Of squids and climate change.

Squids are not generally thought to have anything to do with affecting the climate one way or another. And yet, scientists have just discovered that they might do just that, influencing the rate at which the climate might change.

Usually when squids die after mating they float to the surface of oceans to be eaten by birds. However, it seems that not all species of squids are subject to that fate. Some sink to the bottom of oceans to be devoured by the denizens of the deep. If it was found that more species of squids fall to the bottom then they might well become storage places for carbon, and this would have implications for the study of climate change.

Let us not forget that oceans are by far the world’s largest storage place of carbon. It seems that in parts of the Gulf of California squids may add up to 12 milligrams of carbon per square meter per day on the ocean floor. This is significant as it represents half of what gets stored by the fall of tiny plankton bodies at shallower depths.

We also know that squid populations are on the increase, perhaps due to the warming of the oceans or because they have fewer predators. Understanding the role they have in storing carbon could be vital in fine-tuning our scenarios in what the future holds and how the climate will change. All this makes me wonder, what else do we not know on what can affect the climate.

 

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Climate change altering lakes and streams.

Scientists who are studying climate change now say that the effects on the world’s inland waters may be profound. The increase in concentration of carbon dioxide may affect the chemical composition of these waters.

In the same way that scientists have been monitoring the increases in carbon dioxide gases in the atmosphere they have also monitored those in seawater. Marine life can and will be harmed by those increases. If the ph of water is lowered and made more acidic then coral would have more trouble building their calcium skeletons. With the acidification of waters the shells of marine organisms like oysters could be affected. Chemical changes in water are often used by marine animals to seek food or avoid danger Many fish cannot detect their predators anymore. They may even become more bold.

All these changes could affect lakes and streams as well, except there are very little studies that have been done on them so far. One study so far involved the water flea, a shrimp-like creature that has different defenses against predators. They have a protective crests and also some sprout spikes. The tiny water fleas filter algae and microbes from water and they are devoured by small fish which in turn are eaten by bigger fish. An entire ecosystem could be affected if the water fleas are affected and this was why they were studied. Scientists have discovered that higher levels of carbon dioxide causes water fleas to make smaller crests and shorter spikes. It seems that carbon dioxide interferes with the nervous system of water fleas, blunting their ability to look out for predators.

Minnows swimming in waters affected by a rise in carbon dioxide also do not respond as quickly to alarm signals released by other minnows. Another study has shown that one species of mussels relaxes its muscles in water that has high carbon dioxide while another species seem to clamped its shell shut so that it could not filter food anymore.

Still, no one knows for sure the effects or if all ecosystems will be affected. One study that looked at lakes in Wisconsin found no change between 1986 and 2011. Different ecosystems may react differently face with an increase in carbon dioxide. More studies are therefore needed.

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The suffocation of the oceans.

Dead zones in the ocean with zero oxygen have increased in size four times since the 1950’s according to scientists. The number of low level oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied ten times. All this is not reassuring.

Low levels of oxygen in our oceans could have unintended effects on organisms. They would reduce growth, impair reproduction and increase disease. Warmer waters means less oxygen in water prodding organisms to increase their metabolism to use more oxygen and thereby deplete it more quickly.

Sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and this could mean mass extinctions in the long run, with severe consequences for the humans who depend on fish. Many poor countries depend on fish as their basic staple of food. More than 500 million people depend on fisheries and these in turn provide jobs for 350 million people.

Once again climate change is the culprit for these increases in low level oxygen areas. Not reassuring is that according to scientists all the extinctions in the past were due to warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans.

Even on a local level humans can be acutely responsible for these dead zones. One researcher was able to expose a link between the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and large scale meat production. People have to be made aware of that.

The good thing about all this is that at a local level people can do something to alleviate the problem. Chesapeake Bay in the U.S has recovered from this as well as the Thames river in the U.K. There still is a need to act by countries as this is a world-wide problem with grave consequences for all of humanity.

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Oil and the environment.

Not much of a surprise with the new Trump administration; the U.S will roll back safety rules that were created after the Deepwater Horizon spill. And this despite that it was the worst oil spill in American history. All this according to documents is to reduce the “burden” of regulations in doing business…

Not surprising was that the oil lobby opposed these safety rules arguing that they would cost 50.000 jobs and reduce investment. Nevermind that one million coastal and offshore seabirds died in the spill and that 4.9 million barrels of oil went into the sea.

Naturally environmental groups claim that reversing these safety measures will lead to another disaster. Some have called this reversal wilful ignorance. I call it sheeer stupidity.

I want to wish to all my subscribers a Happy New Year!

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Tree die-offs spreading in the American West.

New studies on how pine trees in the American West will survive offer dire projections on their survival as it seems that they will die at an increasing rate as the world becomes warmer. The ponderosa pine and pinyon forests will be more vulnerable.

These forests can withstand short droughts but warmer temperatures will stress them to the point where they will no longer survive the shorter droughts. A warmer planet will therefore mean an acceleration in mortality. This new study is significant as it examines multiple increases in temperature rather than a single increase.

According to the study warming temperatures will mean 9 or 10 additional forest die-offs per century. This is not sustainable in the long run. What is interesting is that the results of this study can be applied to many other types of forests around the world.

Even the famous sequoias, the largest tree in the world by its volume is no longer as tough as it used to be. With droughts, other species of trees nearby suck up stored water in the ground and render the sequoias more prone to dying. A small bit of good news from the study is that reducing carbon dioxide levels would help the situation greatly. Any reduction in warming gases would reduce tree die-off.

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The Arctic permafrost is thawing quicker!

A new study has found that the permafrost, a layer that usually never thaws is now thawing faster than ever in the Arctic. As well, sea ice is melting at its fastest pace for the past 1500 years. None of this is reassuring for humans. The climate is changing everywhere on the planet.

This new report says that the far northern regions are warming up twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The level of warming in modern times far exceeds anything that we have known in the past. With the permafrost thawing at a faster rate buildings constructed in those areas will make them vulnerable once the grounds begins to melt and shift.

The Arctic sea ice is also on a downward trend and the 2017 winter levels were the smallest recorded. In 1985 the sea ice was much older and thicker, at least 45% of it was old ice. Today 79% of the Arctic sea ice is only a year old and very thin. Those increases in carbon-dioxide in the air will affect as well the fish supply. More ice free seas will induce countries to fish more in the Arctic seas thereby depleting these resources faster. Change in sea ice can also affect the weather as the jet stream in the upper atmosphere can vary its trajectory, one reason perhaps for these recent California fires and those frigid temperatures in eastern North America in the past weeks.

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Less plastic in the oceans?

A UN resolution has recently passed that would make countries stop plastic waste entering the ocean waters. The problem with this resolution is that it has no timetable and is not binding. In other words, it is a wish. Sad. Guess who did not want a more binding resolution that had specific goals? The United States of course. Somehow I am not surprised of that.

The good news is that countries are realizing that plastics entering the oceans is a major planetary problem that will affect us all. There is a need to move quickly on this issue.

I was surprised to discover that those countries that mismanage plastic waste are by far developing nations such as China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Of these China is the worst offender.

The plastics industry has been fighting this issue taking exception to measures that would ban plastic bags for example. They need to come aboard and become more green. Dirty tricks have to stop. Paying reporters to write good stories about plastics and the jobs they create has to stop.

Some African countries have stepped up the fight against plastics on their own as they have witnessed the impact these have had on their environment. Mauretania, Senegal and Mali are some of the countries that have acted. More are sure to follow now that the UN has shined a light on this issue.

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