How Long Have Humans Been On Earth?

While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialization started in the earnest only in the 1800s. While we’ve accomplished much in that short time, it also shows our responsibility as caretakers for the only planet we live on right now.

The effects of humans on Earth cannot be understated. We’ve been able to survive in environments all over the world, even harsh ones such as Antarctica. Every year, we fell forests and destroy other natural areas, driving species into smaller areas or into endangerment, because of our need to build more housing to contain our growing population.

With seven billion people on Earth, pollution from industry and cars is a growing element in climate change — which affects our planet in ways we can’t predict. But we’re already seeing the effects in melting glaciers and rising global temperatures.

Enormous chuck of ice breaks off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland. Credit: NASA.
Enormous chuck of ice breaks off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland. Credit: NASA.

The first tangible link to humanity started around six million years ago with a primate group called Ardipithecus, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Based in Africa, this group began the path of walking upright. This is traditionally considered important because it allowed for more free use of the hands for toolmaking, weaponry and other survival needs.

The Australopithecus group, the museum added, took hold between about two million and four million years ago, with the abilities to walk upright and climb trees. Next came Paranthropus, which existed between about one million and three million years ago. The group is distinguished by its larger teeth, giving a wider diet.

The Homo group — including our own species, Homo sapiens — began arising more than two million years ago, the museum said. It’s distinguished by bigger brains, more tool-making and the ability to reach far beyond Africa. Our species was distinguished about 200,000 years ago and managed to survive and thrive despite climate change at the time. While we started in temperate climates, about 60,000 to 80,000 years ago the first humans began straying outside of the continent in which our species was born.

GOCE view of Africa.. Credits: ESA/HPF/DLR, anaglyph by Nathanial Burton-Bradford.
GOCE view of Africa.. Credits: ESA/HPF/DLR, anaglyph by Nathanial Burton-Bradford.

“This great migration brought our species to a position of world dominance that it has never relinquished,” reads a 2008 article in Smithsonian Magazine, pointing out that eventually we obviated the competition (most prominently including Neanderthals and Homo erectus). When the migration was complete,” the article continues, “Homo sapiens was the last—and only—man standing.”

Using genetic markers and an understanding of ancient geography, scientists have partially reconstructed how humans could have made the journey. It’s believed that the first explorers of Eurasia went there using the Bab-al-Mandab Strait that now divides Yemen and Djibouti, according to National Geographic. These people made it to India, then by 50,000 years ago, southeast Asia and Australia.

A little after this time, another group began an inland journey across the Middle East and south-central Asia, positioning them to later go to Europe and Asia, the magazine added. This proved important for North America, as about 20,000 years ago, some of these people crossed over to that continent using a land bridge created by glaciation. From there, colonies have been found in Asia dating as far back as 14,000 years ago.

A teensy-tiny Neil Armstrong is visible in the helmet of Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 landing in July 1969. Credit: NASA
A teensy-tiny Neil Armstrong is visible in the helmet of Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 landing in July 1969. Credit: NASA

Since this is a space website, it’s also worth noting when humans began leaving Earth. The first human mission to space took place April 12, 1961 when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made a single orbit of Earth in his spacecraft, Vostok 1. Humanity first set foot on another world on July 20, 1969, when Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

Since then, our colonization efforts in space have focused mostly on space stations. The first space station was the Soviet Salyut 1, which launched from Earth April 19, 1971 and was first occupied by Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Vokov, and Viktor Patsayev on June 6. The men died during re-entry June 29 due to spacecraft decompression, meaning no further flights went to that station.

There have been other space stations since. A notable example is Mir, which hosted several long-duration missions of a year or more — including the longest single spaceflight duration of any human to date, 437 days, by Valeri Polyakov in 1994-95. The International Space Station launched its first piece Nov. 20, 1998 and has been continuously occupied by humans since Oct. 31, 2000. The first humans to start the continuous occupation included Expedition 1 members Bill Shepard (U.S.) and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.


Love in the Time of Human Extinction

Although I was able to maintain a pleasant expression, I was mentally throwing up in her face~ Augusten BurroughsRegular readers of my work might recall a time I was routinely assailed for not “joining forces” with the likes of Bill McFibben Bill McKibben. I pointed out he was lying about climate change, long before it was fashionable to do so. McKibben became a well-known entity in a short period of time. He and his organization were funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (aka Big Oil). McKibben made a name for himself, and apparently a lot of money, by taking the customary, halfway approach with the evidence. His fans, and many other people, accused me of “stealing hope” and “giving up.” I was not, and am not, interested in capitulating to irrational thinking. I prefer adherence to principle over being paid to generate confusion. Such an approach is anathema to a society that prefers charisma over character.

