Tag Archives: Geo

Life goes on in rural Newfoundland


Bringing the sheep back from the summer community pastures on the island at Tors Cove on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore. A practice that has been going on for more than 200 years. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015


September, 2015

Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland– Travelling around Newfoundland this summer I began seeing signs of life, culture and a society I thought were lost forever.

The cod moratorium was thought to be the death of rural Newfoundland. The outports are estimated to have been emptied of more than 50,000 people. Boats, houses, property …entire villages, abandoned. Newfoundland and Labrador’s historic cod fisheries attracted local and international fishing fleets for almost five centuries before the Canadian government shut the industry down indefinitely in July, 1992. By then, once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near extinction, and officials feared they would disappear entirely if the fishery remained open. The moratorium put about 30,000 people in the province out of work, and ended a way of life that had endured for generations in many outport communities.

Except … it didn’t.

On the wharfs and in the twine lofts people are living their lives and following the old ways. In Tors Cove, just a 30 minute drive south of the capital, St. John’s,  Howard Morry was bringing his sheep back from the islands where they spent the summer grazing safe from dogs and coyotes. …the way it’s been done for generations.


Community party in a fisherman’s twine loft Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

In Bay de Verde, fish were caught and parties and feasts went late into the evening. Just like the days in 1990 and 1991 when I spent all my spare time travelling the island documenting a fast disappearing culture. The sun sinks into the ocean, the moon lights the cove and the winding pathways through the village as people gather around the music and laughter from the sheds where coolers full of beer rattle with ice and deep fryers and barbecues sizzle with lobsters, crab and cod fish.

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Old historic houses, shops and fishing buildings are being restored in once booming places like Bonavista, Fogo Island and Elliston. Towns like Eastport and Glovertown are awash in new construction and service industries.

Newfoundland has been discovered by well-heeled and adventure tourists. They paddle in expensive kayaks alongside local fishermen in the new trendy hot spots.

Sure there is gentrification in the remote bays and coves, but the old ways remain. The new comers learn how to survive from the old timers and the few young Newfoundland people who were not meant to live in the cities of western Canada.

What happens when a government abandons its people? Do they disappear? What happens when the contract, trusts and social bonds between politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and the community its suppose to serve is broken?

In the years leading up to the destruction of the cod stocks, fishermen were warning the politicians and scientists that the fish stocks were disappearing, catches abnormal and erratic. These were not the fishermen with large offshore trawlers — the high-tech fishing factories — but small-boat fishermen living in the villages who fished close to shore, immersed in fish habitat and habits.

Officialdom turned a deaf ear. The message was that stupid uneducated fishermen don’t know anything. They lack biology degrees. They are ignorant of the machinery of politics.


Fishermen from Bay de Verde, Newfoundland catching their small allocation of cod fish in Conception bay. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

More than 25 years later, Newfoundland rural culture survives in small, wise, pockets. They have learned a lot about the politics of Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. More than they would care to, probably. The small-boat fishermen were proved right about the cod stocks.

In recent years those few still fishing are telling the politicians and scientists that cod catches are up, that the fish are the largest seen in more than 30 years.

They want to a return of a small, specialized, sustainable cod fishery for inshore fishermen and fishing communities. They are backed with science and expertise in sustainable fishing from groups as diverse as the fishermen’s union, World Wildlife Fund and independent biology and social scientists. All are working together on plans for that commercially viable, sustainable, community based fishery which the government doesn’t want to hear about it because its model is a fishing industry for a small number of large multinational food companies.

And DFO scientists, bureaucrats and politicians are still not listening.

It’s no surprise that all trust and respect has broken down between Newfoundland’s people, and the government, and scientists. And as the government, politicians and industrial fishing companies continue to abandon rural Newfoundland, it’s nice to see that the old ways are still remembered.

Life will carry on, regardless of the destruction wrought by the interlopers.



 Copyright Greg Locke 2015


Photographer and journalist Greg LockeGreg Locke is a founder and the managing partner, visual, of Facts and Opinions. He built the Facts and Opinions website, produces F&O’s photo essays, reports for Dispatches, writes and photographs Think magazine pieces, and contributes to the blogs.

Greg Locke has been a professional photographer, media producer and journalist for more than twenty-five years. Locke has covered politics, economics, energy issues, international development and civil conflicts in more than 30 countries including the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1980′s, civil wars in the Balkans and the conflicts of central and east Africa in the 1990′s. He has published three books and has been a regular contributor to Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Time, Businessweek, Macleans and Forbes magazines.

