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  • richardmitnick 9:05 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Atlantic Coral, Ecology,   

    From NYT: “Atlantic Corals: Colorful and Vulnerable” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    FEB. 9, 2015
    JAMES GORMAN

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    Ecosystems of deep sea corals of various shapes and hues can be compromised by bottom-fishing. Squid fishing may be regulated in the mid-Atlantic.

    A council that sets regulations for fishing off the mid-Atlantic coast will meet on Wednesday to consider protections for little known and fragile ecosystems of deep sea corals in and around 15 ocean sites.

    Environmental groups and sport fishermen are pushing for protection of these canyons and other sites, which run from Block Canyon off New York to Norfolk Canyon off Virginia, from squid fishing. They also are lobbying for other restrictions on fishing in a much broader zone.

    The squid-fishing industry is opposed to the broader restrictions and has proposed further study and more limited boundaries on four of the canyons, as well as further discussion on the other canyons.

    Some of the corals could also be affected by oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, after President Obama said last month that he would open up the region to oil and gas leases. However, different agencies are involved in that process.

    The canyons are distributed from New York to Virginia, while the drilling leases would be granted from Virginia on south, an area that would include Norfolk Canyon, and perhaps part of another.

    Temp 0 West Atlantic Stony Corals
    West Atlantic Stony Corals

    Temp 1 Atlantic and Eastern Pacific
    Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Corals

    Temp 2 Tropical West Atlantic
    Tropical West Atlantic Corals

    Temp 3 South Atlantic
    South Atlantic Corals

    Scientists and fishermen have known about the corals for at least a century. They live hundreds of yards below the ocean surface and support diverse communities of life. The areas attract all sorts of marine animals at different times of year, including squid.

    Researchers and the fishing industry have steadily learned more about the corals since the 1950s, and particularly in the last decade or so as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has used submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to probe the depths and capture new information, images and video.

    Peter J. Auster, a marine biologist who is an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut and senior research scientist at Mystic Aquarium, has studied the corals for 30 years and said that they had been found on steep slopes of seamounts and in canyons that were cut into the continental shelf.

    “These are incredible landscapes,” he said.

    Because the corals grow slowly, bottom-fishing for squid and fish could knock them over and the communities would not recover for many years. The canyons that are being considered for protection are, Dr. Auster said, refuges for organisms that used to be more widespread. “The choices are what we do with what’s left,” he added.

    The group that makes the choices is the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. It is meeting in Raleigh, N.C., and the amendment under discussion would affect its regulations for mackerel, butterfish and squid fishing.

    The amendment includes a complex variety of provisions that cover depth, type of fishing and boundaries, but the main items for discussion are protection of the canyons and a set of restrictions for a broader zone.

    Brad Sewell, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program, said, “If both of these protection zones are approved and go into effect, it would be the largest protected area on the Atlantic Seaboard.”

    Squid fishermen say the restrictions would damage an industry that has been responsible and is sustainable. Greg DiDomenico, the executive director of Garden State Seafood Association, which represents New Jersey commercial fishing businesses, said his group supported protecting the corals. “There’s no denying that these creatures are extremely important,” he said.

    But he argued that the proposed amendment was not based on sound evidence. “We don’t really know what’s down there,” he said. And so he is asking for further study, and his group has recently submitted new proposals.

    The prospect of a delay disturbs some of the advocates for strong protection, including John McMurray, a sport fisherman who is a member of the fisheries council.

    The council has been working on the amendment for almost three years, he said, adding: “We’ve had multiple comment periods. The public clearly wants these corals protected.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:34 pm on January 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, Ice studies,   

    From NSF: “NSF-funded Antarctic drilling team is first to bore through hundreds of meters of ice to where ice sheet, ocean and land converge” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    January 21, 2015
    Media Contacts
    Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7530, pwest@nsf.gov
    Tom Parisi, Northern Illinois University, (815) 762-7464, tparisi@niu.edu
    Susan Kelly, WISSARD Education and Public Outreach Officer, sbkelly2@illinois.edu
    Leslie Reed, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, (402) 472-2059, lreed5@unl.edu

    Principal Investigators
    Ross Powell, Northern Illinois University, powellro@imcs1.usap.gov
    Frank Rack, University of Nebraska, Frack2@unl.edu
    John Priscu, Montana State University, priscujo@imcs1.usap.gov
    Slawek Tulaczyk, University of California, Santa Cruz, tulaczsl@imcs1.usap.gov

    “Grounding Zones” are key to regulating ice-sheet movement and sea-level rise, but also, surprisingly, home to an apparently thriving ecosystem

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    A fish swims through the “grounding zone.”
    Credit: WISSARD / NSF

    Using a specially designed hot-water drill to cleanly bore through a half mile of ice, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded team of researchers has become the first ever to reach and sample the “grounding zone,” where Antarctic ice, land and sea all converge. Data gathered from samples of sediment taken in the grounding zone will provide clues about the mechanics of ice sheets and their potential effects on sea-level rise.

    Cameras sent down the drilling hole also revealed an unsuspected population of fish and invertebrates living beneath the ice sheet, the farthest south that fish have ever been found. The surprising discovery of fish in waters that are extremely cold at -2 Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) and perpetually dark poses new questions about the ability of life to thrive in extreme environments.

    “I have been investigating these types of environments for much of my career, and although I knew it would be difficult, I had been wanting to access this system for years because of its scientific importance,” said Ross Powell, a chief scientist with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project and a researcher at Northern Illinois University.

    “Findings such as these–gaining an understanding of the ice sheet dynamics and its interaction with ocean and sediment, as well as establishing the structure of its ecosystem–are especially rewarding. It’s a big pay-off in delayed gratification.”

