TIME Environment

Summer Solstice: The Start of Summer

If you burn easily, then this might not be your favorite day of the year.

Summer solstice is the annual time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and the daylight seems never-ending in the Northern Hemisphere. But it’s also a time for celebration for many cultures across the world.

The word solstice comes from the latin word solstitium or sol (the sun) plus the word stit or -stes (standing), which basically means the sun is standing still. This feels like an accurate description, as during the summer solstice, we get 16 hours of day light.

For more insight into this annual event, check out the video above.

TIME Environment

National Geographic Has to Radically Redraw Parts of Its Atlas Because of Arctic Ice Loss

Polar bear (ursus maritimus) in arctic landscape
Polar bear (ursus maritimus) in arctic landscape. De Agostini — Getty Images

'Drastic' changes need to be made to the new National Geographic Atlas of the World to reflect the effects of climate change

The Arctic ice sheet has shrunk so much that National Geographic is having to make what it calls “drastic” changes to its atlas.

Geographers say the disappearing ice is “one of the most striking” changes in the history of the National Geographic Atlas of the World, which will release its 10th edition in September.

The phenomenon was described by National Geographic geographer Juan José Valdés as “the biggest visible change other than the breakup of the USSR.”

Valdés and cartographer Rosemary Wardley used data from NASA’s 30-year study of layered ice to show the drastic changes caused by global warming and emphasize the vulnerability of Arctic ice to climate change.

National Geographic explains that as the ice thins through melting, sunlight is able to penetrate remaining ice more easily and warm up the ocean underneath, which in turn makes the ice melt even faster. Small ponds of melted water — which absorb sunlight — also collect on the surface of the ice and further contribute to the reduction.

Valdés thinks that the atlas could help people see the effects of global warming in a tangible way. “Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn’t really hit home,” he said.

[NatGeo]

TIME Environment

Crimson on White: Hunting the Polar Bear

The images of a polar-bear hunt will be hard to view, but life in Canada's impoverished Inuit communities is just as hard

Ed Ou spent four months in 2013 photographing Inuit communities in Nunavut, the northernmost territory of Canada. Here, many are cut off from the rest of the country — and food and supplies are brought in at an extremely high cost by land and sea. Because of this, the Inuit often depend on hunting for food. Environmental groups regularly criticize them for hunting species claimed to have dwindling populations such as narwhal, belugas, seals and polar bears. In the U.S., Washington has pushed for a global ban on the commercial trade of polar-bear fur, meat and body parts. But the Canadian government opposes this on behalf of the Inuit.

Editor’s note: Given the isolation of the communities in the north of Canada, Ou helped offset the high costs of embedding himself with the Inuit community and contributed money for gas, groceries, heating, Internet and other expenses.


Ed Ou’s pictures are hard to look at. A polar bear emerges from the water, drenched in blood, turning its white fur crimson. Then the dead bear sprawled on the rocks, legs spread and jaw open, as if it were simply caught by surprise, even while the hunters begin the process of butchering the carcass. Finally the bear’s pelt, cleansed of blood, drying in a bathtub.

Polar bears have become the living symbols of climate change, with reason — as the planet warms, the sea ice that the bears use as hunting platforms is melting, putting the animals at risk. The idea of hunting and killing an animal that is listed as an endangered species, one that’s already under pressure from climate change, seems wrong on its face, like crimson blood on white fur.

But look closer at those pictures. Ou, a Canadian, traveled to the Inuit homeland of Nunavut in the far north not to document a polar-bear hunt, but to explore a part of his own country that had always seemed foreign. In remote towns like Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, Ou found a culture grappling with extreme poverty, substance abuse and a legacy of mistreatment from the Canadian government, which for decades all but stole Inuit children from their parents, sending them to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language or practice their own culture. The last residential schools were only shut down in 1996, but the effects are still being felt among the Canadian Inuit whom Ou went to document, compounded by the extreme isolation of the Arctic and the painful transition from a traditional subsistence-hunting culture to a sedentary way of life. “Trauma has been passed down from one generation to the next,” says Ou. “Alcoholism is high, drug abuse is high, suicide rates are high. It’s a very traumatized place.”

