Marine scientists lead comprehensive review of giant clams species worldwide 11 Dec 17;

An international team of marine researchers led by Dr Neo Mei Lin and Associate Professor Peter Todd from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has recently published a comprehensive study on the status of giant clams worldwide. Between 2014 to 2016, the scientists involved in this massive endeavour re-examined and updated the taxonomy, distribution, abundance, and conservation status of all species of giant clams.

The study, funded by the National Parks Board of Singapore, found that the world's largest giant clam species, Tridacna gigas, is the most threatened mollusc. About half of its wild populations are either severely decimated or no longer exist at sites where they were previously found.

Its smallest cousin, Tridacna crocea, commonly known as the burrowing giant clam or boring giant clam, is the least threatened, as it remains relatively abundant in the Indo-Pacific area despite ongoing fishing activities.

The results of the study were recently reported in the 55th volume of a leading marine publication Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review on 22 November 2017.

Taking stock of giant clams worldwide

Giant clams, the world's largest living shellfish, are multi-tasking marine ecosystem engineers who build and shape reefs, filter water, and provide food for fellow reef creatures. They are predominantly found in the Indo-Pacific region, and the largest clam can grow up to one metre long, and weigh over 300 kilogrammes.

Since the mid-19th century, giant clams have been exploited, particularly for food and the curio trade. In the last century, habitat loss, reef degradation, and overfishing for food and shell craft contributed to their depletion. Concerns over the dwindling populations of giant clams, and their threatened status throughout the Indo-Pacific fuelled scientific interest to examine their global distribution and develop measures to conserve them.

In 2014, marine biologists Dr Neo and Assoc Prof Todd embarked on an in-depth study on the 12 currently recognised species of giant clams. They examined online data and publications that date back to the 1900s on the taxonomy of giant clams and their global distribution. They collated the information available on the exploitation of giant clams and the laws that protect them, reviewed the impacts that harvesting rates may have on wild populations, and summarised the outcomes of past and ongoing conservation programmes. They also recruited fellow marine scientists from around the world to assess and cross-examined the information.

The world's largest giant clam at highest risk of extinction

Results from the three-year study showed that a combination of increased commercial demand, coupled with advances in fishing techniques, as well as climate change, pollution, habitat loss and coastal development have all impacted giant clams.

The highest threat of extinction is faced by the only truly gigantic giant clam species, Tridacna gigas, according to findings by the research team. The large size of Tridacna gigas results in the most substantial meat mass for consumption, and the species is easy to be harvested directly from the reef bed. Out of the 31 sites around the world where natural wild populations of Tridacna gigas were known to be present, the species are either severely depleted or could no longer be found at 26 of them. In Singapore, while old records dating back to 1847 mention Tridacna gigas in local waters, there have not been any sighting of it in recent times.

On the other hand, the smallest giant clam species, Tridacna crocea, that measures up to 15 centimetres, is the least threatened, thanks to its small size and burrowing behaviour, which makes it difficult for fishers to remove it from the reef bed where it lives.

Dr Neo, who is from the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS Faculty of Science, said, "We urgently need to step up on our conservation efforts to prevent the larger giant clam species from going extinct. The trends are worrying, so while there may be more of the smaller clam species now, it is only a matter of time before they become endangered too." Dr Neo is also from the St. John's Island National Marine Laboratory and the Tropical Marine Science Institute.

Conserving giant clams

To assist in the conservation of Tridacna gigas, the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines has been culturing giant clam species for the restoration of depleted populations in the Philippines for the last 20 years. The highlight of this programme is the recent appearance of young Tridacna gigas near the area where the parent clams are placed.

Assoc Prof Todd, who is also from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, commented, "The success by the Philippines team provides evidence that, given enough time and local protection, restocked clams can produce local juvenile recruitment. We hope to have similar success while restocking the fluted giant clam, Tridacna squamosa, in Singapore. While this species is not as threatened as Tridacna gigas, its numbers in Singapore are very low and the population is probably not currently self-sustaining."

