US house to hold climate change hearing today, Christopher Monkton will appear as a witness for the defense (really)

Ed Markey (D-CT), chairman of the US House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will be holding a hearing today (Thursday AM in the US) on the evidence supporting climate change.

The Foundation of Climate Science

IPCC Report Chairs, Member of Exculpatory Panel on Email Scandal Re-establish Climate Science’s Broad Knowledge, Urgency to Act

Even after months of personal attacks against climate scientists stemming from a manufactured scandal over stolen emails, the underlying science behind the need to stem the tide of heat-trapping emissions remains solid. To explain what we know about climate change, and why and how we know it, Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will host top-level American climate scientists at a congressional hearing this Thursday, May 6, 2010.

The scientists will address the claims of deniers head-on. Thursday’s panel features a member of the investigative panel convened by the University of East Anglia and led by Lord Ron Oxburgh to review the stolen emails from that school’s Climactic Research Unit. The “Oxburgh Inquiry” exonerated the scientists who were attacked following the emails, saying they “saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work.”

The hearing also includes three scientists involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, which have also been attacked by climate science deniers.

The Republican witness on the panel will be Lord Christopher Walter Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.

WHAT: Select Committee hearing, “The Foundation of Climate Science”

WHEN: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 9:30 AM

WHERE: 2237 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, and on the web at

Dr. Lisa Graumlich, Director, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, and member of the “Oxburgh Inquiry” panel
Dr. Chris Field, Director, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, and co-chair of “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” portion of new IPCC report due in 2014
Dr. James McCarthy, Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University, past President and Chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, co-chair of “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” portion of IPCC report published in 2001
Dr. James Hurrell, Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, contributor to IPCC reports
Lord Christopher Monckton, Chief Policy Adviser, Science and Public Policy Institute

And guess who is showing up as a witness for the denier defense?  Our old friend Christopher Walter Monckton. Read this nice piece on the hearing and Monkton by Brendan DeMelle on the Huff Post:

House Republicans have chosen Lord Christopher Monckton, a non-scientist with a penchant for outrageous remarks, as their sole witness at tomorrow’s hearing in front of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Ranking Minority Member of the committee, chose Monckton as the Republican’s sole witness at the hearing.

Of all the people in the world the GOP could call to testify, they chose Christopher (not-really-a-Lord) Monckton, a non-scientist with a diploma in journalism studies and a knack for trampling Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies.

If I can stay awake, and if it is interesting, I’ll live blog the hearings in a few hours when they start.  In theory, the hearings will be broadcasted here

Jeremy Jackson: “How We Wrecked the Ocean”

Here’s a sobering presentation from the Jeremy Jackson (“Dr Doom”) titled “How We Wrecked the Ocean”. Like him or not, Jackson is a compelling speaker with a powerful message:

In this bracing talk, coral reef ecologist Jeremy Jackson lays out the shocking state of the ocean today: overfished, overheated, polluted, with indicators that things will get much worse. Astonishing photos and stats make the case.

Jeremy Jackson is the Ritter Professor of Oceanography and Director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Painting pictures of changing marine environments, particularly coral reefs and the Isthmus of Panama, Jackson’s research captures the extreme environmental decline of the oceans that has accelerated in the past 200 years.

Jackson’s current work focuses on the future of the world’s oceans, given overfishing, habitat destruction and ocean warming, which have fundamentally changed marine ecosystems and led to “the rise of slime.” Although Jackson’s work describes grim circumstances, even garnering him the nickname Dr. Doom, he believes that successful management and conservation strategies can renew the ocean’s health.

