Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: ecology

  1. ‘Zero tolerance’ plan for plastic pollution considered by UN environment ministers

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    • Governments are being asked to move towards a legal treaty banning plastic waste from entering the sea.
    • At the moment ships are prohibited from dumping plastic overboard but there’s no international law against plastics flooding into the sea from the land.

    A plan for zero tolerance of plastic pollution of the oceans may be agreed by nations at a UN environment summit…..

    Experts say ocean plastics are an obvious subject for a global treaty: plastics present a large-scale threat….Plastic pollution doesn’t recognise international borders. Delegates in Nairobi preparing the way for the UN’s environment ministers meeting next week are said to be in broad agreement on the need for tougher action to combat the plastics crisis.

    Plastic on a beach

    …China – the world’s biggest plastics polluter – is said to be cautious about being bound by global rules. Other big polluters like India and Indonesia are said to be generally supportive about the resolutions….

    India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently applauded the clean-up of plastic from a beach in Mumbai, saying: “It is our duty to protect the environment for our future generations.”

    Eirik Lindebjerg from WWF said the Nairobi meeting could prove a turning point in the plastics crisis. He told BBC News: “The treaties on climate change and biodiversity were initiated in this forum – so it has a track record of making things happen.”….

    …The meeting will also discuss pollution of the air and water. A global ban on lead in paints may be approved.

  2. Climate-Smart Land Trusts: Accelerating Nature-Based Solutions to Secure our Future

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    The California Council of Land Trusts hosted the 2017 California Land Conservation Conference from March 7-9, 2017 at UC Davis.

    Ellie Cohen, Point Blue President and CEO was a keynote speaker.  A pdf of Ellie’s presentation can be found here: Accelerating Nature-Based Solutions- Climate-Smart Land Trusts CCLT Keynote March 7 2017

    You can see a pdf of the full program here.

  3. Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy

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    Full paper pdf here


    As the contribution for long-term ecological and environmental studies (LTEES) to our understanding of how species and ecosystems respond to a changing global climate becomes more urgent, the relative number and investment in LTEES are declining. To assess the value of LTEES to advancing the field of ecology, we evaluated relationships between citation rates and study duration, as well as the representation of LTEES with the impact factors of 15 ecological journals. We found that the proportionate representation of LTEES increases with journal impact factor and that the positive relationship between citation rate and study duration is stronger as journal impact factor increases. We also found that the representation of LTEES in reports written to inform policy was greater than their representation in the ecological literature and that their authors particularly valued LTEES. We conclude that the relative investment in LTEES by ecologists and funders should be seriously reconsidered for advancing ecology and its contribution to informing environmental policy.

    Keywords: climate change, impact factor, citation rate, National Research Council, study duration

    Hughes B.B., R. Beas-Luna, et al. 2017. Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy. In press. BioScience. Featured on the cover.

    Box 1. A recommended attributes of sustainable, productive LTEES largely drawn from the ecological literature (see text for citations).

    Question/hypothesis-based purpose
    Ensure that the purpose and design of a LTEES is motivated by well-defined questions and associated hypotheses.
    Both basic and applied purposes
    Include both basic and applied purposes (questions) to increase the value of an LTEES and breadth of interested participants and funding sources.
    Consistent core sampling design and protocols
    Ensure that core sampling design criteria (spatial and temporal) and protocols are consistent through time to maintain the integrity of a time series. Any new designs and methods should be gradually transitioned to with calibration to evaluate comparability and compatibility of the time series.
    Consistency and quality of data collection
    Establish a rigorous system for maintaining consistency and reliability of data collection and quality control over the long term that is robust to turnover of project personnel. This includes the training and evaluation of data collectors.
    Adaptability of sampling design and protocols
    Ensure capacity to adopt additional designs and protocols to enhance its relevance by addressing emergent and topical questions and hypotheses.
    Maintain rigorous and detailed documentation of sampling designs, data collection methods, instrumentation, calibrations, environmental conditions and other metadata to inform the proper use and interpretation of data.
    Data management and dissemination
    Design and support a well-developed and adaptable data management and data dissemination program throughout the lifetime of the LTEES. This includes a strong online presence.
    Attractive and inclusive participation by the scientific community and others
    Develop means (e.g., workshops, website, outreach) for engaging others in the research community, managers, stakeholders, citizen science and others with emphasis on recruiting new young researchers.
    Management structure
    Implement an adaptable and functional management and governance structure that is responsible for strategic research planning, resource allocation, administrative policies, and staffing throughout the lifetime of the LTEES.
    Rigorous funding structure
    Identify and establish long-term reliable and resilient funding sources in advance of initiating an LTEES. Establish mechanisms for identifying and pursuing additional sources of funding throughout the lifetime of the LTEES (e.g., outreach products and efforts).
    Complementary research programs
    Foster and integrate a diversity of multi- and interdisciplinary research approaches (e.g., short and long-term experiments, modeling, coupled biological and physical observations, coupled socio-ecological investigations).
    Educational component
    Create educational components that expose future generations of scientists and others to the value of LTEES at several levels (visiting researchers and teachers, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates, K-12).

