Best of our wild blogs: 12 Apr 18

Celebrate Earth Day on Singapore shores!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

21 Apr (Sat): Youth for Our Ocean: Marine Clean Up with FRANK by OCBC
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

List of 100 most unique and endangered reptiles released

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Hazy conditions expected over parts of S'pore due to hotspot in Johor

ALFRED CHUA Today Online 11 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — Expect hazy conditions — and a "burning smell" — over parts of Singapore on Wednesday (April 11) evening, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned, following the detection of a hotspot in the southeastern part of Johor in the afternoon.

In a Facebook post, the NEA said that the smoke haze from the hotspot is being blown by the prevailing easterly winds towards Singapore, resulting in the hazy conditions.

"For the next few hours, hazy conditions are expected over parts of Singapore, and members of the public may also detect a burning smell," said the NEA.

"The 24-hour PSI is forecast to be in the higher end of the Moderate range."

As at 5pm on Wednesday, the 24-hr PSI was 48-57, in the Moderate range, and the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings were 5-36µg/m3, in Band II (Elevated).

The NEA added: "We are monitoring the air quality closely, and will provide updates should there be any change in the situation."

At about 7.30pm, the NEA said in an update that the density of smoke haze from the hotstpot has been reduced.

"Due to a shift in the prevailing winds, from blowing from the east to blowing from the northeast now, the haze is being blown to the sea areas to the southeast of Singapore," it said. As at 7pm today, the 24-hr PSI was 51-57, in the Moderate range, and the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings were 9-27µg/m3, in Band I (Normal).

Hazy conditions over parts of Singapore on Wednesday as hotspot detected in Johor: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 11 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: Hazy conditions are expected over parts of Singapore on Wednesday (Apr 11) due to a hotspot detected in Johor, Malaysia, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

"We have detected a hotspot with dense smoke plume in the southeastern part of Johor this afternoon. The smoke haze from the hotspot is being blown by the prevailing easterly winds towards Singapore,” NEA said in a Facebook post at about 5pm.

“For the next few hours, hazy conditions are expected over parts of Singapore, and members of the public may also detect a burning smell. The 24-hour PSI is forecast to be in the higher end of the moderate range."

The hazy conditions appear to have affected the eastern parts of Singapore, including Tampines. Some people reported a burning smell in the air.

NEA added that as of 5pm, the 24-hr PSI was 48-57, in the moderate range, while the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings were at 5-36µg/m3, in Band II (Elevated).

In an update at about 7.30pm, NEA said the situation has improved due to a shift in wind direction which is blowing the haze to the sea.

"The density of smoke haze from the hotspot detected in the southeastern part of Johor this afternoon has been reduced," said the agency. "The burning smell over eastern Singapore has lessened."

It added that the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings were 9-27µg/m3, in Band I (Normal), as of 7pm.

"Slightly hazy conditions" can still be expected for the rest of Wednesday, said NEA. "We are monitoring the air quality closely, and will provide updates should there be any change in the situation."

In September last year, a strange burning smell was reported in many parts of Singapore, but that was eventually traced to a factory in Pasir Gudang in Johor.
Source: CNA/ec

Hazy conditions over parts of Singapore on Wednesday: NEA
Lydia Lam Straits Times 11 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Hazy conditions were expected over parts of Singapore on Wednesday (April 11), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

In a statement on its Facebook page and website at around 5pm, NEA said it detected "a hot spot with dense smoke plume in the south-eastern part of Johor this afternoon".

"The smoke haze from the hot spot is being blown by the prevailing easterly winds towards Singapore," said NEA.

It said hazy conditions are expected over parts of Singapore for "the next few hours".

A burning smell may also be detected.

The 24-hour PSI is forecast to be at the higher end of the moderate range.

According to NEA's 5pm reading for Wednesday, the 24-hour PSI was 48-57, in the moderate range.

