Drought Jeopardizes Western Birds

from Audubon.com

An unprecedented 15-year drought is drying out the Colorado River Basin, threatening the birds and people that live there. The Colorado River provides drinking water for millions of people, world-class recreation, irrigation on working lands, and life-sustaining habitat for hundreds of species of migrating, nesting, and wintering birds. With less water in the Basin, birds will be in trouble as habitat simply begins to fade away. We are calling on people across the country to contact their U.S. Senators, urging them to address this critical situation.

Email your Senators today and ask them to help save water and restore habitat in the Colorado River Basin and across the West.

In the water-scarce West, birds rely on ribbons of rivers and streams, essential wetlands, and the vegetation they nourish. Many nesting species are already in serious trouble due to the loss of habitat from the drought. The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher have been pushed to the brink and were recently listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The health of the Colorado River is vital to the well-being of the West and the nation. It provides drinking water for more than 36 million people, irrigates 15 percent of US crops, and sustains hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife. Numerous federal programs can help provide short-term and long-term solutions, such as WaterSMART, which supports locally-driven efforts to save water across the West, and the Multi-Species Conservation Program, which helps restore thousands of acres of vital habitat for birds and other wildlife in the Colorado River Basin.

Write to your Senators today and urge them to support water conservation and habitat restoration programs like these in order to secure a sustainable future for the people and birds of the West.

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Don’t be fooled by Jeb Bush’s new rhetoric on climate change

http://grist.org/climate-energy/dont-be-fooled-by-jeb-bushs-new-rhetoric-on-climate-change/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=EDIT%20Weekly&utm_campaign=weekly

Jeb Bush said some stuff about climate change on Friday that sounded “moderate.” That is a shift from past statements that put him pretty squarely in the denier camp. But resist the urge to be impressed. He still doesn’t actually want to do anything about the problem.

Speaking at an event in New Hampshire, Bush said:

The climate is changing and I’m concerned about that. But to be honest with you, I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

With that, he promotes the stale old idea that climate action will inevitably hurt the U.S. economy. But of course, ignoring climate change comes with its own huge costs. And aggressively shifting to clean energy and efficiency would offer huge economic benefits.

Bush went on:

Right now we are one of the countries that has reduced carbon emissions because of the natural gas revolution, converting from coal, and conservation — the two things that have driven a reduction in CO2 emissions. We can continue to reduce carbon emissions by taking advantage of the abundance of natural gas.

Translation: Keep on fracking!

And more from Bush:

We need to restore our competitive posture, which I think our energy revolution will allow us to do, and then simultaneously with that, be cognizant of the fact that we have this climate change issue and we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions. We are reducing it. The rest of the world is the place where, certainly in the emerging world, where you have greatest challenges.

So in there he talks about negotiating with the rest of the world, which might sound nice. You can almost imagine Jeb pushing for a strong U.N. climate deal in Paris later this year! Except not. Because almost in the same breath he criticizes “the emerging world” — read: China, India, et al. — for really being the source of the problem. This is another stale old idea Republicans like to push — that China and India are slacking so there’s no point in the U.S. doing more. Republicans keep pushing this line even though China is taking pretty dramatic action these days.

And Republicans like Bush, of course, don’t acknowledge that the U.S. has spewed far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since 1850 than any other nation, making us the single biggest cause of global warming. Nor do they acknowledge that the U.S., as a wealthy nation with some of the highest per capita emissions, has more of a moral responsibility to act than countries like India, where 400 million people still don’t even have electricity.

NextGen Climate, Tom Steyer’s political group, chose to see Bush’s comments in a positive light: “Jeb Bush demonstrated leadership today on the issue of climate change—distancing himself from the other Republican presidential hopefuls and demonstrating why climate change doesn’t have to be a partisan issue.” If all you have to do to be a Republican climate “leader” is not be a denier, then I guess Bush qualifies.

I take a more skeptical view. Jeb is just adopting the new strategy preferred by the GOP establishment (as explained last week by David Roberts): stop denying the science, because that makes Republicans look stupid, and instead criticize all proposed solutions for costing too much or being ineffective or unfair. You get the same gridlock, the same lack of action, but you’re less of a target for mockery. We can already see other Republican presidential wannabes, like Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham, adopting the same approach.

This might look like progress, but it’s not.