  4. Are drones disturbing marine mammals?

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    Posted: 13 Feb 2017 10:13 AM PST  see full article here

    Marine researchers have made sure that their research drones aren’t disturbing their research subjects, shows a new report. And they’re hoping that others will follow their example to help protect wildlife in the future.

    Fredrik Christiansen, Laia Rojano-Doñate, Peter T. Madsen, Lars Bejder. Noise Levels of Multi-Rotor Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with Implications for Potential Underwater Impacts on Marine Mammals. Frontiers in Marine Science, 2016; 3 DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00277

  5. 190+ Governments Take Tough Decisions to Stop Biodiversity Decline Worldwide – UN Biodiversity Conference, Cancun

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    • Governments need to ramp-up efforts to stop biodiversity decline in light of pessimistic reports.
    • Time running out on global efforts to meet biodiversity targets with 2/3 still off-track.
    • Countries to focus on the value of biodiversity to engage other economic sectors as means of halting degradation.
    • Ability to achieve the SDGs (sustainable development goals) and the Paris Climate Agreement is at stake.

    Cancún, 1 December 2016 – At a critical meeting opening today, the United Nations will call on decision makers from more than 190 countries to step-up efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and protect the ecosystems that support food and water security and health for billions of people.

    At the UN Biodiversity Conference in Cancún, Mexico, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) begin two weeks of discussions in the shadow of data and reports showing that around two-thirds of the global Aichi Biodiversity Targets are currently not on track to be met by the 2020 deadline, with serious consequences for human well-being, unless enhanced efforts are made in the last four years of the decade.

    The Aichi Targets specify actions to protect and sustainably use the entire variety of life on our planet. The targets address issues ranging from the loss of natural habitats, sustainable agriculture and declining fish stocks, to access and sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources, indigenous knowledge and awareness of the values of biodiversity.

    Achievement of the Aichi Targets will be critical for achieving the three other historic global agendas agreed last year, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

    Ahead of the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD more than 120 ministers of environment, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism will discuss the mainstreaming of biodiversity into their activities by ensuring the alignment of wider Government policies, programmes and plans consistent with the need to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.

    “If we are going to save biodiversity, we need to work with these sectors that depend on biodiversity and whose activities have a considerable impact on the variety of life on our planet.” Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, CBD Executive Secretary said….

  6. Climate Change and Nutrition—Polar Bears, Fish

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    Land-based food not nutritionally sufficient for wild polar bears, according to new study

    Posted: 13 Sep 2016 12:05 PM PDT

    On average, a polar bear loses up to 30 percent of its total body mass while fasting during the open-water season. Although some scientists previously believed land-based foods could supplement the bears’ nutritional needs until the sea ice returns, a new study has revealed that access to terrestrial food is not sufficient to reduce the rate of body mass loss for fasting polar bears.

    Study links altered brain chemistry, behavioral impairments in fish exposed to elevated carbon dioxide

    Posted: 13 Sep 2016 09:52 AM PDT

    Increased carbon dioxide concentrations alters brain chemistry that may lead to neurological impairment in some fish, a first-of-its-kind study demonstrates.

