Monday, April 6, 2015

The Effect Climate Change has on Weather Related Events

The question is asked all the time: “how will global climate change affect people directly?”  For many, there is a thought that they are invisible and nothing can harm them. This thought process can do significant damage to the earth when it comes to climate change. There are many who believe that global climate change will not affect them and this is why many will not change their environmentally destructive ways of life. Below I will discuss the ways in which global climate change does affect humans in terms of weather related events. If people realize that they are causing harm to not only the planet but to themselves then maybe people will be more accountable for their actions concerning what is good and bad for the planet we live on. Global climate change is leading to hotter days, increases in rainfall and flooding, and is causing stronger and more severe hurricanes and droughts. This amplification of weather and climate extremes will be the most direct impact to people all over the globe. The increase in temperature is also causing at times dangerous changes to the global landscape. This adds stress to wildlife, and people. People can see this impact on their everyday lives.
One weather related event that is impacted by climate change is hurricanes. Hurricanes destroy buildings, roads, and take people’s lives. According to the National Wildlife Federation the warming of the oceans waters will cause maximum wind speeds to increase as much as thirteen percent, which is enough energy to boost the hurricane up to the next category. It is described by the National Wildlife Federation that rising sea levels will cause more damaging storm surges and further erode the coastal wetlands, which is a natural defense mechanism against the hurricanes. This will cause the people who live on the coast more vulnerable. The amount of coastal development is increasing which means more and more people are living in hurricane areas.
More frequent droughts can also be linked back to climate change. By the end of the century, if greenhouse emissions continue to rise at their current rates, The New York Times written by Gillis says that the  major heat waves that occur around every 20 years will increase to every few years and will across large areas of the planet. Human population growth means more people will be subjected to these kinds of conditions as well. California has been experiencing a drought for the past 4 years. This is correlated with record temperature highs. It has been raining a lot more than snowing. Rain doesn’t reach the reservoirs because it soaks into the ground quickly and this rain melts the snow faster. The normal cyclical conditions in California are different than what they used to be and this is thought to be drawn back to the long term warming on the state.
Wild fires are occurring more and more due to the increasing temperatures. There is less snow which means less snow seeping deep into the ground. More water is falling in place of the snow and as rain it flows away down rivers. The ground is not as moist as it would typically be May and June which is the most arid time of the year. This along with the growing season starting earlier means the ground is drier and there is more to burn. These factors lead to a longer fire season, which have increased by two months over the past 30 years. More lightning strikes are causing more wildfires to start as well. This is because there are more severe storms occurring due to the warmer temperatures.

Warmer air also holds more moisture therefore rainfall and severe thunder and lightning storms will increase by an expected 10 to 31 percent over the century.  It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe. The frequency of extreme storm surges is expected to rise by as much as 10 times in future decades because of increasing temperatures. Global warming has already doubled the chance of storms like hurricane Katrina. It is expected that these huge storms can occur every few years.
In conclusion, Global climate change has an impact on increasing the duration and severity of weather related events. This is caused mainly by the warmer air temperature being able to hold more water and dumping larger amounts of rainfall at once. This causes two major issues, one being longer periods of dry spells which can lead to droughts and wildfires and the other being when all the moisture is dumped at one time and it is trapped in the air larger hurricanes and storms in general will result. These events are going to harm more and more people as time goes on not only because these events are becoming more frequent and more severe. It is because there are more people living on the planet. More people than ever before are living in disaster prone areas therefore more will get hurt by them. People are driving global climate change in the first place so if there are more people climate change will increase more. The facts show that climate change has a major impact on the weather an events related to weather.

