Ice melt forces polar bears into paths of Alaska schoolchildren

 

Trevor Hughes5 hrs ago
 
File - In this Feb. 15, 2016 file photo, snow-covered mountains are seen behind the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. The massive Alaska ice field that feeds Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier, a tourist attraction viewed by hundreds of thousands each year, could be gone by 2200 if climate warming trends continue, according to a new University of Alaska Fairbanks study.© (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) File – In this Feb. 15, 2016 file photo, snow-covered mountains are seen behind the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. The massive Alaska ice field that feeds Juneau’s…WALES, Alaska — Melting ice off the coast of far-west Alaska is forcing polar bears onto the land, dangerously close to villages where children often walk unaccompanied across the snow-swept tundra.In these isolated communities, fears of a fatal encounter between stressed predators and the towns’ most vulnerable members have forced residents into action: they now train for polar-bear patrols.”Our main concern is the kids,” says Clyde Oxereok, 57, who leads the patrol in Wales, the most western town in the mainland U.S.

The problem is a lack of ice. Each winter, the narrow strait between Russia and the United States melts faster.The ice that does form seems weaker, more susceptible to breaking up. While that’s opened up new areas for oil exploration and opportunities for shipping through the Northwest Passage, it’s also destroying the habitat of the polar bears who hunt seal from that ice.

 

“The weather has changed a lot, and it has made the animals change their behavior,” said Oxereok, a ninth-generation resident of Wales.

Bears on land are easily distracted by towns — and the easy food.

“When you’re out on the ice, everything is white, so anything that’s not, you’re going to check out,” says Elisabeth Kruger, Arctic program manager for the World Wildlife Fund.  “And anything that could be food, you’ll try it,” she says.

Walking back to the snowmobile that carried her out to the frozen edge of the Bering Strait, Kruger stops to point out fresh polar bear tracks. Sometime in the past few days, a large bear walked down the ice in a path that paralleled both the ice’s edge and the front of the town a mile away.

Village elders say while there are fewer polar bears living in the area, they’re near town more often.

That’s a terrifying thought. Polar bears can be 10-foot-tall, weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds and willing to tangle with whales and walruses.

Now, with Kruger’s help, residents in Wales have created the Kingikmiut Nanuuq Patrol to monitor polar bears near their homes. They’ve learned how to “haze” the bears away from town with shotgun-fired noisemakers and pepper spray.

There’s pretty much no one else to call on in Wales. The town lacks any routine law enforcement presence. An Alaska State Trooper flies in for a few hours every so often to check up on the residents.

Other tribal communities might simply kill and eat any polar bears that come into their village. Polar bears are protected by federal law, but Inupiat hunters like those in Wales are allowed to kill some polar bears to maintain their traditional

WALES, Alaska — Melting ice off the coast of far-west Alaska is forcing polar bears onto the land, dangerously close to villages where children often walk unaccompanied across the snow-swept tundra.
In these isolated communities, fears of a fatal encounter between stressed predators and the towns’ most vulnerable members have forced residents into action: they now train for polar-bear patrols.

“Our main concern is the kids,” says Clyde Oxereok, 57, who leads the patrol in Wales, the most western town in the mainland U.S.

The problem is a lack of ice. Each winter, the narrow strait between Russia and the United States melts faster.The ice that does form seems weaker, more susceptible to breaking up. While that’s opened up new areas for oil exploration and opportunities for shipping through the Northwest Passage, it’s also destroying the habitat of the polar bears who hunt seal from that ice.    
   

“The weather has changed a lot, and it has made the animals change their behavior,” said Oxereok, a ninth-generation resident of Wales.

Bears on land are easily distracted by towns — and the easy food.

“When you’re out on the ice, everything is white, so anything that’s not, you’re going to check out,” says Elisabeth Kruger, Arctic program manager for the World Wildlife Fund. “And anything that could be food, you’ll try it,” she says.

Walking back to the snowmobile that carried her out to the frozen edge of the Bering Strait, Kruger stops to point out fresh polar bear tracks. Sometime in the past few days, a large bear walked down the ice in a path that paralleled both the ice’s edge and the front of the town a mile away.

Village elders say while there are fewer polar bears living in the area, they’re near town more often.

