Arctic Heating

Artic land ice and snow

On August 11, 2022, a study was published in Nature Communications Earth & Environment on Arctic amplification (AA), the relatively higher rate of warming in the Arctic compared to all other parts of the globe. AA, also known as polar amplification, is thought to be due to feedback from reduced cold-season ice and snow cover.

In other words, ice loss in the Arctic causes the region to have greater temperature change averages than the rest of the planet. Though this fact has been well established in previous literature, authors of “The Arctic Has Warmed Nearly Four Times Faster Than the Globe Since 1979” declare that AA is presently happening at higher ratios than what’s been reported in the past.

According to authors Mika Rantanen, Alexey Karpechko, Antti Lipponen, Kalle Nordling, Otto Hyvärinen, Kimmo Ruosteenoja, Timo Vihma, and Ari Laaksonen, warming ratios from previous studies are based on possibly outdated estimates that do not include the most recent observations. If true, previous studies will have likely underestimated present-day Arctic heating rates.

Research Method and Design

Mika Rantanen and colleagues used several observational datasets for the Arctic region to more accurately quantify the current magnitude of AA. They included four climate models in their calculations: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature version 4 (GISTEMP), the Berkeley Earth temperature dataset (BEST), the Met Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit version (HadCRUT5) and ERA5 reanalysis.

Rantanen’s team claims that “the period of interest and the area of the Arctic can be defined in multiple ways”. To put it another way, AA estimates will vary according to the timeframe studied and the definition of what qualifies as the geographic area of the Arctic. Rantanen’s team primarily defined the Arctic using the Arctic Circle as the southern boundary (66.5–90N, the area located above 66.5 degrees latitude) and focus on warming trends for the last 43 years.

During the last 43 years, more accurate satellite remote sensing data and observations on atmospheric variables and sea ice concentration have become available. This period is crucial for AA calculations, as 1979–2021 is thought to be a period of relatively strong Arctic warming.

Their results are evidence that major portions of the Arctic Ocean warmed nearly four times faster than the globe from the years 1979–2021, whereas previous studies report the Arctic warming at nearly twice, or about twice as quickly as the global average. AA was most severe in Novaya Zemlya sea areas, which warmed up to seven times as fast as the global average.

In Conclusion

There are multiple reasons for accelerated Arctic heating. Human-caused global warming is likely an integral cause of recent heating trends. On top of that, ice loss within the Arctic Circle plays a role. Ice that was once frozen for all or most of the year, is increasingly shrinking. Sea ice loss reinforces global warming because melting ice gives way to a darker ocean. Brightly colored snow and ice surfaces reflect sunlight back into space at a higher rate than the surfaces of darkly colored seawater, which are more efficient at absorbing sunlight and heat energy.


Arctic Plastic

ice in the Arctic ocean

A study, “Plastic Pollution in the Arctic” reports that Arctic wildlife regularly ingest, become entangled in, or be smothered by plastic debris. Arctic species such as sculpin (Triglops nybelini), the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), and belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) have been found with plastic inside them. Plastic ingestion may even affect marine invertebrates like zooplankton in the eastern Canadian Arctic and the Fram Strait (a sea channel between Greenland and Svalbard).

Plastics from agriculture, landfills, dumping, industry, household products, fisheries, offshore industry, and other such sources are routinely carried to and within the Arctic by atmospheric and aquatic circulation systems. Transported plastics from local and distant sources are therefore highly distributed. The United Nations estimates that approximately 150 million tons of plastic debris may be scattered across the Arctic. Plastics are found on Arctic shores, in varying levels of the water column, in sea ice, and inside the bodies of marine biota.

Plastic Pollution

Circulation systems, including wind, ocean currents, and freshwater river flows, move plastic pollution through Arctic ecosystems, especially as they break down and fragment into smaller constituent pieces. The physical effects of global warming, then, influence the distribution of plastics and microplastics in the Arctic by increasing the frequency and or intensity of extreme weather events, like flooding and windstorms. Sea level rise or higher poleward wind speeds from global warming have the potential to transport greater levels of plastic debris to Arctic ecosystems.