The restocking project, started in 2011 by Assoc Prof Todd and Dr Neo, aims to increase the numbers of Tridacna squamosa on Singapore coral reefs. Over the past seven years, with funding support from the National Parks Board of Singapore, and the establishment of a fully functional hatchery with microalgal culture facilities and settlement tanks, there has been considerable progress in restocking Tridacna squamosa.

In 2014, NUS researchers reported the successful spawning of some 7,000 healthy fluted giant clam juveniles, and they are being grown in rearing tanks until they mature. In 2016, the team transplanted about 250 hand-reared Tridacna squamosa onto various reefs among the Southern Islands. Researchers continue to monitor these giant clams to assess their growth and survivorship.

"I hope that by highlighting the threat that giant clams face, and demonstrating the success of current conservation measures, we can encourage further restocking efforts and provide a greater push for their conservation," Dr Neo added.

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New app launched to help Singaporeans lead a green lifestyle

Vanessa Lim Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: Finding the location of the nearest recycling point as well as keeping abreast of green activities will soon be easier, with a new app launched by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) on Tuesday (Dec 12).

The SEC Green Map app will have features which will be able to tell you where the recycling bins are as well as details of upcoming green activities, like beach clean-ups and car-free events.

To encourage green living, eco-friendly products will also be showcased on the app.

By the second half of 2018, the app will also be enhanced to include a carbon calculator for individuals to track and calculate their carbon footprint on a daily basis.

The SEC Green Map app will have features such as the location of recycling bins and details of upcoming green activities, such as beach clean-ups and car-free events.
Speaking at the launch of the app, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli encouraged more to adopt a green lifestyle.

“As a small island city-state, Singapore is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Last year was the warmest year on record globally and in Singapore," said Mr Masagos.

"Rising sea levels and intense rainfalls will have real and far-reaching implications."

He added that businesses must also consider the impact of climate change on their operations and develop measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, Singapore has committed to reduce emissions intensity by 36 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

It also aims to stabilise its emissions, with the aim of peaking around 2030.

As part of Singapore's efforts to cut greenhouse emissions, a carbon tax will be introduced in 2019.

This will encourage large emitters to reduce emissions and stimulate investments in clean, low-carbon technologies and market innovation, said Mr Masagos.

The Carbon Pricing Bill, which will set out a framework for implementing the carbon tax, including requirements for measurement, reporting and verification, will be tabled in the first quarter of 2018.

At the same event, the SEC announced that 12 pulp and paper products have been certified under its enhanced Singapore Green Labelling Scheme (SGLS).

The enhanced scheme, launched in January this year, requires companies to meet stricter environmental standards such as haze fighting measures.

The 12 products to receive certification under the enhanced SGLS are all produced by consumer goods company Kimberly-Clark.

The SEC Green Map app is already available for Android users and will be available on the Apple app store before Christmas this year.

Source: CNA/ad

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Bedok Reservoir Road dengue cluster largest seen this year, authorities step up checks

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: Authorities have stepped up checks for mosquito breeding grounds around several blocks at Bedok Reservoir Road, after a rising number of dengue cases in the area.

In a two-and-a-half-month period since the end of September, there have been 57 reported dengue cases in the cluster, which encompasses blocks 713, 715, 716, 717, 718, 719 and 721.

This makes it the largest dengue cluster this year, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Monday (Dec 11), in response to Channel NewsAsia's queries.

NEA said that since the cluster was notified on Sep 30, it has conducted “multiple rounds of inspections in residential premises and outdoor areas”. These include common areas in the estate.

The agency added that its officers have found and destroyed 47 mosquito breeding habitats - 31 in homes and 16 in common areas - since the end of September.

According to its website, Block 717 appears to be the worst hit, with 23 dengue cases. This was followed by Block 716 which had 17 cases.


There are currently four active dengue clusters in Singapore, said NEA on its Stop Dengue Now Facebook page last Wednesday.

