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Giant canyon discovered underneath Vanderford Glacier in Antarctica, revealing history behind rising sea levels

Giant canyon discovered underneath Vanderford Glacier in Antarctica, revealing history behind rising sea levels

Australian Antarctic expeditioners have discovered an enormous, 2-kilometre-deep canyon underneath a glacier that may make it more vulnerable to warming oceans.

The discovery also indicates the Vanderford Glacier in East Antarctica once extended 60km further than it currently does and had a significant role in rising sea levels.

Voyage leader Lloyd Symons said the canyon extended at least 3.5km underneath the glacier, which might be influencing how quickly the ice was melting.

“The fact that there is such a deep canyon beneath this glacier would perhaps allow the possibility for warming waters to get underneath the glacier,” Mr Symons told the ABC.

“One of the issues for Antarctic glaciers at the moment is them being eaten away from underneath by warming waters coming down from the north.”

The Southern Ocean circulates warming waters from around the world, pushing them deep towards Antarctica where they lap against the colder ice.

Large glacier in Antarctica sits in sea
The Vanderford Glacier is slowly sliding into a warming Southern Ocean, contributing to rising sea levels.(ABC News: Henry Belot)

“If there is a deep channel underneath this glacier, then it’s possible that may not bode well for the Vanderford Glacier, but that, of course, requires further study,” Mr Symons said.

Satellite data from NASA indicates the surface height of the Vanderford Glacier has shrunk by about two metres since 2008.

East Antarctica has long been considered to be less affected by climate change than West Antarctica, which is below South America.

But recent studies of NASA satellite images indicate that is beginning to change, particularly around Vincennes Bay where the Vanderford Glacier ends.

A 3d image of a sectino of antarctica showing a long canyon in the middle in green
A 3D model of the canyon found under the Vanderford Glacier in Antarctica.(Supplied)

Trench indicates where glacier once stood

The 60km trench extending away from the glacier is likely to indicate where it once stood before melting.

“This immense canyon that we have found really just gives us a very clear indication of just how big this glacier was perhaps tens of thousands of years ago,” Mr Symons said.

The discovery was made by Australia’s new icebreaking ship, Nuyina, while testing cold water systems near the glacier and Australia’s largest research station, Casey.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley described the discovery as “stunning” and early proof that Nuyina’s acoustic technology was world leading.

“The Nuyina is demonstrating that Australia has opened the door to new levels of polar research that will help us unlock secrets of Southern Ocean maritime ecosystems, strengthen our reach inland and our understanding of the world’s climate,” Ms Ley said.

Large ship seen from above.
Expeditioners on Australia’s new icebreaking ship, Nuyina, made the discovery.(Australian Antarctic Division/Flying Focus)

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Floyd Howard was one of the acoustics officers who mapped the canyon over a 24-hour period.

“We were using the multi-beam echosounders to map the ocean floor as we were in an area with limited charts,” Mr Howard said.

“The multi-beam sends out sound that bounces off the seabed and then it listens to the echoes — like a bat or a dolphin — and measures how long they take to return back to the ship.

“You would expect there to be a glacial trough in front of the glacier from when sea levels were lower, but we didn’t expect it to be so deep and so spectacular.”

The findings will now be shared with glaciologists and climate scientists who will be able to determine the impact this canyon is having on the glacier.


Henry Belot at ABC News

Rare, pristine coral reef found off Tahiti coast

Rare, pristine coral reef found off Tahiti coast

Deep in the South Pacific, scientists have explored a rare stretch of pristine corals shaped like roses off the coast of Tahiti. The reef is thought to be one of the largest found at such depths and seems untouched by climate change or human activities.

Laetitia Hédouin said she first saw the corals during a recreational dive with a local diving club months earlier.

“When I went there for the first time, I thought, ’Wow — we need to study that reef. There’s something special about that reef,” said Hédouin, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Moorea, French Polynesia.

What struck Hédouin was that the corals looked healthy and weren’t affected by a bleaching event in 2019. Corals are tiny animals that grow and form reefs in oceans around the world.

Globally, coral reefs have been depleted from overfishing and pollution. Climate change is also harming delicate corals — including those in areas neighboring the newly discovered reef — with severe bleaching caused by warmer waters. Between 2009 and 2018, 14% of the world’s corals were killed, according to a 2020 report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Project.

Rare, pristine coral reef found off Tahiti coast

Image 1 of 4

In this photo provided by @alexis.rosenfeld, researchers for the French National Centre for Scientific Research study corals in the waters off the coast of Tahiti of the French Polynesia in December 2021. Deep in the South Pacific, scientists have explored a rare stretch of pristine corals shaped like roses off the coast of Tahiti. The reef is thought to be one of the largest found at such depths and seems untouched by climate change or human activities. (Alexis Rosenfeld/@alexis.rosenfeld via AP)

The newfound reef, stretching 2 miles (3 kilometers), was studied late last year during a dive expedition supported by UNESCO. Unlike most of the world’s mapped corals, which are found in relatively shallow waters, this one was deeper — between 115 feet (35 meters) to 230 feet (70 meters).

