Target: Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China
Goal: Halt sand dredging that threatens marine ecosystems and habitats of Taiwan.
China has begun a fresh round of obliterating the sand banks that separate it from Taiwan. This maneuver is believed to be a tactic for intimidating the smaller region and attempting to wipe away its natural defenses. The strong-arm method is also taking a hidden but no less devastating environmental toll.
The operations involve mining sand by essentially displacing and pumping it up with large dredging ships. Hundreds of these vessels often conduct illegal dredging around Taiwan’s waters, but as tensions have risen between the regions the activity has become more frequent and more overt. The estimated 100,000 tons of sand dredged on a daily basis are already likely devastating the delicate marine ecosystems that call these waters home.
The centerpieces of these systems, small seabed-dwelling organisms, lose their lives directly as their habitats are destroyed and their bodies sucked up and spit back out as carcasses. A devastating domino effect could collapse the entire food chain. Worse yet, the loss of sand creates shoreline erosion that could even adversely impact life on land.
Sign the petition below to urge an immediate cease and desist to this wholesale environmental degradation.
Dear President Xi,
China wants to position itself as a leader on clean technology and environmental sustainability. Yet this country continues to conduct arguably the most devastating and least-regulated form of mineral extraction on a wide scale. So-called sand mafias have made blood money from the destructive practice of sand mining. The world’s most populous country has created an empire out of this environmentally unsound practice.
The continued dredging of the Taiwan Strait is the most egregious example. You may see these exercises as a short-term power play, but the decades’ worth of damage you are inflicting on vibrant marine ecosystems will last several lifetimes. Nearly 100,000 tons of sand are likely lost in one day alone. With this loss comes habitat erosion, a seabed strewn with carcasses, and a food chain without its most critical links.
Please stop these dangerous dredging exercises before they fuel a catastrophe beyond your control.
Target: Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vicki Christiansen
Goal: Terminate plans to develop a copper mine on Oak Flat.
Oak Flat in Tonto National Forest, a sacred land to the Apache people, was sold to a London based company to build a massive copper mine. This will not only cause grave destruction to this ancestral land and burial site, but it will also seriously damage the environment. Oak Flat is an important habitat for endangered wildlife and migratory birds.
The project is sure to deplete water supply and quality in the region. It is predicted that the mine would eventually cause the land to cave into a crater a mile wide and a thousand feet deep. The decision to sell this land to a multinational corporation was a disturbing betrayal to the local Indigenous communities and it must be stopped. Sign the petition below to demand cancelation of the copper mine on Oak Flat.
Dear Mrs. Christiansen,
The sale of Oak Flat to a London based copper mining company is a violation of local Indigenous communities and will be detrimental to the region’s wildlife and water supply. Oak Flat is sacred ancestral land and must be protected and regarded with respect.
President Joe Biden has spoken extensively of his desire to address the climate and ecological crisis. That being said, this environmentally harmful project is not in alignment with the current administration. Plans to place a copper mine in the Tonto National Forest must be terminated immediately. An apology also needs to be issued to the surrounding tribes for this vial disregard of their land and culture.
Joe Biden?s plan to carpet America wall-to-wall with 60,000 wind turbines and millions of solar panels comes with a staggering cost, and it?s America?s poor that will pay the heaviest price for the Democrat?s delusional energy policy.
The only thing guaranteed about subsidising wind and solar is rocketing power prices and unreliable electricity. Ask a German, Dane or South Australian.
In a country still reeling from the economic havoc caused by political responses to the coronavirus, the last thing Americans need is to increase the cost of living and doing business.
But that?s precisely what?s coming, as Brian Leyland and Tom Harris contend below.
Bryan Leyland MSc, DistFEngNZ, FIMechE, FIEE (rtd), MRSNZ, is a Power Systems engineer with more than 60 years? experience in New Zealand and overseas. Tom Harris, M. Eng, is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.
Biden?s Energy Plans Are Expensive?and Dangerous PJ…
Balloons that are released into the air, both latex and foil, always return to land or water as harmful and potentially deadly litter. The current law in Virginia states that releasing up to 49 balloons is allowable but more than 50 is illegal. We must change this law in the 2021 General Assembly to ban all intentional balloon releases.
The law in Virginia (§ 29.1-556.1. Release of certain balloons prohibited; civil penalty) currently states that ” It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly release or cause to be released into the atmosphere within a one-hour period fifty or more balloons which are (i) made of a nonbiodegradable or nonphotodegradable material or any material which requires more than five minutes’ contact with air or water to degrade and (ii) inflated with a substance which is lighter than air.”
Research has shown that balloon-related litter is one of the most common types of litter on Virginia’s remote beaches. In many cases, more than 100 pieces of balloon related litter, including foil & latex balloons, plastic ribbons & attachments such as plastic discs and laminated notes, have been found on one mile of beach.
We must change the Virginia law to ban all balloon releases, even so-called “biodegradable” balloons. The Balloon Council announced in August, 2018 that it no longer supports balloon releases. Cities and towns all over the country are banning balloon releases. If you are from Virginia, please sign this petition so that we can help to reduce this dangerous type of litter in our environment.
Virginia residents: please be sure to share your location information when signing so we can show the Virginia representatives that Virginians want to see this law change. Thank you!
Golden Eagles are listed as Endangered in New York, and are among the species at risk from poorly sited wind turbines. Photo Taylor Berge/Shutterstock
New York released draft regulations in September to implement the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, which was passed into law earlier this year (in April 2020). Twenty-five conservation groups, including ABC, have expressed concern about these draft regulations, which do little to address renewable energy projects’ substantial negative impacts on birds.
The groups propose commonsense solutions that would correct some of the regulations’ major flaws and provide better protection for birds. By incorporating the recommended changes from these bird conservation experts, the State could set a positive precedent for environmentally friendly renewable energy development. But to make this happen, substantial revisions to the current draft regulations would be needed.
The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act is intended to streamline the approval process for wind and solar energy projects as part of the State’s approach to achieving its renewable energy goals. Among other things, the law established a new Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), charged with developing and overseeing the process for renewable energy project development.
In September, the ORES released draft regulations to implement the Act. “Implementation of this major new regulation has proceeded at a breakneck pace,” says Joel Merriman, ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director. “Unfortunately, in the draft regulations, very little consideration is given to bird protection. We fully support renewable energy development as part of a broader strategy for combating climate change, but this has to be done in an environmentally responsible manner. That includes taking care of our birds, and so far these regulations fall far short in this area.”
“When the law was being considered, we expressed serious concerns,” says Merriman. “Now that we have seen the draft regulations to implement the law, it’s worse than we feared.”
The draft regulations are paired with uniform standards and conditions for project siting and planning. They lack adequate protections for birds, including appropriate project siting, field studies, and other steps that, if established in the law, would conceivably result in an environmentally balanced approach.
“The draft regulations don’t allow enough time for necessary field studies for wildlife,” says Merriman. “They also dramatically reduce the opportunity for public and expert input in the planning process, and they ignore considerations for the majority of bird species. Worst of all, there is nothing to influence where projects are sited, which is the most important aspect of minimizing impacts to wildlife. This is why we worked with other concerned conservation organizations to clearly articulate the problems with this proposed process, and how some of them might be addressed.”
A total of 25 conservation organizations signed a letter to the State outlining the many deficiencies in the draft regulations. “It’s possible to work around some of the biggest issues in ways that will minimize negative impacts to birds,” says Merriman. “For example, if wildlife field studies are required before a pre-application meeting, there may be enough information to make smart planning decisions in many instances. This is the way things already work in the wind energy industry – it’s no burden to developers and results in better outcomes.”
Merriman continues, “It’s hard to understand: In other arenas, New York has done great things for birds. The State can maintain this commitment by making some improvements to the draft regulations, such as establishing commonsense setbacks from high biodiversity areas and requiring some already-standard field studies to inform project planning. It’s critical that we balance the need for renewable energy development with protecting our vulnerable bird populations.”
ABC thanks the Leon Levy Foundation for its support of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
Help stop the destruction of the California desert! Sign our petition to protect Conglomerate Mesa from gold mining.
Conglomerate Mesa: A Gem of the California Desert
Conglomerate Mesa lies on the doorstep of Death Valley National Park and is OUR public lands. This land is part of the traditional homeland of the Timbisha-Shoshone and the Paiute-Shoshone Native Americans and the area possesses immense significance to the local tribal nations today. Conglomerate Mesa is a roadless, pristine area ranging from 3,800 to 7,700 feet in elevation. This unique environment provides a rare transitional habitat for plants and wildlife as the ground begins to rise from the badlands of Death Valley into the Inyo Mountains. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and designated as National Conservation Lands, Conglomerate Mesa was intended to be protected for conservation and recreation. It is isolated, undisturbed, roadless, and of historic importance.
Mining Threatens Conglomerate Mesa’s Future
Conglomerate Mesa is currently threatened by an industrial open-pit gold mine. Recently, Canadian exploration company K2 Gold, and their subsidiary, Mojave Precious Metals, proposed to the Bureau of Land Management a plan that would execute 120 exploratory drills on Conglomerate Mesa and build a road into the areas. This would not only destroy valuable habitat for native plants and wildlife, but it would permanently scar a roadless desert landscape.
Sign our petition below to help protect Conglomerate Mesa.
With Malpais Mesa Wilderness to the south, Inyo Mountains Wilderness to the north, Death Valley National Park to the east and Keeler and Lone Pine to the west, Conglomerate Mesa is a vulnerable piece in a larger landscape of contiguous protected lands in the California Desert. We need you with us! Sign the petition to support the permanent protection of Conglomerate Mesa.
16 hours ago1,000 supporters
2 weeks agoConglomerate Mesa Coalition started this petition
A research team led by Florida State University found that sea turtles in the U.S. will have less suitable nesting habitat in the future because of climate change and coastal development.
Researchers found areas that will remain or become suitable for sea turtle nesting in the future because of climatic changes and sea-level rise will be exposed to increased coastal development, hindering the ability of turtles to adapt to these disturbances. Their work was published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.
