Archive for the 'climate change' Category

Jan 18 2008

PENGUINS: ON THIN ICE

If you are reading this, it’s probably because you have been thinking about penguins, or about global warming and climate change, maybe wondering how we are doing, or maybe about your future.

These are scary and complicated times for all of us.

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Adélie 422 walking – Photo: Geroge F. Mobley



The news down South is not very good. And for that matter, it’s even worse up North. I’ll talk about that in just a minute. But there’s one thing that really confuses me. Now that I’m surfing the web – interesting choice of words for a penguin – I read a lot of newspaper reports about the climate crisis. And, of course, the comments that readers post. Have you ever taken the time to read those comments?

So many of you humans are so very angry. You’re angry at the newspaper for printing the reports. You’re angry at your scientists for telling you about rising levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, rising sea levels and melting ice. About disappearing glaciers. Check it out: angry comment after angry comment.

What’s going on? Is it so very hard to acknowledge what is happening before your very eyes? Here’s a picture of the Boulder Glacier in Glacier National Park in Montana, US in 1932.

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And a photo taken in 2005:

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It’s gone. Do you want to blame the scientists?

Is it so very hard to understand that the Earth is paying a price for all the coal you burn to keep your cities lit so bright? When did you become so afraid of the dark? Is it so very hard to understand that there is a price to be paid for the SUVs you drive to the malls you shop in? Where is it written in your holy books that each man and woman needs to have a car, two cars, three? That it is too much of an inconvenience to ride together in buses and train and trolleys? That you need second homes and motor boats and private airplanes?


Anyway here’s a quick update of the latest news. Antarctica, our home, our ice is melting. TV3 in New Zealand reports:

The ice shelves of Antarctica are collapsing faster than scientists could ever have predicted, loosened by warming climate conditions – warm air and warm water is compromising the existence of the entirety of the Antarctic ice sheet as global temperatures rise.

Dozens of ice shelves are steadily breaking apart – three major ice shelves have disintegrated in recent times, one of which taking mere days to collapse …

During the last 15 years, almost 90% of the glaciers observed by scientists in Antarctica have shown significant levels of retreat.



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Adelie penguins – Photo: Frans Lemmens



Our dear friends, the Adélies, founding members of Penguins United, are in deep trouble. The melting ice is a matter of life and death for the Adélies. A National Geographic headline asks “Antartica’s Adelie Extinct in a Decade?”

Adélie penguins in Antarctica are in the midst of a major upheaval as climate change causes their icy habitat to warm up, experts say.

Some populations of the birds are thriving, but most are declining rapidly.

The penguins rely on winter sea ice as a platform for feeding on ocean krill.

But they also need the ice to shrink in the summer so they can access their breeding colonies on land.

The mid-latitudes of the Antarctic Peninsula once provided the perfect habitat for the penguins—but not anymore.

“That region has experienced the most rapid warming during winter on the planet,” said Bill Fraser, an ecologist with the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Montana.

“The mid-winter temperatures are now around 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit [6 degrees Celsius] higher than they were 50 years ago.”



Help the Adélies. Save the Ice. Save our Home.





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Dec 18 2007

BALI, SCHMALI

Well there is the small victory to celebrate at Bali – the U.S. was frightened enough by the threatened boycott of its January conference to refrain from preventing an agreement.

But from the point of view of the rest of the world – the non-humans of this world – it was pretty sad. It is very disappointing to penguins around the world that after so much talk, the best you humans can come up with is an “agreement” for a “new framework” for two more years of talk.


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Emperors – Photo: AFP



Meanwhile during the Bali conference, we learned from new studies that 4 species of penguin are in great peril, the Arctic ice is melting far faster than any of your scientists predicted, carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 650,000 years and that our coral reefs are in danger.


George Monbiot pointed out how little has changed by quoting the following:

“After 11 days of negotiations, governments have come up with a compromise deal that could even lead to emission increases. The highly compromised political deal is largely attributable to the position of the United States, which was heavily influenced by fossil fuel and automobile industry interests. The failure to reach agreement led to the talks spilling over into an all-night session.”

These are extracts from a press release by Friends of the Earth. So what? Well it was published on December 11 – I mean to say, December 11 1997. The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto protocol … Its climate negotiators were led by Albert Arnold Gore.

The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore’s team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then the Americans did something worse: they destroyed the whole agreement.



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Moon above Feegletscher, Switzerland – Photo: AFP/Fabrice Coffrini



As for Bali, Monbiot declares:

There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto protocol. It contains no targets and no dates.



While the climate negotiators were negotiating, this is some of what we learned. It was a very bad year for walruses. The AP reports:

In what some scientists see as another alarming consequence of global warming, thousands of Pacific walruses above the Arctic Circle were killed in stampedes earlier this year after the disappearance of sea ice caused them to crowd onto the shoreline in extraordinary numbers …

”It was a pretty sobering year — tough on walruses,” said Joel Garlach-Miller, a walrus expert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Dead walruses, Arctic Circle – Photo: A Kochnev/AP

Unlike seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely. The giant, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.

But ice disappeared in the Chukchi Sea this year because of warm summer weather, ocean currents and persistent eastern winds, Garlach-Miller said.

As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a ”haulout” for a century, scientists said.

Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water.


And as the ice melts and thins, the polar bears suffer. The polar bears die. Paul Richards of AFP writes that climate change has reduced the time polar bears can hunt for the food they need.