16% of worlds mangrove species at elevated risk of extinction: No Mangrove – No Fish

Mangroves provide enormously important and economically valuable ecosystem services to coastal communities throughout the tropics. They provide at least US $1.6 billion each year in ecosystem services worldwide, but a startling statistic from a recent study is that eleven of the worlds 70 mangrove species (16%) are at elevated threat of extinction. The IUCN Mangrove Red List Assessment Team have recently published a peer reviewed assessment of the vulnerability to extinction risk to the worlds mangrove species. The teams assessment provides evidence that there are particular areas of geographical concern, such as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central America, where as many as 40% of mangroves species present are threatened with extinction. In the Indo-Pacific region up to 14% of species are at risk. The article led by Beth Polidoro of the IUCN and published in the open access PLoS One finds that mangroves in the upper inter-tidal and estuarine environment are those species most at risk. This is principally because they are the first to be cleared from activities such as aquaculture and agriculture.

Not all areas show extinction risks, and noticeably only a small area of the Northern Territory in Australia shows any level of mangrove species extinction risk. These risks of extinction although important don’t however show the full problem, as the world is losing mangrove at an unprecedented rate. And this loss is not isolated to developing nations; mangroves are being routinely cleared for developments throughout Australia. This global loss should ring alarm bells. A well cited research article published in Nature in 2003 found that reefs in the Caribbean where mangrove had been removed contained 50% less fish biomass, and many studies have argued the value of mangrove in providing critical coastal protection.

A glimmer of hope comes from the passions of communities willing to get involved and support their own natural habitats. In the Burnett-Mary region of Queensland, communities are developing a ‘Mangrove-watch’ scheme to monitor their own mangroves and help protect the important ecosystem values of these habitats.

Biodiversity loss continues unabated despite international efforts

Note an extended version of this article was originally published on the Huffington Post here.  Also read about the study here on Futurity and here on the BBC.

Betting on biodiversity loss is a pretty sure thing.  The earth’s plant and animal species are disappearing at a sobering rate due to pressures including habitat loss, climate change, pollution and over-harvesting.  Despite a few success stories and steps in the right direction, we are falling far short of stemming these losses.

Biodiversity is the entire range of biological variety in the world, including the diversity of genotypes, species and ecosystems.  It can be measured on levels from DNA molecules all the way up to broad taxonomic categories such as families and phyla.  Monitoring the fate of any of these aspects of biodiversity at a global scale is a daunting task.  Thus, we know little about the rates and patterns of biodiversity loss or the effectiveness of global mitigation plans such as the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity.

Dr. Stuart Butchart of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and BirdLife International tackled the problem by assembling an international team of conservation scientists (that I was part of) to calculate trends in global biodiversity.  The idea was to assemble several dozen indices that we had sound, long term data for including population trends for birds and other vertebrates and the loss of habitats such as forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs.

As we recently reported in Science magazine (Butchart et al 2010), our analysis indicates that biodiversity has continued to decline over the past four decades with no detectable abatement for most indices.  This is largely due to increased pressures resulting from human population growth, economic development and globalization but it also seems clear that our international response to the biodiversity crisis has been inadequate.

Aggregated indices of (A) the state of biodiversity based on 9 indicators of species’ population trends, habitat extent/condition and community composition; (B) pressures on biodiversity based on 5 indicators of Ecological Footprint, nitrogen deposition, numbers of alien species, over-exploitation, and climatic impacts; and (C) responses for biodiversity based on 6 indicators of protected area extent and biodiversity coverage, policy responses to invasive alien species, sustainable forest management and biodiversity-related aid. Values in 1970 set to 1. Shading shows 95% confidence intervals derived from 1,000 bootstraps. Significant positive/upward (○) and negative/downward (●) inflections are indicated.

“Although nations have put in place some significant policies to slow biodiversity declines, these have been woefully inadequate, and the gap between the pressures on biodiversity and the responses is getting ever wider” – lead author Dr Stuart Butchart.

“Since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%”, said the United Nations Environment Programme’s Chief Scientist Prof Joseph Alcamo. “These losses are clearly unsustainable”

“While many responses have been in the right direction, the relevant policies have been inadequately targeted, implemented and funded. Above all, biodiversity concerns must be integrated across all parts of government and business, and the economic value of biodiversity needs to be accounted for adequately in decision making. Only then will we be able to address the problem,” says Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Reference: Butchart, S. H. M., M. Walpole, B. Collen, A. van Strien, J. P. W. Scharlemann, R. E. A. Almond, J. E. M. Baillie, B. Bomhard, C. Brown, J. Bruno, K. E. Carpenter, G. M. Carr, J. Chanson, A. M. Chenery, J. Csirke, N. C. Davidson, F. Dentener, M. Foster, A. Galli, J. N. Galloway, P. Genovesi, R. D. Gregory, M. Hockings, V. Kapos, J.-F. Lamarque, F. Leverington, J. Loh, M. A. McGeoch, L. McRae, A. Minasyan, M. H. Morcillo, T. E. E. Oldfield, D. Pauly, S. Quader, C. Revenga, J. R. Sauer, B. Skolnik, D. Spear, D. Stanwell-Smith, S. N. Stuart, A. Symes, M. Tierney, T. D. Tyrrell, J.-C. Vie, and R. Watson. 2010. Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines. Science: 1187512

Indicator trends for (A) the state of biodiversity, (B) pressures upon it, (C) responses to address its loss, and (D) the benefits humans derive from it. Data scaled to 1 in 1970 (or for first year of data if >1970), modeled (if >13 data points; see Table 1) and plotted on a logarithmic ordinate axis. Shading shows 95% confidence intervals except where unavailable.

There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho

Here’s a fascinating documentary of a Pacific Island community in Papua New Guinea facing the reality of sea level rise and climate change:

Takuu atoll is an idyllic home to articulate, educated people who maintain a 1200 year-old culture and language with pride – but all is not well in paradise. Takuu is disintegrating and when two scientists arrive to investigate, the people realise their attempts to preserve the atoll are currently making the situation worse (more here).

Gulf oil spill disaster worsens: “The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there,” Limbaugh said. “It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is”

Oil spill threatens to eclipse the Exxon Valdez, reaches the shore on the Mississippi River delta,could become the worst environmental disaster in decades, leak might not be stopped for weeks.  Here’s what David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has to say:

“I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”

210,000 gallons a day, and the conservative pundits don’t even bat an eye lid. Don’t worry, it’s ‘natural’.

‘Black box’ of plankton fix oceans’ carbon

From Futurity:

Almost half of the ocean’s carbon fixation is done by eukaryotic phytoplankton, despite the fact that their presence is significantly less than the more abundant blue-green algae known as cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria, that grow in vast numbers in the sunlit surface waters of the oceans (the photic zone),  use sunlight to “fix” carbon by converting carbon dioxide into sugars and other organic compounds through photosynthesis.

Cyanobacteria belong to the ‘picophytoplankton’, the tiniest phytoplankton. Until now they have been thought to dominate carbon fixation in the open ocean, with species belonging to the genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus being particularly abundant.

“The eukaryotic phytoplankton community has long been a ‘black box’ in terms of its composition as well as contribution to carbon fixation,” says professor Dave Scanlan of the University of Warwick.

“Determining how much carbon different groups fix into biomass is required for a full understanding of the Earth’s carbon cycle,” adds professor Mikhail Zubkov of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

Details of the research are published in the April 15 issue of theJournal of the International Society for Microbial Ecology.

Using samples collected from surface waters, scientists measured carbon fixation by dominant phytoplankton groups in the subtropical and tropical northeast Atlantic Ocean.  They discovered that eukaryotic phytoplankton actually fix significant amounts of carbon, contributing up to 44 percent of the total, despite being considerably less abundant than cyanobacteria.

“This is most likely because eukaryotic phytoplankton cells, although small, are bigger than cyanobacteria, allowing them to assimilate more fixed carbon,” explains Zubkov  “This suggests that they play a key role in oceanic carbon fixation, but this needs to be confirmed by widespread sampling from the world’s oceans.”