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Mystery blob in the Pacific messes up US weather and ecosystems

Thousands of seabirds called Cassin’s auklets have been found dead along the Pacific shore, and conservationists have had to rescue scores of starving sea lions on beaches in southern California.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27362-mystery-blob-in-the-pacific-messes-up-us-weather-and-ecosystems.html#.VTFO22d0y1t

16 April 2015 by Eli Kintisch

An unusual threat is looming off the Pacific coast of North America from Juneau in Alaska to Baja California. Now roughly 2000 kilometres wide and 100 metres deep, a mass of warm water that scientists are calling “the blob” has lingered off the coast for a year and a half and has set temperature records, with waters between 1 °C and 4 °C warmer than normal.

Fresh research published in Geophysical Research Letters has examined the causes and impacts of this area of water, which has grown more recently.

The blob has changed water-circulation patterns, affected inland weather and reshuffled ecosystems at sea. Although scientists say the planet’s warming oceans may not be responsible for the mysterious and long-lived anomaly, some see it as an early warning of changes that might be coming to the Pacific in the next few decades.

Satellite imagery first alerted scientists to the strange formation in August 2013, when the roundish blob was seen over the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers think that a long-lasting weather pattern called a high-pressure “ridge” deflected winds that stir up cool waters from the deep and bring cool air and water from high latitudes.

 

<a href=”http://ad.doubleclick.net/N6831/jump/NewScientist/ns_section_environment;key=environment+dn27362+nologin+News+blob+Pacific+US+thunderstorms+salmon+sea-lions+marine-ecosystem+Pacific-Decadal-Oscillation+climate-change;tile=7;sz=450×250;ord=1234567890?”><img src=”http://ad.doubleclick.net/N6831/ad/NewScientist/ns_section_environment;key=environment+dn27362+nologin+News+blob+Pacific+US+thunderstorms+salmon+sea-lions+marine-ecosystem+Pacific-Decadal-Oscillation+climate-change;tile=7;sz=450×250;ord=1234567890?” /></a>

Unusually warm sea-surface temperatures are being observed in the North Pacific. The darker the red colouring, the more above average the temperature (Image: NOAA)

Months later, fishermen and officials around Alaska reported sightings of species found in more temperate or even tropical waters, including skipjack tuna, thresher sharks and sunfish. Other marine species showed up thousands of kilometres north of their normal ranges, including pygmy killer whales and tropical species of copepods – tiny crustaceans that are key to marine food webs.

“I’ve never seen some of these species here before,” says plankton expert Bill Peterson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington – part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Spreading warmth

The anomaly has spread out over the last 12 months, with warm water showing up all the way from Alaska to the central Mexican coast. Physical oceanographers have speculated that the blob is influenced by a major climate pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a combination of several phenomena that have the effect of warming water across the eastern Pacific for periods of 4 to 20 years.

Yet the patterns of warming seem to be different this time round, says oceanographer Mark Ohman of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. “This is a phenomenon beyond the typical PDO-like oscillations we’ve seen for the recent decades,” he adds. “I’m in a state of confusion.”

Inland, the blob contributed to a number of unusual weather events along the Pacific Northwest last summer, including an uptick in thunderstorms and lightning – and the resulting forest fires.

But the biggest impacts so far have concerned marine species. Peterson fears that a big drop in copepod populations in waters off the Pacific Northwest could doom harvests of various species of salmon – a multibillion-dollar industry – for years to come. “They had nothing to eat,” he says of juveniles that ventured out from rivers into the blob last year.

Thousands of seabirds called Cassin’s auklets have been found dead along the Pacific shore, and conservationists have had to rescue scores of starving sea lions on beaches in southern California.

Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2015GL063306

Also See: http://www.grindtv.com/wildlife/wind-sailors-litter-west-coast-beaches/#6kzccAsk8UihaDOz.97

This roadkill map says a lot about California’s drought

<img src=”https://grist.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/screen_shot_2015-04-03_at_3-58-02_pm-0.png?w=775&h=576&crop=1″>

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California’s drought is taking a toll on the state’s wildlife. Not a huge surprise, given that the widespread dry spell is beating up just about everything, save aiding a resurgence in gold-panning and an increase in wine alcohol content. (Three cheers for the drought! No? Too soon. OK.) What’s more surprising than the drought’s effect on wildlife, though, is one way some researchers are observing it: by mapping roadkill across the state.