Ocean Plastic

An article titled, “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution”, describes the interactive relationship between climate change and marine plastic pollution. The article’s authors claim that climate change and marine plastic pollution are linked in three ways: 1) the production of plastic relies on fossil fuel extraction and is thus a greenhouse gas contributor 2) climate and weather influence the distribution and spread of plastic pollution across environments 3) marine ecosystems and species are vulnerable to plastic pollution and climate change.

Does Plastic Cause Climate Change?

The rise in plastic demand is likely due to its reputation as an inexpensive and lightweight material that has a wide range of uses. Plastic is used for packaging, electronics, toys, utensils, safety gear, and infrastructure. Even so, plastics and microplastics release potent greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, methane, and ethylene throughout their lifecycles, from production to after-use. Greenhouse gases from plastic materials must therefore contribute to ocean heating and climate change.

When the natural gas and oil for plastics are extracted from underground sources, methane leaks sometimes occur. During methane leaks, stored methane flows freely into the surrounding air or water. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is far more effective at absorbing and reradiating heat energy than carbon dioxide.

After extraction, raw natural gas and crude oil are subjected to rounds of intense heat to be refined and eventually manufactured into usable products. This heating releases carbon dioxide gas and other chemical pollutants.

Even after plastics have been used and discarded, they continue to slowly discharge methane and ethylene when exposed to solar radiation.

How Does Plastic Move Around the World?

The movement of plastics between environments is influenced by weather and climate. Plastics are circulated by the flow of water and wind. Extreme weather, like floods and windy storms, can move plastics from one system to another. For example, flooding riverine systems can transport plastics into the ocean, while tropical storms from oceans can push plastics onto terrestrial surfaces.

How Does Plastic Affect Marine Ecosystems?

Plastics continue to impact the ecosystems long after they have been dumped into oceans. Ingesting plastic can lower the survival odds of certain marine organisms. In some cases, marine animals become entangled by plastic products or have their feeding and breathing pathways obstructed. On top of that, plastic potentially facilitates species migrations because plastic debris attracts encrusting organisms and microbial communities. Therefore both climate change and plastic pollution can contribute to species movement between ocean regions. Increased species mobility can bring about invasive species risks.

Some suspension feeders and benthic organisms likely mistake microplastic particles for food because the plastic particles are roughly the same size as feeding matter, such as plankton. Ingestion of plastic debris can be lethal or sub-lethal for marine species. Sub-lethal effects can be impaired reproduction ability, loss of sensitivity, the inability to escape from predators, loss of mobility, decreased growth, and body conditions.

Toxic chemicals like flame retardants, metal ions, and antibiotics are incorporated in some plastics and can also be ingested by wildlife. Fish that have been exposed to these chemicals are unsafe for human consumption as contaminated seafood sources can create adverse health effects on people.

In Conclusion

The review, “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution”, concludes that ocean plastics and climate change are inherently interactive. Plastics rely heavily on fossil fuels during production and continue to emit greenhouse gases long after they have been disposed of; which contributes to ocean heating and climate change. Climate change, on the other hand, is associated with extreme weather and floods which exacerbate the spread of plastics in and between land, freshwater, and marine environments. Both plastic pollution and climate change pose threats to marine ecosystems and species.

Climate Change Affecting Animals

Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Seabird species: Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

A new review published in Ecology Letters, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, assessed seabird and marine mammals’ responses to climate change and climate variability. Researchers based their analysis on data from more than 480 preexisting studies and found that “the likelihood of concluding that climate change had an impact [on either marine mammals sea birds] increased with study duration”. In other words, studies that include data from longer lengths of time are going to be most useful for measuring climate change’s effects on the observed species.

