Science & Nature
Saturday, January 27, 2018 - February 2, 2018
Low oxygen levels, coral bleaching getting worse in oceans
July 2010 photo provided by NOAA shows bleached corals at Koh Racha Yai,
Thailand. A study released on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 finds that severe
bleaching outbreaks are hitting coral reefs four times more often they
used to a few decades earlier. (Mark Eakin/NOAA via AP)
- Global warming is making the world’s oceans
sicker, depleting them of oxygen and harming delicate coral reefs more
often, two studies show.
The lower oxygen
levels are making marine life far more vulnerable, the researchers said.
Oxygen is crucial for nearly all life in the oceans, except for a few
“If you can’t
breathe, nothing else matters. That pretty much describes it,” said
study lead author Denise Breitburg, a marine ecologist at the
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “As seas are losing oxygen,
those areas are no longer habitable by many organisms.”
She was on a team
of scientists, convened by the United Nations, who reported that the
drop in oxygen levels is getting worse, choking large areas, and is more
of a complex problem than previously thought. A second study finds that
severe bleaching caused by warmer waters is hitting once-colorful coral
reefs four times more often than they used to a few decades ago. Both
studies are in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.
When put all
together, there are more than 12 million square miles (32 million square
kilometers) of ocean with low oxygen levels at a depth of several
hundred feet (200 meters), according to the scientists with the Global
Ocean Oxygen Network. That amounts to an area bigger than the continents
of Africa or North America, an increase of about 16 percent since 1950.
Their report is the most comprehensive look at oxygen deprivation in the
“The low oxygen
problem is the biggest unknown climate change consequence out there,”
said Lisa Levin, a study co-author and professor of biological
oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
researchers have seen coastal “dead zones” from fertilizer pollution
from farms before, as well as areas of low oxygen in open ocean blamed
on warmer waters, but this study shows how the two problems are
interconnected with common causes and potential solutions.
“Just off Southern
California, we’ve lost 20 to 30 percent of our oxygen off the outer
shelf,” Levin said. “That’s a huge loss.”
Some low oxygen
levels in the world’s ocean are natural, but not this much, Breitburg
said. A combination of changes in winds and currents - likely from
climate change - is leaving oxygen on the surface, and not bringing it
down lower as usual. On top of that, warmer water simply doesn’t hold as
much oxygen and less oxygen dissolves and gets into the water, she said.
“Oxygen loss is a
real and significant problem in the oceans,” said University of Georgia
marine scientist Samantha Joye, who wasn’t part of the study but praised
it. Levels of ocean oxygen are “changing potentially faster than higher
organisms can cope.”
In a separate
study, a team of experts looked at 100 coral reefs around the globe and
how often they have had severe bleaching since 1980. Bleaching is caused
purely by warmer waters, when it’s nearly 2 degrees (1 degree Celsius)
above the normal highest temperatures for an area.
In the early 1980s,
bleaching episodes would happen at a rate of once every 25 to 30 years.
As of 2016, they now are happening just under once every six years, the
quite killing the delicate corals, but making them extremely sick by
breaking down the crucial microscopic algae living inside the coral.
Bleaching is like “ripping out your guts” for coral, said study
co-author Mark Eakin, coordinator of the Coral Reef Watch program for
the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Guam has been one
of the hardest places hit with eight severe bleaching outbreaks since
1994, four of them in the last five years, Eakin said. The Florida Keys,
Puerto Rico and Cuba have been hit seven times.
It takes time to
recover from bleaching, and the increased frequency means coral doesn’t
get the chance to recover before the next outbreak, Eakin said.
Only six of the 100
coral reefs weren’t hit by severe bleaching: four around Australia, one
in the Indian Ocean and another off South Africa.
climate scientist Kim Cobb, who studies reefs but wasn’t part of this
international team, applauded the research and said that as the world
warms more there will be “profound and lasting damage on global reefs.”
Update January 20, 2018 - January 26, 2018
Real weather term “bomb cyclone” blows up on social media
person walks in the snow on King Street in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday,
Jan. 3, 2018. A brutal winter storm smacked the coastal Southeast with a
rare blast of snow and ice, hitting parts of Florida, Georgia and South
Carolina with their heaviest snowfall in nearly three decades. (Matthew
Fortner/The Post And Courier via AP)
- When it comes to weather, it’s hard to
sound scarier than “bomb cyclone.”
It’s a version of a
real weather term that applies to a massive winter storm that pulled
together off the U.S. Southeast coast. But as fearsome as the storm is
with high winds and some snow, it may not be quite as explosive as the
used the term “bomb” for storms for decades, based on a strict
definition, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason
After it showed up
in a Washington Post story on Tuesday, the weather geek term took on a
life of its own on social media. The same thing happened four years ago
with “polar vortex,” another long-used weather term that was little
known to the public until then.
the technical term. Bomb cyclone is a shortened version of it, better
for social media,” said Weather.US meteorologist Ryan Maue, who helped
popularize polar vortex in 2014.
