As part of 500 marches worldwide, thousands of people braved rainy weather in the capitol of the United States on Saturday to both celebrate Earth Day and participate in a historic show of support for science. The flagship march in Washington D.C. was one of the largest, but demonstrations were held worldwide on every continent, even Antarctica.
The D.C. march had some of the more high profile speakers, many of whom came from educational, social or professional backgrounds. Topics covered ranged from astronomy to medicine to environmental science. One of the most inspiring speakers was Taylor Richardson, 13, who raised enough money for 1,000 young girls to go to see the film Hidden Figures. Richardson is an aspiring astronaut herself and was so inspired after seeing the film that she wanted to make sure many of her peers had to the chance to do so as well.
There were many astronauts from past and present who joined in on the march: for example, Leland Melvin, known for taking to space his official NASA portrait with his dogs, and Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American engineer who became the first female “space tourist” in 2006. This made her the first Iranian astronaut.
Later in the day Dr. Jon Foley and Dr. Michael Mann spoke about one of the most urgent issues of our time: climate change and humanity’s impact on the environment. Politicians and science-deniers have been working hard not just to discredit the work of scientists, but have questioned the utility of scientists themselves.
Over the weekend, the world marched in order to show their support for these scientists and the important work they do.
There were also a number of guest speakers who spoke about the importance of science beyond the realm of research, highlighting its importance in relation to everyday people’s lives.
The artist, Maya Lin – best known for creating Washington’s Vietnam War Memorial when she was only 21 years old – spoke of her most recent memorial titled “What is Missing?” This installation used science-based artworks to show how close we are to mass extinction.
Of course, there was also the popular science communicator Bill Nye who spoke about the importance of scientific inquiry, discovery and persistence.
Even though the weather was terrible with a lot of rain, the marchers were happy to be there to march for what they believed was important for the world. As for whether they were well prepared for the weather, most people were. After all – science predicted it would rain.
California’s six years of drought has left 102 million dead trees across 7.7 million acres of forest in its wake, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced following an aerial survey. If that is not horrendous enough, 62 million trees died in the year 2016 alone—an increase of more than 100 percent compared to 2015.
In the photo below, all the dead trees are grey or orange.
“The scale of die-off in California is unprecedented in our modern history,” Randy Moore, a forester for the U.S. Forest Service, told the Los Angeles Times, adding that trees are dying “at a rate much quicker than we thought.”
“You look across the hillside on a side of the road, and you see a vast landscape of dead trees,” added Adrian Das, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist whose office is located in Sequoia National Park. “It’s pretty startling.”
Most of the dead trees are located in 10 counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region.
“Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off,” the USFS said.
Some have raised concerns that the staggering number of dead trees can fuel even bigger and more destructive wildfires in the Golden State.
Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack lamented that not enough resources are being invested into forest health and restoration.
“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” Vilsack said in a statement.
Not only that, researchers from the University of Washington found that large forest die-offs—from drought, heat, beetle infestations or deforestation—can significantly impact global climate patterns and alter vegetation on the other side of the world. The study was published this month in PLOS ONE.
“When trees die in one place, it can be good or bad for plants elsewhere, because it causes changes in one place that can ricochet to shift climate in another place,” said lead author Elizabeth Garcia. “The atmosphere provides the connection.”
In October 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared the state’s unprecedented tree die-off a state of emergency. He formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.
However, some experts have suggested leaving the dead trees in the forests. Douglas Bevington, the forest program director for Environment Now, wrote that dead trees are vital to forest ecosystems.
“Dead trees can remain standing for decades or more and a standing dead tree—known as a ‘snag’—provides great habitat for wildlife. Birds and mammals make their homes in openings carved within snags, while wood-boring insects that feed on snags provide the foundation of the food chain for a larger web of forest life, akin to plankton in the ocean,” he wrote.
“From the perspective of the timber industry, a snag in the forest is a waste, so timber companies and the Forest Service have spent decades cutting down snags as quickly as possible,” Bevington continued. “As a result, there is now a significant lack of snags in our forests and this shortage is harming woodpeckers, owls and other forest wildlife. For them, the recent pulse of snag creation is good news.”
Forest Service experts believe that more trees will die in the coming months and years due to root diseases, bark beetle activity or other stress agents. The agency warned that tree deaths are on the rise in northern regions, especially in Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties.
The lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures has added stress to the trees. These factors have made trees increasingly vulnerable to bark beetles infestations and disease.
The November supermoon has gained attention around the world for its beauty, but is also bringing high water to flood-prone regions from South Florida to Maine.
The moon, which follows an elliptical orbit, is at its closest approach to the Earth since 1948. The full moon, in alignment with the Earth and sun, combines with the unusually close distance to create a strong gravitational pull.