Now I am often told I need to support the Extinction Rebellion (XR). I am told XR is transmitting the same message I have been promulgating (they are not). I am further informed they are promoting my work (in a culture of profound ignorance and rampant dumbassery, denying my work is perceived as promoting my work). XR is making a name for itself, and has become a well-known entity in a short period of time (albeit not without detractors). They take the customary, halfway approach with the evidence. I have pointed out that XR is ignoring the aerosol masking effect, and that rebelling against extinction is analogous to rebelling against sunrise. In return, members of the group routinely trash me for “stealing hope” and “giving up.” I would add only that, with respect to human extinction, the rebellion against sunrise is beginning at high noon.

As one minor indication that XR has become part of the distraction-filled show promulgated by the corporate media, consider that about 1:50 into this video, a pop-up advertisement appears in the top left part of the screen with a link to “Inside Extinction Rebellion.” Please ignore the nonsense from Attenborough about unlimited energy and proceed to my point in this case: The Guardiansource of two hit pieces on me, is promoting XR. The Guardian is not alone in its obvious advertising campaign for XR, as anybody paying attention to mainstream sources is aware.

You might see similarities in these two cases claiming that I must get onboard with the likes of McKibben and also XR. I do.

I suspect I have sacrificed more than McKibben and the entire, combined passel of folks involved in the XR movement. Yet I am painted as the criminal for “stealing hope” (whatever that means) and “giving up” (whatever that means). Apparently presenting the full evidence about abrupt climate change makes me the bad person in a culture infatuated with magical thinking. Apparently the customary, halfway approach is preferred because it allows the retention of hope and the perception that something is being done (by somebody else).

In a ploy that dates to biblical times, those working on behalf of the dominant paradigm continue to kill evidentiary messengers while co-opting their messages. My own ability to transmit my message has been destroyed, both by the assassins and their propaganda. My teachings are now being cunningly marketed by the same group of people I spoke against, this time to reinforce the status quo.

Notwithstanding the ongoing attempt to assassinate my character, hope is a mistake, as I have pointed out repeatedly in this space. Hope is not only a mistake: Hope is a lie, as I pointed out recently. Of course, most of us refuse to believe hope is a lie, because that would require us to admit we lie to ourselves. As Mark Twain indicated, “it’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Few want to admit they have been fooled, so they continue to lie about their foolishness. There is no finer set of fools than those who believe in a favorable future in the midst of abrupt, irreversible climate change.

Contrary to hope, love requires honesty. Love means telling the full truth, not the customary, halfway version. A loving relationship requires honesty, not hope.

Perhaps hope is a disease. Perhaps love is the cure. I doubt we persist long enough to perform the relevant research to find out.

The living planet is in the fourth and final stage of a terminal disease. As I have pointed out for several years, it is long past time we admitted hospice is the appropriate way forward.

Immediate fossil fuel phaseout could arrest climate change – study

Scientists say it may still technically be possible to limit warming to 1.5C if drastic action is taken now

wind turbines and solar farm
 The study found there is a 66% chance of staying below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels if immediate action is taken. Photograph: Alamy

Climate change could be kept in check if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately, according to research.

It shows that meeting the internationally agreed aspiration of keeping global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible. The scientists say it is therefore the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.

The study found that if all fossil fuel infrastructure – power plants, factories, vehicles, ships and planes – from now on are replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of their useful lives, there is a 64% chance of staying under 1.5C.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the difference between 1.5C of warming and the earlier international target of 2C was a significantly lower risk of drought, floods, heatwaves and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who led the research, said: “It’s good news from a geophysical point of view. But on the other side of the coin, the [immediate fossil fuel phaseout] is really at the limit of what we could we possibly do. We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels.”

Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics, who was not part of the research team, said: “We are rapidly approaching the end of the age of fossil fuels. This study confirms that all new energy infrastructure must be sustainable from now on if we are to avoid locking in commitments to emissions that would lead to the world exceeding the goals of the Paris agreement.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, used computer models to estimate by how much global temperatures would rise if a fossil fuel infrastructure phaseout began immediately. The lifespan for power plants was set at 40 years, cars an average of 15 years and planes 26 years. The work also assumes a rapid end to beef and dairy consumption, which is responsible for significant global emissions.

In this scenario, the models suggest carbon emissions would decline to zero over the next four decades and there would be a 66% chance of the global temperature rise remaining below 1.5C. If the phaseout does not begin until 2030, the chance is 33%.

The analysis did not include the possibility of tipping points such as the sudden release of huge volumes of methane from permafrost, which could spark runaway global warming.

The scientists accept their scenario is at the extreme end of ambition, but said it was important to know that meeting the 1.5C target was still physically possible and dependent on the choices made now and in the coming years. “The climate system is not stopping you [hitting the target], global society is stopping you,” Smith said.

Other work, using a different approach, has also shown that keeping within the 1.5C limit is possible if radical action is taken immediately. In some sectors, zero-carbon technology already exists, such as renewable energy. But in others, such as aviation, it does not. “Maybe the solution here is flying less,” Smith said.