    The newest discoveries stem from the WISSARD project’s investigation of the grounding zone of Whillans Ice Stream of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), roughly 850 kilometers (530 miles) from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

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    West Antarctic Ice Sheet

    WISSARD is funded by NSF’s Division of Polar Programs, which also provided the logistical support needed to succeed in the challenging Antarctic conditions. The division manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the continent.

    Using the hot-water drill developed and built by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, researchers punched through nearly 740 meters (nearly 2,500 feet) of the Ross Ice Shelf on Jan. 8, 2015 local time. (U.S. researchers in Antarctica keep New Zealand time.)

    On Jan. 16, as more than 40 scientists, technicians and camp staff were working around-the-clock to collect as many samples and data as they could while the borehole remained open, the WISSARD team deployed a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called “Deep SCINI”–(Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging)–to explore about 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) of the marine cavity around the borehole. The ROV was developed at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    The ROV discovered a variety of fish and invertebrates including numerous amphipods, or marine crustaceans, components of an ecosystem that may provide new insights into how creatures survive and even thrive in one of the world’s most extreme environments.

    “Finding fish, or any other type of life, under an ice shelf is by itself not novel,” said John Priscu, a WISSARD chief scientist and a professor of land resources and environmental sciences at Montana State University, who has studied life in and under Antarctic ice for more than 30 years.

    “However, our WISSARD data will establish for the first time sources of carbon and energy for higher trophic levels in this most southerly marine ecosystem. Our data will also provide important information on the connectivity between subglacial environments and ice-shelf productivity, allowing us to predict first responders to a warming climate,” Priscu added.

    After the initial Deep SCINI deployment, a package of oceanographic instruments, developed at Northern Illinois University, including a downward-looking camera, recorded data in the cavity over a tidal cycle and also observed many fish swimming by.

    Although life has been found previously under the Ross Ice Shelf, this site is the closest to the South Pole where such marine life has been documented. The southernmost ocean waters in the world are only 70 kilometers (43 miles) south, under the Ross Ice Shelf at about 85 degrees South latitude.

    “It is fascinating to see so much marine vertebrate and invertebrate life so far away from the open ocean and right where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet goes afloat,” said Slawek Tulaczyk, a chief scientist on the WISSARD project and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I have spent my scientific career studying how this ice sheet may contribute to future global sea level rise. However, I now realize that retreat of the ice sheet may also impact a unique ecosystem.”

    The grounding zone is also extremely important for the stability of the ice sheet and ice shelf. The Texas-sized Ross Ice Shelf is the world’s largest floating slab of ice. Numerous streams of ice in WAIS feed into the ice shelf, like rivers flowing into a lake.

    Scientists are particularly interested in the dynamics between the ice, glacial sediments and water in order to understand how the system may respond to future changes in climate. Some climate models predict warmer seawater may intrude into grounding zones and cause melting at the base of the ice shelf.

    A weakening or collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf would allow ice streams of WAIS to flow more rapidly into the ocean, which would raise global sea level.

    “This season we accessed another critical polar environment, which has never been directly sampled by scientists before: the grounding zone of the Antarctic ice sheet,” noted Tulaczyk. “Nobody has ever actually done direct measurements in an environment like this.”

    While going down the borehole, cameras observed rich sedimentary debris in the ice. These observations, combined with data from cores of sediment collected from the sea floor and water from the marine cavity, will add significant information to the scientific questions about how the ice sheet works and interacts with sediment and ocean waters in these settings. They can perhaps provide answers to the recent past and possible future behavior of the massive West Antarctic Ice sheet.

    This part of the Antarctic continent includes Subglacial Lake Whillans, a shallow body of water located about 800 meters (2,600 feet) below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which periodically fills and drains upstream from this grounding zone.The WISSARD team investigated the lake two seasons ago.

    Fresh water from the lake is thought to eventually reach the seawater cavity at the present study site through a subglacial waterworks that may be similar to a coastal wetlands ecosystem–think an estuary and its surrounding salt marshes, but one that is covered by ice, and missing all the marsh grasses. The ice sheet also delivers sediment called till, to the grounding zone to perhaps influence ice dynamics and provide nutrients to this ecosystem.

    -NSF-

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

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  • richardmitnick 12:48 pm on January 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology,   

    From Brown: “Researchers study marine ecological changes at Easter Island” 

    Brown University
    Brown University

    January 13, 2015
    David Orenstein

    Late last year, Jon Witman and Robert Lamb spent three weeks studying coral and other marine life in the waters around Easter Island, part of a research project led by Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Chile. Unlike most of the world, the coral around Easter Island appears to be increasing.

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    Easter Island Coral reefs

    Despite its isolation, there has been profound change in recent decades. In the 1980s, fishermen and recreational divers reported a major regime shift from an algae-dominated state (primarily Sargassum) to a coral-dominated state.

    “It is unclear what prompted this shift,” said Robert Lamb, an ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student at Brown. “A change in oceanographic conditions facilitating coral recruitment and growth? A change in coral larval supply? A change in consumer pressures?”

    Jon Witman, professor ecology and evolutionary biology, added that he sought to determine how the small regional species pool and isolated oceanographic position of Easter Island might influence these changes. “This was a central focus of our research, since coral reefs around the world are currently in decline, whereas reefs at Easter Island appear to have been increasing in coral cover for the last several decades.”

    To try to answer these questions Witman and Lamb traveled to Easter Island from Nov. 15 through Dec. 5, 2014, on a research project led by professor Evie Wieters of the Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Chile. Witman sampled the diversity of coral-dominated communities on vertical walls to place the marine biodiversity of Easter Island in a global context and to begin studying the local (urchin grazing) and regional (number of species in the biogeographic region) processes responsible for low diversity there.

    The isolated ecosystem is susceptible to extreme events such as El Niño, as well as human impacts such as over-fishing. Importantly, Lamb said, there are no connected populations to revitalize the community after a decline.

