Bill of Rights for a Lake in US

Human-like rights to Lake Erie?

The failing health of Lake Erie, the world’s 11th largest lake, is at the heart of one of the most unusual questions to appear on an American ballot: Should a body of water be given rights normally associated with those granted to a person?

Voters in Ohio, will be asked this month to decide whether Lake Erie, which supports the economies of four states, one Canadian province and the cities of Toledo, Cleveland and Buffalo, has the legal right “to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”

The Lake has known a string of environmental calamities— poisonous algal blooms in summer, runoff containing fertilizer and animal manure, and a constant threat from invasive fish. But this special election is not merely symbolic. It is legal strategy: If the lake gets legal rights, the theory goes, people can sue polluters on its behalf.

The proposed Lake Eerie Bill of Rights is part of a growing number of efforts to carve out legal status for elements of nature, including rivers, forests and mountains and even wild rice. The efforts, which began decades ago but have gathered momentum in recent years, seek to show that existing laws are insufficient to protect nature against environmental harm. Under current law, lakes and deserts do not have legal standing, so people cannot sue on their behalf. (NYT)


Climate change impacts - environmental, social, biodiversity and ice

Climate change impacts

Using new analysis for the upper 2 thousand metres of the world’s oceans, it was found that ocean temperatures were at a record high in 2018. The last five years have been the hottest ocean temperatures on record.  Ocean warming has been accelerating since the 1990s.

Ocean warming is faster than predicted. More than 90 percent of heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions accumulates in the ocean. Scientists found agreement among multiple lines of temperature measurements that the world’s oceans have been warming about 40 percent faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in the Fifth Assessment Report of 2014.

Social and Environmental

Warming to affect your morning coffee: Studying the extinction risk to wild coffee species, it has been found that at least 60 percent of all coffee species are threatened with extinction. They find that although there are several risks to coffee varieties, including disease and deforestation, climate is a significant threat given projections of longer droughts and the spread of pathogens. If these wild varieties of coffee disappear, it may be more challenging for scientists to create new varieties that can adapt to a warming, drier planet.

Climate played a role in asylum applications: Examining data on asylum applications for 157 countries, it has been found that climatic conditions contributes to more severe drought and greater armed conflict, and was associated with asylum applications between 2011 and 2015. This was particularly true for western Asian and northern African countries in 2010-2012, which were experiencing political transformations associated with the Arab Spring.

Plants’ absorb less carbon dioxide: As a result of climate-induced changes in soil moisture, the land carbon sink will be reduced. They suggest that any increase in carbon uptake due to carbon fertilisation may not continue in the second half of the century, resulting in a rapid rise in carbon dioxide concentrations.

Warming and heart defects in babies: Studying various regions of the United States, it was found that that maternal exposure to heat during the early stages of pregnancy may contribute to a rise in congenital heart defects. The authors say that heat exposure during the early weeks of pregnancy can lead to foetal cell death or interfere with protein synthesis.


Seals, whales and penguins prefer the cold: Surprisingly, species diversity of marine mammals and birds is greatest when seas are cold in temperate latitudes (unlike other species which tend to have greater diversity in the tropics). In a new study, researchers have established a theory why this is the case: they find that birds and warm-blooded predators (such as whales and seals) are more alert in the colder waters and their cold-blooded prey (such as fish) can be sluggish, giving them a hunting advantage. They note that rising ocean temperatures could have negative impacts on mammal and bird populations, changing the balance of species across the globe.

Krill migrating south: Researchers have found that the distribution of krill, which forms the base of the food chain, has declined in their northern ranges in the past 90 years, and populations are becoming more concentrated towards Antarctica in response to warming waters. The authors note that the changing distribution is already affecting the food web.


Antarctic sea ice already has a bad record for 2019: It had been documented that Antarctic sea ice extent was only 5.5 million km2 on January 1, 2019. This is the lowest extent of sea ice on that date for the 40-year old satellite record. They also found that the rate of ice extent loss for December 2018 was the fastest in the satellite record.

Six-fold increase in Antarctic ice loss: Using satellite record data, it is estimated that ice mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet has rapidly accelerated over the last four decades – from roughly 40 billion tons per year in 1979–1990 to about 252 billion tons a year in 2009–2017. The ice loss was greatest where there was an influx of warm waters. The scientists estimate the contribution of Antarctic ice to global sea level rise averaged 3.6 mm per decade with a cumulative 14 mm since 1979. The researchers warn that there could be more ice shelves exposed to warm waters than previously thought, especially in East Antarctica, which could contribute multimetre sea level rise if climate change continues unabated.

Beneath the surface of Thwaites Glacier: The Thwaites Glacier in the Antarctic Ice Sheet is prone to rapid retreat and is a significant contributor to sea level rise. Researchers have now found a large underwater cavity,  two-thirds the size of Manhattan, which used to contain 14 billion tons of ice, but much of it has melted in just three years. The presence of a cavity like this allows for warm waters to get further under the glacier. The scientists suggest that models are underestimating how quickly the glacier is losing ice. 

Methane from Greenland’s melt: Methane is a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Scientists have now found that methane being produced below the Greenland ice sheet -- from inorganic and ancient organic carbon buried beneath the ice -- is being released into the water during the melt season. The authors suggest that methane leaks from glacier melt have been underappreciated and should be incorporated into efforts to estimate Earth’s methane budget.

Loss of ice cover on lakes: To date there has not been a comprehensive large-scale assessment of ice loss of lakes. Researchers have now documented 14,800 lakes that are vulnerable to ice-free winters in the Northern Hemisphere. This number climbs to 35,300 with 2˚C of warming, impacting up to 400 million people, given their reliance on the ice for fish harvest, transportation, recreation, cultural traditions and other services.


Ocean temperatures were at a record high in 2018

Climate change and ocean warming

Using new analysis for the upper 2 thousand metres of the world’s oceans,

it was found that ocean temperatures were at a record high in 2018.

The last five years have been the hottest ocean temperatures on record.  

Ocean warming has been accelerating since the 1990s.

Ocean warming is faster than predicted

More than 90 percent of heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions

accumulates in the ocean. Scientists found agreement among multiple lines

of temperature measurements that the world’s oceans have been warming

about 40 percent faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

estimated in the Fifth Assessment Report of 2014.

Last 4 years warmest on record


Last 4 years - warmest on record


In a clear sign of continuing long-term climate change associated with record atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 have been confirmed as the four warmest years on record.


the global average surface temperature in 2018 was approximately 1.0° Celsius (with a margin of error of ±0.13°C) above the pre-industrial baseline (1850-1900). It ranks as the fourth warmest year on record.


The year 2016, which was influenced by a strong El-Niño event, remains the warmest year on record (1.2°C above preindustrial baseline). Global average temperatures in 2017 and 2015 were both 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. The latter two years are virtually indistinguishable.


The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.


Extreme and high impact weather affected many countries and millions of people, with devastating repercussions for economies and ecosystems in 2018.


The globally averaged temperature in 2018 was about 0.38°C (±0.13°C) above the 1981-2010 long-term average (estimated at 14.3°C).


Australia had its warmest January on record, with heatwaves unprecedented in their scale and duration


Intense heatwaves are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.


Extreme heat in the southern hemisphere contrasted with extreme cold in parts of North America in January.


The cold weather in the eastern United States certainly does not disprove climate change. The Arctic is warming at twice the global average. A large fraction of the ice in the region has melted.


A part of the cold anomalies at lower latitudes could be linked to the dramatic changes in the Arctic. What happens at the poles does not stay at the poles but influences weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live.


WMO will issue its full Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018 in March. 


2018 Nobel Prize for climate change and innovation

Nobel Prize for climate change studies

Climate change Two U.S. economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, have received the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their efforts to untangle the economics of climate change and technological innovations.

They significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge.

Nordhaus, of Yale University, developed two computer simulations that weigh the costs and benefits of taking various steps to slow global warming. He has argued for taxes on the carboncontent of fuels as an effective way to get businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Romer, of New York University, expanded economic theory by arguing that government policies, such as funding for research and development, can stimulate technological advances.The presence or absence of such policies helps to explain national differences in wealth and economic growth, in Romer’s view.

Romer’s ideas about policy making and technological innovation, first published in 1990, inspired a school of research that examines how business regulations and policies lead to new ideas and economic growth. (Science News)

Third storm in the Arabian Sea in 2018

Third storm in the Arabian Sea in 2018

The natural-colour image of cyclone Luban in the early afternoon of 11 October, 2018 when it was centred about 400 km southeast of Salah, Oman, and moving westward at just 4km/hr. per hour). Winds are 120kph and maximum wave heights are 8m.

Forecasters predict that Luban will make landfall in Yemen as a tropical storm on October 13 or 14.

The region is a major crossroads for ships passing from the Atlantic and Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean by way of the Suez Canal and Strait of Hormuz.

Twelve cyclones have formed in the region since 2010, but very few reach the Arabian Peninsula at cyclone strength; they usually weaken to tropical storms as dry desert air and wind shear sap their energy.

Some atmospheric scientists argue that increasing air pollution—particularly an increase in aerosols—over the northern Indian Ocean has likely reduced vertical wind shear, a phenomenon that could alter monsoon weather patterns and allow more cyclones to form. (NASA)

Hold us back from climate catastrophe

Hold us back from climatic disaster

In its latest report released on 8 October IPCC states that carbon emissions have to be reduced by at least 49% of 2017 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to meet this target of 1.5°C rise.

Limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels would require enormous effort from governments, industries and societies.

But even though the world has already warmed by 1 °C, humanity has 10–30 more years than scientists previously thought in which to inculcate the carbon habit.

The world is on track for around 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century if it doesn’t make major reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. It could breach 1.5 °C sometime between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current rate.

With 1.5 °C of warming there is “high confidence” that would be a greater number of severe heat waves on land, especially in the tropics. With “medium confidence”, there will be more extreme storms in areas such as high-elevation regions, eastern Asia and eastern North America.

The risk of such severe weather would be even greater in a 2 °C world. Temperatures on extreme hot days in mid-latitudes could increase by 3 °C with 1.5 °C of global warming, versus 4 °C in a 2 °C world.

Two degrees of warming could destroy ecosystems on around 13% of the world’s land area, increasing the risk of extinction for many insects, plants and animals. Holding warming to 1.5 °C would reduce that risk by half.

The Arctic could experience ice-free summers once every decade or two in a 2 °C world, versus once in a century at 1.5 °C. Coral reefs would almost entirely disappear with 2 degrees of warming, with just 10–30% of existing reefs surviving at 1.5 °C.

Measures include increase in installation of renewable energy systems such as wind and solar power to provide 70–85% of the world’s electricity by 2050, and expanding forests and carbon sequestration to increase their capacity to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Other proposed options involve changing lifestyles: eating less meat, riding bicycles and flying less.

Testing space elevators

Space elevators

A pair of tiny satellites will help test technology for a space elevator. Scientists have dreamed of space elevators since the late 1800s, but the technology is still the stuff of science fiction.

STARS-Me (or Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite – Mini elevator) built by Japan, comprised of two 10-cm cubic satellites connected by a 10-m long tether.

A small robot representing an elevator car, about 3 cm across and 6 cm tall, will move up and down the cable using a motor as the experiment floats in space.

A full-scale space elevator, if ever built, might use a similar setup to ferry astronauts and cargo from Earth to orbit much more cheaply and efficiently than rocket launches.

The design involves a 96,000-kilometer-long, carbon-nanotube cable attached to a floating “Earth Port” in the ocean on one end and a space station on the other.

Pictures and rocks from asteroid Ryugu


Pictures and rock samples from asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency (JAXA) has made history by successfully landing two robotic explorers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu (Picture). The picture was taken by one of the rovers on the asteroid's surface (Picture). The white area on the right is due to sunlight.

The two small "rovers", will move around the 1km-wide space rock known as Ryugu. The asteroid's low gravity means they can hop across it, capturing temperatures and images of the surface. The satellite reached the asteroid Ryugu in June 2018 after a three-and-a-half-year journey.

While the European Space Agency had previously managed to land on an icy comet, this is the first spacecraft to place robot rovers on the surface of an asteroid.

Asteroids are essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago. Ryugu is a particularly primitive variety, and studying it could shed light on the origin and evolution of our own planet.

Ryugu's surface is rougher-than-expected surface. The 1kg rovers are equipped with wide-angle and stereo cameras to send back pictures. Spine-like projections will measure surface temperatures on the asteroid.

On 3 October 2018, the mothership will deploy a lander called Mascot and in late October, Hayabusa-2 will descend to the surface of Ryugu to collect a sample of rock and soil.

Later on an explosive charge will be detonated that will punch a crater into the surface of Ryugu. Fresh rocks will be collected that have not been altered by aeons of exposure to the environment of space. These samples will be sent to Earth for laboratory studies.

The spacecraft will leave Ryugu in December 2019 and return to Earth with the asteroid samples in 2020.

Clean air - a universal human right

Clean air – a universal human right

Air pollution was once celebrated as a smell of
prosperity but the filthy air is now seen as a global disgrace. But a change in
mind set about air does little to actually clean it. 


More than four million people still die each year          
from exposure to polluted outside air — a situation perpetuated by urbanization
and regulatory impotence. 


Nine out of ten people live in places where air
pollution exceeds WHO guidelines. While actions are underway in many countries,
fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide from vehicular traffic, energy
production, industry and heating remain a serious public-health risk in most
built-up areas.
Hotspots are congested urban areas in low- and
middle-income countries such as India, Nigeria and China. In Europe, in spite
of action underway in many countries to reduce pollution, most have made little
or no progress over the last decade in reducing particulate matter pollution or
in reducing nitrogen dioxide levels. Although emissions of air pollutants have
been decreasing overall, most EU member states still do not fully comply with
stringent EU air-quality standards set up in 2008.
 Effectively tackling the causes and effects of
air pollution requires a more joined-up approach. Air-quality regulations in
the EU, for example, must be taken into account more fully when setting
policies on climate, transport, enterprise, trade and innovation. 
Science, too, can do more to mitigate health
risks from poor air quality. It is important to unpick how different types and
levels of pollution affect human health. The epidemiological research needed to
do that requires more-consistent methodologies to monitor and report pollution
and human exposure to it.
Scientists can also help to develop and provide
well-tested modelling tools that local authorities can use to improve
assessments of their specific circumstances, and to design action plans. 
The results of this environmental science should
be shared with countries worldwide. About half of city dwellers in developed
nations are exposed to air that does not meet WHO guidelines. In cities of more
than 100,000 people in the developing world, that figure rises to include
almost everybody (97%). India alone has nine of the world’s ten most-polluted
Air is a shared resource. Research and tools to
make it safe to breathe should be shared as well. (Nature)