Works Cited
Barringer, Felicity, and Kenneth Chang. "Experts See New Normal as a Hotter, Drier West Faces More Huge Fires." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 July 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Gillis, Justin. "U.N. Panel Finds Climate Change Behind Some Extreme Weather Events." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
"Global Warming and Hurricanes." Natonal Wildlife Fedration, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Nagourney, Adam. "As California Drought Enters 4th Year, Conservation Efforts and Worries Increase." The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

Rice, Doyal. "Climate Change to Worsen Hurricane Storm Surge." USA Today. USA Today, 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 20

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Shark Fin Soup: The Demise of Sharks and Destruction of Oceans

Shark fin soup is viewed as a delicacy that dates back to China’s Ming Dynasty as remains a symbol of wealth, pride, and prestige even today day. Commonly used as a wedding dish, a bowl of shark fin soup can sell for upwards of $100 a bowl. Dishes containing shark fin are also sold in many restaurants and hotels, and one “catty,” 21 ounces of shark fin, can sell in markets for $260. With such outrageous prices, people might think the impact of shark fin consumption is minimal, reserved for the small population of the wealthy and privileged. However, with China’s economic boom, people are making more money than ever, creating a middle class that loves to indulge in this upper-class delight to show that they can make it in the economic jungle too. The funny is that shark fin doesn’t even have a flavor. The cartilage is just a chewy thing to stick in a soup and call a delicacy; a chewy thing that causes the deaths of 100 million sharks per year and just might cause the collapse of marine ecosystems worldwide.

Sharks are apex predators essential for keeping other species populations from overwhelming the environment. Due to the extreme overfishing for fins, between 6.4% and 7.9% of shark populations are killed each year, exceeding the 4.9% cut off that ensure a stable population. These devastating statistics have been around for a while, and that is why a team of researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science investigated shark populations for 10 years in reef systems of the north-west coast of Australia, an area frequently visited by shark finners. They found that the constant removal of sharks reduced the population enough to send the whole system into disarray. Sharks feed heavily on snappers in this area, which feed on herbivorous fish, which eat algae that grow on coral, keeping the reef healthy. When there are not enough sharks, the snapper population skyrockets. This decimates the herbivorous fish populations, meaning that nothing is there to remove the algae from the reef. Algae grow after damaging events like cyclones or bleaching, and for the reef to grow back, the algae need to be removed. When there are no fish to graze on the algae, the reef can’t bounce back, a real concern in a world where climate change will cause more cyclones and bleaching than ever. This applies to reefs around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, a famous area that is one-third protective green zone. Without the sharks, the whole system goes haywire. Doesn’t seem worth it for a few bites of gelatinous chunks, and I haven’t even mentioned the brutal way the fins are harvested yet.

It would be nice to think that finners have enough respect to at least use the entire animal, but the sad fact is that sharks are captured, their fins are sliced off, and they are dumped, alive, back into the ocean to bleed to death, starve, or be eaten by predators. 

Photo by Tre’ Packard of

The boats used for finning are not that large, and it is more valuable to only keep the fins, conserving space by casting aside the rest of the animal. This video from the Philippines shows the brutal fate these creatures have to endure; the shark washed up on the shore, still alive but with fins removed, destined for a defenseless and agonizing death. At least this shark served as a martyr, bringing the issue of finning to public attention and encouraging a change.

In 2014, the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met in Thailand to discuss the treatment of sharks and rays. The unregulated trade of sharks has been fought since the 90’s, and this meeting finally got enough votes to create a ban. Although it doesn’t protect all shark species, porbeagles, oceanic whitetips, and 3 species of hammerhead were raised to Appendix II of the CITES code, meaning permits and certificates are needed for trade.  There are challenges to enforcing the ban such as determining sustainability levels, verifying permits, and identifying which species are in markets, but CITES is determined to keep this essential achievement in place. Due to awareness campaigns, the sales of shark fins have already decreased by 70%, and the Hilton Worldwide hotel chain stopped serving shark fin at its 96 properties in Asia and the Pacific. Unfortunately, some countries entered reservations to CITES regulations. Denmark (for Greenland), Canada, Guyana, Japan, Iceland, and Yemen have refused to abide by the ban and will continue to hunt the protected species. On the bright side, China, the main consumer of shark fin agreed to follow the protocol, which means things could be looking up for sharks and the oceans.  Hopefully the other countries will come around in the near future. After all, who could resist this goofy little face?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Interaction Between Rainforests and Climate Change