    Witman said he has never seen so much open space (bare rock) in this type of community, which could reflect either the low number of invertebrate species in the region or intense grazing from sea urchins.

    Some of the evidence Witman and Lamb saw suggested that the urchins, voracious herbivores and grazers, are largely responsible for the predominance of bare rock where corals are absent. They eat the algae that might otherwise compete with coral.

    They observed that the urchins appear to line up like soldiers on the front of a battlefield, advancing into the algal bed. “If we imagine their slow movements sped up hundreds of times, we would see the line advancing into the algal bed,” Lamb said. “Urchins don’t appear to cross the algal line, perhaps because they can become dislodged by waves if their flimsy tube feet are attached to slippery substrates such as algae and sand. Thus, the front advances slowly, allowing corals to colonize the bare rock left behind.”

    The Witman lab assisted Weiters’ team to test this idea with experiments in which they set up the interaction to see what would happen. By their design they could examine the relative importance of structure (corals vs. no corals) and substrate (algae/sand vs. bare rock) in determining urchin feeding behavior, and they could see whether or not new feeding fronts can be established inside of algal-dominated areas, Lamb said.

    Their research will help explain how the marine communities of this remote and famous island will respond to changes in climate and diversity.

    See the full article here.

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    Welcome to Brown

    Brown U Robinson Hall

    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:13 pm on January 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology   

    From Discovery: “Baby California Condor Surprises Wildlife Experts” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Jan 12, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    Biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) were taken by happy surprise, with their recent discovery of a previously unknown juvenile condor alongside a known breeding pair of adults in Big Sur, Calif.

    Because there are so few California condors — just 116 living in the wild in California, according to the VWS — the big vultures are closely monitored by biologists. It’s unusual, then, for a new arrival to hatch and be reared by its parents unobserved.

    c
    California condor in captivity

    VWS suspects the breeding pair seen with the juvenile are indeed the proud parents. The organization thinks the amorous couple, known as #209 (or “Shadow”) and #231 (or “Wild 1″), are nesting in an area of the Ventana Wilderness that is so remote it’s inaccessible to observers.

    “It’s just a sign of how well the flock is doing — that they are flying out on their own, making nests and breeding on their own,” biologist and VWS Big Sur condor project coordinator Joe Burnett told the San Francisco Chronicle.

    A cursory glance at the numbers helps underscore the enthusiasm felt by the biologists.

    By 1987 the California condor, the largest bird in North America, with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, had become nearly extinct in the wild. The last 27 animals were captured and cared for in captivity. Habitat loss, poaching, and lead poisoning (thanks to hunters’ lead bullet fragments present in big-game waste) were among the factors that led to the condor’s dance on the edge of total extinction.

    But successful captive-breeding and wild-release programs have since boosted the California condor’s population to today’s overall count of 425, according to VWS. In addition to California, condor populations can also be found in Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

    The recent surprise pairing marks just the third time since 1997 that California condors have mated without being observed, the Chronicle noted.

    “This is truly exciting to witness as it offers another example of condors surviving on their own,” said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson in a statement.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:08 pm on January 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Earth: “The Forests of Mulanje” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    In southern Malawi, near the border with Mozambique, the land rises sharply into a multi-lobed plateau that towers about 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above the landscape. The feature, an inselberg known as Mulanje massif, is the highest point in south-central Africa.

    m
    Mulanje massif

    mm
    Mount Mulanje

    m
    Location of Mount Mulanje in Malawi

    The rock that makes up Mulanje formed some 130 million years ago, when underground magma slowly cooled into vast lobes of granite and syenite. Over time, tectonic forces pushed these erosion-resistant rocks upward. As softer rock above and around the granite and syenite eroded away, Mulanje was left behind. Today, about twenty rocky peaks are found on the plateau.

    The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured [the above] natural-color image of Mulanje on October 10, 2014. Since the image was acquired during the dry season, browns and reds dominate the lower-elevation areas surrounding the plateau. Dry grassland, shrubland, and farmland appears tan; it normally greens up during the wet season. Areas with exposed soil have a red-orange hue. The bright green areas south and west of Mulanje are tea and macadamia farms.

    While the lowlands get most of their rain during the wet season, the plateau sees rain year round. Vegetation type varies with elevation. Mulanje’s lower slopes are mainly miombo woodlands. The mid-elevation and upper slopes, as well as many of the ravines, are home to afromontane forests, which have a darker green color. A few scattered groves of endangered Mulanje cypress (Widdringtonia whytei)—Malawi’s national tree—survive in certain valleys. Tussock grasslands and heath dominate the highest-elevation parts of the plateau. Large outcrops of exposed rock appear gray.

    Although conservation groups have attempted to protect Mulanje’s forests, satellite observations show that deforestation has chewed away at the perimeter of many of them over the last decade. The lowlands surrounding Mulanje are densely populated, and people regularly harvest wood for cooking and heating, explained Joy Hecht, an environmental economist and consultant.

    A wildfire is visible on the plateau in the Landsat image. “Fires are frequent and a bad sign, often set by illegal loggers,” said Hecht, who has conducted field research on Mulanje. “The mountain top is a protected forest, and there would not be prescribed burns there.” Other common causes of wildfires on Mulanje include hunting, charcoal production, escaped campfires, and arson.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on December 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From NASA Earth Observatory: “Australia’s Ephemeral Lake Mackay” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    Dec 31, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    Hundreds of salt lakes are sprinkled across the landscape of northern and western Australia. Most, including Lake Mackay, fill infrequently via seasonal rainfall that runs off of nearby lands and through minor drainage channels.

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    Lake Mackay is Australia’s fourth largest lake—encompassing 4,737 square kilometers (1,829 square miles) along the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory. The image above, acquired on September 19, 2010, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, shows about a quarter of the lake area. Dark areas indicate desert vegetation or algae, moisture within the soils, and the low elevations where water pools. Light browns indicate areas of higher elevation that occasionally form islands.

