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Ecosystems

Ice melt endangers Arctic mammals
April 2, 2015 02:47 PM - Tim Radford, The Ecologist

Three kinds of whale, six varieties of seal, the walrus and the polar bear all have these five things in common: they are marine mammals; they depend on the Arctic for their survival as species; they are vulnerable; and biologists know surprisingly little about them. And since the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, their future could become even more threatened as climate change increases habitat loss.

Carbon storage in world's biomass is increasing
April 2, 2015 02:08 PM - Steve Williams, Care2

The threat of deforestation is understood as one of the major problems in the world today, but a new study suggests that the total amount of vegetation in the world appears to have increased in the past decade, suggesting a rare ray of light in conservation and climate change news.

The study, which was published late last month in the journal Nature Climate Change, saw researchers from Australia assess the amount of carbon stored in living plant mass, also known as biomass, stored above ground. This is one established way that we can measure not just how much carbon is stored but also the density of biomass in any given area and so provides us with an interesting way of assessing regional and global forest densities.

Plowing prairies for grains
April 2, 2015 09:08 AM - University of Wisconsin-Madison via EurekAlert!

Clearing grasslands to make way for biofuels may seem counterproductive, but University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers show in a study today (April 2, 2015) that crops, including the corn and soy commonly used for biofuels, expanded onto 7 million acres of new land in the U.S. over a recent four-year period, replacing millions of acres of grasslands.

Polar Bears Won't be Satisfied by Terrestrial Foods Alone
April 1, 2015 01:48 PM - USGS Newsroom

A team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any nutritional gains are limited to a few individuals and likely cannot compensate for lost opportunities to consume their traditional, lipid-rich prey—ice seals.

Agricultural contaminant impacts fish reproductive behavior
April 1, 2015 09:40 AM - Monash University

A common growth-promoting hormone used worldwide in the cattle industry has been found to affect the sexual behaviours of fish at a very low concentration in waterways – with potentially serious ecological and evolutionary consequences. Researchers from Monash University, in collaboration with researchers from Åbo Akademi University in Finland,  have found that the steroid 17β-trenbolone – used on livestock to increase muscle growth – alters male reproductive behaviour in guppy fish (Poecilia reticulata).

Large animals are needed to regenerate tropical forests
March 31, 2015 08:51 AM - Alexander Montoro, MONGABAY.COM

Nearly two-thirds of tropical forests in Southeast Asia have been degraded by logging, agriculture and other human uses, and their fauna have been decimated by hunting and the bushmeat trade. But if those degraded tropical forests are to recover naturally, they will need to rely on their remaining large wild animals to disperse large tree seeds, according to a new study. The study published in mongabay.org's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science examined the importance of large mammals such as wild primates, deer, civets, wild pigs, and tapirs to the dispersion of large seeds throughout the Harapan Rainforest of Sumatra, which has been degraded by logging and agriculture. 

New deep-water methane reservoir found deep in the Arctic Ocean
March 31, 2015 07:57 AM - University of New Hampshire via EurekAlert.

Research led by a University of New Hampshire professor has identified a new source of methane for gas hydrates -- ice-like substances found in sediment that trap methane within the crystal structure of frozen water -- in the Arctic Ocean. The findings, published online now in the May 2015 journal Geology, point to a previously undiscovered, stable reservoir for abiotic methane -- methane not generated by decomposing carbon -- that is "locked" away from the atmosphere, where it could impact global climate change.

"We've found an example where methane produced at a mid-ocean ridge is locked up in stable, deep water gas hydrate, preventing it from possibly getting out of the seafloor," says lead author Joel Johnson, associate professor of geology at UNH and guest researcher at the Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. Johnson notes that the findings, which pinpointed a source of abiotic methane ¬produced in seafloor crust, indicate gas hydrates throughout the Arctic may be supplied by a significant portion of abiotic gas.

Oceans' heat-buffering ability may be weakening
March 30, 2015 10:23 AM - Cheryl Katz, Yale Environment 360

For decades, the earth’s oceans have soaked up more than nine-tenths of the atmosphere’s excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions. By stowing that extra energy in their depths, oceans have spared the planet from feeling the full effects of humanity’s carbon overindulgence. But as those gases build in the air, an energy overload is rising below the waves. A raft of recent research finds that the ocean has been heating faster and deeper than scientists had previously thought. And there are new signs that the oceans might be starting to release some of that pent-up thermal to significant global temperature increases in the coming years. 

Shifting temperatures will affect flavors, quality of food
March 27, 2015 10:34 AM - S.E. Smith, Care2

Love scrumptious vegan pizza? You’d better enjoy it while you can, because climate change is moving in to hog a slice. According to an Australian report, Appetite for Change, climate change isn’t just going to decimate existing crops — it’s also going to change the way the survivors taste. And not in a good way. The researchers say that we’re going to be eating increasingly bland, tasteless, mushy food because of the way shifting temperatures are affecting farming, and in fact, it’s already started happening.

Antarctic ice loss is accelerating
March 27, 2015 07:08 AM - British Antarctic Survey

New research published this week in the journal Science Express describes how the ice shelves around Antarctica are thinning and therefore allowing more of the ice sheet behind them to flow into the sea. 

Using nearly two decades of satellite data, the team of international researchers observed an acceleration of ice loss from the continent’s ice shelves, with an increase in loss of 70% in West Antarctica over the last decade. In the Amundsen and Bellingshausen regions, some ice shelves have lost up to 18% of their thickness in less than two decades. 

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