On Monday, a Red Dengue Alert banner was put up at a shelter linking blocks 714 and 715 in Bedok Reservoir Road. The alert indicates a high-risk area with 10 or more cases. The same banners were also seen at the sheltered linkway between blocks 717 and 718.

Residents in the affected blocks Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they were concerned about the speed at which dengue has spread. Madam Nor, a resident living in Block 719 with her elderly parents, her two daughters, husband and helper said it was the first time she has encountered a dengue outbreak on such a scale. She has been living in the area for more than 30 years.

“I’m just wondering how dengue numbers have gone up from 10 cases to 50 cases,” she said.

“I think they (NEA officers) have been doing some fogging but it doesn’t seem to be abating.”

Mdm Nor, who lives on the sixth floor, said her family has been taking precautions such as lighting mosquito coils and shutting the windows of their home.

“I was especially concerned about my daughters because it was the exam period and we couldn’t afford for them to be sick. Apart from closing the windows, I would also get my helper to spray insecticide around the house,” she said.

Meanwhile, residents of Block 717, the hardest hit within the cluster, have also been extra cautious. Channel NewsAsia spoke with two residents in the block who contracted dengue in the last two months. Mr Teo, who lives on the 10th floor, said he suspects he was bitten by an infected mosquito while he was jogging. Fortunately, his symptoms were not too serious and he recovered within a week.

But 68-year-old Mohammad Yahya was hospitalised for four days after he came down with dengue in early October. Both residents have since recovered and have taken to applying insect repellent as a precaution.

“We don’t sleep with the air conditioning on, so we apply the mosquito repellent spray before we sleep at night,” Mr Yahya said. He noted that NEA officers have been walking around more frequently and visiting the units to check for stagnant water in bathrooms and plants that may give rise to mosquitoes breeding.

“I myself have a lot of plants outside so I’ve been keeping an extra lookout. After all, it’s not just to protect my family but the neighbours as well,” he said.

NEA urged residents to allow its officers into their homes to carry out indoor spraying. Apart from the banners, it said posters have also been put up at lift lobbies to heighten awareness among residents and members of the public.

“NEA is also working with members of the community from Bedok Reservoir Road to conduct house visits to create awareness and to remind residents to practise the five-step Mozzie Wipeout,” the agency told Channel NewsAsia.

It said pamphlets and insect repellents have been distributed to residents during the visits.

Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, which oversees the area, told Channel NewsAsia it has been working closely with NEA, in areas including “joint operations on the ground and fogging exercises”.

“On a daily basis, our pest control contractor checks for potential breeding sites, and we will continue to conduct chemical oiling to prevent mosquito breeding,” the town council said.

According to the Health Ministry's weekly-published statistics on infectious diseases, there have been more than 2,500 dengue cases so far this year, far fewer than the 12,700 cases seen this time last year.

Source: CNA/mo

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Electric car-sharing scheme launches with 2,000 members

LOUISA TANG Today Online 12 Dec 17;

BlueSG plans to ramp up its fleet from 80 to 110, and have 42 charging stations by the end of the year

SINGAPORE — Singapore launched its first large-scale electric car-sharing scheme on Tuesday (Dec 12), with operator BlueSG announcing more than 2,000 members have registered for the service.

Users will be charged according to how long they use a car, instead of the distance travelled. They may choose between two subscription plans — a “premium” yearly membership plan priced at S$15 a month, or a weekly membership plan with no recurring fees. It takes about eight hours for the car’s flat battery to be fully charged. Drivers will be alerted when the battery level reaches 30 per cent.

“Premium” members pay 33 cents a minute to rent a car, while weekly members pay a higher fee of 50 cents per minute. All users must rent the cars for at least 15 minutes.

As a special launch offer, those who sign up before the end of March next year will get free premium membership for a year.

For a start, there are 80 electric cars and 120 charging points at 32 stations, including heartland areas like Punggol and Bedok, across the island. Twenty-five charging stations will be located in public housing estates, while the other six can be found in the city centre. The remaining one is located in the Science Park.

