sea-isnt-black-but-its-not-normally-this-turquoise-either

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Trev and Shirl are just a couple of lovebirds on the run


Trev and Shirl are two lovers on the run from scientists who want study their DNA. 

The pair are making their bid for freedom in the thick bush of the Purangi Kiwi sanctuary in eastern Taranaki

The two kiwis have so far evaded three human attempts to capture them and for now they are safe from further efforts to bring them in.  

Searchers are trying to get to Shirl, right, through her transmitting lover Trev.
"At the moment its Shirl 3, and humans nil," said  Purangi Kiwi chair Karen Schumacher.
 
The fear is if they make an attempt to find the pair again in the next couple of weeks the radio-transmitter wearing Trev will get fed up and "divorce" Shirl, thereby making Shirl all but impossible to find. 

Only male kiwis wear transmitters because they are the ones that sit on the eggs and so they are usually the ones that need to be found.

The trouble for the pair began during an annual health check when a photo was taken of Trev and the lightly coloured Shirl and sent to the Department of Conservation for assessment. 

The loved-up kiwis were then let go into the bush again.

The problem was DOC then put out an urgent call to get Shirl back because the bird might have the rare DNA of the little spotted kiwi that has been extinct from the mainland for close to 40 years. 

About 1600 little spotted kiwi exist, mostly in island sanctuaries around the country. 

"Shirl's genetics are very important for all of New Zealand." Schumacher said.

There was even a possibility Shirl could also be a new species.

"Unfortunately, Trev's done a runner, and while the searchers managed to get within 20 metres of him he then vanished." Schumacher said. 

Kiwi are highly territorial and it is likely Trev and Shirl are hanging around their burrow, Schumacher said. 

However steep cliffs and bluffs in the area mean if the pair don't want to be found, it's nearly impossible to get close. 

Schumacher said the hunt for Shirl, through Trev, would continue at a later date.

Shirl was a rare discovery, she said, and the team would not give up on her.
"We are hoping that if we can track him in a burrow, she will be there. Hopefully.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/93692519/trev-and-shirl-are-just-a-couple-of-lovebirds-on-the-run

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Remote, uninhabituth Pacific island becomes a plastic wasteland

video
When researchers travelled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches.

Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and colour.\


The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island's extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia's University of Tasmania, was lead author of the report, which was published on Tuesday in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.

"The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming," Lavers told The Associated Press. "It's both beautiful and terrifying."

She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerised by the variety and colours of the plastic that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.

Lavers and six others stayed on the island for 3 1/2 months in 2015 while conducting the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tonnes and that more than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.

Lavers said she noticed green toy soldiers that looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s, as well as red motels from the Monopoly board game.

She said the most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. One of the strangest was a baby pacifier.

She said they found a sea turtle that had died after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab that was living in a cosmetics container.

By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island, which is about 10 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide.


Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.
Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, when she showed up three days late, and she still got married.

Lavers said she is so appalled by the amount of plastic in the oceans that she has taken to using a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush.

"We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic," she said. "It's something that's designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away."

Melissa Bowen, an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, said that winds and currents in the gyre cause the buildup of plastic items on places like Henderson Island.

"As we get more and more of these types of studies, it is bringing home the reality of plastic in the oceans," Bowen said.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/south-pacific/92663471/remote-uninhabited-south-pacific-island-becomes-a-plastic-wasteland

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Scientists to eavesdrop on Maui dolphins while seeking answers on their habits


Scientists are set to eavesdrop on the critically endangered Maui dolphin, as part of a year-long, Niwa-led project.

Latest estimates put the Maui dolphin population between 57 and 65 so scientists want to find out more about them in an effort to improve their chances of survival.

Maui dolphins are only found on the west coast of the North Island, with the greatest concentration between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato.

While they are known to congregate close to shore in water less than 20 metres deep, it is uncertain how far offshore they travel and what risks they might face in doing so.
▾ Advertising ▾
 
As part of a collaborative project between the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the University of Auckland, Niwa marine ecologists Dr Kim Goetz and Dr Krista Hupman are this month deploying a line of up to nine offshore acoustic moorings stretching from the shoreline to 12m offshore just south of Manukau Harbour.