The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration readings were 5-36µg/m3, in Band II (Elevated). The maximum band is Band IV (Very High).

In an update at around 7.30pm, NEA said the density of smoke haze from Johor has reduced.

"Due to a shift in the prevailing winds, from blowing from the east to blowing from the northeast now, the haze is being blown to the sea areas to the southeast of Singapore. The burning smell over eastern Singapore has lessened," it said.

As at 7pm, the 24-hr PSI was 51-57, in the moderate range, and the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings were 9-27µg/m3, in Band I (Normal).

For the rest of the day, slightly hazy conditions can still be expected, NEA said.

"We are monitoring the air quality closely, and will provide updates should there be any change in the situation," said NEA.

Undergraduate Hazel Kang, 22, said she was shocked to see the haze when she came out of a classroom in the National University of Singapore. "The air feels quite dry too," she added.

Another student, Lim Jia Xi, 18, said the haze around Temasek Polytechnic was not the worst he has seen, though it affected his vision quite badly.

For Thursday, the prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the east, and thundery showers are expected in the afternoon over Singapore.

For the next 24 hours, the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings are expected to stay in Band I (Normal), and the 24-hr PSI is forecast to be in the good to moderate range, NEA added.

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Malaysia: Include environmental needs in GE14 agendas, politicians urged

andrew sia The Star 11 Apr 18;

A coalition of 20 NGOs is appealing to politicians to include environmental issues in their political agendas.

They also revealed their survey that 69% of those who plan to vote will consider the environment as one of the factors in their decisions.

Of the 1,603 online survey respondents, more than 86% are concerned with pollution of rivers and seas while 84% are concerned with deforestation/illegal logging.

Over 80% are equally concerned with the following:

- rubbish not properly managed/recycled
- loss of park/forests/beaches/natural areas to development
- climate change/global warming /extreme weather

On another question, 95% of the respondents say they are either "concerned or very concerned" about the natural environment in general.

84% are interested to know more about political parties' environmental aspirations for the nation.

The group of 20 NGOs, which work on eco issues, jointly held press conferences across Malaysia on Wednesday (April 11) for this appeal, contained in an Open Letter to all politicians.

“These high numbers indicate serious concerns among the voting public about environmental issues, and also signify questions about the nation’s development path," underlined Cynthia Ong, the Executive Chair of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Spiral.

"We seek deep commitment and sincerity from our political leadership that these issues will be placed high on their agenda.”
WWF-Malaysia Executive Director/CEO, Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma hoped that politicians from all political parties and independent candidates will recognise the environmental aspirations of the people, particularly the youth.

“We appeal to all politicians to tell the voters how you will work towards realising those aspirations for the benefit of the people.

"More specifically, what will you do (for the environment) in the first 100 days, if you are elected to form the government?

He added that Malaysia must aim for sustainable development, to balance economic growth without compromising our natural capital (environmental assets, social systems, cultural resources).

"Only then can we ensure higher standards of living for current and future generations,” Sharma added.

The Open Letter underlined, "As we all know, humans cannot survive without nature. While development is meant to increase our standards of living and grow our economy, unsustainable development destroys the environment that provides services we take for granted such as our clean air, fresh water, food, and protection against extreme weather.

"Without proper protection of nature, the risks of flash flood, air pollution, landslides, shortage of water supply, and expanding urban heat islands will increase.

"We have already seen some of these happening and the frequency and intensity will get worse.
Next on the list of concerns in the survey are

- illegal hunting and selling of endangered animals (75%)

- air pollution from vehicles, factories/open burning (72%)

- forest fires/haze (69%)

- over fishing and decreased fish catch every year (61%)

The President of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Henry Goh added, “For sustainable development to take place, it is essential that the general public is consulted and their views are taken into consideration.”
He added that the online survey was done after an earlier open letter urging all political parties to prioritise the environment in their manifestos.

The survey results will enable the public to let politicians know which environmental matters they are concerned about, he said.

