Hexbyte Glen Cove Lionfish—an invasive menace terrorizing Venezuela’s coast

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Fisherman William Alvarez cuts off the poisonous spines from a lionfish while cleaning it to prepare ceviche that he sells to tourists on the beach of Chichiviriche de la Costa, Vargas state, Venezuela, on October 30, 2021.

The dazzling, colorful lionfish is a must for any exotic aquarium, but it has also become a major threat to the western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean.

“It’s beautiful, but you have to kill it,” says Mavi Escalona, a Venezuelan nurse and amateur spearfisher.

“It causes a lot of damage, and it’s delicious!”

The spectacular, stripey lionfish with its venemous spines is a carnivore originally from the Indian and Pacific oceans that has now become an invasive species in the Atlantic and Caribbean, posing a threat to their ecosystems.

Known by many other names such as zebrafish, tastyfish and butterfly-cod, the lionfish can now be found from Florida to northern Brazil.

And it has a voracious appetite: eggs, small fish, crustaceans, molluscs. It is at least partly responsible—alongside over-fishing, pollution and —for a drop in the numbers of other fish in the area.

“It’s an invasive fish. It doesn’t have competitors or predators,” said Laura Gutierrez, a Venezuelan biologist now based in the Canary Islands of Spain but who studied lionfish for many years in her homeland.

The lionfish was first spotted in Florida in 1985.

“People that had them in their aquarium released them because they ate their other fish or it was difficult to feed them,” said Gutierrez.

“It is eating all the commercial fish, crustaceans, fish and molluscs that keep reefs and corals clean, fish that eat algae.”

What happens in an aquarium takes place on a much larger scale in the Caribbean, and could do so, too, in the Mediterranean, which lionfish have started to colonize.

“We’re not talking about eradicating them, you can’t. It’s very difficult but we’re talking about minimizing their impact,” said Gutierrez.

Fisherman William Alvarez comes out of the water with a lionfish, an invasive species that is terrorizing Venezuela’s coast.

Unprofitable

Venezuelan authorities have organized fishing competitions and promoted eating lionfish to try to stymy their inexorable spread.

“The only ones that can control them are us: fishermen,” said Willy Alvarez, 35, a dreadlocked spearfisher in Chichiviriche de la Costa, a small village between the sea and the mountains, around 60 kilometers west of Caracas.

Alvarez, with his permanent smile, heads out to sea every day with his mask, snorkel and harpoon.

“The first time I saw one was in 2008 or 2009 … I caught it to put in an aquarium,” he said after climbing back on board his boat, a lionfish skewered on the end of his spear.

“Their reproduction is incredible: 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every three to four days.”

He catches one every day and turns it into a ceviche—a marinated raw fish dish—to sell on the beach to passers by.

It’s not a very profitable business. To produce one kilogram of ceviche, which sells for $20, he needs to catch three kilograms of lionfish, meaning dozens of free dives—each one lasting around 40 seconds. And then there’s the time taken to prepare the dish.

“It’s a lot of effort. I can’t live off that but one lionfish less is thousands of little fish it won’t eat. It’s satisfying to help the ecosystem,” he said.

‘Better than lobster’

A decade ago, the lionfish was still unknown off the Venezuelan coast and its sudden appearance caused fear amongst many locals.

A tourist eats ceviche prepared with lionfish on the beach of Chichiviriche de la Costa, Vargas state, Venezuela.

It’s curious beauty and venemous spines that can cause sharp pain or even paralysis have contributed to the mystery around what many locals call the devilfish.

Some even think they are spirits.

Unsurprisingly, it is little eaten here.

“We have to involve the local community,” said Gutierrez.

“We have to explain what the fish is. We have to explain that it’s edible, that it’s tasty.”

The spines and skin can also be used to make jewelry.

“If we create demand, we’ll ensure more are taken out of the sea and that will help limit the population,” she added.

“Delicious” exclaimed Genesis Palma, a 20-year-old cashier, tasting for the first time in Chichiriviche.

“Lionfish is the best,” added Juan Carlos Gutierrez, one of Alvarez’s clients.

“It’s better than lobster, better than caviar!”



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Hexbyte Glen Cove Amazon deforestation hits monthly record in Brazil

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General view of a burnt area of the Amazon rainforest outside the city of Porto Velho in Brazil in September 2021.

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest hit a new record in October, a Brazilian government agency said Friday, just days after President Jair Bolsonaro announced ambitious environmental goals at the COP26 climate summit.

An area more than half the size of the city of Rio de Janeiro—877 square kilometers (339 square miles)—of Amazon’s lush rainforest was cleared, the largest ever recorded for October since Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) started documenting deforestation in 2016.

The October figure was a five percent increase from the corresponding period last year.

Attributed mostly to and farming activity, deforestation of the Amazon surged in 2020, and is on track to reach similar highs in 2021, with 7,880 square kilometers of forest cleared and two months yet to go.

Brazil was among the signatories to an international pledge made at the COP26 summit in Glasgow to end deforestation by 2030.

Bolsonaro also went further by pledging to eliminate illegal deforestation in the giant South American country—home to 60 percent of the Amazon—by 2028, pulling forward a previous target by two years.

But the commitments have been met with skepticism by who along with Brazil’s opposition squarely blame Bolsonaro for a spike in , due to his support for an increase in agriculture and mining work.