Each mooring will carry two acoustic devices.

A cetacean and porpoise detector (CPOD) will record detections of the high frequency "clicks" the dolphins produce to hunt prey and navigate.
 
The second device, a soundtrap, will record a subset of both clicks and whistles.

Goetz said the first step was to establish how far offshore they can be detected.

"Acoustic monitoring provides a reliable way to detect the presence of marine mammals over a long time period," she said.

"In terms of Maui dolphins, we really know very little about their seasonal movements, offshore distribution, and ultimately why they appear to be confined to this area.

"They are an endangered animal so anything we can contribute to increasing our knowledge will be very useful."

A photographic survey of Maui dolphins takes place annually, where distinguishing marks and scars are correlated with known animals.

In addition, mark-recapture biopsy surveys to estimate the number of dolphins is conducted across two years, every five years.

The last one was completed in 2016 so the next one will begin in 2020.

While this provided a valuable snapshot at a given time, Goetz said the acoustic survey would add to this data by providing information collected over an entire year.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11871344

Monday, 5 June 2017

Man-made chemicals are destroying marine life of Great Barrier Reef


Chemicals from human cosmetics and drugs have been found in the blood of turtles living in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Green turtles were found to have hundreds of thousands of different chemicals in their blood stream, which had caused the animals to suffer from liver dysfunction.

Scientists said the discovery highlighted the devastating impact of man-made matter on marine life.
Medications for the heart (milrinone) and gout (allopurinol), as well as cosmetic and industrial chemicals, were among substances detected in the reptiles' bloodstream as part of an ongoing conservation project, reports Daily Mail.

Green turtles are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Scientists said exposure to the substances had caused side effects in the turtles, with indications of inflammation and liver dysfunction.

"Humans are putting a lot of chemicals into the environment and we don't always know what they are and what effect they are having," said Amy Heffernan of the University of Queensland.

"What you put down your sink, spray on your farms, or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef."

Researchers tested turtles at Cleveland Bay and Upstart Bay along the Queensland coast, as well as the more remote Howicks islands in the reef's north as part of the 'Rivers to Reef to Turtles' project led by WWF-Australia.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11869032

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A natural born killer


The weasel is the smallest member of the mustelids (ferrets, stoats, otters) and the world's smallest carnivore. It was introduced into New Zealand in 1885, to help reduce rabbit numbers, along with ferrets and stoats, but, although released in greater numbers, did not thrive.

The government changed its release policy in 1903 but it was too late. It was not until 1936 that legal protection was removed.

Weasels are found worldwide except for Antarctica and Australia. They inhabit a wide range of environments, from pastoral land and scrub to exotic forest and bush margins. They are great predators of mice but also prey on native birds, eggs, lizards, insects and frogs. They are efficient hunters, and will kill even when their belly is full.

Their slender shape and short legs allow them, uniquely, to enter the burrows of prey where they corner their victim, wrap themselves around the prey to immobilise it and then bite the back of the neck to kill. They then take over the burrow, lining it with fur and leaves to make it a den.

They hunt both day and night, mainly on the ground, but can climb. Hunts can cover 2.5km at speeds of up to 25km/h. Prey can include animals much larger than themselves, and surplus can be carried back to the den and cached for later use. Their body shape, size and metabolism mean they have a very high energy demand and need to eat one-third of their body weight in food each day.

They are known to 'hypnotise' their prey by dancing, but it is now thought this behaviour may be due to the discomfort of internal parasites.

Weasels have a deep brown-light brown body and a short brown tail. The belly is white with an irregular line where it meets the brown. Males are larger than females (150gm vs 80gm), and are 20-35cm long.

Territory size depends on food availability but can be 4-8ha. Females tend to stay within their own territory but males will roam further, especially during the breeding season. Being related to the skunk, they use scent marking, and will squirt anal sac secretions when scared.