There are a few factors that can be seen in the relationship between the rainforests of the world and climate change. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air is 40% higher than what plants were taking up about 100 years ago. (Schiermeier) From my previous blog, we know that global climate change is the increase of the Earth’s atmospheric temperature due to the increased emission of carbon dioxide that is released into the air. We took a look at what climate change can do to the world’s oceans, but the focus of this blog is to see what’s happening on land, and specifically in the rainforests of the world.

Rainforests, both tropical and temperate, are actually very beneficial to us in the fight to decrease carbon dioxide into the air. In the carbon cycle, the trees of the rainforest are known to pull the main greenhouse gas (CO2) out of the air and hold the carbon in their wood as well as the soil that they are rooted in; carbon is then turned into sugar for the plant. (Gillis) The stored carbon is what’s helpful. Sounds like the perfect picture, right? So why do we have a problem? Not only are people getting rid of the one source that can help in capturing the carbon in the atmosphere, but they are re-releasing carbon back into the atmosphere when they go into rainforests and destroy the land. Climate change is the one thing that is making it harder for rainforests to help slow down… well… climate change. Due to the increase in carbon dioxide in the air, this is causing the atmosphere to become warmer and the environment to become drier; the change in these conditions is what is killing off the trees and other plants in the rainforest. Studies suggest that by the year 2050, “temperatures in the Amazon will increase by 2-3°C. At the same time, a decrease in rainfall during dry months will lead to widespread drying.” (Pratginestos) Dead trees don’t absorb CO1, and their stored carbon is released as their biomass is decomposed.

Loss/Gain forest cover in the last decade (Gillis

Rising temperatures and dryer conditions aren’t the only things killing off the rainforests and affecting climate change. Another major factor that goes into the relationship between rainforests and climate change is deforestation. “Over time, humans have cut down or damaged at least three-quarters of the world’s forests, and that destruction has accounted for much of the excess carbon that is warming the planet.” (Gillis) Cleared forest lands also have the potential to absorb more heat energy than the forest lands that were there before. A farmland in Europe that practices “no-till” farming has come to realize that the plants that grow from their no-till technique (seeding before plowing) have the potential to decrease the atmospheric temperature in the area. This is because the “effect is driven by the increased fraction of sunlight that the soil reflects back into space… which reduces the amount of the Earth’s surface absorbed from the Sun.” (Morello) Knowing that more plants on the ground can reduce the amount of heat that the Earth is absorbing is a strong argument as to why the rainforests need to not be destroyed; the more rainforests there are, the cooler the environment/atmosphere will be, and it will decrease the affects of climate change.

It is now evident how we’re losing the rainforests: deforestation, temperature increasing, drier atmosphere, and other factors of climate change including climate change, itself. If these effects continue to happen at the scale that they are currently happening at: 

  •  Coast redwood could lose up to 23% of its current distribution as the climate changes more drastically in the southern rainforest region. 
  • Alaska yellow-cedar could lose up to 21% of its current distribution and already is experiencing extensive dieback from warming and reduced snow pack. (SitNews

Some countries have made the effort to make sure that they are cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions. Others have even proposed protection laws, and have pushed regrowth of the rainforests. According to a New York Times article (Gillis), Brazil has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming. In the same article, it is started that leaders of other countries encourage forest regrowth in attempts to balance out the human impact on global climate change. I don’t think proposing protection laws on the rainforests as well as attempting to regrow the regions that have lost the rainforests are such bad ideas. For the amount of work the trees do for the planet in reducing the effects of climate change, it’s evident why the rainforests need to be preserved. The more rainforests that we lose, the worse the global climate change issue will get. 

