TIME

See the Effects of Climate Change in 3 Birds

Most North American birds head further north for winter as climate warms

Looking for signs of climate change? You can check the temperatures of the oceans or the density of polar ice caps. Or you can see which birds are gathering outside your window.

A Birds & Climate Change report released this week by the Audubon Society predicts that global warming will severely threaten nearly half of U.S. birds by the year 2100. And birds are already on the move, according to the society’s research. By mapping the historical data used in Audubon’s climate study, we see can that birds have migrated further north by an average of 40 miles in the past 48 years as temperatures increase. The map above highlights three species whose center of abundance has moved by over 200 miles.

The winter migration data is the fruit of the longest citizen science project in existence, called the Christmas Bird Count. Thousands of volunteers across North America head out every winter to track bird locations in over 2,300 designated areas. Audubon scientists aggregate data along conservation regions and state lines and then they account for the varying effort of bird watchers (watch out slackers) to produce an “abundance index” for each species.

The maps reflect this index for three birds that highlight how warmer winters are influencing species differently. Sixty one percent of the 305 Christmas Bird Count species are moving north — some by more than 200 miles, like the Pine Siskin and American Black Duck. Fewer species are going south, as their winter ranges are shrinking on the whole, with the remaining suitable climates now left further south. This pattern is observed in the Peregrine Falcon, though its increased abundance is also due to pesticide bans.

The “all birds” map shows the abundance index of all observed species relative to other areas. Light green areas show where fewer than the average number birds was observed, while darker areas exceed the average. Over time, areas further north illustrate increasing abundance relative to other areas.

Methodology

Data was provided by the Aududon Society, with calculations by Candan Soykan, an ecologist for Audubon. The “abundance index” for the three species shown on the map is based on the number of birds observed, by species, for each survey in the Christmas Bird Count, adjusted for variation in bird watching effort, among other factors.

The relative abundance for the map of bird density standardizes each species’ abundance index to a common scale before combining across species to provide an overall estimate. Standardization prevents abundant or more detectable species from dominating patterns in the map. To accommodate some species dramatically changing in abundance over the 48-year interval, median values are used. These median values for each year are averaged by decade (except in the case of 1966 to 1973) to be used on the time slider and map.

Photos: Getty Images (2);mdc

TIME Environment

Ozone Layer Showing Signs of Recovery, Study Finds

Ozone Rebounds
This undated image provided by NASA shows the ozone layer over the years, Sept. 17, 1979, top left, Oct. 7, 1989, top right, Oct. 9, 2006, lower left, and Oct. 1, 2010, lower right. NASA/AP

Finally, some good news about the environment

The depleted protective ozone layer that has left a gaping hole over Antarctica is showing signs of recovering, a UN panel of scientists said Wednesday.

The report found early indications of an increase in total ozone levels, which stabilized around 2000 after two decades of decline. The hole over Antarctica that appears every year, which grew to about 30 million square km in 2006, has also stopped expanding, according to the report.

Scientists realized in the 1970s that chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were wearing down the ozone layer, which helps the Earth repel potentially harmful radiation from the sun. But an international movement to ban or replace CFCs, buttressed by the 1987 Montreal Protocol, has helped reduce the amount of CFC in the atmosphere.

“It’s a victory for diplomacy and for science and for the fact that we were able to work together,” chemist Mario Molina, one of the coauthors of a 1974 study predicting ozone depletion, told the Associated Press.

While past studies have found slowing ozone depletion, the UN report Wednesday is the first to show indications of an increase in total ozone, Geir Braathen, a senior scientific officer with the World Meteorological Organization, which co-produced the report, told Reuters.

TIME Environment

Carbon Levels Surged at Fastest Rate in 30 Years in 2013, Study Finds

Greenland:  A Laboratory For The Symptoms Of Global Warming
Kunuk Nielsen navigates his boat among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers on July 31, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

World Meteorological Organization warns that record highs of greenhouse gases would have warming effect on earth's climate

The concentration of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere climbed at a faster rate last year than any year since 1984, according to a new study from the World Meteorological Organization.