“A reduction in available nesting habitat coupled with the pressures associated with coastal development could likely have detrimental impacts on the reproductive output of sea turtle nesting areas in the U.S. and population…
Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate could mean the end to the affordable energy that makes modern American life possible.
In comparison to the Trump administration, which has prioritized deregulation and energy dominance, the former vice president and California senator have both committed themselves to heavily restrict fracking as they focus on climate change and renewable energy. If enacted, the Biden-Harris plan would reduce energy choices, increase prices and drive Americans back to international markets for essential energy supplies.
On issues of energy supply, Biden has been clear. For example, moderators at the Democratic Party debates asked him about his position on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the means by which American natural gas producers have helped to free us from many of the vagaries of international energy markets. He boldly replied, “No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period. Ends!” Later, in the same debate, he added, “No new fracking.”
That broad and somewhat vague pronouncement likely raised blood pressure readings among supporters in Biden’s campaign. Promising to put as many as 1.7 million American workers out of a job by banning fracking would be a hard sell for any campaign, especially in gas-producing states such as Texas or Pennsylvania. So no one was surprised to see Biden staffers walk back the former VP’s ambiguous promises immediately after the debate. They quickly limited his anti-fracking rhetoric to targeting energy development on federal lands.
And Biden staffers aren’t the only ones openly correcting policy stances for the former vice president. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who co-chairs the Sanders side of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, is getting in on the action, too. Jayapal has publicly bragged about her ability to “significantly push Joe Biden to do things that he hadn’t signed on to before.” Biden is, in her estimation, “movable.”
That malleability is not terribly surprising given that, for some time now, Biden has been seen as increasingly confused and frail. Keying in on those concerns, a recent Rasmussen poll indicated that 59 percent of Americans believe that he will not finish a first term, were he to win the upcoming election. For that reason, American voters must recognize that, come November, they may well be considering Harris as the actual Democratic presidential candidate. So, her take on energy policy should be understood as well.
While The New York Times recently tried to sell Harris as a “pragmatic moderate,” on issues of energy, her policies align far more closely with the progressive wing of the party. For example, Harris recently introduced the Climate Equity Act with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). In the Democratic presidential debate, Harris bluntly stated that she “support[s] a Green New Deal,” the nearly $100 trillion climate change policy authored by Ocasio-Cortez. In that same appearance, Harris promised that, “on day one as president,” she would “reenter us into the Paris Agreement.”
In last year’s CNN climate town hall, Harris was asked about her views on fracking by a climate activist with the environmental group 350.org. Without pause, Harris confirmed, “There is no question I’m in favor of banning fracking.” She then gave a simple, one-word answer, “Yes!” to CNN host Erin Burnett’s follow-up question, “So, would you ban offshore drilling?”
The Biden-Harris position on fracking and natural gas production is abundantly clear, as reported by a recent string of tweets from Alex Epstein, author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.” Epstein contends that fracking is the means by which the U.S. produces 60 percent of our oil and 75 percent of our natural gas. Banning it would put millions out of American workers back in unemployment lines already swollen by policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stifling the development of the fuels and technologies that power our economy with clean, affordable and reliable energy would be like killing the goose and then tossing the golden egg out the window. That’s an extremely bad way for the freshly minted progressive duo to start their campaign.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Indigenous peoples have called for the suspension of all resource extraction in the Amazon.
Big oil, mining, logging and other extractive industries helped the virus spread into Indigenous territories, making people sick and killing their elders. For too long heads of state have listened to corporations rather than to Indigenous communities, which has led to loss of biodiversity, runaway climate change, raging fires, and now extreme illness. In the face of multiple crises, leaders have failed to act.
Right now in Ecuador, two of the Amazon’s most precarious oil pipelines are on the brink of rupture for the second time this year. A spill could happen any day due to unaddressed erosion, sending contamination downriver into Peru and Brazil. Why are they still pumping? Where is the justice for Indigenous communities whose rivers and soils were poisoned? Every avoidable disaster caused by extraction is another blow to the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous peoples, and our climate.
You can see the power of the Indigenous movement in recent groundbreaking wins across the world— from the victory at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline to the Waorani victory against oil drilling in the Pastaza region of Ecuador. However, governments and corporations are continuing to exploit the world’s resources at alarming rates with great risk to Indigenous peoples.
Around the world, Indigenous movements are fighting back and winning. From Standing Rock, USA to Pastaza, Ecuador, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating their resilience and power to confront injustice and protect their ancestral lands.
Today I stand with the Indigenous movement in calling for immediate action to shut off the hazardous oil pipelines in Ecuador and suspend extraction across the Amazon until safety is restored and justice is served.
The United States has a total coastline of around 95,471 miles, and 23 states and all five major territories have coasts of their own.
The mainland U.S. has the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Arctic Ocean to the north of Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico towards the southeast.
Coastal areas are some of the most important habitat for migratory birds, nesting sea turtles, kelp forest-loving sea otters, sea ice-dependent seals and polar bears, anadromous fish like salmon, Florida manatees and many other species.
Intertidal zones are areas of the shore that are above the water at low tide and below at high tide, like some estuaries and rocky tide pools. These areas are important habitat for invertebrates like abalone that often form the base of the food web along coasts.
Coasts and intertidal zones are facing a barrage of threats, but climate change-related impacts are decimating coasts around the country. Sea level rise, erosion, strengthening storms, ocean acidification and rising temperatures are just some of the threats facing coastal and intertidal zones.
When storms rip through coastal areas, they destroy important habitat and deposit silt and debris across the coast. Intense pollution is running down river systems from agricultural areas, cities, and mining and coal ash plants, creating dead zones and spreading disease in estuaries and coastal areas.
Massive conversion of coastal wetlands and shoreline has destroyed important estuaries and nearshore habitat that serve as nurseries for fish and wildlife. Millions of tons of plastic pollution are clogging our oceans, drowning and choking marine mammals and breaking down into microplastics so fine that they are showing up in the tissue of fish and in zooplankton.
Offshore drilling threatens cetaceans with seismic testing and the risk of an oil spill is omnipresent. As we saw with Exxon Valdez and BP, it’s not a matter of if, but when, another spill will occur. When oil spills, no wildlife or habitat is spared, and the effects are felt decades later.
In our field offices and in the national and international arenas, we fight every day to ensure the survival of iconic marine species. By protecting these charismatic species, we also protect their marine and coastal habitats, as these species cannot survive and thrive except as interconnected parts of healthy and vibrant ecosystems.
Our experts work with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as other federal, state, tribal and private entities to restore and protect fragile systems to provide marine and coastal species with the habitat they need for their continued survival in the face of climate change.
We also work with local and coastal communities to increase awareness and understanding of wildlife coexistence tools and to oppose offshore drilling. Where necessary, we use our legal tools to ensure that federal, state and local governments comply with their obligations to protect marine wildlife species and their habitats.
People love to live by the water. For centuries, cities like New York, Miami, Honolulu and San Francisco have attracted residents and tourists from around the world. In fact, almost half of the U.S. population lives in counties on the coast, and that percentage is growing in footprint, density, number and population, reshaping and hardening coastlines in the process.
Coasts also provide habitat for great numbers of plants and animals and are typically biodiversity hotspots. But all this coastal development is reducing the amazing biodiversity along our shorelines.
Development has also reduced our coasts’ natural ability to resist and recover from natural disasters and has removed habitat that provides shelter for wildlife and ecosystem services for humans. Traditional coastal defenses like sea walls and levees are widely used to protect communities, but these artificial coastal barriers can lead to significant erosion or unwanted sediment deposition and negatively impact water quality. They are also time-consuming to build and cost billions to construct, maintain and repair.
Increasingly, engineers and planners are starting to pay more attention to the potential of “Nature and Nature-Based Features” (NNBFs) as environmentally friendly solutions—like mangrove forests, beach dunes, coral reefs and wetlands—that fulfill the same roles as an important weapon in the fight against coastal storms and flooding.
D. Rex Miller
NNBFs include natural defenses and human-built features that mimic them. Using NNBFs in coastal development decisions can therefore mean constructing new ones or protecting existing natural ones. NNBFs are often cheaper and require less maintenance and management. They can also make communities more resilient to climate change by adapting to changes in the environment. They are part of the larger concept of “green infrastructure,” or attempting to harness nature’s resilience to solve human problems. And its not all-or-nothing – NNBFs can complement artificial coastal infrastructure.
NNBFs like wetlands are essential to protect coasts from storm surges because they can store and slow the release of floodwaters, reducing erosion and damage to buildings. One study found that salt marshes can reduce wave height by an average of 72%. Coral reefs can serve as a barrier and reduce wave height by an average of 70%. These reefs protect coastal cities near them such as Honolulu and Miami, saving lives and preventing monetary damage.
Megan Joyce/Defenders of Wildlife
When Superstorm Sandy slammed the Northeast in 2012, homes on beaches fairly near to sand dunes were protected by these natural buffers, which can blunt the force of waves and wind. In many cases, homes on beach areas where dunes had been removed (often to improve ocean views) were completely destroyed by Sandy. Removing many of the mangroves that lined Biscayne Bay in South Florida may have helped spur economic development. However, it also removed another natural barrier against storm surge. This increased vulnerability of homes and businesses to the hurricanes that frequently hit Miami. Coastal communities in Indonesia hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami that had removed their mangrove forests suffered more damage and more lost lives than areas where mangroves had been allowed to remain. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on a number of projects that look at features like mangroves and their ability to protect coasts.
Image Image Credit David Bocanegra/USFWS
Image Image Credit Lia McLaughlin/USFWS
Image Image Credit Greg Thompson/USFWS Damage from Hurricane Sandy at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, homes on the Jersey Shore
Bringing Wildlife Back
People are not the only ones who can benefit from NNBF. Restoring or protecting habitat can bring back habitat for wildlife and provide space for wildlife to live alongside coastal human communities. This includes imperiled species.
For example, coastal dunes restoration can improve habitat for threatened species like the piping plover, red knot and seabeach amaranth. Restoring mangroves can help protect species like the wood stork and American alligator, and the endangered hawksbill turtle. Protecting coral reefs can help threatened elkhorn and boulder star corals, and ensure habitat remains for the hawksbill sea turtle. People and wildlife can both have space.