According to a recent article in Vox, the un-peer-reviewed observations of UC Davis professor Fraser Shilling, who operates the state’s largest roadkill monitoring system, show that there was a spike in roadkill numbers in the drought’s early stages. Shilling suspects this is because animals were roaming in search of food and water.

But, Vox reported, Shilling’s recent data showed an opposite trend: Roadkill numbers are decreasing because — yep, you guessed it — there are simply fewer critters overall.

It’s sad, I know. But get all your cries out now so you can pay attention, because Shilling and his team have gleaned a few other interesting tidbits about the state’s animals by tracking its dead ones. For instance, by pinpointing flattened animals, researchers can see the regions where different species are most abundant, track the spread of invasive species, and identify wildlife corridors that are going unused.

You can see for yourselves on the interactive map powered by California Roadkill Observation System, which shows where amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles have been struck in the past 90 days. It’s volunteer-powered, so if you’re a Californian with wheels, you can help the researchers by submitting any of your own, erm, hits.

But, note: If you want to help both the climate and all those thirsty Californian critters, it may be best just not to drive at all.

More Methane-Producing Cattle NOT a Climate Fix

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by Mike Hudak,

Ranching’s boosters, in addition to telling the public how great their product tastes, have often promoted their cause by citing ranching’s supposed benefits to the landscape—cattle’s removal of weeds and fertilization of the soil among other things. Then they’d claim that all this cattle activity provided abundant habitat for wildlife. And, oh yes, they’d also mention that THEIR approach to ranching would increase a rancher’s profits.

But now ranching advocates (and even climate-change leader Bill McKibben) have jumped on the “climate change” bandwagon with claims that ranching can reduce greenhouse gasses. Grazing guru Allan Savory (of Holistic Management fame) even stated in his TED Talk of February 2013 (and I’m paraphrasing here) that grazing under Holistic Management is the ONLY chance we have to avert the virtual collapse of civilization from climate change. (For Savory’s verbatim statement, see footnote #11 of my essay http://mikehudak.com/Articles/HM_Memo_131113.html.)

To support such claims, ranching advocates have often cited scientific, peer-reviewed articles, such as the one by Franzluebbers & Stuedemann: “Soil-Profile Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen During 12 Years of Pasture Management in the Southern Piedmont USA,” Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 129 (2009): 28–36. This article’s take-away message is that a properly cattle-grazed pasture that was previously cropland (and originally forest) sequesters more atmospheric carbon than does a similar pasture without cattle. In sequestering this carbon the landscape is helping to lessen global climate change. And the cattle are an essential component in that process.

I was recently asked by a member of the Sierra Club’s Grazing Team to examine the Franzluebbers & Stuedemann article for errors or omissions that would negatively impact its conclusions. Consequently, I did find deficiencies that render meaningless the article’s claimed benefit of a cattle-grazed landscape sequestering atmospheric carbon, even if that conclusion is true.

My essay about the article is now installed at
http://mikehudak.com/Articles/FranzluebbersAndStuedemannCritique.html

You can also view the essay in PDF format which is more suitable for printing:
http://mikehudak.com/Articles/FranzluebbersAndStuedemannCritique.pdf

I encourage you to read my article and to forward it to people who might find it of interest.

Climate Change is a Bore; Shooting Poachers, a Turn-On

This blog is living proof that, as the media tells us, “we’re bored with climate change” (The BBC suggests today that we’ve moved on from caring about climate change because we’re tired of it). It’s not that there’s nothing new to learn about the issue of whether we, and the Earth, will survive to see another century.

An overview, Melting Accelerates in Antarctica: So Far, 2015 Is Hottest Year Yet, in Truthout.org by Dahr Jamail posted just last night spells out what’s new, and will fill you in on what you may have missed. If you haven’t read the latest reports on anthropogenic climate disorder (or even if you have), I highly recommend it: http://truth-out.org/news/item/30063-melting-accelerates-in-antarctica-so-far-2015-is-hottest-year-yet It can begin to give you an appreciation of the magnitude of this dire situation.

Coincidentally, on April 7th I wrote a semi-satirical post about the lack of interest in climate change and how business as usual will bring it on, entitled, “C’mon Nature, Show Us a Sign!”  https://exposingthebiggame.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/cmon-nature-show-us-a-sign/  As if to prove my point, so far it’s been read by only 31 people. That could almost make one wonder if overpopulation itself is just a hoax. How can there be 7 and a quarter billion people on the planet when only 31 read that post?

