Last Frog Of His Kind Dies Alone

By Stephen Messenger

The world is short one more species this week — and, sadly, others like it may be soon to follow.

WIKIPEDIAOn Wednesday, the Atlanta Zoo announced that a 12-year-old frog named Toughie, the last known Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog left in existence, had been found dead in the enclosure where he lived by himself.

Toughie was one of several frogs airlifted from his home in Central America in 2005, the year his kind was first discovered in the cloud forests of Panama. Biologists had hoped, by breeding them in captivity, to save their species from adeadly fungus-borne disease affecting amphibians after it was detected in the region.

Just two years later, Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs could no longer be found in the wild.

ATLANTA ZOODespite the best efforts, those breeding programs aimed at preserving frogs proved fruitless. By 2009, the last female Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog died in captivity, followed by another male in 2012. From that point forward, Toughie was all that was left.

Now, he is gone, too.

The loss of Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs is just the latest in what is considered an ongoing mass extinction of amphibians. In recent decades, more than a hundred amphibian species have been wiped out, with another 6,285 being at risk of extinction.

While the causes of this die-off are not fully understood, researchers believe human activity is in part to blame — through habitat destruction, pollution andenvironmental changes brought on by global warming.

Click here to learn more about issues impacting the world’s amphibians, and to find out how to help.

Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Dahr Jamail | Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It Monday, 06 July 2015 00:00
Written by
Dahr Jamail By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Interview 

Mass Exctinction(Image: Death valley, ghostly visage via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

Guy McPherson is a professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources and ecology at the University of Arizona, and has been a climate change expert for 30 years. He has also become a controversial figure, due to the fact that he does not shy away from talking about the possibility of near-term human extinction.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

While McPherson’s perspective might sound like the stuff of science fiction, there is historical precedent for his predictions. Fifty-five million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near term, earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than during any other moment in the last 65 million years.

Truthout caught up with McPherson in Washington State, where he was recently on a lecture tour, sharing his dire analysis of how far along we already are regarding ACD.

Dahr Jamail: How many positive feedback loops have you identified up until now, and what does this ever-increasing number of them indicate?

Guy McPherson: I can’t quite wrap my mind around the ever-increasing number of self-reinforcing feedback loops. A long time ago, when there were about 20 of them, I believed evidence would accumulate in support of existing loops, but we couldn’t possibly identify any more. Ditto for when we hit 30. And 40. There are more than 50 now, and the hits keep coming. And the evidence for existing feedback loops continues to grow.

In addition to these positive feedback loops “feeding” within themselves, they also interact among each other. Methane released from the Arctic Ocean is exacerbated and contributes to reduced albedo [reflectivity of solar radiation by the ice] as the Arctic ice declines. Tack on the methane released from permafrost and it’s obvious we’re facing a shaky future for humanity.

You talk often about how when major industrial economic systems collapse, this will actually cause a temperature spike. Please explain, in layperson’s terms, how this occurs.

Industrial activity continually adds reflective particles into earth’s atmosphere. Particularly well known are sulfates produced by burning coal (“clean coal” has a lower concentration of sulfates than “dirty coal”). These particles reflect incoming sunlight, thus artificially cooling the planet.

These reflective particles constantly fall out of the atmosphere, but industrial activity continuously adds them, too. When industrial activity ceases, all the particles will fall out within a few days. As a result, earth will lose its “umbrella” and rapid warming of the planet will ensue. According to a 2011 paper by James Hansen and colleagues, the warming will add 1.2 plus or minus 0.2 degrees Celsius. Subsequent research indicates the conservative nature of this paper, suggesting termination of industrial activity will add a minimum of 1.4 degrees Celsius to the global average temperature.

What indicators are you seeing that show the possibility of major economic collapses in the near future?

We cannot sustain the unsustainable forever, and this version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all. It teeters on the brink, and many conservative voices have predicted economic collapse this year or next. According to a June 2012 report by David Korowicz for the Feasta group, a disruption of supply will trigger collapse of the world’s industrial economy in as little as three weeks.

The supply disruptions to which Korowicz refers include water, food and oil. We can add financial credit to the list. In other words, credit could dry up as it nearly did in late 2008. Or the bond markets could trigger hyperinflation. California could have insufficient water to grow enough food to support much of the US, and not long from now. The list goes on.

