News Article | June 25, 2016
The massive die-off of sea stars along North America's west coast has triggered a domino effect in the region's marine ecology, a new study revealed. In summer 2013, millions of these echinoderms contracted a deadly virus and died in one of the major wildlife mass mortality events ever documented. Now, years later, scientists report that the devastating die-off has resulted in the disappearance of kelp forests in British Columbia's Howe Sound. The formerly abundant sunflower star was among the species severely affected by the wasting disease, a team of marine ecologists from Simon Fraser University (SFU) found. Howe Sound lost almost 90 percent of its sunflower stars in just a matter of weeks, says Jessica Schultz, one of the researchers of the study and a research program manager at Vancouver Aquarium. Schultz says marine divers told them three years ago that sea stars were basically "falling apart" before their very eyes. Sunflower stars, which are one of the biggest starfish in world, typically feed off invertebrates such as green sea urchins. According to scientists, sunflower stars are so feared by green sea urchins that previous studies found this prey scuttles away at the mere scent of the sunflower star's arm. Schultz says sunflower stars "eat pretty much anything they can get ahold of." But with their predators nearly wiped out, the population of green sea urchins quadrupled in 20 sites that researchers surveyed. In turn, these green sea urchins have diminished kelp in Howe Sound by 80 percent, creating what scientists call "urchin barrens." Indeed, without the sunflower stars to deter them, the green sea urchins were free to graze the kelp forests, clearcutting the underwater ecosystem, says Schultz. She says the phenomenon is heartbreaking, especially when you're used to seeing luscious kelp beds, but they are now bare rock filled with urchins. Isabelle Côté, Schultz's co-researcher, says the effect is a clear example of a "trophic cascade," an ecological domino effect provoked by changes at the end of a food chain. "It's a stark reminder that everything is connected to everything else," says Côté. In this case, she says, the knock-on consequences of the sea star die-off were predictable. However, in most situations, they are not. Researchers believe that understanding the importance of kelp to underwater communities is vital to keep them safe. These large seaweeds act as habitat for spot prawns and other marine creatures. "Anything we can do to help understand how the system works, even as it's changing, it's going to allow us to make better management decisions," says Schultz. Sea stars still haven't recovered from their population loss, but until their return, scientists will keep green sea urchins in check as their feast on kelp will probably continue. Details of the SFU study are featured in the journal PeerJ. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
According to the researchers, the Atlantic salmon genome is 2.97 gigabases in size and contains 37,000 genes across 29 chromosomes, and is similar in size to the human genome. This latest work means technologies developed for humans can be applied to wild and farmed salmon around the world. "The Atlantic salmon's genome has already enabled a refinement of the rainbow trout genome and is providing a framework for sequencing and assembling the genomes of other salmonids, such as Coho salmon and Arctic char," says Davidson, a professor in SFU's Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. "The completion of the Atlantic salmon's genome allows this species to take its place beside domesticated animals (e.g., cattle, sheep, pig, chicken) whose genomes are being used routinely to enhance livestock production." The team characterized a Whole Genome Duplication (WGD) event, or mutation, that occurred in 80 million years ago, the fourth in the salmonid lineage, and studied the implications of the salmonid's unique capacity to double its genes, enabling them to dramatically expand the interaction of genes and their environment. While they found the salmonid genome is returning to its original stage following a period of genomic instability, some traces of duplication remain today. "The Atlantic salmon genome provides insights into rediploidization" was the result of collaboration between Davidson and the University of Victoria's Dr. Ben Koop, working as part of an international project involving experts from Canada, Chile and Norway. The project is supported by the International Cooperation to Sequence the Atlantic Salmon Genome (ICSASG). The research provides a reference genome sequence and an atlas of genes that gives a whole new scientific baseline from which to improve and understand fisheries, conservation, ecology, physiology, evolution and aquaculture for over 70 economically, culturally and environmentally important salmonid species. The published research ensures that salmon genes, and opportunities for sustainable farming and wild salmon management, are just a mouse click away. "This publication is a testament to the successful partnership of the ICSASG: they have unravelled the extreme complexity of this species' genome, generated significant amounts of new knowledge and addressed many technological hurdles" says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome British Columbia. "The collaboration leaves behind a legacy that will benefit research and sustainable development of this economically and environmentally important species in Canada, Norway and Chile and other countries for years to come." More information: Sigbjørn Lien et al. The Atlantic salmon genome provides insights into rediploidization, Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature17164