They have also accused him of defunding environmental protection organizations.

Those pledges “do not change the reality on the ,” said Romulo Batista, a spokesman for Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign.

“Deforestation and fires remain out of control, and the violence against and the traditional population is only increasing,” he added.

INPE recorded more than 11,500 in the Amazon in October, fewer than the 17,300 of last year but still a jump on the 2019 figure of almost 7,900.

Since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon has lost more than 10,000 square kilometers a year of forest cover, an area the size of Lebanon, up from 6,500 square kilometers a year over the previous decade.



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Amazon deforestation hits monthly record in Brazil (2021, November 12)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Global consensus needed to develop climate risk disclosures for companies

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow ends today, the United States and other G7 countries need to continue to consider adoption of a global framework for mandatory climate risk disclosure by companies.

But making disclosures mandatory globally is challenging when there are two different corporate governance systems practiced in the world’s economies, said Paul Griffin, professor in the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of an article published today in Nature Energy.

“Most fundamentally, the borderless nature of carbon emissions and financial capital requires that any mandatory climate risk discourse framework will also have to be global to be effective,” Griffin said in the article.

The article, “Challenges for a climate risk mandate,” is co-authored by Amy Myers Jaffe of the Climate Policy Lab, Tufts University.

Two basic systems

U.S. shareholders, for example, have strong shareholder rights with a high level of disclosure required by firms. Other economies, such as in Asia and the European Union, traditionally operate in a blockholder system, whereby blockholders exert governance through direct intervention in a firm’s operations. No single corporate governance model exists that has wide-scale acceptance, Griffin said.

Meanwhile, throughout the world this past summer have created a new sense of urgency to achieve a net-zero , researchers suggest in the article. Asset managers and large asset owners have made efforts to force energy firms to align with global climate goals; investors are demanding climate-friendly environmental, social and governance stocks; President Biden has issued an executive order calling for mandatory climate risk disclosures by firms; and Congress has passed legislation calling for the same.

Regulators should work at a global level, Griffin said, to fashion a that addresses climate risk and climate risk disclosure in a manner that strengthens shareholder rights to press for disclosure, but aligns with the longer term perspective of a blockholder system.

“Rapid convergence of systems into a hybrid global model is essential, given the pressing need for a timely transition to net-zero business principles and to hold global temperatures to a 1.5-degree C rise compared with pre-industrial levels,” he said.



More information:
Paul Griffin et al, Challenges for a climate risk disclosure mandate, Nature Energy (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41560-021-00929-z

Citation:
Global consensus needed to develop climate risk disclosures for companies (2021, November 12)
retrieved 13 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-global-consensus-climate-disclosures-companies.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove The single population is growing, and it’s time to grow with it

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Peter McGraw, professor of marketing and psychology at the Leeds School of Business. Credit: University of Colorado at Boulder

Recent Pew Research Center data shows that nearly half of U.S. adults are unmarried––and half of that population is not interested in dating. Yet, being in a relationship and, ultimately, a marriage continues to be a societal expectation.

The Pew report sheds light on a shifting narrative, said Peter McGraw, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Leeds School of Business. Culture in America is changing, and the data shows people are less dependent upon partnerships than ever before.

Still, there remains a based on relationship status.

“My research reveals that a hierarchy based on relationship status can be damaging for people whom partnering isn’t the right fit,” said McGraw. “Life shouldn’t be seen as better because you partner up, it should just be seen as different.”

McGraw, who is widely known for his research on humor, is one of the first researchers to scientifically examine solos. A bachelor himself, he’s also become an advocate for living single and living remarkably.

“There are 128 million unmarried American adults, and 25% of millennials are projected to never marry,” McGraw said. “It’s time for a new playbook.”

Why we’re seeing more singles

The single adult boom isn’t because people are just anti-marriage, McGraw said. Economic data shows improvements in well-being, such as access to education, increased economic opportunity and a social safety net, are providing more opportunity for Americans to diverge from tradition.

The trend is seen even in those who do ultimately choose marriage: U.S. Census Bureau data shows the average age for first marriage in 2020 was 30 for men and 28 for women, up markedly from 2000 when men typically married at 27 and women at 25. The average age of first marriage has been steadily increasing for both genders since 1970.

“What this suggests is people are able to act more on their own desires, wants, needs and goals,” McGraw said. “Some people see the decline of marriage to be associated with the decline of society, but I see the opposite.”

Yet challenges of living solo still persist, particularly for the already-marginalized Black and LGBTQ+ communities, who make up a disproportionate share of the single population in the U.S.

One of the largest challenges is access to housing. A 2021 report by the National Association of Realtors estimates the U.S. is 5.5 million housing units short of what’s needed to house the population. Housing prices have also increased exponentially, especially since the start of the pandemic––the Federal Housing Finance Agency reports home prices increased 17.4% between the second quarter 2020 and second quarter 2021.

The increase in home price coupled with the lack of inventory doesn’t bode well for single people, McGraw said.

“Half of the adult U.S. population is single, living on one income, yet buying a house today is really designed for a two-income family,” McGraw said. “Residential zoning still prioritizes , which are quite expensive, as opposed to housing geared toward singles––like condos and shared living spaces that lower cost and create a sense of community.”

