Climate Change ☀️
Volunteers race to save thousands of cold-stunned turtles washing up in Texas
The power is out, cellphone service is spotty and the water has stopped running for most of South Padre Island, a normally balmy beach town in the southernmost tip of Texas that has been chilled by a deadly winter storm.

But amid freezing temperatures that show no signs of warming soon, dozens of residents have ventured on foot and by boat to rescue another species that makes its home here: The island’s famous — and endangered — sea turtles.

By late Tuesday, volunteers working with Sea Turtle, Inc., a local rescue group, had transported more than 3,500 comatose turtles for rehabilitation at the town’s convention center. Conservationists look to gradually increase the animals’ body heat as they lay on tarps and kiddie pools indoors.

But Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle, Inc., fears that hundreds of those turtles rescued in Texas may have already succumbed to the cold.


“It’s unprecedented,” she told The Washington Post. “A cold stun like this could have the potential to wipe out decades of hard work, and we’re going through it with no power and a unique, more catastrophic challenge to our efforts.”

As of early Wednesday, subzero temperatures and sustained power outages had left more than a dozen people dead around the U.S. And animals, too, have also felt the brunt of an Arctic chill that has pummeled Texas and the southern United States.

Near Houston, more than a dozen dogs were rescued from the freezing cold, with the remains of at least one found in the snow. Shelters in Austin and the Texas Panhandle pleaded with the public for generators and scrambled to defrost wells. At a primate sanctuary in San Antonio, monkeys, lemurs and at least one chimpanzee froze to death after electricity went out at the 70-acre facility.

... The turtles, sometimes called the “lawn mowers of the ocean,” thrive off the area’s thick, underwater vegetation and keep the ecosystem balanced. But when water temperatures drop below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit — a rarity in South Padre Island — the chill can cause them to become “cold stunned.”

A turtle’s heart rate lowers, its flippers become paralyzed and its body will float comatose above the water, sometimes washing ashore, Zavala said. This state of hypothermic shock can put them at risk of predators, boats and even drowning.

In a normal year, volunteers with Sea Turtle, Inc. might rescue anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred cold-stunned turtles, warming them inside the group’s rescue center. Yet before the weekend was up, they already appeared to be filling up their own space to the brim.


“We knew this was not a regular cold stun,” she said, “and we knew we had to do something.”

The turtle rescue put out a call for help, and soon, much of the island was involved in an all-hands-on-deck effort to transport turtles to an overflow facility at the South Padre Island Convention Centre, where generators and good insulation could keep the animals warm.

Boats went out on Monday and Tuesday to scoop up cold-stunned turtles from the water, as other volunteers on foot scanned the beach and loaded up the reptiles into their car trunks and truck beds.

... The “dry dock” rehabilitation method being used inside the convention center is far from ideal, she said. And dozens of injured and sick turtles at the rescue’s hospital — which has been without power for days — should be treated inside massive, heated tanks instead.

“If we don’t get some relief from a power standpoint,” she said, “we’re not going to be able to sustain this."
Read the full article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/02/17/animals-texas-winter-storm-turtles/

Beto O'Rourke says Texas is 'nearing a failed state' as millions remain without heat and power in freezing temperatures
  • Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke said Texas was "nearing a failed state."
  • O'Rourke blamed failures of GOP leadership as a deadly snowstorm left millions in Texas without power in freezing weather.
  • The unusually cold Arctic storm hit Texas this week and created a surge in demand for power, causing the state's electricity grid to fail.
Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke said Texas was "nearing a failed state" and blamed GOP lawmakers as a deadly snowstorm left millions there without power or running water in freezing temperatures.

"We are nearing a failed state in Texas and it has nothing to do with God or natural disasters," O'Rourke told MSNBC on Tuesday evening. "It has everything to do with the leadership and those in positions of public trust who have failed us."

... O'Rourke, who sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and served in Texas's 16th congressional district until 2018, told MSNBC that situation in Texas was "worse than you are hearing" and blamed the GOP leadership for prioritising other issues.

