TIME Environment

Biologists Eyeing Extent of Damage After California Oil Spill

It could be weeks before the beach near Santa Barbara is cleaned up

Two days after a ruptured oil pipeline spewed crude into the waters off of California — tainting 9 miles of ocean teeming with coastal creatures — environmentalists are scrambling to assess how mucked up the ecosystem is.

This much is clear: It could be weeks before the beach near Santa Barbara is cleaned up, and even years before the damage to the water and wildlife is realized, scientists say.

But there is some relief that this spill, at 105,000 gallons, is on a smaller scale when compared to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the previous 1969 spill off Santa Barbara

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Environment

Here’s What a Massive 5-Year Study of Ocean Life Reveals

tara ocean expedition plankton
Courtesy of Sacha Bollet/Fonds Tara The Tara ship at sea.

Scientists don't know how climate change may affect life in the ocean

In 2009, the research schooner Tara set sail on a three-year journey. The crew would be facing rough waters and the threat of pirates in the name of studying plankton—microscopic organisms that can serve as a proxy for the overall health of an ocean ecosystem. Now, five studies in the journal Science offer a new take on the state of the oceans, the largest ecosystem in the world, and one that’s under enormous strain.

“We provide the most complete description yet of the organisms together with their genetic repertoires,” said Chris Bowler, a scientific coordinator on the expedition, on a call with the media. “Thanks to the treasure in Tara‘s holds, life in the ocean is a little less murky than it was before.”

Plankton diversity was higher than anticipated. Differences in ocean temperature—as opposed to geography or some other environmental factor—seem to chiefly determine which kind of plankton survives, according to the study. Because plankton play an essential role in sustaining life on Earth by propping up the bottom of the food chain, rising temperatures could have grave implications for other sea life, in part because scientists don’t yet know how plankton overall will respond as ocean temperatures increase with global warming. In addition to their role as the primary food source for many fish and whales, plankton also provide half the oxygen produced on the planet each year through photosynthesis.

Viruses also play a role determining what species of ocean life survive in a given spot. Research identified more than 5,000 types of viruses in the upper ocean, only 39 of which had been known previously. Many of the viruses have spread around the ocean, meaning you’re likely to find a surprising diversity of viral life almost anywhere you look in the ocean.

“The most abundant and widespread viral populations in the oceans have yet to be characterized, but now we have an idea of what viruses are important targets for future investigations,” says Jennifer Brum, a researcher at the University of Arizona.

An editorial accompanying the issue draws further attention to climate change and its unknown impact on the ocean ecosystem. Oceans play an important role in protecting the ecosystem from global warming by absorbing the excess heat released due to greenhouse gas, according to the editorial. In the short term, oceans have yet to shown significant damage, but researchers fear that we may not know the true effects.

“Take a moment to thank the ocean for supplying half of your oxygen,” writes Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt in the editorial. “It is time to start valuing the ocean and stop using it as a dump for waste heat, CO2, sewage, pollutants, and other trash.”

Scientists once considered much of the vast oceans to be largely barren of life—seawater, and little less. The research from Tara underscores just how untrue that is—everywhere we look in the watery world, there is life of some kind. And the five studies released this week are just the beginning of what promises to be a trove of new research. Scientists on the expedition analyzed only 579 of 35,000 collected samples for this issue of Science.

TIME

The BP Oil Spill Killed a Lot of Dolphins

Lung and adrenal lesions were found on dead dolphins

The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 had a deadly effect on at least one ocean dweller: bottlenose dolphins.

A new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday said lung and adrenal lesions found on dead bottlenose dolphins that were stranded along the Gulf coast from June 2010 through December 2012 are consistent with the effects of exposure to petroleum products after an oil spill.

The report supports earlier studies that suggested a link between the oil spill that gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over the course of 87 days and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

BP recently settled claims with oil services provider Halliburton and contract driller Transocean related to the spill.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Environment

California Governor Declares State of Emergency After Santa Barbara Oil Spill

As many as 105,000 gallons of crude might have spilled

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County on Wednesday as cleanup teams sought to limit the environmental impact from a ruptured underground pipeline that might have spilled as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil.

More than 20,000 gallons are estimated to have spilled into the ocean, seeping through the ground into a culvert and flowing into the ocean near Refugio State Beach, the Los Angeles Times reports. Oil slicks across a combined nine miles have stretched along the coastline.

The owner of the pipeline that ruptured Tuesday afternoon is Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which last saw results for an inspection in 2012. The line, which can pump as many as 6.3 million gallons a day, averages a flow rate of some 50,400 gallons per hour.

“We’re sorry this accident has happened and we’re sorry for the inconvenience to the community,” said Darren Palmer, district manager for Plains All American, told reporters.

There’s no estimate yet on the harm to local natural life, but officials estimate it will take at least three days—likely many more—to clean up the spill before the damage can be assessed.

TIME Environment

Louisiana Black Bear Is No Longer Endangered

In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, La.
Gerald Herbert—AP In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, La.

The bear is the original inspiration for the "Teddy Bear"

The Louisiana black bear is set to be removed from the endangered species list, the U.S. Department of Interior announced.

The bear, which was the original inspiration for the “Teddy Bear,” has been the focus of conservation efforts for more than 20 years. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that because of that conservation push, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the Louisiana black bear no longer be listed as endangered.

“Across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, we have worked together with our partners to protect and restore habitat, reintroduce populations and reduce the threats to the bear,” Jewell said in a press release.

“Today’s recovery of the bear is yet another success story of the Endangered Species Act.”