Gillis, Justin. "Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Morello, Lauren. "Unploughed Fields Take Edge off Heatwaves." Nature Publishing Group, 23 June 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Pratginestos, Juan. "Climate Change in the Amazon." WWF. WWF, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.

Schiermeier, Quirin. "Climate Change Crisis for Rainforests." Nature Publishing Group, 5 Mar. 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

"Scientists Warn Climate Change Is Threatening World's Most Expansive Temperate Rainforests." SitNews. Ed. Mary Kauffman. SitNews, 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Deforestation Is About More Than Clearing Forests

                                            Deforestation in Indonesia

Deforestation has been a common problem for decades now. Regions, like Latin America, South America and Asia, have large forested areas that are prone to being cut and burned down. This is due to illegal logging and converting land so it can be used for agriculture and livestock purposes. One major concern with deforestation is the effect it has on climate change. Forests store large amounts of carbon and when trees are cut down that carbon is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for 11% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

 It was recently reported by the UN that deforestation had decreased by 25%. However, another study showed that deforestation has actually increased from 4 million hectares per year to 6.5. Some countries are working toward reforestation projects, which can be difficult due to the regions laws and governments. Some people are not concerned with deforestation since land can be used to plant cash crops. Satellite data is now being used to assess deforestation and conservation efforts. There is hope that this technology will hold regions more accountable for their conservation efforts, or lack there of. 

With deforestation still on the rise there is concern that local and global temperatures and rainfall will be impacted. Changes in the climate around the Amazon rainforest have been noticed. The dry season has been lasting longer, transpiration has decreased and rain and cloud coverage have also changed. Deforestation is not caused by only a handful of countries were forests are located. It has become an issue that most countries around the globe contribute to. More than a third of deforestation is due to the consumption of products like beef, palm oil, wood and soy.

·                                                            Cattle grazing on a deforested area of land

 The loss of forests can also impact the wildlife that depends on forests for their habitat. The monarch butterfly population has decreased due to deforestation in the Mexican forest. The butterflies rely on canopy coverage to protect them from cold temperatures and rain when they migrate there during the winter. With deforestation rates decreasing in that area, there is hope that the monarch population will see an increase. Local landowners receive payment from government to help with conservation and restoration projects. It’s also beneficial for locals to preserve the forest because tourists travel to the area to see the monarchs.

 Deforestation isn’t just about trees being cut down. It contributes to climate change, impacts ecosystems and wildlife, and can impact economic opportunities, like tourism. With conservation and reforestation efforts underway, there is hope that improvements will be made that benefit local and global regions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Increasing Global Temperature and its effect on the Earth’s Oceans

Global climate change affects everything on the planet from the land to the sea. The oceans have been changing for at least the past 30 years due to increasing global temperatures. This affects many things, like the seasonality of sea ice and the organisms living in the oceans to the increases in ocean levels and the CO2 in the oceans.

The increase in temperature is causing the sea ice to melt and change. This is a feeding and breeding place of many artic marine animals. For example the penguin populations depend on the ice to breed and to forage for food. The Adélie penguin population has shown a decrease in numbers with this increase in temperatures. Many marine animals will have to change where they find their food and where they will breed because of the changing ice patterns. On the other hand some organisms are thriving under the increase in temperature like the humpback whale. With some species suffering and others thriving current research finds that reduced biodiversity will result. 

One way that warming sea surface temperatures harm marine life is the destruction of the coral reefs. Coral Bleaching occurs when coral is stressed by changes in its environment. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to coral reef ecosystems. An increase or decrease in temperature can send coral into coral bleaching and infectious diseases are more frequent. The coral bleaching does not kill the coral but it does put it under stress and if this goes on for too long the coral can die. In 2005 in the Caribbean half  of the coral reefs were lost due to an increase in temperature. The increase in temperatures also effected other marine life directly and indirectly. Directly because some species bodies cant function under the temperature increase. Indirectly because with the coral dying they can no longer find food or have a home. This stress was greater than any that had been recorded in the past 20 years.

