This year's surveyed beekeepers reported a total loss of 36.1 percent of their honey bee colonies, up 13.5 percent from the previous year. The crisis of the vanishing bees is worse and proceeding faster than anyone imagined it might.That's from a blog article by Russ George of the Ecorestoration Foundation in San Francisco. Although no one knows for sure the cause of this catastrophic collapse of bees and colonies, he points out a likely suspect:
Our emission of the hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 from burning of fossil fuels has filled our and the bees atmosphere with a concentration of CO2 40% higher than in the previous century. . .
Every feature of form and function in bees focuses their evolution on living and managing with a slightly high CO2 level common to their hives -- but not so high as our present air.
Bees manage their social lives around CO2 in their colonies; and, when CO2 rises just a few percent above normal levels they exhibit what had, until now, been a workable and wonderful response.
First, they begin to fan their wings to circulate air through the colony and then, if that fails to lower the CO2 levels sufficiently, workers begin to sacrifice themselves one by one, flying to a lonely death. Curiously, 80 years ago bee scientists noted that CO2 was the controlling factor in bee colonies. Later scientists observed that bees exposed to high CO2 become incapable of performing their normally incredible navigation skills and become lost bees.How bad could the situation get? Russ George warns:
Should our bees go extinct in as few as ten years, as many experts suggest, so go the majority of our most loved and nutritious human foods, including many of our fruits, vegetables, oil crops, clovers and alfalfas for our livestock and a more. Bees pollinate one sixth of all flowering plants and about 400 agriculture plants. As one expert put it: without bees you had better love gruel, for that is what will remain for us.Sounds very bad, even alarming -- maybe too alarming, but maybe not.
Many other signs point to an impending ecological crisis:
Ocean Waters Turning More Acidic
An international team of scientists surveying the waters of the continental shelf off the West Coast of North America has discovered for the first time high levels of acidified ocean water within 20 miles of the shoreline, raising concern for marine ecosystems from Canada to Mexico.
Researchers aboard the Wecoma, an Oregon State University research vessel, also discovered that this corrosive, acidified water that is being "upwelled" seasonally from the deeper ocean is probably 50 years old, suggesting that future ocean acidification levels will increase since atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased rapidly over the past half century.
"When the upwelled water was last at the surface, it was exposed to an atmosphere with much lower CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels than today's," pointed out Burke Hales, an associate professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and an author on the Science study. "The water that will upwell off the coast in future years already is making its undersea trek toward us, with ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide and acidity.
"The coastal ocean acidification train has left the station," Hales added, "and there not much we can do to derail it."
Scientists have documented unusual dead zones, or low-oxygen water conditions, off the coast of the US Pacific Northwest.
"We’ve seen six in the past six years, and none before that. It’s surprising to see this in an area that is usually so rich with oxygen, and all of the conditions for life." That’s Jane Lubchenco, marine biologist at Oregon State University. She said most dead zones are caused by nutrient pollution from fertilizer runoff. "But the dead zone that we’re seeing in Oregon and Washington is different, because it’s not connected to runoff of nutrients from the land, but instead is a result of changes in the upwelling of nutrients from the deep sea.
The excess nutrients take up all the available oxygen in the water, suffocating ocean life. . . Lubchenco believes the dead zone is driven by changes in coastal winds, which may be related to climate change. "In the summertime this disaster strikes. In winter, the system returns to normal. And so things begin to recover, but just when they’re starting to recover, then next summer rolls around and another devastating impact — the system is getting hit every summer. So we have very real concerns that the long term consequences are not going to be good ones."
Plant life covering the surface of the world's oceans, a vital resource that helps absorb the worst of the "greenhouse gases" involved in global warming, is disappearing at a dangerous rate, scientists have discovered. . .
Whether the lost productivity of the plants, called phytoplankton, is directly due to increased ocean temperatures that have been recorded for at least the past 20 years remains part of an extremely complex puzzle, says Watson W. Gregg, a NASA biologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., but it surely offers a fresh clue to the controversy over climate change. According to Gregg, the greatest loss of phytoplankton has occurred where ocean temperatures have risen most significantly between the early 1980s and the late 1990s.
Coral reefs will be the first global ecosystem to collapse in our lifetimes. The one-two punch of climate change that is warming ocean temperatures and increasing acidification is making the oceans uninhabitable for corals and other marine species, researchers said at a scientific symposium in Spain.
And now other regions are being affected. Acidic or corrosive waters have been detected for the first time on the continental shelf of the west coast of North America, posing a serious threat to fisheries, Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told attendees. "Surface waters off the coast of San Francisco had concentrations of carbon dioxide that we didn't expect to see for at least another 100 years," said Feely. . .
Temperature rise and acidification are putting one of the planet's key ecosystems at great risk, Feely warned, "This is a very real biological threshold beyond which species will simply cease to exist."
Coral reefs support about 25 to 33 percent of the oceans' living creatures. Some one billion people depend directly and indirectly on reefs for their livelihoods. Sea birds and many species of fish would be affected by the loss of reefs, said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine scientist at the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia.
When CO2 in the atmosphere reaches a concentration of 450 to 500 parts per million (ppm), the oceans will mostly be too acidic for corals to grow. Warmer ocean temperatures of just one or two degrees above normal can not only can cause coral bleaching but also make corals vulnerable to even lower levels of acidification, said Hoegh-Guldberg.
CO2 is at 384 ppm currently and rising very fast as nearly every country's emissions continue to grow. Worse, new research suggests the oceans themselves are no longer absorbing as much CO2 as they once did. Stabilising the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at less than 450 ppm now looks to be impossible. "We are witnessing the end of corals as a major feature in the oceans," Hoegh-Guldberg said.
If you're wondering what you can do about all this, here are a few suggestions:
- Eat more plants and less meat and dairy.
- Contact your representatives in government and urge them to learn about and support the best solutions to global warming.
- Find out all you can about climate change, renewable energy, geoengineering, and the potential for molecular manufacturing to make a real difference -- then get involved!