Robot fleet dives for climate answers in ‘marine snow’

Robot fleet dives for climate answers in 'marine snow'
CSIRO’s RV Investigator. Credit: CSIRO

A fleet of next-generation, deep-diving ocean robots will be deployed in the Southern Ocean in a major study of how marine life acts as a handbrake on global warming.

The automated probes will be looking for “marine snow,” which is the name given to the shower of dead algae and carbon-rich organic particles that sinks from upper waters to the deep ocean.

Sailing from Hobart on Friday, twenty researchers aboard CSIRO’s RV Investigator hope to capture the most detailed picture yet of how marine life in the Southern Ocean captures and stores carbon from the atmosphere.

Voyage Chief Scientist, Professor Philip Boyd, from AAPP and IMAS, said it would be the first voyage of its kind to combine ship-board observations, deep-diving robots, automated ocean gliders and satellite measurements.

“The microscopic algae in the ocean are responsible for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as much as the forests on land are,” said Prof. Boyd.

“When they die, these tiny carbon-rich particles fall slowly to the ocean floor like a scene from a snow globe.”

“We are excited about how this combination of new imaging sensors will allow us to get a larger and much clearer picture of how ocean life helps to store carbon.”

“It’s a bit like an astronomer who has only been able to study one star at a time suddenly being able to observe the galaxy in three-dimensions.”

Prof Boyd said the research would improve our understanding of a process scientists call the ‘carbon pump,” so named because it is responsible for pumping large volumes of carbon from the atmosphere into the ocean.

“We are just beginning to understand how the biological carbon pump works, but we know it helps in the removal of about a quarter of all the carbon dioxide that humans emit by burning fossil fuels. During the voyage, we will deploy a fleet of deep-diving robotic floats and gliders that use new bio-optical sensors to ‘photograph’ the density of the algae at different depths. When they return to the ocean surface, these floats will immediately transmit their data back to us via satellite. It is a major step forward in our ability to measure carbon uptake by marine life,” said Prof. Boyd.

The Southern Ocean Large Areal Carbon Export (SOLACE) voyage is scheduled to depart on Friday, 04 December at 8 a.m.

Molting krill provide a highway for ocean carbon storage

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University of Maryland Administrators Partner With Black Student Leaders on Campus Climate

The University of Maryland recently assembled a group of Black student leaders, representing about 30 student organizations, to help advise university leaders on how to set an “anti-racist agenda,” announced Dr. Darryl Pines, the university’s president.

“The pursuit of excellence and a supportive, respectful community require determined, cooperative and ceaseless work,” Pines wrote in an email to the campus community. “We will build on the work we have already begun.”

Dr. Darryl Pines

Students have had monthly virtual meetings with administrators since May.

“It kind of feels like – for the first time – to be heard,” said senior Nadia Owusu, co-founder of Black Terps Matter and vice president of external affairs for the Student Success Leadership Council. She sees the collaboration as an opportunity to “put a name and a face to our stories.”

In higher education, too often, university leaders “do as they believe the students would want” without their direct involvement, she added. To meet with the university president and other administrators as often as they do has been “a very different experience.”

Together, students and university leaders will discuss ways to increase the number of Black faculty and staff, invest in initiatives to support Black students, increase minority enrollment – particularly from local communities like Prince George’s County and Baltimore City – and honor the legacy of Richard Collins III, a Black lieutenant and student at Bowie State University who was killed by a former student while visiting the university in 2017.

The goal is to “open doors of communication that lead to ongoing collaboration,” said Dr. Georgina Dodge, University of Maryland vice president for diversity and inclusion. “We want to be an inclusive university. We know that we cannot have excellence without diversity, and we know that in order to recruit and retain diversity we need to be inclusive.”

“Some of the concerns I heard [from students] were concerns I had as a student back in the Stone Age,” she added. “…That has fueled our determination to make progress.”

Already, Black student leaders have devised a list of 25 demands. Those demands were sent out as a Google form to the student body – so action items could be ranked in order of importance to students – and ultimately submitted to the university president, Owusu said.

For her, it’s crucial that the university focus on Black student safety, develop a racial incident hotline and mandate racial bias training for all faculty, staff and students.

“I believe that you could hold people accountable better if you’ve given them all the knowledge and understanding possible,” Owusu said. “And one of the best ways is to make people unlearn the stereotypes and the falsehoods that have been amplified outside our UMD community.”

Dr. Patty Perillo, vice president for student affairs, emphasized that involving student leaders in University of Maryland’s agenda-setting process is a part of what it means to be an educational institution.

