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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    Twenty years ago, an off-duty officer from the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service stumbled upon a grove of trees that were thought to be extinct in Wollemi National Park, northwest of Sydney. Now scientists are rushing in to protect the trees.

    Produced by Matt Johnston. Video courtesy of Associated Press.
     
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    Los Angeles Heat Wave

    Collectively, the past six months have been the hottest since humans started keeping track of global temperatures.

    Last month was the warmest September humans have recorded, according to both NASA's Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

    September came at the end of a record-breaking six months: April, May, June, and August of this year were all also the warmest on record, and July came in at fourth hottest.

    According to Eric Holthaus at Slate:

    Recent research shows the current warm stretch is probably the planet's warmest in at least 4,000 years. That means global temperatures may have already passed a level that human civilization has never experienced. The sheer size and depth of the world's oceans means that most of global warming's extra heat has been stored there. For the last decade or so, atmospheric warming has been playing catch up.

    That means things will just keep getting warmer — and humans are doing a poor job of slowing things down. At the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, world leaders agreed to take measures to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above their historical levels.

    Beyond that point, many experts agree that the world could see a disastrous series of climate change effects, including widespread floods, fires, storms, famines, and extinctions. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that we're on track to miss our target by a good 2 C before the end of the century.

    NASA's map below shows the difference in temperature between September 2014 and the average temperature from 1951 and 1980.

    NASA_September_1You can see that the heat is affecting some parts of the world more strongly than others. Some areas are even "abnormally cold." Temperatures can fluctuate around the world, depending on weather patterns – for instance, in August, parts of the US saw temperatures below the baseline average, and in September the entire country was at or above the baseline. But the important takeaway is that there is a general pattern of warming temperatures across the globe.

    The differences becoming greater as the colors move from yellow to orange to red. Some of the greatest temperature differences were seen in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

    The NOAA chart below shows temperature anomalies between the April-to-September months and the 20th century average every year since 1880. You can see below that 2014 deviates most from the average, and is a part of a much bigger trend of increasing temperature anomalies.

    Global_Temperature_1September was also noteworthy for the flurry of climate change activism it saw around the world, including the People's Climate March in New York City, which spawned similar demonstrations around the world and at the UN 2014 Climate Summit, during which world leaders gathered to discuss their strategies for reducing carbon emissions and slowing down climate change.

    September was also marked by a spree of climate-related events, including widespread drought in the western US and intense flooding in India.


    NOW WATCH: Researchers Just Discovered 18 Mysterious Viruses In NYC's Rat Population

     

    SEE ALSO: 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change

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    Hawaii Tsunami 1946A powerful earthquake in Alaska sent towering waves up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall crashing down on Hawaii about 500 years ago, leaving behind fragments of coral, mollusk shells and coarse beach sand in a sinkhole located on the island of Kauai, new research finds.

    The quake, likely a magnitude 9.0, sent the mighty waves toward Hawaii sometime between 1425 and 1665, the study found. It's possible that another large Alaskan earthquake could trigger a comparable tsunami on Hawaii's shores in the future, experts said.

    The tsunami was at least three times the size of the damaging 1946 tsunami, which was driven by an 8.6-magnitude earthquake off the Aleutian Islands. Mammoth tsunamis, like the one described in the study, are rare, and likely happen once every thousand years. There's a 0.1 percent chance it could happen in any given year, the same probability that northeastern Japan had for the 9.0-magnitude 2011 Tohoku earthquake and related tsunami, said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, who was not involved in the study. [Waves of Destruction: History's 8 Biggest Tsunamis]

    Results of the study have already prompted Honolulu officials to revise their tsunami evacuation maps, Fryer said. The new maps, which will affect nearly 1 million people who live in Honolulu County, would include more than twice the area of evacuation in some areas, Fryer said in a statement. County officials hope to distribute the new maps by the end of 2014, Fryer said.

    "You're going to have great earthquakes on planet Earth, and you're going to have great tsunamis," said the study's lead researcher, Rhett Butler, a geophysicist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "People have to at least appreciate that the possibility is there."

    Evidence of the colossal tsunami surfaced in the late 1990s during the excavation of the Makauwahi sinkhole, a collapsed limestone cave on the south coast of Kauai. About 6.5 feet (2 meters) below the surface, study researcher David Burney found a bounty of old debris that must have come from the ocean.

    Curiously, the sinkhole's mouth is 328 feet (100 m) away from the present-day shore, and 23 feet (7 m) above sea level, suggesting the enormous quantities of corals and shells were probably carried there by a gigantic wave, Burney, a paleoecologist at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, said. But he needed more evidence to back up his claim.

    Tsunami surge

    The debris remained a mystery until the 2011 Tohoku earthquake hit Japan. The earthquake triggered a rapid surge of water that stood 128 feet (39 m) above sea level and pummeled the Japanese coast. Soon after, researchers revisited Hawaii's tsunami evacuation maps. The maps are largely based on the 1946 tsunami, which caused water to rise 8 feet (2.5 m) up the side of the Makauwahi sinkhole.

    "[The Japan earthquake] was bigger than almost any seismologist thought possible," Butler said."Seeing [on live TV] the devastation it caused, I began to wonder, did we get it right in Hawaii? Are our evacuation zones the correct size?"