By the end of the year, BlueSG — a subsidiary of French transportation firm Bollore Group — aims to have 110 cars and 165 charging points at 42 stations. On average, each station will have four charging points.

BlueSG managing director Franck Vitte said it is currently in talks with private developer City Developments Limited and is looking to install charging points at properties such as Republic Plaza.

“We also hope that the establishment of BlueSG’s charging network, and the setting of Type-2 charging as the nationwide standard, will pave the way for greater adoption of electric vehicles in Singapore, as we move towards a greener and more sustainable transport system,” said Land Transport Authority chief executive officer Ngien Hoon Ping.

Drivers can use the mobile application developed by BlueSG to make bookings and reserve a parking lot in advance. The app is currently available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play for Android phones.

A driver can clock up to 250km in a BlueSG car — a two-door, four-seater hatchback — on one full charge of its recyclable battery. The cars also have a built-in system for attaching children’s car seats.

BlueSG aims to put 1,000 electric vehicles on Singapore roads and install 2,000 charging points at 500 stations, with four-fifths of them in residential areas, by 2020. About 20 per cent of the charging points will be available for members of the public to charge other private electric cars.

This will make it the world’s second-biggest electric car-sharing scheme after the one in Paris, operated by Blue Solutions, which has more than 4,000 cars and 6,200 charging points. The scheme has been rolled out in several cities in the United States and Europe as well. Bollore Group owns BlueSG and Blue Solutions.

Subscription plans were opened on Dec 4 for those who wanted to sign up as members. Speaking at the launch held at the Singapore Flyer, Blue Solutions managing director Marie Bollore said she was “extremely encouraged” by the interest in the scheme here.

In comparison, operator Car Club, which was set up in 1997 and has become one of the bigger car-sharing companies here, has nearly 8,000 members, its managing director Gary Ong told TODAY. WhizzCar, another car-sharing firm that started operations in 2003, has more than 3,000 members, said its managing director Ho Kok Kee. Users pay between S$9 and S$15 an hour to use cars from firms such as Car Club and WhizzCar, depending on factors including the model of the vehicle and the duration of use. The operators, which run largely on a subscription model, also levy a membership fee – Car Club’s monthly membership rate is S$10.70, for instance.

In June last year, BlueSG signed an agreement with the authorities to operate its electric car-sharing service here for a decade.

The Bollore Group also plans to deploy other modes of public transport such as the Bluetram in Singapore, and create about 250 jobs in 2021.

The Bluetram, which can ply normal roads and take up to 22 people, will be piloted for two years at Nanyang Technological University starting early next year. There will be two charging stations located on the university’s campus.

TODAY previously reported a delay in BlueSG’s roll-out due to the need to streamline the process for authorisation to build the charging stations, a concept that is new to the market here. Mr Vitte had said various parties, such as the parking agencies and energy company SP Group, also had to be brought together.

BlueSG is also planning to open a Global Innovation Centre and work on research and development projects in the areas of mobility and energy management solutions. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KENNETH CHENG

Singapore's first electric car-sharing service rolls out with 80 vehicles
Afifah Ariffin Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's first electric car-sharing service was officially launched on Tuesday (Dec 12), with 80 cars and 32 charging stations available for public use across the island.

The service, which is provided by BlueSG, is part of Singapore's plans to reduce reliance on private vehicles and encourage the use of public transport.

To use the cars, drivers need to subscribe to the service online or through the BlueSG app. They can either choose to receive a BlueSG member card or register their existing EZ-Link cards which drivers can use to book vehicles and even a parking lot in advance.

Since the app was launched last week, 2,000 users have signed up, said BlueSG, a unit of France's Bollore Group.

Two subscription plans are available - a premium yearly membership which costs S$15 per month with lower rental rates of S$0.33 per minute for a minimum booking of 15 minutes, and a weekly membership plan which does not require any recurring fee but charges S$0.50 per minute.