News Article | December 27, 2015
Closing out the wonderful, unique Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum, the session below captures a number of the highlights of the forum. It’s a good synopsis if you want to get a general take on what made this forum so special and what we could do at other conferences and events to stimulate more change. After introductory statements, Tom Pedersen, Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, and Margery Moore, Director of Strategic Environmental Alliances at Bloomberg BNA, each provided their own views on how the forum went and what its highlights were. There was also an extended period of feedback from the audience, teasing out takeaways from participants from different sectors. There were many great summary statements — and, happily, my opening night presentation was referenced a couple of times. There was also a dialogue about the next steps forward, between Andrea Reimer, Deputy Mayor of the City of Vancouver, and David Cadman, past President of ICLEI. Shauna Sylvester, Director of the SFU Centre for Dialogue, closed out the closing plenary and thus the entire forum. She was the gem who had the seed idea for this forum, and spent years putting it together, along with several other core organizers. We aren’t going the exact same route, but the Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum was largely the inspiration for my idea for a big series of solar and electric vehicle events around the US and Europe (and maybe more broadly). These CleanTechnica events will also provide a mixture of inspirational presentations, general market updates, and practically oriented presentations, discussions, and workshops aimed at helping people to bring more solar, EV, and energy efficiency solutions to their homes, neighborhoods, and cities. Read more of our extensive Renewable Cities coverage. Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.” Come attend CleanTechnica’s 1st “Cleantech Revolution Tour” event → in Berlin, Germany, April 9–10. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter. Zachary Shahan is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) one letter at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of EV Obsession, Gas2, Solar Love, Planetsave, or Bikocity; or as president of Important Media. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, energy storage, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media: ZacharyShahan.com, .
News Article | December 9, 2015
Yesterday, I facilitated a session on behalf of SFU's Renewable Cities , the World Future Council, and ICLEI . We were 30 people huddled in a small, airless room in the corner of the cities pavilion at COP21 in Paris, which was inundated with ambient noise from the facility's concourse and excruciatingly warm.
News Article | April 19, 2016
While Canada’s political leaders toy with the idea of expanding the pipeline infrastructure out of Alberta, average global temperatures reached a record high in 2014, exceeded it in 2015, and are expected to be even warmer in 2016. According to Dr Kirsten Zickfeld, of Simon Fraser University, we are nudging 1.5 degrees. The average global temperature rise was 1.6 degrees above late 19th century levels in February. If this keeps up throughout the year, we will cross the 1.5 degree threshold. “The warming is not uniform, these are values that are averaged over the globe. So if we look at a map of the warming what we see is the warming is much worse in the Arctic. In those regions temperature records were broken by two digits this winter,” said Zickfeld. “This means some temperatures in Alaska or close to the Arctic circle actually being ten to twenty degrees warmer than the average and previous year. One of the consequences of that is that the Greenland ice sheet has already started melting this year, several months earlier than is usually the case.” “Over the past few months, we have really seen that the warming is accelerating.” In her biography, posted on SFU’s website, Zickfeld describes the focus of her research as “the effects of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols on climate on centennial to millennial timescales. The goal is to better understand the response of the climate system to forcing and the interactions between the different climate system components (the atmosphere, ocean, land surface, biosphere and cryosphere) in order to improve predictions for the future. To achieve this objective, I use climate models of different complexity, from simple conceptual models to complex Earth System models.” Prior to coming to SFU, Zickfeld worked beside Andrew Weaver in the