Go into detail about what you’re seeing as far as indications of abrupt climate change.

When I’m in the midst of a speaking tour, as I am now, I deliver a presentation approximately every day. Lately, I include a [different] indication of abrupt climate change [in] each presentation. In other words, I’ve been coming across evidence every day.

Recent examples include the June 19, 2015, paper in Science Advances: We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction. According to the abstract, the “sixth mass extinction is already under way.” The lead author, in an interview, said, “life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

What are other factors you feel people should be aware of?

We’re in serious human-population overshoot. We’re driving to extinction at least 150 species each day. Nuclear power plants require grid-tied electricity, cooling water and people getting paychecks. Without all these, they melt down, thus immersing all life on earth in ionizing radiation.

There’s more. Much more. But all the evidence points toward our individual deaths and the extinction of our species in the near future.

But most importantly, we get to live now.



Excerpts from the books “The Sixth Extinction”(s)

As longtime readers of this blog may remember, I’ve quoted from Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin’s 1996 book, The Sixth Extinction; Patterns of Life and the Future of Mankind. Now there’s another book titled The Sixth Extinction (subtitled An Unnatural Order) by Elizabeth Kolbert (sorry, no relation to Steven Colbert…).

Are humans the reason that this wonderful Earth and her inhabitants are all here? Are Homo sapiens the pinnacle of evolution? That and other questions of our evolution are discussed in the chapter “Human Impacts of the Past” in Leakey’s book. Here is a series of excerpts from that original book:

…“For instance, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-inventor of the theory of natural selection, believed that evolution had been working ‘for untold millions of years…slowly developing forms of life and beauty to culminate in man.’

“Until about a decade ago, most biologists did not feel uncomfortable with speaking of an increase in complexity as an outcome of evolution and using the term progress interchangeably with complexity. Recently, however, a certain nervousness has crept in, so it is now acceptable to talk about complexity, but not about progress. Progress, is it’s argued, implies some kind of mysterious innate tendency for improvement, and that is considered too mystical. …

“Gould was one of the most outspoken in denying progress, asserting that it is ‘a noxious, culturally imbedded, untestable, nonoperational idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history.’

“The ability of the human species to inflict devastation on the natural world at the level of significant extinctions was for a long time thought to be a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. In Wallace’s time, biologists recognized that the swaths of European colonizations of the globe from the seventeenth century onward had left a trail of havoc in nature’s perceived harmony. Many held earlier colonizers, such as the Polynesians throughout the Pacific, to be blameless in this respect, and to have been part of that harmony. (Western sentiments toward technologically primitive societies had in fact swung dramatically, from their being crude and barbaric beasts to being Rousseauean noble savages.) But as Jared Diamond, a biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, had pointed out, many pre-European societies felt the same about their own forbearers.

Homo sapiens has become the most dominant species on Earth. Unfortunately, our impact is devastating, and if we continue to destroy the environment as we do today, half the world’s species will become extinct early in the next century.

[Again, this was written at the end of the twentieth century.]

“Even though Homo sapiens is destined for extinction, just like other species in history, we have an ethical imperative to protect nature’s diversity, not destroy it.

“Many people find it impossible to contemplate a time when Home sapiens would no longer exist, so they like to assume that we will break the biological rule and continue forever, or at least until our planet ceases to exist, billions of years from now, when its atmosphere is burned off by an expanding sun.

“The sixth extinction is similar to previous biological catastrophes in many ways. For instance, the most vulnerable species are those whose geographical distribution is limited, those in and near the tropics, and those with large body size. It is unusual in several ways, too, most particularly in that large numbers of plant species are being wiped out, which is unprecedented compared with past crises. But in the end, with passage of five, ten, or twenty million years, despite this and other distortions of the biota that will remain, rebound will occur. ‘On geologic scales, our planet will take care of itself and let time clear the impact of any human malfeasance,’ as Gould has put it. Why, then, if it matters not at all in the long run what we do while we are here, should we concern ourselves with the survival of species that, like us, will eventually be no more?

