Breaking Waves: Ocean News

11/20/2014 - 11:50
Street artist Louis Masaai’s London murals, including a hedgehog, stag beetle and house sparrow, highlight species loss within the UK. The campaign, in conjunction with charity Synchronicity Earth, marks the IUCN Red List’s 50th anniversary this year Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 10:38
Thirty nations meeting in Berlin pledge just short of $10bn target for fund to help developing countries deal with global warming Thirty countries meeting in Berlin on Thursday pledged $9.3bn for a fund to help developing countries cut emissions and prepare for global warming, just shy of a $10bn target. The South Korea-based Green Climate Fund aims to help nations invest in clean energy and green technology and build up defences against rising seas and worsening storms, floods and droughts. Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 10:32
UK’s chief scientist has said GM crops could provide plentiful food with less damage to the environment and at lower costs. But does that mean we should grow them? Karl Mathiesen investigates. Let us know your thoughts. Post in the comments below, email [email protected] or tweet @karlmathiesen The EU’s de facto ban on genetically modified (GM) crops may have caused more harm than good, according to the UK’s chief scientist. Sir Mark Walport told MPs on the Science and Technology committee on Wednesday: “The consequence of inactions are that we are potentially, particularly in Europe, denying access to technologies that actually will potentially help feed people in ways that damage the environment less.” Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 09:36
(Click to enlarge)Figure 1: a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA’s ERSST dataset. (Credit: Axel Timmermann) This summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. (From Science Daily / University of Hawaii ‑ SOEST)–Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year,” says Axel Timmermann, climate scientist and professor, studying variability of the global climate system at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa. From 2000-2013 the global ocean surface temperature rise paused, in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. This period, referred to as the Global Warming Hiatus, raised a lot of public and scientific interest. However, as of April 2014 ocean warming has picked up speed again, according to Timmermann’s analysis of ocean temperature datasets. “The 2014 global ocean warming is mostly due to the North Pacific, which has warmed far beyond any recorded value and has shifted hurricane tracks, weakened trade winds, and produced coral bleaching in the Hawaiian Islands,” explains Timmermann. He describes the events leading up to this upswing as follows: Sea-surface temperatures started to rise unusually quickly in the extratropical North Pacific already in January 2014. A few months later, in April and May, westerly winds pushed a huge amount of very warm water usually stored in the western Pacific along the equator to the eastern Pacific. This warm water has spread along the North American Pacific coast, releasing into the atmosphere enormous amounts of heat–heat that had been locked up in the Western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade. “Record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures. The warm temperatures now extend in a wide swath from just north of Papua New Guinea to the Gulf of Alaska,” says Timmermann. The current record-breaking temperatures indicate that the 14-year-long pause in ocean warming has come to an end.
11/20/2014 - 09:33
Mandatory pricing or ‘40 bags a year’ per person target by 2025 is expected, despite UK opposition A “historic” deal to cut Europe’s throwaway plastic bag culture is expected to be approved on Monday, which would cut the number of bags Europeans use each year by more than three quarters in just over a decade’s time. After fractious negotiations that pitted the UK against most of the EU, the European commission has agreed to accept a compromise which should see the new regulation sent to MEPs on Friday for a rubber-stamping vote in Strasbourg early next week. Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 09:30
(Click to enlarge) A sunflower star is stranded on a beach in British Columbia. These large starfish are also being cut down by a widespread virus. (Credit: Ron Watts, All Canada Photos/Corbis) For the past year and a half, a killer has been on the loose, taking out millions of starfish up and down the West Coast of North America. (From National Geographic News / by Jane J. Lee)–By the time it is done with an area, starfish that had once littered the ocean floor have been reduced to mounds of white goo. The silent killer now appears to be a kind of parvovirus—the group of viruses that cause gastrointestinal problems in unvaccinated dogs—researchers report Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sea stars are linchpins in the ecology of habitats like tide pools, said Robert Paine, a retired marine ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, in an interview earlier this year. Without them around to control mussels, the bivalves can take over an area, greatly reducing the kinds of algae and sea anemones present. “The system, for all intents and purposes, simplifies itself.” There’s not much researchers can do to stop the virus, though. “We can’t quarantine, we