Research Method and Design

From the 484 peer-reviewed studies that matched the researcher’s inclusion criterion, 2,215 observations were compiled into a database and mapped. This includes 1,685 observations for seabirds and 530 observations for marine mammals. 54% of observations for seabirds were distributed towards the northern hemisphere (39% of observations from temperate and polar regions). For marine mammals, 83% of observations were distributed toward the northern hemisphere (53% of observations from temperate and polar regions). For both seabirds and marine mammals, tropical and subtropical regions represented a mere 8% of total observations.

Authors of the preexisting studies found 38% of total observations to be related to climate change, 49% were attributed to climate variability, and 13% were attributed to both. Climate change refers to the long-term changes in weather patterns, typically over decades or longer, while climate variability is usually thought of as day-to-day shifts in weather.

According to the new review, “a significant majority of observations concluded that climate change had an effect on both the seabird and marine mammal groups across all the response classes”. Response classes include demography, distribution, condition, phenology, behavior, and diet. The analysis also states that species that had more limited temperature tolerance ranges and relatively long generation times were reported to be most affected by changes in climate. Generation times are temporal intervals between the birth of an individual organism and the birth of its offspring.

In Conclusion

The longer the duration of the original studies, the more likely authors were to infer that the observed changes in taxonomic groups were due to climate change rather than climate variability. 189 of the preexisting studies (669 observations) that demonstrated climate change effects had a time span above the estimated average threshold of 19 years. Generally, studies on marine mammals were able to demonstrate climate change responses based on shorter time scales (17± 5 years) versus seabirds (22 ± 3 years).

Cowspiracy Facts

fish near water surface
fish near water’s surface

While fisheries generate food and profit, they could do much more harm than good for underwater ecosystems. The film Cowspiracy makes a convincing case for the deleterious effect of large-scale fishing operations on ocean environments, species variety, and abundance. Cowspiracy depicts modern fishing as a largely unsustainable industry that could lead to fishless oceans by 2048.

Fishing As Depicted By Cowspiracy

Fish and other marine life are mostly hunted as food. However, some species are used for other commodities. Sharks, for example, are sometimes hunted for their skin which can be used in the making of leather. Other species like whales and manatees are regularly harmed or killed unintentionally by getting caught in fishing nets. The Cowspiracy Facts page cites a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) document which states that in the year 2017, between 51 – 167 billion farmed fish had been killed for food.

That same year an estimated 250 – 600 billion crustaceans were also farmed and killed for food. Even animals that are not eaten by humans are caught and killed inadvertently because of drift netting or trawling. Susan Hartland of the Conservation Society says that animal populations are being extracted from oceans more quickly than they can recover. Marine species are therefore collapsing under the immense pressures of modern hunting. The unintended catches, sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins are called bykill.

Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades

Apex predators often act as keystone species, meaning that they have disproportionately large effects in their natural environments. This makes the removal of sharks particularly concerning. As top predators, many sharks species exert top down influence in their respective food webs. The removal of sharks, and other keystone species increases trophic cascade risks. Trophic cascades are the ecological chain of events triggered by the removal or addition of top predators.

Agriculture, Fishing and Algae Blooms

“Livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world in our oceans…” According to Dr. Richard Oppenlander, an environmental researcher featured in the Cowspiracy film. Water pollution comes in the form of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, plastics and other waste material. However, animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean pollution – a fact which is stated explicitly in the Cowspiracy film.

Animal agriculture run-off upsets nutrient balances in aquatic ecosystems by introducing phosphorus, nitrogen, manure and potassium from chemical fertilizers. These excess nutrients can cause alae blooms, leading to uninhabitable zones for marine species. Blooms of algae drain sunlight and deplete oxygen levels – making the environment unsuitable for most other lifeforms in the ecosystem.

Bottom trawling contributes to inhabitable zones similarly. Bottom trawling, also referred to as “dragging” involves casting a fishing net to the sea floor. Trawling disturbs sediments along the sea floor which causes carbon to be released. Once carbon dioxide is released from sediments, it is then absorbed by ocean seawater. Elevated carbon levels allow water to trap in more heat and further facilitate algae and plant overgrowth.