Singles are also more focused on pets as partners or being able to travel frequently––both of which challenge the architecture of a traditional work environment, McGraw said.

A Single Insight

Focus on partnerships is a fabric of our being, woven into the corners of daily life we don’t even recognize: the two front seats in a car, family discounts at the gym, meal kits designed for couples and families, tables at restaurants almost always arranged to seat at least two people.

It’s these characteristics of society that contribute to how we look at , McGraw said. He argues businesses can help break down these barriers by focusing more attention on the single population.

“A lot of businesses are competing over the same types of people because they have the wrong assumptions about what these people need,” McGraw said. “They’re trying to find markets that are underserved but are overlooking the 128 people that make up the single market.”

McGraw has launched a new project called A Single Insight aimed at helping businesses recognize solos in the marketplace and adjust their tactics to better serve this population.

“Serving solos requires different perspectives,” McGraw said. “Solos have more discretion over how and what they spend their money on. They’re more mobile in how they live and work and what they do for fun.”



Citation:
The single population is growing, and it’s time to grow with it (2021, November 12)
retrieved 12 November 2021
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Hexbyte Glen Cove How corals react to climate change

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Researchers around the world debate whether humans should be allowed to intervene in order to preserve coral reefs artificially. Credit: Roberto Schirdewahn

Ph.D. student Fabian Gösser from the Department of Animal Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity has been studying how corals react to changing environmental conditions and how their stress response could contribute to the survival of the reefs. The RUB biologist’s research focuses on the phenomenon of polyp bailout, i.e. the expulsion of small, bud-like individual corals called polyps. Under stress, the colony of polyps that form a stony coral dissolves. The individual polyps can then settle elsewhere and form new coral colonies. The phenomenon of polyp bailout has been little studied so far—and neither has the potential of this response for the survival of the reefs. An article has been featured in the RUB’s science magazine Rubin.

Corals under stress

In order to understand the corals’ reactions to climate change in detail, the Bochum-based research team headed by Fabian Gösser, Dr. Maximilian Schweinsberg and Professor Ralph Tollrian is conducting experiments in research tanks by varying temperature, CO2 partial pressure and salinity. “We subject the corals to a stress test, simulating even more dramatic environmental conditions,” as Gösser outlines the approach. The biologists have already determined that different coral species react with different degrees of intensity to the stressors, such as an increase in salinity. “There are species that are more robust and species that are more sensitive,” as Gösser summarizes the findings.

When polyps leave the sinking ship

The Ph.D. student’s research focuses on the polyp bailout response that he observed in stony corals. “The individual polyps would detach from the coral colony in response to a temperature rise of four degrees Celsius above their tolerance and leave the sinking ship, so to speak,” explains Gösser. Even more astonishing in his opinion is that these polyps were able to start growing in a different location. The Ph.D. student explains the significance of the reaction: “Even if only a small proportion survives the detachment process, it could have a huge impact on the preservation of the population, the genetic diversity, and the survival of the reefs.”

Genetic mechanisms underlying the stress response

To understand the reaction in more detail, Gösser studies the bailout process at the molecular level. He analyzes what happens to the when they detach and which genes are switched on during bailout. For this purpose, the biologist first extracts DNA and RNA from tissue samples of stony corals that were taken at different times during the bailout process. He then sequences the complete messenger RNA, which transmits the information of the active genes as messengers, and compares the base sequence with previously decoded genomes.

“We do see that genes are switched on during the bailout process that are responsible for immune responses in humans, for example,” as the biologist describes the initial results. These immune system responses during polyp bailout seem to indicate that microbial partners of the corals are involved in the response. Gösser’s analyzes also suggest that the polyp process is a general response of corals to acute stress, regardless of the type of stressor. The journal Coral Reefs features a report on the RUB biologist’s research findings.



More information:
Fabian Gösser et al, Signaling pathways of heat- and hypersalinity-induced polyp bailout in Pocillopora acuta, Coral Reefs (2021). DOI: 10.1007/s00338-021-02191-x

Citation:
How corals react to climate change (2021, November 12)
retrieved 12 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-corals-react-climate.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove How close are we to climate tipping points?

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As world leaders gather at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, to take bolder action against climate change, human activity has already warmed the planet 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that exceeding 2°C of warming could have catastrophic consequences and that we need to keep to 1.5°C. The world is currently on track to surpass both of those limits. Under the most optimistic scenario, if all 140 countries that have announced net zero targets or are considering them actually reach these goals, as well as their more ambitious 2030 commitments under the Paris Agreement, warming could be limited to 1.8°C by 2100. But will overshooting 1.5°C push us over climate , triggering irreversible and abrupt changes? The IPCC’s latest report warned of that possibility, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said, “…time is running out. Irreversible climate tipping points lie alarmingly close.”

What are the tipping points? And how close are they?

A tipping point is the point at which small changes become significant enough to cause a larger, more critical change that can be abrupt, irreversible, and lead to cascading effects. The concept of tipping points was introduced by the IPCC 20 years ago, but then it was thought they would only occur if global warming reached 5°C. Recent IPCC assessments, however, suggested that tipping points could be reached between 1°C and 2°C of warming.

Here are the major climate tipping points.