The study also measured new highs in concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide, which the United Nations agency’s scientists warned would have a warming effect on the earth’s climate.

Preliminary data suggests that greenhouse gases may have risen not only because of emissions, but also because of a reduced uptake of carbon by the oceans and the biosphere. Together, they absorb 50% of carbon emissions, the study’s authors note, resulting in record high rates of ocean acidification.

“We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

TIME Environment

California Blue Whales Are Making a Comeback

Blue whale
Getty Images

New study shows the marine mammal’s population in the Golden State is nearly back to pre-whaling levels

California’s endangered blue-whale population may not be so endangered after all, according to a study released Friday.

New research published in the journal Marine Mammal Science found the state’s current population of the aquatic mammal is nearly as high as before the practice of whaling became popular.

“It’s a conservation success story,” said Cole Monnahan, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Washington, in a statement.

The International Whaling Commission banned the hunting of blue whales for commercial purposes in 1966, after which whaling has only been carried out illegally. Other causes of death also include pollution, shipping and getting accidentally caught up in other fishing.

Blue whales are the world’s largest known animals, growing to nearly 100 ft. in length and weighing over 200 lb.

The study’s revelations concern California’s blue-whale population rather than the total number in the North Pacific, which has been known to be about 2,200 for some time now, although researchers did find that previous estimates of the pre-whaling population might have been inaccurate.

Scientists always assumed the pre-whaling population was much larger, but the authors of Friday’s study estimate the current population is up to 97% of historical figures. They arrived at this conclusion by using historical data to estimate the number of whales caught between 1905 and 1971.

“Our findings aren’t meant to deprive California blue whales of protections that they need going forward,” Monnahan added. “California blue whales are recovering because we took actions to stop catches and start monitoring. If we hadn’t, the population might have been pushed to near extinction — an unfortunate fate suffered by other blue-whale populations.”

The one problem the massive marine mammals still face is being hit by ships, with at least 11 blue whales being struck off the West Coast last year. But Monnahan and his co-authors say this won’t affect the population’s stability.

TIME Environment

California Set to Enact First Statewide Ban of Plastic Bags

Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari
California Governor Jerry Brown, left, listens as Republican challenger Neel Kashkari speaks during a gubernatorial debate in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 4, 2014 Rich Pedroncelli—AP

After state lawmakers passed a bill

California is poised to become the first U.S. state to ban single-use plastic bags after Governor Jerry Brown said Thursday that he expected to sign a bill nixing their use.

The legislation — which would oust single-use plastic bags from grocery stores and pharmacies in 2015, as well as from convenience and liquor stores a year later — is similar to laws on the books in more than 100 California municipalities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as in individual towns and cities across the U.S.

Like those municipal laws, the California bill also authorizes stores to levy a $.10 charge on paper or reusable bags. In addition, it extends some $2 million in loans to plastic-bag manufacturers in an effort to soften those factories’ shift toward producing reusable bags.

American environmentalists and lawmakers have seized on banning non-biodegradable bags as a way to cut down on waste and clean up the country’s waters. But bag manufacturers have lobbied fiercely against such measures, warning that as bags disappear, so do the jobs in their factories.

Brown has until the end of September to sign the bill, passed by state lawmakers in a 22-to-15 vote last week.

“I probably will sign it, yes,” said the Democrat on Thursday evening, during a televised debate with his Republican rival Neel Kashkari, who is challenging Brown in the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This is a compromise. It’s taking into account the needs of the environment, and the needs of the economy and the needs of the grocers.”

Republicans in California’s legislature had opposed the bill, calling it unwarranted government involvement in local business, as well as a burden to job-creating manufacturers.

Kashkari — who trails the incumbent Brown by 50% to 34% in recent polling — said in the Thursday debate that there was “no chance” he would sign the bill.

TIME Environment

Judge Places Most Blame on BP for 2010 Oil Spill

Deepwater Horizon site
Deepwater Horizon site Carrie Vonderhaar—Ocean Futures Society/Getty Images

British energy giant's conduct called "reckless"

A New Orleans judge ruled on Thursday that British energy giant BP’s gross negligence led to the largest offshore oil spill in American history.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said BP was mostly to blame for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, which killed 11 people and spewed oil into the water for 87 days.