Ocean acidification is linked to temperature increases around the globe because a CO2 increase in the atmosphere is directly linked to this temperature increase. Ocean acidification occurs when CO2 is absorbed by sea water.  This results in a reduction of the oceans pH, saturation conditions of calcium carbonate minerals, and carbonate ion concentration. So far the oceans pH has fallen by 0.1 pH units. If the CO2 levels in the atmosphere don’t change the ocean will continue to absorb it. Ocean acidification of especially bad for the calcifying species.  These species are the basic building block of most food webs in the ocean. The shells for these organisms will slowly dissolve when in lower pH. Below is a picture of a shell after being put in the estimated pH of the oceans from 2100.
(Photo credit: David Liittschwager/National Geographic Stock.)

Due to the increasing sea levels the wetlands in the San Francisco Bays are disappearing. The sea levels are increasing because the increase in global temperatures is melting the sea Ice. It is estimated that in the next 40 years the major wetlands like Marin County’s Corte Madera Marsh will disappear. These wetlands are drowning due to the rising sea levels caused by global climate change. These wetlands are important to people and many species on animals. It is home to many endangered species and it also helps to protect our homes by controlling flooding. In the past the wetlands would move inland with a rise in sea levels but today urbanization leaves the wetland with nowhere to go.

With increasing ocean temperatures fish are moving either north or south to return to their normal living conditions. In order to track this evidence scientists tracked where the fish were caught most and over time looked for changes in where they were found. For example the red mullet, Mullus barbatus is normally found in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean. But more recently it has been found in cooler oceans like the North Sea. This affects fishermen negatively because there are less fish in the tropics the yield of fish that are caught will fall. 

The increase in the oceans temperature effects several different factors that interconnect. Global climate change is increasing the oceans temperatures and affecting the ice in the artic. This leads to animals struggling to find food and a home. It also leads to the ocean levels rising. The ocean levels rising effects the coastal regions. The increase in CO2 levels is causing a global temperature increase can causing problems for marine life in several different ways by increasing the overall global temperature and effecting the chemical composition of the oceans. This is harmful and causing problems for coral reefs and other organisms that live in and near the oceans.



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"What Is Coral Bleaching?" NOAA. NOAA, United States Dept. of Commerce, 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 02 Feb. 2015. <>.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Benefits of Eating Insects

Image courtesy of

A daily chore for me as a child was catching food for my reptiles which consisted of mostly insects. Perhaps this was the reason I had no hesitation to eat insects when I discovered entomophagy, the consumption of insects. My pet reptiles seemed to really enjoy them, so why wouldn’t I?

And I’m not the only one.

Many countries around the world are considered entomophagous and include 36 countries in Africa, 23 in the Americas, 29 in Asia, and 11 in Europe.

But why exactly do people eat insects and what are the benefits?

Insects are sometimes the pests of crops and some Israelis are making the best out of a plague of locusts by eating them. Insects are very nutritious and are high in protein, essential fatty acids, and micro-nutrients. Because they are cold blooded, they exert less energy and consume less feed. Insects also need little water and can reproduce much faster than conventional livestock. Raising conventional livestock accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gases and it’s estimated that house crickets are twenty times more efficient as a protein source than cattle.

It is because of the many benefits of cultivating insects in place of conventional livestock that the UN released a report pushing insects for food security and the FASFC have made food safety guidelines for insects intended to be used for human consumption. People like Ireland’s Tara Elliot are establishing commercial insect rearing operations for human and livestock feed.

The way things are going in other countries, soon insects may be a normalcy even in the United States.