    NASA Terra satellite
    NASA/ASTER

    NASA ASTER  Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer
    NASA/Terra

    So, how deep is the water? That depends on when you measure. When full, some of the deeper lakes in the region can be several meters deep. Shallower lakes are less than 50 centimeters (20 inches) deep. The depth of Lake Mackay is uncertain, but is thought to be somewhere between the two extremes.

    Water can persist in Lake Mackay for at least six months after a flood; when it does, the ephemeral lake provides an important habitat and breeding area for shorebirds and waterbirds. For example, researchers spotted at least 4,400 young banded stilts during an aerial survey of the wetlands in 2001.

    References and Further Reading
    Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, Australian Landforms and their History. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, Largest Waterbodies. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Dietz, R.D. et al., (2003, April) Formation and Organization of Australian Athalassic Salt Lakes. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Duguid, A. et al., (2005) Wetlands in the arid Northern Territory. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    NASA Earth Observatory: Natural Hazards Floods in Australia. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lake Mackay, Australia. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Northern Territory Government, Sites of Conservation Significance, Lake Mackay. Accessed December 30, 2014.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:29 pm on December 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ecology   

    From AAAS: “China confirms its southern glaciers are disappearing” 

    AAAS

    AAAS

    22 December 2014
    Christina Larson

    Glaciers in China that are a critical source of water for drinking and irrigation in India are receding fast, according to a new comprehensive inventory. In the short term, retreating glaciers may release greater meltwater, “but it will be exhausted when glaciers disappear under a continuous warming,” says Liu Shiyin, who led the survey for the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute in Lanzhou.

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    Midui Glacier in Tibet (Jan Reurink/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0))

    In 2002, Chinese scientists released the first full inventory of the country’s glaciers, the largest glacial area outside of Antarctica and Greenland. The data came from topographical maps and aerial photographs of western China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions taken from the 1950s through the 1980s. That record showed a total glacial area of 59,425 square kilometers. The Second Glacier Inventory of China, unveiled here last week, is derived from high-resolution satellite images taken between 2006 and 2010. The data set is freely available online.

    Liu and his colleagues calculated China’s total glacial area to be 51,840 square kilometers—13% less than in 2002. That figure is somewhat uncertain because the previous inventory used coarser resolution images that may have mistaken extensive snow cover for permanent ice, says Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the project.

    Methodological quibbles aside, the latest inventory flags a marked retreat of glaciers in the southern and eastern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau. “We found the fastest shrinking glaciers are those in the central upper reach of the Brahmaputra River, between the central north Himalaya [and] the source region of the tributary of the Indus River,” Liu says.

    Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, applauds the openness in sharing data, which hasn’t always been the norm in China. “It is highly useful that the colleagues from China have made their data set available to the community. It will feed directly into global efforts to compile a worldwide glacier inventory and is a major improvement,” he says. “It will, for example, greatly support the effort of global glacier modeling to improve our understanding of glaciers’ response to climate change.”

    See the full article here.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 12:29 pm on December 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From Princeton: “Dirty pool: Soil’s large carbon stores could be freed by increased CO2, plant growth (Nature Climate Change)” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    Dec 23, 2014
    Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications

    An increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet — soil.

    r
    Researchers based at Princeton University report that an increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet — soil. The researchers developed the first computer model to show at a global scale the complex interaction between carbon, plants and soil. The model projected changes (above) in global soil carbon as a result of root-soil interactions, with blue indicating a greater loss of soil carbon to the atmosphere. (Image by Benjamin Sulman, Princeton Environmental Institute)

    Researchers based at Princeton University report in the journal Nature Climate Change that the carbon in soil — which contains twice the amount of carbon in all plants and Earth’s atmosphere combined — could become increasingly volatile as people add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, largely because of increased plant growth. The researchers developed the first computer model to show at a global scale the complex interaction between carbon, plants and soil, which includes numerous bacteria, fungi, minerals and carbon compounds that respond in complex ways to temperature, moisture and the carbon that plants contribute to soil.

    Although a greenhouse gas and pollutant, carbon dioxide also supports plant growth. As trees and other vegetation flourish in a carbon dioxide-rich future, their roots could stimulate microbial activity in soil that in turn accelerates the decomposition of soil carbon and its release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the researchers found.

    This effect counters current key projections regarding Earth’s future carbon cycle, particularly that greater plant growth could offset carbon dioxide emissions as flora take up more of the gas, said first author Benjamin Sulman, who conducted the modeling work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute.

    “You should not count on getting more carbon storage in the soil just because tree growth is increasing,” said Sulman, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University.

    On the other hand, microbial activity initiated by root growth could lock carbon onto mineral particles and protect it from decomposition, which would increase long-term storage of carbon in soils, the researchers report.

    Whether carbon emissions from soil rise or fall, the researchers’ model depicts an intricate soil-carbon system that contrasts starkly with existing models that portray soil as a simple carbon repository, Sulman said. An oversimplified perception of the soil carbon cycle has left scientists with a glaring uncertainty as to whether soil would help mitigate future carbon dioxide levels — or make them worse, Sulman said.

    “The goal was to take that very simple model and add some of the most important missing processes,” Sulman said. “The main interactions between roots and soil are important and shouldn’t be ignored. Root growth and activity are such important drivers of what goes on in the soil, and knowing what the roots are doing could be an important part of understanding what the soil will be doing.”

    The researchers’ soil-carbon cycle model has been integrated into the global land model used for climate simulations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) located on Princeton’s Forrestal Campus.