He blamed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other GOP leaders for focusing on "stupid culture battles," including a legislative effort to force the Dallas Mavericks to play the national anthem before home games, which was reported by the Texas Tribune.


... But an ERCOT official told Bloomberg that frozen wind turbines had been the least significant factor in the blackouts.

The official said that the main factors were frozen instruments at natural gas, coal, and nuclear facilities, as well as limited supplies of natural gas.
Read the full article: https://www.businessinsider.com/beto-orourke-we-are-nearing-a-failed-state-in-texas-2021-2

Crocodile evolution rebooted by Ice Age glaciations
Researchers discover impacts of Ice Age sea level changes in the genomes of Caribbean and Pacific crocodiles in Panama

Crocodiles are resilient animals from a lineage that has survived for over 200 million years. Skilled swimmers, crocodiles can travel long distances and live in freshwater to marine environments. But they can't roam far overland. American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are found in the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of the Neotropics but they arrived in the Pacific before Panama existed, according to new research.

Over 3 million years ago, the formation of the Isthmus of Panama altered global ocean circulation, connecting North and South America and establishing the Caribbean Sea. This resulted in widespread mixing of species on the continent and separation in the seas. On land, mammals from North America such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, horses, and camels invaded South America, and strange mammals like giant ground sloths, armadillos, and opossums from South America invaded North America. This event is known as the Great American Interchange, and the opposite happened in the seas, where new species of corals, clams, and fishes evolved in the separated Pacific and Caribbean waters.
Read the full article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210217091049.htm

World's oldest DNA reveals how mammoths evolved
An international team has sequenced DNA recovered from mammoth remains that are up to 1.2 million years old. The analyses show that the Columbian mammoth that inhabited North America during the last ice age was a hybrid between the woolly mammoth and a previously unknown genetic lineage of mammoth. The study provides new insights into when and how fast mammoths became adapted to cold climate.

Around one million years ago there were no woolly or Columbian mammoths, as they had not yet evolved. This was the time of their predecessor, the ancient steppe mammoth. Researchers have now managed to analyse the genomes from three ancient mammoths, using DNA recovered from mammoth teeth that had been buried for 0.7-1.2 million years in the Siberian permafrost.

This is the first time that DNA has been sequenced and authenticated from million-year-old specimens, and extracting the DNA from the samples was challenging. The scientists found that only minute amounts of DNA remained in the samples and that the DNA was degraded into very small fragments.

"This DNA is incredibly old. The samples are a thousand times older than Viking remains, and even pre-date the existence of humans and Neanderthals," says senior author Love Dalén, a Professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm.

The age of the specimens was determined using both geological data and the molecular clock. Both these types of analyses showed that two of the specimens are more than one million years old, whereas the third is roughly 700 thousand years old and represents one of the earliest known woolly mammoths.
Read the full article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210217114416.htm

Climate change and fire suppression
Researchers investigate the complex factors that will fuel the wildfires of the 21st century

The unprecedented and deadly blazes that engulfed the American West in 2020 attest to the increasing number, size and severity of wildfires in the region. And while scientists predict the climate crisis will exacerbate this situation, there's still much discussion around its contributing factors.

The team found that climate change increased burn probability and led to larger, more frequent fires in wetter areas while doing the opposite in more arid locations. In areas of intermediate soil moisture, the effects of climate change and fire suppression varied in response to local trade-offs between flammability and fuel loading.


The scientists were surprised that climate change could decrease the severity of fires under certain conditions, but Tague offers an explanation. "Climate change can reduce the growth and development of fuels," she said, "particularly in more arid sites."

These are crucial insights in our efforts to understand and manage wildfires. "This paper presents one of the first wildfire attribution studies at the scale of actionable management," said lead author Erin Hanan, "and shows that local responses to climate change and fire suppression can be highly variable even within individual watersheds."
Read the full article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210217115404.htm

The Far-Reaching Effects of the Storm, on Power and People
Whether or not global warming helped cause this week’s winter storm, there’s a broader lesson there. One of the hardest things about dealing with climate change is that our modern infrastructure was built with historical weather conditions in mind. But, of course, those conditions are now changing rapidly, and the past is no longer a good guide to the future. Dealing with never-before-seen weather events is going to be one of the major challenges of our time.