“We are committed to developing students as

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“War on nature” is “suicide” and climate action needs American leadership, U.N. chief says

United Nations – Humans are waging “war on nature,” according to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, and the world is close to a “breaking point” if leaders don’t come together now to change course.

“There is a growing consciousness that the way we are moving is a suicide in relation to the future and to all future generations,” Guterres told “CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil in an interview that aired Wednesday.

The U.N. chief has been warning against the dire impact of climate change for years and made his case in a speech on “the state of the planet” at Columbia University in New York Wednesday.

“Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury; biodiversity is collapsing; ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes; and oceans are … choking with plastic waste,” Guterres said.

In his address, Guterres outlined the needed action: To achieve global carbon neutrality within the next three decades; to align global finance behind the Paris Agreement, “the world’s blueprint for climate action”; and to “deliver a breakthrough on adaptation to protect the world … from climate impacts.”

Guterres calls for more conservation areas that are “biodiversity-positive” for agriculture and fisheries. He also urges a phasing out of negative subsidies – subsidies that destroy healthy soils, pollute waterways and deplete the fish in the oceans – and a shift away from unsustainable extractive resource mining and toward more sustainable consumption patterns.

And, focusing on the role of the environment in the pandemic, Guterres pointed to a startling fact: “75% of new and emerging human infectious diseases are zoonotic,” he says, meaning they come from animals. He warns that with “people and livestock encroaching further into animal habitats and disrupting wild spaces, we could see more viruses and other disease-causing agents jump from animals to humans.”

Despite a temporary drop in emissions due to the COVID-19 lockdown, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases remain at record highs, committing the planet to further warming for many generations to come because of the long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to a new World Meteorological report released on Wednesday. 

“The past decade was the hottest in human history,” Guterres said. “Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal.”

Guterres spoke with Dokoupil from U.N. Headquarters in New York as part of “Covering Climate Now,” an initiative of more than 400 news outlets dedicated to explaining the dangers of a warmer earth. Here are excerpts of their conversation:

Tony Dokoupil: Mr. Secretary General, you are preparing a major address on climate change. It is called the State of the Planet. So let’s begin there. What is the state of the planet?

Antonio Guterres: We are at war with nature. And this creates the serious risk to have a broken planet as we move on towards the end of the century. We are still in line with an increase of temperature of 3° to 5° [Celsius] in the end of

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The Energy 202: In an unusual move, Trump administration will protect a pine tree due to climate change

Granting federal protections to the tree is a “watershed decision,” said Diana Tomback, professor of integrative biology at the University of Colorado at Denver who has studied the tree for decades.

The whitebark pine’s habitat spans over 80 million acres across seven states and Canada. In its official filing, the agency acknowledged that rising temperatures are pushing the high-elevation tree’s habitat up to higher altitudes, hurting the chances of survival for a pine whose nutritious seeds provide sustenance for everything from red squirrels to black bears.

“It’s found over the largest geographic area of any other tree listed,” she added.

The decision to declare the tree endangered due to climate change is an unusual one for an administration that often dismisses that threat.

“It tells you how significant and obvious the threat is,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which first petitioned for the pine to be protected in 2008. 

The tree is also a key food source for grizzlies that raid pine seeds stored by squirrels when bulking up for winter. Giving threatened status to the pine could complicate efforts to remove grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list. 

In 2017, wildlife officials said the bear had recovered. But a federal judge in Montana reversed that decision the following year.

The listing may also have implications for loggers who would have to work around the protected pine on U.S. Forest Service land. About 88 percent of the tree’s range in the United States is on land managed by the federal government. 

Several other factors weigh against the long-term survival of the species.

The trees are vulnerable to a foreign fungal infection, which took root in North America a century ago, as well as to native beetles that burrow into the bark of pine trees. 

And more frequent and ferocious fires — themselves fueled by climate change — are also scorching the pine and its habitat.

Declaring a species endangered without designating critical habitat for it is “just inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act,” said Riley with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But the Fish and Wildlife Service said doing so was “not prudent” in this case because “the primary stressor” for the pine is the fungus — not habitat loss.

“A cynical view might be that they pushed this listing forward to dictate how this listing happens,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, noting that Joe Biden will become president next month.

Power plays

Trump is looking to support mining through a loan program the administration had previously tried to nix.

The Energy Department announced Tuesday that it would give preference to projects involving the mining of critical minerals for an existing loan program meant for clean energy. The move is part of a broad push by the Trump administration to expand domestic production of minerals such as lithium, chromium, cobalt, helium and vanadium, Bloomberg News reports.