Meanwhile the post, “Chorus of Outrage as Obama Administration Approves Arctic Drilling for Shell Oil” only received 23 views.

Now, compare those figures to the 53,436 people so far (6,652 on the first day, followed by 15,094 the next) who have read the article I posted on April 1 about a woman who hunts poachers in Africa.

(Note to anyone writing to spread the word about climate change: You might want to include a photo of a lady cradling a machine gun in front of an American flag, they seem to attract an awful lot of interest.)

Poacher-Hunters-6

C’mon Nature, Show Us a Sign!

Sometimes I find myself wishing that Mother Nature would hurry up and get serious about this global warming thing already.

No, not just because I secretly want to see the human scourge shed off the face of the Earth. (Not today, anyway.)

What I am talking about is the fact that the very things that should be ending to stave off catastrophic climate change—as well as the ongoing sixth mass extinction—are actually increasing.graph

For example, breeding. Okay, that’s a given, but let’s talk specifics.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, logging the rainforest is not coming to a close in acknowledgement of a warming planet needing all the carbon sequestering (not to mention oxygen—oh yeah, and shade) she can get. Indeed, everywhere I look there’s a fresh new clear-cut, while load after load of precious trees are hauled off in carbon-spewing log trucks to massive ships bound for China.

Now, if timber companies were increasing their “harvest” of evergreens to make way for more fast-growing, deciduous trees like alders or maples that would be one thing. But considering that they routinely use Agent Orange defoliant to kill the natural progression of plants on their “tree farms,” I don’t think they have saving the planet on their minds. Quite the opposite.

As long as there are global warming deniers out there, loggers can continue cutting down the forests like there’s no tomorrow. And anyway, who knows, maybe there won’t be one. I’d call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but they’re certainly not prophets (profit-makers, maybe).

Another obvious example of an industry that should be calling it quits, but is instead expanding its ruinous ways: Big Oil. While climate scientists are warning us that it’s time to just STOP, Shell has plans to start drilling in the fragile Chukchi Sea (crucial feeding grounds for the grey whales, just south of the Arctic Ocean). Meanwhile, the President is allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic for the first time.

Perhaps, like the logging companies, the oil barons are seeing the writing on the wall that their days are numbered, so they’re out to get it while they can—before the damned enviros slap them with enough restrictions or regulations to put them out of business for good.

So when I say I wish Nature would show us a sign, I don’t mean another massive hurricane or super typhoon, world record drought or raging inferno. Apparently those aren’t enough to shake some people up and out of their denial-induced torpor. I’m not sure what it’ll take. A total reversal of the jet stream? The icecaps melting and Florida sinking overnight? Spontaneous combustion of the White House?

Whatever it’s gonna be I hope it happens soon, before business as usual makes the whole mess worse than it already is.

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Chorus of Outrage as Obama Administration Approves Arctic Drilling for Shell Oil

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/04/01/chorus-outrage-obama-administration-approves-arctic-drilling-shell-oil

Thanks to a government ruling on Tuesday, Shell may soon be able to continue drilling in the Arctic, despite risks to the environment and animals who live there. (Photo: Day Donaldson/flickr/cc)

Environmental activists expressed shock and outrage on Tuesday after the U.S. Department of the Interior upheld a 2008 lease sale on the Arctic’s Chuchki Sea, opening the door for continued oil exploration in a region long eyed for drilling by Shell Corporation and increasingly strained under the effects of climate change.

The decision opens up 30 million acres in the Chuchki Sea to fossil fuel exploration and drilling, a move which state and national green groups called “unconscionable.”

“Our Arctic ocean is flat out the worst place on Earth to drill for oil,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The world’s last pristine sea, it is both too fragile to survive a spill and too harsh and remote for effective cleanup.”

In January 2014, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Interior Department had violated the law when it sold those 2008 leases—a deal that came about during George W. Bush’s presidency, but was upheld two years later by the Obama administration.

The 2014 decision ordered the Interior Department to reconsider the leases. A month later, the department admitted that drilling in the Chucki Sea was likely to have devastating consequences, with a spill risk of 75 percent or more.

