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ScienceShot: Fire Is Blackening ‘Earth’s Lungs’

6 February 2014 3:00 pm

The vast expanses of rainforest that make up the Amazon Basin have been called the lungs of the planet, as they breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Now, findings from biweekly airplane flights over the jungle show how a severe drought choked these lungs, constricting the uptake of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Worse, fires released tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.

ScienceShot: Fire Is Blackening ‘Earth’s Lungs’

Galilee Basin Coal


Not just one of the greatest ever environmental threats to Australia,

Its climate implications are global.

Advanced plans are in place to build nine mega mines in one region of Queensland, Australia. Located in the Galilee Basin, five of these projects would each be larger than any coal mine currently operating in the country. The Galilee Basin coal mines will produce more coal than Australia currently exports, equating to 700 million tonnes of carbon pollution a year. This is greater than the total emissions from the United Kingdom.

A very good report to read:

Cooking the Climate – Wrecking the Reef

by GreenPeace

Abbot Point Coal Port Approval –

A Death Sentence for Great Barrier Reef

Abbot Point coal port approval signals the Coalition government’s industrialization of one of the most beautiful and fragile ecosystems on Earth. A combination of four terminals will ship an additional 190 million tonnes of coal every year for decades to come. It means continuously loading coal onto 1500 ships inside the Great Barrier Reef every year. Environment Minister Greg Hunt has given the project approval to dump 3 million tonnes of dredging waste in the ocean. That’s equivalent to 150,000 dump trucks, lined up bumper to bumper from Brisbane to Melbourne, tipping waste into the ocean.

“Mining activities presented a greater threat to the reef than agriculture,”

says Research scientist Jon Brodie from the James Cook University.

”Farmers are going to be asked to save the reef when port authorities and climate change managers are doing nothing,” he said. ”It puts it all back on farmers.” Agricultural activity within the Great Barrier Reef catchment area, such as beef grazing and farming releases sediment, chemical and fertiliser run-off. This is discharged from rivers into the sea. However, Mr Brodie said the damage from the expansion of ports, including dredging sediments contaminated with heavy metals, could prove a greater threat to the health of the reef because – unlike run-off from agriculture – port development was occurring without any transparent and productive management of the risks. The area off Abbot Point, where 3-million cubic metres of seabed will be dredged and dumped as part of the expansion, is near marine habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows that provide shelter and food for fish, turtles and dugongs. Cloudy water reduces the reach of sunlight that corals and seagrasses need for growth.

More Coal Ports Proposed

Coal export terminals are proposed from Gladstone to Cape York. In addition to Abbot Point, expansion of an existing coal terminals is under way at Hay Point and Brisbane Coal Terminal while new coal terminals are proposed at Cape York, Wiggins Island and Balaclava Island. Total coal tonnage is proposed to increase more than six-fold by the end of this decade.

“The Abbott Government has sacrificed the climate and the Great Barrier Reef for overseas mining companies with its approval today of the world’s largest coal port and another CSG plant in our Great Barrier Reef,” said Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters.


Great Barrier Reef to Become Sludge Repository

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—The Australian agency tasked with managing the Great Barrier Reef has authorized what amounts to an experiment opposed by many scientists: how the iconic ecosystem will respond to mountains of sludge dumped into the waters between the reef and the Australian mainland. On Friday, the federal Marine Park Authority paved the way for development of one of the world’s largest coal ports by approving the dumping of up to 3 million cubic meters of dredge spoils inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

China Chips Away at One-Child Policy

Greater demand for energy, resources, more pollution predicted.

BEIJING—China’s relaxation of its one-child policy, announced last week, is unlikely to spark a baby boom. But it may be a steppingstone to a bigger change that influences when the nation’s population peaks—a milestone with major ramifications for food security. Writes Yadan Ouyang of The Economist from Beijing. The government announced on 15 November that it will allow Chinese couples to have two children if one spouse is an only child. Exceptions to the one-child rule already exist for ethnic minorities, rural families without boys, and couples in which both parents are only children. But Chinese demographers have long called for wider changes, arguing that the decades-old policy has contributed to a series of social problems, such as the country’s aging population, gender imbalance, and labor shortages. Official statistics show that China’s fertility rate has dropped from 2.86 in 1982 to about 1.5 to 1.6 births per woman now. The new policy could affect millions of lives, but demographers and policymakers believe it won’t have a significant impact on China’s current demographic reality. The policy will allow up to 12 million women of reproductive age in China to have a second child, according to estimates by Wang Guangzhou, a demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In a study published in the Chinese journal Sociological Studies in September 2012, Wang and his colleagues estimate that the new policy, if carried out nationwide in 2015, could lead to 1 million to 2 million additional births a year, on top of the 15 million births a year at present. The team also forecast that under the change, China’s total population would peak at 1.4 billion by 2029 and decline to 1.3 billion by 2050.

First Detailed Map of Global Forest Change

Between 2000 and 2012 Loss of 2.3 million square kilometers of established forest (888,000 sq. miles) Vs Gain of 800,000 square kilometers of new forest (309,000 sq. miles) .

map-global-forest-change-final_73495_600x450Nov. 14, 2013 — A University of Maryland-led, multi-organizational team has created the first high-resolution global map of forest extent, loss and gain. This resource greatly improves the ability to understand human and naturally-induced forest changes and the local to global implications of these changes on environmental, economic and other natural and societal systems, members of the team say.