“The loan program

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What will the climate be like when Earth’s next supercontinent forms?

What will the climate be like when Earth’s next supercontinent forms?
How land could be distributed in the Aurica supercontinent (top) versus Amasia. The future land configurations are shown in gray, with modern-day outlines of the continents for comparison. Credit: Way et al. 2020

Long ago, all the continents were crammed together into one large land mass called Pangea. Pangea broke apart about 200 million years ago, its pieces drifting away on the tectonic plates—but not permanently. The continents will reunite again in the deep future. And a new study, which will be presented December 8 during an online poster session at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that the future arrangement of this supercontinent could dramatically impact the habitability and climate stability of Earth. The findings also have implications for searching for life on other planets.

The study, which has been submitted for publication, is the first to model the climate on a supercontinent in the deep future.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what the next supercontinent will look like or where it will be located. One possibility is that, 200 million years from now, all the continents except Antarctica could join together around the north pole, forming the supercontinent “Amasia.” Another possibility is that “Aurica” could form from all the continents coming together around the equator in about 250 million years.

In the new study, researchers used a 3-D global climate model to simulate how these two land mass arrangements would affect the global climate system. The research was led by Michael Way, a physicist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, an affiliate of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

The team found that, by changing atmospheric and ocean circulation, Amasia and Aurica would have profoundly different effects on the climate. The planet could end up being 3 degrees Celsius warmer if the continents all converge around the equator in the Aurica scenario.

In the Amasia scenario, with the land amassed around both poles, the lack of land in between disrupts the ocean conveyor belt that currently carries heat from the equator to the poles. As a result, the poles would be colder and covered in ice all year long. And all of that ice would reflect heat out into space.

What will the climate be like when Earth’s next supercontinent forms?
Distribution of snow and ice in winter and summer on Aurica (left) and Amasia. Credit: Way et al. 2020

With Amasia, “you get a lot more snowfall,” explained Way. “You get ice sheets, and you get this very effective ice-albedo feedback, which tends to lower the temperature of the planet.”

In addition to cooler temperatures, Way suggested that sea level would probably be lower in the Amasia scenario, with more water tied up in the ice caps, and that the snowy conditions could mean that there wouldn’t be much land available for growing crops.

Aurica, by contrast, would probably be a bit beachier, he said. The land concentrated closer to the equator would absorb the stronger sunlight there, and there would be no polar ice caps to reflect heat out of Earth’s atmosphere—hence the higher global temperature.

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Examining climate effects of regional nuclear exchange

Examining climate effects of regional nuclear exchange
Atmospheric black carbon is shown at one month (left), six months (middle) and 12 months after the nuclear exchange. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

A team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers has found that the global climatic consequences of a regional nuclear weapons exchange could range from a minimal impact to more significant cooling lasting years.

The five LLNL scientists examined the potential for global climate changes from large urban fires ignited in a hypothetical regional nuclear exchange of 100 15-kiloton nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan.

This scenario, which has been examined in several other recent studies, was evaluated by Lab scientists using two high-fidelity models for the first time and took new factors into account.

“One of the new aspects of our work is that we examined the dependence of the climate effects on different amounts of fuel available at the location of the detonation and subsequent fire,” said LLNL mechanical engineer Katie Lundquist, the leader of the study and a co-author of the team’s paper.

The team considered a range of possibilities for fuel loading at the site of the fire and plume characteristics, such as smoke composition and aerosol properties, resulting in an improved understanding of model sensitivity to these factors.

The team’s paper was published last week in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

It is believed that if the detonation of multiple nuclear weapons causes large fires, the smoke emission could block sunlight and affect the global climate.

In their study, the Livermore scientists simulated the global climate impact using new models for predicting the fire-driven plumes of soot to the top of the troposphere and beyond. They found that when smoke from the fires remains in the lower troposphere (which has a height of about six to 11 miles), it is quickly removed and the climate impact is minimal.

However, when fires inject smoke into the upper troposphere or higher, more smoke is transported to the stratosphere (the layer from the troposphere up to a height of about 30 miles), where enough light is blocked to cause global surface cooling.

“Our simulations show that the smoke from 100 simultaneous firestorms would block sunlight for about four years, instead of the eight to 15 years predicted in other models,” the Livermore researchers wrote.

They believe that in this case, the blocked sunlight would likely cause a 1 to 1.5 degrees Kelvin global average peak cooling for about four years, Lundquist said.

