Polar Ice Update, Record lows in the Arctic, Record Highs in the Antarctic
October 4, 2012 06:53 AM - ScienceDaily

This September, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the lowest extent in the satellite record, which began in 1979. Satellite data analyzed by NSIDC scientists showed that the sea ice cover reached its lowest extent on September 16. Sea ice extent averaged for the month of September was also the lowest in the satellite record. The near-record ice melt occurred without the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007. In 2007, winds and weather patterns helped melt large expanses of ice. "Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still reached a new record low," said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier. "This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Arctic, as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable." Multi-year ice is ice that has survived more than one melt season and is thicker than first-year ice.

Decaying leaves help scientists understand global carbon dioxide levels
October 4, 2012 05:44 AM - Editor, Science Daily

The colorful leaves piling up in your backyard this fall can be thought of as natural stores of carbon. In the springtime, leaves soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting the gas into organic carbon compounds. Come autumn, trees shed their leaves, leaving them to decompose in the soil as they are eaten by microbes. Over time, decaying leaves release carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. In fact, the natural decay of organic carbon contributes more than 90 percent of the yearly carbon dioxide released into Earth's atmosphere and oceans.

The Browning of America
October 3, 2012 12:34 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

Nearly two thirds of the contiguous United States was experiencing some level of drought by the end of August 2012, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 39 percent of the nation suffered from severe to extreme drought. Though the numbers changed a bit in mid-September, the drought parched much of the interior United States and left both domestic and wild animals scrounging for food. There were also plenty of spectacular wild fires. The browning and withering of vegetation in the United States and northern Mexico is clear in the vegetation anomaly map based from NASA (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites). The map contrasts plant health in August 2012 (the most recent full month available) against the average conditions between 2002 and 2012. Brown areas show where plant growth, or greenness, was below normal; greens indicate vegetation that is more widespread or abundant than normal for the time of year. Grays depict areas where data was not available.

Inuit Face Tensions with Outside World as their environment melts away
October 2, 2012 06:35 AM - Ed Struzik, Yale Environment360

With Arctic summer sea ice rapidly disappearing, the native Inuit of Canada are encountering not only unsettling changes in their subsistence way of life, but also a growing number of outsiders who will further transform their once-isolated homeland. Sakiasiq Qanaq has seen a lot of changes on the north coast of Baffin Island in recent years as the retreat of summer sea ice has continued unabated. But the Inuit hunter has never seen anything quite like this year, when sea ice loss in the Arctic hit a record low. First, the community's spring narwhal hunt, which usually yields roughly 60 of the tusked whales, produced only three. The sea ice was so thin that the Inuit couldn’t safely stand on it and shoot the narwhal as they migrated into Arctic Bay from Greenland through channels in the ice. Then an unprecedented number of killer whales, or orcas — rarely seen in heavy ice — showed up in the largely ice-free water, with Inuit hunters in nearby Pond Inlet observing three pods of orcas that reportedly killed some of the narwhals and scared off the others.

Jatropha can revive degraded land, says study
October 1, 2012 08:31 AM - Megha Prakash, SciDevNet

Large-scale cultivation of Jatropha – known as a potential source of biofuel – can improve the soil quality of degraded lands and address climate change, says a new study. Jatropha curcas seeds yield oil that can be processed into biodiesel, but scientists at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, have found that Jatropha plantations can also sequester carbon in abundant quantities.

Southwest US Forests could suffer greatly as climate warms
October 1, 2012 06:02 AM - ScienceDaily

Combine the tree-ring growth record with historical information, climate records, and computer-model projections of future climate trends, and you get a grim picture for the future of trees in the southwestern United States. That's the word from a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona, and other partner organizations. If the Southwest is warmer and drier in the near future, widespread tree death is likely and would cause substantial changes in the distribution of forests and of species, the researchers report this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Norwegian Arctic Summers Warmest in 1,800 Years
September 30, 2012 10:13 AM - Yale Environment360

Summer temperatures on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the High Arctic are now higher than during any time over the last 1,800 years, including a period of higher temperatures in the northern hemisphere known as the Medieval Warm Period, according to a new study. In an analysis of algae buried in deep lake sediments, a team of scientists calculated that summer temperatures in Svalbard since 1987 have been 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 4.5 degrees F) warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from roughly 950 to 1250 AD. Scientists say this year's record declines in Arctic sea ice extent and volume are powerful evidence that the giant cap of ice at the top of the planet is on a trajectory to largely disappear in summer within a decade or two, with profound global consequences.

Penguin Populations Decline, Become Poster Species for Ocean Conservation
September 29, 2012 10:18 AM - Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM

Penguins have spent years fooling us. With their image seemingly every where we turn—entertaining us in animated films, awing us in documentaries, and winking at us in commercials—they have made most of us believe they are doing just fine; the penguin's charming demeanor has lulled us into complacency about their fate. But penguin populations are facing historic declines even as their popularity in human society rises. Overfishing is decimating some of their prey species, climate change is shifting their resources and imperiling their habitat, meanwhile pollution, such as oil spills, are putting even healthy colonies at risk.

Experts Hope to Establish Congressional Weather Commission
September 28, 2012 02:55 PM - Allison Winter, ENN

From energy freedom to ocean policy focusing on commerce, research, and defense, Congress has appointed a variety of environmental-based commissions in the past two decades. However, one issue that has yet to be addressed is weather—that is until now. Experts are asking Congress to create the first US Weather Commission. This commission would offer guidance of their weather expertise to policy makers who would then be able to make more efficient decisions when it comes to weather-related issues.

Mid-Elevation Mountain Forests are Sensitive to Climate Change
September 27, 2012 10:16 AM - Allison Winter, ENN

Decreased snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is one piece of evidence that climate change is occurring. With this decline, how will mountain biomes be affected and which areas will become most vulnerable to these changes? According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, mid-elevation mountain ecosystems at altitudes between 6,500 and 8,000 feet are most sensitive to affects associated with climate change. The study team used both satellite images and ground measurements to identify the threshold where forests transition from using moisture as their primary source of sustenance to using sunlight and temperature. About half of the mid-elevation forest greenness measured was attributed to the snow accumulations from the previous winter, with the other half due to conditions such as soil depth, soil nutrients, temperature and sunlight.

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