That’s a terrifying thought. Polar bears can be 10-foot-tall, weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds and willing to tangle with whales and walruses.

Now, with Kruger’s help, residents in Wales have created the Kingikmiut Nanuuq Patrol to monitor polar bears near their homes. They’ve learned how to “haze” the bears away from town with shotgun-fired noisemakers and pepper spray.

There’s pretty much no one else to call on in Wales. The town lacks any routine law enforcement presence. An Alaska State Trooper flies in for a few hours every so often to check up on the residents.

Other tribal communities might simply kill and eat any polar bears that come into their village. Polar bears are protected by federal law, but Inupiat hunters like those in Wales are allowed to kill some polar bears to maintain their traditional way of life.

Sarah Palin does the Climate Hustle…

In case she hasn’t noticed, Alaska is seeing its share of climate changes

http://www.climatehustlemovie.com/

Scorching temperatures. Melting ice caps. Killer hurricanes and tornadoes. Disappearing polar bears. The end of civilization as we know it! Are emissions from our cars, factories, and farms causing catastrophic climate change? Is there a genuine scientific consensus? Or is man-made “global warming” an overheated environmental con job being used to push for increased government regulations and a new “Green” energy agenda?

CLIMATE HUSTLE will answer these questions, and many, many more. Produced in the one-of-a-kind entertaining and informative style that has made CFACT and Marc Morano’s award-winning ClimateDepot.com one of the world’s most sought after sources for reliable, hard-to-find facts about climate issues, this groundbreaking film will tear the cover off of global warming hype, and expose the myths and exaggerations of this multi-billion dollar issue.

CLIMATE HUSTLE will reveal the history of climate scares including global cooling; debunk outrageous claims about temperatures, extreme weather, and the so-called “consensus;” expose the increasingly shrill calls to “act immediately before it’s too late,” and in perhaps the film’s most important section, profile key scientists who used to believe in climate alarm but have since converted to skepticism.

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Want to Do Your Part to Tackle Climate Change? Go Vegan

by Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Can we eat our way out of climate change? That question has come to the forefront again with the Monday release of yet more research connecting global dietary patterns and global warming. While no one’s arguing diet alone can stop the world from warming, there’s now more evidence that changing the way we eat could have a big impact.

Building on similar groundbreaking studies published during the past couple years, scientists at Oxford University tackled a big question: If the whole world adopted a healthier diet, could that significantly combat global warming.

Even though the agricultural sector accounts for a substantial share of our collective greenhouse gas emissions—almost 15 percent worldwide—it’s long been more or less ignored when it comes to international climate negotiations, including the landmark climate conference in Paris at the end of last year. Yet with the international community finally starting to take serious action to cut emissions from power plants and transportation, the total share of emissions from agriculture is only expected to rise—so much so that experts say it could essentially cancel out the cuts in other sectors.

RELATED:  Are We All Going to Be Vegetarians by 2050?

The biggest culprit? Livestock, particularly cattle. As past research has shown, raising beef generates between nine and 27 times the amount of global warming pollution that producing an equivalent number of calories growing things like beans, nuts, and vegetables does. As just about everyone knows by now, red meat consumption has been linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

In the Oxford study, published in the journal PNAS, researchers peered into the future to 2050 and asked what might happen in four different diet scenarios. In the first, the world keeps eating the way we are now, with a predicted rise in meat consumption. The other three put everyone on a diet, so to speak, each with an increasingly restricted amount of meat, all the way to global veganism.

The upshot? The less meat the world eats, the better it is for our collective health, the health of our climate, and the global economy.

A worldwide shift to a vegetarian diet, for example, was shown to save 7.3 million lives and cut global warming pollution from the agricultural sector by 63 percent. Going vegan saved an estimated 8.1 million lives, cut climate pollution by 70 percent, and saved a whopping $31 trillion between now and 2050.

The study’s authors openly admit that’s not going to happen, but it’s important that the world’s growing penchant for American-style bacon burgers and meat lovers’ pizza become part of the climate debate.

“We do not expect everybody to become vegan,” the study’s lead author, Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food, told Reuters. “But climate change impacts of the food system will be hard to tackle and likely require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.”