“The actual impacts
aren’t going to be a bomb at all,” Maue said. “There’s nothing exploding
Storm intensity is
measured by central pressure - the lower the pressure, the stronger. A
storm is considered a “bomb” when the pressure drops rapidly - at least
24 millibars in 24 hours.
This storm dumped
freak snow on the Southeast, and all the way up the coast to Maine, and
delivered near hurricane-force blistering winds. It also ushered in
Bomb cyclones draw
air from polar regions after they leave. In this case, it means extra
cold Arctic air because of where the polar vortex is, Furtado said.
Worldwide, about 40
to 50 “bomb cyclones” brew each year, but most are over open ocean and
nobody but weather geeks notice, Maue said.
“We use the term
bomb,” Furtado said. “We know what it means, but I do think it gets a
little hyped up.”
Update January 13, 2018 - January 19, 2018
Science Says: Why there’s a big chill
in a warmer world
operated binocular is covered with snow on Goat Island at Niagara Falls
State Park in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Almost every
year frigid temperatures transform Niagara Falls State Park into an icy
winter wonderland when the mist of the falls is blown back, freezing on
the landscape. (James Neiss/The Niagara Gazette via AP)
- Anchorage, Alaska, was warmer Tuesday than
Jacksonville, Florida. The weather in the U.S. is that upside down.
That’s because the
Arctic’s deeply frigid weather escaped its regular atmospheric jail that
traps the worst cold. It then meandered south to the central and eastern
And this has been
happening more often in recent times, scientists say.
Why is it so cold?
Super cold air is
normally locked up in the Arctic in the polar vortex, which is a
gigantic circular weather pattern around the North Pole. A strong polar
vortex keeps that cold air hemmed in.
“Then when it
weakens, it causes like a dam to burst,” and the cold air heads south,
said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental
Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.
“This is not
record-breaking for Canada or Alaska or northern Siberia, it’s just
misplaced,” said Cohen, who had forecast a colder than normal winter for
much of the U.S.
Is this unusual?
Yes, but more for
how long - about 10 days - the cold has lasted, than how cold it has
been. On Tuesday, Boston tied its seven-day record for the most
consecutive days at or below 20 degrees that was set exactly 100 years
More than 1,600
daily records for cold were tied or broken in the last week of December,
according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For
Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center,
the most meaningful statistics are how last week’s average temperature
was the second coldest in more than a century of record-keeping for
Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City, third coldest in
Pittsburgh and fifth coldest in New York City.
Is it just the U.S.?
Pretty much. While
the United States has been in the deep freeze, the rest of the globe has
been toastier than normal. The globe as a whole was 0.9 degrees (0.5
degrees Celsius) warmer than normal Tuesday and the Arctic was more than
6 degrees warmer than normal (3.4 degrees Celsius), according to the
University of Maine Climate Change Institute’s analysis.
The cold will
continue and could actually worsen.
What makes the polar vortex move?
This is an area of
hot debate and research among scientists and probably is a mix of
human-caused climate change and natural variability, said Furtado.
Climate change hasn’t made the polar vortex more extreme, but it
probably is making it move more, which makes the weather seem more
extreme, he said.
A recent study by
Potsdam Institute climate scientist Marlene Kretschmer found the polar
vortex has weakened and meandered more often since 1990, but that study
focused more on Europe. Ongoing research shows that there seems to be a
similar connection for more frequent Arctic cold snaps like what the
U.S. is now experiencing, Kretschmer said.
How can it be so cold with global warming?
weather - which is a few days or weeks in one region - with climate,
which is over years and decades and global. Weather is like a person’s
mood, which changes frequently, while climate is like someone’s
personality, which is more long-term, Furtado said.
“A few cold days
doesn’t disprove climate change,” Furtado said. “That’s just silly. Just
like a couple down days on the stock market doesn’t mean the economy is
going into the trash.”
Update Saturday, Jan. 6 - Jan. 12, 2018
Pope Francis needs a microscope to eye Lithuanian crib
(LinkMenu fabrikas via AP)
Vilnius, Lithuania (AP) -
Lithuania has given Pope Francis a Christmas present invisible to the naked
eye: a Nativity scene where baby Jesus is smaller than a human cell.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on Friday
looked through a microscope to see a replica of the crib at Vilnius’s
downtown Cathedral Square, a copy of the nativity scene that was given to
Francis by Lithuanian diplomats earlier this month.
She said it took three months for Lithuanian scientists
and students to create the minuscule crib from a 3D scan of the life-size
crèche, reducing it 10,000 times. Francis plans to visit the Baltics next
Details about Francis’ trip to Lithuania, Latvia and
Estonia have not been released yet but he is expected in the fall of 2018.