TIME Environment

See a Massive Oil Slick in the Pacific Ocean After Spill

21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean off the Santa Barbara County coast on Tuesday after an underground pipeline ruptured. The oil slick spread to at least 9 miles long by Wednesday afternoon

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Anti-Littering Campaign Uses DNA From Trash to Shame People

Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year

A Hong Kong environmental group has turned to public shaming to end the city’s litter problem. The Hong Kong Cleanup Initiative used DNA collected from discarded cigarette butts, gum and condoms to create renderings of the faces of people who left their trash, the South China Morning Post reported.

The Face of Litter campaign, which launched on Earth Day, has created 27 facial composites of litterers and splashed them across billboards around the city. The samples came from a six-week challenge in which teams collected more than 4,000 tons of litter from streets. Advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather came up with the idea to shame litterers and enlisted a laboratory to analyze samples. The company says that the DNA samples provide enough information to accurately predict ethnicity as well as eye, hair and skin color.

Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year, much of which ends up on the streets and coastlines, according to the initiative.

[Morning Post]

TIME National Security

Obama Calls Climate Change a National Security Threat

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.

Obama says the global change in climate will pose a direct threat to our military

President Obama is once again arguing that climate change is a threat to national security.

In a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, Obama noted the problems created by extreme weather, which scientists believe can be exacerbated by climate change. Members of the Coast Guard are often among the first responders during natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us,” Obama told the class of 2015. “Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long term.”

During the speech in Connecticut, Obama said that an increase in natural disasters will lead to more humanitarian crises that pose direct threats to a nation’s stability. “More extreme storms will mean more humanitarian missions to deliver lifesaving help,” he said. “Our forces will have to be ready.”

The speech echoed statements presented in the White House National Security Strategy, which said extreme weather, rising tides and temperature shifts fights over scarce resources and diminishing coast lines that will have a stark impact on the global economy.

According to a White House report released Wednesday, the Department of Defense is currently examining the impact climate change can have on U.S. military bases. The Pentagon is also considering how much strain extreme weather places on the Coast Guard.

Wednesday’s speech is the latest Obama administration push to focus the nation’s attention on the threats of climate change. Obama has often said climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s future generations. It was a sentiment he stressed during an Earth Day trip to the Florida Everglades where he said, “This is not a problem for another generation. It has serious implications for the way we live right now.”

Facing a skeptical Congress, Obama has relied on executive action in efforts to curb the effects of changing temperatures and rising seas. The U.S. has also pledged to a 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

“Some warming is now inevitable,” Obama said Wednesday. “But there comes a point when the worst effects will be irreversible. And time is running out. And we all know what needs to happen. It’s no secret.”

TIME energy

How The Transportation Sector Is Moving Away from Petroleum

More than 8% of fuel used by the transportation sector came from non-petroleum sources in 2014

Transportation Fuel Sources
Courtesy of U.S. Energy Information Administration

The transportation sector is moving away from oil slowly but surely. Driven by growth in the use of biofuels and natural gas, non-petroleum energy now makes up the highest percentage of total fuel consumption for transport since 1954, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In total, 8.5% of fuel used by the transportation sector came from non-petroleum sources in 2014. Biomass from corn-based ethanol—still supported by generous government subsidies—represented the largest non-petroleum energy source and was used primarily to fuel cars and other light vehicles. Use of natural gas to operate pipelines followed close behind. The report also shows smaller but still significant increases in the use of electricity, biodiesel and natural gas in vehicles.

Climate change and fluctuating oil prices has made moving away from petroleum when possible a priority for governments and corporations alike. But it’s still uncertain which fuel will be the best and greenest replacement, according to Christopher R. Knittel, an MIT professor of energy economics . Ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen and electricity are all possibilities.

“We don’t know where we’ll be 50 years from now,” said Knittel. “There are four potential replacement for petroleum, and, ultimately, we don’t what’s going to win out.”

While the overall trend away from petroleum is encouraging—petroleum accounts for over a third of global greenhouse gases—the newfound reliance on biomass might be seen as a double-edged sword. Using ethanol, which is currently mixed with petroleum and represents around 10% of the gas sold for most cars in the U.S., provides only “marginal benefit” over petroleum in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Knittel. Using electricity in the transport is generally better and cleaner, but the technology is still in its early stages. Where it does exist, as in Tesla cars, it’s often expensive and impractical for large-scale use.

TIME Environment

‘Paddle in Seattle’ Protesters Rally Against Arctic Oil Exploration

Activists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean prepare their kayaks for the "Paddle in Seattle" protest on May 16, 2015, in Seattle.
Martha Bellisle—AP Activists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean prepare their kayaks for the "Paddle in Seattle" protest on May 16, 2015, in Seattle.

Shell plans to begin drilling in the Arctic this summer

Hundreds of kayakers gathered in the waters of Seattle’s Elliott Bay on Saturday to protest Shell’s plans to begin Arctic drilling this summer.

The group that planned the event, called the “Paddle in Seattle,” said Saturday’s demonstration began a three-day “massive peaceful resistance,” the Associated Press reports. Protesters of all ages, on land and in the water, carried signs with phrases like “Climate Justice” and ”Shell No, Seattle Draws The Line.” On Monday, the group plans to block access to the oil giant’s rig parked in the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 and delay preparations for drilling.

Environmental activists argue that Shell’s drilling plans in the Arctic pose a threat to local wildlife and will contribute to dependence on fossil fuels. They also cite the company’s failed attempt to drill in 2012 as evidence that Shell would not be able to respond adequately to a large-scale oil spill.

Shell received permission from the federal government to begin oil drilling in the Arctic last week, but the company still faces hurdles from other government agencies. For one, the mayor of Seattle tried to block the company from docking its rig in the city’s port.

[AP]

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