For more about Locke’s work you can visit his website at www.greglocke.com


Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery, by Greg Locke

It’s a cold foggy day in the fishing village of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Just 20 kilometers south from downtown St. John’s, it feels much further. There is not much activity or many people out and around the few remaining wharfs and twine lofts that once were buzzing hives of fishing activity ringing the harbour. Today, there are just a few frozen tourists looking to make photos of a Newfoundland that doesn’t exist anymore.


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The march of the king crabs: a warning from Antarctica

Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Photo by Liam Quinn, Creative Commons

Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Photo by Liam Quinn, Creative Commons

By Kathryn Smith
July, 2015

Hundreds of metres below the surface of the freezing ocean surrounding Antarctica, the seafloor is teeming with life. The animals living there have no idea that an army is on the brink of invading their tranquil environment.

A King Crab. Photo by Paul Huber, Creative Commons

A King Crab. Photo by Paul Huber, Creative Commons

The army is composed of king crabs. Until 2003, there were no crabs in this fragile Antarctic ecosystem. Now, driven by warming waters, their arrival heralds a major upset.

The unique communities living on the continental shelf off Antarctica are found in no other place on Earth. Delicate brittle stars, beautiful sea stars, vibrant sea lilies, and giant sea spiders are among the spectacular inhabitants found there. The animals live side by side, with almost no predators to upset the balance.

For millions of years, the cold water temperatures in the Antarctic have stopped most predators from surviving in this harsh environment. But this situation is rapidly changing.

Climate change is increasing temperatures across our planet, and the Antarctic is no exception. Sea temperatures in the Antarctic are rising at a faster rate than almost anywhere else.

With the increasing temperatures come new residents. Animals that have been absent from the continental shelf around Antarctica for millions of years are quickly returning.

In every part of the world except the Antarctic, crabs are one of the major predators in seafloor communities. Their strong, crushing claws are deadly to snails, brittle stars, and other slow-moving animals.

However, on the continental slope and continental shelf surrounding Antarctica, icy water temperatures have kept crabs away. Crabs naturally take up magnesium into their blood from seawater, and they can usually control the level of magnesium in its blood. But at very low temperatures they cannot regulate it. Instead, the magnesium builds up in their blood.

It acts like an anaesthetic and eventually causes the crab to die. As a result, crabs have previously been unable to survive in Antarctic waters.

Water temperatures on the continental slope and shelf around Antarctica are now warming to levels that crabs can tolerate. Although they and other predators have been absent from the continental slope and shelf around Antarctica for millions of years, one group, the king crabs, have been living in the neighbouring deep ocean.

In the deep ocean around Antarctica, water temperatures have historically been warmer than on the continental shelf. But as shelf temperatures increase, the king crabs are beginning to move up the continental slope into shallower water.

In 2003, king crabs were seen on the continental slope off Antarctica for the first time. Since then, an increasing number of crabs have been reported. They are seemingly marching up the continental slope and towards the continental shelf, with nothing to stop them.

King crabs on the continental slope off Antarctica SeaSled, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

If king crabs move onto the shelf, they will be presented with a smorgasbord of invertebrates. King crabs do not care much what they eat. Any animal that falls into their path makes a delicious treat.

In the Antarctic, the native inhabitants are particularly at risk. These animals have evolved without any major predators for millions of years. In other parts of the world, animals living on the seafloor have thick shells or hard skeletons to protect them against predators like crabs.

But in Antarctica, they have very limited defences against predation. The animals have very thin shells, soft bodies, and light skeletons. They are an easy target for the rapidly approaching king crabs.

Common animals on the continental shelf include fragile sea spiders, lightly skeletonized brittle stars, and soft-bodied sea cucumbers. SeaSled, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Climate change is already allowing king crabs to move into shallower areas of the continental slope off Antarctica than ever before. As temperatures continue to rise, we can only guess that the king crabs will continue their invasion onto the continental shelf.

When the crabs arrive, they are very likely to have a huge impact on the unique animals that live there. If nothing stops the king crabs from moving onto the continental shelf, the defenceless animals that currently live there may well become yet another casualty of climate change.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Kathryn Smith is Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Florida Institute of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation in the series Changing wildlife: this article is part of a series looking at how key species such as bees, insects and fish respond to environmental change, and what this means for the rest of the planet. Read the original article.


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Rajendra Pachauri: Defended climate science, resigned amid sex scandal

Indian scientist Rajendra Pachauri, who resigned from the world’s foremost body on climate science, oversaw an international effort to highlight the strength of scientists’ conclusions.

By Marianne Lavelle, The Daily Climate
February 24, 2015 

Rajendra Pachauri, who resigned Tuesday from chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change amid charges of sexual harassment, presided over the international effort to forge consensus on climate change during eight years in which the science grew stronger, but so did the attacks.