Prof Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh, who also was not part of the research team, said: “Whether it’s drilling a new gas well, keeping an old coal power station open, or even buying a diesel car, the choices we make today will largely determine the climate pathways of tomorrow. The message of this new study is loud and clear: act now or see the last chance for a safer climate future ebb away.”

Smith’s personal belief is that global heating will surpass 1.5C. “We are going the right way, but I don’t think we will do enough, quickly enough. I think we are heading for 2C to 2.5C.”

But he added: “If you don’t have a goal, you are not going to get anywhere. If you have a target that is really hard to achieve and you miss it slightly, that is better than wandering aimlessly into a future climate that is no good for anybody.”

ISWA: In Defense of Science – Global Warming is Not an Opinion

ISWA President Antonis Mavropoulos explains why ISWA and the waste management community will not stay neutral towards the efforts to deny or downplay climate change.

Image ©

As the now famous young Ms Greta Thunberg from Sweden said in Katowice, Poland, -“You’re never too small to make a difference!”

Science is establishing facts through investigations and research. It aims to advance our understanding of causes and effects and the nature of reality. So, let’s start with what we know.

Fact 1: 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are due to human activities.

Fact 2: 2018 was a year full of floods, heatwaves and wildfires that are related with the on-going global warming. The argument that you can’t link climate change to a particular extreme weather event is dead. More than 75 papers have been published in the past three years, which find positive links between particular events and climate change. It’s called attribution, and it surfaced in many scientific briefings at COP24.

Fact 3: A few weeks before the COP24, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that there are only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The IPCC requested urgent and unprecedented changes to reach this target, which they say is affordable and feasible.

Despite all the scientific evidence, at the recent COP24 in Poland, a group of countries refused to “welcome” the IPCC study, and two big countries organised an event to promote the use of coal. In the most powerful country of the world, the US, Climate Skepticism has become official policy, aiming to block or seriously delay the global efforts to tackle Climate Change.

The situation is alarming
There is an ongoing concerted, organised effort to ignore, devaluate and undermine 100 years of scientific progress in understanding climate change and anthropogenic contributions. The purpose is to deny climate science and resist or delay acting to cut carbon emissions.

The fossil fuel and the extraction industries have a profound business interest to continue the business as usual. They do have the power and the money to impose their own agenda. According to The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts, some politicians are acting as “the hired guns of the industries working against the Paris accord and other international agreements… An extraction-first approach may bring economic benefits in the short term… but the profits are concentrated while the environmental stress is shared.” What if this is true?

The opinions of some of the largest and most powerful countries on the planet cannot change the reality of global warming. But they can block or postpone, or even cancel, the required global response to the most important threat of our time. The academics and professionals involved in waste management must not simply watch the on-going downplay of global warming, they must work actively together and defend science against the powerful but biased or ignorant opinion makers. Neutrality or apathy is not an option for the waste management community anymore!

Circular Economy against Climate Change 
We have a lot of strong and important arguments.

Firstly, climate change is one of the most important drivers for the shift to circular economy. Ignoring climate change means continuing the linear model as much as the dominant business cases are profitable despite the on-going environmental degradation.

Secondly, denying or downplaying climate change means undermining one of the most important drivers for improving waste management, one of the key-arguments to stimulate the closure of the biggest dumpsites and the development of integrated sustainable waste management systems.

Thirdly, global warming is directly linked with the urgently required shift to renewable energy resources, in which waste to energy options have a crucial role to play. Denying climate change science results in prolonging the use fossil fuels and delaying the advances of renewable energy resources.

Fourth, denying the science and the scientific evidence about global warming stimulates further the on-going so-called “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. All of us have heard about a new magic “technology” that transforms waste into 100% useful products and it’s always offered for free.

This is the year we defend science on climate change
In 2019 ISWA will stand up and defend science on climate change. We will defend not only the scientific knowledge but also the way to acquire it. We must explain that science cannot be denied because it is inconvenient, or because one dislikes the policy implications. We must say loudly that science, based on such a strong foundation of evidence and analytical rigor (as the science on climate change or the science on waste management), can’t be ignored because it creates problems in the dominant business models. You can’t negotiate with thermodynamics and it’s impossible to strike a deal with atmospheric physics.

To be fair, defending science and the scientific method does not mean that we deny the scientific mistakes, or that we ignore phenomena like the scientific manipulation and the paid-for-propaganda research. The problem is that we need to be afraid of the people that ignore or deny the scientific evidence based on their intuition or personal experience, or on their business interest and the funders of their electoral campaigns.

ISWA, in cooperation with other major international players like CCAC and UNEP, will continue to work hard to establish the connections between Climate Change and Waste Managementand document scientifically that the advances in waste management and the shift to circular economy provide substantial reduction of carbon emissions. ISWA is already progressing its global project #CLOSEDUMPSITES that, besides the environmental and health aspects, is identifying the best ways to reduce the huge uncontrolled methane emissions from dumpsites. And we will further advance our work to “Prevent Marine Litter” by advancing waste management because we know that the enormous and rapidly increasing amounts of plastic litter, besides polluting our oceans and food chains, also reduce and prevent the essential exchange of oxygen between the oceans and the atmosphere.