“We should be concerned because, special though we are in many ways, we are merely an accident of history. We did not arrive on Earth as if from outer space, set down amid a wondrous diversity of life, blessed with a right to do with it what we please. We, like every species with which we share the world, are products of many chance events, leading back to that amazing explosion of life forms half a billion years ago, and beyond that to the origin of life itself. When we understand this intimate connection with the rest of nature in terms of our origins, an ethical imperative follows:  it is our duty to protect, not harm them. It is our duty, not because we are the one sentient creature on Earth, which bestows some kind of benevolent superiority on us, but because in a fundamental sense Homo sapiens is on an equal footing with each and every other species here on Earth. And when we understand the Earth’s biota in holistic terms—that is, operating in an interactive whole that produces a healthy and stable living world—we come to see ourselves as part of that whole, not as a privileged species that can exploit with impunity. The recognition that we are rooted in life itself and its well-being demands that we respect other species, not trample them in a blind pursuit of our own ends. And, by the same ethical principle, the fact that one day Homo sapiens will have disappeared from the face of the Earth does not give us license to do whatever we choose while we are here.”

And in Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, from the prologue:

[Human expansion] “…continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; then it doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.

“Meanwhile, an even stranger and more radical transformation is underway. Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This in turn, alters the climate and chemistry of the oceans… Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles. But a great many—at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions—find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.

“No creature has ever altered the life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred. Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they’re put in their own category: the so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one…”

And speaking of oceans, an article in today’s Washington Post, “What the ‘sixth extinction’ will look like in the oceans: The largest species die off first,” cites a new study of the current mass extinction event and how it is currently affecting marine life.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are corralled by fishing nets during the opening of the season in 2011 for tuna fishing off the coast of Barbate, Cadiz province, southern Spain. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Never Kill an Albatross

by George Monbiot

In just seven years 30% of Africa’s savannah elephants have been wiped out. The other African subspecies, the forest elephant, has crashed by more than 60%since 2002. Perhaps this month’s resolution to ban domestic sales of elephant tusks will make a difference, but governments have done so little to restrain the international trade that illegal ivory and other wildlife parts are still sold on the surface web, rather than the dark web.

Last month the whale shark was classified as endangered. Some are still hunted for their meat and fins, and it seems that the revolting practice of live finning – slicing off the fins, then dumping the shark overboard to die slowly – continues. Most are killed as bycatch, in nets used to catch other species, especially tuna. Some fishing boats use whale sharks as markers (tuna tend to congregate under large objects), and deliberately cast nets around them.

Their decline – whale shark numbers have halved or worse in 75 years – reflects the global loss of ocean life. Since 1996 the fish catch has fallen by a million tonnes a year, as stocks are exhausted. Sieving the seas for what remains, fishing fleets will trigger the collapse of entire ecosystems.

Fishing also accounts for what has happened to the bird with the largest wingspan, the wandering albatross – whose population has fallen by about 30% in 11 years. Again, the tuna fishery is the principal threat, in this case through the use of baited longlines. The albatrosses dive for the bait, get hooked and drown.

albatross corpse rotting away to reveal the rubbish it’s consumed
An albatross corpse rotting away to reveal the rubbish it’s consumed. Photograph: Alamy

Another cause is their junk food diet: the plastic they eat, then feed to their chicks through regurgitation. The photographs taken by Chris Jordan on Midway atoll of the albatross corpses rotting away to reveal the rubbish they contain are a synopsis of our treatment of the living world. However far we travel, our impacts precede us.

A week ago the status of the eastern gorilla, the world’s largest primate, was changed from endangered to critically endangered: it has declined by 70% in 20 years. Its habitat, in central Africa, has been ripped apart by logging, mining and farming, and the gorillas are hunted for meat. All the great apes are now either endangered or critically endangered, in the case of orangutans largely as a result of palm oil production. What does it say about us that we are prepared to drive our closest relatives towards extinction?

The great acceleration towards a bare, grey world is also reflected in this week’s State of Nature report, which shows that over 10% of the remaining species in the UK are now threatened with extinction.

Last week we learned that one-tenth of the world’s wild places, forest and savannahs, and other lands in which human impacts are not obvious, have been lost – de-wilded – in the past 25 years. The trajectory suggests that there could be almost none left by the end of the century.