AK Murre Die-Off

Dan Joling | Associated Press

Dan Joling / Associated Press

Lake Iliamna in Southwest Alaska is North America’s eighth-largest lake, but nobody would mistake it for the Pacific Ocean. Not even a seabird.

So when thousands of common murres were found dead at the lake — part of a massive die-off of a species whose preferred winter habitat is at sea — seabird experts were puzzled.

“We’ve talked about unprecedented things about this die off. That’s another one,” said John Piatt, research wildlife biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Murres occasionally land in fresh water, Piatt said.

“You figure it’s a misguided individual. To have 6,000, 8,000 birds in the lake is pretty mind-blowing, really,” he said. “I’ve never heard of any such a thing anywhere in the world.”

Abnormal numbers of dead common murres, all apparently starved, began washing ashore on Alaska beaches in March 2015. After late-December storms, 8,000 were found at the Prince William Sound community of Whittier. The confirmed carcass count is now up to 36,000, but most don’t wash ashore. Also, Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the United States put together and relatively few beaches have been surveyed.

Common murres catch finger-length fish to feed their young in summer and can forage on krill. Less is known about what they eat in winter. Because of a high metabolism rate, they can use up fat reserves and drop to a critical threshold for starvation in three days of not eating.

Researchers trying to find out the cause of the deaths would not have thought to look on a freshwater lake but were alerted to the Iliamna carcasses by Randy Alvarez, a member of the Lake and Peninsula Borough Assembly.

A commercial fisherman, Alvarez has lived in Igiugig on the west end of 77-mile long Lake Iliamna since 1983.

He had seen a few dead murres on the beach, but on a mid-February flight with the borough mayor and manager, they saw thousands.

“We came up with a guess of 6,000 to 8000 birds in about 12 miles,” Alvarez said.

Nobody he knows remembers common murres at the lake. Alvarez speculates the birds could not find food in the Pacific and flew to the lake to eat salmon smolt. Lake Iliamna has not frozen the last two winters, which itself is strange.

His friends and relatives in Naknek, a Bristol Bay port, in normal winters catch smelt, another small, silvery fish.

“This was the worst anybody had ever seen it for smelt,” he said, and he wonders if it’s connected to the North Pacific’s third-straight year of above-normal temperatures. If seabirds can’t find enough to eat, he worries that salmon won’t either.

“I think something is not right,” he said.

Scientists in multiple federal agencies are trying to determine if the murre deaths are connected to lack of food, parasites, disease, weather or something else, but they keep being pitched curves, like birds showing up in surprising places.

“This is the thing about this die-off,” Piatt said. “We don’t even know what we don’t know.”

Among the First of the Climate Refugees

Map courtesy of United State Forest Service The Mission Project encompasses about 50,000 acres in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds.

Map courtesy of United State Forest Service

The Mission Project encompasses about 50,000 acres in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds.

Plan is part of ‘landscape vision’ for forest management

By Ann McCreary,

If nature were allowed to run its course, portions of the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek watersheds would have experienced natural fires every five to 15 years.

Those fires historically played a role in keeping forests healthy — burning at low intensity, clearing out smaller trees and brush, and ultimately preventing extreme wildfires that spread out of control and destroy forests.

Humans, however, have changed the natural course of fire throughout the West, just as they have in the Libby and Buttermilk watersheds.

“There would have historically been more frequent fires, about every 10 years in those dry, ponderosa pine sites,” said Mike Liu, Methow Valley district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.

“Since the 1940s and ’50s, it’s up to six cycles that fire has been suppressed. Because of effective firefighting, what fires did start we caught them small, so you didn’t see the historic under-burning,” said Liu.

As a result, the forests in the Libby and Buttermilk areas, like many forests around the nation, have become unnaturally dense, overgrown and vulnerable to extreme fire, insects and disease, according to Forest Service officials.

The Forest Service is developing plans to conduct thinning, prescribed burning and other forest and aquatic treatments in the Libby and Buttermilk watersheds as part of the “Mission Project,” which will employ the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Restoration Strategy for the first time in the Methow Ranger District (see related story).

The strategy aims to restore forests’ natural resilience to wildfire, insects, disease and climate change. It differs from past forest treatment practices in some key ways, most notably the size of the project area. The Restoration Strategy emphasizes evaluating and planning for large landscapes and developing interventions designed to benefit the entire area.

