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.



A.      J., Melbourne-Thomas, J., Corney, S. P., Arrigo, K. R., Barbraud, C., Barnes, D. K. A., Bindoff, N. L., Boyd, P. W., Brandt, A., Costa, D. P., Davidson, A. T., Ducklow, H. W., Emmerson, L., Fukuchi, M., Gutt, J., Hindell, M. A., Hofmann, E. E., Hosie, G. W., Iida, T., Jacob, S., Johnston, N. M., Kawaguchi, S., Kokubun, N., Koubbi, P., Lea, M.-A., Makhado, A., Massom, R. A., Meiners, K., Meredith, M. P., Murphy, E. J., Nicol, S., Reid, K., Richerson, K., Riddle, M. J., Rintoul, S. R., Smith, W. O., Southwell, C., Stark, J. S., Sumner, M., Swadling, K. M., Takahashi, K. T., Trathan, P. N., Welsford, D. C., Weimerskirch, H., Westwood, K. J., Wienecke, B. C., Wolf-Gladrow, D., Wright, S. W., Xavier, J. C. and Ziegler, P. (2014), Climate change and Southern Ocean ecosystems I: how changes in physical habitats directly affect marine biota. Global Change Biology, 20: 3004–3025. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12623 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12623/citedby >

"What Is Coral Bleaching?" NOAA. NOAA, United States Dept. of Commerce, 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 02 Feb. 2015. <http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html>.

"What Is Ocean Acidification?" NOAA. PMEL Carbon Program, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2015. <http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F>.

Miller, Craig. "Bay Area Wetlands Slowly Drowning as Seas Rise." Science KQED Public Media for Northern CA. KQED Science, 30 May 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2015. <http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2013/05/30/bay-area-wetlands-slowly-drowning-as-seas-rise/>.

Radford, Tim. "Fish Migration Reveals Ocean Warming - Climate News Network." Climate News Network. Climate News Network, 20 May 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2015. <http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/fish-migration-reveals-ocean-warming/>.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Benefits of Eating Insects

Image courtesy of newglobalcitizen.com

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. 

Eating Beef Comes With a Cost

There are many different ways that the environment can be impacted by the choices that people make in their day-to-day lives. One choice that is starting to appear more in the headlines deals with what people are eating. Every year people are consuming millions of pounds of meat. It’s not meat in general that’s causing a major problem, but specifically raising livestock to support the consumption of beef. About 40% of the land on our planet is used to grow food, with 30% of that land being used to support the livestock that feed us.

Compared to other meats, like poultry and pork, raising beef requires more land and water usage. It also produces more carbon emissions that are being released into the atmosphere. The problems don’t stop there though. Aquatic dead zones, ozone depletion, deforestation and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers have all been found to be problems that can be caused by the raising of livestock. If nitrogen levels get too high in a body of water, algae blooms can develop and that causes the oxygen levels to be depleted. This can cause harm to aquatic environments and lead to the dead zones being found.

An aquatic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that’s caused by excessive amounts of nutrients from fertilizers and runoff. http://epa.gov/sciencematters/sept2012/deadzone.htm 

Deforestation is also a common problem associated with raising livestock. Forests are cleared so that the land can be used to raise livestock. However, forests are also cleared so that crops can be grown on that land in order to feed the animals. The Amazon Rainforest is well known for being subjected to deforestation. Raising cattle is one of the biggest contributors to deforestation in that region. It has caused such a problem that supermarkets in Brazil have decided to no longer sell meat that comes from cattle being raised in the Amazon.

Setting fires is a method used to clear land for cattle in the Amazon. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-21934025 

In recent years, countries around the world have been working toward cutting their carbon emissions. Typically the highest contributors to carbon pollution are the transportation and energy industries. The United Nations are trying to eliminate some of these emissions, but it will not make that much of a difference due to increasing emissions caused by the agricultural business. In order to decrease the agriculture emissions there has to be a decrease in consumption of meat and dairy products.

It’s clear that actions need to be taken to minimize the impacts to the environment caused by raising livestock. New technological advances and increased efficiency in meat and dairy production can help with this. The biggest contributor to helping the environment appears to be people themselves. There are people out there that are making dietary choices to lessen the environmental impact. Most wouldn't cut meat out of their diets completely, but even cutting back on consumption could make a difference. Improvements need to be made and consumption of beef and dairy products needs to be reduced in order to protect our environment.