    Butler and his colleagues assembled a wave model to predict how a tsunami might flood Kauai's coastline. They simulated earthquakes ranging between magnitudes 9.0 and 9.6 along the Aleutian-Alaska subduction zone, a 2,113-mile-long (3,400 kilometers) ocean trench where the Pacific tectonic plate slips under the North American plate.

    In the aftermath of a large earthquake, the eastern Aleutians' distinctive geography could send a large tsunami toward Hawaii, the researchers found. In fact, a magnitude- 9.0 earthquake in just the right spot could easily direct water levels of 26 to 30 feet (8 to 9 m) high toward Kauai, carrying debris into the Makauwahi sinkhole, they found. [Photos: Tsunami Debris & Trash on Hawaii's Beaches]

    Hawaii TsunamiThe researchers also looked for tsunami evidence in other places. Radiocarbon dating showed that the marine deposits in the sinkhole, on Sedanka Island off the coast of Alaska and along the west coasts of Canada and the United States all date back to the same time period, and may have come from the same tsunami.

    "[The researchers] stitched together geological evidence, anthropological information as well as geophysical modeling to put together this story that is tantalizing for a geologist, but it's frightening for people in Hawaii," Robert Witter, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska, who was not involved in the study, said in the statement.

    More evidence is needed to determine whether the deposits came from the same tsunami, Witter said. For instance, radiocarbon dating, which the study researchers relied on, only gives a rough time estimate. It's possible that multiple tsunamis between 350 and 575 years ago deposited the debris at the three locations, he said.

    But the sinkhole debris may be evidence enough that a huge tsunami hit Hawaii hundreds of years ago, he added. "An important next thing to do is to look for evidence for tsunamis elsewhere in the Hawaiian island chain," Witter said.

    Researchers will likely find more evidence of the giant tsunami, Fryer added. "I've seen the deposit, " Fryer said. "I'm absolutely convinced it's a tsunami, and it had to be a monster tsunami."

    The study was published Oct. 3 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

    Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel and Google+. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook&Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

    SEE ALSO: Gorgeous Photos Of Nomads Who Spend Nearly Their Entire Lives At Sea

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    Pollution_18

    There's no doubt about it — pollution is a big problem all over the world.

    Garbage production alone is a concern, with the World Bank reporting that solid waste generation is on track to exceed 11 million metric tons per day by 2100. Smog, the result of highly polluted air, is a major public health issue in places such as Los Angeles, Mexico City, and various cities in China and Southeast Asia. And garbage and chemical dumping is a serious issue for water quality around the globe.

    These images, taken by photographers around the world, bring these problems into sharp focus by showing us the ways in which our youngest generation is forced to adapt to a polluted and garbage-filled planet. From swimming in sludge-filled rivers to playing atop garbage heaps, these children show us just how big a clean-up we have ahead of us.

    Water quality is a big concern in many countries around the world. Here, children wade in the garbage-filled Manila Bay in the Philippines.



    This boy swims in the garbage-infested waters of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, India, looking for offerings thrown in by religious worshippers.



    This boy strolls through a polluted canal in Benguela, Angola.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Masai giraffe at Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

    Home to some of the most incredible nature photography in the world, the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum has just announced the winners from their "Nature's Best Photography" competition.

    We've put 10 of our favorite images on display here. Large format versions of these — plus 50 more — will be on display at the museum through April 20, 2015.

    These photos were chosen from more than 20,000 entries submitted from more than 50 countries.

    They show mountaintops at dawn as well as life under the sea and in the most extreme environments on the planet.

    Grand Prize Winner: A brown bear pounces towards unsuspecting prey in the icy waters of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.



    Photographer of the Year: Art Wolfe, who won this award for his extraordinary 40-year body of work, captures sunrise on the peaks of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.



    Youth Photographer of the Year: Jenaya Launstein, age 15, captured a tranquil moment in the life of a porcupine in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A rainforest after logging

    These shocking before and after images are evidence of illegal logging in a Sumatran rainforest, the environmental charity ConservationDrones and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) claim. 

    The photographs were shot on two separate missions, just a few months apart, over part of the Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia. 

    In the first, a plush, green blanket of trees envelopes a winding river. In the second, much of the forest has been chopped down. 

    Here's what the area looked like before:

    Rainforest before

    And after:

    Rainforest after

    The organisations note that the loggers "left a strip of forest on the river bank to conceal the patch of logged forest from view."

    Park officials "acted to stop the logging activities" after they were provided with the photos, the organisations said.

    ConservationDrones uses unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out wildlife conservation work in south east Asia, and looks to raise public awareness of challenges in the region as well as adapt emerging technologies for conservation. 

    Here's some real-time footage of the work:

    The charity is led by Chair of Applied Ecology and Conservation at the University of Adelaide, Lian Kin Poh, and professor of primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University, Serge Wich. 

    Research into utilising aerial technology for environmental work and agricultural projects is ongoing; some are even looking at creating 'insect drones' to better understand climate change and its impact. 

    The Pacific Standard writes how drones have made research "more efficient" as they have the ability to monitor large areas of land easily and can get to difficult places or situations. Now the idea of using a "swarm of drones" could better equip scientists to fight illegal activities in rainforests.

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    ozone_11sept2014lead

    Data from NASA shows that this year’s hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica remains largely unchanged.

