Worrying picture: With COVID-19 bringing everything to a standstill, scientists fear the repercussions on climate monitoring and research | Photo: Stripes.com

Scientists fear coronavirus impact on climate monitoring, research

The coronavirus pandemic has brought everything to a standstill, including scientific fieldwork. Scientists fear that this could affect climate monitoring and research after major projects aimed at gathering environmental data have been postponed or cancelled.

While these are long-term studies, scientists have warned that routine monitoring of weather and climate change could also be affected if the pandemic repercussions are felt for an extended period of time.  

Great Barrier Reef suffers third major bleaching event in past five years

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered another major bleaching event this year – the third one in the past five years. With a distance of 2,000 km, it is proving to be the most extensive yet, experts said.  A rise in temperatures, linked to climate change, are to be blamed, according to experts. Around 25% of the reef has experienced severe bleaching, while 35% has been moderately bleached and 45% remains untouched. The reef’s southern section, which remained mostly intact during bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, was hit hard this year.

But the change could be reversible, if a recent study is to be believed. It stated that a ‘substantial recovery’ of ocean life was possible by 2050, but only if major threats such as climate change are dealt with.

Study predicts sudden loss of world’s wildlife if climate change persists

A new study in the journal Nature pinpoints the locations where ecosystems could be severely disrupted if global warming continues to rise. The study created 100km x 100km grids by cross-referencing climate data from 1850 to 2005 with the geographic ranges of 30,652 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and other animals and plants.

After observing the grids, the researchers found that most species in a given grid ecosystem were able to adapt to a certain temperature until they were all forced out of their comfort zone at the same time. This means if temperatures were to rise to a level that a particular ecosystem wasn’t able to adapt to, most species in that area would be driven to extinction.

Current climate models missing most of coarse dust in atmosphere: Study

Climate models are missing most of the coarse dust in the atmosphere, and are therefore underestimating its impact on ocean ecosystems, clouds and global climate, a study recently concluded.

The study found the mass of coarse dust in the atmosphere to be four times more than what is simulated in climate models currently. Such models must incorporate the actual amount of coarse dust in order to accurately simulate its impact on the global climate, the study stated.  

Methane levels reached all-time high in 2019

Levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a warming potential 28 times that of carbon dioxide, has reached an all-time high spurred by an increase in emissions in 2019. According to the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) preliminary data, global methane concentration in the atmosphere has reached 1875 parts per billion (ppb) in 2019 after recording 1866 ppb in 2018. While the source of the emissions spike is unclear, scientists hypothesise that it might be due to increase in microbial activity releasing methane which itself is spurred on by higher temperature owing to climate change, creating a dangerous feedback loop.

New hole opens up in ozone layer over Arctic

The European Space Agency (ESA) has observed a new hole that has started to form over the Arctic. While ozone layer depletion is a common occurrence over the North Pole, scientists said this time, extreme weather (linked to climate change), and atmospheric conditions have led to a far deeper depletion than before.

While scientists believe the hole will close up by the end of April, they warned that it was a troubling sign of the state of Earth’s environmental health. The Arctic hole is less than 1 million sqkm in size, which is still significantly less than the one over Antarctica, which can grow to be as much as 25 million sqkm.

Forests may not hold key to lock away carbon, studies explore forest-climate feedback loops

Two new studies have shown how feedback loops between climate change and forests may limit forests’ ability of carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, and lead to increased deforestation, further feeding into the problem. The first, a study published in Nature, examines the belief that mature forests are the weapon of choice when it comes to driving sequestration of additional carbon from the atmosphere by constructing a comprehensive carbon budget for a mature forest. Researchers found that while increasing ambient carbon levels increased uptake levels in the forest, this did not translate to any increase in ecosystem-level sequestration. According to the paper, the majority of the extra carbon was emitted back into the atmosphere via several respiratory fluxes, with increased soil respiration alone accounting for half of the total uptake surplus. Meanwhile, a separate study conducted in the Amazon basin quantified an active feedback loop between the droughts and deforestation. According to the paper, every mm of additional water stress was leading to deforestation increases by 0.13% per year while deforestation itself had caused drying to increase by 4%- which would further spur deforestation.

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