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Global Environmental News

Posted by rdsayler | November 22, 2022

In This Section of SoE Science News:
– Geology Today: 100 Million Years in 20 Seconds
– Geology Today: ‘Phosphogeddon’
– Phantom Forests – Why Tree Planting Projects Fail
– How Heavy Is a Forest? And Why Does It Matter?
– Extinction of the North Atlantic Right Whale?
– What is Cop27 (and why does it matter to you?)

– Sightseeing on the Road to Hell
– Past 8 Years Were the Hottest Ever Recorded
– 20 Climate Photos That Changed the World
– Platypus, Be Dammed
– Exploding a Carbon Time Bomb: Congo Peatlands

– Geoscience: Journey to the Doomsday Glacier 

Plate Tectonics Map
[Simplified map of Earth’s tectonic plates. Source: Wikipedia. Credit: USGS/Scott Nash. License: Public Domain.]

Geology Today: Visualizing Over 100 Million Years of Landscape Evolution in 20 Seconds (Video)Understanding and appreciating geological processes that take millions of years can be difficult without the ability to visualize them. Recently, scientists published a detailed geological model of changes in the Earth’s surface at an unbelievable resolution of down to 10 km. This model not only illustrates how the Earth’s surface has changed over millions of years, but it also shows how sediment has moved and been affected by surface evolutionary processes such as earthquakes, weathering, river flows, etc.

If you have 20 seconds to spare we can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find these models of tectonic plate movements and land surface evolution fascinating. Of the two videos in the following publication, we highly recommend the second one which more clearly depicts the shifting positions of the continents.

See: The Conversation – Scientists just revealed the most detailed geological model of Earth’s past 100 million years 

Algal bloom in Lake Erie
[Algal bloom in Lake Erie. Source: Wikipedia. Authors: Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon – NASA Earth Observatory. License: Public Domain.]

‘Phosphogeddon’ What Happens When the World (and the U.S.) Runs Out of Phosphorus?

Humanity is often faced with paradoxes when it comes to environmental problems. On one hand, excessive use of phosphate fertilizer causes algal blooms and massive dead zones in aquatic habitats and our oceans.

In addition, excessive use of phosphorous contributes to methane emissions, which contribute disproportionately to climate change.

On the other hand, global supplies of phosphorous are limited and some scientists are worried that humanity could face future shortages that can impact critical food supplies and agricultural production.

See: Scientists warn of ‘phosphogeddon’ as critical fertilizer shortages loom – from The Guardian 


Phantom Forests: Why Ambitious Tree Planting Projects Are Failing

You’ve probably heard that planting trees to grow and absorb CO2 out of the atmosphere is one way to combat climate change. You also may have heard of the Trillion Tree Campaign that has the goal of achieving massive reforestation on a global scale by sponsoring tree-planting campaigns around the world.

Here in the WSU School of the Environment, we’ve hosted a great many tree-planting events and activities as we’ve developed the WSU Arboretum, Magpie Forest, and other areas on and near campus. We can personally testify to the somewhat chaotic nature of planting events that may result when large groups of people are enthusiastically putting trees in the ground.

Massively large-scale plantings can be controversial especially when plantings are comprised of trees with limited species and genetic diversity and are poorly sited and maintained. To introduce readers to some of the interesting issues with large-scale tree plantings, we direct you to an introductory article that highlights some of these problems. The story linked below also illustrates some of the problems with “greenwashing.”

In future SoE reporting we’ll then go into much greater detail about forest ecology and restoration, urban forestry, natural solutions for carbon capture and storage, fire ecology, and the ecological and management issues surrounding long-term carbon capture and storage in forests.

See YaleEnvironment360: Phantom Forests: Why Ambitious Tree Planting Projects Are Failing 


[Photo credits: Ponderosa pine tree by Walter Siegmund; source: wikipedia; license: CC BY-2.5]

How Heavy Is a Forest? And Why Does It Matter?

It may seem ridiculous to ask how heavy is a forest. You will immediately imagine that it will depend on how big the forest is. How many trees it contains. What size they are, etc. And as we suspected you would be, you are exactly right. The correct answer is, it depends.

With the world increasingly concerned about measuring and possibly removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, it becomes extremely critical to know how much carbon we have and where it is now. And that brings us back to trees which store an immense amount of carbon.

As governments and businesses look to conserve, restore, and set aside forests as “carbon credits” to demonstrate how well they achieve their future carbon goals, it becomes important to independently verify whether or not carbon emission and storage goals are being met. Marketing hype and pledges are one thing. Reality is another, especially when confronting climate change and a future of increasing heat, drought, and fire.

Consequently, satellite systems and remote sensing applications are increasingly critical to objectively gather and report information about the global environment. The following several stories caught our eyes as they illustrate the potential (and necessity) to monitor carbon stocks in forests and also monitor other important things such as detecting and measuring sources of heavy methane emissions.

See: story from Mongabay – Tracking Carbon Storage in Trees
[Note: Here in the WSU School of the Environment we don’t like to overhype unpublished technology that has not been independently evaluated, however, the above story is useful to illustrate the importance of monitoring carbon storage in forests.]

See: Phys.Org – Detecting Methane Super Emitters 

On the Potential Extinction of the North Atlantic Right Whale

The North Atlantic right whale is highly endangered and reports continue that the population is in decline because of vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. In the first article below, we bring your attention to the last paragraph, which highlights the conflicts between ocean-going commerce and survival of this species of whale.