Image Image Credit FWS
Image Image Credit Steve Brooks
Image Image Credit Michele Hoffman
NNBFs can also improve water quality. Much of the rainwater and flood water that goes on vegetation or sand will sink into the ground where it is cleaned. Healthy coral reefs and healthy mangroves help improve marine waters. And by avoiding artificial coastal defenses, polluted runoff can be avoided. Improving water quality can help marine imperiled species. For example, manatees in Florida have been devastated by red tide in recent years. Similarly, water quality issues can stress or kill threatened corals that need clear water for photosynthesis. Even species far offshore, like orca, can be hurt by contaminated runoff from development. Creating habitat for wildlife can even have additional economic benefits beyond coastal protection. It can offer opportunities for economic activity like kayaking, fishing and birding.
Image Image Credit Andrew S. Wright/USFWS
Image Image Credit NPS
The Future of NNBF
In recent years, the U.S. Congress has become interested in the potential of NNBFs, instructing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate NNBFs into coastal defense projects where appropriate. The Corps’ research and development center has taken a leading role in researching NNBFs. Through its engineering with nature initiative, it has developed numerous projects exploring NNBFs’ potential. However, the regional offices have made less progress in taking advantage of NNBFs in their coastal defense projects. NNBFs should be a priority for the Corps and coastal communities around the country – and the world.
Advocating for NNBFs is part of Defenders of Wildlife’s mission to protect habitat and we believe they are a strong tool for addressing the overall biodiversity crisis faced by the planet.
Senior Conservation Policy Analyst Andrew works on wildlife conservation policy at the Center for Conservation Innovation, where he researches and analyzes conservation governance strategies and emerging policy issues, and works with other CCI members to develop innovative approaches to habitat and species protection.
1 of 20 One-Horned Rhinos take shelter at the higher places at the flood-hit Kaziranga National Park in Nagaonon. A total of 96 animals have died in the Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat district of Assam due to floods, the state government informed. Image Credit: ANI
2 of 20 A a wild elephant and a calf cross a National Highway at the flood affected Kaziranga National Park. “So far, 96 animals have died in the park including eight rhinos, seven wild boars, two swamp deers, 74 hog deer and two porcupines,” park officials said. Image Credit: AFP
3 of 20 A Rhino sits along the roadside as he strayed out of the Kaziranga National Park. A report from the government of Assam stated that a total of 132 animals had been rescued from the Kaziranga National Park. The park is currently 85 per cent submerged under floodwaters. Image Credit: ANI
4 of 20 “Water level at Pasighar and Dibrugarh are below the prescribed danger level. The floodwater in Numaligarh, Dhansirimukh and Tezpur are still above danger level,” the report stated. Above: A forest guard on a boat takes away the carcass of a wild buffalo calf through flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
5 of 20 A herd of wild elephants takes shelter on highland inside the flooded Burapahar range of Kaziranga National Park. At least 79 people have died and nearly 3.6 million people have been affected in 30 districts of Assam due to floods caused by the monsoon rains and the rise in water levels of the Brahmaputra river, informed the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA). Image Credit: PTI
6 of 20 Water buffaloes stand in flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora, Morigaon district. Image Credit: AP
7 of 20 Tiger in search of safer place at the flood-affected area at Bagmari village near Kaziranga in Nagaon district. Image Credit: ANI
8 of 20 Deers wade through floodwaters in a submerged area of the Kaziranga National Park, in Kanchanjuri. Image Credit: ANI
9 of 20 A one-horned rhinoceros along with her baby stands in floodwater inside Kaziranga National Park, in Golaghat district. Image Credit: PTI
10 of 20 A female rhino calf about 1-year-old, who got separated from mother was rescued from Difaloo pathar, Sukani village by the Staffs of Eastern Range, Agoratoli, Kaziranga National Park. Image Credit: ANI
11 of 20 A wild water buffalo eats tree branches standing in flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora, Morigaon district. Image Credit: AP
12 of 20 A wild elephant moves towards the higher ground after the flood hits Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI
13 of 20 Wild deer cross the National Highway-37 in search for safer places at the flood-affected area of Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon District. Image Credit: ANI
14 of 20 A group of wild elephants cross the road to move towards the higher land, following the flooding in the low-lying areas of Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI
15 of 20 A forest employee cuts branches of a tree for rhinoceros as a forest guard keeps vigil near one horned rhinoceros taking shelter from floods on a highland at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
16 of 20 A forest guard on a boat takes away the carcass of a wild buffalo calf through flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora, Morigaon district. Image Credit: AP
17 of 20 A one horned rhinoceros and a calf wades through flood water at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
18 of 20 A herd of wild elephants takes shelter on a higher place at flooded Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI
19 of 20 Forest guards patrol as one horned rhinoceros take shelter on a highland as flood water rises at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in Pobitora. Image Credit: AP
20 of 20 WTI official tries to feed a rhino who is taking shelter near NH 37 in the flood-affected area of Kaziranga National park at Kanchanjuri in Nagaon. Image Credit: ANI Remaining Time -50:21
A burnt area of forest in the State of Para, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 27, 2019. The same ocean warming that’s expected to drive a busy Atlantic hurricane season is also seen making the Amazon drier, leading to more fires.Photograph by Joao Laet, AFP/Getty Images
The 2020 fire season in the Amazon rain forest could be far worse than in 2019, researchers say, partly because of the same climate conditions that are fueling an active hurricane season to the north.
Last August, a spate of enormous, human-set fires in the Amazon sent smoke billowing over the Brazilian city of São Paulo, turning day into night and prompting an international outcry. But while those fires were unusualand alarming, the situation could have been far worse if the Amazon had been in a drought.
Unfortunately, drier-than-average conditions are exactly what’s beingforecastfor the southern Amazon this year, thanks in part to an unusual buildup of heat in the tropical North Atlantic, thousands of miles away.
That oceanic heat has also caused the Atlantic hurricane season to get off to a record fast start, a harbinger of what is predicted to be an unusually busy season. Some research suggests a causal link between hurricanes themselves and bad Amazonian fire years — although that is a matter of greater debate.
“What I think is happening is the ocean is forcing both of those conditions,” says Chris Landsea, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. “It’s forcing active Atlantic hurricane years, and at the same time causing fires to be likely in the Amazon.”
A perfect firestorm
Doug Morton, a NASA Earth scientist who co-created a seasonal fire forecast for the Amazon, says the rain forest faces the “perfect storm” of conditions for fire this year. Those include a ramp-up in deforestation—a key driver of fires in the Amazon—and broader patterns in the oceans and atmosphere that could lead to drought.
During the first six months of 2020, an estimated 1,184 square miles of forest were deforested—a 25 percent increase compared with the first half of 2019. Jos Barlow, a conservation scientist at Lancaster University, says if the accelerated pace of deforestation continues, nearly 6,000 square miles of forest could be logged by the end of the year, since the most intense logging season is now commencing. That would mark the highest rate of deforestation since 2005.
Amazonian landowners typically set fires to clear land for ranching and farming, although many fires are also set in public forests by people attempting to claim new land. “I’m afraid everything points to this being another very bad year for deforestation,” Barlow wrote in an email. “And unlike 2019, these clearance fires used to burn the felled forests are likely to be aggravated by a drier-than-usual climate,” meaning they could grow faster, become harder to control, and even escape into virgin rainforest.
Indeed, seasonal forecastsindicatelarge swaths of the Amazon could be plunged into drought as the dry season, which began in June and runs through November, progresses. That’s due, in part, to ocean temperatures far to the north, which form a key part of the basis for Morton’s fire forecast.
According to Yang Chen, an Earth scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who developed the forecast with Morton, temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic are currently “way above average.” When that part of the ocean is especially warm, it triggers a northward shift in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a belt of low-pressure air that delivers intense, rainmaking thunderstorms to the tropics. If this rain belt shifts further north ahead of the southern Amazon’s dry season, it causes the dry season to start earlier and be even drier than usual.
“In previous years, when the tropical north Atlantic Ocean was warm — in 2005 and 2010 — that triggered record droughts across the Amazon,” Morton explains. “And with those droughts came fires.”
A direct link to hurricanes?
Warm tropical North Atlantic waters also fuel hurricanes, which sends moisture to the west and then north on prevailing winds instead of south. In fact, research that Morton and Chen published in 2015 shows that active Atlantic hurricane seasons and severe Amazonian fire seasons go hand in hand. While both phenomena correlate with heat in the tropical North Atlantic, they correlate more strongly with one another.
Morton believes that indicates a causal link between the two. When tropical storms and hurricanes form, he says, “they take the moisture that would otherwise flow onto the South American continent… and drive it toward the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard of the United States. Essentially, it’s taking moisture away from the Amazon.”
Chen is less convinced that Atlantic hurricanes trigger drought in the Amazon directly, although he agrees that both “share the same reason,” namely, excessive heat in the tropical North Atlantic and its impact on weather patterns.
Landsea, of the National Hurricane Center, is also unconvinced of a direct causal link between greater numbers of Atlantic hurricanes and Amazon drought. He points out that hurricanes are “very transient events. They only last for a few days, and only account for a small percentage of the rainfall in the Carribean.” But he agrees that there’s “certainly an association” between the two phenomena.
Either way, the 2020 hurricane season should serve as a red flag for the Amazon : There have already been six named tropical storms in the Atlantic, a record for this point in the season, which only began on June 1. And hurricane activity is expected to ramp up as summer wears on and heat builds across the tropical Atlantic.
“We are anticipating it to get very busy,” Landsea says.
A car drives past a crack in the road on Highway 178, south of Trona, California, after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit the nearby town of Ridgecrest on July 4, 2019. Photograph by Fredric J. Brown, AFP via Getty Images
In Southern California, the landscape is fractured in the shape of an enormous letter Z. The top arm is made up of a winding series of cracks that were responsible for quakes that rattled the city of Ridgecrest last year. The diagonal section is an ancient fault called Garlock that runs to the west. And along the bottom sits the mighty San Andreas.