The online survey on environmental concerns was carried out between February and March this year.

The NGOs that signed the open letter are Biji-biji Initiative, Civil Society Organisations for Sustainable Development Goals (CSO-SDG) Alliance, Ecocentric Transitions, EcoKnights, Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM), Friends of Sarawak Museum (FoSM), Hunger Hurts Malaysia, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Spiral, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), #PowerShiftMsia, Reef Check Malaysia, Sabah Women's Action Resource Group (SAWO), Sabah Environmental Trust, Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society, Sarawak Eco-Warriors, Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM), Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES), Wetlands International Malaysia and WWF-Malaysia.

The open letter is available in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil.

Of the respondents, 36% are in the age group of 21-30 years, 38.6% (aged 31-45), 18% (aged 46-60) and 4% (above 61).

It was announced during the press conference today that the Sarawak Eco-Warriors, a newly-formed NGO consisting of enthusiastic youths and students from Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), as well as Hunger Hurts Malaysia, an NGO that believes in poverty-free Malaysia, are also going to support the open letter, topping the list to 20 NGOs that have signed the Open Letter.

The online survey is still open for responses and can be accessed at

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Indonesia: Central Aceh develops wild elephant ecotourism

Antara 11 Apr 18;

Takengon, Aceh (ANTARA News) - Central Aceh District government has started to see the development of wild elephant ecotourism in Karang Ampar, Ketol Sub-district, due to its high population.

Head of Development of Tourism Destination at the Tourism of Youth and Sport Office of Central Aceh, Munawar Khalil, said here on Wednesday that his side has developed the ecotourism program plan by utilizing wild elephants in Karang Ampar region.

Ecotourism, which will be developed, is expected to be a reliable tourism activity to attract tourists to visit the area, he noted.

The program is a tourism activity which prioritizes environmental insights and aspects of nature conservation for learning and educational purposes, and incorporates them to empower the socioeconomic culture of local communities.

"The existence of a bunch of wild elephants in the Karang Ampar area is often a disturbance to the activities of local people. Hopefully, in the next year, the area will be used as ecotourism area," he asserted.

Khalil further remarked that it is a big challenge for tourist sites to utilize the presence of wild elephants as a great opportunity to lure visitors.

"It will be a great achievement if we can utilize what we have now," he added.

He believes the existence of wild elephants can make Karang Ampar region a popular tourist attraction.

In the near future, the officials will also conduct a review of Karang Ampar area in Ketol sub-district in order to prepare everything for planning the ecotourism program.

"We will bring the consultant to Karang Ampar to arrange Detailed Engineering Design (DED) of the area. Hopefully, we can start the construction of basic infrastructure there in 2019," he explained.

In addition, Karang Ampar area also has a beautiful natural landscape, with the river and various flora and fauna, which supports it to be developed into a mainstay tourist destination.

Reported by Mukhlis
Editor: Heru Purwanto

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Indonesia: WWF Partners with Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries to Protect Dugongs

Netral News 11 Apr 18;

PANGKALAN BUN, NNC – WWF Indonesia with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) involves the community to protect dugong (dugong dugon) and seagrasses in West Kotawaringin Barat, Central Kalimantan (Kalteng), through Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Program Projec/DSCP) Indonesia.

WWF Indonesia Marine Species Officer Cassandra Tania, said the effort to involve the community in the conservation of dugong and seagras is done by providing incentives for new livelihoods.

Together with two other implementing partners of DSCP Indonesia, namely LIPI and ITB, people in Bogam Bay village are invited to develop new economic resources and abandon the habits of dugong hunting.

Communities in coastal West Kotawaringin are invited to try to cultivate seaweed, crabs, shrimp ponds, make salted fish, develop tourism, develop spirulina to ecotourism.

"Of all these options, it will be selected which is the most potential to be developed there," said Tania, in a press release on Wednesday (4/11/2018).

Dugongs or sea cows are among the vulnerable species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN) in Indonesia which have been protected under Government Regulation No. 7/1999.

However, although sanctions from the exploitation of dugongs are clearly described in Law No. 5 of 1990 and Law No. 31 of 2014, there are still practices of hunting dugongs and the use of their body parts in this district.

Based on the results of the survey in 2018, the awareness of the community about dugongs in the area is still lacking. The majority (70 percent) of respondents do not know the appearance of the mamals, although some of them and many other residents (92 percent) already know the appearance of their food, the seagrass.

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Indonesia: Balikpapan oil spill - What we know and don’t know

Kharishar Kahfi The Jakarta Post 11 Apr 18;

Indonesia is facing its biggest environmental disaster in the past 10 years with the oil spill polluting the Balikpapan Bay in East Kalimantan, affecting the marine ecosystem as well as coastal residents. Here’s what we know and what we don’t about the incident.

What we know so far

What happened?

On March 31, a burst pipeline – which is used to transfer crude oil from the Law-Lawe Terminal in North Penajam Paser regency to an oil refinery facility in Balikpapan – caused the oil spill that polluted Balikpapan Bay. The spill also led to a fire that broke out at noon on March 31 near Panama-flagged coal cargo vessel MV Ever Judger 2, which was docked in the bay.

The 20-year-old pipeline belongs to state-owned oil and gas firm Pertamina. It is 22 to 26 meters under the sea, is made of steel and has a diameter of 20 inches. The authorities claimed the pipe had moved 120 meters from its original location.

How bad is it?

The spill covered a 400-meter area of the bay at first, but then spread to a radius of over 2 kilometers in the waters around Semayang Port to Margasari. Satellite images from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) on April 2 showed that the oil spill had covered 12,987 hectares of Balikpapan Bay, as the oil was spread out by waves and currents.

This aerial picture taken on April 2, 2018 shows some of the oil spill on Benua Patra beach in Balikpapan.
An oil spill off Borneo island that led to five deaths and the declaration of a state of emergency was caused by a ruptured undersea pipe, Indonesia's national oil company Pertamina said on April 4.
This aerial picture taken on April 2, 2018 shows some of the oil spill on Benua Patra beach in Balikpapan. An oil spill off Borneo island that led to five deaths and the declaration of a state of emergency was caused by a ruptured undersea pipe, Indonesia's national oil company Pertamina said on April 4. (AFP/-)

On April 6, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry claimed that the area affected by the spill had widened to 20,000 ha based on satellite images. A day later, however, the Environment and Forestry Ministry disputed the number, saying that the spill had only widened from 12,987 ha to 13,559 ha.

Both the spill and the fire had caused casualties as well as environmental damage. The fire that broke out soon after the spill was discovered on March 31 caused the death of five fishermen who were caught in the fire. The victims were Sutoyo, 52, Suyono, 45, Imam Nurokhim, 41, Agus Salim, 42 and Wahyu, 27.

Apart from the fishermen, the fire also injured a crew member of the vessel MV Ever Judger 2, which was docked in the bay. The vessel’s 20 other crew members were evacuated safely from the bay.

Residents living around the affected coastal area suffered from nausea, vomiting and suffocation from the strong smell. It also drove residents to stop cooking, fearing that the fuel-filled air would burst into flames as they turned on their stoves.

The spill also affected marine animals and plants, as activists and officials discovered dead crabs and an Irrawaddy dolphin on the coast. Balikpapan is known as the home of endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

The spill also affected around 34 ha of mangrove trees in Kariagau village, as well as 6,000 mangrove trees and 2,000 mangrove seeds in Atas Air Margasari village.

