Category Archives: News

Climate Change, El Niño Prolong Coral Die-off

The news earlier this month of a record low Arctic sea ice in January, combined with the hottest January on record and four separate studies corroborating accelerating sea level rise is only some of the recent news pointing to a rapidly changing global climate.

In a press statement released today by the American Geophysical Union, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that rising ocean temperatures from global warming and the strong El Niño will likely extend the ongoing coral bleaching event, already the longest on record, well into 2017.

Scientists released their findings this week at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans. Researchers will give an oral presentation of their work this Friday. You can see presentations abstracts on the AGU website.

Following is the full AGU press release:

Coral die-off

– Global warming and the intense El Niño now underway are prolonging the longest global coral die-off on record, according to NOAA scientists monitoring and forecasting the loss of corals from disease and heat stress due to record ocean temperatures. The global coral bleaching event that started in 2014 could extend well into 2017, researchers report at the Oceans Sciences Meeting here this week.

Coral bleaching happens when corals are stressed by conditions such as high temperatures. The bleaching, or whitening, occurs when the corals expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. Without the algae, corals lose a significant source of food and are more vulnerable to disease. In a severe bleaching event, large swaths of reef-building corals die. This causes reefs to erode, destroying fish habitat and exposing previously protected shorelines to the destructive force of ocean waves.

Warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Niños and global warming can lead to coral bleaching.  The first mass bleaching occurred during the 1982-83 El Niño. A global bleaching event was then confirmed in 1998 during a strong El Niño that was followed by a very strong La Niña, which brings warmer waters to places like Palau and Micronesia. A second global bleaching event occurred in 2010, during a less powerful El Niño.

 Scientists first observed the current global coral bleaching event beginning in mid-2014 when bleaching began in the western Pacific Ocean. In October 2015, as the current El Niño was still strengthening, NOAA scientists declared the third global bleaching event on record was underway.

New research finds that this bleaching event has persisted for 20 months and could reach into 2017, said Mark Eakin, a biological oceanographer at NOAA in College Park, Maryland, and coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch.

 “This time we’re in the longest coral bleaching event,” Eakin said. “We’re maybe looking at a 2- to 2-1/2-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row.”

Eakin and his colleagues will be presenting the latest update and outlook for the global bleaching event Friday at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union.

The length of the event means corals in some parts of the world have no time to recover before they are hit by another bleaching event, Eakin said. The current global bleaching event is hammering some reefs repeatedly. Reefs bleached in 2015 in the Caribbean and Florida Keys, for instance, have just started to recover, but may start bleaching all over again as early as July, according to Eakin. In the Pacific, reports are just coming in that corals in Fiji’s nearshore waters are bleaching with lots of dead coral.

“This is now two years in a row for Fiji and it’s looking like 2016 may be worse than 2015,” Eakin said.

 The rate of return of bleaching events has been faster than some reefs can recover, he noted. In 1998 in Southeast Asia, for example, there was a severe bleaching event, followed by twelve years of recovery that allowed some of the more rapid-growing, branching corals to grow back. However, the slower-growing corals that build the backbone of reefs did not recover. In 2010, the same area was hit again by a global bleaching event, killing off newly-grown branching corals and many of the surviving massive corals. These reefs may see bleaching again later this year, Eakin said.

 “That was only six years ago,” he said. “We’re seeing global bleaching again now. The frequency of mass bleaching events are going up because of global warming. We are hitting the corals, then we are hitting them again, and then again.”

Featured image credit: Eco Cafe’ Phuket, courtesy flickr

Governors Announce Bipartisan Accord for a New Energy Future

On February 16, a bipartisan group of 17 governors signed the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future

The accord represents a joint commitment among both Democratic and Republican-led states to take action promoting clean energy, better and cleaner transportation choices, a modern electrical grid and a plan for a new energy economy.

You can read the full accord here, which states, in part:

 “American prosperity has always depended on embracing new ideas and technologies,” states the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future. “Embracing new energy solutions allows us to expand our economy while protecting the health of our communities and natural resources. These improvements will help secure a safe and prosperous future for our country.

“We recognize that now is the time to embrace a bold vision of the nation’s energy future, and to do so, states are once again poised to lead.”

The coalition of participating states represents 127 million Americans, providing a platform for collaboration, sharing ideas and leveraging partnerships in energy planning and policymaking.

The bipartisan partnership represents states with a diverse energy mix and policy portfolio – from Delaware, with low overall energy consumption powered primarily with natural gas, but with an unexpectedly high per-capita energy usage due its energy-intensive oil refining and chemical manufacturing industry, to Nevada, a state that imports more than 90 percent of the energy it consumes from out-of-state relying on long-distance energy transmission and working to expand its own energy grid – and all are committed to work together to “make transformational policy changes to secure a stronger energy future for their states and the nation.”

With the Accord now officially executed by state leaders, senior advisors from each state will convene to hash out initial steps to put plans into action for energy diversification, expanded sources of clean energy, a modern, resilient energy grid and cleaner transportation options.

State partnerships such as this are key to building on the momentum toward a new, resilient and clean energy future.

Image credit: Michale Kappel, courtesy flickr

What the SCOTUS Stay Mean for the Clean Power Plan

Though legal challenges to full implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) were expected, the Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday to stay progress on the CPP was a surprising and unexpected setback. The EPA regulation is president Obama’s signature action to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

A coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and fossil energy interests,claiming the CPP was a “power grab,” prevailed upon the court in a 5-to-4 vote that fell along idealogical leanings. All four of the liberal justices noted they did not favor the decision.

It is reportedly unprecedented to stay any regulation before its legal standing has been considered. A similar request for a stay was rejected by the DC Circuit US Court of Appeals in December.

The stay does not overturn the CPP nor does it comment on the legal merits of the plan, which will be considered by the Court of Appeals in oral arguments on June 2.  Once the Court of Appeals makes its decision, it is assumed the Supreme Court will then hear the case and issue its final decision by June of 2017 and likely “no later than June of 2018,” said Joanne Spalding, Chief Climate Counsel for the Sierra Club at a press conference on Thursday.

The Clean Power Plan calls for states to come up wth their own individual plans for cutting emissions by September, though a 2-year extension is allowed. The CPP calls for a 32 percent overall reduction in emissions against 2005 levels by 2030. Implementation of the state plans does not begin until 2022.

Since the court’s ruling this week, at least four states – California, Virginia, Colorado and Washington – have pledged they will continue implementing their plans. A New York-led coalition of 14 states have also issued a statement stressing their support of the CPP.

Experts from the Sierra Club, World Resources Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists participated in Thursday’s press conference. Our post on GlobalWarmingisReal details their comments and outlook for continued climate action despite the temporary setback handed down by the Supreme Court.

Image credit: MPCA Photos, courtesy flickr