Earthquakes along this lengthy fault, which runs more than 800 miles through California, are an ever-looming concern—and a new study suggests that in the next year, a large quake near the bustling city of Los Angeles could be three to five times more likely than previously thought. The research, published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, found that the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes made a future quake along the nearby Garlock fault more likely. If a big enough quake hits Garlock, it could trigger the San Andreas fault as well—a series of events that the researchers estimate has about a 1 in 87 probability of occurring within the next year.
However, the overall probability of such an event remains low. The research team estimates that there is a 2.3 percent chance of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake occurring on the Garlock fault in the next year, and a 1.15 percent chance of a similar quake hitting San Andreas.
“So, the sky is not falling,” says study co-author Ross Stein, CEO of Temblor, Inc., a company that assesses risks from hazards such as earthquakes. “But it is significantly higher, in our judgement, than what it would have been had the Ridgecrest earthquake not occurred.”
Estimating the probability of earthquakes is notoriously tricky. The deep faults that generate them, scientists have increasingly realized, are complex networks of cracks and chasms. “They’re fractal. They’re grungy. They have bends and breaks,” Stein says.
Faults can also interact: Movement along one might increase stresses on another, sparking a sequence of quakes, “like a domino effect,” says Alessandro Verdecchia, a geologist at McGill University who was not part of the study. The new model is the latest attempt to assess the likelihood of this potentially deadly scenario.
How the dominos fall
The San Andreas fault marks the boundary where the North American tectonic plate and the Pacific plate grind past each other. As the Pacific plate inches along a northwesterly route, stresses build until the ground breaks, which sends the surface rolling in an earthquake.
There have been many quakes in California over the past century, but the last time a big temblor occurred along the San Andreas itself was in 1906, when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake unzipped some 300 miles of the fault, leveling buildings across San Francisco and killing more than 3,000 people. It was the deadliest quake in U.S. history.
The new study suggests that the Ridgecrest quakes have increased the chances of another big one occurring, this time in southern California.
The 2019 event was a double whammy, with a magnitude 6.4 and then 7.1 quake striking one day apart. The movement from these quakes distorted the surrounding landscape, shifting the stresses on nearby faults such as the Garlock.
To estimate this change in stress, Stein and study co-author Shinji Toda of Tohoku University in Japan created a model based on the motion along faults during the Ridgecrest quakes. They also incorporated data from a host of earlier quakes to visualize the fault as a spidery zone of fractures, Stein says.
The model estimates that in the year after Ridgecrest, there was an eight percent chance of a magnitude 7.7 event along the Garlock. While that did not come to pass, the work suggests a greater risk still remains than previously recognized. In the upcoming year, the chance of such a quake remains at 2.3 percent, about 100 times as large as previous models found.
A big enough quake along the Garlock—magnitude 7.5 or bigger, by the researchers’ calculations—could spark a quake along the San Andreas that travels southward toward Los Angeles.
“The fact that it’s higher is interesting and maybe motivates us to look at it more closely,” says John Vidale, a geophysicist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the study, referring to the estimated probability of a major quake. But many uncertainties still remain, he says, and the time period with the greatest risk of a Garlock rupture has already passed, so the new model “doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be more scared than we otherwise would be.”
Even so, the new work is a good reminder that all residents living in earthquake country need to be prepared, Stein says. If a big quake hits the Garlock fault, it could be weeks, months, or more before the San Andreas slips as well—if it does at all. But quakes in this region at some point in the future are inevitable. (Learn more about earthquake safety and how to prepare.)
“Creaking limb of assumptions”
All models, including the latest, make simplifying assumptions about our astoundingly complex planet. For example, the new model doesn’t account for the complexities of fluid interactions, which can change the fault stresses over long periods of time, says Pablo Gonzalez, a geophysicist with the University of Liverpool in England and part of the Spanish National Research Council who was not part of the study.
The model also assumes that the ground is uniform in composition. But movement along the Garlock fault over millions of years has offset the land by some 40 miles, meaning the rocks to the north differ from those to the south, Gonzalez says.
One particular challenge with all earthquake forecasts is that researchers don’t know how much additional stress is required to cause a fault to break, says Chris Goldfinger, an earthquake geologist at Oregon State University who was not part of the new study.
“When you get over to the San Andreas, you’re kind of on a long creaking limb of assumptions,” Goldfinger says. “I would still sleep well in L.A. tonight—or as well as you would otherwise.”
Radioactivity levels have spiked in the atmosphere over northern Europe, and that could indicate damage at a nuclear power plant in western Russia, according to a Dutch health agency that has analyzed the data. The radioactive spike suggests damage to a nuclear fuel element, the Associated Press reported.
However, the Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom has denied problems related to facilities in Kola and Leningrad, the two nuclear plants operating in the region, according to TASS, a Russian news agency, as reported by the AP.
Several Scandinavian watchdog agencies detected the elevated levels of the radionuclides (or radioactive isotopes). Radionuclides are atoms whose nuclei are unstable; the excess energy inside the nucleus gets released through radioactive decay. In particular, concentrations of the radionuclides cesium-134, cesium-137 and ruthenium-103 rose in parts of Finland, southern Scandinavia and the Arctic, Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, wrote on Twitter. Though these pose no harm to humans, they are byproducts of nuclear fission, Zerbo wrote.
RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…
Rover in a sand trap? No problem with ‘rear rotor pedaling’
“The radionuclides are artificial, that is to say they are man-made. The composition of the nuclides may indicate damage to a fuel element in a nuclear power plant,” an official with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, which analyzed the isotope data, said on Friday (June 26).
Because so few measurements have been taken, monitoring agencies weren’t able to identify a specific source, NIPHE officials said.
In recent years, another radioactive mystery cloud wafting over Europe was tied to Russia. In 2017, a plume holding 1,000 times the normal levels of ruthenium-106 was detected over Europe, The Washington Post reported. Russia denied any involvement, though a nuclear reprocessing plant in Russia was a strong suspect, according to a 2019 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
On a warm day in March 1982, biologist Francis “Jack” Putz strayed into a knot of black mangrove trees seeking relief from the afternoon heat. Drowsy from his midday meal and hours of fieldwork in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste National Park, Putz decided to lie down for a short siesta.
As he gazed skyward, the wind stirred the tops of the mangroves above him, causing the limbs of neighboring trees to claw at each other and snap off some of their outermost leaves and branches. Putz noticed that this reciprocal pruning had left tracks of empty space running through the canopy.
This network of treetop chasms, called crown shyness, has been documented in forests around the world. From the mangroves of Costa Rica to the towering Borneo camphor trees of Malaysia, gaps in the greenery abound. But scientists still don’t fully understand why the tops of trees so often refuse to touch.
Beneath the mangroves 40 years ago, teetering on the verge of a post-lunch snooze, Putz reasoned that trees need personal space, too—a critical step toward unraveling the roots of the branches’ bashful behavior.
“I often make great discoveries at naptime,” he says.
Today, a growing body of work continues to support the early observations of Putz and his colleagues. Wind, it seems, plays a crucial role in helping many trees maintain their distance. The boundaries carved by bouts between branches may improve the plants’ access to resources, such as light. Gaps in the treetops might even curb the spread of leaf-munching insects, parasitic vines, or infectious disease.
In some ways, crown shyness is the arboreal version of social distancing, says Meg Lowman, a forest canopy biologist and director of the TREE Foundation. “The minute you start keeping plants from physically touching each other, you can increase productivity,” she says. “That’s the beauty of isolation … The tree is really safeguarding its own health.”
Tussling in the treetops
Though descriptions of crown shyness have appeared in scientific literature since the 1920s, several decades passed before researchers started systematically digging into the phenomenon’s cause. Some scientists initially pursued a hypothesis that trees were simply failing to fill the spaces between their canopies due to a lack of light—a crucial resource for photosynthesis—where their foliage overlapped.
But Putz’s team published research in 1984 showing that in some cases, crown shyness may simply be the product of a battle between windblown trees, each racing to sprout new branches and parry strikes from their neighbors. In their research, the more mangroves swayed in the wind, the more widely their canopies were spaced from those of their neighbors—some of the first results supporting this so-called abrasion hypothesis to explain the treetop patterns.
Other scientists have found clues that several paths to crown shyness likely exist, and some are perhaps less combative than these windy tussles. For instance, Rudnicki says some trees may have learned to stop growing at their tips entirely, wising up to the fact that any new foliage will be stripped away.
Trees could thus avoid unnecessary damage, says Inés Ibáñez, a forest ecologist at the University of Michigan. “Growing new tissue is very costly for plants … It’s like the trees being preemptive: Let’s not grow here because it’s not worth it.”
Some trees may be capable of taking this prudence a step further by using a specialized sensory system to detect chemicals emanating from nearby plants. “There’s a growing body of literature around plant cognizance,” says Marlyse Duguid, a forester and horticulturist at Yale University. Data on chemical communication in woody plants is sparse, but if trees can sense each other, they may be able to halt canopy growth before they’re forced to tussle.
The perks of personal space
Regardless of how crown shyness occurs, the separation likely comes with benefits. “Leaves are like a tree’s most expensive diamonds—you want to protect them at all costs,” Lowman says. “If a whole bunch get bumped off, that’s a terrible disaster for the tree.”
Sparser foliage could also help sunlight reach forest floors, nurturing the ground-dwelling plants and animals that in turn support arboreal life. Putz thinks the gaps may even help trees avoid invasive, woody vines called lianas—which are common in tropical and temperate forests around the world—or buffer the plants against disease-causing microbes and flightless insects that use canopies as conduits. (Some germs and bugs could still theoretically make the hop when trees box in the breeze.)
Many of these possible advantages, however, have yet to be conclusively linked to crown shyness. Forest canopies—the tops of some of the world’s tallest plants—aren’t easy to study, says Lowman, a self-described “arbonaut” and one of the few scientists who has made a career studying canopies. Examining the tops of trees requires quite a bit of climbing, balance, and bravery. “The limiting factor is our inability to deal with gravity to get to those places,” she says.
Still, ignoring the canopy of a tree is like trying to understand the human body from only the waist down, Lowman says. The crowns of trees teem with life—and much of this biodiversity may still be undiscovered, especially in the tropics.