    On September 9, 2014, it measured 24.1m square km, which is roughly the size of North America; only a little smaller than the largest hole ever observed, which occurred in the same spot in 2000, and much the same as it was at its peak in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

    We used to hear a lot about the ozone, and why it is so important that the thin layer of gas remains intact; the ozone layer protects us from UV rays, which cause elevated rates of skin cancer and substantial harm to plant life and phytoplankton. Chlorine-containing emissions cause a depletion in that protective layer of gas.

    But in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed, which bans the use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that occurred in a wide variety of household items such as aerosols, insulation and refrigeration systems. With the signing of this protocol, scientists predicted that the holes in the ozone would repair themselves.

    So if the Montreal Protocol was signed some 27 years ago, why is there still a continent-sized hole in the ozone? In short, it’s a work in progress. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Jonathan Shanklin, emeritus professor at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge and one of the three scientists who discovered the hole in the 1980s, explained: “It’s broadly on track [to reduce in size]… We knew it was always going to take a long time to recover because the CFCs were long-lived.” The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) suggested recently that it might be another 35 years before we recover the 1980 levels of ozone.

    In addition, variability in weather is impacting the size maximum extent of the Antarctic ozone hole. Warmer temperatures might be contributing to the—admittedly slow—downward trend in the size of the hole.

    Chief scientist for atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Paul A. Newman noted that“The ozone hole area is smaller than what we saw in the late-1990s and early 2000s, and we know that chlorine levels are decreasing [9% since 2000]. However, we are still uncertain about whether a long-term Antarctic stratospheric temperature warming might be reducing this ozone depletion.”

    And as the hole in the ozone fills in—potentially driven by warmer weather—we may see an increase in climate change. “As the ozone hole [gradually] fills in, so we can expect, over the next 50 or so years, the effects of climate change to increase. We will see different patterns of climate change,” explains Dr Jonathan Shanklin.

    So all in all, the progress is slow and the future uncertain, but what we do know is that the efforts to reduce the damage to the ozone layer are helping. UNEP estimates that by 2030 the Montreal Protocol will have prevented two million cases of skin cancer each year, as well as “averted damage to human eyes and immune systems, and protected wildlife and agriculture.”

    SEE ALSO: The Earth's Ozone Hole Is Finally Starting To Recover

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    Glacier National Park

    The results are in. On Nov. 2 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its final report crystallizing 13 months of work by more than 800 scientists.

    The "synthesis report" gives a no-nonsense assessment of how the climate is changing, what is causing the change, the impacts the changes will have on us and the planet, and the "mitigation" steps we should take to prevent the impacts from getting worse.

    The recommendations are intended first and foremost for national leaders, who in 2015 will make what may be a last-chance effort to reach a binding global climate treaty.

    Although the report's authors try to give a condensed snapshot of the most important data and recommendations, the document still clocks in at 116 pages. I will attempt, here, to capture what you need to know most, in 29 bullets. Forgive the staccato.

    Climate changes:

    • The atmosphere is getting hotter.
    • The oceans are getting much hotter, and much more acidic.

    Causes:

    • CO2 emissions are by far the largest cause of global warming and ocean acidification, and they are rising.
    • Methane emissions are the second largest cause of warming, and they are rising.
    • Since 1950 human activities have led to virtually all temperature rise.
    • Natural forces have caused virtually none of the temperature rise.
    • The largest human sources of CO2 emissions are burning fossil fuels, making cement and burning off gas (“flaring”) from oil and gas production.

    Impacts:

    • Sea level is rising, and at an increasing pace.
    • Glaciers are melting, ice sheets are thinning, and Arctic sea ice is disappearing.
    • Permafrost is thawing.
    • In North America, snow pack is decreasing.
    • The number of cold days and nights are decreasing.
    • The number of hot days and nights are increasing.
    • Heat waves will occur more often and last longer.
    • Heavy rainstorms and snowstorms will become more intense and frequent.
    • Overall, precipitation will rise in high latitudes and the equatorial Pacific. In mid-latitudes, dry areas will get drier, wet areas will get wetter.
    • Species are vanishing at an alarming and ever-increasing rate.
    • Most plants, small mammals and ocean organisms cannot adapt fast enough to keep up with changes.
    • Global temperature rise greater than 2 degrees Celsius will compromise food supplies globally.
    • Human health problems will get worse.
    • Risks to poorer people are greater than for others, in all countries.

    What to do:

    • To avoid severe damage to natural and human systems, the world should keep global warming to less than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.
    • Without more mitigation than is being done today, the temperature is more likely than not to rise by 4 degrees C by 2100.
    • Significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 can significantly reduce warming by 2100.
    • Keeping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below the equivalent of 450 parts per million of CO2 can keep warming below 2 degrees C.
    • Levels are likely to stay below 450 ppm if human emissions are reduced 40 to 70 percent by 2050 compared with 2010 levels.
    • Allowing levels to reach 530 ppm by 2100 gives the planet slightly better than 50-50 odds of staying below 2C; that would require reducing emissions 25 to 55 percent by 2050 versus 2010.
    • To hit a target of 430 to 530 ppm by 2100, the world must invest several hundred billion dollars a year in low-carbon electricity sources and energy efficiency.
    • It is highly unlikely the world will stay below 450 ppm without widespread use of carbon capture and storage technologies.

