climate change

The Climate Bomb Lurking Under Arctic Permafrost

New research aims to better understand how much methane – a potent greenhouse gas – is burbling to the surface of the Mackenzie Valley in Canada’s Northwest Territories as the permafrost melts.

Hidden beneath the frozen ground of the Arctic could be a ticking time bomb. Vast reservoirs of methane – a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide – lie beneath the permafrost, and as global temperatures rise and the permafrost thaws, it could leak out and speed up the pace of climate change in an ever-faster vicious circle.

A team of researchers from Germany spent two years measuring the release of methane from the Mackenzie River Delta in northern Canada. They were trying to figure out how much of the gas was the normal “biogenic” emissions produced each summer by decomposing organic matter in Arctic wetlands, and how much is coming from ancient underground “geologic” sources leaking through gaps in the permafrost year-round. Read more in Arctic Deeply.

Plant Trees and Chill

Software helps a conservation group see where shade trees will best cool a river. Then the hard work starts.

In 2011, the city of Medford in Oregon had a problem. The treated water being released into the Rogue River from its sewage treatment plant was too warm, threatening the river’s fish.

The historically cool Rogue River was already warming, and Medford’s discharge could raise the temperature by another 0.18 degrees Celsius. Warmer rivers have less oxygen, and cause fish to hatch earlier and die younger. To stay on the right side of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Medford had to find a way to cool down its wastewater.

“We looked at agricultural re-use, chillers, cooling towers and lagoons, but all the options were really expensive – more than $15 million,” said Tom Suttle, construction manager for the city’s water reclamation division. Read more in Inside Science.

Snowball Earth melting led to freshwater ocean 2 kilometres deep

A little more than 600 million years ago, you could have drunk from the ocean.

After an extreme ice age known as snowball Earth, in which glaciers extended to the tropics and ice up to a kilometre thick covered the oceans, the melt formed a thick freshwater layer that floated on the super-salty oceans. Read more in New Scientist.

Canada Foundation for Innovation awards $18 million to Amundsen

CFI aims to secure ongoing operation and maintenance funds for research facilities including Canada’s only research icebreaker.

Laval University has received more than $18 million for the research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen in the latest round of funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives Fund.

Over the next five years, the funding will mainly be used to maintain and deploy the coast guard ship’s scientific equipment and to pay the specialised engineers who operate the Arctic research vessel, says Louis Fortier, the Amundsen’s scientific director. But the money will also be used to subsidize some scientific projects that need a little extra cash. Read more in University Affairs.

Snow will melt more slowly in a warmer world – here’s why

As global temperatures rise, snow will melt more slowly. Yes, you read that right – more slowly.

Warmer global temperatures will lead to less snow in many mountainous areas, says Keith Musselman, a hydrologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

That thinner layer of snow will be less likely to last into the late spring and early summer, when melting rates are highest. Instead, it will melt slowly throughout the winter and early spring, when night-time temperatures are lower and there is less direct sunlight, releasing just a trickle of water instead of a sudden gush. Read more in New Scientist.

Drones on the delta

In Ghana’s Volta River delta, the remotely-operated aerial vehicles are going where researchers can’t to help study coastal erosion, flooding and migration.

River deltas are among some of the most densely populated places on Earth, especially in some developing African and Asian nations. They’re also some of the areas most vulnerable to climate change, with rising seas and increasingly powerful storms driving flooding and erosion.

So how do the people who live in these regions adapt to the changes that are occurring there? That’s what Kwasi Appeaning Addo, an associate professor in the department of marine and fisheries sciences at the University of Ghana, is trying to help determine. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Islands to lose fresh water as rising seas sink them from within

Small island nations are among the countries most at risk from climate change, as rising sea levels threaten to swamp them and make their fresh water salty.

But they face another danger – the rising seas will cause them to lose their fresh water by pushing it above ground, where it gets evaporated. Read more in New Scientist.

The surprising link between the tapirs of Costa Rica and climate change

New studies suggest that protecting tapirs and other large seed-eating mammals is key to preserving carbon storage in rain forests.

Esteban Brenes-Mora has been obsessed with tapirs — large, pig-like jungle dwellers — for as long as he can remember. It started with a sticker book his grandfather gave him as a child, and continued through zoo visits and into his university studies.

“I’ve always been passionate about tapirs,” he says. “When I studied biology I was aiming for tapirs, and since I graduated I’ve been looking for ways to study them.” Read more in Ensia.

Tentacled sea creatures are taking over the Earth’s oceans

Octopuses and their tentacled brethren are taking over the seas, as ocean temperatures climb and humans snaffle up their natural predators.

Zoe Doubleday, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, and her colleagues were studying an iconic local species, the giant Australian cuttlefish, which had been in decline for several years.

Doubleday wanted to see whether it was part of a larger cyclical trend in global populations, so she looked at data from surveys and from cephalopod fisheries and cephalopod bycatch in finfish fisheries between 1953 and 2013.

To her surprise she found a consistent increase in cephalopod populations over the past six decades, in species from all over the world and in every habitat, from the deep ocean to the near-shore shallows. Read more in New Scientist.