Luckily, crown shyness “isn’t something you have to get on a plane to see,” Putz says. “It’s happening all around—and what an enriching thing for people to look up and see.”
Unprecedented victory for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe after four-year legal battle
Owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) must halt operations while the government conducts a full-fledged analysis examining the risk DAPL poses to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a federal judge ruled today. The court decision delivered a hard-fought victory to the Tribe, which has been engaged in a high-profile struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2016.
A crab swims above a waving seagrass bed in the Chesapeake Bay.Photograph by Jay Fleming
When scientist Wen Jun Cai and his colleagues boated across the pea-soup-like waters of the upper Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 2016, water sampling kits and pH sensors in hand, they didn’t expect to find chemical magic at play.
The scientists were taking stock of a looming problem facing the 200-mile-long bay: the acidification of its waters, a human-caused phenomenon that threatens the health of the crabs, oysters, and fish iconic to the large estuary.
They started collecting their samples in the recently restored, vibrant underwater grass beds of the Susquehanna Flats near the top of the bay, and motored their way some 60 miles downstream to the deep central channel.
When they rounded up their hundreds of data points and analyzed them, they found evidence of something surprising and encouraging: Gently waving seagrasses in the bay are performing a magnificent chemical trick. As they photosynthesize in the beating sunshine, they produce tiny granules of a carbon-based mineral that acts like a miniature antacid tablet.
And those acid-neutralizing “micro-Tums” don’t stay put. They’re swept miles down the length of the bay, eventually dissolving into the deepest waters, which have long been soured by acidification caused by human sources like agricultural runoff and untreated waste.
“It’s like the seagrasses are producing antacids that counter the indigestion of the bay,” says Jeremy Testa, a marine ecologist at the University of Maryland and an author of the paper in Nature Geoscience describing the newly discovered phenomenon.
Without this acid-neutralizing trick, the bay’s waters and shelled creatures would be even more vulnerable to the human-caused threats, he says.
Acid waters run deep
The Chesapeake gets its name from the Algonquin word for “great shellfish bay.” For thousands of years, its rich ecology depended on the ways its shellfish, grasses, fish, and other species interacted; each influenced the chemistry and biology of the others, in a delicate biological dance.
Seagrasses and other underwater plants packed the bay’s shallows, stilling and smoothing the surrounding water, leaving it clear and clean for baby fish, crabs, and shellfish to populate. Vegetation stabilized the muddy bottom during storms. And it absorbed the brunt of wind and waves, protecting shorelines against erosion.
But as more and more people populated the land around the bay, the grasses took hit after hit. A steady flow of nitrogen-rich pollutants overloaded the waters; the grasses and other underwater plants died off en masse. Between the 1950s and 1980s, vegetation coverage across the bay plummeted. Only 10 percent of sites in the upper bay had vegetation when they were surveyed in 1980.
The nutrient overload also spurred enormous, suffocating algal blooms at the water’s surface. When such blooms happen, the algae die off and sink to deeper water, where they’re eaten by bacteria that use up any oxygen in the water and breathe out carbon-rich acid waste, creating “dead zones.” Almost nothing can survive in such corrosive waters. Worse, during strong winds or at certain times of the year, currents can sweep that deep, super-acidic water into places populated by creatures like oysters and crabs, potentially eroding their ability to maintain their calcium-carbonate based shells.
“Acidified waters can be really challenging for oysters, especially in their larval stage,” says Allison Colden, a biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
In other coastal regions, particularly along the U.S. West Coast, acidification has already damaged shellfish populations, thinning their shells and messing with their offspring’s ability to mature. But scientists aren’t totally sure if those same effects have hit the East Coast. In estuaries like the Chesapeake, natural acid levels vary a lot, so shell-forming creatures have a built-in ability to deal with some amount of ups and downs. The worry, for some scientists, is that there might be a tipping point beyond which the iconic species of the bay might not be able to adjust.
“We don’t have enough data anywhere in the world to tell us exactly how those creatures are going to meet the thresholds of acidification,” says Doug Myers, a scientist also with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
They’re particularly concerned because there’s another force, besides nutrient overloading, that’s making the bay’s water more acidic: human-caused burning of fossil fuels. That leads to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the air, which gets pulled into the surface waters as ocean and air make their way toward equilibrium, where it dissolves and makes the water more acidic.
During the early 2000s, states bordering the bay collaborated to rein in polluting runoff, putting the bay a “nutrient diet—” and in response, it began to heal. Old seagrass seeds, long buried in the gooey sediments, started to sprout as the water above them cleared. By the mid-2010s, underwater vegetation covered expanded over an extra 65 square miles of the Bay, more than 300 percent more area than was covered in the 1980s.
Those grasses, like the ones in the Susquehanna Flats, can offset some of the acidity. But they’ll have to work harder and harder as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere grow.
“This is one of the big questions for us all,” says Emily Rivest, a biologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “What’s going to happen to our oysters, our blue crabs, all the things that live in our waters, as the waters get more acidic?”
Grasses to the rescue
It’s obvious just from looking at the Susquehanna Flats that they’re doing something special, Testa says. Outside the beds, the water often looks pea-green. But inside, it’s crystal clear and much warmer than the water outside the Flats. When they looked closely, they found that even the chemistry was different.
As they photosynthesize, seagrasses and other vegetation pull particular forms of carbon out of the surrounding water, making that water less acidic. They use some of that carbon to build their plant bodies, but turn some of it into tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, a chemical variant on the material that shells are made of. The plants hoard these crystals—which are essentially tiny antacids—both inside and on the surface of their leaves.
The crystals are big enough to feel with your fingers, like a fine grit coating the leaves, says Myers. When a grass dies, it disintegrates, releasing the built-up crystals from its inside as well as out.
The crystals make a big difference for the water chemistry and biology up near the Susquehanna Flats. But they also make a big difference far downstream, demonstrating with unusual clarity how interconnected the ecology of the bay can be. In total, the team calculated, the seagrass-sourced crystals reduced the acidity of the down-bay waters, some 60 miles away, by about 0.6 pH units. They reduced the acidity of the water by four times than it otherwise might have been (because the pH scale is logarithmic, small changes in the numbers on the pH scale mean big changes in terms of acidity).
“If not for the dissolution [of the tiny crystals], the pH downstream would be even lower,” says Cai (a lower value of pH signifies a more acidic environment). “So the vegetation upstream provides a more stable environment for what’s living down the bay.”
Seagrasses and other vegetation do this chemical trick elsewhere, as well, and scientists have seen similar local chemistry shifts in places where grasses have been restored, like the estuaries fringing the Loire River and Tampa Bay. But they haven’t seen this long-range effect before.
It’s not yet clear exactly what impact the seagrass-driven help has on the blue crabs or the oysters. But it does seem clear to many scientists that the whole bay can benefit from the effect as the grasses spread their little acid-neutralizing crystals far and wide—also serving as building material for the shell-growers downstream.
“The dissolving of last year’s grass beds is helping to feed this year’s oysters [to help them build their shells],” says Myers.
The new discovery makes a strong case for restoring even more of the seagrasses in the bay, says Jonathan Lefcheck, an ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. “You just see so clearly that there are these knock-on effects [from the seagrass restoration],” he says.
“Everything is connected. Something that was happening under our noses—this big unintended benefit, this added value—it turns out we’re solving two problems by attacking just one.”
California’s giant sequoias can live for more than 3,000 years, their trunks stretching two car lengths in diameter, their branches reaching nearly 300 feet toward the clouds. But a few years ago, amid a record drought, scientists noticed something odd. A few of these arboreal behemoths inside Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were dying in ways no one had ever documented—from the top down.
When researchers climbed into the canopies, they discovered that cedar bark beetles had bored into a few branches. By 2019, at least 38 of the trees had died—not a large number, but “concerning because we’ve never observed this before,” says Christy Brigham, the park’s chief of resource management.
Beetles have ravaged hundreds of millions of pines across North America. But scientists had assumed that stately sequoias, with their bug-repelling tannins, were immune to such dangerous pests. Worried experts are investigating whether some mix of increased drought and wildfire, both worsened by climate change, have now made even sequoias susceptible to deadly insect invasions.
The largest patch of old growth redwood forest remaining stands in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California. The world’s largest trees are dying, meaning that they’re releasing their carbon back into the atmosphere instead of storing it, which has previously unknown repercussions for climate change.
The stump of a giant sequoia tree, known as the Discovery Tree, located in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Photograph by (top) and Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, Nat Geo Image Collection (bottom)
If so, these ancient sentinels would be just the latest example of a trend experts are documenting around the world: Trees in forests are dying at increasingly high rates—especially the bigger, older trees. According to a study appearing today in the journal Science, the death rate is making forests younger, threatening biodiversity, eliminating important plant and animal habitat, and reducing forests’ ability to store excess carbon dioxide generated by our consumption of fossil fuels.
“We’re seeing it almost everywhere we look,” says the study’s lead author, Nate McDowell, an earth scientist at the U.S. Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
More old trees dying, everywhere
To paint the most detailed picture of global tree loss to date, nearly two dozen scientists from around the world examined more than 160 previous studies and combined their findings with satellite imagery. Their analysis reveals that from 1900 to 2015, the world lost more than a third of its old-growth forests.
In places where historical data is the most detailed—particularly Canada, the western United States, and Europe—mortality rates have doubled in just the past four decades, and a higher proportion of those deaths are older trees.
“We will see fewer forests,” says Monica Turner, a forest ecologist at the University of Wisconsin. “There will be areas where there are forests now where there won’t be in the future.”
With 60,000 known tree species on Earth, those shifts are playing out differently across the planet.
In central Europe, for instance, “You don’t have to look for dead trees,” says Henrik Hartmann, with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry. “They’re everywhere.”
In one recent year, following a week of excessive heat, hundreds of thousands of beech trees dropped their leaves. Bark beetles are also killing spruce, which is not unusual. But hotter weather weakens trees, making them more vulnerable and allowing the insects to multiply and survive through winter into the next year.