These should be among the central issues of our age. Yet we treat these losses as sad but peripheral, though we commission them through the things we buy. Elephants, rhinos, lions, polar bears, the great sharks, turtles, condors, whales, rainforests, wetlands, coral reefs: they are all the bycatch of consumerism. We assert both the right to consume – whatever we want, however we want – and the right to forget the consequences.

Flying to Bratislava or Bermuda for a stag weekend, shopping trips to New York, driving our gas guzzlers 300 metres to school, buying jetskis, leaf blowers and patio heaters, furnishing our homes with rare wood, eating tuna, prawns and salmon without a thought as to how they were produced: these ephemeral satisfactions, to judge by the reactions when you question them, occupy a sacred and inviolable space. The wonders of the living world, by contrast, are dispensable.

People who would never dream of killing an albatross or a whale shark are prepared to let others do so on their behalf, so that they may eat whatever fish they fancy. People who could not bring themselves to gut a chicken are happy to commission the disposal of entire ecosystems.

The act of not seeing is sanctioned and normalised, while attempts to explain the consequences are treated as abnormal and impertinent. On the Guardian’s website you can read about the global collapse of tuna populations – then, in a recipe published the following day, learn how to prepare a tuna salad, without a word about the implications.

Such cultural norms, positioning us as consumers first and moral beings either second or not at all, grant the disposal of the living planet its social licence. They allow us to compartmentalise, to be conscious of the issues when there is little that we can do about them, and to forget them at the moment when we have the capacity to act (or to refrain from acting). This is the safe space we establish for consumerism.

The costs cannot be computed in financial terms. There is no price that can capture the awe aroused by a whale shark, the deep being of an elephant herd, the way in which your heart soars with the albatross as it mounts a column of air, the gorilla’s fathomless gaze. The albatross hangs around our necks with a weight that defies calculation.

We were here: is this how we choose to be remembered? It is true that we existed: you can see it in the pulse of extinction. Are we to use our gift of life to snuff out other life forms? What will you leave behind, except your contribution to thePacific garbage patch?

fishing boat works amid garbage in Manila Bay, the Phillipines
‘What will you leave behind, except your contribution to the Pacific garbage patch?’ – a fishing boat works amid garbage in Manila Bay, the Phillipines. Photograph: Erik de Castro/Reuters

I believe we can do better, that we can position ourselves as just one participant in a world of wonders, blessed and cursed with higher consciousness, but using that capacity to embed ourselves within its limits.

We cannot wait for governments or schools or the media to deliver a new environmental ethics. Join the groups trying to defend the living planet; learn about the consequences of what you do; demand – from friends, from parents, from yourself – a better way of engaging with the world. By living lightly we enrich our lives.

George Monbiot will answer questions on this issue in a live Guardian Q&A on Friday, from 10-11am, BST. Post questions now (below), or join us on the day. He will answer questions on any aspect of the problem, but is particularly interested in opening a discussion on consumerism and its ethics.

Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers

August 10  2016

The threats of old are still the dominant drivers of current species loss, indicates an analysis of IUCN Red List data by Sean Maxwell and colleagues.

Here we report an analysis of threat information gathered for more than 8,000 species. These data revealed a contrasting picture. We found that by far the biggest drivers of biodiversity decline are overexploitation (the harvesting of species from the wild at rates that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth) and agriculture (the production of food, fodder, fibre and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees).

On the list

Since 2001, the categories and criteria of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species — a standard for the evaluation of extinction risk — have guided assessments, now for 82,845 species. Assessors assign species to categories, including ‘near-threatened’, ‘vulnerable’, ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’ depending on their population size; past, current and projected population trends; geographic range and other symptoms of extinction risk. Species in the latter three groups are collectively referred to as ‘threatened’.

To assess the relative prevalence of current hazards to biodiversity, we quantified threat information for 8,688 near-threatened or threatened species belonging to species groups in which all known species have been assessed (for complete list of taxa included, see Supplementary Information).

The basic message emerging from these data is that whatever the threat category or species group, overexploitation and agriculture have the greatest current impact on biodiversity (see ‘Big killers’).