Females have 4-6 kits per litter and can have two litters a year. Gestation is five weeks, with the kits weaned at 4-5 weeks. They are good hunters by eight weeks. Adults are solitary except at mating. Wild weasels can live up to three years but males rarely do, as their roaming makes them more susceptible to predation.

Control of weasels is generally by trapping. DoC 200 stoat traps baited with rabbit work well, and the newer Good Nature traps can be baited for mustelids too.

The collective nouns for weasels include boogle, gang, pack and confusion.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Great Barrier Reef is damaged beyond repair and can no longer be saved, say scientists


Scientists have concluded that the Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved because it is so damaged.

The plight of the reef is partly due to the "extraordinary rapidity" of climate change, according to experts.

The reef has been severely damaged by the warming of the oceans, and around 95 per cent of it suffers from bleaching, according to scientists who surveyed it in 2016.

Experts have said the ecological function of the reef should be maintained as much as possible in coming years, but that the reef itself will not be saved in its current form.

A committee of experts set up by the Australian government said the lesser target of "protecting the ecological function" of the reef is more realistic than salvaging it.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority explained what this would mean: "The concept of 'maintaining ecological function' refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today".

They said they were "united in their concern about the seriousness of the impacts facing the Reef and concluded that coral bleaching since early 2016 has changed the Reef fundamentally".

"Members agreed that, in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now.

"The planet has changed in a way that science informs us is unprecedented in human history. While that in itself may be cause for action, the extraordinary rapidity of the change we now observe makes action even more urgent."

"There is great concern about the future of the Reef, and the communities and businesses that depend on it, but hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades," their statement continued.

Because it is believed the coral bleaching is due to global warming, reducing carbon emissions is integral to the plans to maintain the ecological function of the reef.

They also said: "This needs to be coupled with increased efforts to improve the resilience of the coral and other ecosystems that form the Great Barrier Reef. The focus of efforts should be on managing the Reef to maintain the benefits that the Reef provides".

 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11866044

Saturday, 27 May 2017

How blue whales became giants of the sea



Blue whales are the most massive animals to exist in the history of animals. Dreadnoughtus and those other thundering, 60-tonne dinosaurs? Bantamweights next to one of today's 100-tonne Balaenoptera musculus.

"We truly live in an age of giants," said Nicholas D. Pyenson, an expert in the paleobiology of marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Blue whales, he said, can grow as long as three city buses parked end to end. Living blue whales would be even bigger, too, if it weren't for the sailors who killed most of the 33m, 110-tonne specimens 100 years ago.

Yet evolutionarily speaking, whales are recent leviathans. After the largest dinosaurs died off, land mammals bulked up, leading to elephant-size rhinoceroses, sloths and armadillos about 35 million years ago. The ancestors of today's giant whales, meanwhile, stayed curiously small.

"It is only since around the beginning of the so-called ice ages that whales have not just evolved to be huge, but titanic in size," Erich M.G.
 
Fitzgerald, a vertebrate paleontologist at Museum Victoria in Australia, said in an email. "Most baleen whales that ever lived were little fellows compared to their modern descendants."
 a mystery.

"It's such an obvious question," he said. "If you're an evolutionary biologist or a paleobiologist, you want to know how it came to be that way."

Relying on the extensive collection of fossil whale skulls at the Smithsonian, Pyenson and his colleagues tracked the evolution of baleen whale size. (Baleen whales lack teeth, instead using the moustache-like bristles that hang in their mouths to scoop up krill, fish and other tiny sea creatures.) 
From the skull sizes, the scientists could estimate the body lengths of about 60 species of modern and extinct whales.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11864229

Monday, 22 May 2017

Giant 19.4m wave recorded in Southern Ocean


A 19.4m wave has been detected south of New Zealand - and the company that recorded the behemoth believes monsters reaching over 20m were probably created by the same storm.

In a collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force, science-based consultancy MetOcean Solutions recently moored the high-tech instrument in the Southern Ocean off Campbell Island, nearly halfway between the South Island and Antarctica.

