Frying to a crisp: Dramatic rise in ocean hearwaves threatens all marine life, including the highly sensitive and already dwindling coral reefs | Image credit: HealthThoroughFare

Alarming new study reveals heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’

Heatwaves are not just triggering wildfires and gutting forests over land, but they are also wreaking havoc underwater. Scientists say ocean heatwaves have risen sharply, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”, the Guardian reported. In the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves (five or more days of extreme temperature), scientists say their frequency has tripled in recent years and they are leaving an alarming impact across species – from plankton, mammals and seabirds to humans who are dependent on oceans for food and clean air.

Ocean warming study finds 4% drop in ‘sustainable’ fish stocks since 1930s

The saying ‘there aren’t enough fish in the sea’ is literally ringing truer now than ever before. According to a study published in Science, which analysed data between 1930 and 2010, to find the impact of ocean warming on commercial fish stocks, the amount of fish that can be caught in a sustainable manner has fallen by an average of 4% globally in this period. The worst hit regions are in the UK, around the North and Irish seas, where, the study says, the maximum sustainable yield of fish, particularly the Atlantic Cod, sole and haddock, has fallen by up to a drastic 35%. The study surmises the reason for this could be a drop in the availability of zooplankton, which are microscopic marine animals that the fish feed on, also due to ocean warming.   

The study’s lead author warned that overfishing is also making fish vulnerable to ocean warming and could seriously mar any efforts made to rebuild declining fish populations.    

Extreme CO2 levels may trigger 8°C of global warming

Increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere may rapidly warm the earth at a magnitude only seen once before, 55 million years ago. According to a new paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, if atmospheric CO2 levels exceed 1,200 parts per million (ppm), it could trigger a break-up of stratocumulus clouds – low-lying clouds that typically cover and keep cool 20% of Earth’s tropical ocean regions. When the clouds break up, they would no longer cover the surface, triggering a global warming of 8°C, according to the study, which used a state-of-the-art, high-resolution simulation model to arrive at its conclusion.

But there’s no need to panic, say scientists, as the paper does point to large uncertainties that remain because the research is still in the preliminary stage. Also, the 1,200 ppm CO2 levels are three times the current concentrations. But the paper does provide interesting insights into the ‘potential presence of tipping points’ that could lead to ‘catastrophic warming’ of the Earth.

Tiny Australian rat species first mammal to go extinct due to climate change

A small brown rat that lived on a 12-acre island off the northern Australian coast has become the first mammal to become extinct due to human-induced climate change, the government said. The Bramble Cay melomys was pronounced ‘extinct’ first in a report published by the University of Queensland in 2016, after conservation efforts failed to preserve the species, which had not been spotted on the island in a decade. This finding was confirmed by the Australian government in the past fortnight.

The cause for extinction was dramatic habitat loss because of ocean inundation from rising sea levels, the 2016 report said. A sad end to the rodent species that could be counted in the hundreds on the island back in the 1970s, but was declared ‘endangered’ by 1992.   

Forest fires in India tripled in past four months

A recent government survey revealed that large forest fires have tripled in the past four months in India. NewsClick reported that the survey, conducted by the Forest Survey of India, found that the forest fires “shot up to 14,107 from 4,225 between November 2018 and February 2019. According to the monitoring system, there are as many as 58 large forest fires active at the moment”. The real-time large fire monitoring system gathered data from the SNPP-VIIRS satellite. According to the survey, in the past two months, 205 forest fires (37% of the total fires) were reported in the five southern states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were also badly affected by wildfires. According to Down To Earth, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka, spent only 60% of the funds allocated to contain fires.

Wildfires burn across UK amid highest winter temperatures ever recorded

The UK is experiencing its warmest winter with record-breaking temperatures of above 20°C for the first time. The country recorded its hottest winter day last Tuesday as wildfires broke out from Scotland to Wales.This time last year, the UK, like Europe, was buried in snow, while some areas of the country were hit by blizzards. The maximum temperature during the last week of February touched 18.3°C at Aboyne, while Wales recorded the highest-ever February temperature of 19.1°C at Gogerddan. Bob Ward, of the centre for climate change economics and policy at the London School of Economics, told the Guardian, “Over the last five years, we also had two record wet winters, during which there was severe flooding. This is a sign of the fundamental and profound way that Britain’s climate is changing.”

India’s monsoon woes to continue this year; foodgrain production, output hit

Will the monsoon this year be good or not? The answer seems to reside far away in the warming equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean. Recently, the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the development of a weak El Niño (phenomenon of warming of Pacific Ocean), that it said may persist until June. The Indian Express reported that “the status of El Niño is usually the first indication of the kind of rainfall that is to be expected during the monsoon season later in the year”. While a warmer ocean suppresses monsoon, the opposite phenomenon of La Niña helps in bringing good rainfall, says the report. The report further says that the warming in the Niño 3.4 region of the Pacific, (the region impacts India’s rainfall) has been forecast to remain over 0.5°C above normal, which according to experts, may decrease the rainfall.

Meanwhile, India estimates overall food production in the 2018-19 crop year to be lower by over 1% compared to last year, mainly because of the 9% deficit rainfall that was reported last year. TOI reported that “as per estimates, foodgrain output is pegged at 281.37 million tonnes (MT) in 2018-19 as compared to 284.83 MT in 2017-18.

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