Greenland ice sheet

The Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise global sea levels by over 20 feet and its melting is accelerating. From 1992 to 2018, it lost close to four trillion tons of ice. While its disintegration is not likely to be abrupt, there could come a point beyond which its eventual collapse is irreversible for millennia.

A new study found that ice-sheet height and melting rates in the Jakobshavn basin, one of the fastest melting basins in Greenland, are destabilizing the ice sheet. Most of the melting occurs on the ice surface because of warming temperatures, but as the height of the ice sheet is reduced, the surface is exposed to warmer air at lower altitudes, which further speeds melting.

In addition, less snowfall leaves the ice surface darker so it absorbs more of the sun’s heat and warms faster. Scientists are not sure if a tipping point has been passed but the study found that there would likely be more melting in the near future. In other research, scientists speculated that the critical temperature range at which the Greenland ice sheet would go into irreversible disintegration is between 0.8°C and 3.2°C of warming above pre-industrial levels.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS)

The WAIS is vulnerable to collapse because it sits on bedrock below sea level and is affected by the ocean’s warming. A 2018 study found that the WAIS went from ice loss of almost 58.5 billion tons a year between 1992 and 1997 to 175 billion tons from 2012 to 2017. The Thwaites Glacier on West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea has lost a trillion tons of ice since the early 2000s, and some scientists believe it could be headed for an irreversible collapse, which could threaten a large part of the WAIS and raise global sea levels by two feet or more.

The Pine Island glacier, also on the Amundsen Sea, is thinning rapidly as well. A new study found that current policies, heading for almost 3°C of warming, would result in an abrupt hastening of Antarctic ice loss after 2060, while other research suggests that the tipping point for the WAIS lies between 1.5°C and 2.0°C of warming.

Another new study found that if the WAIS melted, it could raise sea levels three feet more than previous projections of 10.5 feet; Antarctica as a whole contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by over 200 feet.

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)

The AMOC is one of the main global ocean currents and is critical to regulating climate. Cold salty water, which is dense and heavy, sinks deep into the ocean in the North Atlantic, and moves along the bottom until it rises to the surface near the equator, usually in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Heat from the sun then warms the water, and evaporation leaves the water saltier. The warm salty water travels up the coast via the Gulf Stream, warming the U.S. East Coast and Western Europe. Once the water releases its heat and reaches the North Atlantic, it becomes cold and dense again, and the cycle, which can take water 1,000 years to complete, continues. But as glaciers and ice sheets melt, they add fresh, less dense water to the North Atlantic, which prevents the water from sinking and impedes circulation. This may be why AMOC has slowed 15 percent since the 1950s. A recent study found that the AMOC is in its weakest state in 1,000 years. Moreover, the latest climate models project that continued global warming could weaken the AMOC by 34 to 45 percent by 2100.

If the AMOC shuts down, it would cause significant cooling along the east coast of the U.S. and Western Europe. This, in turn, would alter rainfall patterns, make sea levels rise, cause more drying, and reduce agriculture in the U.K. It could also potentially set off other tipping points. And even if global warming is reversed, once shut down, the AMOC would not switch back on for a long time. Scientists believe this occurred during the last ice age when a glacial lake burst and poured freshwater into the Atlantic. As the AMOC shut down, the Northern Hemisphere entered a cold spell that lasted 1,000 years.

While there are still many uncertainties, some studies suggest that the AMOC’s tipping point could be reached between 3°C and 5.5°C of warming.

Amazon rainforest

The Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, stores 200 billion tons of carbon—equal to about five years of global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels—and is home to millions of species of plants and wildlife. The moisture from the Amazon’s rainfall returns to the atmosphere from the soil through evaporation and from plants through transpiration. This self-sustaining process creates clouds and more rainfall.

Because of logging, ranching, mining, agriculture, and fires, the Amazon has lost about 17 percent of its tree cover and at the current rate of deforestation, could reach a loss of 27 percent by 2030. The policies of Brazil’s pro-development president, Jair Bolsonaro, have led to widespread clear-cutting and the rate of deforestation in Brazil is the highest since 2008.

If 20–25 percent of the Amazon were deforested, its tipping point could be crossed, according to one study. Fewer trees would mean less evapotranspiration, and without enough rainfall to sustain itself, the Amazon could start to die back. In other words, parts of the rainforest could transition into a savannah, a drier ecosystem characterized by grasslands and few trees. In the process, it would potentially release 90 gigatons of CO2, exacerbating climate change. Crossing this tipping point would also result in the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, affect global weather patterns, and threaten the lives of 30 million people, many Indigenous, who depend on the rainforest to survive. One study found that dieback would occur if we reach 3°C of warming.

The Amazon is already feeling the effects of climate change, as over the last century, temperatures in the region have increased 1°C to 1.5°C. The Amazon is experiencing longer and hotter dry seasons that make it more vulnerable to wildfires, reduced evapotranspiration in response to higher levels of CO2, and there are now more drought-tolerant tree species.

Scientists are unsure whether the Amazon has a single overall tipping point, or when exactly it might be reached, and the ecosystem has some ability to adapt to changing conditions. But fires and drought could cause local changes that spread drying conditions to other regions because of an overall reduction of moisture. Twenty-eight percent of the eastern part of the Amazon is already losing more carbon than it is absorbing due to deforestation. And some climate models predict that by 2035, the Amazon will be a permanent source of carbon.