In the case of the Mission Project, the area encompasses about 50,000 acres in the two watersheds at the western edge of the Carlton Complex Fire perimeter.

Those watersheds are a priority for restoration because they are among the drier watersheds in the Methow Valley and have consequently missed numerous natural fire cycles, said Liu.

Support, suspicion

The prospect of forest restoration work in the Mission Project area is welcomed by some Methow Valley residents, and greeted with skepticism by others.

When Robert Rivard learned about the Mission Project, he wanted to make sure that Forest Service land bordering his property, near Buttermilk Creek off Twisp River Road, was included in the project.

The initial proposed boundary of the project ran along a ridge above the area where Rivard lives, and he wanted the lines redrawn to include densely wooded Forest Service land adjacent to about 80 homes and cabins in the area.

At the suggestion of Forest Service officials, Rivard helped organize his neighbors into a Firewise Community in October, because that designation improved the likelihood for funding treatments on adjacent federal forests. The designation also helps communities compete for funding to conduct treatments on private land. To be designated a Firewise Community, homeowners must obtain a risk assessment, create an action plan, conduct a firewise event and invest in firewise activities. 

“We were able to get this Firewise Community [designation] through the state in record time — nine days,” said Rivard, who worked for 15 years as a firefighter and smokejumper and is uneasy about the condition of nearby national forests.

“I look at the woods. I see the potential,” he said. “We asked that the thin strip between Buttermilk drainage proper be extended to include us.”

The Buttermilk area was threatened by the Little Bridge Fire in 2014, and the Twisp River Fire last summer, raising consciousness among his neighbors, Rivard said.

“The timing was right for the Mission Project. We felt we needed to talk to the Forest Service and some kind of joint agreement. And with another big fire season this year and with the [firefighter] fatalities, we felt we needed to get something going,” Rivard said.

As a result of the Buttermilk landowners’ request, the Forest Service revised the Mission Project boundaries to include the small stretch of section of forest land where Buttermilk Creek comes into the Twisp River drainage by the Buttermilk neighborhood.

Pema Bresnahan, a resident of Libby Creek, has a different view of the Mission Project and has spoken publicly against it. “I see a lot of problems in the scale they are talking about, both in ecological effects and cost,” she said.

“The Mission area is my home.  It’s one of the remaining unburned areas and it’s an oasis for wildlife,” she said.

Bresnahan said she is concerned about the project’s potential impact on an18,000-acre roadless area within the project boundaries, and questioned the effectiveness of logging to improve forest resiliency.

“One can find volumes of research to show that this approach, especially in our area, is not economical or necessarily effective in reducing fire severity,” Bresnahan said. As an example, she cited a 2008 study in the Open Forest Science Journal, which found that while treatments to reduce forest fuels can be effective, the probability of treated areas encountering fire before fuels come back is lower than generally assumed.

Bresnahan said she is concerned that a “landscape-level logging operation on the Libby Creek and Buttermilk watersheds” will be the result of the Mission Project. “How much of it [the project area] is going to be actually impacted by huge machines that run on those tracks and destroy everything they go over?” Bresnahan said in a recent interview.

“I don’t think mechanical thinning is appropriate in that area, except in proximity to structures,” she said, suggesting that thinning be restricted to areas within one-quarter mile of residences. “I want a buffer zone around the houses and leave the rest of the reforest as is, and give the Forest Service the opportunity to do controlled burns.”

Liu said he understands why the public may question the Forest Service restoration plans.

“I think some of the individuals have looked at past logging practices and have been disappointed with that,” Liu said. “Maybe there is a lack of faith in the current science that’s being used, or a lack of confidence that what we’re proposing will in fact benefit the system.”

Forest Health Collaborative

The Forest Service is being assisted by the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative in moving the project forward. Formed two years ago, the collaborative includes conservation, timber industry, government and tribal representatives interested in increasing the scale and pace of forest restoration projects.

While the Mission Project will evaluate approximately 50,000 acres, the actual area of land to be treated is more likely to be about 10 percent of the total area, said Lloyd McGee of The Nature Conservancy, one of the organizations in the Forest Health Collaborative.