Exploring such depths posed a challenge: the deeper a diver goes underwater, the shorter amount of time can be safely spent at each depth. The team was equipped with special tanks and did 200 hours of diving to study the reef, including taking photographs, measurements and samples of the coral.

The reef is in a spot where many researchers haven’t spent a lot of time in, said former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Mark Eakin.

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The coral reefs of Aqaba have a resilience to warming waters seen nowhere else in the world


Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba have a unique evolutionary history that could help them survive the climate crisis. Scientists even hope to breed their resilience into other reefs.

“We’ll be seeing more of these discoveries as the technology is applied to these locations,” said Eakin. “We may find some bigger ones somewhere, but I think this is always going to be an unusual reef.”

The recent volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered tsunami waves across the Pacific has not affected the reef off Tahiti, said Hédouin.

Hédouin hopes the research can help experts understand how the reef has been resilient to climate change and human pressures, and what role these deeper corals might play in the ocean ecosystem. More dives are planned in the coming months.

“We know very little about the ocean, and there’s still so much that needs to be recorded, needs to be measured,” said Julian Barbière, the head of UNESCO’s marine policy and regional coordination.


Victoria Milko via Associated Press

Fishermen protest after eruption causes oil spill in Peru

Fishermen protest after eruption causes oil spill in Peru

An oil spill on the Peruvian coast caused by the waves from an eruption of an undersea volcano in the South Pacific nation of Tonga prompted dozens of fishermen to protest Tuesday outside the South American country’s main oil refinery.

The men gathered outside the refinery in the province of Callao near Lima’s capital. Peru’s environment minister, Rubén Ramírez, told reporters that authorities estimate 6,000 barrels of oil were spilled in the area rich in marine biodiversity.

Under the eyes of police, the fishermen carried a large Peruvian flag, fishing nets and signs that read “no to ecological crime,” “economically affected families” and “Repsol killer of marine fauna,” which referred to the Spain-based company that manages La Pampilla refinery, which processes around 117,000 oil barrels a day, according its website. They demanded to speak with company representatives, but no executive had approached them.

Fishermen protest after eruption causes oil spill in Peru

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A cyclist shows his oil-covered hands after stopping to put them into the polluted water on Cavero beach in Ventanilla, Callao, Peru, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, after high waves attributed to the eruption of an undersea volcano in Tonga caused an oil spill. The Peruvian Civil Defense Institute said in a press release that a ship was loading oil into La Pampilla refinery on the Pacific coast on Sunday when strong waves moved the boat and caused the spill. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

The company did not immediately returned an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

“There is a massacre of all the hydrobiological biodiversity,” said Roberto Espinoza, leader of the local fishermen. “In the midst of a pandemic, having the sea that feeds us, for not having a contingency plan, they have just destroyed a base of biodiversity.”

An Italian-flagged ship was loading oil into La Pampilla on Saturday when strong waves moved the boat and caused the spill. Repsol in a statement Sunday said the spill occurred “due to the violence of the waves.”

The eruption caused waves that crossed the Pacific. In Peru, two people drowned off a beach and there were reports of minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California.

On Tuesday, northwest of the facility, on Cavero beach, the waves covered the sand with a shiny black liquid, along with small dead crustaceans. Fifty workers from companies that work for Repsol inside the refinery removed the oil-stained sand with shovels and piled it up on a small promontory.

Juan Carlos Riveros, biologist and scientific director in Peru of Oceana – an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans – said that the species most affected by the spill include guano birds, seagulls, terns, tendrils, sea lions and dolphins.

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“The spill also affects the main source of work for artisanal fishermen, since access to their traditional fishing areas is restricted or the target species become contaminated or die,” Riveros said. “In the short term, mistrust is generated about the quality and the consumption of fishing is discouraged, with which prices fall and income is reduced.”

Peru’s environmental assessment and enforcement agency estimates that some 18,000 square meters of beach on Peru’s Pacific coast have been affected by the spill.

In a statement, the Peruvian agency said Repsol “has not adopted immediate measures in order to prevent cumulative or more serious damage that affects the soil, water, flora, fauna and hydrobiological resources.” An AP reporter on Monday observed workers dressed in white suits collecting the spilled oil with plastic bottles cut in half.

José Llacuachaqui, another local fisherman leader, who was watching the cleanup, said the workers were only collecting the oil that reached the sand, but not the crude that was in the seawater.

“That is preying, killing, all the eggs, all the marine species,” he said.


Franklin Briceno via Associated Press

Could the Red Sea’s heat-resilient corals help restore the world’s dying reefs?

Could the Red Sea’s heat-resilient corals help restore the world’s dying reefs?

Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba have a unique evolutionary history that could help them survive the climate crisis. Scientists even hope to breed their resilience into other reefs.

Beneath the warm, crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea, lies a bustling city of colorful corals. At sunrise, fish emerge from their coral shelters, joining eels, turtles and octopuses to swim through these teeming waters. 