    So…improve technical solutions, reach government agreements, and fund them, now.

    SEE ALSO: These States Have Reportedly Tried To Hide Scary Climate Data From The Public

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    ancient human skull

    DNA from a roughly 37,000-year-old Homo sapiens skeleton supports recent findings about when ancient humans and Neandertals interbred and other details about human evolution.

    In October, scientists reported on ancient DNA that suggested Neandertals and Homo sapiens hooked up between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.

    The analysis of the slightly younger human bone, found in Russia, narrows that range to approximately 54,000 years ago, researchers report November 7 in Science.

    The individual's and his relatives' genomes may have also been influenced by an even more ancient line of Eurasians that provided the foundation for the genomes of modern Europeans, the scientists suggest.

    SEE ALSO: This Is The Ancient Human Who Is Changing The Story Of Our Evolution

    SEE ALSO: Here's What Happened When Neanderthals And Ancient Humans Hooked Up 80,000 Years Ago

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    tidal wave crash

    Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are responsible for climate change, debate still exists in the general public. In the United States alone, at least 15 states are currently governed by known climate deniers, and several states have taken measures to keep the best climate science out of public policy.

    But a quick look at the science leaves little doubt that the rising temperatures we've been observing for decades now are our own fault.

    This chart, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, shows two different models of climate change's effects in different parts of the world between 1910 and 2010.

    Each graph below corresponds to a different region of the world and a different climate effect: sea ice cover — the white charts, temperature — the tan charts, or ocean heat content — blue.

    The graphs each present two models: The purple stripes are the climate changes we'd expect from including only natural events, like solar variations, in the model. The pink stripes show the changes in a model that includes human actions, like burning fossil fuels.

    The black lines show the effects we've actually observed in real life. You can see the real-life effects match up with the pink bars, which are the models that include human-actions.

    IPCC_Chart_Temperature

    If human actions had no effect on climate, the purple stripe and pink stripe would be similar on each graph. Instead they're different in almost every case, meaning human actions make a difference when it comes to climate change.

    The chart was released as part of the IPCC's fourth and final installment in its Fifth Assessment on Climate Change, a compilation and analysis of the best and most recent climate science, conducted by thousands of researchers around the world. Charts like these show how our Earth has already changed and why we need to accept that humans are the cause — but the document also contains a wealth of projections for the future, including rising temperatures and sea levels, and provides firm recommendations on what humans need to do to prevent the most catastrophic effects from happening.

    Slashing carbon emissions and switching to renewable energy sources are just a few of the many actions world leaders must take, according to the IPCC — but the first step is acknowledging that climate change is real, it's happening now, and it's happening because of us.

    SEE ALSO: 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change

    SEE ALSO: These 10 Charts Will Show You The Danger Of Climate Change

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    sandy flooding new york city

    Some effects of climate change are obvious, such as warming temperatures, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels. But other impacts are more surprising.

    For example, climate change effects can harm food production and cause famines; alter habitats and cause mass die-offs of plants, animals and other organisms; and even threaten human health.

    The biggest climate-related risks vary across different regions of the world. The handy chart below, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last Sunday, shows which regions should worry most about which issues.

    Each graph shows risks for the present day (the top bar in the graphs), the near future (2030-2040), and the more distant future (2080-2100) under two conditions: one for a temperature increase of only 2 degrees Celsius (which it looks like we will blow out of that water) and the the bottom bar with an increase of 4C.

    The symbols represent the risks, which include changes in terrestrial and marine ecosystems, food production, snow and ice cover, and human health. The longer the bar on the graph, the bigger the risk.

    The chart shows that all regions face increasing risks to human health and livelihood. Additionally, each region has its own challenges: North America, for instance, will deal with an increase in both floods and wildfires, while Africa faces threats to its food production and water resources. In every region, the risks are projected to become more severe as time goes on.

    IPCC_Chart_EffectsThe chart was published as part of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change, which presents and interprets the latest climate science from researchers all over the world.

    The report notes that these climate effects will have social implications as well: "Climate change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries," the authors write.

    As the report shows, almost no facet of human life will remain untouched by climate change. The projections show us a world in which increases in extreme weather, changing land- and seascapes, disease, famine, and poverty may compose a new normal for Planet Earth.

    SEE ALSO: 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change

    SEE ALSO: These 10 Charts Will Show You The Danger Of Climate Change

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    Great Barrier Reef

    Barack Obama’s speech to the University of Queensland during the Brisbane G20 leaders summit was a call to action on climate change to Australia and the rest of the developed world.

    The US President announced a $US3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund and called on Australians to tackle global warming.

    Despite Australia resisting pressure to put climate change on the G20 agenda, Obama described what climate change means in this part of the world:

    "Here, a climate that increases in temperature will mean more extreme and frequent storms, more flooding, rising seas that submerge Pacific islands. Here in Australia, it means longer droughts, more wildfires. The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened. Worldwide, this past summer was the hottest on record. No nation is immune, and every nation has a responsibility to do its part."

    He said America and Australia have a lot in common, including producing a lot of carbon.

    Part of the problem is a legacy of wide-open spaces, the frontier mentality and an abundance of resources.

    “And so, historically, we have not been the most energy-efficient of nations, which means we’ve got to step up,” Obama said.