“We start with a landscape vision. This does not mean we’re going to log the whole landscape. What it means is when we do thinning, we want to be able to see where it fits into the larger landscape … where we can strategically place thinning treatments so that we don’t get a megafire,” McGee said.

“That 10 percent or so [to be treated] is based on where there is current access, and where there is no other protection prohibiting management because of endangered species or some other designation that does not allow mechanical treatment or prescribed burning,” McGee said. 

The Forest Health Collaborative hired Derek Churchill, a University of Washington researcher and forestry consultant, to conduct a landscape analysis and develop recommendations for possible treatments in the watersheds.

The landscape analysis looks at a range of factors, Churchill said. Using aerial photos and historical photos, it evaluates how much the area has changed from its natural, pre-fire suppression state; it evaluates the risk of extreme fire; it assesses the condition of habitat for species such as spotted owls and salmon.

“It really is a holistic landscape or watershed-wide approach. We’re looking at habitat, fire, insects and disease, aquatics across whole watersheds. We’re looking at all of those and the tradeoffs of those together in one framework,” Churchill said.

The analysis also evaluates how the watershed could be affected by climate change, and compares current conditions in the project area to historical conditions in drier watersheds to guide how treatment can take into consideration a warmer, drier future.

“We think Buttermilk in 50 years is going to be more similar to other watersheds in the region that are currently in a drier condition,” Churchill said.

To assist in the project, McGee and other members of the Forest Health Collaborative have conducted field surveys to gather information on potential aquatic restoration needs and proposed treatment areas.

Liu said the work done by the collaborative and Churchill has been helpful because much of his staffs’ time has been consumed by dealing with two consecutive extreme fire seasons.

“They’ve been able to keep this project moving forward even when we were occupied with fire suppression, suppression repair and recovery,” Liu said.

Liu said he expects the collaborative to provide the Methow Ranger District the results of the landscape analysis and recommendations for areas that could benefit from treatment before the end of the year.

“We’ll review that recommendation and I’m sure modify as we feel necessary,” Liu said. “That will be packaged up as a proposed action, which will be sent out for scoping as we initiate the NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act] process. Scoping could begin in January — that’s a rough target.”

After public comments are gathered, the district will draft an Environmental Assessment, which would be available sometime in the spring of 2016, Liu said.

Arctic Sea Ice Is in Record Low Territory (Again)

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/arctic-sea-ice-record-low-again-20044?utm_content=buffer0b3f8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

February 18th, 2016

By Brian Kahn

The winter of discontent in the northern latitudes continues.

Persistent warmth has baked the region, making snow a no show in parts of Alaska and, perhaps more importantly, slowing the growth of Arctic sea ice. Though it’s still likely a month before the Arctic sea ice reaches its maximum, the current trajectory is not a good one.

Slow and at times non-existent growth has already led to a record low January extent and preliminary data from February indicate sea ice continues to set daily record lows. It was just last year that Arctic sea ice set its record low winter extent, a record that could be short-lived.

January Arctic sea ice extent. The orange line shows the 1981-2010 average. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

As one of the key indicators of planetary health, the continued disappearance of sea ice raises major concerns about how the planet is faring as the climate warms.

The decline continues a long-term trend. Winter Arctic sea ice extent has been decreasing by 3.2 percent per decade since 1979 when accurate satellite measurements began. The region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, a trend that’s largely responsible for disappearing ice.

This year is no different with weirdly warm weather slowing sea ice’s annual growth across the region. Ice is missing in large areas across the Barents, Kara and East Greenland seas in the Atlantic region and the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk in the Pacific side of the Arctic, according to NASA Earth Observatory. All told, sea ice extent was 402,000 square miles below average in January. That’s enough missing ice to cover an area four times the size of Colorado.

RELATED Watch 28 Years of Old Arctic Ice Disappear in One Minute Arctic Gets Check-Up: Temperature Highest on Record 2015 Arctic Sea Ice: How Low Will It Go?

The terms “heat wave” and “Arctic winter” are not usually synonymous, yet that’s what the main story has been in the region this winter (OK, heat wave might be a bit much so let’s call it a mild wave). Temperatures were as much as 23°F above normal in January, a key driver in the planet having its most abnormally warm month ever. That includes a period of time early in the month when temperatures cleared freezing around the North Pole, a rarity in a region where clearing 0°F is a stretch during the frigid winter.