    Read the abstract

    Benjamin N. Sulman, Richard P. Phillips, A. Christopher Oishi, Elena Shevliakova, and Stephen W. Pacala. 2014. Microbe-driven turnover offsets mineral-mediated storage of soil carbon under elevated CO2. Nature Climate Change. Arti­cle pub­lished in December 2014 print edition. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2436

    The work was supported by grants from NOAA (grant no. NA08OAR4320752); the U.S. Department of Agriculture (grant no. 2011-67003-30373); and Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative sponsored by BP.

    See the full article here.

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    Princeton University Campus

    About Princeton: Overview

    Princeton University is a vibrant community of scholarship and learning that stands in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. Princeton is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.

    As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. At the same time, Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitment to undergraduate teaching.

    Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students. The University’s generous financial aid program ensures that talented students from all economic backgrounds can afford a Princeton education.

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  • richardmitnick 3:15 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, ,   

    From Nautilus: “The Men Who Planted Trees” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    December 4, 2014
    By Anna Badkhen ILLUSTRATIONS BY SAM GREEN

    In West Africa, a model for worldwide conservation takes root.

    An hour before sunup the Bani River uncoils through the dark Sahel in bright silver curves, a reflection of a day not yet dawned, hardships not yet known, hopes not yet broken. Onto such a magical surface the Bozo fishermen of Sindaga shove off with bamboo poles and float downstream in redwood pirogues, one silent man per boat. The fishermen work standing up: solitary Paleolithic silhouettes keeping perfect balance against the river’s luminescence, each man one with his boat like some pelagic centaur, performing one of mankind’s oldest rites. They cast their diaphanous seines into the night. Handmade sinkers kiss the surface, pucker it lightly, drag the nets under.

    By the time daybreak trims burgundy the sparse savannah, the fishermen row their day’s first catch back to the village. In squat banco houses that crowd the river, the men take breakfast of rice and fish sauce. They patch up the nets while their wives and mothers sort the morning haul into giant wicker baskets and lug it to the nearest market town. After midday prayer, the men cast off again.

    Such has been their fishing schedule for centuries, aligned with the orderly procession across the West African sky of 26 sequential constellations. Each new star signifies the advent of a windy season, of weeks of life-giving drizzle or days of downpour, of merciless heat or relentless malarial mosquitoes dancing in humid nights. Each star announces the arrival of the blue-tinged Nile perch, of the short-striped daggers of clown killi, of the lunar disks of the Niger stingray, of the toothless garras that like to nibble the bare ankles of laundresses, and that, in the West, are used for pedicures in foot spas.

    Or so it used to be. Mali has been growing drier and hotter since the 1960s. For the past three decades, the weather has been chaotic, out of whack with the stars. The rainy season has been starting early or late or not arriving at all. Droughts throttle the land and wring dry the river. Flash floods wash away harvests and entire homesteads hand-slapped of rice straw and clay. Acres of deforested riverbank dry out and blow away, or collapse into the water. The fish run off schedule. “The river is becoming broken,” said Lasina Kayantau, a Sindaga elder.

    Their approach to saving the environment stems from the limbic understanding that they are an indivisible part of it.

    Kayantau received me on a late afternoon last November. I was researching a book and spent much of the year herding cattle with a family of Fulani cowboys, nomads forever chasing rain in the oceanic spaces of Africa’s margin lands. For a time, my hosts pastured their cows near Sindaga. Kayantau and I sat on a blue and yellow plastic mat under a mango tree outside his low adobe house. He was a heavyset man in his 60s, and he wore a soiled maroon boubou with yellow polka dots and, around his neck, a cell phone on a lanyard. One of his four wives, Kadija, sat on a low bamboo stool, propping up a toddler with her feet. Fishnets dangled from tree limbs and eaves. Ducks sidestepped discarded tackle. Kayantau turned to blink at the Bani. The river rippled in the slanted sun, blinked back.

    “The trees that kept mud from sliding into the river are gone,” Kayantau explained. “Now when it rains, mud slides into the river. The mud adds up, and one year, one day, there will be no river. But we are fishermen. This river is our life. It’s what we will leave our sons and grandsons. If the river is gone, how will they live? We had to do something.”

    So one morning last summer, Kayantau asked the hard, sunjerked men of Sindaga to leave their pirogues moored and stay ashore. He gathered the children and womenfolk. For five days, armed with hoes, sandaled, their soiled boubous flapping like giant wings in the thirsty wind, the 4,800 villagers—any man, woman, and child strong enough to work in the humid summer sun— bedded out 13,560 slim, two-foot-tall saplings of Acacia nilotica along the east bank of the Bani, downstream from the village. The idea, Kayantau told them, was simple: As the saplings grew into twisted, fissured trunks under dense thorny crowns, their roots would cinch the abrading topsoil of the desiccated seasonal swamplands and keep alluvial cut-banks from slumping into the river, preserving the watercourse for their descendants.

    The villagers worked for free. They became volunteer conservationists, planting back the bush.

    After a year of walking in the Sahel and speaking to ecologists in Africa and the West, I have come to see the villagers’ effort to persevere and preserve their ecosystem as a future model for conservation worldwide. People did not “arrive” in Africa the way we did on other continents: We were born here, and we evolved together with its ecosystems. Today, 70 percent of Malians live rurally. The Sindagans’ approach to saving their environment stems from necessity, from immemorial African traditions of husbanding nature, and from the limbic understanding that they are an indivisible part of it.

    r
    Morning on the Bani River: Mali’s Bozo fisher- men trace their ancestry to capricious man-eating water spirits and amphibians and may have been fishing the Bani River since the Neolithic.Anna Badkhen

    If you were to look at the Bani River from space, you would see that it sashays through a meandering band of a continental scale: a 1.1 million square-mile belt of pointillist ochre-green savannah that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, dividing the Sahara from the African tropics roughly along the 13th parallel. The Sahel.