  7. Plants retain more water with more CO2 in environment—implications for current drought and hydrology studies

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    August 29, 2016

    As a multiyear drought grinds on in the Southwestern United States, many wonder about the impact of global climate change on more frequent and longer dry spells. As humans emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, how will water supply for people, farms, and forests be affected? A new study from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Washington shows that water conserved by plants under high CO2 conditions compensates for much of the effect of warmer temperatures, retaining more water on land than predicted in commonly used drought assessments.

    According to the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the implications of plants needing less water with more CO2 in the environment changes assumptions of climate change impacts on agriculture, water resources, wildfire risk, and plant growth.

    The study compares current drought indices with ones that take into account changes in plant water use. Reduced precipitation will increase droughts across southern North America, southern Europe and northeastern South America. But the results show that in Central Africa and temperate Asia—including China, the Middle East, East Asia and most of Russia—water conservation by plants will largely counteract the parching due to climate change. “This study confirms that drought will intensify in many regions in the future,” said coauthor James Randerson, UCI professor of Earth system science. “It also shows that plant water needs will have an important influence on water availability, and this part of the equation has been neglected in many drought and hydrology studies.”…

    Global climate models already account for these changes in plant growth. But many estimates of future drought use today’s standard indices, like the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which only consider atmospheric variables such as future temperature, humidity and precipitation. “New satellite observations and improvements in our understanding hydrological cycle have led to significant advances in our ability to model changes in soil moisture,” said Randerson. “Unfortunately, using proxy estimates of drought stress can give us misleading results because they ignore well-established principles from plant physiology.

    Is this good news for climate change? Although the drying may be less extreme than in some current estimates, droughts will certainly increase, researchers said, and other aspects of climate change could have severe effects on vegetation. “There’s a lot we don’t know, especially about hot droughts,” Swann said. The same drought at a higher temperature might have more severe impacts, she noted, or might make plants more stressed and susceptible to pests. “Even if droughts are not extremely more prevalent or frequent, they may be more deadly when they do happen,” she said.

    Abigail L. S. Swanna,b,1, Forrest M. Hoffmanc,d, Charles D. Kovene, and James T. Randersonf
    lant responses to increasing CO2 reduce estimates of climate impacts on drought severity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

  8. Forest and watercourse interplay important for restorations

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    August 24, 2016 Umea University

    Humans utilise forests and watercourses in a way that depletes ecosystem habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Many areas are restored to break the trend, but to succeed you need to consider not only the ecosystem in mind, but also surrounding ecosystems.
    ….”Despite evident correlations between land and water ecosystems, forests and watercourses are nearly always restored separately in small-scale projects. When a forest ecosystem abounding in water has been depleted, it

    can be a struggle to retain its original status by restoring only one part of it. Instead, both land and aquatic environments need to be integrated in the restoration,” says Christer Nilsson, Professor at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at Umeå University.

    Riparian zones along forest rivers are environments where forests and water meet and benefit from each other. The line of trees along the riparian zones provides shade and wood. Leaves and insects falling into the water are favourable for aquatic insects and bugs and eventually also for fish. Floodings wash up sediment, seeds and other plant parts onto riparian forest zones. New plants grow, which increases production and diversity. Aquatic larvae make up a good food source for insects, spiders, crustaceans, lizards and birds on land. Decaying fish carcasses removed from the river by large animals encourage the growth of riparian trees by enriching riparian areas with nitrogen. That in turn helps trees to grow and to shed more branches and leaves into the water….Free-flowing rivers surrounded by natural forest are expected to be more resistant to climate change than streams surrounded by clearcuts or urbanised areas.

    Another problem is that most studies are conducted at a local level with focus on short-term effects. Long-term recovery is often unknown and in the few cases where restorations of watercourses and forests have been coordinated, they have rarely been evaluated. Both well thought-out, basic measurements and reference areas are needed for comparisons. Good knowledge on ecosystems and their functions in the landscape are necessary to evaluate and improve the measures taken in a restoration project.