This vibrant scene is untouched by the mass bleaching that has plagued reefs elsewhere. Most corals can only survive within a narrow temperature range. As oceans get warmer, stressed corals evict their energy-producing algae and lose their color. When corals bleach and die, entire ecosystems can collapse with them. 

Corals, like these on the Great Barrier Reef, have already succumbed to warming waters, leaving a ghostly underwater landscape bleached of once-vibrant life

A recent study found that 14% of the world’s coral reefs were lost in less than a decade. Ravaged by global heating, pollution and habitat destruction, global coral reef cover has halved since the 1950s. Experts predict that up to 90% of corals could perish in the coming decades. 

But some hope is emerging from the northern shores of the Red Sea, as Aqaba’s corals appear unaffected by steadily warming waters. 

“We found that the corals in Aqaba could withstand temperatures far above the summer maximum of 27 degrees [Celsius],”  (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) said Maoz Fine, a marine biology professor who led research on coral heat-resilience at The Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel.

Map of the location of Gulf of Aqaba

Hope from the Red Sea 

Fine and his team designed an aquarium system to simulate future conditions in the Red Sea and ran experiments on what makes the corals in Aqaba so resilient. 

While most corals will bleach within a degree or two above their normal range, experiments showed that Aqaba’s corals could endure temperatures up to six degrees Celsius higher than the maximum summer temperature they’re usually exposed to. 

“We tested about 20 different species of corals, and all of them showed high tolerance to thermal stress,” said Fine. “Despite rising temperatures, the corals never bleached.”

This resilience to heat is thought to be a product of how corals migrated into the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean during the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago.

To reach the Gulf of Aqaba, corals had to pass through the Gulf of Aden and the southern part of the Red Sea, where water temperatures are much higher. Over generations, larvae of surviving corals moved north and populated areas with significantly lower water temperatures, but they retained their heat resilience.  

The ‘Red Sea Simulator’ allows scientist to study Aqaba’s uniqely heat-resistant corals

“These corals were selected for high temperatures, but they live in temperatures about six degrees below their bleaching threshold,” said Fine. 

Although corals in other regions are adapted to warmer waters, Fine said no other corals have such a large gap between the maximum temperatures of the waters they live in and their bleaching thresholds. “This is one of the few places we know where corals will be able to survive global warming,” he said.

As coral reefs face mass destruction across the globe due to rising temperatures, researchers and conservationists hope the Gulf of Aqaba could become a refuge for the world’s remaining corals. 

Could Aqaba’s corals help other reefs? 

“Aqaba’s corals could be a source to repopulate reefs if corals die everywhere else,” according to Manuel Aranda, a marine biologist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. 

The problem, Aranda said, is scale. 

“The Great Barrier Reef is the size of Italy. We can’t plant reefs the way we spread seeds on land,” he said, since coral plantation requires divers to go into the water and manually fix coral fragments grown in nurseries. 

Coral plantations are too costly and time-consuming, and species introductions are often very challenging. But Aranda is part of a research group at KAUST that is working to identify heat-resilient corals and cross-breed them with coral populations elsewhere to increase their heat tolerance.

Corals support a rich diversity of marine life that’s acutely vulnerable to climate change

“Usually, it takes many generations for corals to adapt,” said Aranda. But the planet is warming faster than this process of adaptation. He hopes to speed up genetic exchanges to give corals a chance of keeping up with rising temperatures: “We hope that with cross-breeding, we don’t have to plant corals, they will reproduce themselves.” 

But this method still takes time and Fine isn’t convinced it will work on a large-scale. He believes the focus should be on identifying and preserving resilient reefs, rather than trying to grow corals elsewhere. 

“What we can offer is knowledge, understanding which genes were selected down south when entering the Red Sea and what that means for thermal resilience,” Fine said.  

‘We owe it to future generations’

About 25% of all marine species live in and around coral reefs, making them among the most diverse habitats in the world. 

“The Gulf of Aqaba has a very diverse ecosystem,” said Jordanian conservationist Ehab Eid. “In Jordan, we have identified 157 species of hard corals and there are over 500 species of fish. More than half of them depend on the corals.”

In addition to providing vital habitats for marine life, coral reefs also provide food and medicines, protect shorelines, and secure the livelihoods of over 500 million people worldwide. 

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Despite their resilience to high temperatures, Aqaba’s corals are vulnerable to pollution and unsustainable urban coastal development, putting at risk the livelihoods of the many people in Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt who depend on fishing and tourism in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Fishermen in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, whose catch depends on the coral ecosystem, say fisheries aren’t as plentiful as they used to be

“The corals are essential for fish here,” said Ibrahim Riady, who has worked as a fisherman in the Jordanian city of Aqaba for over two decades. “Our livelihoods depend on them.” He and other local fishermen said their catches had declined over the last decades. 

Scientists are calling for the reef to be protected to ensure the gulf can serve as a refuge for corals that, if they survive local threats, could revive reefs elsewhere. “The Gulf of Aqaba might be one of the last reefs standing at the end of the century,” said Eid. “It’s a treasure. We owe it to future generations to preserve it.”