Taking a BlueSG trip from Toa Payoh to Mohammed Sultan, for instance, would cost premium members about S$5.61, while this translates to S$8.50 for weekly members for the same journey.

BlueSG hopes to roll out 110 electric cars and 42 stations with 165 charging points islandwide by the end of this year. And by 2020, the aim is to have 1,000 cars and 2,000 charging points.

“We are committed to make Singapore the second largest electric vehicle car-sharing service worldwide after Paris,” said Marie Bollore, managing director of Blue Solutions.

“We look forward to working in tandem with the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to achieve urban mobility and a sustainable transport system in Singapore.”

LTA’s chief executive officer Ngien Hoon Ping added: “We also hope that the establishment of BlueSG’s charging network and the setting of Type-2 charging as a nationwide standard, will pave the way for greater adoption of electric vehicles in Singapore, as we move towards a greener and more sustainable urban transport system.”

The Bollore Group, which set up its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore in September, is also planning to launch a Global Innovation Center here to undertake R&D projects in the areas of mobility and energy management solutions.

It is also working with Nanyang Technological University to pilot an electric tram system around the campus in early 2018.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan lauded the BlueSG service as a green initiative that makes better use of resources.

"If Bluesg and similar ideas take off in Singapore, they will help realise our car-lite vision, enhancing our quality of life and making the city more liveable," he wrote.

He added that Singapore can expect to see more electric cars and charging stations and points in future.

Source: CNA/zl

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Indonesia: Fishermen allegedly conducting blast fishing detained in West Papua

Antara 13 Dec 17;

Sorong, West Papua (ANTARA News) - The West Papua Water Police have detained 14 fishermen suspected of catching fish by using explosive materials in the waters of Uisang Island, Fakfak District, and in Arguni Bay of Sorong District in West Papua.

West Papua Water Police Chief Senior Commissioner Giuseppe Renhard Gultom remarked here on Tuesday that the 14 fishermen are temporarily undergoing investigation for further legal proceedings.

"The other pieces of evidence we seized from the fishermen are 97 fish bombs, some compressors, diving tools, two bags of potassium as raw material for fish bombing activities, and 500 kilograms of fish," Gultom noted.

He revealed that the fishermen were detained by a joint team of the Water Police Directorate of West Papua while patrolling the waters of Papua by using an Enggano ship from the Police Headquarters.

Initial inspection results indicated that these fishermen have repeatedly conducted blast fishing activities in the waters of West Papua, so the West Papua Water Police had initiated operations since long to catch them.

According to Gultom, the fish bombs used by the fishermen are quite large, and the explosive power of the bombs can destroy coral reefs in the waters of West Papua.

The long-standing, environmentally harmful fishing practices have also damaged the reefs in the Cendrawasih Bay Marine National Park in West Papua.

Editor: Heru Purwanto

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Big investors press major companies to step up climate action

Alister Doyle Reuters 12 Dec 17;

OSLO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - More than 200 institutional investors with $26 trillion in assets under management said on Tuesday they would step up pressure on the world’s biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to combat climate change.

Two years to the day since 195 governments adopted the Paris climate agreement, investors including Pacific Investment Management Co, Amundi, Legal & General Investment Management, Northern Trust and Aegon said they aimed to work with the 100 biggest polluting companies to curb emissions under a five-year plan.

That, they said, would be more effective than threatening to pull the plug on their investments in such companies, which include Coal India, Gazprom, Exxon Mobil and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp.

“We will be asking companies ... to curb emissions and bring them down in line with the Paris goals,” said Anne Simpson, investment director of sustainability at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

That would mean roughly an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, she told reporters on a teleconference, beyond the ambition of most companies.

The investors said they were also calling on companies to improve disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions, including those from the use of their products, and to step up governance of climate risks and opportunities.