In studying fuel load impact on the global climate, the team found that if there were only fires in suburban areas, there would be little to no effect on the climate. Conversely, they concluded that fires in densely populated urban areas could produce a cooling three times the impact of the 1991 eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines.

Individual fire plumes are modeled using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model and the climate response is predicted by injecting the

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McGill University’s redesigned MBA program equips students to lead in shifting business climate

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, what works today will not always work tomorrow,” said Professor John-Paul Ferguson, Academic Director of the MBA program. “At the Desautels Faculty of Management, we are in close communication with industry leaders who are searching for candidates to help them build more resilient, future-ready companies. Our newly designed MBA program gives students the right blend of skills and experience to answer the call.”

Traditionally, most MBA students relied on their degree to reach the next level within their company or industry. Today, an increasing number of students enroll in the MBA program to change industry, relaunch their career in another country, or prepare to start their own business. “Our redesigned MBA responds to changing student needs as well as to market demand,” said Ferguson. “The average MBA student has changed significantly in the past 15 to 20 years.” The Faculty’s one- or two-year program options, which differ in length depending on whether students do an internship, are designed to meet more diverse student needs.

The Desautels MBA program helps students gain a competitive edge through offering flexible, personalized specializations in fields such as financial technology and data analytics. As Montreal emerges as a global hotspot for AI and machine learning, the Faculty capitalizes on its strong industry ties to give MBA students unparalleled access to learning opportunities in the field.

The redesigned MBA program also acknowledges the growing number of students who want to use their degree to make a social impact. “Our students aren’t just thinking about how to climb the corporate ladder,” said Ferguson. “They want to leverage their skills to make a real change in their communities.” The redesigned MBA program incorporates sustainability themes into its core classes, ensuring that every MBA student grapples with themes of environmental, social, and economic sustainability by the time they graduate. “To lead in this uncertain economic climate, our students need to be equipped to develop business practices that are viable and beneficial in the long term,” said Ferguson.

As the world experiences a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, MBA students at the Desautels Faculty of Management prepare to join and create companies with a mounting set of challenges. “Our job is to form leaders with the agility to navigate an uncertain future,” said Ferguson. “The redesigned MBA program is a major step in the right direction.”  

About McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management:

Founded in Montreal in 1821, McGill is a leading Canadian post-secondary institution with 300 programs of study and over 40,000 students from over 150 countries around the world. Since 1906, McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management has continued to be one of the top management schools in the world, offering programs at the undergraduate, masters, doctorate, and executive levels. The Faculty emphasizes the integration of teaching, research and practice, and applies a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to identifying opportunities and solving problems. Find out more.


Major changes to the redesigned MBA will include:

  • Program length options of one or
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Sea Angels and Sea Butterflies Reveal Climate Change Consequences

These winged water-dwellers are sea angels, floating marine slugs that may be the “canary in the coal mine” for severe ocean acidification caused by modern global warming.

Sea angels and their fluttering counterparts, sea butterflies, are pteropods. Pteropods first evolved in the early Cretaceous period, sharing the planet with dinosaurs and ammonites. The marine slugs are ancient and remarkably resilient; they have survived periods of major global extinctions and environmental changes, according to a study published in October 2020 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, they are the only living creature of their kind with a solid fossil record, so they are uniquely situated to help researchers determine the effects of global change on the marine environment.

Modern global warming is rapidly accelerating and creating new challenges for these creatures. As higher concentrations of carbon dioxide build up in the ocean and the waters acidify, greater damage is occurring to marine ecosystems, including the reduction of biodiversity in coral reefs and the hampering of animals’ metabolisms. Changes to the current health of marine creatures like pteropods indicate the growing instability of their oceanic environment.

“Although our results suggest resilience of pteropods to past ocean acidification, it is unlikely that they have ever, during their entire evolutionary history, experienced global change of the magnitude and speed that we see today,” researchers wrote in their paper.

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How will sharks respond to climate change? It might depend on where they grew up

How will sharks respond to climate change? It might depend on where they grew up
The smaller egg to the left is from Port Jackson sharks near Adelaide, while the right egg is from sharks in Jervis Bay. Credit: Connor Gervais, Author provided

They may have been around for hundreds of millions of years—long before trees—but today sharks and rays are are among the most threatened animals in the world, largely because of overfishing and habitat loss.

Climate change adds another overarching stressor to the mix. So how will sharks cope as the ocean heats up?

Our new research looked at Port Jackson sharks to find out. We found individual sharks adapt in different ways, depending where they came from.

