East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Climate Warming Mixing Snow and Common Leopard Territories



These cats may melt away like the Himalayan snows
As the Earth’s climate continues to warm, there will be winners and losers. Animals researchers in Asia have found a troubling change at high altitude. Common leopards have been photographed in what has been exclusive territory of the snow leopard.

Chinese scientists using a camera trap witnessed a female common leopard and her cub and, at a different time, a snow leopard. In the past, the snow leopards had nearly exclusive use of territory above 3 000 metres. Observers in Nepal have reported sightings of the two cats in the same territory.
Snow leopards are listed as endangered with estimated numbers between 3500 and 7000. They are prized by poachers. If the tree line continues upward in elevation, it is feared that the elusive cat will have its territory squeezed and fragmented. They are particularly adapted to the rocky, treeless heights.

Poaching and habitat change threaten the cats directly, but hunting and poaching of prey animals deprive the cats of their food. The leopards sometimes attack and eat domestic animals and earn the ire of the herders who kill the cats to protect their animals.

Mining is increasingly a threat. Snow leopards are shy and elusive, usually steering clear of humans and their activities. Mining activities, especially strip mines are particularly destructive to their habitat.

Resources:
BBC News         

Snow Leopard Trust            

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

You are what you eat and same goes for bacteria


We are part of the Carbon Cycle
Many of us take soil for granted. Those who live in a city rarely encounter soil except in artificial ways, yet soil microbes are essential to maintain life as we know it on Earth. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory(U of Chicago) have been studying how soil bacteria utilize various forms of carbon.

The bacteria studied were anaerobic or non-oxygen using bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria were provided with three different types of carbon – glucose, lactate and acetate. Glucose is the most complex of the three. The researchers found that when the soil bacteria were provided with glucose as an energy source, they produced the most complex substances as by products.

This is important because by producing more complex by products a more complex community of microbes could live in the soil, adding further break down products and even more complexity to the soil.

Complex plants, many of which provide food for humans need complex soil to grow well. While artificial nutrients can be added to artificially grown plants, the majority of food crops are grown in soil, outside and dependent on the soil for their nutrition.

 “We’ve illustrated that as microorganisms alter their environment, their environment then affects the type of microorganisms that are there and their activity.” Argonne researcher

Farmers will be facing many challenges as the Earth’s climate changes. Heat or lack of it affects microbial growth. Some farmers have opted to use pesticides and herbicides on their fields inadvertently affecting the microbial communities. With this latest research a little more information is now available about these tiny engineers of the carbon cycle.

Further Reading:

Argonne National Laboratory            

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Giant ice shelf in Antarctic set to travel


Larsen C Ice-Shelf set to depart Antarctica



A massive ice shelf in Antarctica is getting ready to float free from that continent. It has been compared in size to the American state of Rhode Island. It represents about 2300 square miles of ice. It’s a 1000 foot thick slab of ice.

Cracks in the Larsen Ice Shelf first started showing up in 2011, widened in early 2016 and are now about 300 feet wide along a 70 mile stretch. Scientists are unsure when it will break free to drift north and melt, taking months to melt completely. It is not expected to raise the oceans’ level because this portion of the ice shelf was already floating.

Scientists are not in full agreement as to the fate of the ice resting behind the currently collapsing ice. The general consensus is that it is fairly stable and will not quickly follow but scientists thought that when Larsen B collapsed a dozen years ago that the ice behind it would not follow. It did and quickly added to the world’s sea levels.

It is estimated that if the rest of the Larsen C ice formation flows into the Weddell Sea it will raise the sea levels by approximately four inches(9 cm).

As the climate of Earth warms, more of the water locked in the polar regions melts. The best data available pegs the ocean level rise since 1880 at about eight inches on average. This exposes the coast lines to more storm surges and flooding as well as salt incursion into coastal fresh water tables. Millions of people will have their lives impacted by the changing coastlines.

2016 was the hottest, on average, since records were kept. 2015 was the hottest before that.

Further Reading:

Surging Seas                                

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Hurricane Patricia a record setter


B. McPherson

Hurricane Patricia heralded in the storm season for the eastern Pacific by setting new records. Patricia used the very warm waters of the eastern Pacific to fuel a category 5 monster. It grew rapidly from a tropical blip on the radar to a full-fledged hurricane in fewer than 36 hours. Wind gusts of 320 km/ hour(200 m/hr) were recorded.
The west coast of Mexico braced for a slamming. The area is very popular with N. American tourists. Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo were in its predicted path. Flights were cancelled and shelters were made ready. A state of emergency was declared. Harbours were shut down.
Then Mexico got as lucky as they could in the situation. The centre of the storm made landfall between the two towns in an area sparsely settled. The area got torrential rains and landslides but the expected catastrophe didn’t happen.
The mountains of Mexico disrupted the hurricane and weakened the winds, leaving heavy rains in its path. By morning Saturday the system was over eastern Mexico. The system just as quickly lost energy and was downgraded to a tropical depression.
By late afternoon Saturday Patricia had become a remnant low. Her life span was less than a day but during that time she set several records. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the eastern Pacific. The eye of the storm registered the lowest air pressure recorded. And it was the fastest intensifying hurricane in the western hemisphere.
No deaths have been reported due to the storm. Two people died during the storm, but one was a confirmed heart attack. This is in sharp contrast to a hurricane that came ashore in the same area in 1959 that claimed 1800 lives. Luck and good emergency preparations are credited with the difference.
The system is moving north west, hitting Texas with heavy rains and flooding. Eventually the weather will lessen as it cools, finishing in the vicinity of the Great Lakes.
Weather systems are predicted to increase in intensity as the Earth warms. With more energy in the system, there is increased potential for superstorms.

