climate

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.

North Pacific’s sea slug invasion linked to mystery ocean blob

Unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean are driving dozens of species of nudibranch – a photogenic type of sea slug – northward at a surprising pace.

This could signal the beginning of a major climate shift in the region, says Jeffrey Goddard, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Read more in New Scientist.

When Good Fish Die Young

Rising temperatures are suppressing survival rates for young fish.

Climate change is making fish die young. Over the past six decades, the proportion of fish that survive to adulthood has been going down, by three percent per decade on average, according to a new analysis of global fish stock data.

Compiling statistics on changing fish stocks for 127 species of fish in 39 different marine regions, ecology doctoral student candidate Greg Britten calculated that the bulk of the increase in fish juvenile mortality can be attributed to rising ocean temperatures and the declining abundance of phytoplankton. Read more in Hakai.

Backyard Hockey A Bellwether For Climate Change

Volunteers track shifts in temperature with their homemade rinks.

Outdoor hockey games on suburban backyard rinks are an iconic part of the culture in Canada. Wayne Gretzky famously learned his trade on a homemade rink his father created every winter, and until recently the image of children skating on a frozen pond was featured on the back of the country’s $5 bill.

So when scientists in Montreal predicted that rising global temperatures would eventually lead to the end of outdoor skating in much of Canada, Robert McLeman and Colin Robertson, geographers at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, saw a way to get people interested in how climate change will affect them. Read more in Inside Science.

Spot of bother: have we been getting solar activity wrong?

For 400 years sunspot numbers have told us what the sun is up to. But wrinkles in the record have left solar scientists scratching their heads, until now.

EVERY lunchtime, Gustav Holmberg leaves his desk at Lund University in Sweden to take part in a scientific ritual that stretches back to Galileo’s time.

Back at his flat, the historian of science sets up a modest telescope and, taking due care not to burn his eyes, points it directly at the sun. He spends 5 minutes or so counting, and uploads a number to a server in Belgium. There, it is automatically combined with similar numbers from some 90 other observers around the globe, two-thirds of them amateurs like himself.

Satellite engineers use this number, updated daily, to predict how the sun’s future activity will affect their spacecraft. Climate scientists use it to pick out the sun’s long-term effects on Earth’s climate. Electricity companies use it to anticipate solar storms that could affect their grids. It is the international sunspot number: the world’s oldest continuous data series, and one of its most important. Read more in New Scientist.