Port Jackson sharks from cooler waters in the Great Australian Bight found it harder to cope with rising temperatures than those living in the warmer water from Jervis Bay in New South Wales.

This is important because it goes against the general assumption that species in warmer, tropical waters are at the greatest risk of climate change. It also illustrates that we shouldn’t assume all populations in one species respond to climate change in the same way, as it can lead to over- or underestimating their sensitivity.

But before we explore this further, let’s look at what exactly sharks will be exposed to in the coming years.

An existential threat

In Australia, the grim reality of climate change is already upon us: we’re seeing intense marine heat waves and coral bleaching events, the disappearance of entire kelp forests, mangrove forest dieback and the continent-wide shifting of marine life.

The southeast of Australia is a global change hotspot, with water temperatures rising at three to four times the global average. In addition to rising water temperatures, oceans are becoming more acidic and the amount of oxygen is declining.

Any one of these factors is cause for concern, but all three may also be acting together.

One may argue sharks have been around for millions of years and survived multiple climate catastrophes, including several global mass extinctions events.

To that, we say life in the anthropocene is characterised by changes in temperature and levels of carbon dioxide on a scale not seen for more than three million years.

Rapid climate change represents an existential threat to all life on Earth and sharks can’t evolve fast enough to keep up because they tend to be long-lived with low reproductive output (they don’t have many pups). The time between generations is just too long to respond via natural selection.

Dealing with rising temperatures

When it comes to dealing with rising water temperature, sharks have two options: they can change their physiology to adapt, or move towards the poles to cooler waters.

Moving to cooler waters is one of the more obvious responses to climate change, while subtle impacts on physiology, as we studied, have largely been ignored to date. However, they can have big impacts on individual, and ultimately species, distributions and survival.

We collected Port Jackson sharks from cold water around Adelaide and warm water in Jervis Bay.

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Jaguars robust to climate extremes but lack of food threatens species

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A new QUT-led study has found wild jaguars in the Amazon can cope with climate extremes in the short-term, but numbers will rapidly decline if weather events increase in frequency, diminishing sources of food.

Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen and Professor Kevin Burrage led a team of researchers in a world-first investigation of the big cat’s chances of survival.

The new research results have been published in Ecology and Evolution.

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the dominant predator in Central and South America and is considered a near-threatened species by the International Union Conservation Nature.

Research main points:

  • Results are concerning for future viability of jaguar populations in Peruvian Amazon.
  • Stochastic statistical temporal model of jaguar abundance considers six population scenarios and estimates of prey species.
  • Jaguar diet includes white lipped peccary, collared peccary, red brochet deer, white tailed deer, agouti, paca and armadillo.
  • Species exhibit some robustness to extreme drought and flood, but repeated exposure can result in rapid decline.
  • Predictions show species can recover- at lower numbers—if there are periods of benign climate patterns.
  • Modelling provides framework to evaluate complex ecological problems using sparse information sources.

Professor Mengersen said the Pacaya Semiria Reserve covers 20,800 km2 in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon, comprised of mostly primary forest.

“Estimates of jaguar numbers are difficult to achieve because the big cats are cryptic by nature, are not always uniquely identifiable, and their habitat can be hostile to humans,” Professor Mengersen said.

Credit: Queensland University of Technology

The project drew on information gathered during a 2016 trip to the remote reserve, as well as a census study based on camera traps and scat analysis, jaguar ecology, and an elicitation study of Indigenous rangers in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.

Six jaguar population scenarios were analysed mapping the jungle creature’s solitary behaviour, mating, births of cubs at certain times of the year, competition, illegal hunting, death from starvation and availability of key prey.

Professor Kevin Burrage cautioned the predicted results for the jaguars in the long-term were concerning.

“Our results imply that jaguars can cope with extreme drought and flood, but there is a very high probability that the population will crash if the conditions are repeated over short time periods. These scenarios are becoming more likely due to climate change,” he said.

“The declines may be further exacerbated by hunting of both jaguars and their prey, as well as loss of habitat through deforestation.”

Professor Burrage said scenario 1 estimated the jaguar population at 600-700 assuming stable prey availability while scenario 6 was an extreme case with drought and flood occurring every other year.

“In this worst-case scenario, prey levels could not recover, and jaguar populations was predicted to drop to single figures in 30 years’ time,” Professor Burrage said.

In addition to Professors Mengersen and Burrage, researchers involved in the study included Professor Erin Peterson, Professor Tomasz Bednarz, Dr. Pamela Burrage, Dr. Julie Vercelloni and June Kim based at the ARC Centre of

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