French President Emmanuel Macron will hold a summit in Paris on Tuesday to build on the 2015 climate accord, which has been weakened by President Donald Trump’s plan to pull the United States out and instead bolster the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

Under the investors’ plan, divestment would only be a last resort. If big emitters refuse to cooperate with them, shareholders could ratchet up pressure with public statements, resolutions and votes.

Such measures can work, they said. In May, for instance, 62 percent of shareholders in Exxon Mobil voted for greater transparency about climate risks of oil and gas despite opposition from the board.

“To talk about this as ‘if you don’t do what we want we’re selling’ in a way lets the companies off the hook,” said Stephanie Maier, director of responsible investment at HSBC Global Asset Management.

She said it was better to cooperate with major emitters because they contributed to droughts, mudslides, heatwaves and rising sea levels that threatened investors’ other holdings.

In the past, some big investors have divested from high polluting coal or from companies they judge to be out of line with the Paris agreement’s goals.

Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change which is among those coordinating the five-year plan, said investors were increasingly looking for ways to align their portfolios with the Paris goals.

“We’re two years on from Paris – this is a way to showcase there is momentum,” she told Reuters.

Among pension funds with strong green goals, for instance, Denmark’s $40 billion PKA aims to raise climate-related investments such as in wind turbines and green bonds to 10 percent of its holdings by 2020 from almost seven now. (Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Warmer Arctic is the 'new normal'

Victoria Gill BBC News 13 Dec 17;

A warming, rapidly changing Arctic is the "new normal" and shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen region of the past.

This is according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic Report Card.

Director of the administration's Arctic Researcher Program, Dr Jeremy Mathis, said the region did a great service to the planet - acting as a refrigerator.

"We've now left that refrigerator door open," he added.

Dr Mathis was speaking at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans, where Noaa presented its annual summation of Arctic science.

This is the 12th report the administration has produced. And although it pointed to "a few anomalies" in a recent pattern of warming in the Arctic region, Dr Mathis said: "We can confirm, it will not stay in its reliably frozen state."

"The thing I took that had the most resonance for me was we're able to use some really long-term records to put the Arctic change into context - going back more than 1,500 years.

"What's really alarming for me is that we're seeing the Arctic is changing faster than at any rate in recorded history."

The speed of change, Dr Mathis added, was making it very hard for people to adapt.

"Villages are being washed away, particularly in the North American Arctic - creating some of the first climate refugees," he said.

"And pace of sea level rise is increasing because the Arctic is warming faster than we anticipated even a decade ago."

Scientists say it is clear that human-induced climate change is contributing to making the Arctic a warmer and more dynamic place.

"When we look at the darkening of the Arctic," said Dr Mathis, "reflective, icy surfaces are melting to reveal darker surfaces that absorb more of the Sun's energy.

"So it probably only took a little bit of human-induced change to start the Arctic down this cascading pathway; a little bit of ice melting led to a little bit of warming, which led to more ice melting, which led to more warming.

"And now we're seeing an acceleration - a runaway effect that may eventually be a catastrophic runaway effect starting to take hold in the Arctic."

Oceanographer and retired US Navy Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, who was appointed by the Trump Administration as acting administrator of Noaa, was asked during the Arctic report presentation about the response of the White House to the findings.

Many scientists viewed President Trump's recent decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement as clear evidence of his scepticism about human-induced climate change.

He said that the White House was "addressing and acknowledging it and factoring it in to their agenda".

Dr Mathis added that information coming from this report was "beyond reproach".

"They're facts. Facts weighted in thousands and thousands of scientific measurements that have been validated and peer reviewed by a community of experts working in the area for decades.

"Policy-makers can use those facts as they see fit."

The 2017 Arctic headlines

Warmer air: Average annual air temperature over land was the second highest after 2016, with a temperature 1.6C above average.

Declining sea ice: The maximum winter sea-ice area, measured each March, was the lowest ever observed. Sea ice is also getting thinner each year.