Even in colder regions, “You get a couple of hot years and the forests are suffering,” says Hartmann, who was not an author on McDowell’s study. “We’re approaching a situation where the forests cannot acclimate. There are individual species that are being driven beyond the threshold of what they can handle.”
That also may be true in some of North America’s treasured spots. For 10,000 years, fires have roared through Yellowstone National Park every 100 to 300 years. In 1988, such conflagrations caught the world’s attention as they charred and blackened 1.2 million acres.
Lodgepole pine forest burns in Yellowstone National Park.Photograph by Michael Quinton, Minden Pictures/Nat Geo Image Collection
Turner, the Wisconsin ecologist, has been studying the aftermath of those fires ever since. And the lessons aren’t quite what we once thought they were.
The heat from flames usually helps lodgepole pine cones release their seeds as their sticky resin melts. But in 2016, when those new forests were not yet 30 years old, a new fire raged inside an old burn site from 1988. Because we live in a hotter, drier world, the new fires burned more intensely—in some cases wiping out almost everything. The very process that usually helps create new forests instead helped prevent one from growing. “When I went back, I was just astonished,” Turner says. “There were places with no small trees left. None.”
Just last year, massive fires marched through a dry Australia, smoldered across 7.4 million acres in northern Siberia, and focused the world’s attention on blazes in the Amazon.
In parts of that rainforest, dry seasons now last longer and come more often. Rainfall has dropped by as much as a quarter and often arrives in torrents, bringing massive floods in three out of six seasons between 2009 and 2014. All that activity is altering the rainforest’s mix of trees. Those that grow fast and reach the light quickly, and are more tolerant of dry weather, are outcompeting species that require damp soils.
Moringa peregrina is an endangered tree in Jordan and Israel, where desertification is killing native trees. Photograph by Mark Moffett, Minden Pictures/Nat Geo Image Collection
The consequences of all these changes around the world are still being assessed. The first national look at tree mortality in Israel showed vast stretches disappearing, thanks largely to scorching heat and wildfires. In a country largely blanketed by stone and sand, forests mean a great deal. Trees support nests for eagles and habitat for wolves and jackals. They hold soil with their roots. Without them, plants that normally rise in trees’ shadows are suddenly exposed to higher temperatures and bright light.
“Trees are these big plants that design the ecosystems for all the other plants and animals,” says Tamir Klein at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Earlier this month Klein met with the Israeli forestry chief to talk about the country’s southern forests, which may not survive the century. “They came to me and asked, What are we supposed to do? We don’t want the desert to move north,” Klein recalls.
“We’re dealing with a very tough situation. It’s a race to the unknown.”
The seeds of the Science study were sown in the early 2000s when lead author McDowell moved to the southwestern U.S. to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Outside his office window he saw fields of dead juniper and piñon pine. An intense heat wave had wiped out 30 percent of the pines on more than 4,500 square miles of woodland. “I thought, as a tree physiologist I’m going to have a short stay here because they are all dead,” he remembers.
McDowell and several colleagues began pondering how tree loss would alter forests’ ability to sequester CO2—and how to better predict such devastation in the future. A decade later, a co-worker examined tree rings and past temperature swings and found a relationship between heat and tree deaths. Then he simulated how the forest would change based on temperature projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The results suggested that by 2050, normal temperatures in the Southwest could be similar to rare past heat waves that led to severe tree-killing droughts. “That was really frightening,” McDowell says.
McDowell and other scientists began to look more broadly. Many people had assumed rising CO2 would feed tree growth. But as the planet gets hotter, the atmosphere sucks moisture from plants and animals. Trees respond by shedding leaves or closing their pores to retain moisture. Both of those reactions curtail CO2 uptake. It’s like “going to an all-you-can-eat buffet with duct tape over their mouths,” McDowell says.
In a tropical forest, the vast majority of tree mass can be in the top one percent of the largest trees. “These big old trees disproportionately hold the above-ground carbon storage,” says study co-author Craig D. Allen, a forest ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “When they die, it creates space for smaller trees, but they have much less carbon in them.”
That’s important, because most global carbon models used by the IPCC assume that forests will do far more to offset our fossil fuel use. The reality may be far less clear.
“When old trees die, they decompose and stop sucking up CO2 and release more of it to the atmosphere,” McDowell says. “It’s like a thermostat gone bad. Warming begets tree loss, then tree loss begets more warming.”
A mountainside is forested with golden larches the Italian Dolomites. Mature trees all over the world are dying off much more quickly than thought. Photograph by Martin Zwick, VISUM/Redux
While some significant change to forests is inevitable, Turner says cutting our fossil fuel emissionscan still make a huge difference. One scenario she has documented suggests that curbing CO2 in the next few decades could cut future forest loss in Grand Teton National Park by half.
In some cases, though, more radical solutions may be required.
In his meeting, Klein urged Israel’s forest leaders to consider planting acacia trees, normally found in the Sahara, in place of pine and cypress. They manage to keep growing even during the hottest days of the year.
“It is sad,” Klein adds. “It won’t look the same. It won’t be the same. But I think it’s better to do this than just have barren land.”
Excerpts from Keweenaw Bay [American] Indian Community letter: “On April 30, 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a notice of proposed rule that would drastically reduce the types of scientific studies that can be used to inform EPA regulations protecting public health under the guise of improving transparency.
On August 13, 2018, the National Tribal Air Association (NTAA) submitted comments opposing the proposed rule, explaining, among other things, that the rule would undermine EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.
The NTAA explained that the proposed rule was vague, purported to addresss a non-existent and unsubstantiated problems, and would result in EPA failing to rely on the best available science in…
Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic Read Caption
New invasions are hitting just as growing season gets underway, threatening millions with hunger.
By Haley Cohen Gilliland Photographs by David Chancellor PUBLISHED May 12, 2020
“These…swarms…are terrifying,” Albert Lemasulani narrated breathlessly as he recorded a video of himself swatting his way through a crush of desert locusts in northern Kenya this April. The insects, more than two inches long, whirred around him in thick clouds, their wings snapping like ten thousand card decks being shuffled in unison. He groaned: “They are in the millions. Everywhere…eating…it really is a nightmare.” null
Lemasulani, 40, lives with his family in Oldonyiro, where he herds goats that survive on shrubs and trees. He’d previously heard of locusts only from stories passed down in the community. That changed earlier this year when the largest invasion of the voracious insects in decades descended on East Africa. With their seemingly bottomless appetites, locusts can cause devastating agricultural losses. An adult desert locust can munch through its own bodyweight, about 0.07 ounces, of vegetation every day. Swarms can swell to 70 billion insects—enough to blanket New York City more than once—and can destroy 300 million pounds of crops in a single day. Even a more modest gathering of 40 million desert locusts can eat as much in a day as 35,000 people.
A large swarm of locusts descends on acacia trees in northern Kenya in April. Swarms can swell to 70 billion insects—enough to cover New York City 1.5 times—and to decimate 300 million pounds of crops in a single day.Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
This is the worst “upsurge”—the category of intensity below “plague”—of desert locusts experienced in Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and in Kenya for 70 years. The region’s growing season is underway, and as the swarms have grown while the coronavirus complicates mitigation efforts, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates up to 25 millionEast Africans will suffer from food shortages later this year. null
Some 13 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea already suffer from “severe food insecurity,” according to the FAO, meaning they may go without eating for an entire day or have run out of food altogether.
“We fear for our future because these kinds of swarms will mean we don’t have anything to feed our animals,” Lemasulani says. Farmers are equally worried about their crops. “We pray God will clear the locusts for us. It’s as terrifying as COVID-19.” null
In the beginning
Desert locusts flourish when arid areas are doused with rain, because they seek to lay their eggs in damp, sandy soil near vegetation that can sustain the young until their wings develop enough for the insects to forage farther afield.
A dead locust sits on a tree branch. Desert locusts can grow to about four inches long and live for three to five months. Their life cycle consists of three phases: egg, hopper, and adult. Locusts are often solitary, but under the right conditions, they breed exponentially and transform into social, or “gregarious,” creatures, which change color and form large, destructive swarms. Until 1921, people believed that gregarious locusts and solitary desert locusts were two different species.
Desert locusts tend to feed on green vegetation and can pick plants bare, including this bush in northern Kenya. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization warns that if they migrate further into agricultural areas, millions of people could face hunger.Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
Albert Lemasulani, a Kenyan pastoralist, has voluntarily tracked locust swarms for the Kenyan government and the FAO since the insects appeared near his hometown of Oldonyiro, in northern Kenya, in January. They’re typically controlled with pesticides, but because locust swarms can move up to 80 miles a day, simply finding them can be a challenge.Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
Usually, when locusts have space to spread out, they actively avoid one another. But in favorable circumstances, desert locust populations can multiply 20-fold every three months. Crowding together as a result of this increased breeding triggers a behavior change. No longer loners, they turn into social or “gregarious” creatures, forming large swarms.
Recently, conditions for procreation and migration have been not just favorable—but ideal. In 2018 and 2019, a series of cyclones that scientists link to unusually warm seas rolled in off the Indian Ocean and soaked a sandy desert in the Arabian Peninsula known as the Empty Quarter. A locust boom followed. null
“We often think of deserts as environments that are very harsh and low productivity, which they are a lot of the time,” says National Geographic grantee Dino Martins, an entomologist, evolutionary biologist, and executive director of the Mpala Research Centre in northern Kenya. The center is working to sequence the desert locust’s genome to to learn what environmental and genetic factors may prompt the locusts’ transformation from solitary to gregarious. “When [deserts] have the right conditions, they can flip, and you can move to a situation with lots of biological activity. That’s basically what we’re seeing now,” he says.
This valley is on the locusts’ route, which is largely determined by the wind.Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
By June 2019, large swarms were on the move, traveling over the Red Sea to Ethiopia and Somalia. Aided by uncommonly heavy rains that buffeted East Africa from Octoberto December, the insects spread south to Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Frozen desert locusts stored at the Mpala Research Centre are kept on hand to study. Scientists there are working to help sequence the insect’s genome. “The desert locust is an enigmatic creature who leads a two-faced life,” says Dino Martins, executive director of the research center. On the one hand, it’s “a pretty unremarkable, ordinary grasshopper struggling to survive, and, when better conditions allow…[it’s] a voracious, upwardly, and onwardly mobile beast.” Desert locusts have one one of the largest genomes known of any animal, he says.