Barbier attributed 67% of the fault to BP, 30% to Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and 3% to Halliburton, the cement contractor.

“BP’s conduct was reckless,” Barbier wrote in the decision, according to Bloomberg. “Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent.”

Barbier oversaw a trial last year to distribute fault for the spill. BP could face up to $18 billion in fines, Bloomberg reports, though appeals will likely delay if and when any penalties are settled. The company pleaded guilty in 2012 to 14 federal counts and agreed to pay $4 billion to end the criminal case.

BP said in a statement it would appeal the decision. Its shares were down nearly 6% at 12:12 p.m. ET on Thursday.

TIME weather

New Ultra High-Def Satellite Shows Mind-Blowing View of a Forest Fire

A forest fire at the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest imaged with (left) and without (right) SWIR, in Aug. 2014.
A forest fire at the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest imaged with (left) and without (right) SWIR, in Aug. 2014. Courtesy of DigitalGlobe

The new technology can penetrate thick clouds of smoke to reveal clear images

State-of-the-art imaging technology on board DigitalGlobe’s recently launched WorldView-3 satellite offers unprecedented views of world events. The technology, known as Shortwave Infrared Imagery, or SWIR, can penetrate thick clouds of smoke, as shown in the above image of a forest fire. The photo reveals a clear image of an August fire at the Happy Camp complex in California’s Klamath National Forest.

Previous images of the event were covered in a dense cloud of smoke.

TIME

The New Job Every City Needs

Urban centers need to anticipate environmental disasters--not just clean them up. A resiliency officer can help

For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population (currently 7.1 billion) lives in urban settings. While urban living offers many attractions — employment opportunities, higher education, entertainment, health care, and public transportation – the changes we make to the natural landscape to accommodate and support our current population often makes us vulnerable to human and environmental threats. And when disasters strike urban areas, many lives are threatened and upended.

For instance, think about how we have built right up to shorelines in the New York City area and how quickly Hurricane Sandy flooded streets and subway terminals in 2012. Consider the way Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the levee systems and devastated New Orleans in 2005. And the list of urban crises goes on: Fukushima, Japan (2011), the floods in Fort Lyons and Boulder, Colorado (2013), tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma, and the deadly European (2003) and Chicago (1995) heat waves.

For all its attractive features, L.A., too, is vulnerable. Los Angeles is not only vulnerable to acute disasters like earthquakes and floods, but we also experience chronic hazards like air pollution and high temperatures. After all, the city is in a three-year drought and is vulnerable to 13 of the 16 federally-designated natural disasters. (The three we don’t have: volcanic eruption, snowstorms and tornadoes).

Strengthening our city is the motivation behind the recent announcement that Los Angeles will create the position of Chief Resilience Officer. L.A. is one of the first 32 cities to create such a position, as part of a campaign backed by the Rockefeller Foundation. The goal of the program is to build urban resiliency around the world by pursuing collaborations across government, private, and non-profit sectors to address complex human, environmental, and economic challenges.

In addition to the city’s emergency management departments – the fire department equipped with search and rescue capabilities, and a well-trained police force – to respond to acute disasters, L.A. needs one person to lead a city-wide effort to make the important and thoughtful decisions that will increase resiliency while reducing vulnerability to human and environmental threats in the future.

What does resilience mean in this context? The Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization, defines resilience as the ability of natural or human systems to survive in the face of great change. Resilient systems possess the ability to return to a state of equilibrium following a disturbance while non-resilient systems struggle to restore equilibrium or fail to recover altogether.

To work on both these strategies, the job of the Los Angeles Chief Resilience Officer requires several different types of skills: the local knowledge to know what risks the city faces; the technical capacity to do the planning; and the ability to bring together very different kinds of people – from scientists to politicians to media and neighborhood leaders.