When it was announced that USA will quit the Paris Accord, I made a widely circulated statement in which I mentioned that “the road towards the implementation of the Paris Accord will be a continuous fight against long-term established interests that still try to dominate our future”.  ISWA and the waste management community need to participate at this continuous fight to defend science, the greatest tool for human advancement mankind has ever known. We need to stand up and speak, right here, right now.

Trump Moves the World Closer to “Doomsday”

In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union adopted the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in an effort to eliminate missiles on hair-trigger alert for nuclear war due to their short flight times. It was the first time the two countries agreed to destroy nuclear weapons. That treaty outlawed nearly 2,700 ballistic or land-based cruise missiles with a range of roughly 300 to 3,000 miles.

The Trump administration thought nothing of pulling out of the INF. On February 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the treaty, starting a dangerous chain reaction that brings us closer to nuclear war. Russia followed suit and pulled out of the treaty the next day.

Then the three countries with the largest nuclear arsenals quickly test-launched nuclear-capable missiles. France conducted a test of its medium-range air-to-surface missile on February 4. The next day, the United States fired a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). And an hour and a half later, Russia launched an RS-24 Yars ICBM.

Richard Burt participated in the negotiations of the INF during the Reagan administration. Last fall, he predicted that U.S. withdrawal would lead to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range missiles and the United States’ development of new sea- and air-based weapons systems. Sure enough, on February 4, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced his country plans to build mid-range, nuclear-capable missiles within two years.

“New intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles and low-yield warheads now being planned both in Russia and United States are nothing other than filed-down triggers to all-out thermonuclear war,” Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, told Truthout. He warns of “nuclear winter,” which is the end of civilization as we know it. A consultant to the Defense Department and the White House in 1961, Ellsberg drafted Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, concurs. “Trump has fired the starting pistol on Cold War II. Only this one could be bigger, more dangerous, and the world may not be so lucky this time around.”

Trump’s Actions Undermine Nuclear Disarmament

The adoption of the INF led to the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which considerably reduced the number of long-range strategic nuclear weapons. The New START, signed in 2010, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads from a maximum of 2,200 in 2010 to 1,550 in 2018. Trump’s cavalier withdrawal from INF does not portend well for the renewal of New START in 2021.

Moreover, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 would allow the United States to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks. This new U.S. policy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited by international law.

The Nuclear Posture Review also violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the United States is a party. This treaty requires parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

The Doomsday Clock Says “Two Minutes to Midnight”

In order to convey the urgency of the threat to humanity and the planet, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock. It uses imagery of the apocalypse (midnight) and a nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to either move or leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made each year. The Clock is a universally recognized measure of vulnerability to catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons, climate change or other emerging technologies that could pose a threat. On January 24, the Bulletin once again kept the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight. And that was before the U.S. and Russia pulled out of the INF.

“Trump and Putin are both posturing as gunslingers in a Western movie,” Ellsberg warned. “But the weapons in their quick-draw holsters are not pistols; they are doomsday machines. And this is not high noon; it is two minutes to midnight.”

Toward Denuclearization

In his book, Ellsberg proposes the U.S. government undertake the following measures toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons:

  1. A U.S. no-first-use policy;
  2. Probing investigative hearings on war plans to avoid nuclear winter;
  3. Eliminating ICBMs;
  4. Ending the pretense of preemptive damage-limiting by first-strike forces;
  5. Foregoing profits, jobs and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense; and
  6. Otherwise dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which Ellsberg calls the American Doomsday Machine.

On January 30, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, took a good first step. They introduced the No First Use Act, to establish in law that it is the policy of the United States not to fire nuclear weapons first so “that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.”

The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) forbids ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. The treaty, adopted in 2017, will enter into force after 50 nations have ratified it. Thus far, it has 21 ratifications. But the five original nuclear-armed countries, which also happen to be the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Russia, France, China and the U.K. — did not participate in the treaty negotiations and have not agreed to it.

Resistance against nuclear weapons also takes the form of civil disobedience, such as the recent action by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7

When I was growing up in the early days of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear annihilation was pervasive. Although U.S. nuclear weapons have been on hair trigger alert for 73 years, “nuclear weapons have become normal,” Patrick O’Neill told Truthout. He and six other Catholic activists are facing up to 25 years in prison for their symbolic action to disarm the nuclear weapons on Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. They chose April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to mount their protest.

In May 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass, stemming from their action at the Kings Bay Naval Base. The base is homeport to six nuclear ballistic missile submarines each armed with 16 Trident II missiles. They carried with them a copy of Ellsberg’s book and left it on the base.