Ivy Ngiru, the center’s research lab manager, inspects frozen desert locusts. Scientists hope that sequencing the desert locust’s genome will allow them to better understand what genetic and environmental variables prompt the locusts’ transformation from solitary to wildly social, swarming creatures.Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
Since the locusts first reached East Africa, favorable breeding conditions have continued, and the swarms have expanded. “I can’t tell you if it’s by 20 times, but [the population] is much bigger,” says Cyril Ferrand, Resilience Team Leader for East Africa at the FAO, which monitors the desert locust situation globally.
When the first wave of locusts arrived in the region in late 2019, most of last year’s crops had reached maturity or been harvested. But the timing of the current, so-called “second generation”—an even more massive wave—is especially worrisome.
That’s because East Africa’s primary growing season begins around mid-March, and the emerging plants are particularly vulnerable to locusts, says Anastasia Mbatia, the technical manager of agriculture at Farm Africa, a charity that works with farmers, pastoralists, and forest communities in East Africa. “When [locusts] feed on the germinating leaves, the crop cannot grow,” she says. “Farmers would need to sow seeds again.” But a second planting in the weeks ahead likely would not be successful, as the best growing weather has already passed.
Spraying for relief
To stem the explosion of locusts, governments often spray pesticides—either from the air or directly on the ground. FAO’s Ferrand says sourcing such chemicals during the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge. “We have had delays in supply. That means managing the [pesticide stocks] today is a very different reality because there are fewer planes moving globally,” he says.
Desert locusts tend to fly during the daytime and roost in the evening. Lemasulani says he tries to locate them in the afternoons, so pesticide sprayers have the best chance of finding them.Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
Even more difficult in places such as Kenya that have little experience with gigantic locust invasions is deciding where to spray. Depending on the winds, which largely determine locust flight patterns, a swarm might travel 80 miles in a day. (In 1988, desert locusts were found to have crossed from West Africa to the Caribbean in just 10 days.)
To chase down these highly mobile swarms, the FAO is relying increasingly on information provided by local people, including Lemasulani, who began voluntarily tracking locust swarms in January.
Drawing on an extensive network of contacts who call him when they spot pockets of the insects, Lemasulani hires motorbike taxis to speed him to swarms. When he finds them, he enters their coordinates in a mobile phone app called elocust3m that was released in late February by David Hughesand his colleagues at Penn State University’s PlantVillage program, an open access public resource for smallholder farmers. Hughes developed the app at the request of the FAO, whose field staff have operated a similar tracking program on specialized tablets since 2014. The data are then shared with the government, which can decide how best to react.
Until recently, when PlantVillage began paying him a stipend to cover his transport and telephone costs, Lemasulani paid for his locust scouting out of his own pocket. (His travels have been exempted from COVID-19 restrictions, as are training sessions for new elocust3m volunteers—residents in areas where swarms are expected—who nonetheless must wear masks and stay six feet apart.)
As Lemasulani wraps a red shawl around his shoulders to protect himself from the rain that has begun to fall outside his home, he says over video chat, “I come from a poor family background and got sponsored by the Catholic church in Oldonyiro though my primary and high school years. I was sponsored by a person I have never met. There is no way I can pay my sponsor back, but I feel noble giving back to my community.”
A small part of the Centralia mine fire after being exposed during excavation in 1969
View of smoke rising through a fissure in the ground in the closed-off area of former Pennsylvania Route 61. The melted snow, which covered the ground around it, shows areas where heat is escaping from the ground below.
The Centralia mine fire is a coal-seam fire that has been burning underneath the borough of Centralia, Pennsylvania, United States, since at least May 27, 1962. Its original cause is still a matter of debate. It is burning in underground coal mines at depths of up to 300 feet (90 m) over an 8-mile (13 km) stretch of 3,700 acres (15 km2). At its current rate, it could continue to burn for over 250 years. It has caused most of the town to be abandoned: the population dwindled from around 1,500 at the time the fire started to 5 in 2017, and most of the buildings have been levelled.
On May 7, 1962, the Centralia Council met to discuss the approaching Memorial Day and how the town would go about cleaning up the Centralia landfill, which was introduced earlier that year. The 300-foot-wide, 75-foot-long pit (91 m × 23 m) was made up of a 50-foot-deep strip mine (15 m) that had been cleared by Edward Whitney in 1935, and came very close to the northeast corner of Odd Fellows Cemetery. There were eight illegal dumps spread about Centralia, and the council’s intention in creating the landfill was to stop the illegal dumping, as new state regulations had forced the town to close an earlier dump west of St. Ignatius Cemetery. Trustees at the cemetery were opposed to the landfill’s proximity to the cemetery, but recognized the illegal dumping elsewhere as a serious problem and envisioned that the new pit would resolve it.
Pennsylvania had passed a precautionary law in 1956 to regulate landfill use in strip mines, as landfills were known to cause destructive mine fires. The law required a permit and regular inspection for a municipality to use such a pit. George Segaritus, a regional landfill inspector who worked for the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries (DMMI), became concerned about the pit when he noticed holes in the walls and floor, as such mines often cut through older mines underneath. Segaritus informed Joseph Tighe, a Centralia councilman, that the pit would require filling with an incombustible material.
The Buck Vein Outcrop A plume of smoke wafts from the ground. A DEP monitoring hole A DEP underground reading of 187 °F (86 °C)
This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit [540 degrees Celsius]. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers.— David DeKok, Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986)
The town council arranged for cleanup of the strip mine dump, but council minutes do not describe the proposed procedure. DeKok surmises that the process—setting it on fire—was not specified because state law prohibited dump fires. Nonetheless, the Centralia council set a date and hired five members of the volunteer firefighter company to clean up the landfill.
A fire was ignited to clean the dump on May 27, 1962, and water was used to douse the visible flames that night. However, flames were seen once more on May 29. Using hoses hooked up from Locust Avenue, another attempt was made to douse the fire that night. Another flare-up in the following week (June 4) caused the Centralia Fire Company to once again douse it with hoses. A bulldozer stirred up the garbage so that firemen could douse concealed layers of the burning waste. A few days later, a hole as wide as 15 feet (4.6 m) and several feet high was found in the base of the north wall of the pit. Garbage had concealed the hole and prevented it from being filled with incombustible material. It is possible that this hole led to the mine fire, as it provided a pathway to the labyrinth of old mines under the borough. Evidence indicates that, despite these efforts to douse the fire, the landfill continued to burn; on July 2, Monsignor William J. Burke complained about foul odors from the smoldering trash and coal reaching St. Ignatius Church. Even then, the Centralia council still allowed the dumping of garbage into the pit.
A member of the council contacted Clarence “Mooch” Kashner, the president of the Independent Miners, Breakermen, and Truckers union, to inspect the situation in Centralia. Kashner evaluated the events and called Gordon Smith, an engineer of the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries (DMMI) office in Pottsville. Smith told the town that he could dig out the smoldering material using a steam shovel for $175. A call was placed to Art Joyce, a mine inspector from Mount Carmel, who brought gas detection equipment for use on the swirling wisps of smoke now emanating from fissures in the north wall of the landfill pit. Tests concluded that the gases seeping from the large hole in the pit wall and from cracks in the north wall contained carbon monoxide concentrations typical of coal-mine fires.
The Centralia Council sent a letter to the Lehigh Valley Coal Company (LVCC) as formal notice of the fire. It is speculated that the town council decided that hiding the true origin of the fire would serve better than alerting the LVCC of the truth, which would most likely end in receiving no help from them. In the letter, the borough described the starting of a fire “of unknown origin during a period of unusually hot weather”.
Preceding an August 6 meeting at the fire site which would include officials from the LVCC and the Susquehanna Coal Company, Deputy Secretary of Mines James Shober Sr. expected that the representatives would inform him they could not afford mounting a project that would stop the mine fire. Therefore, Shober announced that he expected the state to finance the cost of digging out the fire, which was at that time around $30,000 (roughly equivalent to $251,000 in 2019). Another offer was made at the meeting, proposed by Centralia strip mine operator Alonzo Sanchez, who told members of council that he would dig out the mine fire free of charge as long as he could claim any coal he recovered without paying royalties to the Lehigh Valley Coal Company. Part of Sanchez’s plan was to do exploratory drilling to estimate the scope of the mine fire, which was most likely why Sanchez’s offer was rejected at the meeting. The drilling would have delayed the project, not to mention the legal problems with mining rights.
At the time, state mine inspectors were in the Centralia-area mines almost daily to check for lethal levels of carbon monoxide. Lethal levels were found on August 9, and all Centralia-area mines were closed the next day.
Pressed at an August 12 meeting of the United Mine Works of America in Centralia, Secretary of Mines Lewis Evans sent a letter to the group on August 15 that claimed he had authorized a project to deal with the mine fire, and that bids for the project would be opened on August 17. Two days later, the contract was awarded to Bridy, Inc., a company near Mount Carmel, for an estimated $20,000 (roughly equivalent to $167,500 in 2019). Work on the project began August 22.
The Department of Mines and Mineral Industries (DMMI), who originally believed Bridy would need only to excavate 24,000 cubic yards (18,000 m3) of earth, informed them that they were forbidden from doing any exploratory drilling in order to find the perimeter of the fire or how deep it was, and that they were to strictly follow plans drawn up by the engineers[which?] who did not believe that the fire was very big or active. The size and location of the fire were, instead, estimated based on the amount of steam issuing from the landfill rock.
Bridy, following the engineering team plan, began by digging on the northern perimeter of the dump pit rim and excavated about 200 feet (61 m) outward to expand the perimeter. However, the project was ultimately ineffective due to multiple factors. Intentional breaching of the subterranean mine chambers allowed large amounts of oxygen to rush in, greatly worsening the fire. Steve Kisela, a bulldozer operator in Bridy’s project, said that the project was ineffective because the inrush of air helped the fire to move ahead of the excavation point by the time the section was drilled and blasted. Bridy was also using a 2.5-cubic-yard (1.9 m3) shovel, which was considered small for the project.