Of the species listed as threatened or near-threatened, 72% (6,241) are being overexploited for commerce, recreation or subsistence.

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla, a scaly mammal), for instance, are all illegally hunted as a result of high market demand for their body parts and meat. These are just three of the more than 2,700 species affected by hunting or fishing, or by people collecting live specimens for the pet trade. At the same time, unsustainable logging is contributing to the decline of more than 4,000 forest-dependent species, such as the Bornean wren-babbler (Ptilocichla leucogrammica), India’s Nicobar shrew (Crocidura nicobarica), and the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri).



The Dangers of Willful Denialism

A good friend and blog reader posited that perhaps humankind allowing anthropogenic global warming to run further and further amok is facilitated by the same ingrained denial that people employed as they saw Nazi Germany take control of more and more of Europe and carry out their brutal holocaust.

Maybe what the modern human world is doing to Nature by changing the climate so fast that wild species can’t adapt in time—resulting in mass extinction—is just too unbearable to comprehend or believe. Denial, she theorized, is “our forte”—the traditional fallback position.

I have to take it a step further by adding that such denial is willful. I read the blasé reactions to the shattering, unprecedented news that tropical wintertime hurricanes were now invading the arctic. CNN and FOX News set the tone by sounding a collective “ho hum.” Who can be bothered by calls to halt our carbon goose-steps? We humans have an appointment with a brick wall and nothing’s going to stop us until D-day.

Willful denialism allows folks to look the other way while the animal holocaust provides them with their methane-marinated meals of tortured beef cows, or tormented pigs, fish and chickens.

Possibly the epitome of willful denialism: the more people degrade their environment, the more they want to have babies.



 premieres in more than 220 countries and territories around the world Wednesday, December 2 at 9PM ET/PT on Discovery. The biggest factor in mass…
Added on 12/01/15
Racing Extinction – documentary and videoFYI

RACING EXTINCTION premieres in more than 220 countries and territories around the world tonight, Wednesday, December 2 at 9PM ET/PT on Discovery –

Watch a short preview of tonight’s show – Livestock Create a Major Methane Problem –

Please share links!

“Every person you add to the planet adds more greenhouse gases…” Paul Ehrlich

Date: Tuesday – November 17, 2015
Host: George Noory
“Every person you add to the planet adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and so worsens climate disruption. Every person you add to the planet, means we have to grow more food…” Paul Ehrlich

In the first half, Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich discussed his work on population theory and mass extinction. He argues that many species of birds and mammals are being annihilated due to the human population explosion, along with commercial endeavors and the continuing development of natural areas. “Every person you add to the planet adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and so worsens climate disruption. Every person you add to the planet, means we have to grow more food…and the biggest enemy of the climate is agriculture– about 30% of the greenhouse gases…come from our food system,” he noted. We’re running out of soil, and toxifying the entire planet, he added.

A huge variety of creatures are being eliminated under current conditions. For example, he cited how the orange-bellied parrot in Australia is disappearing largely because of habitat destruction, passenger pigeons in North America, that once numbered in the millions, are now extinct due to hunting, and many types of bats, which eat a lot of problematic insects, are dwindling down in numbers. Ehrlich estimated that the human population is 4-6 times too high, and for the planet to be able to support us, we should have no more than 2-3 billion people. For those interested in fostering change, and making the Earth more sustainable, he suggested getting involved with the organization MAHB (The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere).

This Is What The World Would Be Like If Humans Had Never Existed

Basically, we’d see large mammals everywhere.


If humans had never existed, the whole world would look strikingly similar to the Serengeti of Africa. There would be lions in America, and elephants and rhinos roaming Europe.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that details how human-driven animal extinctions have influenced the distribution and populations of large mammals around the world.