The Ocean Twilight Zone

DNA double helix molecule strands
DNA double helix

The twilight zone is a layer of water depth that is penetrated by significantly less light than what can be found closer to the water’s surface. For this reason, the twilight zone is cold and quite dark, making it unsuitable for most photosynthetic plant species. Twilight zones can be found around the world and are not unique to any specific body of water. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the twilight zone can be found at a depth of about 200 meters to 1000 meters (650 to 3,300 feet) beneath the water’s surface. This layer range is below the water’s photic layer- the sunlit area, and just above the midnight range.

While some species spend their lives in undisturbed depth range known as the twilight zone, many animals move in and out of it. Species of fish, squid and plankton likely swim in darkness to find food or to keep away from predators. These traveling organisms can potentially carry environmental DNA signatures with them.

A new study by researchers, Elizabeth Andruszkiewicz Allan, Michelle H. DiBenedetto, Andone C. Lavery, Annette F. Govindarajan , and Weifeng G. Zhang simulates the physical conditions that cause environmental DNA samples to move through the twilight zones.

Their conclusion: environmental conditions like currents, wind, and mixing do not significantly impact the vertical distribution of DNA samples. To be precise, their computer generated model demonstrates that eDNA samples didn’t move beyond a 20 meter range of where it was released into the environment. If this model reflects the actual conditions of marine ecosystems in twilight zones, perhaps changes eDNA concentrations can be used to determine which fish species are present at a sea depth or how long species spend at varying depths. This has groundbreaking implications for tracking marine species travel patterns and migration more generally in aquatic ecosystems.

Vast populations of unexploited fish and unexplored habitats can be found in twilight zones, also known as disphotic zones or mesopelagic zones, which make these aquatic regions extraordinarily interesting to marine researchers. Environmental DNA may prove useful for learning about organisms that live down in ocean twilight zones and how these species travel. Also, using environmental DNA for sampling can protect the ecological processes and species that inhabit these middle ocean zones.

In Conclusion

There is still much to learn about the carbon sequestration potential, ecological processes and biological diversity profiles of middle ocean twilight zones. Ecosystems must be protected during sampling missions and disturbed as little as possible. Sampling techniques like trawling, bait camera trapping and other forms capture carry ethical concerns which could hamper further research efforts.

Twilight zones likely provide ecological services to the network of species that migrate in and out of them, and more permanent inhabitants. In order to preserve full ecological function and avoid disturbing species, researchers will have to prioritize more minimally invasive sampling techniques. Sampling approaches that are minimally invasive to species and ecosystems are more likely to win over public approval.

Why Are Whales Important

whale tail protruding from ocean's surface

A new study published in Nature sheds light on the roles whales play in marine ecosystems. Baleen whales are the largest carnivorous marine mammals, so naturally, they feed on tremendous amounts of krill, zooplankton, and other prey. Krill is turned over in the stomachs of whales (Mysticeti). Once krill have been digested, their iron contents are released back out into ocean ecosystems, where it floats toward the water’s surface due to water pressure. Iron-rich excrement yields nutrients for phytoplankton, which are microscopic plants that use photosynthesis to make energy.

Phytoplankton are then consumed by other creatures in the environment, including krill! Krill feed on the phytoplankton that grow using the nutrients from recycled metabolized – recycled – krill. In other words, baleen whales populations perpetuate nutrient cycling. At one level, krill are consumed by whales. Subsequently, whale waste supplements phytoplankton growth, which helps sustains krill populations.

By comparing the prey consumption more than 300 tracked whales in this new study to per-capita consumption estimates from the early 20th century, researchers were able to reason that southern krill populations has to be considerably higher than they are today. Whales were found to eat up to three times more krill and other prey than previous assessments have supposed.