Furthermore, the state only permitted Bridy’s team to work weekday shifts which were eight hours long and only occurred during the day time; commonly referred to as “first shift” in the mining industry. At one point, work was at a standstill for five days during the Labor Day weekend in early September.[why?] Finally, the fire was traveling in a northward direction which caused the fire to move deeper into the coal seam. This, combined with the work restrictions and inadequate equipment, greatly increased the excavation cost. Bridy had excavated 58,580 cubic yards (44,790 m3) of earth by the time the project ran out of money and ended on October 29, 1962.
On October 29, just prior to the termination of the Bridy project, a new project was proposed that involved flushing the mine fire. Crushed rock would be mixed with water and pumped into Centralia’s mines ahead of the expected fire expansion. The project was estimated to cost $40,000 (roughly equivalent to $350,000 in 2019). Bids were opened on November 1, and the project was awarded to K&H Excavating with a low bid of $28,400 (roughly equivalent to $238,000 in 2019).
Drilling was conducted through holes spaced 20 feet (6.1 m) apart in a semicircular pattern along the edge of the landfill. However, this project was also ineffective due to multiple factors. Centralia experienced an unusually heavy period of snowfall and unseasonably low temperatures during the project. Winter weather caused the water supply lines to freeze. Furthermore, the rock-grinding machine froze during a windy blizzard. Both problems inhibited timely mixture and administration of the crushed-rock slurry. The DMMI also worried that the 10,000 cubic yards (7,600 m3) of flushing material would not be enough to fill the mines; thus, preventing the bore holes from filling completely. Partially filled boreholes would provide an escape route for the fire, rendering the project ineffective.
These problems quickly depleted funds. In response, Secretary Evans approved an additional $14,000 (roughly equivalent to $117,240 in 2019) to fund this project. Funding for the project ran out on March 15, 1963, with a total cost of $42,420 (roughly equivalent to $355,250 in 2019).
On April 11, steam issuing from additional openings in the ground indicated that the fire had spread eastward as far as 700 feet (210 m), and that the project had failed.
A three-option proposal was drawn up soon after that, although the project would be delayed until after the new fiscal year beginning July 1, 1963. The first option, costing $277,490, consisted of entrenching the fire and back-filling the trench with incombustible material. The second, costing $151,714, offered a smaller trench in an incomplete circle, followed by the completion of the circle with a flush barrier. The third plan was a “total and concerted flushing project” larger than the second project’s flushing and costing $82,300. The state abandoned this project in 1963.
David DeKok began reporting on the mine fire for The News-Item in Shamokin beginning in late 1976. Between 1976 and 1986, he wrote over 500 articles about the mine fire. In 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner, then-mayor John Coddington, inserted a dipstick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot. He lowered a thermometer into the tank on a string and was shocked to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F (77.8 °C).
Beginning in 1980, adverse health effects were reported by several people due to byproducts of the fire: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and low oxygen levels. Statewide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when a 12-year-old resident named Todd Domboski fell into a sinkhole 4 feet (1.2 m) wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet in a backyard. He clung to a tree root until his cousin, 14-year-old Eric Wolfgang, saved his life by pulling him out of the hole. The plume of hot steam billowing from the hole was measured as containing a lethal level of carbon monoxide.
A number of competing hypotheses have arisen about the source of the Centralia mine fire. Some of them claim that the mine fire started before May 27, 1962. David DeKok says that the bourough’s deliberate burning of trash on May 27 to clean up the landfill in the former strip mine ignited a coal seam via an unsealed opening in the trash pit, which allowed the fire to enter the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia.
Joan Quigley argues in her 2007 book The Day the Earth Caved In that the fire had in fact started the previous day, when a trash hauler dumped hot ash or coal discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit. She noted that borough council minutes from June 4, 1962, referred to two fires at the dump, and that five firefighters had submitted bills for “fighting the fire at the landfill area”. The borough, by law, was responsible for installing a fire-resistant clay barrier between each layer of trash in the landfill, but fell behind schedule, leaving the barrier incomplete. This allowed the hot coals to penetrate the vein of coal underneath the pit and light the subsequent subterranean fire. In addition to the council minutes, Quigley cites “interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses” as her sources.
Another hypothesis is known as the Bast Theory. It states that the fire was burning long before the alleged trash dump fire. According to local legend, the Bast Colliery coal fire of 1932, set alight by an explosion, was never fully extinguished. In 1962, it reached the landfill area. Those who adhere to the Bast Theory believe that the dump fire is a separate fire unrelated to the Centralia mine fire. One man who disagrees is Frank Jurgill Sr., who claims he operated a bootleg mine with his brother in the vicinity of the landfill between 1960 and 1962. He says that if the Bast Colliery fire had never been put out, he and his brother would have been in it and killed by the gases. Based on this and due to contrary evidence, few hold this position, and it is given little credibility.
Centralia councilman Joseph Tighe proposed a different hypothesis: that Centralia’s coal fire was actually started by an adjacent coal-seam fire that had been burning west of Centralia’s. His belief is that the adjacent fire was at one time partially excavated, but it nonetheless set alight the landfill on May 27.
Another hypothesis arose from the letter sent to the Lehigh Valley Coal Company by the Centralia Council in the days after the mine fire was noticed. The letter describes “a fire of unknown origin [starting] on or about June 25, 1962, during a period of unusually hot weather”. This may make a reference to the hypothesis of spontaneous combustion being the reason for the start of the landfill fire, a hypothesis accepted for many years by state and federal officials.
The location at which the former roadbed of Pennsylvania Route 61 terminates due to the mine fire. As the joining row homes were demolished, the buttresses were constructed to support the walls of the remaining homes.
In 1984, Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the residents accepted buyout offers and dispersed far away from the area (data from the 1990 United States Census shows that the nearby towns continued to lose population at the same rate as previous decades, suggesting the Centralians did not locate there). A few families opted to stay despite urgings from Pennsylvania officials.
In 1992, Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey invoked eminent domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision reversed failed. In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service revoked Centralia’s ZIP code, 17927. In 2009, Governor Ed Rendell began the formal eviction of Centralia residents. In July 2012, the last handful of residents in Centralia lost their appeal of a court decision upholding eminent domain proceedings, and were ordered again to leave. State and local officials reached an agreement with the seven remaining residents on October 29, 2013, allowing them to live out their lives there, after which the rights of their properties will be taken through eminent domain.
The Centralia mine fire also extended beneath the town of Byrnesville, a few miles to the south. The town had to be abandoned and levelled.
The Centralia area has now grown to be a tourist attraction. Visitors come to see the smoke on Centralia’s empty streets and the abandoned portion of PA Route 61, popularly referred to as the Graffiti Highway.
As of April 2020, efforts began to cover up Graffiti Highway by the private owner of the road.
The fire and its effects were featured in 2013 on America Declassified on the Travel Channel, and on Radiolab’s Cities episode.
Sign Petition: We Could See This Country’s Entire Rainforest Disappear in Our Lifetime 10-12 minutes by: Care2 Team recipient: The Government of Madagascar
But a new report from Nature Climate Change found that the cumulative effects of global warming and deforestation within that time will be enough to eliminate 100% of Madagascar’s rainforest. Every last inch of the island country’s rainforest will be gone. Many folks alive today would see this heartbreaking eventuality happen in their lifetime. Sign the petition today and urge the Government of Madagascar to take the strictest possible measures to protect its rainforests! While Madagascar alone is not responsible for human-induced climate change, its government can certainly take action against the potential massive loss of plant and animal life from deforestation. Contributing researchers to the shocking study suggest that “protected areas will help to mitigate this devastation while environmentalists work toward long-term solutions for ending runaway greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change.” To make the situation even more alarming, 80-90% of animal and plant species in Madagascar exist in its rainforest. If we fail to save this habitat, there will be a subsequent massive, irreversible loss of diversity and life. Of Madagascar’s 101 different lemur species, only 5% are not are not at risk of extinction in the near future. The ruffed lemur, described as a “cornerstone species” because of the critical role they play in bolstering the survival of other animals and plants, is critically endangered. As daunting as this may seem, we must use this study as an incentive. Please sign the petition and make the Government of Madagascar hear us – they must impose strict deforestation protections on their rainforest before it’s too late!
Sign Petition: This Country Lost 60% of Its Rainforests in One Year and No One is Doing Anything About It
by: Care2 Team recipient: Ghanian Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Scientists sometimes refer to rainforests as the “lungs of the Earth.” The millions or perhaps billions of trees that populate the world’s rainforests consume huge amounts of carbon dioxide and in turn, produce life-giving oxygen. Yet, it is no secret that over the past decades these collections of towering plants have been toppled in staggering numbers. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Ghana, where the country has seen its forests disappear by a rate unmatched by any other. According to a study by Global Forest Watch, in just one year (2017-2018), the amount of forests lost in Ghana increased by a jaw-dropping 60%. Sign the demand Ghana take action to save their rainforests. In fact, so bad has deforestation become, that the country, once one of the world’s largest exporters may now have to import it to feed local supply. Rainforests globally hold biodiversity that is unrivaled. The Ghanaian rainforests provide habitat and shelter for animals on the brink of extinction including the mountain gorilla and the grey parrot which, despite being commonplace in pet stores, in the wild is disappearing fast. The main cause of their forest destruction is cocoa farming. Ghana is one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa and farmers have toppled entire swaths of the rainforest to make room for more cocoa plantations. These, and deforestation due to large and small scale mining, especially of bauxite leave the jungles of Ghana vulnerable from all sides. And yet, Ghanian government officials are doing nothing to stop the impending destruction of their natural heritage. According to Quartz, the government has recently signed a deal with China to allow mining in exchange infrastructure and a ban on small scale mining has been inexplicably lifted. Meanwhile, the agency that is supposed to safeguard environmental standards has been crippled by corruption. This is unacceptable. With the recent news that the world stands on the cusp of losing over 1 million species to extinction, it is now more imperative than ever that countries crack down on the practices that destroy the habitats where these animals live. Practices like mining and uncontrolled cocoa farming.
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard