Will More Forests Cool The Planet Fast Enough?

Thanks to Fred Pearce, who we normally link to at Yale e360, for The Forest Forecast, an article in the current issue of Science magazine:

Climate change could lead to a net expansion of global forests. But will a more forested world actually be cooler?

These are strange times for the Indigenous Nenets reindeer herders of northern Siberia. In their lands on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, bare tundra is thawing, bushes are sprouting, and willows that a generation ago struggled to reach knee height now grow 3 meters tall, hiding the reindeer. Surveys show the Nenets autonomous district, an area the size of Florida, now has four times as many trees as official inventories recorded in the 1980s. Continue reading

Proto-Peat In The Arctic

PHOTOGRAPH: SANNA PIILO

We have posted enough times about the importance of protecting peat, but this is the first we hear the question Carbon-Rich Peat Is Disappearing. But Is It Also Growing? Our thanks to Matt Simon at Wired for this one:

PHOTOGRAPH: SANNA PIILO

Scientists have discovered “proto-peat” forming in the Arctic as the Earth naturally sequesters carbon, but it could take centuries to mature.

THANK PEAT FOR that scotchy flavor of Scotch whisky: The muck forms in Scotland’s bogs, when layer after layer of dead vegetation resists decay and compresses into fuel, which is burned during scotch distillation. But you can also thank peat for helping keep our planet relatively cool, as all that muck—which is particularly common across the Arctic—traps a tremendous amount of carbon that would otherwise heat the atmosphere. Continue reading

More On Seed Banks

We have featured these banks before, but they are worthy of a more detailed inside look.

So, thanks to by Salomé Gómez-Upegui, Rita Liu and the Guardian. Their article, Seed banks: the last line of defense against a threatening global food crisis is full of images and written descriptions that put these banks in better perspective:

As climate breakdown and worldwide conflict continue to place the food system at risk, seed banks from the Arctic to Lebanon try to safeguard

As the risks from the climate crisis and global conflict increase, seed banks are increasingly considered a priceless resource that could one day prevent a worldwide food crisis. Continue reading

Arctic Heroes

The book is not new, but it is new to us. Ben Taub has brought to our attention this stunning portraiture that, like most great photography, makes you wonder how the artist got the composition just so:

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The Fading Ways of Indigenous Arctic Hunters

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Ragnar Axelsson’s portraits from Greenland reveal the effects of climate change on ice floes, sled dogs, and a traditional culture.

During springtime in the far, far north—when the sun breaches the horizon, after months of total darkness—indigenous Greenlandic hunters head out to frozen inlets and get lost in ice and time. By day, the hunters might move miles in one direction, while the ice under their feet floats gently in another. Continue reading

Other Sides Of Svalbard

Among the land-based activities available on Svalbard, glacier hiking and ice climbing are perhaps the most challenging — and rewarding. Just watch where you put your feet and your ice axe.

Starting 7+ years ago, each previous mention of Svalbard in our pages has focused on the vault until an article two years ago got us to look up and around. Now again this week we have good reason for looking beyond the vault. Marcus Westberg wrote an article, with stunning photos he took, Bearing Witness to Svalbard’s Fragile Splendor:

The strong summer sun melts the top layer of ice on Austfonna, Svalbard’s largest ice cap and Europe’s third-largest glacier, creating myriad gushing waterfalls.

A never-setting sun very quickly muddles one’s ability to tell time. This photograph was taken just before 11 p.m.; without a watch and regular mealtimes I could have easily mistaken it for any other time of day.

To visitors, the Norwegian archipelago can seem both ethereal and eternal. But climate change all but guarantees an eventual collapse of its vulnerable ecosystem.

Mesmerized, I would lean against the railing at the front of the ship, alone, for hours on end. Over the course of 10 days, no two moments were the same. The Arctic world was constantly shifting and changing around me as we slowly made our way through ice and open sea, past whales, walruses, birds and bears.

Except to keep track of mealtimes, watches were irrelevant; in the summer, this far north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never goes anywhere near the horizon. Continue reading

Humanity & Melting History

A mask belonging to the Yup’ik people of Alaska emerging from the permafrost. It is one of more than 100,000 artifacts retrieved from Nunalleq, the site of a village that was attacked by rivals 350 years ago. University of Aberdeen

When I posted about this book yesterday I had the long arc of history on my mind all day, and now this:

As Earth Warms, Human History Is Melting Away

Climate change is revealing long-frozen artifacts and animals to archaeologists. But the window for study is slender and shrinking.