In South Florida, where king tides routinely flood low-lying areas, the National Weather Service issued a coastal flood advisory through 4 p.m. Wednesday. The highest tides are expected for Tuesday and Wednesday. Coconut Grove already had six inches of water in the street by Sunday night.
Further up the coast, Jacksonville Beach and Saint Augustine began to flood yesterday as well. Weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce warned that coastal areas in Georgia and South Carolina could be at risk.
Flooding in the Boston area is expected, where the highest tides will come on Tuesday around 11 a.m. Maine is on alert as well. Rain and easterly winds are forecast across the Northeast tomorrow, exacerbating the effects of the the moon and tides.
The sea level along coastal Massachusetts has risen four inches since 1950. Along South Florida, seas may rise 10 inches by 2030 from their 1992 levels. Flooding events in Miami Beach have jumped 400 percent in the past 10 years.
During October’s king tides, Charleston, Savannah and Miami all experienced flooding. It has become routine for saltwater to invade homes and basements and parking garages in South Florida. Fish can be seen swimming in the streets during king tides. Roads get washed out.
During a campaign debate in October, Sen. Marco Rubio denied that climate change has anything to do with sea level rise or Florida’s regular flooding events. Now re-elected for another six-year term, he has refused to meet with 15 Florida mayors who asked in January for a meeting to discuss the climate change risks they are facing.
Scientists expect the supermoon to make things even worse.
“That additional gravitational pull has caused our high tides to be a little bit higher than they would have been without that supermoon,” said Dr. Tiffany Troxler, director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, in an interview with CBS News.
Photographs of the supermoon have been posted since last night as skywatchers enjoy the show. The next time the moon gets this close will be in 2034.
Why is it so warm in northern North America? Usually during this time of year — mid-November — temperatures average as much as 30 degrees colder.
Europe is not seeing a similar warming.
One factor appears to be an unusually large and stable high pressure region that has formed over Canada, keeping normally colder arctic air away. Although the fundamental cause of any weather pattern is typically complex, speculation holds that this persistent Canadian anticyclonic region is related to warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the mid-Pacific — an El Niño — operating last winter.
North Americans should enjoy it while it lasts, though. In the next week or two, cooler-than-average temperatures now being recorded in the mid-Pacific — a La Niña — might well begin to affect North American wind and temperature patterns.
After nearly 20 years, scientists have finished their survey of an area of deep coral reefs in the Hawaiian Archipelago and what they have found is really amazing.
Down past the shallow reefs surrounding the islands, researchers discovered the largest known continuous coral reef system on Earth measuring more than three square miles with some areas showing 100 percent coral cover. The system contains more than twice the number of distinct species that can be found on shallow Hawaiian reefs, and in one spot, nearly every single species they found was unique to that region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Kure Atoll, the northernmost reef in the Hawaiian archipelago, hosts mesophotic reefs with the most species unique to a specific location found in any marine ecosystem on Earth. NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
In recent years, there has been a greater effort to document coral reef ecosystems at depths of 100 feet to more than 500 feet, now referred to as Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs), or “the twilight zone.” Those efforts from a team of geologists, biologists and botanists were revealed Tuesday in the journal, PeerJ.
“What is unique about this study is how vast and dense the coral cover is,” lead researcher Richard Pyle from Bishop Museum in Honolulu told the Associated Press. “Although there was a bit of a hint that corals could survive … down at those depths, these reefs off Maui were far and away much more dramatic both because they were deeper and they had a higher coral cover percentage.”
Mesophotic coral ecosystems, such as this one found at 230 feet in Maui’s ‘Au’au Channel, are populated with many of the same fish species found on shallow reefs. NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
Expeditions to discover and investigate MCEs were challenging in the past because they are too deep to reach using traditional scuba gear, and too shallow to justify the cost—between $30,000 to $40,000 a day—for most deep-diving remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and submersibles.
However, NOAA said advances in undersea technologies in the past decade now make it possible to investigate these ecosystems.
In this study, scientists used a rebreather, which recycles the helium that’s mixed in with a scuba tank’s oxygen. With this system, divers can manage to stay submerged for seven hours, which is necessary when you have to ascend slowly to avoid the bends, Wired reported. They also used NOAA-funded submersibles that carried extra tanks and helped illuminate the area.
Much of what researchers know about coral reef ecosystems comes from those in shallow water, and what they’ve seen up until this point is discouraging. Overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate change have threatened coral reef ecosystems worldwide, which are being obliterated due to bleaching.
Scientists now hope that increased knowledge of MCEs will help characterise the health of coral reefs in general, particularly in the face of increasing stress.
“With coral reefs facing a myriad of threats, these findings are important for understanding, managing and protecting coral reef habitat and the organisms that live on them,” Kimberly Puglise, an oceanographer with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said. “Some species studied can live in both shallow and mesophotic reefs, and the species could potentially replenish each other if one population is overexploited.”