The mangrove forest is contaminated by oil spill in Kariangau village, Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan. An oil spill off Balikpapan Bay in Borneo island that led to five deaths and the declaration of a state of emergency, was caused by a burst undersea pipe belonging to Indonesia's state oil company Pertamina. Photo taken on April 5, 2018.
The mangrove forest is contaminated by oil spill in Kariangau village, Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan. An oil spill off Balikpapan Bay in Borneo island that led to five deaths and the declaration of a state of emergency, was caused by a burst undersea pipe belonging to Indonesia's state oil company Pertamina. Photo taken on April 5, 2018. (Courtesy of Greenpeace/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)

What we don’t know

Who is responsible for the oil spill?

Government and Pertamina officials have stated the oil company is not at fault for the oil spill incident, though an investigation into it is still underway.

Officials seem to believe that a foreign coal vessel, MV Ever Judger, illegally passed through and dropped anchor in the bay, dragging away the pipeline. But, again, the investigation has not been concluded and no formal charges have been filed against anyone involved in the incident.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Panjaitan has said that legal or administrative actions would be taken against those found guilty of causing the oil spill.

How long will the cleanup process take?

The Balikpapan administration and Pertamina have claimed the bay had largely been cleaned. But activists have cast doubt on their claim.

To clean up the oil, the authorities in cooperation with Pertamina deployed oil spill containment booms, which are used to collect oil on water for recovery, as well as dispersants – chemicals sprayed on a surface oil spill to break down the oil into smaller droplets that more readily mix with the water.

Six days after the incident, Balikpapan Environmental Agency head Suryanto claimed the cleaning process had reached 90 percent and the cleanup would end this week.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Agus Haryono said the only oil that could be recovered was the oil on the surface of the sea, while the heavy oil that was already at the bottom of the sea could not be cleaned. This was echoed by Greenpeace activist Ahmad Ashov, who said the recovery rate for most oil spill cases was never more than 20 percent.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said last Friday that it would take at least six months to clean up the spill. (ahw)

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Extensive seagrass meadows discovered in Indian Ocean through satellite tracking of green turtles

SWANSEA UNIVERSITY EurekAlert 11 Apr 18;

Research led by Swansea University's Bioscience department has discovered for the first time extensive deep-water seagrass meadows in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean through satellite tracking the movement of green sea turtles.

A new study by Swansea University and Deakin University academics, published in the recent Marine Pollution Bulletin, reported how the monitoring of the turtles -- which forage on seagrasses - tracked the species to the Great Chagos Bank, the world's largest contiguous atoll structure in the Western Indian Ocean.

This area lies in the heart of one of the world's largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the study involved the use of in-situ SCUBA and baited video surveys to investigate the day-time sites occupied by the turtles, resulting in the discovery of extensive monospecific seagrass meadows of Thalassondendron ciliatum.

These habitats are critically important for storing huge amounts of carbon in their sediments and for supporting fish populations.

At three sites that extended over 128?km of the Great Chagos Bank, there was a high seagrass cover (average of 74%) at depths to 29 metres.

The mean species richness of fish in the seagrass meadows was 11 species per site, with a mean average of 8-14 species across the aforementioned three sites.

Results showed a high fish abundance as well as a large predatory shark recorded at all sites and given that the Great Chagos Bank extends over approximately 12,500?km and many other large deep submerged banks exist across the world's oceans, the results suggest that deep-water seagrass may be far more abundant than previously suspected.

Reports of seagrass meadows at these depths with high fish diversity, dominated by large top predators, are relatively limited.

Dr Nicole Esteban, a Research Fellow at Swansea University's Biosciences department, said: "Our study demonstrates how tracking marine megafauna can play a useful role to help identify previously unknown seagrass habitat.

"We hope to identify further areas of critical seagrass habitat in the Indian Ocean with forthcoming turtle satellite tracking research."

Dr Richard Unsworth, from Swansea University's Biosciences department, said: "Seagrasses struggle to live in deep waters due to their need for high light, but in these crystal clear waters of Chagos these habitats are booming.

"Given how these habitats are threatened around the world it's great to come across a pristine example of what seagrass meadows should look like."