Rajendra Pachauri: Photo © European Union 2014 - European Parliament. Creative Commons

Rajendra Pachauri, who accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of the IPCC in 2007, resigned prematurely in February, 2015, amid allegations of sexual harassment, saying he was unable to provide the leadership the IPCC needs in “the current circumstances.” Photo © European Union 2014 – European Parliament. Creative Commons

At the high point of the Indian engineer and economist’s tenure, in 2007, he accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of the monumental effort to bring together the work of more than 2,000 scientists in readable volumes accepted by governments. The low point, before the allegations that face Pachauri now, came in 2010 when the panel was forced to admit it had included in its assessment an unfounded claim that the Himalayas could melt by 2035. 

But perhaps the most difficult issues that the IPCC has faced on Pachauri’s watch have been born of its very mission of delivering “policy-relevant” science, while staying out of politics.

Last year, because of objections by a group of developing nation governments, the IPCC deleted information from a key summary for policymakers that would have made clear the nations’ growing contribution to the global greenhouse gas burden. Although the data still was included in the IPCC’s bulky full report, scientists objecting to the change came forward both in an open letter and in journal articles to question whether the IPCC process needed reform.

Pachauri’s chairmanship began to unravel last week after a 29-year-old female employee at his research institute in Delhi filed allegations of sexual harassment. Pachauri has denied the charges through a spokesman, but said in his resignation letter that “under the current circumstances” he could not provide the strong leadership that the IPCC needs.

Pachauri, who was in his second five-year term as chairman, had earlier announced his plans to step down this coming fall, before the IPCC began its next assessment.

Over the eight years of his tenure, “Patchy,” as he is almost universally known, was a strong voice for action on climate change, even though the United Nations panel’s charge is not to be “policy-prescriptive.” He consistently urged nations to forge a treaty to mitigate fossil fuel emissions.

“If we allow things to continue unchanged and we don’t take action today, it would destabilize human society,” he warned in a 2008 interview with CNN.

David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, and an IPCC lead author, said that Pachauri should be credited for his steadiness. The assessment released last year, despite the deletions, benefited from his leadership in forging compromises to maintain some of the difficult language on the obligations of different countries, Victor said.

“He’s been particularly effective at finding ways to defend the scientific part of the organization against governments that want to strip away content from our reports. He can’t defend all of it. It’s structurally set up for governments to meddle huge amounts. And one of the things Pachauri has done very well is navigate his way around that.”

Victor, interviewed shortly before Pachauri’s resignation, added that part of Patchy’s legacy at the IPCC will be his effort to bring his own science of economics into the assessments.

“He’s an economist by training, and while the social sciences are barely represented [in the IPCC reports], economics is now the most heavily represented,” he said. “The attention to economic policy in the design of the assessments has been radically for the good.”

Pachauri became a target for attacks by those who deny climate science and those who oppose an international treaty. They called for his resignation after the Himalayas incident. 

As one of his last official acts as chairman, Pachauri urged that the IPCC venture more boldly into the political realm.

The tone of the battle he has fought through most of his tenure makes it difficult to remember the controversy around Pachauri’s appointment in 2002, with the endorsement of President George W. Bush’s administration. The Natural Resources Defense Council acquired documents under the Freedom of Information Act at the time showing that Exxon Mobil had sent the White House a memo endorsing Pachauri’s selection. (Exxon later said it did not write the memo, but just passed it along.)

In an April 21, 2002 op-ed in The New York Times, former Vice President Al Gore, who would later share the Nobel stage with Pachauri for his advocacy on climate change, raised questions about his appointment.

Pachauri, Gore wrote, “is known for his virulent anti-American statements.” In a speech at Vanderbilt University that month, Gore raised concern over Pachauri’s one-time endorsement of a worldwide boycott of American goods and Pachauri’s opposition to developing countries sharing in the reduction of greenhouse gases.

A number of IPCC scientists reached in recent days said Pachauri’s personal legal woes should not mar the work of the IPCC.

“For me, the IPCC is never about one person,” said Chris Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, and another IPCC lead author. “It’s about harnessing the wisdom and dedication of the entire scientific community. 

As one of his last official acts as chairman, Pachauri made some of his own thoughts known, in a “Chairman’s Vision Paper on the Future of the IPCC.” In the document, prepared for the IPCC session that opened in Nairobi today without him, Pachauri urged that the IPCC venture even more boldly into the political realm. 

