As the U.S. weakens protections for wilderness, Peru moves to protect ‘one of the last great intact forests’

The New York Times reports:

The remote rain forests in Peru’s northeast corner are vast — so vast that the clouds that form above them can influence rainfall in the western United States. The region contains species, especially unusual fish, that are unlike any found elsewhere on Earth. Scientists studying the area’s fauna and flora may gain insights into evolutionary processes and into the ecological health and geological history of the Amazon.

Now the area has become home to one of the Western Hemisphere’s newest national parks. Yaguas National Park will protect millions of acres of roadless wilderness — and the indigenous people who rely on it — from development and deforestation.

“This is a place where the forest stretches to the horizon,” said Corine Vriesendorp, a conservation ecologist at The Field Museum in Chicago, one of many organizations that worked to win the national park designation, Peru’s highest level of protection. “This is one of the last great intact forests on the globe.”

The designation stands in contrast to moves in the United States that may weaken protections for wilderness. President Trump has made a priority of scaling back national monuments like Bears Ears in Utah, and many advisers to the National Park System recently quit, citing concerns about the administration’s commitment to environmental protections. [Continue reading…]

As climate change intensifies droughts, Cape Town’s water crisis may signify a new normal

Laura Poppick writes:

Last June, Piotr Wolski began transforming his Cape Town swimming pool into a water storage tank for his home. By September, he had directed all gutters from his roof to flow into the pool and had installed a pump to transport water into the house where he lives with his family of four.

Wolski works as a hydrologist studying regional rainfall patterns at the University of Cape Town, but his retrofit was no research experiment. Rather, he was responding to the worst drought the region has experienced in 100 years. Since 2015, average rainfall has dipped to less than 15 inches per year a historic average of roughly 30 inches pear year. Wolski now runs his toilets, washing machine and shower off the pool, and runs the rest of the house—including washbasins, kitchen sink and a dishwasher—off municipal water. “But if the need arises, I can put everything on the pool water,” he says.

That need may very well arise. As news outlets have reported, South Africa’s second largest city imminently faces so-called Day Zero, when reservoirs will run so low that the city will turn off municipal taps to its 3.74 million residents. That ominous day, currently slated for May 11, could creep up sooner if residents don’t abide by the current water restrictions of 50 liters per day, the city warns. And while this marks one of the most severe water crises any modern city has experienced to date, this scenario could become more commonplace as climate change intensifies droughts in some parts of the world. [Continue reading…]

We’re killing our lakes and oceans

Eelco Rohling and Joseph Ortiz write:

On January 5, 2018, a paper published in the journal Science delivered a sobering message: The oxygenation of open oceans and coastal seas has been steadily declining during the past half century. The volume of ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, and the volume where oxygen levels are falling dangerously low has increased even more.

We’re seeing the same thing happen in major lakes.

The main culprits are warming and — especially in coastal seas and lakes — eutrophication caused by enhanced nutrient loads in runoff. The findings reaffirm that we urgently need to address global warming, and that we are in need of an updated Clean Water Act. We only need to look to the Mediterranean Sea and, more recently, the North American Great Lakes region for dramatic illustrations of what lies in store if we don’t act now.

Around 8,000 years ago, the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea became severely oxygen-starved between 300 and 1,500 meters, and lost all oxygen, or became ‘anoxic,’ below that. It wasn’t warming that caused the oxygen decline then, as is happening in today’s oceans, but the amplification of the African monsoon, which drove intense flooding of the Nile River, full of nutrients from decomposing organic matter. The freshwater itself inhibited deep-water formation, while its nutrient-load led to wild-growth of algae, cyanobacteria, and animals grazing on them. Upon their death, decomposition sapped oxygen from the water, rapidly turning it oxygen-starved, anoxic, and in extreme cases rendered it ‘euxinic’ (containing hydrogen sulfide, infamous for its rotten-eggs smell).

The conditions wiped out virtually the entire ecosystem from a few hundred meters below the surface of the water to the seafloor. A devastating 4,000-year period of anoxic ‘dead zone’ conditions ensued, which all started within a century of the flooding. [Continue reading…]