    “There are complex correlations over large areas to take into account, which means that seeing the final results of small-scale projects take time. Large-scale restoration projects with a landscape perspective stand a much higher chance of succeeding. Researchers and practicians who undertake restorations are faced with immense challenges ahead,” says Christer Nilsson.

    Joakim Hjältén, Christer Nilsson, Dolly Jørgensen, David Bell. Forest–Stream Links, Anthropogenic Stressors, and Climate Change: Implications for Restoration Planning. BioScience, 2016; 66 (8): 646 DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biw072

  9. ‘The blob’: how marine heatwaves are causing unprecedented climate chaos

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    ‘The blob’: how marine heatwaves are causing unprecedented climate chaos

    Wide-scale disruption from warming oceans is increasing, but they could change our understanding of the climate

    Michal Slezak Sunday 14 August 2016 16.20 EDT Last modified on Sunday 14 August 2016 22.03 EDT

    First seabirds started falling out of the sky, washing up on beaches from California to Canada.

    Then emaciated and dehydrated sea lion pups began showing up, stranded and on the brink of death.

    A surge in dead whales was reported in the same region, and that was followed by the largest toxic algal bloom in history seen along the Californian coast. Mixed among all that there were population booms of several marine species that normally aren’t seen surging in the same year.

    Plague, famine, pestilence and death was sweeping the northern Pacific Ocean between 2014 and 2015.

    This chaos was caused by a single massive heatwave, unlike anything ever seen before. But it was not the sort of heatwave we are used to thinking about, where the air gets thick with warmth. This occurred in the ocean, where the effects are normally hidden from view.

    Nicknamed “the blob”, it was arguably the biggest marine heatwave ever seen. It may have been the worst but wide-scale disruption from marine heatwaves is increasingly being seen all around the globe, with regions such as Australia seemingly being hit with more than their fair share.

    It might seem strange given their huge impact but the concept of a marine heatwave is new to science. The term was only coined in 2011. Since then a growing body of work documenting their cause and impact has developed.

    According to Emanuele Di Lorenzo from the Georgia Institute of Technology, that emerging field of study could not only reveal a hitherto underestimated source of climate-related chaos, it could change our very understanding of the climate.

    The eye of the storm

    On the other side of the Pacific from “the blob”, Australia has been buffeted by a string of extreme marine heatwaves. This year at least three parts of the coast have been devastated by extreme water temperatures.

    Australia, it seems, could be smack in the middle of this global chaos. According to work published in 2014, both the south-east and south-west coasts are among the world’s fastest warming ocean waters.

    “They have been identified as global warming hotspots,” says Eric Oliver, an oceanographer at the University of Tasmania. “The seas there are warming fast and so we might expect there to be an increased likelihood or increased intensity of the events that happen there.

    “Certainly attention is being focused on ocean changes on the south-east and south-west of Australia.”

    A field born in the death of a forest

    It was in the study of a marine heatwave in south-west Australia that the term was coined just five years ago. In a report that still used the term “marine heatwave” in scare quotes, scientists from the West Australian department of fisheries found the heatwave off the state’s coast was “a major temperature anomaly superimposed on the underlying long-term ocean-warming trend”.

    That year, the researchers found, Western Australia had an unprecedented surge of hot water along its coast. Surface temperatures were up to 5C higher than the usual seasonal temperature. The pool of warm water stretched more than 1,500km from Ningaloo to the southern tip of the continent at Cape Leeuwin, and it extended more than 200km offshore. Unlike a terrestrial heatwave that will normally last a couple of weeks at most, this persisted for more than 10 weeks.

    But five years later the full impact of that marine heatwave have are beginning to be more fully understood.

    Thomas Wernberg, an ecologist from the University of Western Australia, examined the impact on the gigantic kelp forests that line the western and southern coast of Australia, publishing his results in the prestigious journal Science.

    “It got so hot that the kelp forests died,” Wernberg says. For hundreds of kilometres, magnificent kelp forests that line the coast and support one of the world’s most biodiverse marine environments simply died in the heat

    But it wasn’t just their death that was the problem. While heatwaves on land can kill and destroy large sections of terrestrial forests – usually by allowing fires to spread – those trees normally grow back. What was disturbing about this marine heatwave was that many of the vast underwater forests never came back. The warming climate created changes that meant the kelp didn’t recover. About 100km of kelp forests just disappeared, probably forever.