In addition to the massive summaries of the science delivered every five to seven years, he urged that the IPCC begin to produce annually “a brief and accurate report.” These reports, he suggested, should indicate how well nations’ official plans for addressing climate change measure up in the effort to keep global warming below the goal of 2 degrees Celsius. The IPCC, Pachauri urged, should keep in mind that its audience is not just governments, but the media, civil society, business, and other stakeholders.

“It is important that this is taken into consideration when deciding on the future products of the IPCC, so that the IPCC moves forward with the times and responds to changing expectations,” he wrote.

Climate scientists hold starkly differing views on the wisdom of such a course of action. Victor said he couldn’t imagine that such a process would be workable, given the IPCC’s current structure. There would be “large error bars,” indicating a huge range of possibilities. Victor, an IPCC lead author who authored one of the Science articles about the flaws in the current process, said he has come to feel there are realms of important science that are too politically charged for the IPCC to take on, because of the need for government sign-off.

Carnegie’s Field cautioned against adding tasks to the panel’s mission. “The unique value that the IPCC adds is not about the individual brilliance of the authors; it is the systematic monitoring, review, and consensus of the scientists with approval by countries,” he said. “We want to preserve it and be careful about adding anything else that would erode its core value.”

Pachauri’s final writings as IPCC chairman were filled his typical rhetorical flourishes about matters both large and small. “For me the protection of planet Earth, the survival of all species, and the sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission,” he said in his resignation letter. “It is my religion and my dharma. 

And in his vision statement for the future of the IPCC, he urged that panel members guard to reduce their carbon footprints, by curbing the printing out of papers and travel for meetings. Quoting German writer and statesman, Goethe, Pachauri wrote, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”

Creative Commons

This article is republished from the Daily Climate, published by Environmental Health Sciences. Read the original article here.


Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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UN agency adds cultural treasures to ‘intangibles’ list


Retlaw Snellac, Creative Commonsby Anne Tempelman-Kluit,

Worldwide, unique cultural traditions are slowly disappearing under the pressure of a more globalized and modern world. As the older generation passes away their knowledge and skills often die with them, their only trace left in anthologies and history books.

In an effort to preserve this intangible cultural heritage, UNESCO added 29  elements to its “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” helping to highlight global diversity and raise awareness of its importance.

Some of these cultural treasures include, RIGHT, silk headscarves, woven by women in time-honored floral designs, which are a hallmark of the Azerbaijan culture; BELOW LEFT, Bulgarian Chiprovski kilimi carpets; BELOW RIGHT, Armenian Lavash bread; BOTTOM LEFT, Capoeira, from Timor-Leste,  a martial art uniting fight and dance and promoting respect and social cohesion, and, BOTTOM RIGHT, the Yampara culture of Bolivia, featuring Pujillay and Ayarichi music and dance.

According to UNESCO, the importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but “rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.”

TOP LEFT, Photo by Maison Kordopoulov via Flickr, Creative Commons; TOP RIGHT, Wikipedia, Creative Commons; ABOVE LEFT, United Nations, by Martine Perret; ABOVE RIGHT, Photo © Voces Bolivianas



Photos by, or from, Martine Perret, for the United Nations, above left; © Voces Bolivianas, above right; Maison Kordopoulov via Flickr, Creative Commons, top left, and Wikipedia, Creative Commons, top right.

Photos by, or from, Martine Perret, for the United Nations, above left; © Voces Bolivianas, above right; Maison Kordopoulov via Flickr, Creative Commons, top left, and Wikipedia, Creative Commons, top right.

— Text by Anne Tempelman-Kluit, produced by Michael Sasges

Copyright Bead Shop Media 2014

Further reading and viewing:

UNESCO’s photo gallery of Intangible Cultural Heritage 
UNESCO press release on its 9th Session of Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee in November. 

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Alaskan volcanos could cause trans-Atlantic airline chaos

Volcanoes may soon disrupt airline travel around the world. We have paid little heed due to our short social memories and because the aviation industry developed in a period of relative calm, write Pyne-O'Donnel and Jensen.  Above,  Mount Baker in Washington State (with Lesser Snow Geese in the foreground) has shown signs of activity since 1975, say scientists. Photo by Deborah Jones, © 2014

Volcanoes may soon disrupt airline travel around the world. We have paid little heed due to our short social memories and because the aviation industry developed in a period of relative calm, write Pyne-O’Donnel and Jensen. Above, Mount Baker in Washington State (with Lesser Snow Geese in the foreground) has shown signs of activity since 1975, say scientists. Photo by Deborah Jones, © 2014

By Sean Pyne-O’Donnell, Queen’s University Belfast and Britta Jensen, University of Alberta
November 21, 2014

A volcanic eruption in Iceland caused massive disruption throughout Europe in 2010. A huge ash cloud grounded more than 100,000 flights and delayed 10m passengers, costing the aviation industry more than £2 billion. This wasn’t a freak event. New evidence shows such ash clouds are more common than we thought, and they can even cross the Atlantic from volcanic hot-spots in North America.

