Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 37: If the sea ice goes, so does the Arctic ecosystem

All life forms that depend on Arctic sea ice will be hurt when that sea ice disappears. And especially when you also depend on other life forms that depend on sea ice. Polar bears are an obvious example (and if you go a bit deeper humans are also included).

We’ll skip the humans and talk about polar bears in a bit, but let’s first talk about the underlying issue: what science means – and how it’s actually quite easy to harness your own intelligence to interests that may want to try to confuse you. Yes, a scientific mind – a joy forever.

Arctic marine ecosystem: many species (inter)dependent on sea ice - including polar bears
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 36: Ocean plastic outpaces warming & CO2 in race to bottom

Earth’s oceans currently take up almost 50% of our CO2 emissions and absorb over 90% of the heat the other half of the CO2 traps in the atmosphere. Both ocean CO2 and heat absorption will have major consequences for deep-sea ecosystems, like ocean acidification, ocean anoxia, and increasing food scarcity – impacts that take a long time before they reach rock bottom, at several kilometres depth.

But at the same time humans are also doing something else: we’re also dumping hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic trash into these same oceans. And for deep-sea organisms, that ocean crisis seems to hit home much faster…

Deep ocean plastic pollution - Mariana Trench
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 35: 9 megatrend graphs show little base for optimism

Over 15,000 scientists have endorsed a newly published paper titled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’ that’s set to quickly become a landmark publication. Essentially it’s an overview update (and very digestible, just a thousand words) on the State of our Planet, based on the progression of 9 classical sustainability indicators, and a sequel to a similar publication from exactly 25 years ago.

Since that year, 1992, the year of the famous Rio Conference where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was founded, one of these indicators has improved, one seems to have plateaued [but not for a good reason] – and the 7 others are dramatically deteriorating, including the steady rise of CO2 and global temperature, and a seemingly unstoppable decline of Earth’s biodiversity. The below 9 megatrend graphs are central to the updated publication:

9 megatrends of Earth, 1 graph
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 34: ‘Sahel greening’ unlikely to benefit African biodiversity

The below graph comes from a new global temperature trend study that compares different established datasets for land and ocean temperature. The results emphasize an often-overlooked phenomenon: geographically ‘skewed warming’ – leading to planet-wide precipitation shifts. Possible effects not only include drying of both the Amazon Basin and Africa’s Congo Basin, but also possible greening of the Sahel and the bordering southern Sahara, in North Africa.

But African biodiversity, that has to take a loss in drying zones elsewhere on the rapidly warming continent, may stand little chance setting foot in areas that are greening. That’s because these climatic changes are outpaced by rapid human population growth and agricultural expansion – we learn from another recent study, that compared climatic trends to land use trends.

'Skewed global warming' - northern & southern hemisphere, land & ocean temperatures
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 33: ‘Temperate biodiversity’ faces specific challenges

The response of endemic biodiversity to climate change in Earth’s temperate climate zones is complex. A new study suggests that species that have evolved in regions with relatively high natural climate variability may at the same time be more resilient and more vulnerable to the effects of steadily rising temperatures:

Genetic diversity of species from temperate climate zones, stemming from the large seasonal and multi-annual climate fluctuations of these regions, may place them at an adaptive advantage in face of 21st-century climate change. This same natural climate variation may however also blind these temperate-zone species to the underlying climate trend, misguiding them to disperse or even evolve in false directions, decreasing their chance of survival.

Temperate biodiversity complex response to climate change
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 32: COP23 emission targets still lead beyond +3 degrees

Climate change is just one driver of the Holocene-Anthropocene Mass Extinction. But it will be a powerful one, as global emission reduction commitments – that will be discussed in the following two weeks in the German city of Bonn during the ‘COP23’ UN climate conference – still lead to a three degrees warmer world, or worse, as this updated UNEP graph illustrates:

Emission targets 2030 lead beyond 3 degrees warming - COP23 Bonn
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 31: ‘New’ great ape species – directly at risk of extinction

Say hello to Pongo tapanuliensis, or ‘the Tapanuli orangutan’ – a close relative of yourself who had been hiding in plane sight on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Sadly, unless hunting and deforestation are halted, you can also immediately say goodbye – as just 800 individuals remain of this newly discovered ape species, living scattered across a fragmented rainforest of about 1,000 square kilometres.

Pongo tapanuliensis orangutan species
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 30: Heavy breathing tropical forests under record heat

Today the WMO announced that the atmospheric CO2 concentration last year rose at a record high speed: +3.3 ppm – jumping from 400.0 ppm in 2015 to 403.3 in 2016. The annual average rise is close to 2 ppm.

A few days earlier NASA scientists had explained why the global CO2 rise has suddenly rapidly accelerated: rainforests across Earth’s tropics, suffering unprecedented heat and drought, and exhaling a massive amount of CO2 (9.2 billion tonnes) – adding over 50 percent to the global fossil fuelled economy:

tropical forests CO2 source climate change
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 29: Last straw Madagascar bamboo lemur drying out

When you’re looking at the effects of climate change on the forests of Africa, you may be inclined to overlook Madagascar, the continent’s largest island. But especially when biodiversity is your concern, it deserves special attention.

In fact Madagascar has more endemic-only tree species than any other African country. And although the Congo Basin – Africa’s tropical rainforest heartland – is rich in iconic primates like the chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla, Madagascar is the single home of a uniquely separate clade of primates called ‘lemurs’, which evolved independently from monkeys and apes.

Madagascar bamboo lemur threatened climate change
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 28: If the Amazon goes, so may Africa’s rainforests

The Congolese rainforests are the world’s second largest remaining tropical rainforest expanse and a 60 gigatonne carbon store. Although climate models have a hard time predicting rainfall changes over the Congo Basin and despite a multi-decade drying trend, these forests in the heartland of tropical Africa are generally thought to be relatively resilient to the effects of climate change – at least when compared to the Amazon, a well-researched climate tipping point.

But ironically the possible large-scale drying and disappearance of the Amazon rainforest might also be the climatic Achilles’ heel of the Congolese rainforests.

Drying rainforests of Amazon and Congo due to global climate change, according to NOAA NCEP
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