The Langfonne ice patch in Norway. Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council

For the past few centuries, the Yup’ik peoples of Alaska have told gruesome tales of a massacre that occurred during the Bow and Arrow War Days, a series of long and often brutal battles across the Bering Sea coast and the Yukon. According to one account, the carnage started when one village sent a war party to raid another. But the residents had been tipped off and set an ambush, wiping out the marauders. The victors then attacked the undefended town, torching it and slaughtering its inhabitants. No one was spared. Continue reading

Greenland Ends Drilling For Oil

Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Thanks to Ecowatch for publishing this story by Andrea Germanos:

‘Future Belongs to Renewable Energy’: Greenland Ditches All Oil Drilling

Greenland announced Thursday a halt on new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

“Great news!” responded the Center for International Environmental Law.

The government of Greenland, an autonomous Danish dependent territory, framed the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. Continue reading

Above The Northern Ice

Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Quince Mountain

One year ago, when I first encountered Blair Braverman, I did not follow through to find out more. It is easy to remember why because it was the last stretch of pre-pandemia, and it was the last time I travelled, and that last portion of February, 2020, remains vividly clear in my memory.

As it happens this morning, exactly one year later, we are getting on an airplane and traveling from Costa Rica to Ithaca, New York where we will spend a few days taking care of some paperwork that is a legal requirement for operating our businesses in Costa Rica. I would not get on an airplane right now if it was not a legal requirement, and while we are taking all possible precautions it would be impossible not to have the obvious concerns. In that context, hearing Blair Braverman talk about her work in an odd way has a calming effect. And given that yesterday I was reading about life under the southern ice, it is fitting today to share some perspective on life above the northern ice. Click the image above or the title below to go to the podcast for a half hour of pure escape.

Lessons on Resilience From Dogs and Dog Sledders

The adventurer Blair Braverman has led a team of sled dogs over a 900-mile race in Alaska, seen her skin dissolve in the desert and overcome Covid-19. What makes it all less terrifying? Accepting the unknown. Continue reading

Reprieve For Alaskan Nature

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration has held the first oil lease sale in the refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to all those who protested the lease sale in the first place, and to National Public Radio (USA) for providing the welcome news that the protests had their intended effect:

Major Oil Companies Take A Pass On Controversial Lease Sale In Arctic Refuge

Rep. Deb Haaland at a 2018 rally in Washington, D.C., to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

One of the Trump administration’s biggest environmental rollbacks suffered a stunning setback Wednesday, as a decades-long push to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ended with a lease sale that attracted just three bidders — one of which was the state of Alaska itself.

Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation was the only bidder on nine of the parcels offered for lease in the northernmost swath of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. Two small companies also each picked up a single parcel.

Half of the offered leases drew no bids at all. Continue reading

You Can’t Have Your Crabcake And Eat It Too

Pot of red gold … Norway exported nearly $9m worth of king crab in October alone. Photograph: Cultura Travel/Philip Lee Harvey/Getty

Invasive species sometimes lead to creative opportunities, but rarely without some tradeoffs:

Crab-22: how Norway’s fisheries got rich – but on an invasive species

Known locally as ‘Stalin’s Red Army’, an invasion of king crabs from Russia created a lucrative industry, and difficult choices

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Fishermen in Bugøynes were struggling before the crabs marched in from Russia. Photograph: Nadia Isakova/Alamy

The Norwegian fishing village of Bugøynes, 310 miles north of the Arctic Circle and a frigid, dark place for much of the year, was on the edge of ruin.

Work was scarce. Years of overfishing and mismanagement had stymied cod quotas. Boats lay idle in cold waters. Those who chose to stay were forced to rely on what meagre wages they could still muster from fishing and processing. Continue reading

Perils In The Great North

In the summer of 2005 I worked in Yakutia (officially known as the Republic of Sakha). My strongest memory is a week on a boat going from Yakutsk up into the Arctic circle. I can still feel the intensity of the August sun through my sunglasses at midnight, while freezing air pierced my fleece. My project assistant, who was also my translator, helped me understand from the boat’s captain and two crew members that our passage on the Yana River toward the Laptev Sea was getting easier and easier each year. They had all been Soviet naval crew on this river long ago and could remember plenty of Augusts when the northern stretch of this passage was not possible.

Yakutia

I was aware of climate change as a distant calamity that required urgent action, but did not have a clue what it might eventually mean for this location. The funding for our tourism development strategy came from a natural attraction discovered in the permafrost. Our assumptions about attracting nature tourism to this region were clearly rooted in the permafrost. For the following decade, projects we worked on in the region continued with these assumptions, which seems ignorant now.

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In Siberia in late May, thawing permafrost caused an oil-storage tank to collapse, leading to the largest oil spill ever to occur in the Russian Arctic. Photograph by Irina Yarinskaya / AFP / Getty

We have linked out to some of Carolyn Kormann’s various smile-inducing environmental stories, as well as more serious ones. A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic goes darker than her previous darkest, but is a must-read for keeping current on the impacts of climate change in faraway places.