    The most common tree in the Sahel is the acacia. First classified in 1773 by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy and ecology, Acacia nilotica— known as thorn mimosa, scented thorn, Vachellia nilotica, or prickly acacia—splotches across the semiarid land. The lives of the tree and the people who are born, rest, plant, and die in its shade are deeply intertwined.

    Prickly acacia is a super plant. It can grow up to 65 feet tall, with a crown as wide. It thrives in poor, dry, and saline soils, adding three-quarters of an inch in diameter each year. It needs little rain. It is resistant to fire. By its fifth year it can produce up to 175,000 seeds annually, and although most of its seeds do not sprout when the pods drop, they still can germinate 15 years later. The seeds are rich in protein. Of all the acacias, the nilotica has one of the deepest rooting systems, up to nine feet, which means it can tap into relatively deep ground water. The horizontal spread of its lateral roots is 1.6 times greater than the umbrella span of its crown. Prickly acacias may stand two dozen feet apart but underground they clasp the soil together in a tight, resilient web. Along a river they create an indigenous natural revetment.

    Africans use prickly acacia’s seeds as food flavoring and dye, its glabrous bark for tea, its leaves as fodder and antibiotic, its sap to bind pigment to colored fabric, its twigs as toothbrushes, its thorns as awls, its inner bark and pods to tan leather. It is a nitrogen fixer, so grain yields are richer in its shade.

    But Sahel’s very texture is changing. Acacia scrublands are turning to infertile dustbowl. Red dunes grow where the 14th-century traveler Ibn Battuta described lush orchards and fecund fields. Winter harmattan winds fill Bamako, the capital of Mali, with dust from the Sahara hundreds of miles away. Most people in Mali have never heard about climate change, but they can describe with scientific precision its symptoms: the hotter, stronger wind; the fickle rainfall; the disappearing forests. Last summer the rainy season arrived six weeks late. Around Sindaga, the fens that usually become rice paddies in June still lay bone-dry in early August. My Fulani hosts herded skeletal Zebu cattle through grassless pastures. The Bani at Sindaga was a tepid slow stream you could wade across, and there were no fish. In fact, in the last 40 years Mali has become 12 percent drier and about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.

    The political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the land itself, as if under Mali’s pustulating skin her very skeleton is creaking apart.

    A perfect storm of global and local factors is responsible for Mali’s environmental crisis: changing weather patterns; disastrous land management by French colonists; post-colonial explosion in population growth; overgrazing by expanding cattle herds; commercial farming and fishing. The people’s supreme dependency on the land does not mean that the 58 million people in the Sahel live in complete harmony with the environment. Like most men, they want the land to work for them, not vice versa. The deforestation speaks for itself.

    Between 1990 and 2005, droughts and human misuse killed 10 percent of Mali’s forests. Some trees were eaten during the famines, when crops failed and people survived on leaves and bark. Some quit on the waterless soil. Most were chopped down: Malians rely primarily on firewood for cooking, and a 2010 report from Mali’s agriculture ministry said that more than 500,000 hectares of forest are cleared for firewood and charcoal each year—and we are talking grown trees, not two-foot saplings. Today, only one-tenth of the country—about 12 million hectares—is forest.

    The fallout of this altered landscape extends beyond droughts and famines. In 2012, Mali weathered three successive coups and counter-coups and a simultaneous Tuareg uprising in the northern desert. Last year, it became 
the newest frontline of the global war on terror
 after Islamist
 fundamentalists
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 rebellion; now
they are fighting 
against French-led United Nation
s troops backed by
the United States. Many analysts,
including Caitlin E.
Werrell at The Center
for Climate and Security, and the University of Michigan Islamic
 Studies historian Juan Cole,
consider the turmoil a facet of
desertification and link the jihad to the depletion of natural resources in one of the poorest countries on the world’s poorest continent. The political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the land itself, as if under Mali’s pustulating skin her very skeleton is creaking apart.

    f

    Yet even after two centuries of centralized urban control of rural resources abraded the people’s relationship with the Earth, and even after the introduction of modern tools, weapons, and livestock vaccinations have enabled a voracious draining of the land, there still exists in Mali a level of conservation ethic that for millennia had prevented the people from destroying their environment. The central premise of that ethic stems from a myth.

    Most Malian traditions, explains Dr. Doulaye Konaté, president of the Association of African Historians, hold that natural resources are on lease to humans from gods, and that humans use the land according to their contract with the gods. Long after most Malians converted to Islam in the 19th century, spiritual leaders here continued to serve as interlocutors with the old divinities and doled out the permission to use the resources and the punishment for violating the restrictions, determining who could cut down a specific tree, hunt a particular animal, fish during a certain season. Many remain such guardians of the land to this day. And most Malians still populate waterways, the bush, the desert with powerful jinns that control these resources and penalize trespassers. Such beliefs imply an intimacy with the land, an attitude toward it not of ownership but of companionship.

    Over months of ambulations with the nomads, I camped alongside the Bani River, laundered my clothes in it, broke Ramadan fast with its tepid water, forded it, swam its anastomosing currents. I’d thought I knew it well. The Bozo at Sindaga wear it like skin. They have no school, no electricity, no sanitation, no source of income but what the river yields. They have an innate memory of their connectedness. They cannot afford to unweave what we call nature from their identities.

    Last summer, when Kayantau approached environmentalists in Djenné, the nearest big town about 10 miles upstream from Sindaga, he did not ask them to step in and save the river. He asked them to help the villagers remember, relearn, how to keep the river safe.

    He saw my raised eyebrows, smiled, and added, “Do not look at an old question with eyes of today.”