We need to be wary as another major ash cloud could arrive at any time. In fact, the ash has barely settled from Alaska’s latest major eruption.

Given volcanoes erupt all the time it seems odd that the Iceland incident came as such a shock. Perhaps there is a failure to appreciate that volcanic eruptions often occur in cycles with busy periods followed by intervals of relative quiet during which time these events pass out of social memory.

Looking back through history one can see that 2010 was by no means unique. The Icelandic volcanoes Katla and Hekla, for example, produced large ash plumes in 1947 and 1918, but both were modest by comparison with the massive Asjka eruption of 1875 which blanketed much of Scandinavia in ash.

We should remember that intercontinental plane travel has only existed for around 50 years, with budget airlines allowing mass air travel only within the past few decades. Flying has changed from being the reserve of the wealthy to a regular travel expectation for the majority.

The industry was lucky to evolve in what was a relatively quiet period between major ash producing eruptions in Iceland.

A few years ago we were involved in a project to reconstruct past environmental changes along North America’s east coast. We found a number of ash layers throughout the sediments covering the past several thousand years.

By analysing the elements in the ash’s glass particles we are able to obtain a chemical “fingerprint” unique to that ash layer. These “fingerprints” can then be compared with samples from elsewhere. When an ash layer is identified, it provides a means of joining and aligning the environmental histories of different areas where it occurs. They are very precise time markers in the sediment because they are deposited over a very short period of time (days to weeks).

Digging for Alaskan ash in an Irish bog. Gill Plunkett, Author provided

Digging for Alaskan ash in an Irish bog. Photo by Gill Plunkett, author provided

The majority of the dozen or so ash layers we found during this study were from well-known eruptions in North American volcanic regions such as the Aleutian Islands off Alaska or the Cascade Mountains near Portland.

One layer however stood out. It presented us with a puzzle: we had found a chemical match between an ash layer from Alaska and a layer which occurs throughout Europe, which was always presumed to come from Iceland. Using the ages of the eruptions was no help as they both occurred at approximately the same time. In North America, we know this as the White River Ash, which erupted from Bona-Churchill massif in Alaska. The European layer is called the AD860B (named after the approximate date of the layer).

We suspected both derived from the same eruption. But this would imply that ash would be capable of travelling from Alaska, over North America, and out across the Atlantic to Europe – a total distance of 7,000km. One might expect this of past mega-eruptions such as Toba on Sumatra which blasted ash as far as Lake Malawi in eastern Africa around 75,000 years ago.

However, the White River Ash was by no means a mega-sized event. Although it was large – approximately ten times larger than the 1990 eruption of Pinatubo – it was also half the size of the 1815 eruption of Tambora. In the long run we could expect an eruption the size of White River somewhere in the world every 100-200 years.

We collected samples of both the White River Ash and AD860B from both sides of the Atlantic and re-examined them in detail: there were no appreciable differences between the Alaskan and European ash deposits. As an added bonus the ash has also been found deep in the Greenland ice. This allowed us to count the annual ice layers as one would for tree rings to obtain a new age for the eruption of around AD 847.

It is unlikely that we stumbled upon the only time North American ash that made it to Europe, and we fully expect more such layers will be found to correspond with the many large eruptions that have occurred in North America. If it happened at least once before, we need to be aware of the risk that it will happen again.

The White River Ash/AD860B layer covered a third of the globe’s circumference at approximately 60°N. This coincides with a number of trans-Atlantic flight paths and would pose an obvious hazard when any of North America’s plentiful volcanoes have a White River Ash-type eruption.

Findings such as ours should provide additionally useful data for the airline industry when calculating the risk likelihood associated with future volcanic eruptions and how to improve resilience against them.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

White River Ash under the microscope. Photo by Britta Jensen, © 2014

White River Ash under the microscope. Photo by Britta Jensen, © 2014

Sean Pyne-O’Donnell, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, receives funding from The European Research Council.

Britta Jensen, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at University of Alberta, receives funding from Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC).

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How does the IPCC know climate change is happening?