    “Whether you are a developed country, a developing country, or somewhere in between, you’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science, and reach a strong global climate agreement next year.

    “And if China and the United States can agree on this, then the world can agree on this. We can get this done. And it is necessary for us to get it done.”

    Obama says he wants to come back to Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

    “I want to come back, and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit,” he said. “And I want that there 50 years from now.”

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    Atmospheric CO2

    Every year we pump more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mostly by burning fossil fuels.

    The ocean has absorbed a lot of this greenhouse gas in recent years but it's losing its ability to do so and atmospheric gas levels continue to grow, leading us closer to a point where significant global warming will be inevitable.

    This spring, levels of atmospheric CO2 topped 400 parts per million in most of the northern hemisphere for the first time in modern human history — experts think we need to lower those levels to be consistently below 350 ppm to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

    The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center recently created the high-resolution computer model below from data gathered between May 2005 and June 2007, which they use to illustrate how carbon in the atmosphere changed throughout 2006. It shows the greenhouse gases produced by humans and naturally from the Earth and then spread around the atmosphere by the wind. The model shows one year of data in just a few minutes.

    As you can see, most carbon dioxide comes from industrialized parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. There, it's picked up by winds and spreads around the globe, especially in the Northern hemisphere.

    These gases are considered particularly responsible for warming in the Arctic, located above Europe and North America, where these greenhouse gasses are pooling, and where temperatures are rising twice as quickly as in the rest of the world. This has led to record lows in Arctic sea ice, considered a harbinger for the rest of the world — and despite what some may think, this Arctic melting is not offset by sea ice in Antarctica.

    About half of the gas spewed into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean and land, especially by plants and trees which suck in high levels of carbon in the spring and summer while they grow — though deforestation has a significant negative effect on the amount of carbon that can be absorbed.

    swirling co2 smallerWhile these activities temporarily drop the levels of atmospheric CO2, much is still absorbed into the oceans. This carbon has devastating effects on the ocean, especially by increasing its acidification, which puts a good portion of marine life at risk.

    Along with CO2, the model also shows carbon monoxide levels, shown in darker shades of color. This powerful greenhouse gas is mostly produced by fires in the Southern hemisphere, before it too is picked up by winds that take it around the planet.

    NASA was able to use a supercomputer along with ground measurements and atmospheric data to create this visualization, but in the future they'll have even more information from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite, which launched in July.

    Check out the full visualization video below.

    SEE ALSO: 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change

    SEE ALSO: These 10 Charts Will Show You The Dangers Of Climate Change

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    volcano eruption

    In November 2014, Alaska’s most active volcano rumbled back to life. The Alaska Volcano Observatory first reported increased seismic activity and minor ash eruptions at Pavlof on November 12, 2014. In the following days, lava fountains gushed from a vent north of the summit, and volcanic debris tumbled down the glacier-covered stratovolcano’s north flank.

    By November 15, Pavlof was lofting ash plumes to an altitude of 30,000 feet (9 kilometers), high enough to disrupt commercial airline flights. Seismic activity and ash eruptions diminished abruptly on the evening of November 16, but the Alaska Volcano Observatory cautioned that pauses of days to weeks are common during Pavlof’s eruptions. The volcano could spew ash again with little warning.

    volcano

    This natural-color satellite image, acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite, shows Pavlof’s volcanic plume well above the cloud deck on November 15, 2014. On the same day, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a broader view of the plume.

    Pavlof’s most recent significant eruption occurred in May 2013.

    NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and MODIS data from LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption by Adam Voiland.

    SEE ALSO: Icelandic Volcano Erupts

    READ MORE:  This Amazing Animation Shows An Erupting Volcano From Space

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    aspen colorado fall

    This year has been all about breaking records.

    Last month was the warmest October since humans started recording climate data in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

    And the previous six months also all set heat records. April, May, June, August, and September of this year were all also the warmest on record, and July came in at fourth hottest. In fact, the entire period from January through October this year was the warmest such stretch ever recorded.

    While are are currently in a country-wide cold snap caused by a series of weather events in the Arctic — that doesn't mean that the Earth as a whole isn't warming up. The extreme weather in Northern New York — Buffalo got a seasons' worth of snow in just days — is just one example of how global warming is changing the world around us.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported in its Fifth Assessment Report that climate change is likely to cause an increase in all kinds of extreme weather events, including heavy precipitation events like hurricanes and blizzards.

    And climate change effects can also cause disruptions in the polar vortex— the ring of frigid winds that circle the Arctic — flinging some of that icy weather south through the North American continent. Last year's terrible winter is one notable example.

    Eric Holthaus at Slate wrote last month:

    Recent research shows the current warm stretch is probably the planet's warmest in at least 4,000 years. That means global temperatures may have already passed a level that human civilization has never experienced. The sheer size and depth of the world's oceans means that most of global warming's extra heat has been stored there. For the last decade or so, atmospheric warming has been playing catch up.

    That means things will just keep getting warmer — and humans are doing a poor job of slowing things down. At the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, world leaders agreed to take measures to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above their historical levels.

    Beyond that point, many experts agree that the world could see a disastrous series of climate change effects, including widespread floods, fires, storms, famines, and extinctions. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that we're on track to miss our target by a good 2 C before the end of the century.