The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. Continue reading

Salmon & Earth’s Fate

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Mark Kurlansky first came to my attention thanks to Seth, whose post I riffed on.  Then Seth pointed this out, and I have been on the lookout ever since. And today I was rewarded when listening to the author discuss his new book. Click any image below to go to that interview.

Web_Large-SALMON_006_campbell Pink salmon school in the deep pools of the Campbell River, before venturing farther upstream to the spawning beds. British Columbia. (Credit: Tavish Campbell) Continue reading

Stop Funding Arctic Drilling

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‘The Arctic refuge is not just a piece of land with oil underneath. It’s the heart of our people; our food security, way of life and very survival depends on its protection.’ Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this op-ed by Bernadette Demientieff:

Goldman Sachs agreed to stop funding Arctic drilling. Will other banks join them?

If banks destroy our homeland, they’ll have the Gwich’in Nation, and the millions of Americans who stand with us, to answer to

Last fall, I traveled more than 4,000 miles from my home in Alaska to meet with major banks and urge them to help protect the Arctic national wildlife refuge from destructive oil drilling and exploration. In all the years I’ve worked to defend this place, we’ve been focused on trying to make our voices heard by leaders in the White House or in Congress, and I never thought I’d be sitting in a conference room on the 43rd floor of Goldman Sachs’ global headquarters in downtown New York, talking about the Arctic refuge. Continue reading

What Climate Change Looks Like

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CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE. The route traveled by the Northwest Passage Project in July and August, from Greenland through the Canadian Arctic. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

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A polar bear in the Barrow Strait. As summer sea ice disappears in the High Arctic, polar bears are losing crucial platforms on which to hunt and rest. ED STRUZIK/YALE E360

You have seen the images, in which polar bears look lost or otherwise in peril. The one from this story, taken by its author, illustrates the central theme of ice receding in the locations highlighted in the map above.

Climate change is at work, 24/7, creating the sense of loss, peril and worse that we have not been shying away from in our pages. We are leaning in to try to understand what changes we can make, and promote, to live and work and play more responsibly. Thanks to Ed Struzik for both the words and images of this article:

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The icebreaker Oden sails through first-year ice in Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic last month. COURTESY OF TOMER KETTER

A Northwest Passage Journey Finds Little Ice and Big Changes

After decades of travel in the Far North, E360’s Arctic correspondent joins a voyage through the Northwest Passage and witnesses a world being transformed, with ice disappearing, balmy temperatures becoming common, and alien invaders – from plastic waste to new diseases – on the rise.

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An abandoned Hudson’s Bay trading post on Somerset Island that was shut down in 1948 because supply ships could not get through the thick sea ice. COURTESY OF TOMER KETTER

Elwin Bay is carved into a steep, flat-topped mountain range along the northeast coast of Somerset Island in Canada’s High Arctic. For as long as anyone can remember, hundreds of beluga whales show up every year on an annual migration from Greenland through Canada’s Northwest Passage. Their fidelity to this site is remarkable given that 19th-century whalers killed more than 10,000 of them there – 840 during one notably gruesome, 17-day stretch – between 1874 and 1898.

Helicoptering over the bay earlier this month with members of a U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored research expedition, we saw too many belugas to count accurately in waters riddled with rapidly disintegrating sea ice. Five hundred? Eight hundred? None of us could estimate with certainty. All we knew was that there were likely equal numbers of whales congregating in similar bays and estuaries, such as Cunningham Inlet, which we sailed past a few days earlier.

Polar bears were there as well — a female and cub in this case, homing in on a dead beluga that had presumably swum too far up the shallow estuary before the tide turned and trapped it. Continue reading

Naughty Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated

Thanks to the Guardian for the latest story in this series. We have avoided adding our voice to the many rightly concerned about the radically pro-extraction, carbon-freewheeling policies of the United States since early 2017. The concern is loud and widespread. We have listened. Today, reading this story, I pictured a naughty boy, a bully, getting away with bad behavior for an extended period. Any period of bad boy behavior is intolerable but it happens. Until it is no longer tolerated. Which eventually always happens. And that may be the best stand-in for optimism these days:

Lost lands? The American wilderness at risk in the Trump era

Exclusive: a new study reveals the vast extent of public lands being opened up to the energy industry. The Guardian heard from three communities on the frontlines

by Charlotte Simmonds, Gloria Dickie and Jen Byers

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Colter Hoyt, an outdoors guide and conservationist, at Grand Staircase-Escalante. Photograph: Charlotte Simmonds for the Guardian

In the great expanses of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, the silence hits you first. Minutes pass, smooth and unbroken as glass. The smallest sound – a breath of wind, a falling rock – can seem as loud as passing traffic.