Background conditions have also been warming, including the ocean which has driven some of this year’s loss.

“The low winter ice conditions in the Barents have been in part a result of the increase in Atlantic Ocean temperatures in the 1990s,” Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said.

She said that it’s possible ice losses could slow there — or they could even grow — due to the flood of cold water that’s been found there in recent years. The cold water isn’t exactly good news, though, as it’s being driven by increasing melt of Greenland’s ice sheet and is also slowing down the Atlantic Ocean’s main conveyor belt.

One thing that’s not clear is what this year’s low winter ice will mean for summer. After growing all winter, Arctic sea ice starts a decline in the spring before dwindling to a seasonal low, usually around late September.

Preliminary daily data showing 2016 Arctic sea ice extent. The graph also includes 2012, which set a record low minimum, and 2015, which set a record low maximum, as well as the median. Credit: NSIDC

If winter ice decline is a thing, then summer ice decline has been The Thing.

“Certainly the summer ice conditions are unprecedented with the nine lowest in the last nine years,” Stroeve said.

That includes the record set in 2012 as well as last year, which was the fourth-lowest extent ever recorded for Arctic sea ice.

It’s tempting to look at this winter’s anemic ice extent and think this summer could also be record low, but Stroeve cautioned against comparing the two. That’s because while climate change is driving the long-term downward trend in sea ice, weather events also play a major role in the ebb and flow of sea ice in a given year. Still, if the past decade (and longer) is any indication, this summer isn’t likely to set any records for highs.

You May Also Like: Every State’s Temperature Trend for Every Season Study Ties U.S. to Spike in Global Methane Emissions January Smashed Another Global Temperature Record What Scalia’s Death Means For Climate Change

Wildfires leave Okanogan Co. wildlife hungry

I remember back (not long ago) when wildfires were just a natural events that left the forest refreshed and renewed. Now, human manipulation and ultimately, anthropogenic climate change, have made fires more and more catastrophic for all–including the wildlife.

http://www.krem.com/news/local/okanogan-county/many-animals-left-hungry-after-okanogan-wildfires/45064888

Whitney Ward and KREM.com 6:14 PM. PST February 16, 2016


OKANOGAN COUNTY, Wash. – Okanogan residents said today a bear that died last week in their area likely woke up from hibernation too early from a lack of food before winter.

2 On Your Side found it the same problem is affecting animals across Central Washington. It was all thanks to two years of historic wildfires that caused massive amounts of land damage.

“A lot of animals were killed in the fire itself last summer,” Okanogan resident Jon Wyss said. “And many more died shortly after from burns and other injuries. But now, 6 months later, there is plenty of wildlife still suffering.”

The fires destroyed many of the habitats for the animals which meant no food and little shelter. Thousands of deer were left without food after trees and grass were burned.

“When you burn 250,000 acres in 2014 and 500,000 acres in 2015, there’s not a lot of forage,” Wyss said.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials told 2 On Your Side it could take up to a decade for all the foliage to regrow. That could lead to many animal populations to struggle for years and farmers could carry the burden.

“There’s 11,000 deer without food,” Wyss said. “They’re struggling and they’re competing against our agriculturalists, eating limbs off the trees, the buds, the hay.

2 On Your Side learned that with so many deer going on to farmland for food, it can bring predators like wolves and cougars closer to homes.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials also said the harder it is for deer means it’s easier for predators. But officials also said that nature will correct itself and the wildlife population will rebound eventually.

Methane release from melting permafrost could trigger dangerous global warming

Not to mention the methane being released by animal agriculture, or as a byproduct of drilling for oil or natural gas, or the carbon emitted by modern catastrophic fires, etc. All these, and their feedback loops, are a result of out-of-control human activity–including breeding!

———

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/oct/13/methane-release-from-melting-permafrost-could-trigger-dangerous-global-warming

A policy briefing from the Woods Hole Research Center concludes that the IPCC doesn’t adequately account for a methane warming feedback

Inupiat Eskimos go ice-hoping on the Chukchi Sea.
Inupiat Eskimos go ice-hoping on the Chukchi Sea. Photograph: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

While most attention has been given to carbon dioxide, it isn’t the only greenhouse gas that scientists are worried about. Carbon dioxide is the most important human-emitted greenhouse gas, but methane has also increased in the atmosphere and it adds to our concerns.