    NOAA's map below shows how this October's temperatures stack up against average temperatures for October all around the world. Red areas were warmer than average, while blue areas were colder than average — and the darkest red and darkest blue areas broke records for heat and cold, respectively.

    NOAA_October_TempsYou can see that the heat is affecting some parts of the world more strongly than others. Some areas are even "abnormally cold." Temperatures can fluctuate around the world, depending on weather patterns – but the important takeaway is that there is a general pattern of warming temperatures across the globe.

    Here's September's map — another record month:

    NASA_September_1According to NOAA, this is the 38th year in a row October's temperatures have been warmer than the 20th century average.

    SEE ALSO: 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change

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    sea lion

    A decade ago, we set out to unravel deep ocean crime scenes we weren’t even sure existed. The crime? Endangered Steller sea lions were rapidly disappearing in parts of Alaska. Their numbers dropped by 80% in three decades, yet only rarely did anyone see or sample dead sea lions. Live sea lions studied in the summer when they haul out to breed seemed healthy and had healthy pups.

    We wanted to know when, where, and why sea lions die. To unravel the mystery, we needed information from those animals that we don’t see, those that might not breed, those that might never come back ashore. So we developed a special monitoring tag that could send us data about the sea lions we can’t directly observe.

    This so-called Life History Transmitter or LHX tag is a small electronic monitor surgically implanted into the gut cavity of young sea lions under anesthesia. Don’t worry, we checked that this does not alter the behavior or survival of the animals. After all, we don’t want to influence the data we need!

    sea lion tagsA tag monitors the host animal throughout its life. After the host dies, tags are freed from the decomposing, dismembered or digested carcass. They float quickly up to the ocean surface and begin to transmit previously stored data to orbiting satellites. No matter where these sea lions go, we eventually get a sad email that confirms one of our study animals has died. Since tag data is relayed by satellites, we call these “autopsies from space.”

    Since 2005, we’ve placed tags in 45 young sea lions in the Prince William Sound area of the Gulf of Alaska. So far, 17 of these sea lions have died. That’s actually about how many deaths we expected. Young sea lions have a tough life and most don’t even reach the age of reproduction.

    map of sea lion populations with implants

    In two cases, we did not receive enough data to conclude how these sea lions died. Tags from the other 15 sea lions did give us complete data sets. As it turns out, these 15 animals died at sea. Much to our surprise, all 15 apparently died from an attack by a predator. How can we tell?

    LHX tags record temperature and light levels. They can also distinguish between being surrounded by tissue, saltwater or air. The data we received via satellite from the first few “crime scenes” all followed the same pattern: the tags very quickly cooled from 98F (37C), the normal body core temperature for a healthy warmblooded animal like a sea lion, to the temperature of the ocean surface at time and place of the attack. At the same time, the tags sensed light and air, and began to transmit. Pretty much the only way this could happen is if the sea lion was dismembered by a predator and the tag came flying out.

    sea lion

    We could only guess who might have done this: killer whales, white sharks, salmon sharks and maybe sleeper sharks have all been reported as predators of sea lions. Killer whales are considered the most common predator, but that could simply be because killer whale attacks – which happen near the ocean surface – are more likely to be observed than other attacks that may occur at depths as deep as 500m, the deepest known dive for Steller sea lions.

    More recently however, three of our “autopsies from space” revealed some puzzling patterns: tags still recorded rapid temperature drops, but they remained in the dark and didn’t sense any air. Even more baffling, the temperatures they recorded after the attack did not match ocean surface temperatures. Instead, the temperatures corresponded to deep water values. These tags only sensed light and air, and surface temperatures, anywhere from five to 11 days later. That’s when they began to transmit. What was going on?

    We think these tags were swallowed by a cold-bodied predator and passed or regurgitated a few days later. This eliminates killer whales from the suspect list for these three attacks, since they are also warmblooded. Even white and salmon sharks have the ability to raise their body temperature well above ambient. This leaves the sluggish, slow-moving, poorly understood and truly cold-blooded Pacific sleeper shark as our prime suspect.

    Why is this important? To promote the recovery of Steller sea lion populations, fishing has been restricted in some regions of Alaska. These regulations are based on the assumption – not backed by hard evidence – that sea lions are suffering from lack of food. When people take less fish, there’s more left for the sea lions. However, sleeper sharks are killed as bycatch in many fisheries. So one unintended consequence of fishing restrictions may be more sleeper sharks in the sea. Counterintuitively, these measures meant to help sea lions by preserving more of their food might be hurting them by leaving more predators to eat them.

    Piecing together all the clues from our sea lion crime scenes, we’re confident we’ve narrowed in on one of the suspects. This investigation is not about bringing a killer to justice, but our new understanding of the crime might affect future fisheries management decisions.

    The Conversation

    Markus Horning receives funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the North Pacific Research Board, the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, the North Pacific Fisheries Foundation. This research was authorized under all required institutional and federal permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, including NMFS #1034-1685, 1034-1887, 881-1890, 881-1668, 14335, and 14336.

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    SEE ALSO: African Poachers Are Killing Elephants On An Industrial Scale

    READ MORE: This Little Fish Spits A Mind-Blowing Light Show

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    deepwater horizon

    Images from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster endure, from the collapsing platform to oil-fouled coastline. But beneath the surface is a story photographers cannot as easily capture.