Persistent westerly winds and an unlimited area for waves to build combine to make Southern Ocean waves among the biggest in the world.

Yesterday, MetOcean Solutions confirmed it had picked up a 19.4m wave - close to the highest wave ever recorded, which was detected rolling through the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the UK last year.

It's expected the buoy may be ultimately register waves 25m high - the height of an eight-storey building - as it continues its real-time readings fixed in 150m of water.

But MetOcean Solutions senior oceanographer Dr Tom Durrant was nonetheless thrilled with Saturday's detection.

"This is one of the largest waves recorded in the Southern Hemisphere," he said.
"This is the world's southernmost wave buoy moored in the open ocean, and we are excited to put it to the test in large seas."

The company's managing director, Peter McComb, told the Herald that waves larger than 20m likely also occurred between the sampling times, which took place for 20 minutes every three hours.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11860343

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thanks to global warming, Antarctica is starting to turn green


Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

Amid the warming of the past 50 years, the scientists found two species of moss undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than 1mm a year, now growing more than 3mm a year on average.

"People will think of Antarctica quite rightly as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener," said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the UK and lead author of the study.

"Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human-induced climate change."

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with Cambridge University, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Durham.

Less than 1 per cent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But in parts of the peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer - when only about the first 30cm of soil thaws.

The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved because of the temperatures.

Amesbury said that made them "a record of changes over time".

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11858956

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Orcas are slaughtering sharks for their livers in precise attacks


Great white sharks are being killed in bizarre fashion off the coast of South Africa as carcasses have been found washed up with only their livers missing.

Killer whales are believed to be responsible for the strange predatory pattern, with one expert noting that the organs were removed with "surgical precision".

At least three liver-less white shark carcasses have washed up near the popular tourist town Gansbaai, South Africa, so far in an unprecedented set of killings.

Experts suggest that local killer whales have developed an appetite for squalene - an organic chemical compound found in abundance in shark liver oil.

"Obviously this is a very sad time for us all," Alison Towner, a biologist with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, wrote in a Facebook post after the third carcass was discovered near Gansbaai.

"Nature can be so cruel and the dexterity these enormous animals are capable of is mind blowing... almost surgical precision as they remove the squalene-rich liver of the white sharks and dump their carcass."

Gansbaai is widely considered one of the best regions in the world for shark diving.

Sharks generate millions in tourist revenue for the town, but the killer whales' spree appears to have driven many of the sharks away.

Local shark diving tour companies have complained that their trips are coming up empty.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11855378

Monday, 15 May 2017

Climate cycles that could mean we're about to get even hotter


El Nino, and its sister La Nina, have long been one of the key drivers of Australia's weather.

But environmental scientists now suspect they could be little more than the climactic equivalents of cheeky kids at the family barbecue. Instead, a "kindly aunty" and "cranky uncle" could have a far more wide reaching effect on our climate.

With El Nino being the Spanish for "the boy" and La Nina "the girl" scientists have named these overarching systems El Tio meaning, "the uncle," and La Tia "the aunt".

And if the boy and the uncle join forces, things may be about to get hairy. At the very least, you may want to slap on some more sunscreen, reports News.com.au.

Dr Benjamin Henly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, told news.com.au a prolonged La Tia may have "lulled us into a false sense of security" that global warming had slowed when the reality is climate change could be on the verge of accelerating.

That could spell disaster for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement which aimed to keep the world's average annual temperatures to 1.5C below pre industrial levels.

The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate cycle operating in the Pacific.

A negative ENSO phase, commonly known as an El Nino, sends hotter weather to Australia and can lead to less rain, sustained droughts and weather extremes. A positive ENSO, La Nina, sees cooler conditions and more rain.

Seven out of the 10 driest Australian summers have coincided with El Nino, including 2016 which was the hottest year on record.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11855216

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Oceans are at the 'edge' of losing all oxygen


\
The world's oceans close to being starved of oxygen - and even that could lead to mass sea life extinction which could last a million years.