By way of example, consider how the Chief Resilience Officer might confront repeated heat waves in the city. Before the heat wave, the CRO would work to redesign our city to minimize exposure – adding trees and green spaces that have cooling effects (L.A. River restoration plans, especially removing the concrete, would have benefits here); coordinating heat warnings with the National Weather Service also would be important. During the heat event, the city could provide cooling centers, water and aid stations, and health services to assist people in need. Post-heat wave, the CRO would work to return residents and the city to normal. Think how complex such work would be on this one subject – and then think about all the other threats Los Angeles faces.

The benefits of such work would go far beyond preparation and response to disaster. Resilience planning can create jobs for those engaged in the work, add to knowledge and science as the city gathers and analyzes data on its vulnerabilities, and improve education (in part by involving scholars and other experts in the work). Incorporating technology into these planning efforts could create easily available real-time, geo-referenced data regarding evacuation routes and hazards during a disaster through social media. And once we learn lessons on effective resiliency planning, we can share them with others. The Dutch, for instance, are experts in land reclamation and levees, and they provided their expertise to New Orleans officials dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

If the CRO is to succeed, people around Los Angeles will have to collaborate as never before, and many of us – at least in the academic sector — are eager to contribute to this work, and learn from it.

In fact, students in my USC program on GeoDesign­ — a first-of-its-kind major that brings together architecture, planning, and spatial sciences – have already started investigating how resilience can be engineered. And younger students, from kindergarten to high school, can be engaged as well, through class projects and field trips.

The appointment of a Chief Resilience Officer to Los Angeles is a demonstration of global leadership. It’s also timely because, unlike New Orleans or New York, LA has not experienced a major disaster recently. L.A. can get a head start on investing in critical infrastructure and services before we encounter the disasters that we know are on their way.

Darren Ruddell is assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies at the Spatial Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. This piece first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Companies

Halliburton to Pay $1.1 Billion Over Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Flags flying at a Halliburton facility in Williston, North Dakota on Aug. 20, 2013.
Flags flying at a Halliburton facility in Williston, North Dakota on Aug. 20, 2013. Karen Blieber—AFP/Getty Images

The deal will pay off damage claims from property holders and commercial fisheries affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Halliburton has reached a $1.1 billion settlement deal with plaintiffs claiming damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, the Houston-based energy company announced on Tuesday.

The company will pay $1.1 billion into a trust in three installments, which will be used to pay off damage claims from property holders and commercial fisheries along the gulf coast.

The deal removes a measure of uncertainty that has lingered over the company’s legal reserves over the past four years. Halliburton has set aside a $1.3 billion litigation fund for costs related to the spill. While the settlement resolves claims from individual plaintiffs, Halliburton still faces lawsuits from several coastal states.

Halliburton has traded blame with British Petroleum (BP) over the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which unleashed nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf over several weeks in 2010, one of the largest offshore oil spills in U.S. history.

BP, the owner of the well, blamed Halliburton for faulty construction work while Halliburton said BP’s faulty management was responsible. Both companies, along with the owner of the rig, Transocean Ltd., have paid out billions in settlement deals.

TIME Environment

Solved: Mystery of Moving Stones in Death Valley

A sailing stone in Racetrack playa, Death Valley, CA.
A sailing stone in Racetrack playa, Death Valley, in California Mark Newman—Getty Images

A group of scientists say they've figured out how the "sailing stones" glide along the desert floor on their own

So-called sailing stones in California’s Death Valley National Park have perplexed tourists and scientists alike for their apparent ability to move on their own, leaving sometimes meter-long tracks in their wake.

But after years of speculation, researchers with patience, remote weather monitors, cameras, and stones that are fitted with GPS say they have discovered the force behind the phenomenon.

Wind (very strong winds) and ice (very thick ice) have long been considered as possible explanations for why the rocks, sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds, move. It’s actually a combination of a little of both, the team of researchers say in their study, published in the journal PLOS One this week.

Rainwater in what is known as the Racetrack Playa creates a shallow pond over the playa that, in cold winter temperatures, freezes over. When the ice begins to melt under the sun, it first breaks up into large panels thin enough that, with a nudge from even light winds, they shift — and push whatever rocks may lie in their path.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser