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Floating Tar, Dead Fish: Oil Spill Threatens Greek Beaches

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The Greek authorities scrambled on Thursday to clean up fuel leaked by an oil tanker that sank near Athens, putting popular beaches off limits to swimmers and raising fears of environmental damage.

The Agia Zoni II, a 45-year-old oil tanker, sank near the island of Salamis, about seven miles from the country’s main port, Piraeus. It was carrying more than 2,500 metric tons of fuel oil and marine gas oil.

Though the leak was initially thought to be contained to the area of the shipwreck, it soon expanded to the coastline area known as the Athens Riviera.

Evaggelia Simou, a resident of Salamina, on the island, denounced the authorities for not tackling the oil spill more quickly and fully.

“We drove by the Selinia beach on Sunday night, and were alarmed because of the suffocating smell of oil,” Ms. Simou said.

When she and her husband went to the beach, they were shocked to see that a thick coat of oil had blackened the water. “Huge pieces of floating tar were burdening the waves, dead fish floated on the surface,” Ms. Simou said. They were surprised to see no cleanup workers, she said.

George Papanikolaou, the mayor of Glyfada, said he got a phone call from the Piraeus harbor master warning of the spill only a few hours before the black ooze washed up.

Since then, three private antipollution vessels have cleaned up more than 180 metric tons of fuel from Glyfada’s four beaches. Just this summer, one of the beaches had been recognized by the Foundation for Environmental Education as a Blue Flag beach, a certification of water quality.

It’s tragic that it happened now, after all four beaches have gotten so beautiful,” Tima Vlasto, 51, an American who has lived in Glyfada for six years, said in a phone interview. “Seeing this makes you want to leave. If I can’t swim here, what’s the point of living in Glyfada?”

Mr. Papanikolaou said that emotions were running high in his community. “We’re angry”, he said. “It’s just such a shame that all this hard work can be destroyed in a split second.”

Some ecologists have called the oil spill an environmental disaster, with immediate and potential long-term effects.

The full extent of the pollution and its effects are not yet clear; areas like uninhabited rocky islets are also thought to be affected.

The Hellenic Register of Shipping, an independent organization that oversees shipping safety, said that the tanker had not been certified as seaworthy, although its owner, Fos Petroleum, said that it had all of the proper credentials. The Greek Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy did not respond to several requests for information.

Read here the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/world/europe/greece-oil-spill.html?mcubz=1

Greenland: how rapid climate change on world’s largest island will affect us all

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The largest wildfire ever recorded in Greenland was recently spotted close to the west coast town of Sisimiut, not far from Disko Island.  The fire has captured public and scientific interest not just because its size and location came as a surprise, but also because it is yet another signpost of deep environmental change in the Arctic.

Greenland is an important cog in the global climate system. The ice sheet which covers 80% of the island reflects so much of the sun’s energy back into space that it moderates temperatures through what is known as the “albedo effect”. And since it occupies a strategic position in the North Atlantic, its meltwater tempers ocean circulation patterns.

But Greenland is especially vulnerable to climate change, as Arctic air temperatures are currently rising at twice the global average rate. Environmental conditions are frequently setting new records: “the warmest”, “the wettest”, “the driest”.

The ice sheet is melting

Between 2002 and 2016 the ice sheet lost mass at a rate of around 269 gigatonnes per year. During the same period, the ice sheet also showed some unusual short-term behaviour.

The 2012 melt season was especially intense – 97% of the ice sheet experienced surface melt at some point during the year. Snow even melted at its summit, the highest point in the centre of the island where the ice is piled up more than 3km above sea level. 

In April 2016 Greenland saw abnormally high temperatures and its earliest ever “melt event” (a day in which more than 10% of the ice sheet has at least 1mm of surface melt). Early melting doesn’t usher in a period of complete and catastrophic change – the ice won’t vanish overnight. But it does illustrate how profoundly and rapidly the ice sheet can respond to rising temperatures.

Despite its icy image, the margins of Greenland are actually quite boggy, complete with swarms of mosquitoes. This is the “active layer”, made up of peaty soil and sediment up to two metres thick, which temporarily thaws during the summer. The underlying permafrost, which can reach depths of 100m, remains permanently frozen.

If thawing continues, it’s estimated that by 2100 permafrost will emit 850-1,400 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (for comparison: total global emissions in 2012 was 54 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalent). All that extra methane and carbon of course has the potential to enhance global warming even further.

With this in mind, it is clear to see why the recent wildfire, which was burning in dried-out peat in the active layer, was especially interesting to researchers. If Greenland’s permafrost becomes increasingly degraded and dry, there is the potential for even bigger wildfires which would release vast stores of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Learn more here: https://theconversation.com/greenland-how-rapid-climate-change-on-worlds-largest-island-will-affect-us-all-82675

The US cities at risk of flooding – and how they deal with it

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Tropical storm Harvey may have bared its teeth at Houston, but other cities in the US have felt the pangs of nervousness. Several cities are vulnerable to the fiercer storms and sea level rise that are being fueled by climate change.