This research was led by the Bioscience department at Swansea University, alongside the involvement of researchers at Deakin University.

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Restoring marshes, oyster reefs could save $50 billion: study

AFP Yahoo News 12 Apr 18;

Tampa (AFP) - Restoring oyster reefs and marshes could save the US Gulf Coast region $50 billion in flood damages over the next 20 years, and are far more cost effective than seawalls, researchers said Wednesday.

The study in the journal PLOS ONE is the first to compare the cost-to-benefit ratios of a range of measures -- both natural and artificial -- meant to bolster coastlines against rising seas and more frequent storms expected as a result of climate change.

Natural measures like wetland and reef restoration can yield benefit-to-cost ratios of seven to one, "meaning more than $7 in direct flood-reduction benefits for every $1 spent on restoration," said the report.

Meanwhile, artificial measures, like building levees, seawalls and elevating homes, can be effective but expensive, with benefit-to-cost ratios near or below one-to-one.

The study found the most cost-effective measures for reducing flood risk in the Gulf of Mexico were oyster reef and marsh restoration.

They work by reducing the energy of crashing waves, trapping sediments and cutting down on storm surge.

"We show that nature-based measures for flood reduction can be considered right alongside artificial or gray measures such as seawalls in industry-based benefit-cost models," said co-author Michael Beck, a marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy and a research professor at the University of California Santa Cruz.

"This removes a major impediment for engineers, insurers, and risk management agencies for building coastal resilience more naturally."

Last year, floods, wildfires, droughts and hurricanes cost the United States $306 billion, making 2017 the costliest year on record.

Major storms and natural disasters that cause $100 billion in damages are expected to become three times more frequent in the future, researchers said.

"The need for adaptation is increasing, and the cost of inaction is too high," said lead author Borja Reguero, a coastal engineer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Gulf Stream current at its weakest in 1,600 years, studies show

Warm current that has historically caused dramatic changes in climate is experiencing an unprecedented slowdown and may be less stable than thought - with potentially severe consequences
Damian Carrington The Guardian 11 Apr 18;

The warm Atlantic current linked to severe and abrupt changes in the climate in the past is now at its weakest in at least 1,600 years, new research shows. The findings, based on multiple lines of scientific evidence, throw into question previous predictions that a catastrophic collapse of the Gulf Stream would take centuries to occur.

Such a collapse would see western Europe suffer far more extreme winters, sea levels rise fast on the eastern seaboard of the US and would disrupt vital tropical rains. The new research shows the current is now 15% weaker than around 400AD, an exceptionally large deviation, and that human-caused global warming is responsible for at least a significant part of the weakening.

The current, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), carries warm water northwards towards the north pole. There it cools, becomes denser and sinks, and then flows back southwards. But global warming hampers the cooling of the water, while melting ice in the Arctic, particularly from Greenland, floods the area with less dense freshwater, weakening the Amoc current.

Scientists know that Amoc has slowed since 2004, when instruments were deployed at sea to measure it. But now two new studies have provided comprehensive ocean-based evidence that the weakening is unprecedented in at least 1,600 years, which is as far back as the new research stretches.

“Amoc is a really important part of the Earth’s climate system and it has played an important part in abrupt climate change in the past,” said Dr David Thornalley, from University College London who led one of the new studies. He said current climate models do not replicate the observed slowdown, suggesting that Amoc is less stable that thought.

During the last ice age, some big changes in Amoc led to winter temperatures changing by 5-10C in as short a time as one to three years, with major consequences for the weather over the land masses bordering the Atlantic. “The [current] climate models don’t predict [an Amoc shutdown] is going to happen in the future – the problem is how certain are we it is not going to happen? It is one of these tipping points that is relatively low probability, but high impact.”

The study by Thornalley and colleagues, published in Nature, used cores of sediments from a key site off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to examine Amoc over the last 1600 years. Larger grains of sediment reflect faster Amoc currents and vice versa.