The defendants, who will likely go to trial this spring, maintain that any use or threat to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction is illegal, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 spokesperson Bill Ofenloch told Truthout. They are also arguing that their prosecution violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because their actions were motivated by their Catholic belief that nuclear weapons are immoral and illegal. The Act was passed in 1993 to strengthen protection of free exercise of religion. Finally, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are claiming that Trump’s repeated threats to use nuclear weapons and his illegal conduct have not been prosecuted, so the government’s decision to prosecute only those who protest against nuclear weapons constitutes unlawful selective prosecution.

Co-defendant Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day. The movement, founded in 1933, comprises 203 Catholic Worker communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken. Catholic Workers protest war, racism, violence and injustice. (The Catholic Worker newspaper is still published and sells for a penny a copy.)

Hennessy told Truthout, “The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty is designed to ensnare Russia and the world in a new nuclear arms race.” She warns, “This is empire run amok, we have lost our democracy, let us pray we don’t lose our world and each other.”

It is incumbent upon all of us to resist the inexorable march toward nuclear winter. We must join together in coalitions and protest to Congress, the White House, in writing and in the streets. There is no time to lose. It is two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

Bird flu kills 250 penguins on Halifax Island

WALVIS BAY – The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources says samples collected from hundreds of dead penguins tested by the Central Veterinary Laboratory tested positive for Avian Influenza H5N8, a type of bird flu.
This follows after about 250 dead penguins were discovered late December on Halifax Island situated about 10 kilometres from Luderitz.

According to a press statement issued by the public relations officer of the ministry, De Wet Siluka, this specific strain of bird flu normally occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other birds or animal species as well. However, it does not normally infect humans.

Siluka said the ministry of fisheries has already taken precautionary measures and will continue to contain the infection to prevent further spreading.

“Such measures include regular visits to collect dead carcasses, isolating the sick birds and disinfecting wet areas around the colonies, and chemicals as the virus cannot survive in salt water,” he assured members of the public.
The infected birds will not usually get sick but can spread the contagious virus that can even kill certain domestic bird species including chickens and turkeys.

“Infected birds shed the virus through their saliva, nasal secretion and faeces.  Healthy birds can contract the virus by coming in contact with contaminated services.  However the good thing is that the virus cannot survive in salt water,” he said.

Halifax is situated about 10 kilometres west of Luderitz and is located about 100 metres off the mainland.  It is the third most important breeding site for African penguins and home to about 2 500 that contribute to the entire Namibian population of 26 000 penguins.  Other seabirds such as the crowned cormorants, swift terns and Hartlaub’s gulls also breed on this island.  Senior fisheries biologist, Desmond Tom, told New Era yesterday that humans are not at risk, however they can spread the virus to other animals if they get into contact with infected animals.
“The good thing however is that the island is currently non-accessible to people apart from fisheries officials,” he said.

Life thrived on Earth 3.5 billion years ago, research suggests

Scientists use stable sulfur isotopes to understand ancient microbial metabolism

February 8, 2019
Tokyo Institute of Technology
Three and a half billion years ago Earth hosted life, but was it barely surviving, or thriving? A new study provides new answers to this question. Microbial metabolism is recorded in billions of years of sulfur isotope ratios that agree with this study’s predictions, suggesting life throve in the ancient oceans. Using this data, scientists can more deeply link the geochemical record with cellular states and ecology.

Electron microscopy image of microbial cells which respire sulfate.
Credit: Guy Perkins and Mark Ellisman, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research

Three and a half billion years ago Earth hosted life, but was it barely surviving, or thriving? A new study carried out by a multi institutional team with leadership including the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) of Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) provides new answers to this question. Microbial metabolism is recorded in billions of years of sulfur isotope ratios that agree with this study’s predictions, suggesting life throve in the ancient oceans. Using this data, scientists can more deeply link the geochemical record with cellular states and ecology.

Scientists want to know how long life has existed on Earth. If it has been around for almost as long as the planet, this suggests it is easy for life to originate and life should be common in the Universe. If it takes a long time to originate, this suggests there were very special conditions that had to occur. Dinosaurs, whose bones are presented in museums around the world, were preceded by billions of years by microbes. While microbes have left some physical evidence of their presence in the ancient geological record, they do not fossilize well, thus scientists use other methods for understanding whether life was present in the geological record.

Presently, the oldest evidence of microbial life on Earth comes to us in the form of stable isotopes. The chemical elements charted on the periodic are defined by the number of protons in their nuclei, for example, hydrogen atoms have one proton, helium atoms have two, carbon atoms contain six. In addition to protons, most atomic nuclei also contain neutrons, which are about as heavy as protons, but which don’t bear an electric charge. Atoms which contain the same number of protons, but variable numbers of neutrons are known as isotopes. While many isotopes are radioactive and thus decay into other elements, some do not undergo such reactions; these are known as “stable” isotopes. For example, the stable isotopes of carbon include carbon 12 (written as 12C for short, with 6 protons and 6 neutrons) and carbon 13 (13C, with 6 protons and 7 neutrons).