    The elder spoke to Hamma Ba, who oversees the directorate of fisheries at the district branch of Mali’s ministry of the environment. Ba also heads a tiny environmental nonprofit he founded a year ago with a $440,000 grant from the Global Climate Change Alliance, an agency the European Union established in 2007 to assist developing countries most affected by climate change. Ba’s nonprofit, which has a staff of five and goes by the French acronym AVDR, focuses on reforestation and education about climate change. Ba offered to donate to Sindaga some tree saplings to secure the crumbling shore if Kayantau rallied the villagers to do the planting. Thoughtful reintroduction of native species is being used to restore riparian ecology worldwide. Scientists credit the planting of sea-buckthorns along the banks of the Onggi River, which was dredged and diverted during the Mongolian gold rush of the 1990s, with that river’s improved flow through the Gobi Desert into Lake Ulaan. And in the U.S., the ongoing reforestation of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley by the Wetlands Reserve Program is creating a buffer around the wetlands that helps prevent soil degradation, provide habitat for wildlife, and reduce agricultural runoff into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Malian conservationists obsess about reforestation. It is the cornerstone of Mali’s national climate change policy: “We have a five-year program to reforest, starting in 2014. Millions of trees! All this made by people!” Ousmane Ag Rhissa, the minister of environment, told me.

    Planting trees, counting trees, and agroforestry are the focus of dozens of Malian non-governmental organizations, big and small, most of them funded by the European Union. Then there is the Great Green Wall, an 11-nation African project to erect a barrier of trees that, when or if completed, would measure more than 25 million acres from Dakar to Djibouti and prevent degradation of the soil, halt desertification. (An acre of trees may absorb between two and three tons of carbon dioxide per year—so the Great Green Wall may reduce global emissions by between 50 and 80 million tons.)

    Pan out from the flat adobes of Sindaga. Imagine: the fishermen and their families, contributors to the largest horticultural endeavor in human history.

    Ba acknowledges that a handful of villagers planting 13,560 acacias on 370 Sahelian acres cannot undo deforestation. His goals are much humbler—though, in a way, also much loftier: He hopes that conservation projects such as the one in Sindaga will remind rural Malians to be more responsible toward the erratic landscape of a changing planet.

    “You cannot protect nature if there is a separation between you and it,” says Ba. Something as simple as planting trees along a riverbank, he says, encourages the planters to thoughtfully reconnect with their environment. It allows them to re-imagine the potential of the Sahel, to see the possibility for a different, healthier landscape and a different relationship with it, and to see that they have the power to create both.

    When I visited the historian Konaté in Bamako, he told me, “There are many ways of protecting the environment, spiritual ways,” He saw my raised eyebrows, smiled, and added, “Do not look at an old question with eyes of today.”

    I remembered then a similar notion the writer Barry Lopez expressed in The Rediscovery of North America. To bridge the chasm between the ransacked landscape of the New World and the descendants of the Europeans who for centuries have exploited it, Lopez proposes inquiring of the land and its original inhabitants how best to coexist with it. “We are curious,” he writes in his short, forceful manifesto, “about indigenous systems of natural philosophy, how our own Western proposals might be answered by some bit of this local wisdom, an insight into how to conduct our life here so that it might be richer.”

    It is such gentle relearning, I think, that makes the men of Sindaga role models for modern Western environmentalists. Their effort to protect their ancestral fishing grounds comes at a time when scholars in the West are reassessing their own approach to conservation. The classic, divested strategy—most eloquently manifested in vast, unpopulated national parks—has outlived itself because it further demolishes the bonds that once existed between humans and the rest of the natural world. The Canadian writer J.B. MacKinnon writes that conservation’s “most fatal flaw, perhaps, has been to encourage the separation of people from nature: parks here, humans there, and there, and there.”

    What is necessary today, some conservationists propose, is a type of ecological restoration in which humans are everyday participants, immediately invested in nature because they understand themselves to be a part of it. We all should be planting back the bush—in our homes, communities, cities, parks. To do so, we can set our bearings by the fishers of Sindaga, who are remembering, faithfully and without fanfare, the ancient practice of nurturing their home ground. Our livelihood, too, depends on a intimate relationship with our environment.

    In November, scores of Fulani nomads en route from wet-season grazing grounds to the lush dry-season pastures around Djenné passed through Sindaga driving thousands of lyre-horned Zebus, sheep, and goats. My hosts and I were among them. The Fulani stayed on the Bani River for about a week, but that was all it took for their animals to strip the spindly twigs of prickly acacia of most of their sensitive bipinnate leaves. But after we moved on, the saplings—some with chewed-off tips, some with only one or two flecks of glaucous green surviving on the reddish stems— were still there, marking a sheer, hopeful grid along the Bani’s eastern bank just north of the village. Every few days Lasina Kayantau rode his scooter to check on the trees. One afternoon, I left the campground where my Fulani companions had stopped in a copse of thorn trees, and tagged along.

    It was odd to watch Kayantau’s sandaled, thick frame move through this imaginary future forest. His hands were flat, massive, shingly with callus, dry-cracked into grooves. Miniature maps of the Sahel. I tried to take pictures but couldn’t: Kayantau was simply too large, the shoots too small—too small for his figure; too small, it seemed, for that unforgiving, cauterized land.

    Kayantau showed me two of the five saplings he had planted himself. Scraggy, anemic twigs stuck out of trampled alluvium a few steps away from a dry gulch that, when it rains, dumps clayey mud into the river. Several other saplings were there, too. I don’t know how he could tell them apart.

    Kayantau stood over the seedlings, but when he spoke, he turned to the Bani, choppy and blindingly white in the 5 o’clock autumn sun.

    “I want to leave a mark,” he told the river. “After I die, I want the people in the village who elected me their elder to remember me. To say, Lasina, he did something. Lasina kept the river alive for our children.”

    See the full article here.