University of Exeter scientists fear the modern ocean is 'on the edge of anoxia' - when the oceans are depleted of oxygen.

And while this dramatic drop in oceanic oxygen comes to a natural end, it takes about a million years,

Studying what happened during the Jurassic period, they found the drop in oxygen causes more organic carbon to be buried in sediment on the ocean floor.

This eventually leads to rising oxygen in the atmosphere which ultimately re-oxygenates the ocean. But it took a million years to get the balance right again.
 
Lead researcher PhD student Sarah Baker said it was now 'critical' for modern humans to limit carbon emissions to prevent this.

She said: 'Once you get into a major event like anoxia, it takes a long time for the Earth's system to rebalance.

'This shows the vital importance of limiting disruption to the carbon cycle to regulate the Earth system and keep it within habitable bounds.'

The researchers studied the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, which took place 183 million years ago.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Alaska's tundra is 'filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, worsening climate change'


Even as the Trump Administration weighs withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a new scientific paper has documented growing fluxes of greenhouse gases streaming into the air from the Alaskan tundra, a long-feared occurrence that could worsen climate change.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that frozen northern soils - often called permafrost - are unleashing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the air as they thaw in summer or subsequently fail to refreeze as they once did, particularly in late fall and early winter.

"Over a large area, we're seeing a substantial increase in the amount of CO2 that's coming out in the [autumn]," said Roisin Commane, a Harvard atmospheric scientist who is the lead author of the study. The research was published by 19 authors from a variety of institutions, including Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, based on aircraft measurements of carbon dioxide and methane and tower measurements from Barrow, Alaska, found that from 2012 to the end of 2014, the state emitted the equivalent of 220 million tonnes of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere from biological sources (the figure excludes fossil fuel burning and wildfires). That's an amount comparable to all the emissions from the US commercial sector in a single year.

The chief reason for the greater CO2 release was that as Alaska has warmed up, emissions from once frozen tundra in winter are increasing - presumably because the ground is not refreezing as quickly.
"The soils are warmer deeper, and as they freeze in the [autumn], the temperature of every soil depth has to come to zero before they hard freeze," Commane said. "The temperature has to come to zero and equilibrate, for the soils to freeze hard through. And through that whole period you have emissions because the microbe are active."

In particular, the research found that since 1975, there has been a 73.4 per cent increase in the amount of carbon lost from the Alaskan tundra in the months of October through December as the climate warmed steadily.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11852064

Friday, 5 May 2017

New crack in one of Antarctica's biggest ice shelves could mean a major break is near


Another branch has appeared in a huge crack on one of Antarctica's largest ice shelves, and scientists fear it's only a matter of time before a massive chunk -- potentially containing up to 5200sq km of ice -- breaks away. If this happens, the ice shelf may become increasingly unstable and could even fall apart.
 
Scientists have been closely monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf, located on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a large rift in the ice -- now about 180km long -- has been advancing in rapid bursts in recent years. Between the beginning of December and the middle of January alone, the crack lengthened by about 27km. And since 2011, it has grown by about 80km.

Over the past few months, scientists have noticed that the crack has stopped extending in length but has continued to widen at a rate of more than a metre a day. It's already more than 300m wide.

And now, scientists have noticed a worrying development: A new branch has split off from the main rift, about 10km below the tip of the original crack, and has splintered off in the direction of the ocean. The new branch is about 15km long. Altogether, only about 20km of ice now stands in the way of the whole chunk splitting off into the sea.

Researchers from Project Midas, a British-based Antarctic research project based at Swansea University and Aberystwyth University, observed the new crack in satellite images on May 1.
The biggest concern is not whether the chunk will break off -- that seems to be inevitable at this point -- but what will happen after it does. The break will sweep away about 10 per cent of the ice shelf's total area, and scientists have previously speculated that the shelf will become increasingly unstable after this point.

"We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was before the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event," Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, a leader at Project Midas, said in a statement.


http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11850335