See: Right whale nearly extinct from vessel strikes, entanglement

For Excellent Background Information on These Whales: NOAA Fisheries – North Atlantic Right Whale

For a sad story about an entangled right whale, see: Snow Cone, the Entangled Right Whale, Unlikely to Be Seen Alive Again  and also see: Thirty-Six Morbidity Cases Added 

Climate poster by the United Nations What Is Cop27 (and why does it matter to you?)

Over the next few weeks the world will be watching what happens at Cop27, where world leaders are gathering in Egypt to discuss how to respond to the global climate emergency. The focus of much attention is on what firm commitments are made by different countries to set definitive (and measurable) goals to combat climate change.

A major ongoing source of debate and disagreement is how and how much money highly developed countries should contribute to developing countries that suffer the brunt of climate change, but have contributed relatively little to the problem.

See: the Guardian – What is Cop27 and why does it matter? 


Photo credit: United Nations poster.

Photo of climate possibilities by the United Nations


Sightseeing On the Road to Hell

It’s never particularly encouraging to hear global leaders, such as António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, say things like:

 “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing… And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

But then, here in the WSU School of the Environment, we specialize in working in the sciences that address global environmental problems. While we encourage you to be well aware of the conflicts among nations struggling to address the climate emergency, as in the story below, we also encourage you to realize that millions upon millions of people are joining forces to create change and make the future world better.

Perhaps some of the advice that we often give to students is appropriate here. Hang tough. You’re not alone. Help is coming!

In our future reporting, analyses, and opinions we look forward to illustrating the many different ways that science, policy, politics, and economics interact to provide guidance about how global society might better address the future.

See: World is on ‘highway to climate hell’, UN chief warns at Cop27 summit 


Photo credit: United Nations poster.

Graph of global temperature anomalies for September

Stating the Obvious: The Past 8 Years Were the Hottest Ever Recorded

If you live anywhere, and that would be anywhere in the entire world, you likely know that the last few years have been unusually to extremely hot. Now it’s official.

The United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued a new report that says that the last 8 years are the hottest ever recorded. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are at record levels in the atmosphere. The rate of increase in methane is the highest on record.

See: Climate crisis: past eight years were the eight hottest ever, says UN


[Photo credits: Global Land and Ocean September Temperature Anomalies; source: NOAA.]


20 Climate Photos That Changed the World

Sometimes you don’t even need technical scientific reports, graphs, and charts to describe the climate emergency. Instead, we direct you to a photographic exhibit:

See: ‘It was like an apocalyptic movie’: 20 climate photographs that changed the world 


[Photo credits: Author – Herbert Ponting (1870-1935); source: Wikipedia; License: CC0, no copyright.]

Photo of wild platypus

Platypus, be dammed1

When people living in the Pacific Northwest think of the controversies surrounding dams and wildlife they will undoubtedly think about dams on rivers, such as the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and salmon trying to return from the ocean to spawn upstream in river tributaries and streams.

However, dams can create problems for other many other species of wildlife in many other locations around the world, including for one of our favorite animals – an electrified, poisonous, duck-billed, glow-in-the-dark mammal that lays eggs.

Good guess. We found the following article on dams and the genetic makeup of platypuses in Australia to be rather interesting.

See: A platypus can glow green and hunt prey with electricity – but it can’t climb dams to find a mate 


[Photo credits: Source: Wikipedia; Author: Klaus; License: CC BY-SA 2.0]

1Okay, we can’t take credit for the title of this story, which appears as a subheading in the above article published in The Conversation.

Photo of African forest elephant

Exploding a Carbon Time Bomb: Destruction of Congo Peatlands

Here in the WSU School of the Environment we like and study wetlands, so we know that peatlands (including bogs, mires or quagmire, moors, muskegs, fens, pocosins, and peat swamp forests) are unique and incredibly important wetlands that store vast amounts of carbon.

In these types of wetlands, dead organic material is only partially decomposed and accumulates over time (e.g., thousands of years) because of the lack of oxygen in the water.

According to the public encyclopedia, Wikipedia, “Globally, peat stores up to 550 Gt of carbon, 42% of all soil carbon, which exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types, including the world’s forests, although it covers just 3% of the land’s surface.”

If these vast stores of carbon were to be released back into the Earth’s atmosphere by digging peat, draining and destroying wetlands, drought and fires, then these ecosystems become a type of “carbon time bomb” and one of the potential environmental “tipping points” that could trigger massive climate change.

That’s why the following article caught our attention.

See: ‘Carbon timebomb’: climate crisis threatens to destroy Congo peatlands 

We also highly recommend a well illustrated, 4-part series of articles in Mongabay on the peatland ecosystem of the Congo Basin: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.


[Photo credits: African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis); Source: Wikipedia; Author: Thomas Breuer; License: CC BY-SA 2.5]

Photo of boat with visitors to Antarctica
[Visitors to Antarctica. Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSDIC). Photo credit. Ted Scambos, University of Colorado Boulder. License: CC BY 2.0]

Geoscience: (Listen to This Story – 42:19) – Journey to the Doomsday Glacier The Thwaites Glacier, part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier” because of its potential for the Thwaites Ice Shelf to collapse within the next 10 years (from 2021) and raise sea levels. Even if the glacier collapses, it will still take an unknown amount of time, 50, 100, 200 years to collapse fully, but developing data to model such glacial ice melt is critical to understanding and predicting future sea levels and impacts on humanity and the natural world.What is it like to try and visit and study one of the most remote, cold, and forbidding places on Earth? The following audio (or text) story in The New Yorker provides insight into the tremendous effort and risk taken by people trying to study in the Antarctic.See: from The New Yorker

See more stories @ SoE Science News