    Two days after the April 20, 2010 explosion that killed 11 and injured 16, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank.

    During the five months it took to seal the Macondo well 1,500 meters below the surface, nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the ocean.

    In a paper published online on Oct. 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers reported the first solid evidence that some of this oil settled on the seafloor.

    "We have placed one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle," said geochemist David Valentine, leader of the team of scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Valentine and his colleagues analyzed more than 500 seafloor sediment cores collected from sites around the Macondo well by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The team detected the chemical hopane from cores across an area of nearly 3,200 square kilometers. "Hopane is just one of the many compounds in oil from the Macondo well," biologist Sarah Bagby, a member of Valentine’s team, told mongabay.com. Since it degrades slowly, it is a useful indicator of oil contamination, she added.
    fire"This is the first time [scientists] showed that liquid oil or its byproducts settled on the seafloor," environmental engineer Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, who was not a member of Valentine’s team, told mongabay.com.
    Hopane levels were highest in sites closest to the Macondo well and west of it, corresponding to ocean current patterns during and after the disaster. The oil in the seafloor sediment cores probably sank without ever rising to the surface, since it did not show the telltale signs of decay from air exposure. Valentine and his team concluded that the seafloor oil most likely came from the 2 million barrels that had become trapped between layers of deep ocean waters, which Socolofsky had previously helped to track.

    "Oil trapped in the deep ocean from this event fell to the seafloor, like a light mist settling over approximately [3,200 square kilometers]," Valentine told mongabay.com.

    Scientists had hoped much of the oil trapped in the water would eventually disperse so bacteria could break it down. Instead, by Valentine’s estimates of hopane distribution, between 4 and 30 percent of the Deepwater Horizon oil now rests on the seafloor. “The research community is still trying to figure out what the impacts of this particular spill will be," said Bagby.

    seafloor oil

    The settled oil will likely take longer to be broken down by oil-eating microbes, especially if it becomes buried beneath layers of sediment. "The more you can dissolve [the oil] into the water column, the better and faster this degradation process gets,” explained Socolofsky. "But on the seafloor, it can stay awhile."

    In April 2014, Deepwater Horizon operator BP touted its recovery efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the U.S. Coast Guard felt compelled to warn that restoring the Gulf and its ecosystems is far from over. Valentine and his team now plan to study how the different components of oil break down on the seafloor. Their findings are a sobering reminder that scientists do not yet know the full consequences of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

    CITATION: Valentine, D.L., Burch Fisher, G., Bagby, S.C., Nelson, R.K., Reddy, C.M., Sylva, S.P., and Woo, M.A. (2014). Fallout plume of submerged oil from Deepwater Horizon. PNAS 111(45): 15906-15911. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1414873111

    James Urton is a graduate student in the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    SEE ALSO: Giant Sinkhole Appears In Russia, Possibly Swallowing Homes

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    Demonstrators hold a banner reading in French

    Geneva (AFP) - Swiss voters Sunday will decide whether to dramatically cut immigration numbers in the name of saving the environment, in a referendum that opponents have labeled xenophobic and disastrous for the economy.

    Most voters have already cast their ballots by mail, and initial results should be available shortly after polls close at noon (1100 GMT).

    Surveys have shown the so-called Ecopop initiative gaining momentum in recent weeks but still indicate it is doomed to fail.

    In the latest opinion poll, 56 percent said they would nix the proposal which maintains that the current influx of foreigners is swelling the Alpine nation's population and shrinking its idyllic landscapes and green spaces.

    Supporters however stress that surveys often underestimate backing for populist initiatives and insist the country could be in for a surprise.

    It would not be the first time. 

    Last February, the approval of an initiative demanding quotas for immigration from the European Union caught many off guard and threw non-member Switzerland's relations with the bloc into turmoil.

    'Already too crowded'

    Zurich AirportForeign nationals already make up nearly a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants, official statistics show.

    According to Ecopop, immigration is adding 1.1-1.4 percent annually to the Swiss population, putting the country on track to house up to 12 million people by 2050.

    "It's already getting too crowded here," Anita Messere of the Ecopop committee said, arguing that the inhabitable plains of the mountainous country were being covered in concrete at a rate of more than one metre (yard) per second.

    The campaign wants to cap immigration growth at 0.2 percent, or an addition of around 16,000 people annually, which it says would allow the number of inhabitants to increase to just 8.5 million by the middle of the century.

    It also wants to help rein in over-population beyond Switzerland's borders, calling for 10 percent of the country's development aid budget to go to family planning initiatives abroad. 

    The government, all political parties, employers and unions have rejected the initiative, slammed by some as xenophobic and by others as a threat to Switzerland's economy which depends heavily on immigrant labour.

    matterhorn swiss alpsChristian Luescher, a parliamentarian for the Liberal Party and co-chair of the committee opposing Ecopop, described the initiative as "absolutely absurd".

    "It aims to drastically, linearly and arbitrarily reduce immigration to Switzerland, with absolutely no consideration for the needs of the economy," he told AFP, warning it would "impoverish our country".

    Tax hikes for rich foreigners?

    The Swiss will also vote Sunday in two other national referenda as part of their famed direct democratic system.

    Polls hint voters are also likely to reject a bid to scrap special tax breaks for rich foreigners living but not working in Switzerland, who today can choose to be levied on their spending rather than income.