“It is unconscionable that the federal government is willing to risk the health and safety of the people and wildlife that live near and within the Chukchi Sea for Shell’s reckless pursuit of oil,” said Marissa Knodel, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “Shell’s dismal record of safety violations and accidents, coupled with the inability to clean up or contain an oil spill in the remote, dangerous Arctic waters, equals a disaster waiting to happen.”

“Ignoring its own environmental review, the U.S. Department of the Interior has opened the door for drilling in the remote and iconic Arctic Ocean,” said the Sierra Club on Tuesday.

“It’s shocking that the Department of the Interior would knowingly move forward with a plan that has a 75 percent chance of creating a major spill in the Chukchi Sea. We can’t trust Shell or any other oil company with America’s Arctic,” Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, added. “Shell has proposed an even dirtier and riskier Arctic drilling program for this summer. The Obama administration has seen the impacts of what a major oil spill looks like.”

The Bureau of Ocean Management will next conduct an environmental assessment on Shell’s exploration plan for the Chuchki Sea, which could take 30 days or more.

The Chuchki Sea is home to an estimated 2,000 polar bears and serves as the feeding grounds for migratory gray whales.

“The industrial oil development that Interior hopes will flow from its decision to approve the Chukchi lease sale gives us a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill and a 100 percent chance of worsening the climate crisis,” Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity, added. “I don’t like those odds.”

This chart of rising ocean temperatures is terrifying

http://grist.org/news/this-chart-of-rising-ocean-temperatures-is-terrifying/

This year’s biggest climate change news was that 2014 was hottest year on record. Turns out, there’s bigger news: It was also the hottest year in the oceans, which are warming so fast they’re literally breaking the NOAA’s charts.

Don’t think you mind a little jacuzzification in your ocean? You’re wrong. Warmer oceans matter because “global warming” doesn’t just mean above average air temperatures over the course of a year — it actually refers to an increase in the total amount of heat energy contained in the Earth’s systems. While air temperatures can fluctuate on any given year, they are usually matched by an increase or decrease of the amount of heat stored in the oceans (which, by the way, absorb around 90 percent of total global warming heat). To know whether the system as a whole is getting warmer or not, scientists need to take into account the temperatures of the atmosphere, land, AND oceans.

Luckily, NOAA has been tracking ocean energy data for decades, updating its charts every few months. Unluckily, the newest data shows that, on top of 2014’s record-breaking air temperatures, ocean temperatures have also increased — to put it in layman’s terms — a shit ton. The spike is so significant that NOAA will have to rescale its heat chart.

Ocean heat content data to a depth of 2,000 meters
Ocean heat content data to a depth of 2,000 meters
NOAA

OK, people. We don’t want to sound like a broken record about the reality of climate change … and actually this time we don’t have to. This is one broken record that speaks for itself.

From sea lions to penguin chicks, adorable animals are dying in droves

http://grist.org/science/from-sea-lions-to-penguin-chicks-adorable-animals-are-dying-in-droves/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=EDIT%20Weekly&utm_campaign=weekly

We know and love sea lions for their soulful eyes and playful antics — they’re basically the golden retrievers of the ocean. But recently, sea lionsdsc_0224 have been making headlines for much sadder reasons: Droves of malnourished sea lion pups have been washing up all over the Southern Californian coast. More than 1,450 pups have stranded without their mothers since January, reported the Washington Post.

The cause? Starvation.

Warmer waters off the coast of California are likely driving away sea lions’ prey such as squid, anchovies, and sardines, said Justin Viezbicke, stranding services coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As a result, mother sea lions are having to go further from birthing grounds — usually around the Channel Islands — to forage for food, meaning that pups probably don’t get enough nutrients from their mothers when they return. The pups then wean off their mothers earlier and are underweight when they leave the island, likely to find food of their own.

“They’re leaving with a low tank of gas and there’s really not much out there to help them out,” said Viezbicke. “They’re jumping into … a challenging environment and then they’re ending up washing ashore on the mainland, starving.”

Organizations like NOAA and other animal rescue programs have been taking in pups and feeding them — but that’s only a stopgap measure.

“This is something that’s naturally occurring out there, so there’s really not much we can do other than watch and learn from the situation,” Viezbicke said. “We can’t really prevent or stop it, unfortunately.”

Left to their own devices, these stranded sea lion pups probably wouldn’t make it. (No judgement if you need a tissue here. I’ll wait.)