“The study shows that large parts of the world would harbor rich large mammal faunas, as diverse as seen in protected areas of eastern and southern Africa today, if it was not for historic and prehistoric human-driven range losses and extinctions,” Dr. Jens-Christian Svenning, a biologist at Aarhus University in Denmark and a co-author of the study, told NBC News.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">The natural diversity of large mammals as it would appear without the impact of humans. The figure shows the variation in the number of large mammals (45 kilograms or larger) that would have occurred per 100 x 100 kilometer. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species. </span> Credit: Søren FaurbyThe natural diversity of large mammals as it would appear without the impact of humans. The figure shows the variation in the number of large mammals (45 kilograms or larger) that would have occurred per 100 x 100 kilometer. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species. Share on Pinterest
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption"><span style="color: #818181; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10.0799999237061px; line-height: 16.7999992370605px; background-color: #ffffff;">The current diversity of large mammals. It can clearly be seen that large numbers of species virtually only occur in Africa, and that there are generally far fewer species throughout the world than there could have been.</span></span> Credit: Søren FaurbyThe current diversity of large mammals. It can clearly be seen that large numbers of species virtually only occur in Africa, and that there are generally far fewer species throughout the world than there could have been.Share on Pinterest

The study was published last Thursday in the journal Diversity and Distributions. The researchers analyzed what the natural distribution of large mammal species would be if not for the impact of humans.

The study expands on the scientists’ previous research, which showed that the mass extinction of large mammals during the last ice age and in subsequent millennia was largely linked to the spread of modern humans, not to climate change.

Based on their most recent analysis, the researchers concluded that sub-Saharan Africa is virtually the only place on Earth with the naturally high diversity and population of large mammals that would be seen elsewhere if not for humans.

“Most safaris today take place in Africa, but under natural circumstances, as many or even more large animals would no doubt have existed in other places,” Dr. Søren Faurby, a postdoctoral fellow in bioscience at Aarhus and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “The reason that many safaris target Africa is not because the continent is naturally abnormally rich in species of mammals. Instead it reflects that it’s one of the only places where human activities have not yet wiped out most of the large animals.”

Global Warming: The Future is NOW! Part 1

Looking at the news on the subject lately, it would seem that the Pacific Coast is climate change central. Starting with the sad excuse for a snowpack last winter and the near total lack of rains since then that’s led to the current and ongoing drought, which in turn is contributing to the catastrophic fires across the West, it’s looking like Nature has set her sights on our part of the planet.

But the fact is, global warming is a worldwide problem. July has joined a dozen or more previous months in getting overall “hottest on record” nods—like it or not.

If you’ve been following this blog recently, you might have had your fill of Okanogan Complex fire updates, or general articles with anecdotes about the other changes to predictable patterns the Earth is undergoing thanks to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (or simply, too many humans creating too many tons of carbon). And if you’re any kind of self-respecting misanthrope like me, you may be wondering why it all matters. Certainly not so any future generations of humans can enjoy this wonderful place in the cosmos.

No, there’s much more than just us that’s worthy of our concern in this climate change catastrophe.

Global warming is about more than our comfort level or success. The harsh reality is that climate change is a major factor in the ongoing biodiversity emergency contributing to our current extinction spasm, namely The Sixth Great Mass Extinction–the one that we humans are causing and will more than likely be our undoing.

All of the West’s weather woes lead back to a blocking ridge of high pressure which is associated with the massive “blob” of warm water that’s been stuck for some time now off the West Coast and wreaking havoc with otherwise dependable patterns. A March 2008 interpretive handout from the USFWS, “Seabirds of the Pacific Northwest,”  that I picked up at Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon, actually does a surprisingly good job of spelling out the situation we’re in.

Changing Ocean Conditions

Weather is a major factor in sea bird success on the North Pacific coast. In productive breeding years, ocean winds cause an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water which results in a plankton bloom. Plankton are the base of the food chain upon which larger fish and ultimately sea birds depend. In El Nino years the ocean warms which alters ocean currents and prevents upwelling. This results in a crash in prey populations causing large-scale breeding failure and adult mortality in sea birds.

Expected rises in ocean temperature due to global climate change may be similar in effect to El Nino events. However, unlike El Nino which is short-term natural phenomena that disrupts marine food webs periodically, global climate change represents a more pervasive and permanent change in the ecosystem, the consequences of which are unknown. In fact, climate change is often perceived to be a future threat, but the reality for our marine wildlife is that it is happening now and scientists are struggling to unravel the interrelationships within marine ecosystems to predict how those systems will respond.