Marta Vidal at DW

The Mediterranean Sea is filled with plastics that come from elsewhere

The Mediterranean Sea is filled with plastics that come from elsewhere

Plastics are all over, especially in protected areas.

Almost every country in the Mediterranean Sea has at least one Marine Protected Area (MPA) where over half of its macroplastics originated from another country, according to a new study. The findings highlight that plastic pollution is an international problem and we need international collaboration in order to tackle it, the researchers argue.

Slowly but surely, plastic pollution has become one of the major environmental issues of our times, comparable to the climate crisis and overfishing. While much recent research focused on microplastics, this new effort looked at how macroplastics (plastic bits bigger than five millimeters) affect the marine ecosystem, as organisms ingest or become entangled in plastic litter — often with dramatic consequences. 

Plastic pieces (especially small ones) can travel very long distances and end far from their original sources. They come in unseen for multiple, often distant sources, threatening wildlife and their habitats in marine areas. Previous studies in the Arctic, the Pacific and the Atlantic have shown MPAs are very affected by plastic pollution. 

In the new study, a group of researchers focused on the Mediterranean Sea, one of the most polluted regions globally which also happens to be an important biodiversity hotspot. It’s shared by numerous countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia, which brings big differences in terms of governance, politics, and cultures — which makes it difficult to implement common regulations of marine ecosystems. 

About 229,000 tons of plastic leak every year into the Mediterranean Sea, according to a report by IUCN from 2020, equivalent to 500 shipping containers. Roughly speaking, it’s like dumping a container and a half of plastic straight into the sea. Egypt, Italy, and Turkey were identified as the countries with the highest plastic leakage rates into the Mediterranean, mainly because of mismanaged waste and large coastal cities.

“Our study shows that specific sites, important for the conservation of biodiversity, concentrate high amounts of plastics,” Dr Yannis Hatzonikolkis, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Although marine protected areas are protected by restrictions from other threats as tourism, plastic acts like an ‘invisible’ enemy.” 

Plastics and the Mediterranean

Image credit: The researchers.

The researchers carried out a three-year simulation (from 2016 to 2018) of the distribution of plastic particles in the Mediterranean Sea. They used a particle drift model that considers the main dispersion processes such as winds and currents, incorporating three land-based sources of plastic particles – wastewater discharge, rivers, and cities. 

The findings showed that coastal zones were the hardest hit, both by macroplastics and microplastics (plastic pieces smaller than five millimeters). As MPAs tend to be closer to coastal zones, they accumulated more plastic waste than sites in offshore waters. Most plastics were traced back to land-based sources, which means the issue has to be tackled at source.

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When Dr Deo Florence Onda found himself more than 10,000m below the surface, in the third deepest trench on the planet, he was on the lookout for mysteries hidden in the darkness.

Ship paint fragments were found to make up most of the samples the scientists found - SWNS


Scientists studying the origins of microplastics in Antarctica have discovered that 89 per cent of the samples they analysed came from the paint on their own ship.

The average concentration of macroplastics in inshore waters was larger than five kilograms per squared kilometer, while offshore waters had over 1.5 kilograms. Meanwhile, average microplastics concentration in inshore waters was higher than 1.5 million particles per squared kilometer, and 0.5 million particles in offshore waters. 

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Fermin Koop at ZME Science

‘Dancing through the water’: rare sighting of blanket octopus in Great Barrier Reef

‘Dancing through the water’: rare sighting of blanket octopus in Great Barrier Reef

‘Seeing one in real life is indescribable,’ says marine biologist of the technicolour marine mollusc she spotted off Queensland

Only a handful of people have spotted the dazzling blanket octopus in the wild, making it one of the rarest sights in the marine world.

The technicolour marine mollusc was spotted last week by reef guide and marine biologist Jacinta Shackleton, off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef .

“When I first saw it, I thought it could have been a juvenile fish with long fins, but as it came closer, I realised it was a female blanket octopus and I had this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement,” she said.

“I kept yelling through my snorkel, ‘it’s a blanket octopus!’ I was so excited I was finding it difficult to hold my breath to dive down and video it.”

Blanket octopuses are extremely rare. The first sighting of a live male was made 21 years ago just north of the Great Barrier Reef in the Ribbon Reefs by Dr Julian Finn, a senior curator of marine invertebrates at Museums Victoria, and colleagues.

‘Rainbow-like’ blanket octopus off Lady Elliot Island, Queensland.
‘Rainbow-like’ blanket octopus off Lady Elliot Island, Queensland. Composite: Jacinta Shackleton

In the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, he noted they are the “most extreme example of sexual size-dimorphism in a non-microscopic animal”.

While females grow up to 2 metres in length, the males have only been seen to grow to about 2.4cm long.

Males also don’t develop the blanket octopus’s iridescent “blanket” that makes the species so alluring.

For the females that do develop it, the display can be shed to elude predators.

The extreme difference between the sexes is thought to have developed because of the blanket octopus’s unique habit of carrying blue-bottle stingers for self-defence.