University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Earth and Ocean Sciences (2009-2014). She is a former research scientist from Environment Canada’s Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria (2008-2010). Zickfeld was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, before she moving to Canada. She described the nation’s current idea of fighting climate change while expanding the oil sands and building new pipelines as “delusional.” After announcing that Canada is back in the fight against climate change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has let it be known that he wants to build both the Trans Mountain expansion and Energy East Pipelines. Under Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta has finally taken its first steps to curb its emissions. The province’s leading offender, coal-fired plants, will either “be phased out and replaced by renewable energy and natural gas-fired electricity, or by using technology to produce zero pollution” by 2030. Though oil sands development will continue, there is now a legislated emissions cap. The oil sands currently emit 70 megatonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gases a year and will not be allowed to exceed 100 Mt in any given year. This is a large success within the Albertan context, but far from what is needed. A carbon budget is very similar to a financial budget. There is only a finite amount of carbon that we can release into the atmosphere and keep the global temperature rise to 2 degrees. Canada’s budget, if it is willing to assume its fair share of the task, is 4 billion metric tons of CO2. This is about ten years of our current emissions, which means that even if we add no new fossil fuel infrastructure we will exceed the limit by 2030. “If leaders at the Federal level, and the provinces, are serious about meeting the targets they agreed to in Paris, then there is no room for pipelines or any other fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Zickfeld. During the course of our interview, we discussed the possibility of reversing the processes that are causing climate change. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide has both a very long lifespan, and atmospheric changes are communicated slowly. The changes taking place today will manifest in the future. “Even if we stopped emissions tomorrow, the … (change would not be noticeable) for a very long time … So in order to reverse these warming effects, we would need to remove carbon dioxide artificially from the atmosphere,” said Zickfeld. She mentioned techniques such as limited use of fertilizer, burying charcoal in the soil and large scale reforestation. Even then, Zickfeld believes climate change is pretty much irreversible. We will be able to influence the total amount of sea level rise, but we will not be able to stop it because the ocean is still responding to past changes. “Sea level rise is something we will have to live with for many centuries if not millennia, even if we go to a totally decarbonized energy system,” she said. ” … The oceans are warming very rapidly. In 2015, again, was a record year in terms of ocean warmth. This was, in part, also due to the El Niño phenomenon … along the equator and the Pacific, which makes water along the coast of South America and the central Pacific much warmer than average.” She described phenomena such as the blob of warm temperature off the coast of western North America, a mass dying of sea birds, dead sea lions washing on to the shore of California, and coral reefs bleaching. “Most of the impacts (are) actually happening offshore, so this means that ecologists do not really exactly understand what is going on, but we are seeing the symptoms that something is wrong.” Despite this, Zickfeld says she sees signs that people are starting to “get it.” There may not be any binding agreements in place, but at Paris, world leaders recognized they must combat climate change. Financial advisors are starting to warn their clients that investments in fossil fuel companies may end up as stranded assets. “Had you asked me a year ago, I would have been much more pessimistic. I think it is possible to tackle climate change and avoid the worst of it, but this only works if everybody does something. We must hold our political leaders accountable and we must let them know we expect them to lead in this regard,” said Zickfeld. The audio of my interview with Kirsten Zickfeld, “We Are Already Close to 1.5 Degrees” (podcast, above), will be aired on CKTZ Monday at 4:30 PM PST. Top Photo Credit: Iceberg in North Star Bay, Greenland from NASA’s Earth Observatory via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Diving Trip in Tioman, Malaysia (2010) – lots of coral bleaching but good viz and otherwise good conditions by Paul via Fklickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Premier Rachel Notley and supporters holding up signs supporting the Energy East Pipeline – Courtesy Premier of Alberta via Flicker (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); California’s fog-shrouded Humboldt Coast Courtesy the Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) Drive an electric car? 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