Thawing permafrost

Permafrost is ground that remains frozen for two or more consecutive years and is composed of rock, soil, sediments, and ice. Some permafrost has been frozen for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. It is found in northern hemisphere lands without glaciers, including parts of Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada and Tibet. In the Southern Hemisphere, there is permafrost in parts of Patagonia, Antarctica and the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

Fourteen hundred billion tons of carbon are thought to be frozen in the Arctic’s permafrost, which is twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere. But the Arctic is warming two times faster than the rest of the planet—it has already warmed 2°C above pre-industrial levels. As it warms and thaws the permafrost, microbes come out of hibernation and break down the organic carbon in the soil, releasing CO2 and methane, which then trigger even more warming and melting. The 2019 Arctic Report Card from NOAA found that the Arctic’s thawing permafrost could be releasing 300 to 600 million tons of carbon per year into the atmosphere.

Methane stored in ice-like formations called hydrates are also found in permafrost in ocean sediments. This methane may be released as hydrates are thawed by warming seawater. Scientists recently discovered methane leaking from a giant ancient reservoir of methane below the permafrost of the Laptev Sea in the East Siberian Arctic Ocean.

Scientists don’t know exactly how much carbon could ultimately be released by thawing permafrost or when. According to one report, 2°C of warming could mean the loss of 40 percent of the world’s permafrost.

ENSO

El Niño and La Niña are the warm and cool, naturally occurring weather patterns across the tropical Pacific—the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. Every two to seven years, the pattern alternates, bringing disruptions in temperature and precipitation. El Niño causes impacts around the world, such as more drought in India, Indonesia and Brazil, and flooding in Peru. As the ocean warms, it could push ENSO past a tipping point, which would make El Niño events more severe and frequent and could increase drought in the Amazon.

Tipping point interactions

A recent study of the WAIS, the Greenland ice sheet, the AMOC, ENSO, and the Amazon rainforest tipping points found that they could interact with one another before temperatures reach 2°C. This interaction would enable tipping to occur at lower thresholds than previously expected. The risk analysis found that a cascade could potentially begin with the melting of the ice sheets because their critical thresholds are lower. For example, as the Greenland ice sheet releases fresh water into the North Atlantic, the AMOC could slow. This would result in less heat being transported towards the north. As the North got colder, it could potentially help stabilize the Greenland ice sheet. However, it would also result in warmer water in the Southern Ocean and this could lead to more drought in some parts of the Amazon while others get more rainfall. Changes in the AMOC could also trigger changes in ENSO, leading to a more permanent El Niño state, whose impacts could lower the critical threshold for Amazon dieback.

The scientists say that these changes would occur over long time scales, and that the limits of computing power make it impossible to represent each climate system’s tipping point or their interactions exactly.

Can we avoid the climate tipping points?

Seventy-three percent of people in G20 countries think Earth is close to climate tipping points, according to a Global Commons Alliance poll. And much research indicates that if we do not curb our carbon emissions immediately to keep global warming below 2°C, we are headed for irreversible and catastrophic conditions. But some experts are more sanguine.

Robin Bell, a polar scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who specializes in ice sheet dynamics, doesn’t believe the ice sheets are at a tipping point yet.

“The most recent science is suggesting that maybe some of the runaway mechanisms we were worried about, might not occur,” she said. “For example, in terms of the WAIS, pressure on the giant river of ice could keep it from flowing. It means either we just need to keep icebergs in the way, or maybe it’s something we can think about engineering. It’s not that we have to hold the whole thing back, we just have to put a little pressure on it, and it will possibly not collapse—the ice sheet may not be as bad as we thought and maybe we have some time to get our act together.”

Bell worries more about the social tipping points than the physical ones. Will they occur fast enough to forestall climate tipping points? Social tipping points are the points where many members of society quickly and dramatically change their behavior or thinking. A 2020 study proposed six social tipping points that could help stabilize Earth’s climate: removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation, building carbon-neutral cities, divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels, clarifying the moral implications of fossil fuels, expanding climate education and engagement, and making greenhouse gas emissions transparent.

“The real question is: Is there the social will to act?” Bell said. “And it appears that the social will is emerging. We really are starting to have serious conversations. People from the individual scale to the government scale are taking action, and that’s what needs to happen.”

Steve Cohen, senior vice dean of Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and a professor in the Practice of Public Affairs at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, places his hope in technology. “The most important driver of change in the modern world has been technology,” he said. “And it’s a pretty simple equation: technological change leads to economic change, leads to social and cultural change

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Hazy skies, poor air quality: Is port congestion worsening LA pollution?

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Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

It hung over the Los Angeles Basin like a curtain—a veil of stagnant air that blotted out the sun and concealed both the San Gabriel Mountains and the skyscrapers of downtown L.A.

Over the first weekend of November, residents across the region were puzzled by a surprising fog that seemed to roll in from nowhere and failed to burn away like any other overcast morning. Was it wildfire smoke? Was it smog? Was it mutant June gloom?

Now, in the wake of last weekend’s mystery pall, some clean air advocates are blaming the long line of idling anchored off the coast of Southern California for triggering the haze.