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Polar bear and cubs, Hudson Bay – Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP


“For many years, there were 1,600 to 2,200 of our polar bears, called the western Hudson Bay sub-population,” Bonnie Chartier, a Churchill native who works as a guide for tour groups who come to this northern town to spot the world’s largest bear, told AFP.

“Now they’re saying there are about 965. Boom! In a very short span of time, we have a much smaller population and this has been attributed to global warming,” she said.

Polar bears are carnivores, and the seals that live in the Hudson Bay are their favorite meal.

They hunt when the bay is frozen, venturing far out on the thick ice and waiting patiently for a seal to pop its head out of the water for air.

They spend the part of the year when the bay is not frozen on land, fasting.

“In the last 20 years, our bears have been coming off the ice two weeks earlier and going out about one week later, so you’ve taken three weeks’ hunting time out of their diet, including the crucial spring weeks, when seals are pupping. Seal pups are easier prey for the polar bears,” Chartier said.

“The bears are having a harder time. They’re not able to put on enough weight to carry themselves through the whole fasting season,” she said.



As the politicians were arguing, we also discovered that thanks to climate change the oceans are rising faster than scientists predicted. The BBC reports on a study published by the journal, Nature Geoscience:

The world’s sea levels could rise twice as high this century as UN climate scientists have previously predicted, according to a study.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposes a maximum sea level rise of 81cm (32in) this century.

But in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers say the true maximum could be about twice that: 163cm (64in).

They looked at what happened more than 100,000 years ago – the last time Earth was this warm.

The results join other studies showing that current sea level projections may be very conservative.

Sea level rise is a key effect of global climate change. There are two major contributory effects: expansion of sea water as the oceans warm, and the melting of ice over land.



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Kangerdlussuaq Glacier, East Greenland – Photo: J A Dowdeswell


All this while humans talk and talk and talk.


It’s enough to drive a penguin batty.


Bali, Schmali.





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Dec 11 2007

PENGUINS IN PERIL

You know you’re in big trouble when they talk about you in Forbes and the UK Guardian and the Telegraph and National Geographic News all in the same day.

Big big trouble. Why? The World Wildlife Fund issued its report, “Antarctic Penguins and Climate Change.”

This is what the Forbes headline says: “Penguins in Peril as Climate Warms.” The Chinese news service Xinhua puts it this way: “WWF: Climate warming threatens Antarctica Penguins.”

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Adelie, Emperor, Chinstrap & Gentoo Penguins – UK Telegraph

According to Forbes:

four populations of penguins that breed on the Antarctic continent are under escalating pressure. For some, global warming is taking away precious ground on which penguins raise their young. For others, food has become increasingly scarce because of warming in conjunction with overfishing.

This reminds us a bit of the American writer Mark Twain who read his own obituary in the newspaper.

You writing about us?

We’ve talked a lot about the Arctic ice here but today they’re talking about our ice:

The Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the average rate of global warming. The vast Southern Ocean has warmed all the way down to a depth of 3,000m.

Sea ice – ice that forms from sea water – covers 40 percent less area than it did 26 years ago off the West Antarctic Peninsula. This decrease led to reduced numbers of krill, the main source of food for Chinstrap Penguins.

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Macaroni and Chinstrap Penguins – Sylvia Rubli/WWF

The number of Chinstraps decreased by as much as 30 to 66 percent in some colonies, as less food made it more difficult for the young to survive. It’s the same story for Gentoo Penguins, which are increasingly dependent on the declining krill stocks as overfishing kills off their usual food sources.

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Gentoo Penguin with chicks, South Georgia – Fritz Pölking/WWF

The Emperor Penguin, the largest and most majestic penguin in the world, has seen some of its colonies halved in size over the past half century. Warmer winter temperatures and stronger winds mean that the penguins had to raise their chicks on increasingly thinner sea ice. For many years, sea ice has broken off early and many eggs and chicks have been blown away before they were ready to survive on their own.

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2 Emperors with chick – Fritz Pölking/WWF

In the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where warming has been the most dramatic, populations of Adelie Penguins have dropped by 65 percent over the past 25 years. Not only has food become scarcer with the disappearance of sea ice, but the Adelies’ warm-loving cousins the Gentoos and Chinstraps have also invaded the region.

Warmer temperatures mean that the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in turn brings more snow. Scientists are worried for the Adelie Penguin, which needs land that is free of snow and ice to raise their young, is likely to lose out to its warm-loving cousins.

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Adelie Penguin – Sylvia Rubli/WWF

“Having just returned from the Antarctic, I’ve witnessed what is happening to the penguins there,” says Dr. Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF’s Global Climate Change program. “The warming climate means warmer, wetter air and too much snow at the wrong time of year. Penguins have to wait for snow to melt and they are breeding later – much too late. Add invasive species that are expanding their ranges to diminishing numbers of penguins and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The delegates at the Bali COP have a chance to protect Antarctica’s penguins and many other species, but they must act now.”

Well many many thanks to Dr. David Ainley and WWF and their terrific photographers and their very informative website, penguinscience.com for bringing attention to our plight.

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Gentoos at sunset, Falklands – Kevin Schafer/WWF




In the days to come we’ll offer our take on the events taking place in Bali. But for today, this one day, it’s time to focus on PENGUINS IN PERIL.


ACT NOW. SAVE THE ICE.







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