A Second Warning – Forcing Earth’s Ecosystems Beyond Their Breaking Point

The Athabaska glacier in the Columbia Icefields, Alberta, Canada, has receded 1.5 km and lost over 50% of its volume during the last 125 years (Photo: D. Hanneman)

Twenty-five years after the Union of Concerned Scientists and over 1700 independent scientists published their “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”, a new group of scientists (bolstered by 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries) have again issued a warning that humanity has not made significant progress in mitigating environmental challenges.

The recently published viewpoint of these scientists and signatories appears in the 11/13/17 issue of BioScience and can be read on line at “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice”. The authors review the 1992 warning of major environmental challenges and our response to it by:

we look back at their warning
and evaluate the human response
by exploring available time-series
data. Since 1992, with the exception
of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone
layer, humanity has failed to make
sufficient progress in generally solving
these foreseen environmental challenges,
and alarmingly, most of them
are getting far worse…

The newly published warning of our need to deal with these major challenges –  catastrophic climate change, deforestation, agricultural production associated with farming ruminants for meat consumption, and a sixth mass extinction event (just to name a few of them) – makes the reading of this viewpoint critical. It takes less than 10 minutes to read this, and – if you are a scientist, then sign on to support it. More than signing, find a way to become active in really dealing with these challenges.

Odyssey to the Anthropocene

I came across a good posting on Carbon Brief that gives a succinct historical background for designating the new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, and thought I’d pass it on. As defined by the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, the Anthropocene is:

Relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

The Anthropocene is not a formal geologic time unit yet within the geologic time scale – that label will take awhile. But the Working Group on the Anthropocene (a part of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy) gave their recommendation to formalize this time unit  to the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa on August 29, 2016, so there is some progress. The working group suggested that there are options for marking the beginning of the epoch, such as c. 1800 CE, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe or about 1950, where the boundary

…was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.  From The Guardian, 8/29/2016.

Anyways, it’s worth reading the posting on Carbon Brief by Sophie Yeo about the Anthropocene, and I’ve included one of the posting’s infographics below to peak a reader’s interest.

Infographic: The Anthropocene. By Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.
Infographic: The Anthropocene. By Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.

IPCC Hones Its Language on Climate Change

The Athabasca Glacier, a part of the Columbia Icefields in Alberta, Canada, is receding on an average of 16 feet per year.
The Athabasca Glacier, a part of the Columbia Icefields in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, has receded 0.93 miles (1.5 km) over the last 125 years.

Yesterday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest Synthesis Report (SYR5) – a summary of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on the state of knowledge on climate change. The big news with the SYR5’s release is the change in language used within the report – words like “unequivocable” and “clear” now replace the earlier usage of “probable” and “likely” when describing global warming and the role that human activity has played in the temperature increase. Text from the SYR5 underscores this major language shift:

 “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”

…and

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.”

The SYR5 summarizes IPCC’s three other major reports on various facets of climate change that were released in 2013-2014. These reports are all available from the IPCC website:

  • Climate Change 2013 – The Physical Science Basis;
  • Climate Change 2014 – Impacts, Adaptations, and Vulnerability; and
  • Climate Change 2014 – Mitigation of Climate Change.

The Carbon Brief 11/2/2014 blog gives a listing and good, brief descriptions of what else is noteworthy in the SYR5. Here’s a quick recap on their list:

  • Global warming continues unabated
  • Human influence on warming is clear
  • Ocean acidification, sea level rise, glacial ice decline
  • IPCC’s new carbon budget
  • Consequences of inaction – climate change impacts
  • Low carbon transition – costs and savngs

Dead Mud Encroaches On To Maine’s Shellfish Flats

“Dead mud” is not a geologic term that I had heard before. But it well describes a geologic event that may have catastrophic implications for coastal areas as oceans continue to acidify.

The Maine coastal areas are being particularly hard hit with dead mud:

The spread of “dead mud” among Maine’s shellfish flats could have disastrous implications for clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.

Mark Green, an oyster grower and marine science professor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, defines dead mud:

The darker muds and sulfur-rich muds don’t have any clams, and those are the flats that have lower pH levels. Places where historically there have been great harvests that supported clammers for decades, you now see water quality changes that are reflected in the mud.” The more acidic the water, the lower the pH.

In the following video, Prof. Mark Green further explains ocean acidification and how it affects marine life:
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Sagan 2013 Lecture: Terra Sapiens -The Role of Science in Fostering a Wisely Managed Earth

So you couldn’t go to the 2013 American Geophysical Union’s Fall meeting in San Francisco? Now at least we can listen to the Carl Sagan Lecture by Dr. David Grinspoon, entitled “Terra Sapiens: The Role of Science in Fostering a Wisely Managed Earth” that is now posted on YouTube. It’s well worth the hour’s time:

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The Anthropocene Is Here

The last 250 years of human history have vastly changed out planet. During this time, human activities have greatly transformed geologically significant conditions and processes. The change is so immense that many geologists now refer to our current time as the Anthropocene – a word coined in 2000 by Eugene Stoermer and Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-winning Dutch chemist. The word “Anthropocene” is derived from the Greek anthropos for ‘human’ and Greek kainos, meaning ‘new’ or ‘recent’, and thus it basically means the human-dominated time of recent earth history. Anthropocene is not yet an official geological time scale term. The  International Commission on Stratigraphy is now considering recognizing the Anthropocene as a geological epoch and their decision on its inclusion is slated for 2016. In the meantime, ‘Anthropocene’ appears profusely in the geological literature – the publisher Elsevier has even started a new aca­demic journal titled Anthropocene.

A video, Welcome to the Anthropocene, is a good intro into the proposed epoch. It’s part of:

a collaborative project being run by researchers and communicators that aims to improve our ‘collective understanding of the Earth system’. The online project combines high-level scientific data with visualisations to help communicate the global geological and environmental impacts of human behaviour over the last 250 years.

Watch the full video with related content here: http://www.richannel.org/welcome-to-the-anthropocene

Anthropocene: Is there a new human-based geological age?

Geologists are well known for separating the geologic time scale into many time units. The most recent time division, the Holocene, has now lasted about 11,700 years, during which time the climate has been fairly stable. However, at several recent geological meetings, geologists have discussed the premise that because human activity has so irrevocably changed our planet, we have entered a new geological age. The name given to this new, human-caused epoch is the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene was most recently discussed last week at a Geological Society conference in London . Read more about this discussion at: BBC News Science and Environment’s web site.