For their part, air quality regulators say the poor visibility was due to seasonal weather effects that trap over the region. They told The Times on Wednesday, however, that they would look into whether shipping was a factor.

It’s a mystery that wraps itself around chemistry, weather and international trade.

Ships often travel in and out of the ports in Southern California within a relatively short window. Ships outside the Port of Los Angeles are now waiting up to 14 days on average to enter, according to port officials. Over 100 ships are anchored and idling there, awaiting their chance to offload cargo.

Ship emissions have increased substantially when compared to the pre-pandemic era, said Chris Cannon, chief sustainability officer with the Port of Los Angeles. Anchored ship emissions went from just 1% of overall ship emissions to 42% of emissions in December 2020.

“While we have not seen any obvious emissions increases at our local [air quality] monitoring stations during these anchorage periods, we continue to carefully monitor this activity and are coordinating with local and state agencies to assess impacts,” Cannon said in a statement.

Last weekend’s haze arrived just as the port gridlock entered its second month.

“In recent times, ships usually operate using shore power when docked at the port, but they can’t do that when they are anchored offshore waiting for their turn to unload,” said Michael Kleeman, civil and environmental engineering professor at UC Davis. “I’m speculating that the fuel used by those ships while they are anchored contains enough sulfur to contribute to the regional haze problem.”

Along the coast of California, cargo ships are required to use fuel with low sulfur content.

Suzanne Paulson, professor of atmospheric and oceanic studies at UCLA, said that up until January 2020, cargo ships burned heavier fuel. Now, when those ships get near the coast of California, they’re required to shift to low-sulfur fuel. What’s unclear is whether the ships idling along California’s coast have enough of that fuel to wait out the backlog at the ports.

“This issue is unprecedented,” Paulson said. “Usually, ships come and go. The ships off the coast may be a component that contributes to the pollution we’re seeing, but a lot of it has to do with the chemistry.”

It’s a theory that Kleeman thinks could be tested by measuring the air pollution for trace amounts of “chemical fingerprints” such as vanadium, an element that can be traced back to burned sulfur fuel used by cargo ships.

The question remains up in the air, said Sarah Rees, deputy executive officer at the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

It’s not uncommon to see this type of winter pollution buildup stretching out over several days at a time, air officials said.

On Tuesday, the South Coast district extended its 24-hour ban on residential wood-burning in fireplaces, wood stoves and fire pits, in an effort to limit the amount of pollution released into the air. Of particular concern are microscopic particles known as PM2.5, which can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and cause difficulty breathing. They can also trigger strokes, asthma attacks and heart attacks.

Starting Nov. 4, the South Coast Basin—which includes Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties—recorded a five-day period in which the daily average of PM 2.5 exceeded the national 24-hour health standard, according to available air quality data. On Nov. 5, spikes were recorded at air quality management district stations in Compton, North Hollywood, Reseda, Upland and Ontario. In the last few years, similar periods of unhealthy air coincided with massive heat waves and wildfires burning across the region.

The current available data offer a glimpse at the trends but not whether idling cargo ships are to blame.

Rees said the cargo ships could be a contributing factor to the haze but are just one part of the tapestry of machines pumping pollution into the L.A. Basin.

“It’s a little hard to say how much,” Rees said. “Even without the ships, we would have seen high levels of [particulate matter] around this time of year.”

Ships along the coast pump emissions into Southern California that contribute to PM 2.5 levels, but they also contribute precursors that become fine particulates over time. The source of each pollutant is difficult to nail down, according to the South Coast district.

“Since these pollutants are emitted by many other sources throughout the region, it is challenging to determine how much these ship emissions contribute to measured PM2.5 concentrations,” South Coast spokesperson Nahal Mogharabi said in an email.

Weather patterns and atmospheric chemistry all influence how emissions move and affect air quality, furthering the mystery on the source of the haze.

But Adriano Martinez, senior attorney at environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, said the weather is just one factor in the pollution question.

“Whenever we see this spike in fine particulate pollution, people point to the weather,” Martinez said. “What some of that explanation misses is that impact of some of the urban areas where people live, and glosses over the specific solutions that could be pursued to curb emissions.”

There was a time when L.A. was submerged in a thick layer of smog that made people afraid to leave their homes, Martinez said. Industry regulations over the last several decades improved the quality of life for cities across the country, but there’s still much more that needs to be done, he noted. Just last year, smog remained a threat to those living in L.A., and not just for children, seniors and people with health conditions.

Kleeman said there has been tremendous progress carried out by regulatory agencies such as the South Coast district and at the federal level, but this most recent deluge of pollution is a reminder that progress is fragile.

“We’re having a little bit of a throwback to what it was like 15 to 25 years ago,” Kleeman said. “It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come and a reminder that we have to realize that these problems go away when we take the steps to make them go away.”

The National Weather Service forecasts that Santa Ana winds will return to Southern California this week. The winds are likely to blow away the haze but will also increase the chance for wildfires.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Nitrogen calculators not created equal

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When deciding how much nitrogen fertilizer to apply, farmers have options. The standard tool for the Midwest—the maximum return to nitrogen (MRTN) calculator – offers a static recommendation. It is based on hundreds of field trials, but doesn’t vary much year to year. Newer dynamic tools have the potential to account for soil properties and weather, but also require input from farmers during the growing season to deliver site-specific nitrogen recommendations.

The idea is, always, to optimize corn yield for maximum profit. Avoiding over-application is part of that calculation, but it’s also key to minimizing pollution. So, which is better?

 “The difference between tools is small and difficult to see in only a few trials. In consequence, we needed a dataset that allowed us to compare performance in the long term. That is where crop modeling came into play, allowing us to explore millions of soil and weather combinations,” says German Mandrini, Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I, and first author of the new study in Agricultural Systems.

Mandrini used a crop model based on thousands of fields across Illinois to test static and dynamic nitrogen recommendation tools.

“This is an , only attainable thanks to the contributions of experts in crop modeling, environmental sciences, agricultural economics, and crop sciences from several institutions,” says Mandrini. “The broad dataset not only allowed us to compare the performance of the tools but also to understand in what conditions the differences happened.”

For the management scenarios explored, the researchers found that complex dynamic tools did not consistently increase profits over simpler static tools.

“Around half the time, dynamic tools under-predicted the amount of nitrogen a farmer needs, leading to yield penalties. Those yield penalties were usually high and not compensated by the situations in which the dynamic tool predicts nitrogen with higher accuracy,” says Nicolas Martin, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences. “For years, we haven’t seen a clear winner among nitrogen-prediction tools, and our results explain why.”

Martin specializes in big-data approaches to agricultural challenges, so the result came as a bit of a surprise. He explains that the results are important for setting clear goals in future research, acknowledging that higher complexity does not always mean better results.

“Dynamic tools require bookkeeping and data input from busy farmers, partially explaining the low adoption of current products in the marketplace. From the farmer’s point of view, I imagine that newer tools based on precise information represent extra work. And then it’s not always clear how much benefit they get one season to the other,” Martin says. “I could see if they ended up with a high yield penalty in one season, farmers might not want to try it again.”

The researchers also found some good news from an environmental standpoint: Both tools have the potential to reduce nitrogen leaching by about 15% compared with current practices.

“The higher accuracy of dynamic tools leads to reduced leaching, but static tools could achieve the same result by recommending the low end of the MRTN range,” Mandrini says. “This reduction can be attained in a simple way and at almost no cost for the farmers, just by lowering current recommendations.”

Do these results mean complex dynamic nitrogen tools are doomed to obscurity? The researchers don’t think so. Instead, they say, the findings are an opportunity to refine these tools and redefine their goals. Since higher accuracy does not consistently improve profits and reduce nitrogen leaching, developers of nitrogen recommendation tools should be clear about whether they’re prioritizing economic or environmental outcomes.

“Our results highlight the need to develop additional strategies, including education and policy, to account for environmental benefits and provide clear incentives for farmers to adopt these tools and increase the eco-efficiency of agriculture,” Martin says.



More information:
German Mandrini et al, Understanding differences between static and dynamic nitrogen fertilizer tools using simulation modeling, Agricultural Systems (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2021.103275

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Study shows political ideology determines health behavior, especially during pandemic

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When considering determinants of an individual’s health outcomes, doctors and researchers consider personal factors like age, race, gender or socioeconomic factors such as education quality, economic stability or health care access. A new study from the University of Kansas adds to the evidence that political ideology can be a social determinant of health, especially during public health crises.

Researchers have long considered that a person’s association with an ideological view may have bearing on on a long-term basis, such as embracing bans on public smoking to prevent lung cancer, or opposing vaccines due to concerns about secondary effects, but the COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique opportunity to study how it plays into during a public emergency. For the study, the authors conducted two surveys and a on ideology and health, finding that did influence attitudes and health behavior during the pandemic.

“What this study shows is political partisanship and ideology seem to be one of the most significant drivers of health behavior when it comes to COVID-19,” said lead author Mugur Geana, associate professor of journalism and director of KU’s Center for Excellence in Health Communications to Underserved Populations. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines social determinants of health as the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of . Because ideology depends on group affiliation and influences interpersonal relationships, we think it should also be considered a social determinant of health.”

That finding is especially important to remember in a time of significant political polarization in the United States, wrote Geana and co-authors Nathaniel Rabb and Steven Sloman of The Policy Lab at Brown University. The study was published in the journal SSM-Population Health.

For the study, researchers first conducted a convenience sample survey on social media through the Center for Excellence and Health Communications to Underserved Populations, followed by a survey with a nationally representative sample through Brown’s Policy Lab. Respondents were asked about their political ideological beliefs as well as their knowledge of COVID-19, attitudes and beliefs related to COVID-19 risk factors, and demographic information. The surveys, conducted in late 2020, also asked where people received information on the pandemic, if they intended to get vaccinated, if they had COVID-19 themselves or knew anyone who did, if they wore masks and practiced social distancing, and other related questions. Data analysis from both surveys suggested that ideology was a significant predictor for all dependent behavioral variables, and in most cases, the strongest one.

For the third part of the study, authors conducted a review of 181 papers on the emerging COVID-19 behavioral literature and analyzed the results from 44 selected studies that examined ideology’s influence on health behaviors. It was shown to be a significant predictor of responses in 79% of the studies’ estimates, and it had the largest effect on COVID-19 related behaviors in 39% of these. No other variable, such as age, gender, education or race/ethnicity, was the best predictor in nearly as many studies.

