The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.
Thwaites Glacier, the large, rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not only being eroded by the ocean, it’s being melted from below by geothermal heat, researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) report in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings significantly change the understanding of conditions beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where accurate information has previously been unobtainable.
The Thwaites Glacier has been the focus of considerable attention in recent weeks as other groups of researchers found the glacier is on the way to collapse, but more data and computer modeling are needed to determine when the collapse will begin in earnest and at what rate the sea level will increase as it proceeds. The new observations by UTIG will greatly inform these ice sheet modeling efforts.
Climate change is an issue of urgent international importance, but for 20 years, the international community has been unable to agree on a coordinated way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a “Perspective” piece published in the June issue of Nature Climate Change, J. Timmons Roberts, the Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology, proposes a four-step compromise toward emissions reduction that offers “effectiveness, feasibility, and fairness.” Their proposal comes as another major United Nations meeting on climate change approaches.
“We face a major deadline in December of 2015 for a deal to be agreed on by the parties of the global United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” Roberts said. “Either to get things moving toward that meeting or as a way to adequately address the issue afterward, this approach is practical, fresh, and fair.”
The first ecological study of an entire glacier has found that microbes drastically reduce surface reflectivity and have a non-negligible impact on the amount of sunlight that is reflected into space. The research, led by the University of Leeds and published today [12 June] in the journal FEMS Microbiology Ecology, will help improve climate change models that have previously neglected the role of microbes in darkening the Earth’s surface.
Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of New Mexico report evidence for potentially oceans worth of water deep beneath the United States. Though not in the familiar liquid form — the ingredients for water are bound up in rock deep in the Earth’s mantle — the discovery may represent the planet’s largest water reservoir. The presence of liquid water on the surface is what makes our “blue planet” habitable, and scientists have long been trying to figure out just how much water may be cycling between Earth’s surface and interior reservoirs through plate tectonics.
Years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, oil continues to wash ashore as oil-soaked “sand patties,” persists in salt marshes abutting the Gulf of Mexico, and questions remain about how much oil has been deposited on the seafloor. Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have developed a unique way to fingerprint oil, even after most of it has degraded, and to assess how it changes over time. Researchers refined methods typically used to identify the source of oil spills and adapted them for application on a longer time frame to successfully identify Macondo Well oil, years after the spill. “We were looking at two questions: how could we identify the oil on shore, now four years after the spill, and how the oil from the spill was weathering over time,” explained Christoph Aeppli, Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, and lead author of the study reported in Environmental Science & Technology. Aeppli worked with his then-colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and University of California, Santa Barbara on the investigation and report.
The Antarctic shore is a place of huge contrasts, as quiet, dark, and frozen winters give way to bright, clear waters, thick with algae and peppered with drifting icebergs in summer. But as the planet has warmed in the last two decades, massive losses of sea ice in winter have left icebergs free to roam for most of the year. As a result, say researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 16, boulders on the shallow seabed — once encrusted with a rich assemblage of species in intense competition for limited space — now mostly support a single species. The climate-linked increase in iceberg activity has left all other species so rare as to be almost irrelevant.
Aircraft can become more environmentally friendly by choosing flight paths that reduce the formation of their distinctive condensation trails, new research suggests. In a study published today, 19 June 2014, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, researchers from the University of Reading have shown that aircraft contribute less to global warming by avoiding the places where the thinly shaped clouds, called contrails, are produced – even if that means flying further and emitting more carbon dioxide.
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