In a new study, the team of 15 university, Google and government researchers reports a global loss of 2.3 million square kilometers (888,000 square miles) of forest between 2000 and 2012 and a gain of 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) of new forest. Their study, published online on November 14 in the journal Science, documents the new database, including a number of key findings on global forest change. For example, the tropics were the only climate domain to exhibit a trend, with forest loss increasing by 2,101 square kilometers (811 square miles) per year. Brazil’s well-documented reduction in deforestation during the last decade was more than offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola and elsewhere. Full Report Here

Disaster Strikes Earth – Investors Cheer

© The Financial Times Ltd October 24, 2013 2:02 pm BHP Billiton has forecast growth over the next 15 years of up to 75 per cent in demand for some commodities – especially energy. This article does not disclose that this huge increase in demand is due to the mass movement of Chinese peasants from rural lands into the cities, seeing a huge demand for new housing, automobiles, electronics. This of course has heartened investors. BUT the reality is that Earth is already under great stress for energy, timber, water, and food, and that this will only increase as underdeveloped populations demand the same quality of life experienced in the more developed parts of Earth. What is the Answer? Reducing world population! How? By educating the masses and changing the management system away from consumerism.

world population growth

Death by a Thousand Cuts –
Where has all the Seagrass gone?

Tourists prize Shark Bay for the dolphins of Monkey Mia and Hamelin Pool’s bizarre ‘living fossils,’ the stromatolites, which are living colonies of primitive blue green algae established around 3500 million years ago. However, for marine biologists and environmentalists, Shark Bay is also home to the world’s largest seagrass bank. The Wooramel seagrass bank – named for the Wooramel River, which feeds nutrient-laden sediment into the bay – stretches for 1030 sq km. This vast underwater meadow includes 12 species of seagrass – more species than any seagrass ecosystem in the world. This habitat provides food and shelter to a diversity of marine life, from invertebrates and fish, to foraging dugongs and sea turtles. So you can gauge how important it is to Earth and her creatures But how might this World-Heritage listed ecosystem fare in the future, in a changing world? Nature is already providing some clues. In December 2010, the area experienced its biggest flood event on record, with over 200 mm of rain in a single day recorded in the nearby town of Carnarvon. During the floods, the Wooramel River dumped large volumes of freshwater and sediment onto the seagrass beds. Soon after, in February 2011, scientists noticed that seawater temperatures in the seagrass bank were among the highest recorded in the region, with mean temperatures of around 29°C. In fact, an extreme ocean heatwave at the time resulted in temperatures that were 2–4°C above the long-term averages for that part of the WA coastline during late summer. The occurrence of the two extreme weather events – flooding and ocean warming – within the space of months gave researchers an opportunity to see how predicted changes in climate under global warming might impact on Shark Bay’s seagrass ecosystems. Researchers already know that turbidity and light reduction is a major driver of seagrass loss worldwide, as suspended sediment blocks out the sunlight required for photosynthesis. At Shark Bay, prevailing winds swept the Wooramel River’s flood plume many kilometres north of the mouth of delta at the time of the 2011 flood event, contributing to visible seagrass dieoff up to 15 km away from the river’s mouth. In 2011, a WA research team observed widespread defoliation of the temperate seagrass Amphibolis antarctica – the most widespread canopy-forming seagrass in Shark Bay. They proposed that, while this defoliation was primarily correlated with distance from the Wooramel River delta – a measure of the flood plume extent – the combined effects of higher turbidity and temperatures resulted in greater defoliation than either effect alone. Earlier laboratory experiments had already shown that fewer A. antarctica seedlings survive in seawater temperatures above 25°C, with significant decline occurring above 30°C. Temperature thresholds for the tropical seagrass Halodule uninervis, however, are higher – above 30°C. This would explain why A. antarctica fared worse in the heatwave than H. uninervis – in fact, the WA study concludes that in warming seas, tropical species like H. uninervis may replace temperate ones as the dominant seagrasses in Shark Bay.

A dying stand of A. antarctica, showing turbidity and residue from the 2010-11 flood plumes. Credit: M. Vanderklift

The scientists also warn that predicted sea level increases of around 7 cm under climate change might lead to a salinity drop in the hypersaline Hamelin Pool, with results that are difficult to predict. Interestingly, the rise in sea level may also reduce light levels in the existing seagrass meadow, impacting productivity. Why does all this matter? Seagrass meadows provide critical ecosystem services in the form of nutrient recycling, and food or habitat for marine mammals, fishes, birds, turtles and invertebrates. Globally, seagrass loss rates are comparable with those reported for mangroves, coral reefs, and tropical rainforests, placing seagrass meadows among the most threatened ecosystems on earth. Source: The Argo program measures the temperature and salinity of ocean surface waters around the world. It deploys floats that measure salinity and temperature throughout the surface layer of the ocean. Over 3,000 free-drifting floats have been deployed all over the ocean and each float is programmed to sink 2,000 metres down, drifting at that depth for about 10 days. Floats make their way to the surface measuring temperature and salinity the whole time. Data is transmitted to a satellite once the float reaches the surface, so that scientists and the public have access to information about the state of the ocean within hours of the data collection. The Remote Sensing Group in CSIRO’s Marine and Atmospheric Research Division (CMAR) publish Argo data collected via satellite remote sensing.

[ EARTH NOW continued page 5]