Climate Change Effects on Coral Reefs

Photo from daintyflair.net
Healthy coral vs dead/dying coral due to effects of climate change

One of the most threatening factors to coral reefs around the world is climate change. Climate change affects the atmosphere, increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the air. With this increase in carbon dioxide, the Earth as a whole gets warmer. When the Earth gets warmer, the temperature of the oceans increase as well. These increases in temperature are extremely harmful to the coral reefs of the world; they cause the corals to become bleached and die off. 

Steve Palumbi, a professor of marine science at Stanford University, explained what coral bleaching was in an interview with Steve Curwood for Living On Earth’s magazine. Palumbi says, “Coral bleaching is an event that happens when the water temperature gets a little too high for the coral. … And when that water temperature heats up, that algal interaction with coral breaks down and the coral splits the alga out. … It is called bleaching because they turn white before they die.” (Curwood) Some scientists believe that the rise in water temperature only weakens the coral, making them have a higher probability of getting sick and be resilient toward rising temperatures in the future. (The New York Times) This is such a predicament because coral rely heavily on the algae in the water for their survival. If the temperatures continue to rise, more algae is expelled out from the corals making more and more coral die year by year.

Photo from Tropical Marine Biodiversity
Number of species of coral around the world

In a news article from The Guardian, it says that researchers believe that most of the world’s corals could be gone by the year 2100. The article states that researchers have found that the rate at which corals are dying are far greater than the rate at which they are staying healthy and living. Currently, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is around 388ppm, and it is expected to be at 560ppm by the end of the century. (The Guardian) If the atmosphere reaches this level, it is a concern that around 9,000 corals will be no more. What’s even more upsetting is that almost half of the corals in the world have already been destroyed over the last 30 years due to climate change. (The Independent) If climate change continues to change atmospheric and water temperatures, it is without a doubt that most of the world’s coral will be dead soon.

There have been countless efforts in attempting to stop or at least slow down the process of coral bleaching in the world. Australia is looking to invest about 8 million dollars over the course of five years to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the pollution and threats (like climate change) that the coral have been facing. (BBC Australia) This will be beneficial to those coral reefs because they've already been weakened by things like pollution that continued climate change effects make them more susceptible to larger damage. Their government also has a plan to further protect the Great Barrier Reef with the “Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan”. Palumbi’s research could help aid in this plan to protect the corals; his team happened to find a group of corals in the back reef lagoons of the American Samoa that were thriving off of the heat; they are using this area/information as insight to find out how this is happening, and why the corals are surviving so well. If they are able to find answers to this, it may help us find ways to save the corals around the world suffering from the high temperatures of the oceans. (Curwood)

Overall, it is extremely evident that climate change is, indeed, happening, based on the fact that there is evidence of destroying corals all over the world. If these corals die off and become non-existent, the whole marine ecosystem will be in danger. Coral reefs are also very crucial to the marine ecosystem; when the coral is healthy, they provide food, shelter, and nursery grounds to the marine life around them, as well as serve like a storm buffer to land around the area. To quote Mitchell Ramsey on the seriousness of the effects on the marine ecosystem, he says, "The oceans is the home to over one million species, and the ocean is so large that there may be another million species out there to be discovered." Rehabilitation efforts, whether it be governmental support or help from organizations, need to be continued and taken seriously. It would also help if there were more education to the communities on the subject so people can be more aware of the seriousness of the topic. With these

Bawden, Tom. "Race to save Coral Reefs from Destruction 'could Be Lost within 10 Years'; UN Warns 50 per Cent of 'rainforests of the Sea' Destroyed by Climate Change in 30 Years." The Independent [London] 24 Sept. 2013.

Curwood, Steve. "Living on Earth: A Bright Spot for Coral Reefs." Living on Earth. Living on Earth, 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.

"Protecting Great Barrier Reef 'needs A$785m' Fund." BBC Australia. BBC Australia, 19 Jan. 2015. Web.

Ramsey, Mitchell. "A Changing World with the Changing Climate, Part III: The Oceans." Web log post. Blogger.com. Blogger, 1 May 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

Sample, Ian. "World's Coral Reefs Could Disintegrate by 2100." The Guardian. The Guardian, 23 Feb. 2010. Web.

The Associated Press. "Most of Hawaii's Coral Recover From Mass Bleaching." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.