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This Gilbert's Potoroo was caught on a motion sensor camera on Middle Island on November 1, 2021. (Supplied: DBCA)


Many remote islands are now being used as homes for critically endangered species, as mainland populations come under threat from bushfire and feral predation.

Shackleton said she believes there have only been three sightings of the octopus in the area before hers. It generally spends its lifecycle in the open ocean so it’s even more unusual to see one on the reef.

Shackleton said she feels lucky to have been in the water at the right time to capture vision of the spectacular species.

This is not Shackleton’s first extraordinary sighting. She has also encountered a rare ornate eagle ray and a rare melanistic manta ray but says the blanket octopus “has got to be one of my all-time favourite reef experiences”.

“Seeing one in real life is indescribable, I was so captivated by its movements, it was as if it was dancing through the water with a flowing cape. The vibrant colours are just so incredible, you can’t take your eyes off it.

“I’ve truly never seen anything like it before and don’t think I ever will again in my life.”


Bertin Huynh at The Guardian

Multi-century sea level rise may lead to unprecedented threats to coastal cities

Multi-century sea level rise may lead to unprecedented threats to coastal cities

Sea level rise projections generally focus on the second half of this century, but we all know that sea level will continue to rise for centuries or millennia into the future.

Recently a study was published where the authors combined information on long-term projections of sea level rise, coastal elevation, and population density to assess coastal flood risk at the global scale from multi-century sea level rise. They did so for different levels of global warming, ranging from 1.5 °C to 4 °C.

Long-term sea level rise

They showed that 4 °C global warming would lead to 8.9 m of global mean sea level rise somewhere between 200 and 2000 years from now. 1.5 °C global warming would lead to ‘only’ 2.9 m of global mean sea level rise. These numbers are median estimates: a central value in a range of estimates where 50% of the model results are higher and lower than this median value, respectively.

Exposure of population and built environment

It is of course impossible to estimate the population living in low-elevation coastal zones, globally, hundreds of years from now. The authors, therefore, took the current population living near the coast and calculated the extra number of people that would be exposed to coastal flooding at higher sea levels. The built environment, they argue, is largely immovable and the current situation is a good proxy for the future.

Global exposure

Currently, 2.5%–3.0% of the global population (170–200 million) lives in coastal zones that is projected to fall below the high tide line in 2100 if mean sea level were to rise by 0.48–0.73 m. Without adequate flood protection, this part of the global population may be considered vulnerable to coastal flooding by 2100. The authors estimated that 2 °C global warming, the proposed upper limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, would lead to a median 4.7 m of global mean sea level rise on the long run and threaten land now home to roughly 10% of the global population. A pessimistic – upper limit – estimate of 10.8 m of global mean sea level rise following 4 °C global warming could affect land now home to up to one billion people, or 15% of the current global population.

National exposures

East, Southeast, and South Asia face the greatest overall exposure to sea level rise both this century and later. Of all nations with a total population of at least 25 million, Asian countries make up nine of the top ten most at-risk nations. Land home to over half the populations of Bangladesh and Vietnam may become exposed to coastal flooding even if warming is limited to 2 °C.

Many smaller nations, particularly islands, will become extremely vulnerable to coastal flooding. With 2 °C global warming, more than 80% of the population of the Cocos Islands, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Cayman Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and the Bahamas on the long run will be living in land threatened by flooding. With 4 °C global warming, this percentage will be over 90%.

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One of the most populated cities in the US is preparing for what may now be inevitable: submersion. New York city has started a huge climate resiliency project to try and avoid the mistakes of the past and protect itself against the extreme weather of the future.


Greenland’s ice sheet, the biggest ice sheet in the world behind Antarctica, has melted so much in the past decade that global sea levels rose by 1 centimeter, and trends predict sea levels can rise nearly a foot higher by the end of the century.

City-level exposures

On the long run, with 4 °C global warming leading to a median projected 8.9 m of global mean sea level rise, at least 50 major cities with a population of at least one million, mostly in Asia, would need to defend against globally unprecedented levels of exposure, if feasible. About half of these cities are also threatened at 2 °C global warming. The vulnerable cities in Asia include megacities with a population over 10 million such as Haora, Shanghai, Hanoi, and Dhaka.


A study that looks hundreds of years into the future must be based on assumptions that simplify reality. Taking the current population as a constant for the multi-century scenarios is one of them. Also, the analysis assumes that global emissions do not become negative while in the long run greenhouse gases may be extracted from the atmosphere on a massive scale, reducing long-term sea level rise. On the other hand, no unstoppable collapse of major ice sheets has been included in the analysis while Antarctic ice sheet breakdown may lead to higher multi-century sea levels than projected in this study. Finally, the impact of present or future artificial coastal defenses was not considered.



Antarctic Ice Shelf Could Collapse Within Five Years, Causing Dangerous Sea Level Rise

Antarctic Ice Shelf Could Collapse Within Five Years, Causing Dangerous Sea Level Rise

A crucial ice shelf in Antarctica is at risk of collapse within as little as five years, scientists at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union said on Monday.

The Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf, which holds a third of the crucial Thwaites Glacier in place, has been weakening and has developed cracks, satellite images showed. If the glacier, which is about the size of Florida and the widest on Earth at 80 miles across, were to fall into the ocean, sea levels would rise over two feet. At its current melting rate, the glacier accounts for about four percent of annual global sea level rise.

“The cracks in the Antarctic ice shelf are similar to those in a car windshield, where a slowly growing crack reveals that the windshield is weak and a slight bump to the vehicle could prompt the windshield to immediately break apart into hundreds of pieces of glass, according to Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit,” reported Emma Newburger of CNBC.

“This eastern ice shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs,” said Pettit, as reported by The Washington Post. “Suddenly the whole thing would collapse.”

Warming ocean temperatures, due in part to climate change, caused the wearing away of the ice shelf. Its collapse wouldn’t cause global sea levels to rise right away, “But when the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will triple in speed, spitting formerly landlocked ice into the sea. Total collapse of Thwaites could result in several feet of sea level rise, scientists say, endangering millions of people in coastal areas,” Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post reported.

“We are already on track for sea level rise in the next several decades that will impact coastal communities worldwide,” said Pettit, as reported by CNBC. “We can’t reverse this sea level rise, so we need to consider how to mitigate it and protect our coastal communities now.”

Research by Pettit and Ted Scambos, a University of Colorado Boulder glaciologist and lead principal investigator of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, shows that the ice shelf is losing its connection to the undersea mountain that’s been keeping it in place “against the ice river at its back. Even if the fractures don’t cause the shelf to disintegrate, it is likely to become completely unmoored from the seafloor within the next decade,” reported Kaplan.

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One of the most populated cities in the US is preparing for what may now be inevitable: submersion. New York city has started a huge climate resiliency project to try and avoid the mistakes of the past and protect itself against the extreme weather of the future.

“We’re watching a world that’s doing things we haven’t really seen before, because we’re pushing on the climate extremely rapidly with carbon dioxide emissions,” said Scambos, as reported by ScienceNews. “It’s daunting.”

If the ice shelf collapses, a process called ice cliff collapse, never before seen in Antarctica, may be instigated, “in which towering walls of ice that directly overlook the ocean start to crumble into the sea,” Kaplan reported.

According to Anna Crawford, a glaciologist at the University of St. Andrews, “if it started instantiating it would become self-sustaining and cause quite a bit of retreat for certain glaciers,” The Washington Post reported.

While Crawford’s models show a domino effect of that kind is possible, “it’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future,” she said.

“But what we’re seeing already is enough to be worried about,” Crawford said. “Thwaites is kind of a monster.”



Earth’s final frontier: China and the deep-sea gold rush set to cause environmental catastrophe

Earth’s final frontier: China and the deep-sea gold rush set to cause environmental catastrophe

Scientists say that a highly controversial deep-sea “gold rush” risks potentially devastating consequences for marine ecosystems, biodiversity, coastal communities and climate change.

The deep seabed is Earth’s final frontier but this mostly unexplored, dark and pristine abyss is threatened by highly destructive deep-sea mining which could be at full throttle within months.

File Photo: Pexels.com

“Most, if not all deep-sea biologists are very worried about deep-sea mining,” says Dr Moriaki Yasuhara a deep-sea ecologist and associate professor at the Swire Institute of Marine Science in the University of Hong Kong.

The deep-sea mining agenda is being led by nations like China and private corporations desperate to extract polymetallic nodules from the deep ocean floor. They say these potato-sized nuggets rich in valuable cobalt, nickel and other battery metals could be the key to the world’s sustainable future.

There is a growing chorus of dissent which insists the environmental impact of these deep-sea mining operations has not been properly assessed. They involve giant mechanical seabed tractors, hoovering up nodules before crushing them and trailing long plumes of sediment.

Polymetallic nodules. Photo: Wikicommons.

Yasuhara explains that the deep seabed can be compared to a tropical rain forest or a coral reef in terms of biodiversity but is unique because of its vast size and great depth. Until recently, this mostly pristine and precious environment has remained beyond the reach of mankind. The problem is that it is so technically challenging to reach these remote subsea habitats, several kilometres beneath the surface, that research is thin and information scarce.

“We simply don’t yet know how many deep-sea species exist,” says Yasuhara. The fear is that this environment will be devastated even before scientists can fully evaluate and understand it.

Photo: mdpi.com.

It is this lack of knowledge which prompted Yasuhara to join the 617 leading ocean scientists and policy experts from over 44 countries who signed a statement calling for a pause to deep-sea mining.

The expert statement strongly recommends that “the transition to the exploitation of mineral resources be paused until sufficient and robust scientific information has been obtained to make informed decisions as to whether deep-sea mining can be authorized without significant damage to the marine environment and, if so, under what conditions.”

It’s not only scientists and experts like Yasuhara who are calling for a moratorium on all seabed mining activity.

Last December 1, Volkswagen Group, Triodos Bank, Scania, and Patagonia joined other major companies like the BMW Group, Volvo Group, Samsung SDI, Google and Philips in pledging to keep minerals sourced from the deep sea out of their products.