They also used the shells of tiny marine creatures from sites across the Atlantic to measure a characteristic pattern of temperatures that indicate the strength of Amoc. When it weakens, a large area of ocean around Iceland cools, as less warm water is brought north, and the waters off the east coast of the US get warmer.

The second study, also published in Nature, also used the characteristic pattern of temperatures, but assessed this using thermometer data collected over the last 120 years or so.

Both studies found that Amoc today is about 15% weaker than 1,600 years ago, but there were also differences in their conclusions. The first study found significant Amoc weakening after the end of the little ice age in about 1850, the result of natural climate variability, with further weakening caused later by global warming.

The second study suggests most of the weakening came later, and can be squarely blamed on the burning of fossil fuels. Further research is now being undertaken to understand the reasons for the differences.

However, it is already clear that human-caused climate change will continue to slow Amoc, with potentially severe consequences. “If we do not rapidly stop global warming, we must expect a further long-term slowdown of the Atlantic overturning,” said Alexander Robinson, at the University of Madrid, and one of the team that conducted the second study. He warned: “We are only beginning to understand the consequences of this unprecedented process – but they might be disruptive.”

A 2004 disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow, envisaged a rapid shutdown of Amoc and a devastating freeze. The basics of the science were portrayed correctly, said Thornalley: “Obviously it was exaggerated – the changes happened in a few days or weeks and were much more extreme. But it is true that in the past this weakening of Amoc happened very rapidly and caused big changes.”

Climate change dials down Atlantic Ocean heating system
Victoria Gill BBC 11 Apr 18;

The circulation system plays a "significant role" in regulating the Earth's climate by distributing heat around the globe.
A significant shift in the system of ocean currents that helps keep parts of Europe warm could send temperatures in the UK lower, scientists have found.

They say the Atlantic Ocean circulation system is weaker now than it has been for more than 1,000 years - and has changed significantly in the past 150.

The study, in the journal Nature, says it may be a response to increased melting ice and is likely to continue.

Researchers say that could have an impact on Atlantic ecosystems.

Scientists involved in the Atlas project - the largest study of deep Atlantic ecosystems ever undertaken - say the impact will not be of the order played out in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow.

But they say changes to the conveyor-belt-like system - also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc) - could cool the North Atlantic and north-west Europe and transform some deep-ocean ecosystems.

That could also affect temperature-sensitive species like coral, and even Atlantic cod.

Scientists believe the pattern is a response to fresh water from melting ice sheets being added to surface ocean water, meaning those surface waters "can't get very dense and sink".

"That puts a spanner in this whole system," lead researcher Dr David Thornalley, from University College London, explained.

The concept of this system "shutting down" was featured in The Day After Tomorrow.

"Obviously that was a sensationalised version," said Dr Thornally. "But much of the underlying science was correct, and there would be significant changes to climate it if did undergo a catastrophic collapse - although the film made those effects much more catastrophic, and happening much more quickly - than would actually be the case."

Nonetheless, a change to the system could cool the North Atlantic and north-west Europe and transform some deep-ocean ecosystems.

That is why its measurement has been a key part of the Atlas project.

Scientists say understanding what is happening to Amoc will help them make much more accurate forecasts of our future climate.

Prof Murray Roberts, who co-ordinates the Atlas project at the University of Edinburgh, told BBC News: "The changes we're seeing now in deep Atlantic currents could have massive effects on ocean ecosystems.

"The deep Atlantic contains some of the world's oldest and most spectacular cold-water coral reef and deep-sea sponge grounds.

"These delicate ecosystems rely on ocean currents to supply their food and disperse their offspring. Ocean currents are like highways spreading larvae throughout the ocean and we know these ecosystems have been really sensitive to past changes in the Earth's climate."

Media captionAtlas is the biggest ever deep Atlantic exploration mission launched by UK scientists.
To measure how the system has shifted over long timescales, researchers collected long cores of sediment from the sea floor.