Sources:
BBC                      


Hurricane Patricia a record setter


B. McPherson

Hurricane Patricia heralded in the storm season for the eastern Pacific by setting new records. Patricia used the very warm waters of the eastern Pacific to fuel a category 5 monster. It grew rapidly from a tropical blip on the radar to a full-fledged hurricane in fewer than 36 hours. Wind gusts of 320 km/ hour(200 m/hr) were recorded.

The west coast of Mexico braced for a slamming. The area is very popular with N. American tourists. Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo were in its predicted path. Flights were cancelled and shelters were made ready. A state of emergency was declared. Harbours were shut down.

Then Mexico got as lucky as they could in the situation. The centre of the storm made landfall between the two towns in an area sparsely settled. The area got torrential rains and landslides but the expected catastrophe didn’t happen.

The mountains of Mexico disrupted the hurricane and weakened the winds, leaving heavy rains in its path. By morning Saturday the system was over eastern Mexico. The system just as quickly lost energy and was downgraded to a tropical depression.

By late afternoon Saturday Patricia had become a remnant low. Her life span was less than a day but during that time she set several records. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the eastern Pacific. The eye of the storm registered the lowest air pressure recorded. And it was the fastest intensifying hurricane in the western hemisphere.

No deaths have been reported due to the storm. Two people died during the storm, but one was a confirmed heart attack. This is in sharp contrast to a hurricane that came ashore in the same area in 1959 that claimed 1800 lives. Luck and good emergency preparations are credited with the difference.

The system is moving north west, hitting Texas with heavy rains and flooding. Eventually the weather will lessen as it cools, finishing in the vicinity of the Great Lakes.
Weather systems are predicted to increase in intensity as the Earth warms. With more energy in the system, there is increased potential for superstorms.

Sources:
BBC                      


Sunday, 5 July 2015

British Columbia under extreme forest fire hazard


B. McPherson
Sun at 11:30 filtered through smoke and ash
There are those who will say our climate isn’t changing, or if it is, it’s nothing to do with human activity. I’m not a climatologist, but I am an observer. I’ve noticed some things.
On the Vancouver Island we usually have two distinct climatic types. The west coast gets generous(some would say to a fault) rainfall and supports true temperate rainforests. The east coast tends to drier. Down the spine of the island is a ridge of mountains which are usually snow covered until late May.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the mountains got little snow last winter. A ski hill that was used as a practise site during the 2010 Olympics never truly opened due to lack of snow. The lowlands where I live had no snow at all. We had one week of relatively cold weather – we had light frost in the morning.

May was the driest May since records were kept. June was the driest in 50 years. July has started out hot and dry. That alone does not denote climate change. Science looks for patterns and we have a pattern that is a gradual warming and drying.

The forest fire hazard is deemed extreme. Last week, a few kilometres from where I live, a small forest fire broke out. It was human caused albeit an accident. A farmer was working his field when the fire broke out. It was quickly contained and knocked down. There are currently four fires burning on Vancouver Island. A total of eight, all above 10 hectares are currently burning in the Coastal region.

This morning I woke up to a weird yellow light. There was no sun, yet no rain has been predicted. Smoke and ash from a large fire on the BC mainland is drifting west over Vancouver Island. The photo above is of the sun near noon.

No rain is predicted in the weather forecasts.


No water, no life

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Neurotoxin to be sprayed on Washington oyster beds


B. McPherson

Never forget the law of unintended consequences
Washington State has given the oyster harvesting industry the go ahead to spray about 2000 acres of sea bed with imidacloprid to kill burrowing shrimp. Imidacloprid is a neurotoxin that particularly affects invertebrates(animals without backbones).

The state department of ecology has issued permits to spray the mudflats of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. The stated reason is to reduce the population of burrowing shrimp. They are also known as ghost shrimp. The two areas that are to be sprayed with the pesticide are important oyster producing areas. The annual revenue is over US$60 million per year.

The shrimp are feeders of small particles and given a high enough population can compete with other plankton eaters for resources. Burrowing shrimp dig in the intertidal mud flats almost constantly and kick out sand and other detritus. The sediment can cover the very young oysters(spat), suffocating them.

Imidacloprid is the most widely used pesticide in the world. Bayer Crop Science was the inventor of this neurotoxin, but the patent protection has run out so many other companies are now free to make copies.

The pesticide is not without controversy. It is a systemic poison which means that when it is sprayed on plants, the plants take it up into their cells and become poisonous. Those animals that are without backbones – shrimp, bees – are extremely sensitive to the neurotoxin. However it can damage fish which are slightly affected by it, birds which are vulnerable to it and humans exposed can develop troubling symptoms.

The spraying of mud flats will be a novel use of the pesticide. In the past the pesticide carbaryl was used to control shrimp numbers. It is now banned. The oyster growers have tried to control the shrimp numbers by dynamiting their burrows and in another failed attempt, spread a thin layer of cement on top of their burrows. The idea was to suffocate them but the creatures made new holes before the cement hardened.
                             
                                                                                                                                                              
Sources:
Bloomberg         
Wikipedia            
Washington State Dept. of Ecology                

National Pesticide Information Center(Oregon StateUniversity)