Research Method and Design

Researchers used metabolic models to estimate whale feeding volumes. Whale tagging and acoustic acoustic measurements were used to calculate whale prey densities in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Their results suggest that previous assessments greatly underestimated baleen whale prey consumption. Further, researchers reason that larger whale populations would add to the “productivity” of marine ecosystems by perpetuating iron recycling. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Researchers were able to determine how much whales eat by tagging individual whales by attaching electronic devices on their backs. These electronic devices carry cameras, microphones and of course, GPS locators. These electronic tags, in conjunction with acoustic measurements of prey biomass, informed researchers on whale eating cycles and intake volume. Of course, prey intake varies between different species of whale.

The Krill Paradox

The famous krill paradox refers to the mystery in marine ecosystems regarding the removal of large predators, like whales. When whales are hunted, and their populations consequently decrease, so do the population sizes of krill. This perplexes researchers because they intuitively expect krill populations to grow wildly in the absence of whales which eats thousands of tons of krill daily. Instead, the opposite is true: as whales are removed from the ecological system, krill populations shrink. The new study illuminates exactly why this phenomenon occurs. Krill depend on whales to produce nutrients for the microscopic plants that they eat. Declines in whale species members leads to fewer iron being sent toward the water’s surface in the form of whale excrement. Which ultimately contributes to less plentiful meals available for krill populations.

In Conclusion

The conclusions of this study may have potential for marine ecosystem restoration efforts. Species like whales are evidently essential for the continued functionality of marine ecosystems, and should therefore be protected.

Ecosystem Services

managed garden ecosystem

Ecosystems are natural capital, the biotic and abiotic benefits that people obtain from their environment, animals, plants, soils, and micro-bacteria.

Micro-bacteria in marine ecosystems, for example, produces breathable oxygen. Plants and soils help regulate climate by capturing carbon dioxide in the air and storing it underground. Wetlands reduce flooding risks in coastal territories. Medicines are extracted from plants like sage, ginger, turmeric, and aloe vera. Animals are hunted for food.

The 2006 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) outlined four distinct categories of ecosystem services to help map the different kinds of benefits provided to human populations. The categories can help us identify what advantages are gained by people and suggest the value of the service. Though it can be difficult to put a price on nature’s contributions, estimates are somewhat determined by the service’s utility, either for humanity, other species, or the ecosystem itself. Categorizing ecosystem services can inform policy and be implemented in conservation research.

Four Types of Ecosystem Services

There are four main types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. Each one of these classifications describes unique outputs made possible by ecological systems. A single ecosystem may produce multiple types of services at once.

Provisioning Services

Provisioning ecosystem services are the substantive, or material benefits from an ecosystem. This type of service includes raw materials like wood, fresh water, metals, and medicinal herbs. Foods too are provisioning services that are grown on farms, synthesized from natural ingredients, or extracted from animals.

Regulating Services

Regulating ecosystem services are sometimes called managing services. These services govern the cycles within an ecosystem. Regulating services play essential roles in managing the water cycle, the carbon cycle, soil quality, crop pollination, and water purification. Regulating services are those that moderate climate and the intensity and frequency of weather events.

Supporting Services

The natural processes within ecosystems are part of the ecosystem’s own continued survival and maturity. As ecosystems mature, they can grow more complex, support greater profiles of species richness and allow novel interactions between organisms to develop. Supporting services refer to an ecosystem’s capacity to keep itself functioning over time.

Cultural Services

Cultural services are the nonmaterial contributions that we derive from the natural world. Around the world, people rely on nature for their sense of cultural identity, including art, architecture, and recreation.


slab of raw beef
slab of raw beef

This year, the food company Epicurious decided that it would not add anymore beef recipes to its “recipe’s list”. The company stated that it will no longer feature recipes that include beef on its homepage or social media feed. Epicurious made it obvious that they were leaving beef behind for climate change, and posted that “… think of this decision as not anti-beef but rather pro-planet”. In this decision, Epicurious supports sustainable agriculture in more ways that one.

Why Has Epicurious Banned Beef Recipes?