North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, U.S., in September, 2014. Photo by weesam via Flickr, Creative Commons

North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, U.S., September, 2014. Photo by weesam via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Mark Maslin, University College London
November 4, 2014

Climate change is one of the few scientific theories that makes us examine the whole basis of modern society. It is a challenge that has politicians arguing, sets nations against each other, queries individual lifestyle choices, and ultimately asks questions about humanity’s relationship with the rest of the planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its synthesis report on November 2, a document that brings together the findings from the IPCC’s three main working groups. It reiterates that the evidence for climate change is unequivocal, with evidence for a significant rise in global temperatures and sea level over the last hundred years. It also stresses that we control the future and the magnitude of shifting weather patterns and more extreme climate events depends on how much greenhouse gas we emit.

This is not the end of the world as envisaged by many environmentalists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it will mean substantial, even catastrophic challenges for billions of people.

Greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit some of the heat radiation given off by the Earth’s surface and warm the lower atmosphere. The most important greenhouse gas is water vapour, followed by carbon dioxide and methane, and without their warming presence in the atmosphere the Earth’s average surface temperature would be approximately -20°C.

While many of these gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, humans are responsible for increasing their concentration through burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other land use changes.

Although carbon dioxide is released naturally by volcanoes, ecosystems and some parts of the oceans, this release is more than compensated for through the carbon absorbed by plants and in other ocean regions, such as the North Atlantic. Had these natural carbon sinks not existed, CO2 would have built up twice as fast as it has done. Records of air bubbles in ancient ice show us that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are now at their highest concentrations for more than 800,000 years.

The IPCC presents six main lines of evidence for climate change.

  1. We have tracked the unprecedented recent rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

  2. We know from laboratory and atmospheric measurements that greenhouse gases do indeed absorb heat when they are present in the atmosphere.

  3. We have tracked significant increase in global temperatures of 0.85°C and sea level rise of 20cm over the past century.

  4. We have analysed the effects of natural events such as sunspots and volcanic eruptions on the climate, and though these are essential to understand the pattern of temperature changes over the past 150 years, they cannot explain the overall warming trend.

  5. We have observed significant changes in the Earth’s climate system including reduced snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere, retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, retreating glaciers on all continents, and shrinking of the area covered by permafrost and the increasing depth of its active layer. All of which are consistent with a warming global climate.

  6. We continually track global weather and have seen significant shifts in weather patterns and an increase in extreme events. Patterns of precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) have changed, with parts of North and South America, Europe and northern and central Asia becoming wetter, while the Sahel region of central Africa, southern Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia have become drier. Intense rainfall has become more frequent, along with major flooding. We’re also seeing more heat waves. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) between 1880 and the beginning of 2014, the 13 warmest years on record have all occurred within the past 16 years.

The continued burning of fossil fuels will inevitably lead to further climate warming. The complexity of the climate system is such that the extent of such warming is difficult to predict, particularly as the largest unknown is how much greenhouse gas we will emit over the next 85 years.

The IPCC has developed a range of emissions scenarios or Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to examine the possible range of future climate change. Using scenarios ranging from buisness-as-usual to strong longer-term decline in emissions, the climate model projections suggest the global mean surface temperature could rise by between 2.8°C and 5.4°C by the end of the 21st century.

Global average surface temperature change. IPCC, Author provided

The sea level is projected to rise by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100, threatening coastal cities, low-lying deltas and small islands. Snow cover and sea ice are projected to continue to reduce, and some models suggest that the Arctic could be ice-free in late summer by the latter part of the 21st century. Heat waves, extreme rain and flash flood risks are projected to increase, threatening ecosystems and human settlements, health and security.

Global mean sea level rise IPCC, Author provided

These changes will not be spread uniformly around the world. Faster warming is expected near the poles, as the melting snow and sea ice exposes the darker underlying land and ocean surfaces which then absorb more of the sun’s radiation instead of reflecting it back to space in the way that brighter ice and snow do. Indeed, such “polar amplification” of global warming is already happening.

Changes in precipitation are also expected to vary from place to place. In the high-latitude regions (central and northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America) the year-round average precipitation is projected to increase, while in most sub-tropical land regions it is projected to decrease by as much as 20%, increasing the risk of drought.

In many other parts of the world, species and ecosystems may experience climatic conditions at the limits of their optimal or tolerable ranges or beyond. Human land use conversion for food, fuel, fibre and fodder, combined with targeted hunting and harvesting, has resulted in species extinctions some 100 to 1000 times higher than background rates. Climate change will only speed things up.

The IPCC synthesis set in stark terms the global challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To keep global temperature rise below 2°C then global carbon emission must peak in the next ten years and from 2070 onward must be negative: we must start sucking out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite 30 years of climate change negotiations there has been no deviation in greenhouse gas emissions from the business-as-usual pathway so many feel keeping the climate change to less than 2°C will prove impossible.