The three sources of data, taken together, contribute to the growing body of knowledge that individuals’ will influence how they behave in relation to their own health and that of the public. That has significant potential ramifications on public health as well as for health policy and strategic communications.

“It was obvious we expected to see differences in attitudes and behaviors based on political partisanship, but we wanted to know how much of an impact it has, and if our findings reflect those from other studies,” Geana said. “Much to our surprise, we found that ideology was the best predictor of COVID-19 related behavior. When we take that all in, it suggests that in times of crisis, which the pandemic was, and in a polarized society, ideology is a significant driver of how people behave when it comes to their health.”

Geana said the study was not intended and should not be used to advocate for any ideology or argue that any ideology is right or wrong. The purposed was to contribute to the body of knowledge of how ideology influences health behavior in times of crises and to create awareness about this phenomenon for policymakers, health officials and health communicators, especially in the hyperpolarized climate of the United States.

Geana has conducted similar studies into how Kansas residents received information on the pandemic and assessed risk, as well as comparing how the United States and Chile, two seemingly different nations, approached the crisis. Together, these studies show the importance of considering multiple variables, including ideology or political partisanship, when assessing health behavior, and promotes understanding that one message will not resonate equally with all in terms of health interventions and when addressing the valid concerns people may have in regard to their health.

“This shows we need to keep an open mind and be sure the messages for the health interventions we are designing are appropriate for the audience we are trying to reach at that moment in time,” Geana said.



More information:
Mugur V. Geana et al, Walking the party line: The growing role of political ideology in shaping health behavior in the United States, SSM – Population Health (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100950

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Disclosures on auditor firings are useless in forecasting restatement trouble, study shows

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Mandatory Securities and Exchange Commission disclosures about the reasons behind auditor firings are useless for assessing whether restatement trouble lies ahead for the company, according to new research from the University of Notre Dame.

Firing an auditor creates ambiguity. Is the company trying to find a better auditor, or is it trying to avoid a restatement (revision of previous financial statements to correct an error) for problems that the auditor is unearthing? And, while many restatements are the result of innocent mistakes and basic misinterpretation, some can raise red flags pointing to potential fraud or incompetence.

While most seasoned investors realize that companies tend to be cagey about their reasons for firing auditors, the research finds the disclosures are useless to an extreme. “Opaque Auditor Dismissal Disclosures: What Does Timing Reveal that Disclosures Do Not?” is forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Public Policy from Jeffrey Burks, the Thomas and Therese Grojean Family Associate Professor of Accountancy in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, and Jennifer Sustersic Stevens of Ohio University.

In a sample of some 1,400 auditor firings, company revelations of disagreements with the auditor or other auditor concerns exhibit no systematic ability to forecast whether the company will restate its financial statements.

“The lack of predictive ability suggests that companies’ decisions to disclose such auditor concerns are so inconsistent and uncommon—even though the regulation requires their disclosure—that no predictive power results,” said Burks, who researches financial accounting and misstatements.

Instead of looking at what companies say in the disclosure, the researchers recommend investors pay attention to when the disclosure comes out.

“Any firing that happens after the second fiscal quarter signals an above-average chance of a future restatement,” Burks said. “Firings that occur in the third or fourth fiscal quarters or during the period of audit fieldwork after year-end increase the chances of future restatement by roughly 40 percent.”

The researchers reason that firings after the first half of the year are suspicious because companies almost always sign up auditors early in the fiscal year. Thus, most any firing that occurs after the early-year sign-up period means the company changed its mind about the auditor within the span of months.

“What would prompt such a quick change of mind?” Burks asked. “A prime possibility would be brewing disputes with the auditor about potential misstatements.”

Despite this intuitive connection between late firings and disputes, the researchers find that companies are no more likely to disclose disputes for late firings than they are for early firings, again suggesting that companies tend not to be forthcoming about the underlying reasons for the firing.

The SEC has changed the disclosure regulation related to Section 4.01 8-K forms multiple times over the decades to try to force more transparent disclosure about firings, but the study shows such efforts have been ineffective. As an alternative to more rule changes, the researchers suggest the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and the SEC begin to regularly ask about the circumstances of auditor firings in their examinations.

“The SEC may want to investigate the possibility of including questions about auditor firings in its comment letter reviews of individual companies,” Burks suggested. “Such letters and the company responses to them already become public as a matter of course. The letters normally just stick to questions about the , but on at least one occasion the SEC asked about the reasons for an auditor firing, and received much more explanation than is normally included in the standard auditor firing .”

For example, prompted by the SEC’s question in a 2010 comment letter about why it fired its auditor, Blue Wave Group Inc. responded that the auditor misled the company about the expertise and documentation it possessed, did not have “the work ethic that the company felt was needed” and assigned a primary contact person who “was an associate still in school, not a seasoned professional.”

The company also provided specific examples when the partner was “very difficult to work with” and “vague and unhelpful,” and the stated that it stuck with the auditor longer than it wished because “it felt trapped that it had a 10-K due and it did not want to file late.”



More information:
Jeffrey J. Burks et al, Opaque auditor dismissal disclosures: What does timing reveal that disclosures do not?, Journal of Accounting and Public Policy (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.jaccpubpol.2021.106905

Citation:

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