The sediment was laid down by past ocean currents, so the size of the sediment grains in different layers provided a measure of the current's strength over time.

The results were also backed up by another study published in the same issue of Nature, led by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

This work looked at climate model data to confirm that sea-surface temperature patterns can be used as an indicator of Amoc's strength and revealing that it has been weakening even more rapidly since 1950 in response to recent global warming.

The scientists want to continue to study patterns in this crucial temperature-regulating system, to understand whether as ice sheets continue to melt, this could drive further slowdown - or even a shutdown of a system that regulates our climate.

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'Day zero' water crises: Spain, Morocco, India and Iraq at risk as reservoirs shrink

A new early warning satellite system reveals countries where shrinking reservoirs could lead to the taps completely drying up
Jonathan Watts The Guardian 11 Apr 18;

Shrinking reservoirs in Morocco, India, Iraq and Spain could spark the next “day zero” water crisis, according to the developers of a satellite early warning system for the world’s 500,000 dams.

Cape Town recently grabbed global headlines by launching a countdown to the day when taps would be cut off to millions of residents as a result of a three-year drought. Drastic conservation measures have forestalled that moment in South Africa, but dozens of other countries face similar risks from rising demand, mismanagement and climate change, say the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The US-based environmental organisation is working with Deltares, the Dutch government and other partners to build a water and security early warning system that aims to anticipate social instability, economic damage and cross-border migration. A prototype is due to be rolled out later this year, but a snapshot was unveiled on Wednesday that highlighted four of the worst-affected dams and the potential knock-on risks.

The starkest decline is that of Morocco’s second-largest reservoir, Al Massira, which has shrunk by 60% in three years due to recurring drought, expanding irrigation and the increasing thirst of neighbouring cities such as Casablanca. Despite recent rains, the WRI said water was now at the lowest level in a decade. The last time the dam was so depleted, grain production fell by half and more than 700,000 people were affected, it said. Pressure on this water source will grow later this year when a new water transfer project links it to the city of Marrakech.

In Iraq, the Mosul Dam has seen a more protracted decline but it is also now down 60% from its peak in the 1990s as a result of low rainfall and competing demand from Turkish hydropower projects upstream on the Tigris and Euphrates. As in Syria and increasingly also Iraq, water stress has added to conflict and been a driver for relocations of people from the countryside.

Tensions have also been apparent in India over the water allocations for two reservoirs connected by the Narmada river. Poor rains last year left the upstream Indira Sagar dam a third below its seasonal average. When some of this shortfall was passed on to the downstream Sardar Sarovar reservoir, it caused an uproar because the latter is a drinking supply for 30 million people. Last month, the Gujarat state government halted irrigation and appealed to farmers not to sow crops.

The social risks are lower in industrialised countries that are less dependent on agriculture and more economically resilient. Spain has suffered a severe drought that has contributed to a 60% shrinking of the surface area of the Buendia dam over the last five years. This has hit hydropower generation and pushed up electricity prices, but the agricultural knock-on effects are limited by the relatively small – 3% – contribution of farming to the nation’s GDP.

All four dams are in the mid-latitudes, the geographic bands on either side of the tropics where climate change is expected to make droughts more frequent and protracted. As more reservoirs are scanned in the coming months and years, the WRI expects more cases to emerge.

“These four could be a harbinger of things to come,” said Charles Iceland of the WRI. “There are lots of potential Cape Towns in the making. Things will only get worse globally, as water demands increase and the effects of climate change begin to be felt.”

Gennadii Donchyts, senior researcher for Deltares, said the reservoir-monitoring service will steadily grow in size as information is added from Nasa and European Space Agency satellites that provide resolutions of between 10 and 30 metres on a daily basis. The petabytes of data are analysed using Google Earth Engine and algorithms to compensate for periods where parts of the surface area are covered by cloud.

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