Today’s “We’re Screwed” News: Earth Tipping Point, Arctic Algae Bloom

Some days you just get this feeling of dread when you read the news. Today was one of those days if you care about the future of life on this planet.

Earth Tipping Point

You’ve probably heard about the idea of a tipping point where certain climate and environmental changes are irreversible. A group of scientists say we are heading down the road to a planet that is “very different.” Anthony Barnosky, a University of California professor, says we are heading towards a point of no return and the results are in some cases unpredictable. “There is a very high possibility that by the end of the century, the Earth is going to be a very different place,” says Barnosky. He points out that humans are causing climate change at a faster pace than has ever happened naturally in the past.

The results are difficult to predict, because tipping points, by their definition, take the planet into uncharted territory. Based on past transitions, Barnosky and his colleagues predict a major loss of species (during the end of the last glacial period, half of the large-bodied mammal species in the world disappeared), as well as changes in the makeup of species in various communities on the local level. Meanwhile, humans may well be knotting our own noose as we burn through Earth’s resources.

“These ecological systems actually give us our life support, our crops, our fisheries, clean water,” Barnosky said. As resources shift from one nation to another, political instability can easily follow.

Arctic Algae Bloom

The other piece of news today comes from NASA. In the process of studying algae and its vital role in the ocean’s food chain, NASA turned up a very large algae bloom beneath the Arctic ice.

Researchers aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker ship, Healy, sampled beneath the 0.8-1.3 meter (2.4-4.0 feet) thick sea ice and found phytoplankton biomass was “extremely high, about fourfold greater than in open water.”

The “massive under-ice bloom” also appeared to extend about 100 kilometers (60 miles) into the ice shelf, until “the waters literally looked like pea soup,” mission leader Kevin Arrigo told reporters.

“We were astonished. It was completely unexpected. It was literally the most intense phytoplankton bloom I have ever seen in my 25 years of doing this type of research,” said Arrigo, a scientist at Stanford University in California.

So yeah, we’re screwed.

dks

photo by Martin Sharman

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Climate ChangeEnvironment

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