While methane is not currently as important as carbon dioxide, it has a hidden danger. Molecule for molecule, methane traps more heat than carbon dioxide; approximately 30 times more, depending on the time frame under consideration. However, because methane is present in much smaller concentrations (compared to carbon dioxide), its aggregate effect is less.

But what has scientists focusing on methane is the way it is released into the atmosphere. Unlike carbon dioxide, which is emitted primarily through burning of fossil fuels, methane has a large natural emission component. This natural emission is from warming permafrost in the northern latitudes. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. Much of the permafrost is undisturbed by bacterial decomposition.

As the Earth warms, and the Arctic warms especially fast, the permafrost melts and soil decomposition accelerates. Consequently, an initial warming leads to more emission, leading to more warming and more emission. It is a vicious cycle and there may be a tipping point where this self-reinforcing cycle takes over.

Recently, a policy briefing from the world-leading Woods Hole Research Center has moved our understanding of this risk further through a clearly-written summary. The briefing cites two recent papers (here and here) that study the so-called permafrost carbon feedback.

One of these studies makes use of projections from the most recent IPCC report to estimate that up to 205 gigatons equivalent of carbon dioxide could be released due to melting permafrost. This would cause up to 0.5°C (up to 0.9°F) extra warming. Just as bad, the permafrost melting would continue after 2100 which would lock us into even more warming. Under this scenario, meeting a 2°C limit would be harder than anticipated. The current IPCC targets do not adequately account for this feedback.

To put this in perspective, permafrost contains almost twice as much carbon as is present in the atmosphere. In the rapidly warming Arctic (warming twice as fast as the globe as a whole), the upper layers of this frozen soil begin to thaw, allowing deposited organic material to decompose. The plant material, which has accumulated over thousands of years, is concentrated in to upper layers (half of it is in the top 10 feet). There is a network of monitoring stations that are measuring ground temperatures have detected a significant heating trend over the past few decades and so has the active layer thickness.

I communicated with Woods Hole expert Robert Max Holmes, who told me,

It’s essential that policymakers begin to seriously consider the possibility of a substantial permafrost carbon feedback to global warming. If they don’t, I suspect that down the road we’ll all be looking at the 2°C threshold in our rear-view mirror.

Dr. Robert Max Holmes.
Dr. Robert Holmes. Photograph: Woods Hole Research Center

So, this means that reducing carbon dioxide pollution is even more important. If we are to stop the warming–thawing–more warming cycle, it is critical to reduce emissions now. According to these experts, this is a serious issue, and we should listen to them.

This could explain all those strange happenings in Alaska’s waters

Bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska. Photo: NOAA© Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska. Photo: NOAA

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/this-could-explain-all-those-strange-happenings-in-alaska%e2%80%99s-waters/ar-BBpA0Cf?ocid=spartanntp

The Washington Post
by Ryan Schuessler

New research is shedding light on how far toxic algae blooms have spread in Alaska, and surprised scientists are saying this is just the beginning.

A study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest fisheries center found domoic acid and saxitoxin – algae-produced neurotoxins that are deadly in high doses — in 13 marine mammal species across Alaska, including as far north as the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Researchers say the study is just the latest piece of evidence that warming ocean temperatures are allowing these blooms to stretch into Arctic ecosystems, threatening marine life and the communities who rely on the sea to survive.

“The waters are warming, the sea ice is melting, and we are getting more light in those waters,” said Kathi Lefebvre, NOAA Fisheries research scientist. “Those conditions, without a doubt, are more favorable for algal growth. With that comes harmful algae.”

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The study, which analyzed more than 900 samples taken from stranded or harvested marine mammals in Alaska between 2004 and 2013, found algal toxins in all species sampled, including bowhead whales, fur seals and sea otters.

“We were surprised,” Lefebvre said. “We did not expect these toxins to be present in the food web in high enough levels to be detected in these predators.”

“There seems to be a potential risk for marine mammal health,” she added. “Then there’s also a seafood security risk, in that these communities rely on and depend on these animals for food.”

“I think that’s going to have a huge impact on the Native communities and coastal communities in Alaska,” said Bruce Wright, senior scientist for the Aleutian and Pribilof Island Association, the federally recognized tribal organization of Alaska’s indigenous Aleut citizens. “I think that we’re going to see a number of shifts in our ecosystem as a consequence of warming, and I think some species will be displaced by other species, and others will disappear. There [are] going to be consequences and people are going to have to adapt.”

NOAA’s new study, released last week, comes after months of strange marine life die offs in Alaska. Last year, NOAA declared the deaths of more than 30 whales in the Gulf of Alaska to be an unusual mortality event. Just last month, thousands of dead birds began washing ashore in Prince William Sound.

“I’m pretty sure that’s associated with these algal blooms,” Wright said of the bird die offs and other events. Toxic algal blooms in the region, particularly 2015’s, likely wipe out entire parts of the lower food chain, he added, the effects of which reverberate through the ecosystem.

A massive toxic algal bloom, believed the largest ever recorded, reaped havoc in the Pacific in 2015. Stretching from southern California north to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, it prompted the closure of recreational and commercial fisheries across the American and Canadian coastlines.

“It really does point out that there is a need for more monitoring,” Lefebvre said.

Increasingly warm waters in the north Pacific are believed to be behind other strange disease outbreaks as well. A recent study from the University of Puget Sound found that warmer waters in 2014 contributed to an epidemic of sea star wasting disease in the North Pacific, which decimated starfish populations in the north Pacific.

“My thought is, absolutely, the environment is changing very rapidly in Alaska,” Lefebvre said. “And it’s warming, and there are changes in fundamental parts of the ecosystem.”

She added: “And these ecosystems have developed over millions of years, so when they’re rapidly changing, the chances they’re going to be changed for the better, over all, are very slim.”

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/this-could-explain-all-those-strange-happenings-in-alaska%e2%80%99s-waters/ar-BBpA0Cf?ocid=spartanntp

Marine experts seek answers in death of humpback whale

A whale washed up Sunday evening on the beach in Seaside. — Kyle Spurr/The Daily Astorian

 

SEASIDE — The dead 24-foot humpback whale that washed ashore on the north end of Seaside’s beach Sunday caused quite a stir.

A couple of dozen onlookers stopped to watch Tuesday as a team of marine experts from Portland State University and Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteers performed a necropsy on the animal, which had been moved slightly inland and north on the beach. Some came to town specifically to see the whale.

The team collected biological samples that will be used to help determine a cause of death. If there are no “smoking guns,” such as bullet holes or something stuck in the mammal’s throat, then it can take days or weeks to determine a cause of death, said Keith Chandler, the general manager of Seaside Aquarium.

It was clear the animal did not die from old age, as it was only about a year old, Chandler said. He said it is not unusual to see a whale wash ashore on the North Coast, but they tend to be gray whales. Humpbacks are rare — Chandler said he has only see a few in his 20 years with the stranding network — but the species was spotted in nearby waters recently.

“There were a few humpbacks hanging out in the mouth of the Columbia River last year,” he said. “They are usually further offshore. It could have died offshore and with the storm, washed in.”

The whale was one of at least five cetaceans to wash up in the area in three days. A harbor porpoise and two striped dolphins were found Saturday. One dolphin was found in Cannon Beach and the other in Ocean Park, Washington. A third striped dolphin washed ashore in Seaside Monday. Chandler said it is “quite unusual to get them all together,” especially the striped dolphins.

The Ocean Park dolphin showed signs of being entangled in a net and had a hole in its tail that appeared to be from a gaff, Chandler said. The dolphin from Seaside had a similar hole in the same area, but it had not undergone a necropsy by Tuesday. Chandler said it could be a single event — getting caught in the net — that caused the unusual occurrence of killing multiple dolphins at once. If a single event is the cause of death, Chandler said, then “we know it’s just an accident,” as opposed to persistent conditions impacting a species, like disease.

City crews planned to bury the whale at the beach by Wednesday morning.

http://www.dailyastorian.com/Local_News/20160203/marine-experts-seek-answers-in-death-of-humpback-whale?utm_source=Daily+Astorian+Updates&utm_campaign=b5c32b3710-TEMPLATE_Daily_Astorian_Newsletter_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e787c9ed3c-b5c32b3710-109860249

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