Cities, by their very nature, struggle during flood situations. Water that would have been soaked up by grass and other vegetation washes off the concrete and asphalt of urban areas and, if not properly diverted away, can inundate homes.

Add in, as in Houston’s case, lax rules around property zoning and a federal flood insurance system that repeatedly pays out for damage to poorly situated houses, and it’s clear cities have much work to do to cope with the changes upon them.

Harvey brought a huge amount of rainfall, but cities now face flooding threats even without a major storm. “Rare events are going to become more common in the future strictly due to sea level rise,” said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

“We are already seeing flooding in property and the streets in Charleston, Norfolk and Miami on sunny days, driven by the tides. That is a looming crisis that is only going to grow more severe over time.”

The nightmare of a Harvey (or Katrina or Sandy) has led to many cities opt for huge sea walls and other expensive engineering fixes. But there is no easy solution – a sea wall simply pushes the water elsewhere, perhaps on to a neighbor’s head. The water has to go somewhere and decades of development on flood-prone land has left little space to maneuver for some municipalities.

“There are coastal cities at risk from an extreme event and they have giant sea walls or houses on stilts,” said Sweet. “But then there are communities that don’t face a big hurricane threat but water is bubbling up from underneath them. They can’t defend against this sort of flooding. You can’t build a wall everywhere.”

Some progressive cities have started to look at alternative approaches, most notably from the Netherlands, where communities “live” with the water, allowing certain areas to flood while aggressively defending critical infrastructure. Natural sponges such as parklands, wetlands and dunes are now also in vogue with city planners.

But as attitudes to flooding slowly shift, the problem is escalating. Scientists are now confident that hurricanes will become more powerful, fed by a warming, moisture-laden atmosphere, while more common “nuisance” flooding will become so frequent along parts of the US east coast that they will occur once every three days by 2045. By around this time, a majority of US coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year.

So which cities are at risk and what are they doing about the threat?

Follow the link to learn more about that serious problem, and how climate change is responsible for this situation: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/31/us-risk-flooding-harvey-boston-new-york-miami-beach

13 Graceful Pictures of Rare Sea Turtles

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Sea turtles are one of a small number of species alive today that once roamed with dinosaurs, as far back as 150 million years ago. But despite their long history on this planet, sea turtles are now facing an existential crisis.

Of the seven species that swim in our oceans today, all face potential threats. The hawksbill sea turtle and the Atlantic Ridley sea turtle have the most uncertain future—the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies both as critically endangered.

Sea turtles feel the brunt of human influence on the environment. These animals inhabit both marine and beach ecosystems, and experts warn their extinction could harm seagrass beds and other ecosystems on which people also depend.

The world’s most vulnerable sea turtles face threats at all stages of their life. Sea turtle eggs are frequently harvested and consumed as a delicacy. The beaches upon which they depend to lay eggs and hatch their young are also disappearing or being degraded.

Of the seven sea turtles found around the globe, six travel through U.S. waters and are therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act. Because sea turtles can migrate as many as 10,000 miles across multiple oceans, multilateral agreements have been established internationally to ensure that each turtle is protected across all the regions it inhabits.

Follow the link to see some graceful pictures of rare sea turtles: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/06/world-sea-turtle-day-photos/

 

Climate change is turning Antarctica green, say researchers

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Antarctica may conjure up an image of a pristine white landscape, but researchers say climate change is turning the continent green. Scientists studying banks of moss in Antarctica have found that the quantity of moss, and the rate of plant growth, has shot up in the past 50 years, suggesting the continent may have a verdant future.

“Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it currently is,” said Matt Amesbury, co-author of the research from the University of Exeter.

“This is linking into other processes that are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula at the moment, particularly things like glacier retreat which are freeing up new areas of ice-free land – and the mosses particularly are very effective colonisers of those new areas,” he added.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula experienced rapid temperature increases, warming by about half a degree per decade.

Plant life on Antarctica is scarce, existing on only 0.3% of the continent, but moss, well preserved in chilly sediments, offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

Learn more here: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/may/18/climate-change-is-turning-antarctica-green-say-reseatchers

Europe’s extreme June heat clearly linked to climate change, research shows

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Human-caused climate change dramatically increased the likelihood of the extreme heatwave that saw deadly forest fires blazing in Portugal and Spain, new research has shown.

Much of western Europe sweltered earlier in June, and the severe heat in England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland was also made significantly more likely by global warming. Such temperatures will become the norm by 2050, the scientists warned, unless action is taken to rapidly cut carbon emissions.

Scientists combined temperature records and the latest observations with a series of sophisticated computer models to calculate how much the global rise in greenhouse gases has raised the odds of the soaring temperatures. They found the heatwave that struck Portugal and Spain was 10 times more likely to have occurred due to global warming. In Portugal, 64 people died in huge forest fires, while in Spain 1,500 people were forced to evacuate by forest blazes.

