Know Your Planet is a weekly roundup of studies, research and reports.
This week featured an abundance of new research, visualizations and terrifying predictions about the future our planet. And interestingly enough, much of what you’ll read below can be tied together by a simple motif: Climate change is affecting just about everything. Whether it’s dying reindeer, extreme heatwaves, thawing tundra or unprecedented melting in the Arctic, the warming of our planet is, unfortunately, bringing negative consequences to Earth’s inhabitants far and wide.
According to a New Study…
We’re literally sucking the planet dry. Major aquifers all over the world are dropping due to excessive pumping of groundwater for drinking and agriculture. In California — where a third of Americans’ vegetables and two-thirds of Americans’ fruits and nuts are grown — vital aquifers could be depleted during the 2030s. Critical sources of groundwater in India, Spain and Italy will reach their pumping limits between 2040 and 2060. In total, 1.8 billion people may be living in areas that are expected to exhaust their aquifers by 2050.
The coolest diamonds come from hot, liquid metal more than 240 miles below the continents. Scientists know this because the so-called “superdeep” diamonds contain tiny flecks of silicate, which reveal the gems’ origin to be the liquid-hot depths of the planet. “This result provides a direct link between diamond formation and deep mantle conditions, addressing a key goal of the Deep Carbon Observatory,” said DCO Executive Director and Carnegie scientist Robert Hazen.
We’ve used roads to slice and dice Earth’s wilderness into 600,000 pieces. More than half of these plots of unspoiled nature are less than .39 square miles in size. When roads fragment habitats, there are enormous implications for affected ecosystems. Only 7 percent of these areas are larger than 39 square miles, with the biggest tracts of untouched land in the Amazon, Africa and boreal forests, such as Canada’s vast taiga.
Extreme heat waves in India and Pakistan were exacerbated by human-caused climate change. Researchers used atmospheric simulations to tie these specific examples of extreme weather to the warming of the Earth due to human activity. The heat waves killed nearly 2,500 people.
Methane emissions are surging. Levels of the methane — which has 30 times the heat-trapping potential of CO2 — are rising faster than at any other time in the past two decades. Scientists are even worried that methane emissions could lead to a one degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures independent of CO2 emissions. The causes include everything from oil and gas exploration to melting permafrost to big agriculture.
Deforestation is helping to spread an infectious disease in French Guiana. Researchers found more instances of a lesser-known disease called Buruli ulcer in lower-order animals living in deforested areas. The data is significant because it suggests that tropical deforestation may increase the spread of bacterial infections, among its other consequences.
Wet areas are getting wetter; dry areas are getting drier. Scientists at the University of Southampton in England analyzed data on the saltiness of the world’s oceans over the past 60 years to arrive at this conclusion. Both dry and wet regions are becoming more so at a rate of 2 percent over the last 60 years — much slower than previously thought.
Not all trees have the same reaction to global warming. In most instances, scientists expect tree lines — the high altitudes where trees stop growing — to advance upward due to climate change. But when researchers took a closer look at the Engelmann spruce and limber pine (both abundant in the Western U.S.), they found that warming caused the trees’ lower elevation to migrate upslope while the tree line stayed put, effectively shrinking the range of these specific species.
NASA has created a 3D visualization of atmospheric CO2. Scientists used a supercomputer to show how this critical greenhouse gas moves through the atmosphere. The new data will go a long way toward answering important questions about our warming planet.
A plant pigment found in leafy greens may boost brain health. Researchers found a link between the nutrient lutein and “crystallized intelligence,” which is the ability to use the skills and knowledge gained over a lifetime. Popular sources of lutein include kale, broccoli and egg yolks. The pigment has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases.
Climate change has not been kind to reindeer. Researchers studying these animals in the high Arctic found that adults had 12% less body mass when comparing reindeer in 1994 to reindeer in 2010. The dip is directly linked to climate change. Warmer temperatures mean more rain instead of snow, which freezes once it’s on the ground, effectively sealing off the reindeer’s’ food under a thick layer of ice. If global temperatures continue to rise, mass die-offs could occur.
There’s a new world-record wave. A buoy in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland captured the behemoth, which measured 62.3 feet, making it the highest wave ever recorded by a buoy. The previous record, also in the North Atlantic, was 59.96 feet.
The Arctic is in trouble. The NOAA released their annual Arctic Report Card, and the results are dismal. New records were set for lowest snow cover, snow mass and winter sea ice, as well as warmest winter temperatures. “Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger, or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program.
The Environmental Protection Agency finally admitted that fracking pollutes drinking water. However, the EPA also claimed that there isn’t enough information to determine exactly how widespread the risks are. Evidence that fracking contaminates water has been circulating for years, particularly in shale-heavy states like Pennsylvania. The EPA admitting as much is a big step in the right direction.
Climate Change is making flooding from massive “rivers in the sky” even worse. The atmosphere is capable of holding incredible amounts of moisture, and as global warming escalates, it will hold even more. But when the sky opens up and unleashes massive amounts of rain, species can be virtually wiped out. For example, 97 to 100 percent of Olympic oysters in North San Fancisco bay died in 2011 after heavy rains caused by “rivers in the sky.”
Shrinking glaciers all over the world prove climate change is happening. While that seems obvious, scientists hadn’t formally used data to tie retreating glaciers to global warming — until now. “It’s the first time that’s somebody’s done a formal climate change attribution study of mountain glacier length changes,” said Andrew Mackintosh, a glaciology expert in New Zealand.
Thawing tundra releases a pulse of CO2 into the atmosphere. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory studied a pulse that occurred in Alaska in 2014 and found that CO2 emissions equaled 46 percent of the net CO2 that is absorbed in the summer months and methane emissions that added 6 percent to summer fluxes. The fast pace of climate change is expected to make such events even more frequent.