In 2015, the warm water has spread from Alaska to Mexico

I was going to title this post “Connecting the Dots on Climate Change,” but since this map only has one dot and it happens to be centered over “the blob” –climate change’s tie-in to everything that’s actively plaguing the West–I’ll let Canada’s The Weather Network explain it in excerpts from their article, “This weird ocean blob is linked to our worst weather. Here’s how”: Rodrigo Cokting Staff writer   Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The devastating winter in Atlantic Canada, the drought in California and the lack of snow in many BC ski resorts all have one thing it common: The Blob, an unusually warm mass of water in the Pacific Ocean that stretches from Alaska to Mexico.

The Blob, past and present, plays a key role in extreme weather and disruptions to the natural world across North America during the past two years, and is likely to do so for another year at least.

Described first by University of Washington climate scientist Dr. Nicholas Bond, The Blob is a large body of water sitting off the west coast, stretching from the American state of Alaska all the way to Baja California, Mexico. This anomaly first appeared in the Pacific ocean during the winter of 2013 to 2014, about 800 kilometres off the coast and brought remarkably warm water to the region. Peak temperatures anomalies at one point were greater than 2.5C.

The Blob has since moved towards the coast and is connected to some of the biggest environment stories since the shift. Snow regularly appeared as rain on the west coast, leaving plenty of ski resorts wondering where all the snow went. Cities all across the Maritimes broke snowfall records in 2015 with places like Saint John, New Brunswick exceeding their previous record high by nearly 70 centimeters. California finds itself in the middle of the worst drought to affect the state in more than 100 years. Salmon are changing their natural pathways. Birds are showing up dead along both coasts. It’s at the point now where meteorologists consult its position and importance when compiling forecasts.

Scientists are taking a closer look at the extent that The Blob can affect the world. Meteorologists at The Weather Network have been factoring in the warm water since it first appeared in the Pacific.

“This phenomena was a very important consideration in developing our past several seasonal outlooks and it is a significant factor as we look at the upcoming summer,” The Weather Network’s Dr. Doug Gillham said. “[These new studies] identify a key variable that we used to make our predictions.”

But to understand the Blob, you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

“The actual wave pattern that causes the anomaly in the east originates in the equatorial pacific,” University of Washington’s Dennis Hartmann said. “It’s kind of like El Niño except in a different location. It’s characterized by a high pressure centre off the west coast of North America.”

Hartmann says that this pattern, often called pseudo-El Niño follows a large arc trajectory to affect North America, and has many consequences including the formation of the Blob.

In 2015, the warm water has spread from Alaska to Mexico

In 2015, the warm water has spread from Alaska to Mexico

The warmer water of The Blob, in turn, has a direct relationship with air temperatures and humidity levels over the nearby land, which contributed to the warm and dry winter that much of the West Coast saw the last couple of years.

“I’m confident this effect is extending to British Columbia,” he said. “It doesn’t make much of a difference in circulation patterns like wind but it does seem to impact the temperature and moisture properties over the area.”

The lack of moisture could have affected the wildfire season that plagued the northwestern parts of North America.

“When there are warmer winters the landscape dries out that much faster and the fire season becomes longer,” Bond said, explaining how the Blob could have had a secondary impact on the West Coast. “Oceans also affected humidity so conceivably it could have an effect on likelihood of thunderstorms but right now that’s just pure speculation.”

While the West Coast has had winter with above average temperatures, the East Coast suffered from the opposite problem.

“The pattern set up a weather dipole along North America. Cold and snow in the east while keeping things dry in the west,” Hartmann said. “The combination of the ridge to the west and through in the east pulled the cold air into places like Chicago.”

And it’s not just Canada feeling the consequences of the pattern. California has been going through a rough time, struggling to find water. Hartmann believes that recently, the drought may have a link to all these weather problems.

“This pattern contributed to the drought in California,” Hartmann said. “They’ve been having it for four years but the pattern made it worse during the last two years.”

But it’s not just people feeling the effect of the Blob. The anomaly is having troubling consequences on the wildlife according to Dr. Ian Perry, a research scientists with Fisheries & Oceans Canada.