In his photos, Ou shows Inuit like Kelly Amaujaq Fraser, a young woman who was sexually abused as a young girl, and whose father killed himself when she was just a teenager. Ou shows a near-empty refrigerator, the product of a place where unemployment is in the double digits, and where a simple carton of milk can cost more than $10. Given those bleak conditions, it’s not surprising that the Inuit would hunt polar bears, as their ancestors did before them — albeit not with high-powered rifles. A single polar-bear pelt can fetch more than $10,000 on the open market, and the meat can feed dozens of hungry people. As distasteful as the sight of a butchered polar bear might be to outsiders, to the Inuit, it’s a matter of survival — and of culture. “They feel their ability to hunt is one of their last sources of subsistence,” says Ou. “Before you judge them, you have to understand the socioeconomic factors driving this.”

That doesn’t mean it’s right to allow polar-bear hunts to continue. It’s unclear just how many polar bears are left, and the continued effects of climate change will almost certainly drive the species closer to extinction if nothing is done to save them. But it doesn’t seem that the burden should fall on the Inuit, who’ve already paid such a high price. “They ask, ‘Why do we have to pay the highest price for global warming when we contribute the least?’” says Ou. Justice is something else that’s endangered in the Arctic.


Ed Ou is a photographer with Reportage by Getty Images

TIME Environment

Invasive Beetle Poised to Spread Into New Hampshire

Emerald ash borers strip nutrients and kill ash trees within a year

New Hampshire residents fear an ash-tree beetle infestation may spread throughout the state after forest officials found a swarm of the highly destructive invasive bugs in Salem, Mass., not far from the state border.

New Hampshire entomologist Piera Siegert says the infestation will likely spread north soon, although the beetles have not yet been spotted within her state, the Associated Press reports. Towns that could soon be infected include Hudson, Kingston, Londonderry, Hampstead, Pelham, Salem, Derry, Windham, Plaistow, Sandown, Danville, Atkinson and Newton.

The beetles, known as emerald ash borers, have already ravaged ash trees throughout Massachusetts — stripping nutrients and killing specimens within a year. Siegert warns that if the beetles are indeed found in New Hampshire, there will be an official quarantine on transferring firewood and ash-wood products.

[AP]

TIME Environment

Leonardo DiCaprio Pledges to Help Save World’s Oceans

The Hollywood star pledged $7 million towards the establishment of marine reserves at a State Department event

Foggy Bottom got a little taste of Hollywood Tuesday, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared at a State Department event to pledge $7 million to ocean conservation.

The Wolf of Wall Street star unveiled the pledge at the State Department’s “Our Ocean” conference, saying the sum would go toward “meaningful” ocean conservation projects over the next two years, funding organizations and communities that are establishing marine reserves.

DiCaprio spoke on the same day it emerged President Obama would significantly expand marine sanctuary protections in the Pacific Ocean. While the actor applauded the Obama administration’s work on marine conservation, he said more needed to be done by the world’s governments to protect the fragile ocean environment.

“It’s the Wild West on the high seas,” DiCaprio said. “These last remaining underwater bio gems are being destroyed because there isn’t proper enforcement or sufficient cooperation among governments to protect them.”

DiCaprio, a diving enthusiast, described the environmental devastation that he had witnessed firsthand over the past 20 years in his dives in the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The “endless underwater utopia,” he said, is now filled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones. During a diving trip to Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, he witnessed illegal fishing vessels invade the waters of one of the world’s few shark sanctuaries.

“We’re plundering the ocean and its vital resources, and just because we can’t see the devastation from dry land doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous,” he said. “It needs to stop.”

DiCaprio has been a longtime ocean conservation advocate. Earlier this year, he gave a $3 million grant to Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization, through his Leonardo DiCaprio foundation.

TIME Environment

Obama Will Declare Vast Expanse of Pacific Ocean a Marine Sanctuary

Rainbow Over Ocean Waves
Teahupo'o is world famous for its spectacular large waves that create beautiful hallow-breaking barrels. These powerful ocean waves often reach 7 to 10 feet and up to 21 feet. The unique waves are a caused in part by an extremely shallow coral reef. Teahupo'o is a village on the south-west coast of the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, southern Pacific Ocean on July 2013. Keith A. Ellenbogen—AP

The proposal would reportedly double the total area of the world's protected oceans in an ambitious plan to extend the president's environmental agenda over territorial waters

President Barack Obama plans to extend marine sanctuary protections over a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, limiting fishing, drilling and other commercial activities in a nautical area more than twice the size of Texas.