There is also much concern and opposition to seabed mining at grassroots level in the Pacific Island states like Tonga, the Marshall islands and the Cook Islands. Being adjacent to the area known as the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone where most of the deep-sea mining attention is focused, they have the most to lose from any future environmental destruction.

Location of the Clarion Clipperton Zone. Photo: Wikicommons.

One of these vocal indigenous environmental concern groups, the Te Ipukarea Society in the Cook Islands, recently pointed out that the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress overwhelmingly supported a moratorium on seabed mining at its meeting in Marseilles this year. 

While 44 government representatives from 39 countries backed the moratorium, eight representatives from six countries voted against it. This included two from each of Japan, Belgium and China. Of the 32 of more than 500 NGOs from around the world that voted against the moratorium, 26 were from China.

“We simply don’t yet know how many deep-sea species exist.”


“These are the countries where a number of the companies wishing to mine the deep sea are based. It is for economic interest,” says Kelvin Passfield, technical director of the Te Ipukarea Society. 

Of course, China is far from the only player looking to engage in deep sea mining but it is heavily committed to maintaining its market dominance in rare metals and rare earth elements. It has worked tirelessly to perfect its technology and has embedded itself deeply in the regulatory body for deep-sea mining, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Jamaica.

The ISA has issued 30 contracts to state-backed companies, multinational corporations and start-ups to explore more than 1.3 million square kilometres of the seabed. China holds five contracts, more than any other country, that give it the right to explore and potentially exploit 238,000 square kilometres (an area more than six times the size of Taiwan).

While private corporations are keen to exploit short-term profits for shareholders, China’s approach is long-term, strategic and politically orchestrated. It is led by state-owned enterprises like the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA) and China Minmetals Corporation, a giant international metals and mining enterprise based in Beijing. 

China was one of the first nations to maintain a permanent representative to the ISA. Tian Qi is also his country’s ambassador to Jamaica and is often featured in local newspapers extolling the virtues of the ISA and his host country.

China was also the first country in the world to sponsor and maintain contracts for exploration for all three types of mineral resources in the international seabed area, outside the Exclusive Economic Zones of individual nation states. This makes China very popular with the ISA elite because the ISA derives its operating revenue from the licence fees reported to be US$500,000 each, plus a yearly administrative fee of US$47,000 per contractor. In this sense, China is the ISA’s most valuable client.

ISA secretary general Michael Lodge. File photo: ISA.

“From being the twelfth largest financial contributor to the budget of the Authority in 2000, China is now one of the top five contributors. This is remarkable progress,” said ISA secretary general Michael Lodge in 2018 at a contract-signing ceremony for COMRA. By 2016, China was the second largest contributor to the ISA and for China it’s a shrewd strategic investment with obvious geopolitical significance.

Polymetallic nodules and crusts are two of the most important mineral deposits in the ocean. They are rich in rare earth elements, iron, manganese, copper, cobalt, nickel, and other useful metals. According to a Wall Street Journal report in December, some estimates of China’s dominance of the rare-earth industry say it mines more than 70 per cent of the world’s rare earths and is responsible for 90 per cent of the complex processing. These rare minerals are used not only in the manufacture of battery components for electric cars and renewable energy but also for smartphone touch screens and missile-defence systems.

Not only does the ISA favour the interests of mining companies over the advice of scientists but its processes for [Environmental Impact Assessment) approvals are questionable”


As if to underline the geopolitical significance of deep-sea mining to China, on December 3 as delegates prepared to travel to Jamaica for the first ISA meeting in two years, China approved the creation of one of the world’s largest rare-earths companies. China Rare Earth Group will aim to maintain the nation’s dominance in the global supply chain of the strategic metals as tensions deepen with the US.

“China is one of the most important countries with respect to the emerging seabed mining industry,” writes Richard Page, in his 2018 report on Chinese policy, activity and strategic interests relating to deep-sea mining in the Pacific region and published by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign.

Some think that China is too influential at the ISA. It’s a concern amplified by the fact that the US is one of the few nations not represented because it has not yet ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and so is ineligible for membership. 

Critics claim the ISA is guilty of corporate capture and lacks transparency, independent scrutiny and scientific credibility.

“Not only does the ISA favour the interests of mining companies over the advice of scientists but its processes for EIA (environmental impact assessment) approvals are questionable”, says Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator of the deep-sea mining campaign.

In a recent press interview, Dr Sandor Mulsow who was head of the Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources at the ISA from 2013 to 2019, said he had witnessed “lots of irregularities.”

Licensed exploration Areas to COMRA, totaling 275,000km.

“The way ISA is working at the moment, it is not fit to regulate any activity in the oceans,” he told reporters.

The 26th session of the International Seabed Authority closed on December 14 after several days of in-person meetings in Kingston, Jamaica. Journalists were not allowed to attend and the ISA declined to respond to any media questions sent by email from HKFP on multiple occasions.

One key aim was to agree a roadmap for a new mining code to be in place by July 2023, which will regulate all extraction or exploitation activities. Reports indicate any agreement is still a long way off.