Warmer ocean: Sea surface temperatures in August 2017 were 4C above the average in the Barents and Chukchi seas. Surface waters of the Chukchi Sea have warmed by more than half a degree C per decade since 1982.

Plankton blooms: Springtime melting and retreating sea ice allows sunlight to reach the upper layers of the ocean, meaning more of these microscopic marine plants can photosynthesise.

Greener tundra: Overall vegetation, including plants getting bigger and leafier and shrubs and trees taking over. Grassland or tundra, increased across the Arctic in 2015 and 2016, as measured by satellite.

Ups and downs for snow: For the 11th year in the past 12, snow cover in the North American Arctic was below average, with communities experiencing earlier snow melt. The Eurasian part of the Arctic saw above average snow cover extent in 2017 - the first time that has happened since 2005.

Less melt on Greenland Ice Sheet: Melting began early on the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2017, but slowed during a cooler summer, resulting in below-average melting when compared with the previous nine years. Overall, the Greenland Ice Sheet, a major contributor to sea-level rise, continued to lose mass this past year, as it has since 2002 when measurements began.

Source: 2017 NOAA Arctic Report Card

Arctic report card: Permafrost thawing at a faster pace
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 13 Dec 17;

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing at a faster clip, according to a new report released Tuesday.

Water is also warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years at the top of the world.

The annual report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed slightly less warming in many measurements than a record hot 2016. But scientists remain concerned because the far northern region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has reached a level of warming that's unprecedented in modern times.

"2017 continued to show us we are on this deepening trend where the Arctic is a very different place than it was even a decade ago," said Jeremy Mathis, head of NOAA's Arctic research program and co-author of the 93-page report.

Findings were discussed at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans.

"What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic; it affects the rest of the planet," said acting NOAA chief Timothy Gallaudet. "The Arctic has huge influence on the world at large."

Permafrost is the permanently frozen layer below the Earth's surface in frigid areas. Records show the frozen ground that many buildings, roads and pipelines are built on reached record warm temperatures last year nearing and sometimes exceeding the thawing point. That could make them vulnerable when the ground melts and shifts, the report said. Unlike other readings, permafrost data tend to lag a year.

Preliminary reports from the U.S. and Canada in 2017 showed permafrost temperatures are "again the warmest for all sites" measured in North America, said study co-author Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Arctic sea ice usually shrinks in September and this year it was only the eighth lowest on record for the melting season. But scientists said they were most concerned about what happens in the winter — especially March — when sea ice is supposed to be building to its highest levels.

Arctic winter sea ice maximum levels in 2017 were the smallest they've ever been for the season when ice normally grows. It was the third straight year of record low winter sea ice recovery. Records go back to 1979.

About 79 percent of the Arctic sea ice is thin and only a year old. In 1985, 45 percent of the sea ice in the Arctic was thick, older ice, said NOAA Arctic scientist Emily Osborne.

New research looking into the Arctic's past using ice cores, fossils, corals and shells as stand-ins for temperature measurements show that Arctic ocean temperatures are rising and sea ice levels are falling at rates not seen in the 1,500 years. And those dramatic changes coincide with the large increase in carbon dioxide levels in the air from the burning of oil, gas and coal, the report said.

This isn't just a concern for the few people who live north of the Arctic Circle. Changes in the Arctic can alter fish supply. And more ice-free Arctic summers can lead to countries competing to exploit new areas for resources. Research also shows changes in Arctic sea ice and temperature can alter the jet stream, which is a major factor in U.S. weather.

This is probably partly responsible for the current unusual weather in the United States that brought destructive wildfires to California and a sharp cold snap to the South and East, according to NOAA scientist James Overland and private meteorologist expert Judah Cohen.

"The Arctic has traditionally been the refrigerator to the planet, but the door of the refrigerator has been left open," Mathis said.

Outside scientists praised the report card.

"Overall, the new data fit with the long-term trends, showing the clear evidence of warming causing major changes," in the Arctic, said Pennsylvania State University ice scientist Richard Alley.

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