    “At the same time, there was a range extension of tropical and subtropical fish that love eating seaweed. So that basically means that, even when the temperatures came down, the kelp couldn’t recover – there was a range extension of the herbivorous fishes that were eating the kelp.”

    In the place of the kelp forest, Wernberg found coral was starting to emerge. It was as if the heatwave in 2011 bulldozed the area, making way for a shift in the ecosystem that climate change was already trying to impose.

    “It is probably too early to say if this will eventually lead to new coral reefs,” Wernberg says. “However, this is how I imagine the process would start.”

    Wernberg estimated those kelp forests were directly responsible for sustaining rock lobster and abalone fisheries, as well as a tourist industry, together worth $10bn. If they were lost, it would be a serious problem for Australia, not to mention for the animals that rely on them.

    Wernberg says the kelp forests in Western Australia were likely to keep contracting. “I think the next big heatwave is just going to push what we see in the north ultimately further down and then it just depends on how bad that heatwave is, whether we go all the way down to Perth or whether we just go another 10km,” he told the Guardian when the study first came out.

    2016: the year of marine heat

    In 2015 Wernberg established a working group of biologists, oceanographers and climate scientists in Australia to examine marine heatwaves. He saw it as an exciting new field of study.

    That was timely, as less than a year later Australia would find itself virtually surrounded by pools of warm water that caused widespread and unprecedented destruction. They were spurred on by a large El Niño, which spreads warm water across the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But El Niños had been seen before and these marine heatwaves appeared to be unprecedented.

    Perhaps most dramatically, 2016 saw the Great Barrier Reef blasted by a marine heatwave that killed 22% of the coral there in one fell swoop. In the pristine northern sections, about half the coral is thought to have died.

    The hotter water that bathed the reef has now subsided but the full damage is still being tallied. The immediate death of the coral is one thing but the after effects are starting to be seen, with a decline in fish numbers being reported.

    And, unusually, there is continued bleaching in parts of the reef, even now as the southern hemisphere moves past the middle of winter.

    Justin Marshall, of the University of Queensland, has been studying the reef ecosystem around Lizard Island in the remote northern part of the Great Barrier Reef and warns that there appears to be “complete ecosystem collapse” there.

    He doesn’t have the final numbers from the surveys he is conducting but he says there are easily half as many fish there after the bleaching as there were before, and there are some species that were common before that are completely missing now.

    Marshall says that could be the beginning of a “regime shift” there – where the once magnificent and resilient coral is replaced permanently by a bed of seaweed.

    But as if disappearing coral reefs and kelp forests aren’t enough for one country, a marine heatwave in Australia in 2016 was also responsible for an unprecedented mangrove die-off.

    On the other side of Cape York from the Great Barrier Reef, a related heatwave in the Gulf of Carpentaria spurred along what one expert studying said was the worst mangrove die-off seen anywhere in the world.

    After hearing reports of the mangrove die-off, Norm Duke, an expert in mangrove ecology from James Cook University, got a helicopter and flew over 700km of coastline, to see what was happening.

    He says he was shocked by what he saw. He calculated dead mangroves now covered a combined area of 7,000 hectares. That was the worst mangrove mass die-off seen anywhere in the world, he says.

    “We have seen smaller instances of this kind of moisture stress before but what is so unusual now is its extent, and that it occurred across the whole southern gulf in a single month.”

    Duke is assessing the precise structure of the die-off to figure out what the exact drivers were. By examining exactly which mangroves died, and measuring how far they were from the high-tide line, Duke hopes to figure out how much of the die-off is attributable to hot water and air, and how much to the dry weather. But, for now, Duke thinks all are to blame. “This is all correlated, so it’s hard to separate,” Duke says.

    Greg Browning from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology says with all these changes in the water temperature and the rainfall, big changes in ecosystems would almost be expected. “In a nutshell, there have been significantly below-average rainfall totals in the last two wet seasons … and very warm sea surface temperatures,” he told the Guardian in July. “When you have those departures from average conditions, it’s bound to affect the ecosystem in some way.”