The Washington Post reports that the proposal will dramatically extend the borders of an existing marine sanctuary encompassing a cluster of remote Pacific islands. It will expand the protected area surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to 782,000 square miles, effectively doubling the area of the world’s protected oceans.

The expansion is expected to draw fire from congressional Republicans, who accuse the President of overstepping the bounds of executive authority. “It’s another example of this imperial presidency,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings told the Post.

In addition to making the area off limits to commercial fishing and oil drilling, the President will reportedly direct federal agencies to come up with a plan to crack down on illegal fishing.

The proposal is expected to go into effect later this year following an open comment period.

[WP]

TIME Environment

Here’s What We Can Expect From El Niño This Year

The El Niño weather phenomenon that has previously devastated the Western Pacific and parts of Australia now has a 90% chance of striking again this year.

The El Niño weather phenomenon that has previously devastated the Western Pacific and parts of Australia now has a 90% chance of striking again this year according to a recent report by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). This weather anomaly is characterized by an unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean and has caused intense hurricanes and drought in the past. But what can we expect from the phenomenon this summer?

South Asia will likely be hit first with heavy rain and flooding. Drought conditions in Australia and a drop in the fish population off of the west coast of South America will follow. El Niño also damages the agricultural industries in countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean such as Indonesia, and the Philippines. Efforts are currently being made in some of these regions to lessen the impending impact that El Niño will have.

The results of the El Niño events in 1997-1998 were by far the worst in recent history, but unlike thunderstorms and snowstorms forecasters have little ability to predict how intense future El Niño episodes will be. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) it is also near impossible to pinpoint the exact dates that El Niño will begin.

Within the next month more details regarding El Niño and when it will begin will become clearer. In the meantime people around the world will begin to gather resources and prepare themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Environment

There’s a Huge Underground Ocean That Could Explain the Origin of Seas

166260923
Getty Images

Geologists have found a vast body of water deep below earth's surface and say it is evidence that oceans came from water inside the planet that seeped to the surface

Geologists have long mused about the origin of earth’s seas. Did water, for example, arrive from somewhere else — like on icy comets that struck the planet? Or did water come from somewhere within?

The recent discovery of a subterranean sea, deep inside earth, has scientists excited about the latter possibility.

Like something out of early 19th century playwright Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth — in which characters stumble across a massive underground basin — a team of geologists led by Steven Jacobsen from Northwestern University have found a vast body of water, three times the size of any ocean, located near earth’s core. It’s possible that water from this enormous reservoir oozed to the surface.

“It’s good evidence earth’s water came from within,” Jacobsen told NewScientist.

Jacobsen and his team used seismometers in their find, studying the speed of seismic waves to determine what lies beneath the surface. The waves slowed down upon reaching a layer of blue rock called ringwoodite, indicating that they were passing through water as well as rock. The depth of the phenomenon — 700 km below the mantle, which is the layer of hot rock underneath the surface — is also the perfect temperature and pressure for water to ooze out of the ringwoodite “almost as if it’s sweating,” Jacobsen says.

The discovery has only revealed ringwoodite beneath the continental U.S. however, so further experiments will need to be conducted to determine where else on the planet it can be found.

[NewScientist]

TIME Environment

A BP Employee Convicted of Deleting Deepwater Texts Gets a New Trial

Kurt Mix
Kurt Mix, left, leaves Federal Court with an unidentified member of his defense team in New Orleans on Dec. 18, 2013. Gerald Herbert—AP

A judge rules that the original verdict was compromised by remarks overheard by the jury forewoman

A U.S. District Judge has thrown out the original verdict, and ordered a new trial, in the case of a BP employee convicted of deleting text messages to obstruct an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Engineer Kurt Mix, 52, of Katy, Texas, was convicted of obstruction of justice for, prosecutors said, deleting text messages between a supervisor and a contractor with the aim of thwarting a grand jury investigation into the disaster. But Judge Stanwood Duval tossed out that verdict, ruling that it had been compromised by remarks the jury forewoman overheard outside the jury room.

Mix denies he was attempting to conceal evidence. He is one of four BP employees charged in connection with the 2010 spill.

[WDSU]

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