    Switzerland counts 5,729 millionaires and billionaires with foreign passports, who together pay around one billion Swiss francs ($1.04 billion, 830 million euros) in taxes annually.

    That is a far cry from what they would have paid had they been levied at the same percentages as average Swiss taxpayers, say the left-leaning parties and unions behind the initiative.

    "This system is morally indefensible," Geneva-based student Roger Gulke told AFP.

    But backers of the system insist wealthy foreigners contribute substantially to Swiss tax coffers and inject huge sums directly into the local economy, warning many will leave the country if they face higher taxation.

    "You'd have to be completely crazy to wave goodbye to this godsend to our economy," Luescher said.

    The third issue on the table is a call to force Switzerland's central bank to increase its gold reserves and it also appears destined to fail, according to polls.

    But fear of a surprise win has stirred up global gold markets, with economists warning it would wreak havoc on trading worldwide.

    The initiative would oblige the Swiss National Bank to boost its gold reserves to at least 20 percent of its holdings, nearly three times more than today's level of seven percent.

    Analysts have warned the bank would be forced to buy around 10 percent of the annual global gold production through 2019 to meet that requirement.

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    INTERPOL

    In keeping with recent efforts to ramp up action against environmental crime, INTERPOL has highlighted nine fugitives for breaking laws related to illegal logging, poaching and the wildlife trade, illegal fishing, and waste dumping, among other crimes.

    There is Nicolaas Antonius Cornelis Maria Duindam, who is wanted for smuggling wildlife from Brazil; Feisal Mohamed Ali, the alleged leader of an elephant poaching gang; and Sergey Darminov who is wanted for making hundreds of millions of dollars off of illegal crab fishing.

    "We believe that the capture of these criminals on the run will contribute to the dismantlement of transnational organized crime groups who have turned environmental exploitation into a professional business with lucrative revenues," said Stefano Carvelli, Head of INTERPOL’s Fugitive Investigative Support unit.

    This is the first time that INTERPOL, the world's biggest international police organization, has gone after individuals specifically for environmental crimes.

    "Even the smallest detail, which you might think is insignificant, has the potential to break a case wide open when combined with other evidence the police already have," said Ioannis Kokkinis, Criminal Intelligence Officer with INTERPOL's Fugitive Investigative Support.

    The release of the nine most wanted is a part of Operation Infra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest) Terra, which launched in October. This is an initiative to apprehend 139 fugitives linked to environmental crimes around the world.

    The Nine Most Wanted:

    • Adriano Giacobone / Italian / Illegal disposal of waste
    • Ahmed Kamran / Pakistani / Illegal smuggling of live wild animals
    • Ariel Bustamante Sanchez / Mexican / Illegal fishing
    • Ben Simasiku / Zambian / Ivory smuggling
    • Bhekumusa Mawillis Shiba / South African? / Rhino poaching
    • Feisal Mohamed Ali / Kenyan / Ivory smuggling
    • Nicolaas Antonius Cornelis Maria Duindam / Dutch / Wildlife trafficking
    • Sergey Darminov / Russian and German / Illegal crab fishing
    • Sudiman Sunoto / Indonesian / Illegal logging

    SEE ALSO: Here's How Climate Change Has Altered Life On Earth In The Past 20 Years

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    The melt rate of glaciers in the fastest-melting part of Antarctica has tripled over the past decade, researchers say, in an analysis of the past 21 years

    Washington (AFP) - The melt rate of glaciers in the fastest-melting part of Antarctica has tripled over the past decade, researchers said Tuesday in an analysis of the past 21 years.

    Glaciers in the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica are losing ice faster than another part of Antarctica and are the biggest contributor to rising sea levels, said researchers at the University of California at Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    Research published in May concluded that the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica, which contain enough water to raise sea levels by at least a meter, is speeding up and seems irreversible.

    The study is the first to assess and reconcile observations from four different measurement techniques so as to generate an authoritative estimate of the amount and the rate of loss over the last two decades, said the researchers.

    Their work will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters dated December 5.

    "The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate," said scientist Isabella Velicogna, jointly of UCI and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    "Previous studies had suggested that this region is starting to change very dramatically since the 1990s, and we wanted to see how all the different techniques compared," said lead author Tyler Utterley of UCI.

    "The remarkable agreement among the techniques gave us confidence that we are getting this right," he said.

    melt pond AntarcticaThe measurements were carried out by radar and satellites belonging to NASA and the European Space Agency, and with the atmospheric climate model developed by the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

    The total volume of ice lost since 1992 averages 83 gitatons per year. By comparison, the glaciers of Antarctica have melted the equivalent of Mount Everest every two years for the past 21. Everest weighs 161 gigatons, altogether.

    Antarctica Sea Ice and Melt PondsThe melt rate of these glaciers has increased an average of 6.1 gigatons per year since 1992. And from 2003 to 2009, when the four techniques were used simultaneously, the rate has risen 16.3 gigatons a year, nearly a tripling compared to the full 21 year period.

    The results were released as a global warming conference has begun in Peru. Those talks are seen as critical to reaching a multilateral accord next year in Paris.

    IN PICTURES: Before And After Images Of The World's Melting Glaciers

    SEE ALSO: Watch A Mile Of 3,000-Foot-High Ice Fall Into The Ocean

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