Other Resources

Reversing Desertification: The Progress so Far

Desertification, or land degradation coupled with biodiversity loss, ecological deterioration, disturbances of natural resources, poverty, and societal problems, is a major issue around the world. The causes of desertification are complex, with social, political, economic, and environmental problems interacting to create a seemingly irreversible issue. But is desertification really such an unmanageable problem? Many of the most affected countries worldwide don’t think so, and are putting forth their best efforts to improve their land, and therefore the lives of their people.

One of these countries is Niger, an area plagued by quickly expanding deserts and extreme poverty. In the past, trees were removed from farm plots in order to free up space for crops. This is one of the reasons desertification became so much of an issue, and it is also a habit farmers are working to end. Instead of removing saplings from their land, farmers nurture them, allowing them to grow, fix nitrogen in the soil, drop leaves during the season which in turn fertilizes plots, and provide additional resources to supplement meager incomes. By selling branches, pods, fruit, firewood, and bark, farmers can bring in an additional $300 a year. This economic benefit, along with the environmental benefits of growing on restored land, has allowed many families to survive harsh droughts, and even send their children to school instead of working the fields.

The issues Niger faces illustrate one of the major contributors to desertification: modern and industrial agriculture. Although farming in Niger is not as industrialized as other nations, it shares the main trait of diverting from the ways of natural systems. Nature is biodiverse, and the soil, plants, and wildlife grow together to efficiently support various organisms and keep the habitat healthy. Modern agriculture steps away from this, growing inefficient monocultures, causing issues with soil health and erosion, encouraging the use of synthetic, water soluble chemicals, relying heavily on fossil fuels, and lacking the ability to produce sustainable food for the growing population. To remedy this, we must take lessons from nature and grow in accordance with the habitat, just like the farmers who let their trees grow in Niger.

Israel, an efficient fighter of desertification, has taken the notion of changing agriculture to heart. As one of the nations most affected by desertification, Israel realized that improvement was essential for the wellbeing of the country. Farmers began by looking to the farming methods of their ancestors, and learned how to collect water to tend their crops. They coupled this with the growing of nitrogen fixing plants, as well as those resistant to drought, to restore soil fertility and create verdant plots. Israel devised even more ways to efficiently use its massive deserts, using brackish water to farm fish via aquaculture, installing drip irrigation units to conserve water, constructing green buildings that require no air conditioning, converting from firewood to solar energy, and recycling nearly all of their waste water. Afforestation, or the planting of forests, is also a major practice, and people are taught this, as well as all the other methods, in public outreach programs. Israel has established itself as a poster child for anti-desertification efforts, inspiring other nations to adopt its methods.

Although Israel is at the fore front of the battle against desertification, there is one technique it did not discover. Allan Savory, a prominent researcher of reversing desertification, developed a method he refers to as holistic management to restore habitats. To understand how holistic management works, it is important to know what happens during desertification. Desertification occurs when grasses and other ground cover, which cyclically die, do not decompose and therefore do not add nutrients to the soil. Before mass hunting of grazing ungulate animals, desertification was not a problem, since herds’ grouping behavior caused constant movement to avoid land covered by urine and feces. This combination of grazing and waste elimination allowed light and rain to reach the parts of the plants and soil necessary for decomposition as well as fertilizing the soil; the movement of the herd also tramped down the dead grasses and worked the waste into the ground. Because of this Savory’s solution involves carefully planned grazing of livestock to mimic nature. Holistic management has seen much success and could very well be a major solution to such a widespread problem.
Left: land treated by holistic Management; Right: untreated, spreading desert; courtesy of Savory Institute

Even with all of these methods available, desertification is still a major crisis in many areas. China, for example, has managed to stabilize its desertification, but experts estimate that it could take 300 years to actually solve the problem. The Chinese government recognized the severity of the problem and is allocating more funds to anti-desertification efforts as well as the establishment of stricter standards surrounding grazing and planting. Maybe by looking at examples like Israel, Niger, and Zimbabwe, China can mend itself and become another soldier is the fight for the environment.