As sad as it sounds, starvation events and mass mortality events (in which vast numbers of animals die), are becoming more and more common in this wacky, warming world. Thanks to a number of large-scale, systemic alterations (lookin’ at you, El Niño and warming ocean temps), the world’s ecosystems hang in a delicate balance.

Meet the Cassin auklet — a pudgy, fist-sized seabird with crescent-shaped eye markings and pale blue feet. They’re pretty dang cute. And thousands of them are washing up dead along the West Coast — all the way from Northern California to British Columbia.

“My volunteers alone … have found 7,000 carcasses [over the last four months],” said Julia Parrish, executive director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) at the University of Washington. “It’s a scary big number.”

Like the sea lions, auklets are literally dying for a meal. The birds primarily feed on zooplankton or krill. However, in the last year, a mass of warm water — very scientifically named “the blob” — drove the usual Pacific krill into deeper waters and brought in a host of zooplankton that the auklets don’t eat, reported Audubon Magazine.

When a high number of birds wash ashore dead, the events are called “wrecks.” Generally speaking, smaller wrecks are fairly normal, Parrish explained. If there’s a storm out at sea, it’s not unusual for seabirds caught in its path to die, whether from starvation or storm conditions, and later wash up on beaches. That’s just how it goes.

But this time, something is different. “This is the biggest wreck we’ve ever seen in the 16 years we’ve been doing this work,” Parrish said. “I think it’s probably the largest wreck we’ve seen on West Coast … That makes me sit up and take notice.”

This winter’s wreck could be especially bad if enough of the dead auklets turn out to be adults, because an entire reproductive group may have been wiped out. They won’t know for sure until the birds return to their breeding grounds. Until then, it’s a lot of waiting and counting dead birds.

beachedaucklets
D. Derickson/COASST

So is this climate change at play? Scientists are hesitant to say.

Dee Boersma, a conservation scientist and founder of the Penguin Sentinels Project at UW, compares the vulnerability of seabirds to weather and climate to the vulnerability of a human crossing a busy street: You could get hit by a truck, but it doesn’t happen every time. And just as it’s hard to predict exactly how likely you are to survive a street-crossing as a human, the same goes for storms and their effects on Magellanic penguins, she said.

In 2014, Boersma and other penguin researchers published a study in PLOS ONE which found that climate change was directly responsible for the deaths of more than 200 Magellanic penguin chicks from 1983 to 2010 in Punta Tombo, Argentina. There, climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of storms, while lowering the reproductive success of Magellanic penguins, the study reported.

During the 27-year-long study, young penguins perished at a high rate due to a combination of starvation and overexposure during exceptionally rainy and hot seasons. The chicks’ feather coats keep them cozy when they are dry, but that changes when they get wet: The fluffy down isn’t waterproof, like adult penguin feathers. So if a penguin chick gets caught in the rain during a storm, it’s like a human “being stuck outside and naked in a wet sleeping bag … the penguins basically die of hypothermia like you or I would,” said Boersma.

Plus, a lack of food leaves the chicks unprepared to cool themselves down when things heat up, since they rely on the food their parents bring them for all of their water. Without adequate hydration, the chicks can’t depend on evaporation to keep cool and become vulnerable to heat stress.

It’s a lethal combination: Over the course of the study, an average of 65 percent of the Punta Tombo chicks died every year, with about 40 percent dying of starvation.

Chicks that died of hypothermia after a rainstorm.
Chicks that died of hypothermia after a rainstorm.
Dee Boersma / University of Washington

So what was that about climate change again? Mass animal die-offs and starvation epidemics are shocking no matter what, even to hardened scientists. Climate change is just exacerbating these kinds of things.

“The fact is that we have populations responding to warming events, whether the warming is temporary or inexorable,” said Parrish, the researcher studying the dying auks.

The world’s ecosystems are hanging on as best they can, but small things can throw them out of balance. It’s unfair to compare the temperatures that a wild ecosystem can withstand to the temperatures humans can, because we have tools and technology on our side. “Wildlife needs habitat,” Parrish said. “In today’s crowded world, habitat only exists in certain places — places that we protect. And when the climate warms, those places change.”

“[Even one degree] is a huge deal,” Parrish points out. To understand and support conservation efforts, humans need to “think like a fish, a clam, or an oyster, and not like a person.”

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