    Just like the kelp forests and the coral reef, there is a distinct possibility some of these mangroves will be lost forever. Duke says if the disruption is severe enough, the mangrove-dominated regions can become salt pans – flat, unvegetated regions covered in salt.

    And he says the most recent satellite images show the mangroves still haven’t recovered their leaves, suggesting they really are dead.

    And last, but not least, Tasmania has been virtually poached this year.

    Tasmania was bathed in an unprecedented pool of warm water that was 4.5C higher than average, devastating lucrative oyster farms, causing a drop in salmon catches and killing swathes of abalone.

    Are marine heatwaves on the rise?

    With two of the world’s global warming hot spots sitting just off the coasts of Australia, the country is likely to continue seeing these marine heatwaves bring chaos and destruction.

    But the big question facing researchers is if they are increasing in frequency or severity or both, as a result of global warming.

    Wernberg says it’s the apparent increase in the effects of marine heatwaves that has driven him and others to study them in more detail than ever before.

    “It’s not that they’ve been understudied in the past,” he says. “It’s that they didn’t occur to the extent they are now.

    “It seems like there are more and more extreme impacts attributed to them.”

    Wernberg says it’s difficult to say “because you have one, then you have another one and then eventually you realise you are having more than you used to”.

    Di Lorenzo, an oceanographer at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, conducted a major study of “the blob”, which, at least by some measures, was the worst marine heatwave ever seen.

    He says his study suggested it was made about 16% more likely as a result of climate change – but he warns that while he’s confident that the results show it was made significantly more likely by climate change, he’s not very confident with the precise figure. “I would feel comfortable with the sign of the effect, not necessarily with number.”

    But generally, Di Lorenzo says, looking at what is happening, he thinks climate change is increasing both the frequency and severity of marine heatwaves. So much so, he wonders if climate models are wrong, and underestimating the fluctuations in temperature that will occur as the globe warms.

    “The real system – if you look at the observations, and this is a paper I will publish very soon – the increase in variance is much much stronger than what models are predicting,” he says. “Maybe our models are too conservative.” Di Lorenzo says this sort of “variance” – including things like heatwaves – will always be stronger in the ocean, because the ocean has a kind of “memory” that means events build on top of each other, multiplying their effects.

    That memory is a result of temperature changing much more slowly in the ocean, as well as the ocean being able to absorb more heat in general.

    Oliver, from the University of Tasmania, would not discuss the results because they were under review at a journal but data he presented at a conference, he and colleagues including Wernberg, found “more, longer, and more intense” marine heatwaves over the past century.

    The results have not yet undergone peer-review but they found the same trend in many parts of the world. Since 1920, they found some regions were seeing an increase in frequency of about one extra marine heatwave every 20 years. But the plots show most of that increase happened in the past 30 years.

    They also found they’re becoming hotter, increasing by almost 0.4C per decade in some regions. And they’re lasting longer – an extra 0.4 days per decade.

    Putting it all together, the results globally were even more significant. Around the world, marine heatwaves were increasing by two days every decade since 1900.

    Over that time, he found the frequency and duration had doubled. As a result, the number of days in which there was a marine heatwave somewhere in the world had increased four-fold.

    “On average, there are 20 more [marine heatwave] days per year in the early 21st century than in the early 20th century,” the presentation concluded.

    Oliver and Wernberg declined to comment on the results, since some scientific journals refuse to publish results if the authors have already discussed them with the media.

    But Di Lorenzo, who wasn’t involved in Oliver’s study, said the increasing frequency of these events is well outside of what anyone predicted, and he’s excited to see how it turns out.

    “I personally, as a scientist, I’m curious to see what happens. I hope to live long enough – maybe 20 or 30 years – to see what this experiment is going to turn into.”

    He said the situation is very grave for humanity but exciting for scientists. He compared the situation to a surgeon being faced with a sick patient. “If he has a very complicated surgery, of course he cares for the patient, but on the other hand he is very excited about trying a new surgery and potentially solving it.”

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