All living things, including humans, “eat and excrete.” That is to say, they take in food and expel waste. Microbes often eat simple compounds made available by the environment. For example, some are able to take in carbon dioxide (CO2) as a carbon source to build their own cells. Naturally occurring CO2 has a fairly constant ratio of 12C to 13C. However, 12CO2 is about 2 % lighter than 13CO2, so 12CO2 molecules diffuse and react slightly faster, and thus the microbes themselves become “isotopically light,” containing more 12C than 13C, and when they die and leave their remains in the fossil record, their stable isotopic signature remains, and is measurable. The isotopic composition, or “signature,” of such processes can be very specific to the microbes that produce them.

Besides carbon there are other chemical elements essential for living things. For example, sulfur, with 16 protons, has three naturally abundant stable isotopes, 32S (with 16 neutrons), 33S (with 17 neutrons) and 34S (with 18 neutrons). Sulfur isotope patterns left behind by microbes thus record the history of biological metabolism based on sulfur-containing compounds back to around 3.5 billion years ago. Hundreds of previous studies have examined wide variations in ancient and contemporary sulfur isotope ratios resulting from sulfate (a naturally occurring sulfur compound bonded to four oxygen atoms) metabolism. Many microbes are able to use sulfate as a fuel, and in the process excrete sulfide, another sulfur compound. The sulfide “waste” of ancient microbial metabolism is then stored in the geological record, and its isotope ratios can be measured by analyzing minerals such as the FeS2 mineral pyrite.

This new study reveals a primary biological control step in microbial sulfur metabolism, and clarifies which cellular states lead to which types of sulfur isotope fractionation. This allows scientists to link metabolism to isotopes: by knowing how metabolism changes stable isotope ratios, scientists can predict the isotopic signature organisms should leave behind. This study provides some of the first information regarding how robustly ancient life was metabolizing. Microbial sulfate metabolism is recorded in over a three billion years of sulfur isotope ratios that are in line with this study’s predictions, which suggest life was in fact thriving in the ancient oceans. This work opens up a new field of research, which ELSI Associate Professor Shawn McGlynn calls “evolutionary and isotopic enzymology.” Using this type of data, scientists can now proceed to other elements, such as carbon and nitrogen, and more completely link the geochemical record with cellular states and ecology via an understanding of enzyme evolution and Earth history.

Undersea gases could superheat the planet

Carbon reservoirs on ocean floor caused global warming before — and could do it again

February 13, 2019
University of Southern California
Geologic carbon and hydrate reservoirs in the ocean pose a climate threat beyond humanmade greenhouse gases.

A deep-sea reservoir near Taiwan spews carbon dioxide when its slurry-like hydrate cap ruptures.
Credit: National Academy of Sciences

The world’s oceans could harbor an unpleasant surprise for global warming, based on new research that shows how naturally occurring carbon gases trapped in reservoirs atop the seafloor escaped to superheat the planet in prehistory.

Scientists say events that began on the ocean bottom thousands of years ago so disrupted the Earth’s atmosphere that it melted away the ice age. Those new findings challenge a long-standing paradigm that ocean water alone regulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during glacial cycles. Instead, the study shows geologic processes can dramatically upset the carbon cycle and cause global change.

For today’s world, the findings could portend an ominous development. The undersea carbon reservoirs released greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as oceans warmed, the study shows, and today the ocean is heating up again due to humanmade global warming.

If undersea carbon reservoirs are upset again, they would emit a huge new source of greenhouse gases, exacerbating climate change. Temperature increases in the ocean are on pace to reach that tipping point by the end of the century. For example, a big carbon reservoir beneath the western Pacific near Taiwan is already within a few degrees Celsius of destabilizing.

Moreover, the phenomenon is a threat unaccounted for in climate model projections. Undersea carbon dioxide reservoirs are relatively recent discoveries and their characteristics and history are only beginning to be understood.

Those findings come from a new research paper produced by an international team of Earth scientists led by USC and published in January in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“We’re using the past as a way to anticipate the future,” said Lowell Stott, professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. “We know there are vast reservoirs of carbon gas at the bottom of the oceans. We know when they were disrupted during the Pleistocene it warmed the planet.

“We have to know if these carbon reservoirs could be destabilized again. It’s a wild card for which we need to account,” Stott said.

At issue are expanses of carbon dioxide and methane accumulating underwater and scattered across the seafloor. They form as volcanic activity releases heat and gases that can congeal into liquid and solid hydrates, which are compounds stuck together in an icy slurry that encapsulates the reservoirs.

These undersea carbon reservoirs largely stay put unless perturbed, but the new study shows the natural reservoirs are vulnerable in a warming ocean and provides proof the Earth’s climate has been affected by rapid release of geologic carbon.

The scientists say it occurred in the distant past when the Earth was much warmer, and it’s happened more recently — about 17,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene epoch when glaciers advanced and receded, which is the focus on the new study. Warming was evident due to changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, based on ice cores, marine and continental records.