The failure of the international climate negotiation, most notably at Copenhagen in 2009, set back meaningful global cuts in emissions by at least a decade. Anticipation is building for the Paris conference in 2015 and there are some glimmers of hope.

China, now the largest greenhouse gas polluter in the world, has discussed instigating a regional carbon-trading scheme which if successful would be rolled out across the whole country. Meanwhile the US, which has emitted a third of all the carbon pollution in the atmosphere, has placed the responsibility for regulating carbon dioxide emissions under the Environment Protection Agency, away from political wrangling in Washington.

Support and money are also needed to help developing countries mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to inevitable climate change. Trillions of dollars will be invested in energy over the next 15 years to keep pace with increasing demand – what we must do is ensure that it is directed towards developing cheap, clean, secure energy production rather than exploiting fossil fuels. We must also prepare for the worst and adapt. If implemented now, much of the costs and damage that could be caused by changing climate can be mitigated.

Climate change challenges the very way we organise our society. It needs to be seen within the context of the other great challenges of the 21st century: global poverty, population growth, environmental degradation, and global security. To meet these challenges we must change some of the basic rules of our society to allow us to adopt a much more global and long-term approach and in doing so develop a solution that can benefit everyone.

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The Conversation

ef52eccb-9e3e-4a1f-bc80-dd2a96e9fffaMark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London, does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.






Further reading:

Verbatim: Climate change to cause food shortages, mass extinctions, flooding, by F&O

Climate change caused by humans will result in food shortages, mass extinctions and flooding, warns the world body of climate experts in its most comprehensive report yet, signed in Bonn on November 2, 2014. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the science is now 95 per cent conclusive, that today’s climate change is unprecedented, and warns that the world must act, together and immediately, on adaptation and mitigation. It says some changes are already inevitable and the risk of not acting is extreme. 


Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and will continue with, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Survival Lessons in Iceland’s Resilience

Heimay, Iceland, was nearly destroyed by a volcanic explosion above it, more than four decades ago. Residents not only prevailed, but benefitted from the devastation, writes Johanna Hoffman.  Photo by kitniederer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Heimay, Iceland, was nearly destroyed by a volcanic explosion above it, more than four decades ago. Residents not only prevailed, but benefitted from the devastation, writes Johanna Hoffman. Photo by kitniederer via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Johanna Hoffman, The Daily Climate
October 24, 2014

HEIMAY, Iceland – The grassy slopes above this small Icelandic fishing town exploded with lava and ash 41 years ago. Rolling meadows erupted into a raw volcano and columns of 2,000º molten rock burst from the Earth. The surprise five-month eruption nearly destroyed the town.

Yet residents found ways to not only return but benefit from the devastation.

That Heimay’s townspeople bounced back with speed and agility is no accident. For Icelanders, long tested by fire and ice, resiliency to environmental change is par for the course.

As climate change threatens us all with stress and surprise, we would do well to learn from their ways. Design and planning can help us cope with – and even embrace – uncertainty and instability in our cities. Like the people of Heimaey, we can learn to take shelter in shifting ground.

Change, for Icelanders, is a fact of life. Earthquakes happen regularly. Volcanic eruptions come and are accommodated when they do. Asked about the 1973 explosion, a Heimaey barista shrugged: “It was stressful, but we managed.” Such is life on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Across the rest of the developed world, natural hazards spark the opposite reaction. Ever since industrialization gave us the tools for large-scale engineering, we’ve set about armoring landscapes and minimizing environmental change. Manhattan’s marshes were filled and shored up to foster international trade. The Netherlands, reeling from devastating flooding of the Rhine in 1953, launched the Deltaworks project, one of the most extensive systems of dikes and dams in the world.

This reliance on hard engineering to keep natural forces at bay has left us vulnerable. Sandy overwhelmed Manhattan’s shoreline fill, crippling the region. Hurricane Katrina almost wiped a major American city off the map. The mighty dams and levees of the Mississippi couldn’t hold back 2011’s crushing spring floods, resulting in $3.4 billion in direct damages.

On Jan. 23, 1973, the island of Heimaey ripped open. As tremors in the Earth let loose spews of molten lava, farmers shot their cattle, fishermen abandoned their boats in the harbor and nearly all 5,300 residents fled to the mainland. For months, fire rained across the island, houses burned and ash fell twenty feet deep. By the time things fell quiet five months later, Eldfell loomed 600 feet high, a raw volcano where before there was only grass.

As lava began to pour across the island, Icelanders realized the major center of their country’s fishing industry – Heimaey’s harbor – was about to be blocked from the sea. Fishing is so central to Iceland that the country puts a different fish, crustacean or dolphin on each coin. John McPhee, writing in Control of Nature, put the dilemma in perspective: Proportionally Heimaey was more valuable to Iceland than Manhattan was to Americans.