To promote sustainable agriculture, Epicurious will not longer add beef recipes to its site. The consequences of unsustainable farming practices are most apparent in water and land use. Livestock animals eat massive amounts of vegetation so that they can meet their caloric requirements. Cows are large animals and are costly to raise to maturity. Just one dairy cow may consume tens of thousands more calories than any human does, and their calories come strictly for plants. Growing enough food for livestock limits the amount of land and water that could be used for human consumable crops. Livestock animals also need space to roam, play and interact.

Why Are Cows Bad for the Environment?

We must be tactful in how we use land, as it is not an unlimited asset. The same is true of our air. Methane is an element of natural gas found in underground reserves, produced in land-fills and released during enteric fermentation in ruminants, like cows. As mentioned in Epicurious’ blog post, “Every Question You Have About Cattle, Climate, and Why Epicurious Is Done With Beef”, the crops fed to livestock is made using pesticides and fertilizer that are derived from fossil fuels.

When that feed is metabolized in cows, it is converted into manure that is then spread over fields or runs off into water ways. In certain water systems, organic waste introduces excess nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and facilitates algae overgrowth. Algae blooms deplete the oxygen and sunlight from surface water ecosystems, causing illness and sometimes death in other species within the environment. On land, manure releases nitrous oxide and methane into airways and drives rising temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2019, 10 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions came from its agriculture sector.

Epicurious has expressed that not eating beef is a means to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Here at ecoTreatise, we believe pork, chicken, seafood and dairy may also be left behind if chefs are looking to further reduce their overall environmental impacts. Sustainable lifestyles require that we be mindful of the water, land and energy intensity of the products we consume. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

How Does Climate Affect the Ocean

A new study by researchers Katie E. Lotterhos, Áki J. Láruson & Li-Qing Jiang quantifies changes in ocean climates between the years 2000 and 2100.

Research Method and Design

To predict how ocean climates change in the future from greenhouse gases, researchers implemented the Representative Concentrations Pathway (RCP). The RCP predictions model different climate change outcomes for the near future (until the year 2100). Each RCP scenario estimates a different future temperature depending on the levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The RCP scenario estimates assume that temperature is linearly related to the cumulative total of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Some scenarios are optimistic, in that they predict future emissions to be much lower than they are today. The worst-case scenarios, on the other hand, are pathways which have the highest estimated future greenhouse gas emissions; and therefore the highest temperatures.

Katie E. Lotterhos, the study’s lead researchers

Lotterhos and her colleagues used pathways RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5. RCP 4.5 is a future scenario in which human beings curb their greenhouse gas emissions and moderate our warming trajectories. RCP 8.5, sometimes considered the ‘business as usual scenario’, is a future scenario in which humans do not reduce their emissions statistics and greenhouse gases are emitted at current rates throughout the 21st century.

RCP 8.5 has the highest global mean temperature increases of all pathway scenarios. The sea water near and along the ocean’s surface heats in response to the warming atmosphere above. Airborne gases like carbon dioxide and methane are absorbed by ocean water at depths hundreds of feet down below the surface. The buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases inevitably increases average ocean surface temperatures.

In Conclusion

Researchers used the RCP models to quantify ocean surface climates. Ocean climates are defined by temperature, pH acidity and carbonate chemistry. The temperature and chemistry models the years between 1800, and project out to the year 2100. Of the climates that were analyzed, no novel extremes of global ocean surface temperature were judged to have occurred until the year 2000. In the RCP 4.5 scenario, 35.6 percent of sea surface climates may be lost by 2100. On the other hand, the RCP 8.5 scenario is projected to lose 95 percent of surface level climates.

Lotterhos and colleagues concluded that aquatic lifeforms may survive climatological changes by “dispersing” themselves. ‘Dispersal’ is the process by which organisms relocate. Organisms that do not disperse into a suitable area or adapt in some other way will face population declines. As carbon dioxide increases, the number of suitable climates for these organisms decreases. The loss of these climate zones effectively contributes to the loss of marine biodiversity.