Colter Hoyt knows this landscape well. As an outdoor guide, he walks the monument almost daily. Yet these days he is full of fear. This remote paradise of red rocks, slot canyons and towering plateaus faces an uncertain future, following a controversial presidential proclamation that removed 800,000 acres from the monument and opened land up for potential energy development.

When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of “American energy dominance”. This would only be possible by exploiting America’s 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country. Continue reading

Mapping Earth’s Remaining Intact Ecosystems

A Xikrin woman walks back to her village from the Cateté River in Brazil. Photograph: Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

Thanks to Lisa Cox, the Guardian’s Australia correspondent for environment, for this:

Five countries hold 70% of world’s last wildernesses, map reveals

First map of Earth’s intact ecosystems shows just five nations are responsible for most of them – but it will require global action to protect them

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Map of the world’s remaining wilderness. Green represents land wilderness, while blue represents ocean wilderness. Photograph: Nature

Just five countries hold 70% of the world’s remaining untouched wilderness areas and urgent international action is needed to protect them, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have for the first time produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity.

It comes ahead of the conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November where signatory nations are working towards a plan for the protection of biodiversity beyond 2020.

Conservationists are calling for a mandated target for wilderness conservation that will preserve the planet’s vulnerable ecosystems. Continue reading

The Picture From The Recent Climate Change Report Is Now More Clear

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Deniers, we already know you will find a way to see this from some other perspective, and we have given up trying to understand why you do that. But for everyone else, there is still time to understand the implications of this science. And there is no shame in using props to help learn. Thanks to Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich for making sure we get the point, with clear graphical illustration, about what this recent study is saying and why every one of us should care:

Heat

Extreme heat will be much more common worldwide under 2°C of warming compared to 1.5°C, with the tropics experiencing the biggest increase in the number of “highly unusual” hot days.

Read the rest of this graphics-rich story here.

The Camera’s Gift To The Task Of Documenting Climate Change

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The safety officer Brian Rougeux assembles a radar dome while working at the research camp above Helheim Glacier near Tasiilaq, Greenland, on June 20, 2018. 
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Alan Taylor, who  compiles and edits the news photo blog “In Focus” for the Atlantic, shares 21 spectacular images with captions that help even a lay person understand better the science of climate change:

Studying Greenland’s Ice to Understand Climate Change

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An iceberg floats in a fjord near Tasiilaq on June 16, 2018. # Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Earlier this year, Lucas Jackson, a photographer with Reuters, joined a team of scientists affiliated with a NASA project named Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) and traveled with it to the Greenland ice sheet and fjords. Jackson photographed the researchers as they set up their scientific equipment and took readings to help understand the ongoing impact of the melting glaciers and map out what to expect in the future. Jackson says: “For both journalists and scientists, climate change is difficult to document. It most often happens imperceptibly—a tenth of a degree increase in temperature, a few less inches of rain, a slowly melting ice sheet.” Continue reading

Author of Extreme Conservation, Interviewed

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We recommend this interview in the Atlantic, with the author of the book above, a veteran conservationist reckoning with his career studying animals in the most extreme places on Earth:

In the winter of 2011, Joel Berger and his colleague Marci Johnson happened upon a ghostly Arctic death scene. Body parts and tufts of brown fur poked out of a frozen lagoon. This was all the biologists could find of a herd of 55 musk oxen they had been following.

The cause of mass mortality, they later determined, was an ice tsunami, the result of an unusual storm that slammed seawater and ice into the lagoon where the unfortunate musk oxen stood. Berger is a conservationist who works in some of the most hostile environments in the world, and he studies the enigmatic species, like musk oxen, that live there. His new book, Extreme Conservation, chronicles his career in Alaska, Siberia, Namibia, Tibet, Mongolia, and Bhutan. He is now a biologist at Colorado State University and a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Continue reading

Why Care About Mosquitoes?

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Thanks to Kendra Pierre-Louis for this explanatory note, which references the article in taking us a step closer to understanding the mystery of mosquitoes’ value to the planet:

The little things that run the polar world

08cli-newsletter-mosquito-superJumbo.jpgAsk just about any human and they’ll tell you that mosquitoes are pests we’d be better off without, especially since some mosquitoes carry deadly diseases. Even many scientists agree: A 2010 article in the journal Nature concluded that a world without mosquitoes would be less itchy and less deadly for us, with few drawbacks for other species, outside of some ecological niches.

One of those niches is the Arctic, where mosquitoes play a bigger role in sustaining the ecosystem but may be threatened by the changing climate, said Lauren E. Culler, a research assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.

“You can collect pollen off of mosquitoes, indicating they may have a role in pollination,” she said. “And we know that they’re also food for other organisms in the food web.” Continue reading