“October and November saw some the highest water temps we’ve ever seen in certain locations along the B.C. coast. The temperatures in that warm body of water are about 3.5 to 4 degrees above normal. It’s the kind of temperature excursion we might statistically expect once every 400 years,” Perry said. “Coastal temperatures in some locations have been recorded since the 1930s and we’ve never seen some of these numbers.”

These warm waters have led to interesting changes in the wildlife including a redistribution of some species.

“The warm water has brought a lot of animals that we might usually see further south into B.C. and into Alaska,” Perry said. “We’ve seen albacore tuna as far up as into Alaska. Normally they might go as far north as Washington.”

The Pacific salmon has an even more peculiar behavior change due to the Blob. The species usually returns to the Fraser river in B.C. via one of two routes. Most of them come in through the southern part of Vancouver Island, swimming through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the international boundary between Canada and the United states.

But due to the warm water, the salmon are taking the longer route home swimming around northern B.C. and back down. The warm water is acting like a big plug and forcing the fish to bypass their preferred way back home.

“This has implications because we have a treaty with the U.S., that allows them to fish Pacific salmon. They get a certain amount of the catch because the normal route goes through the Strait of Juan de Fuca which is accessible to both U.S. and Canadian fishermen,” Perry said. “This time it’s been mostly Canadian fishermen that had access to the fish.”

If the Blob continues it could affect more than just swimming patterns. Perry says it could also lead to decreased populations in the following years.

“The salmon coming back spent much of their winter route in the north Pacific. They might come back a little bit skinnier but we don’t really expect major impact in the numbers,” Perry said. “The real question will be the fish going out in 2015. If these warm conditions stay along the coast, the juvenile salmon going out may starve and not survive well. There could be fewer salmon coming back in 2015, then 2016, then 2017.”

Warm water spells trouble for young salmon due to the difference in the zooplankton it contains,much smaller and less nutritious than the type that inhabits cold water.

“It’s the difference between having a roast beef dinner every night versus eating a stalk of celery every night,” Perry explained.

While we’ll have to wait and see if the salmon will be affected by the Blob, a bird commonly seen in B.C. is already suffering the devastating effect of the less nutritious water.

Cassin’s auklet is a small, chunky seabird that commonly breeds off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. After a successful breeding period during the spring of 2014, the birds have washing up dead all across the shore between Washington and Oregon at rates as high as 100 times the normal amount.

“It’s a combination of two things: the good breeding that happened in spring and the warm water that came toward the coast. A lot of these young birds were not familiar enough with how to find food in a different environment,” Perry said. “A lot of the birds that wash up ashore appear to be starving.”

It’s becoming clearer with every passing day that The Blob is going to have serious ramifications for as long as it stays in the ocean, and at least for now it seems to be comfortably parked off the west coast.

“It’s still there now and still pretty anomalous so the coastal weather and coastal biology will continue to be affected by that,” Hartmann said before adding that other conditions could mitigate the effect.


A pair of August 25, 2015 articles in the Daily Astorian hint to the dire straits we’re all in today:

Last fall, tens of thousands of the Cassin’s auklet, a small seabird, died. Parish said there was a correlation between warmer waters and a change in the distribution of food. 

“We’re kind of hoping we don’t have another repeat season,” she said. “The North Pacific is pretty darn warm and has been for some time,” Parish said.  

But there is usually upwelling, making it cooler along the coast and providing the common murre “a fair amount of food.”  

Josh Saranpaa, assistant director of the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, said the center has received about 12 birds a day over the past month, many from Cannon Beach. The majority, about 90 percent, are common murres. 

“Every bird we’re seeing is starving to death,” he said. “It’s pretty bad.” 

With warming ocean temperatures, fish are diving deeper than the birds can handle in some areas, he added.

The high number of starving adults along the North Coast, even experienced scavenger birds, indicates a “serious sign of a stressed ecosystem,” Parish said.

Saranpaa said seabirds are biological indicators, a way to check an environment’s health…

Richard Leakey, in his book, the Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind, points out that, “marine regression” is associated with nearly all the previous mass extinctions. With warming, ocean acidification, jellyfish and toxic algae replacing plankton blooms throughout the areas, it’s starting to look like marine regression is happening here. Perhaps I should have titled this post, Mass Extinction: The future is now.

Stay tuned for Part 2