Controversial tactics got the go-ahead. Physicist Thorbjorn Sigurgeirsson proposed spraying the lava’s face with seawater to cool and redirect the flow. Crews set to work with fire hoses, a dredging boat, and finally industrial pumps. The $1.5 million intervention worked: The lava flows were slowed, then diverted. Residents who returned came home an island 20 percent larger, with a more protected harbor.

The lesson here is that resilience can be cultivated. Heimaey’s resilience to Eldfell’s explosive force stemmed from two key factors.

One, residents had a strong understanding of their island’s landscape dynamics. Understanding the natural forces that shape our landscapes helps prepare us both practically and psychologically for how those landscapes can change.

Two, Icelandic culture is shaped by robust social ties and strong governing institutions. We can cooperate better and act quicker if we foster strong connections with people – from neighbors to government officials – who share our landscapes.

Both factors are key in developing resiliency to intense environmental change.

The 1995 Chicago heat wave offers a vivid – and tragic – example of the importance of social ties. More than 700 people died, many elderly, as polluted urban air trapped the sweltering heat. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg examined the impact of the event on two adjacent neighborhoods, and found striking differences.

One neighborhood was poor and largely elderly but dotted with small commercial establishments that encouraged residents to socialize. The death toll there was three out of every 100,000 people.

The other neighborhood, also poor and elderly, lacked commercial business and had less social action on the street. Its death toll was more than 10 times higher – 33 out of every 100,000 people.

Regular social interactions, it turns out, give residents a common understanding of who needs help and how to reach them. Those social ties, Klinenberg concludes, can go a long way in helping cities cope with the increasingly unpredictable events – from heat waves to hurricanes – stemming from climate change.

Just as important are a given group’s cultural mores. Christine Wamsler, author of Cities, Disaster Risk and Adaptation and associate professor at Sweden’s Lund University, finds that longstanding capacity for adaptation often results from how connected a given culture is to its landscape.

In Japan, for instance, negotiating a tsunami is a significant part of national culture. Folktales, paintings and photographs all repeatedly depict the act of retreating to high ground when tsunami comes. When coastal waters start to surge, citizens know what to do.

This is where planning and design can help. When well done, they are powerful tools to cultivate better understanding of our landscapes and the people with whom we share them.

New Yorkers may not be well aware of the risks that come with living on the Hudson Estuary these days, but they soon will be, thanks to bigger storm surges and extreme tides. Smart design moves now could save considerable heartbreak and cash, as well as get residents accustomed to dealing with environmental change.

Some of that change is already underway. Since Sandy revealed the region’s vulnerability to flooding and inundation, new waterfront projects are replacing the old seawall paradigm with tidal inlets and urban beaches to connect residents with river dynamics.

On the opposite American coast, San Francisco also risks inundation from sea level rise. Designs for its shoreline could include water plazas and floating piers that would allow users to better understand the intensity of tides and the harshness of winter storms. In Las Vegas, massive light shows could be re-wired as public art installations to communicate water usage levels in the increasingly water-poor city.

Planning and design can also play fundamental roles in strengthening our social networks.

Long before Eldfell exploded, Heimaey’s harsh winters and violent storms had taught residents how to cooperate and rebuild. Those strong social ties likewise extended to Heimaey’s relationship with the Icelandic government, whose swift actions were key in saving the town and its harbor. We can cultivate those ties by pushing for development that fosters connections between residents and nurtures economic development.

Designing housing within walking distance from stores creates opportunities to strengthen relationships between neighbors. Promoting public transportation sets the stage not just for more chance encounters, but for the sense of shared experience.

Given the uncertainties climate change is throwing our way, it’s time to learn from Heimaey’s example. We can’t stop the ground from shifting beneath us but we can learn to shift with it when it does.

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Johanna Hoffman is a landscape architect, coastal adaptation strategist and writer on climate change and its impacts on the built environment. She lives in California’s San Francisco Bay area.  This essay was originally published by The Daily Climate, an independent news service in the United States covering energy, the environment and climate change.

Recommended reading on F&O:
Isn’t It Hysterical? The cliff is ahead. We have the tools to see it. By Chris Wood, F&O Natural Security columnist (paywall)  
“Volcano Season” — is it real? By Robin Wylie
The Drowning of the ‘Amazon of North America.’ By Bob Marshall, Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw
Book Review: Mike Berners-Lee on Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything
The Ugly Oil Sands Debate. By Tzeporah Berman 
An Argument for Carbon Divestment. By Desmond Tutu


Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and will continue with, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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