Nauru’s President Lionel Aingimea. Photo: UN.

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Court instructs company to stop tests along Wild Coast after concerns raised about wildlife and lack of consultation

Unfortunately for the deep seabed and its rich biodiversity, the clock is ticking. On June 25 this year Nauru’s President Lionel Aingimea notified the ISA of the deep-sea mining plans to be carried out by a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian and NASDAQ-listed The Metals Co. He triggered a legal sanction to announce they would start mining in two years’ time (June 2023) if the key mining code of practice being developed by ISA was not in place by them. Critics say this will herald an unregulated wild west-style gold rush to ravage the deep seabed.

Despite a growing consensus that it is not necessary to trash the seabed in order to secure a sustainable future for humanity, and the widespread opposition from science and policy experts to rushing blindly into seabed mining, the clock is ticking down to July 2023.

Driven by multi-billion-dollar investments and China’s long-term geopolitical ambitions, and restrained only by a regulatory body lacking in any credibility, the prospects for the planet’s last unspoiled fringes seem bleak indeed.

Dr Moriaki Yasuhara of the University of Hong Kong. Photo: HKU.

For Yasuhara, given the unprecedented levels of ocean warming and the increased acidification of the sea, combined with ignorance of the destructive impact of deep-sea mining, this is the least appropriate moment to be embarking on large-scale destructive processes on an unknown and pristine environment. He emphasises that the deep ocean constitutes more than 90 per cent of the biosphere and plays a key role in climate regulation.

“This is not the right time from a climatic perspective to be starting man-made intervention in the deep-sea environment,” he says.


Stuart Heaver at Hong Kong Free Press

Ocean Heating This Century Could Create Hurricane Conditions Unseen in 3 Million Years

Ocean Heating This Century Could Create Hurricane Conditions Unseen in 3 Million Years

The study’s authors say the likelihood of higher-latitude tropical storms fueled by human-caused global heating “poses profound risks to the planet’s most populous regions.”

Global heating caused by human activity could warm oceans enough to fuel hurricanes and tropical storms that strike cities as far north as Boston, a new study published Wednesday projects.

“This represents an important, under-estimated risk of climate change,” Joshua Studholme of Yale University, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “This research predicts that the 21st century’s tropical cyclones will likely occur over a wider range of latitudes than has been the case on Earth for the last 3 million years.”

That means that storms like Tropical Storm Henri, which battered New England in August, and Subtropical Storm Alpha, which made landfall in Portugal a month later, could be indicators of a new normal.

According to the study:

Tropical cyclones (TCs, also known as hurricanes and typhoons) generally form at low latitudes with access to the warm waters of the tropical oceans, but far enough off the equator to allow planetary rotation to cause aggregating convection to spin up into coherent vortices. Yet, current prognostic frameworks for TC latitudes make contradictory predictions for climate change.

Simulations of past warm climates, such as the Eocene and Pliocene, show that TCs can form and intensify at higher latitudes than of those during pre-industrial conditions. Observations and model projections for the 21st century indicate that TCs may again migrate poleward in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, which poses profound risks to the planet’s most populous regions.

“We conclude that 21st century TCs will most probably occupy a broader range of latitudes than those of the past three million years as low-latitude genesis will be supplemented with increasing mid-latitude TC favorability,” the study’s authors project, “although precise estimates for future migration remain beyond current methodologies.”

Gan Zhang, an atmospheric scientist who was not involved in the study, told told the BBC that “these tropical cyclone changes, plus pronounced coastal sea level rise, might compound potential societal impacts.”

With 21 named storms, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season was the third-most active on record.

According to NPR:

Hurricane Ida alone accounts for more than $60 billion in damages—making it one of the five most costly U.S. hurricanes on record since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ida hit Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane with a dangerous storm surge and strong winds, and it remained dangerous and destructive for roughly 1,000 miles, as it brought catastrophic flooding to the mid-Atlantic. Ida was blamed for 26 deaths in Louisiana, and at least 50 deaths in the Northeast.

Four storms—Tropical Storm Elsa in July, Tropical Storm Fred in August, Hurricane Nicholas in September, and Ida in August and September—each inflicted more than $1 billion in costs, NOAA said.

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Residents search among the debris of a home after it was destroyed from Friday's tornado on December 15, 2021 in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states late Friday, December 10, causing widespread destruction and leaving scores of people dead and injured. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)


“The last Dust Bowl stemmed from degradation of the soil,” said writer and activist Bill McKibben. “This time it’s the climate we’ve upended.”


Extreme urban heat exposure has dramatically increased since the early 1980s, with the total exposure tripling over the past 35 years.

This was also the seventh straight year in which a tropical storm was named prior to the official June 1 start of the hurricane season, according to NOAA.

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report projecting more intense tropical cyclone activity due to climate change.

“The proportion of intense tropical cyclones, average peak tropical cyclone wind speeds, and peak wind speeds of the most intense tropical cyclones will increase on the global scale with increasing global warming,” the report stated.


Brett Wilkins at Common Dreams