The electric grid is one of the most crucial pieces of modern infrastructure, and power systems all over the country face serious risks from a changing climate.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/climate/storms-power-outage-newsletter.html

Insects silencing the alarm
An enzyme in the saliva of certain insects prevents their food plants from warning neighboring plants of an attack

Like a scene from a horror movie, tomato fruitworm caterpillars silence their food plants' cries for help as they devour their leaves. That is the finding of a multidisciplinary team of researchers, who said the results may yield insights into the abilities of crop plants -- such as tomato and soybean -- to withstand additional stressors, like climate change.
Read the full article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210217151011.htm

Lakes isolated beneath Antarctic ice could be more amenable to life than thought
Lakes underneath the Antarctic ice sheet could be more hospitable than previously thought, allowing them to host more microbial life.

This is the finding of a new study that could help researchers determine the best spots to search for microbes that could be unique to the region, having been isolated and evolving alone for millions of years. The work could even provide insights into similar lakes beneath the surfaces of icy moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, and the southern ice cap on Mars.

Lakes can form beneath the thick ice sheet of Antarctica where the weight of ice causes immense pressure at the base, lowering the melting point of ice. This, coupled with gentle heating from rocks below and the insulation provided by the ice from the cold air above, allows pools of liquid water to accumulate.

More than 400 of these 'subglacial' lakes have been discovered beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, many of which have been isolated from each other and the atmosphere for millions of years.

This means that any life in these lakes could be just as ancient, providing insights into how life might adapt and evolve under persistent extreme cold conditions, which have occurred previously in Earth's history.
Read the full article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210217151113.htm

No, Wind Farms Aren’t the Main Cause of the Texas Blackouts
Wind power was not chiefly to blame for the Texas blackouts. The main problem was frigid temperatures that stalled natural gas production, which is responsible for the majority of Texas’ power supply. Wind makes up just a fraction — 7 percent or so, by some estimates — of the state’s overall mix of power generation.

... “Every time we have challenges with the grid, whether it’s in California this past summer or Texas right now, people try to weaponize this for their pet project, which is fossil fuels,” said Leah Stokes, an assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work has focused on battles over energy policy. “Our infrastructure cannot handle extreme weather events, which these fossil fuels are ironically causing.”

... Scientists are still analyzing what role human-caused climate change may have played in the current round of winter storms, but it is clear that global warming poses future threats to power systems nationwide with predictions of more intense heat waves and shortages of water. Many electric grids aren’t equipped to handle those extreme conditions, putting them at risk for widespread failure.

... The bulk of the power loss in Texas came from natural gas suppliers, according to regulators, as pipelines froze, making it difficult for plants to get the fuel they needed. Production from coal and nuclear plants dropped as well. A similar phenomenon played out in Kansas and other states.

... Nevertheless, proponents of fossil fuels are using the current crisis to emphasize why they think fossil fuels need to be part of the overall mix of options to power the grid.

... Wind energy has long been a target of criticism in America, with some opponents blaming turbines for interrupting vistas, taking up land for hunting, or shifting jobs away from the fossil fuel industry. This week’s crisis in Texas has provided a new rallying point for some of this political messaging.

... In Kansas, one of few states that relies heavily on wind power, the blades on some turbines froze, too. However, just like in Texas, the bigger problem was that the state’s frigid temperatures stopped delivery of natural gas to fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

That didn’t stop some Republicans from targeting green energy as a chief culprit.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/climate/texas-storm-disinformation-wind.html

Climate change, periodic modification of Earth’s climate brought about as a result of changes in the atmosphere as well as interactions between the atmosphere and various other geologic, chemical, biological, and geographic factors within the Earth system.

Source: Climate change - Evidence for climate change | Britannica
Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

Source: Climate Change | United Nations