can’t effectively cull, and we can’t vaccinate,” said Drew Harvell, a marine ecologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in an interview earlier this year. The best they can hope for is that populations can recover once the epidemic winds down. They’re Melting The long-term effects of the virus remain to be seen. For now, infected sea stars, like the purple or ochre star and the sunflower star, die a gruesome death. The virus weakens the animal, leaving the sea star open to bacterial infection, said lead study author Ian Hewson, a microbiologist at Cornell. And it’s that bacterial infection that ultimately kills the sea star. About eight to 17 days after viral infection, white lesions appear on the body and lethargy sets in. Sometimes the animal’s arms rip themselves off and walk away. Eventually, the sea star deflates into a pile of white slime. Bacteria in the genus Vibrio are common in sick marine animals, said Harvell. There’s a possibility that they are the bacterial partner responsible for the “wasting” or “melting” seen in sea stars, but researchers can’t tell for sure. The virus, dubbed the sea star-associated densovirus, is also quite common. “It’s been around for 70 years,” said Hewson, and “it’s probably present all over the world.” Museum specimens from the 1940s have tested positive for the virus, and it lurks in ocean sediments and in seawater. It has even been found in sea star relatives like sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Urchins and cucumbers seemed to have escaped the ill effects of the virus until now. But in recent weeks, reports have started to come in that they too are dying along beaches in the Pacific Northwest, Hewson said. Mysterious Trigger Why such a pervasive virus is suddenly killing millions of animals is still up for debate. “We’ve seen big outbreaks in sea stars before,” said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist with the University of California, Santa Cruz, earlier this year, “but they’ve been very regional.” This current outbreak stretches from southern Alaska down through Canada and the U.S. West Coast, into Baja California. (See an interactive map of locations.) Previous events were relegated to one or two species, but the virus is now infecting 20. (See a full list of affected species.) It’s unusual for a single type of virus to infect so many species. But mutations in a key part of a virus, called the capsid, can help the infection spread to more species, the study authors write. The capsid enables the virus to attach to proteins on a host’s cell, Hewson said. The more proteins those capsids can stick to, the more species the virus can infect. Densely populated areas, like sea star beds, give a virus more chances for its capsid to mutate and take on other species. Large sea star populations in the Pacific Northwest could be one reason for this virus’s sudden march up and down the coast, Hewson said. “Having a huge number of individuals in a small area works like a reactor for this virus.” (See “New Diseases, Toxins Harming Marine Life.”) Tracking a Killer What will the virus do next? Now that they’ve found their culprit, Hewson and his team are trying to predict what could happen to other sea star populations around the world that are currently disease free. They’re also studying the urchins and sea cucumbers that are already dying to see if the same killer is responsible. But his continued work-and this study-wouldn’t have happened without the enormous research and citizen-science community that has popped up across the U.S. and Canada around the epidemic. “This is the first time we’ve had such a large number of institutions come together to tackle a marine disease problem,” Hewson said. Perhaps, Harvell said, scientists can learn what they need to from this outbreak to prevent or stop the next one.
11/20/2014 - 07:34
Britain’s first ‘Bio-Bus’ powered entirely by human and food waste takes to the streets between Bath and Bristol Britain’s first ‘poo bus’ will take to the road on Thursday, powered entirely by human and food waste. The 40-seat “Bio-Bus” runs on biomethane gas, generated through the treatment of sewage and food waste. It can travel up to 186 miles on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of around five people to produce. Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 07:00
Searching for the perfect leggings to cycle through the winter? Helen Pidd sorts out the best from the rest, giving Le Col top marks but experiencing the dreaded bargain supermarket camel toe Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 06:46
Striking images of the critically endangered black rhino and Asiatic cheetah are among the winning images of the BBC’s 2014 camera-trap wildlife photography competition Continue reading...
11/20/2014 - 06:42
Robert Kenner’s forthcoming documentary lifts the lid on the ‘professional deceivers’ manipulating US debate on climate change Who remembers that climate change was a top priority early in George W Bush’s first term as US president? Merchants of Doubt, a new documentary film released in US cinemas this week, reminds us that in June 2001 Bush and the Republican party were 100% committed to curbing carbon emissions causing global warming. Six months later everything changed. The film shows Republican party leader John Boehner calling the idea of global warming “laughable”, said Merchants of Doubt director Robert Kenner. Continue reading...