The intense heat was made four times more probable in central England, which endured its hottest day since 1976, and in France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, where emergency heatwave plans were triggered.

The analysis was carried out by World Weather Attribution (WAA), an international coalition of scientists that calculates the role of climate change in extreme weather events. “We found clear and strong links between June’s record warmth and human-caused climate change,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and part of WWA.

Heat can be deadly – especially for the very young and the elderly,” said Friederike Otto, at Oxford University and also part of WWA. “This extreme event attribution analysis makes clear that European heatwaves have become more frequent, and in the South of Europe at least 10 times more frequent. It is critical that cities work with scientists and public health experts to develop heat action plans. Climate change is impacting communities right now and these plans save lives.”

Click here for more information: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/30/europes-extreme-june-heat-clearly-linked-to-climate-change-research-shows

If you drop plastic in the ocean, where does it end up?

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It is estimated that between four and 12m metric tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean each year. This figure is only likely to rise, and a 2016 report predicted that by 2050 the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh the amount of fish.

A normal plastic bottle takes about 450 years to break down completely, so the components of a bottle dropped in the ocean today could still be polluting the waters for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

A lot of plastic debris in the ocean breaks down into smaller pieces and is ingested by marine life, and it is thought that a significant amount sinks to the sea bed. But a lot of it just floats around, and thanks to sophisticated modelling of ocean currents using drifting buoys, we can see where much of it ends up.

Oceanographer Erik van Sebille, who works at Imperial College London and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, has shown that thanks to strong ocean currents known as gyres, huge amounts of plastic end up in six “garbage patches” around the world, the largest one being in the north Pacific.

As can be seen in the image above, a bottle dropped in the water off the coast of China, near Shanghai, is likely be carried eastward by the north Pacific gyre and end up circulating a few hundred miles off the coast of the US.

Follow the link to find more examples about different countries: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/29/if-you-drop-plastic-in-the-ocean-where-does-it-end-up

Marshall Islands first to ratify global HFC greenhouse gas pact

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The Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean became the first nation on Tuesday to ratify a 2016 accord to cut the use of powerful factory-made greenhouse gases, saying the survival of the nation was at risk from climate change. The parliament of the Marshall Islands, with a population of 53,000 vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by melting ice, approved the plan to curb use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in refrigerants and air conditioning.

The decision is a sign of continuing action to limit global warming despite uncertainty about future U.S. climate policies under President Donald Trump.

“My country will not survive without urgent action to cut emissions by every country and every sector of our economies, including HFCs,” said Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine.

“This deal is good for our people, the planet, and the profits of those that follow in our footsteps,” she said in a statement, which said the country was the first to ratify the HFC agreement worked out in Kigali, Rwanda, in October 2016.

The Marshall Islands was also the first to ratify the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which seeks a radical shift from fossil fuels this century to help avert heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

Read more here about that serious issue: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-hfc-idUSKBN1670IN

 

Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits

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Five tiny Pacific islands have disappeared due to rising seas and erosion, a discovery thought to be the first scientific confirmation of the impact of climate change on coastlines in the Pacific, according to Australian researchers.

The submerged islands were part of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago that over the last two decades has seen annual sea levels rise as much as 10mm (0.4in), according to research published in the May issue of the online journal Environmental Research Letters.

The missing islands, ranging in size from 1 to 5 hectares (2.5-12.4 acres) were not inhabited by humans. But six other islands had large swaths of land washed into the sea and on two of those, entire villages were destroyed and people forced to relocate, the researchers found.

The Solomon Islands, a nation made up of hundreds of islands and with a population of about 640,000, lies about 1,000 miles north-east of Australia. However, the study raises questions about the role of government in relocation planning, said a Solomon Islands official.

Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/five-pacific-islands-lost-rising-seas-climate-change?utm_content=buffer352f8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Hydro power projects in Himalayan region face flood risk

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Potential hydro power projects in the Himalayan region would need to factor in chances of increased floods from the formation of new lakes and the expansion of existing ones due to melting glaciers, says an analysis of Himalayan glaciers and their possible future impact on livelihoods in States adjoining the region. The results are part of a modelling study by Swiss researchers on the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.

According to the study, 441 hydro power projects spanning India, Nepal, Pakistan and China, that is, 66 per cent of the constructed and the potential projects, are on possible Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) tracks. This means they could be gorged with extra water from melting glaciers. Almost a third of these projects could experience GLOF discharges well above what these dams account for, says a study.

“If hydro power projects were to be situated close to these glaciers, they would have to account for higher water flows,” said Dr. Markus Stoffel from the University of Geneva, lead scientist with the study. “But that does not mean they cannot be built. It might need extra design or safety features.”

Read more here: http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/Hydro-power-projects-in-Himalayan-region-face-flood-risk/article16692152.ece