But how did that happen? What forced such dramatic change in the first place? Scientists have been searching for that answer for 40 years, with focus on oceans because they’re a giant carbon sink and play a central role in carbon dioxide variations.

They soon realized that processes that regulate carbon to the ocean operated too slowly to account for the surge in atmospheric greenhouse gases that led to warming that ended the ice age. So, scientists around the world began examining the role of Earth’s hydrothermal systems and their impact on deep-ocean carbon to see how it affected the atmosphere.

The new study by scientists at USC, the Australian National University and Lund University in Sweden, focused on the Eastern Equatorial Pacific (EEP) hundreds of miles off the coast of Ecuador. The EEP is a primary conduit through which the ocean releases carbon to the atmosphere.

The scientists report evidence of deep-sea hydrothermal systems releasing greenhouse gases to the ocean and atmosphere at the end of the last ice age, just as the oceans were beginning to warm. They measured increased deposition of hydrothermal metals in ancient marine sediments. They correlated glaciation intervals with variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide with differences in marine microorganism ages. They found a four-fold increase in zinc in protozoa (foraminifera) shells, a telltale sign of widespread hydrothermal activity.

Taken together, the new data show that there were major releases of naturally occurring carbon from the EEP, which contributed to dramatic change in Earth’s temperature as the ice age was ending, the study says.

Elsewhere around the world, more and more deep-ocean carbon reservoirs are being discovered. They mostly occur near hydrothermal vents, of which scores have been identified so far, especially in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. They occur where the Earth’s crust spreads or collides, creating ideal conditions for the formation of deep-sea carbon dioxide reservoirs. Only about one-third of the ocean’s volcanic regions have been surveyed.

One such reservoir of undersea carbon dioxide, seen in the accompanying video, was discovered about 4,000 feet deep off the coast of Taiwan. Similar discoveries of carbon gas reservoirs have been made off the coast of Okinawa, in the Aegean Sea, in the Gulf of California and off the west coast of Canada.

“The grand challenge is we don’t have estimates of the size of these or which ones are particularly vulnerable to destabilization,” Stott said. “It’s something that needs to be determined.”

In many cases, the carbon reservoirs are bottled up by their hydrate caps. But those covers are sensitive to temperature changes. As oceans warm, the caps can melt, a development the paper warns would lead to a double wallop for climate change — a new source of geologic carbon in addition to the humanmade greenhouse gases.

Oceans absorb nearly all the excess energy from the Earth’s atmosphere, and as a result they have been warming rapidly in recent decades. Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, other studies have shown. Throughout the marine water column, ocean heat has increased for the last 50 years. The federal government’s Climate Science Special Report projected a global increase in average sea surface temperatures of up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, given current emissions rates. Temperature gains of that magnitude throughout the ocean could eventually destabilize the geologic hydrate reservoirs, Stott said.

“The last time it happened, climate change was so great it caused the end of the ice age. Once that geologic process begins, we can’t turn it off,” Stott said.

Moreover, other similar events have happened in the distant past, helping shape the Earth’s environment over and over again. In earlier research, Stott discovered a large, carbon anomaly that occurred 55 million years ago. It disrupted the ocean’s chemistry, causing extensive dissolution of marine carbonates and the extinction of many marine organisms. The ocean changes were accompanied by a rapid rise in global temperatures, an event called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maxima (PETM), a period lasting less than 20,000 years during which so much carbon was released to the atmosphere that Earth’s temperatures surged to about 8 degrees Celsius hotter than today.

“Until quite recently, we had no idea these events occurred. The PETM event is a good analog for what can happen when undersea carbon escapes through the water column to the atmosphere. And now we know the PETM event was not a unique event, that this has happened more recently,” Stott said.

The study comes with some caveats. Much of the ocean floor is unexplored, so scientists don’t know the full extent of the carbon dioxide reservoirs. There is no inventory of greenhouse gases from these geologic sources. And ocean warming is not uniform, making it difficult to predict when and where the undersea carbon reservoirs will be affected. It would take much more study to answer those questions.

Nonetheless, the study makes clear the undersea carbon reservoirs are vulnerable to ocean warming.

“Geologic carbon reservoirs such as these are not explicitly included in current marine carbon budgets” used to model the impacts of climate change, the study says. Yet, “even if only a small percentage of the unsampled hydrothermal systems contain separate gas or liquid carbon dioxide phases, it could change the global marine carbon budget substantially.”

Said Stott: “Discoveries of accumulations of liquid, hydrate and gaseous carbon dioxide in the ocean has not been accounted for because we didn’t know these reservoirs existed until recently, and we didn’t know they affected global change in a significant ways.

“This study shows that we’ve been missing a critical component of the marine carbon budget. It shows these geologic reservoirs can release large amounts of carbon from the oceans. Our paper makes the case that this process has happened before and it could happen again.”

The study authors are Lowell Stott of USC, Kathleen M. Harazin of the Australian National University and Nadine B. Quintana Krupinski of Lund University, Sweden. U.S. funding for the study comes from a National Science Foundation Marine Geology and Geophysics Grant (1558990).

By 2080, global warming will make New York City feel like Arkansas


“Heading south” will have a whole new meaning in a few decades.

New York City, welcome to Arkansas. Minneapolis, say hello to Kansas. And San Francisco, your new home is L.A.

Because of global warming, hundreds of millions of Americans will have to adapt to dramatically new climates by 2080, a study published Tuesday suggests.

“The children alive today, like my daughter who is 12, they’re going to see a dramatic transformation of climate. It’s already underway,” said study lead author Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.

By 2080, for example, folks who live in New York City will see a climate similar to that of northern Arkansas today. And people in Minneapolis will live in a climate that’s equivalent to that of southern Kansas today.

On average, city’s climates will move 528 miles to the south if carbon emissions keep soaring at their current levels. If the world cuts back, the cities move on average of 319 miles to the south.

“The climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents or perhaps any generation in millennia,” Fitzpatrick said.

Even more concerning, “many cities could experience climates with no modern equivalent in North America.”

More: 250 dead, $91 billion in damages: 2018 was a catastrophic year for U.S. weather; 4th-warmest for globe

Fitzpatrick looked at 540 U.S. and Canadian cities to find out what the future might feel like. He averaged the results from 27 different computer models then found the city that most resembles that futuristic scenario.

Thus, Miami might as well be southern Mexico and the beautiful mornings in future Des Moines, Iowa, could feel like they are straight out of Oklahoma.

Man-made climate change, aka global warming, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil, which release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane into the atmosphere. The extra carbon emissions cause temperatures of the atmosphere and oceans to rise to levels that can’t be explained by natural causes.

“Under the business-as-usual emissions the average urban dweller is going to have to drive (about 600 miles) to the south to find a climate like that expected in their home city by 2080,” Fitzpatrick said.

More: Global warming predicted to melt massive Himalayan glaciers, disrupt food production

More: Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica could cause more extreme weather

“Wow,” said Northern Illinois University climate scientist Victor Gensini, who wasn’t part of the study. “The science here isn’t new but a great way to bring impacts to the local scale user.”

Fitzpatrick said “similar efforts to communicate climate change often focus on temperature only, but climate is more than just temperature. It also includes the amount precipitation an area receives, when it falls during the year, and how much arrives as snow vs. rain.

“Climate change will lead to not only warming but also will alter precipitation patterns.”

Check out this map and database to see how your climate will change over the next 60 years.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Communications.

More: Extreme heat from climate change a ‘medical emergency,’ sickening tens of millions worldwide

Antarctic ‘time bomb’ waiting to go off


Earth’s sea levels should be nine meters higher than they are — and dramatic melting in Antarctica may soon plug the gap, scientists warn.

They say global temperatures today are the same as they were 115,000 years ago, a time when modern humans were only just beginning to leave Africa.

Research shows during this time period, known as the Eemian, scorching ocean temperatures caused a catastrophic global ice melt. As a result, sea levels were six to nine meters higher than they are today.

But if modern ocean temperatures are the same as they were during the Eemian, that means our planet is “missing” a devastating sea rise.

If oceans were to rise by just 1.8 meters, large swathes of coastal cities would find themselves underwater, turning streets into canals and completely submerging some buildings.

Scientists think sea levels made this jump 115,000 years ago because of a sudden ice collapse in Antarctica.

The continent’s vulnerable West Antarctic ice sheet — which is already retreating again today — released a lot of sea level rise in a hurry.

“There’s no way to get tens of meters of sea level rise without getting tens of meters of sea level rise from Antarctica,” said Dr. Rob DeConto, an Antarctic expert at the University of Massachusetts in the U.S.

His team created state-of-the-art computer models that showed how Antarctic ice responded to warm ocean temperatures during the Eemian.

They showed two processes, called marine ice cliff collapse and marine ice sheet instability, rapidly melted the West Antarctic ice sheet.

They exposed thick glaciers that formed part of the ice sheet to the ocean, meaning the ice blocks floated out to sea more quickly. Here they quickly melted, adding thousands of tonnes of water to the world’s oceans.

Scientists warn if ice shelves in Antarctica undergo similar processes, it could spell disaster for Earth. Combined with melting in Greenland, we could see sea levels rise by almost two meters this century.

In the next century, ice loss would get even worse.

“What we pointed out was if the kind of calving that we see in Greenland today were to start turning on in analogous settings in Antarctica — Antarctica has way thicker ice, it’s a way bigger ice sheet — the consequences would be potentially really monumental for sea level rise,” Dr. DeConto said.

Last month, NASA warned Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier could collapse within decades and “sink cities” after the discovery of a 300-meter doomsday cavity lurking below the ice block.

If you fancy a fright, check out this sea level “doomsday” simulator if you’d like to know whether your home would be wiped out by rising oceans.

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