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    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:46 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, ,   

    From NYT: “With Compromises, a Global Accord to Fight Climate Change Is in Sight” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 9, 2014
    CORAL DAVENPORT

    LIMA, Peru — Diplomats from 196 countries are closing in on the framework of a potentially historic deal that would for the first time commit every nation in the world to cutting its planet-warming fossil fuel emissions — but would still not be enough to stop the early impacts of global warming.

    The draft, now circulating among negotiators at a global climate summit meeting here, represents a fundamental breakthrough in the impasse that has plagued the United Nations for two decades as it has tried to forge a new treaty to counter global warming.

    But the key to the political success of the draft — and its main shortcoming, negotiators concede — is that it does not bind nations to a single, global benchmark for emissions reductions.

    p
    A coal-burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Officials meeting in Peru are working on a pact to curb global warming. Credit Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Instead, the draft puts forward lower, more achievable, policy goals. Under the terms of the draft, every country will publicly commit to enacting its own plans to reduce emissions — with governments choosing their own targets, guided by their domestic politics, rather than by the amounts that scientists say are necessary.

    The idea is to reach a global deal to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year, incorporating 196 separate emissions pledges.

    “It’s a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

    “But the great hopes for the process are also gone,” he added. “Many people are resigned,” he said, to the likelihood that even a historic new deal would not reduce greenhouse gas levels enough to keep the planet’s atmospheric temperature from rising 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

    That is the point at which, scientists say, it will become impossible to avoid the dangerous and costly early effects of climate change — such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme drought, food shortages and more violent storms.

    The Lima draft represents the input of all the negotiating countries, though there are still several major hurdles to work out. But even then, experts say, at best the new deal might be enough only to curb global warming by about half as much as scientists say is necessary.

    Until recently, the United States and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters, have been at the center of the impasse over a climate deal.

    Until this year, the United States had never arrived at the United Nations’ annual climate negotiations with a domestic policy to cut its own carbon emissions. Instead, it merely demanded that other nations cut their use of coal and gasoline, while promising that it would do so in the future.

    China, meanwhile, was the lead voice among nations demanding that developing economies should not be required to commit to any cuts.

    But in November, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced plans to reduce emissions, helping inject new life into the global climate talks.

    Negotiators here call the joint announcement between China and the United States the catalyst for the new draft, which, if approved at the climate summit meeting this week, would set the stage for a final deal to be signed by world leaders next year in Paris.

    In the United Nations’ first effort to enact a climate change treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding language of the agreement prescribed that the world’s largest economies make ambitious, specific emissions cuts — but it exempted developing nations. The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty, effectively leaving it a failure.

    The Lima draft does not include Kyoto-style, top-down mandates that countries cut emissions by specific levels. Instead, it includes provisions requiring that all nations, rich and poor, commit to policies to mitigate their emissions. Countries that sign on to the deal will commit to announcing, by March, detailed, hard-numbers plans laying out how they will cut emissions after 2020.

    The draft that emerges this week “will look like a game of Mad Libs,” said one negotiator who was not authorized to speak publicly. Over the coming months, as countries put forth their emissions reduction pledges, the details of the final deal will be filled in.

    It is expected that many countries will miss that March deadline. Officials from India and other countries have said that they are unlikely to present a plan before June.

    In order to ensure that all countries are included in the deal, late announcers will get a pass. The point, United Nations officials say, is to ensure that the information exists to finalize a Paris deal by December 2015.

    Negotiators concede that the “each according to their abilities” approach is less than perfect — but that it represents what is achievable.

    “The reality of it is that nobody was able to come up with a different way of going about it that would actually get countries to participate and be in the agreement,” said Todd D. Stern, the lead American climate change negotiator. “You could write a paper, in theory, assigning a certain amount of emissions cuts to every country. That would get the reduction you need. But you wouldn’t get an agreement. We live in the real world. It’s not going to be perfect.”

    And there are still many hurdles ahead.

    While many major developing economies are now expected to follow China’s lead in preparing emissions plans, some countries remain wild cards. This year, the government of Australia repealed a landmark climate change law that taxed carbon pollution. Since then, its emissions have soared.

    “Australia is left without any viable policy to cut emissions,” said Senator Christine Milne, the leader of the Australian opposition Green Party. “It’s going to drag its heels.”

    Money, as always, is a sticking point.

    The increasing likelihood that the planet’s atmosphere will warm past the 3.6 degree threshold, with or without a deal in Paris, is driving demands by vulnerable nations — particularly island states and African countries — that the industrialized world open up its wallet to pay for the damage incurred by its fossil fuel consumption. Under the terms of a 2009 climate change accord reached in Copenhagen, rich countries have agreed to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to the ravages of climate change. But a report this month by the United Nations Environmental Program estimates that the cost to poor countries of adapting to climate change could rise to as high as $300 billion annually — and vulnerable countries are stepping up their demands that more money be included in any final deal. Many vulnerable and developing countries insist that each country’s national pledge include not just a plan to cut emissions, but also money for adaptation.

    “The financing question will be one of the deepest divides,” said Jennifer Morgan, an expert in climate change negotiations with the World Resources Institute, a research organization.

    Another element to be hashed out by negotiators will be devising an international number-crunching system to monitor, verify and compare countries’ pledged emissions cuts.

    China has always balked at any outside monitoring of its major economic sectors, and is pushing back on proposals for rigorous outside scrutiny.

    Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that his country “always supports increasing transparency” but that the new reporting system should reflect “the reality that developing countries’ basic capacities in areas like national statistics and assessment are still insufficient.” He added that “developed countries should provide appropriate support to developing countries.”

    The United States has urged that a final deal not take the form of a legally binding treaty requiring Senate ratification, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol experience.

    But many countries continue to press for a legally binding deal.

    French officials have already given the yet-to-be-signed deal a working title: the “Paris Alliance.”

    The name, they say, is meant to signify that many different economies are working together, rather than complying with a single, top-down mandate.

    Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beijing.

    See the full article here.

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