Ocean acidification poses a threat to marine life, habitats

According to research published in Nature Climate Change, the acidification of the world’s oceans could result in a cascading loss of biodiversity in some marine habitats.

Up until now most research in this area focused on the impact of ocean acidification on individual species.  The new research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests.

“Not too surprisingly, species diversity in calcium carbonate-based habitats like coral reefs and mussel beds were projected to decline with increased ocean acidification,” said UBC zoologist and biodiversity researcher Jennifer Sunday, who led the study. Species using calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons, like mussels and corals, are expected to be susceptible to acidification.


A new UBC research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

“The more complex responses are those of seagrass beds that are vital to many fisheries species. These showed the potential to increase the number of species they can support, but the real-world evidence so far shows that they’re not reaching this potential “. This underscores the need for more research to evaluate how climate change affects individual species, and more importantly their supportive habitat.

The researchers gathered data and observations from 10 field studies, measuring impacts of underwater volcanic vents. These vents release carbon dioxide and are analogous to the conditions of future ocean acidification, on the density of habitat forming species. The data were combined with 15 other studies analyzing how changes usually impact local species to make their projections.

According to marine ecologist Christopher Harley, senior author on the paper, it has been known for a long time that with climate change there will be some losers and some winners.

Harley further added, his team won’t have time to measure the effects of climate change on each individual species, but said this approach will allow them to make reasonable predictions. He also said, they now have a much clearer vision as to how some species can bring down biodiversity with them while other species might be able to help their habitat mediate a response to acidification.

“For example, in the Pacific Northwest, the number of medium to large-sized edible saltwater mussels is likely to decrease as the chemistry of our oceans changes, and this is bad news for the hundreds of species that use them for habitat,” added Harley.

Climate change could disrupt volcanoes from cooling earth

New research reveals the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions may be impeded by climate change.

If an eruption is forceful enough, volcanoes spew sulfur gases about 10 to 15 kilometres above the Earth’s atmosphere, reaching a layer called the Stratosphere.

The gases then react with water to form aerosol particles which stick around for one or two years. These particles reflect sunlight and heat from the sun and as a result cool the planet.

On average there are three to five eruptions that make their way to the stratosphere every year.

Previous research has shown that the warming of the planet causes the atmosphere to expand, making it more difficult for the gases to reach the stratosphere.

At lower altitudes, in the troposphere, the gases change into aerosols and clouds and come back to earth as rain or snow.


“Volcanic eruptions tend to counteract global warming but as the planet heats up and our atmosphere changes, we’ve found that fewer eruptions will be able to reflect the sun’s radiation,” said Thomas Aubry, a PhD student studying climate and volcanoes. “It will be harder for the volcanic gasses to reach high enough into atmosphere to help cool the planet.”

Aubry said scientists have noticed a slight drop in the rate of global warming in the last 10 to 15 years while the planet continues to warm. Scientist believe this decline is due to the number of large eruptions over the last decade that have sent sulfur gases high up into the stratosphere.

Aubry and his co-authors found that according to climate model projections and global warming, the amount of volcanic sulfur gases in the stratosphere will decline in the next century some where between two to 12 percent. This could result in reduction of sulfur gas in the atmosphere between 12-25 percent by the 22nd and 23rd centuries

Nonetheless, further studies are needed in order to determine the precise impact on temperature change on the Earth.

To determine the precise impact on the Earth’s surface temperature in the future, further studies are required. It also raises interesting questions about Earth’s history.

“Understanding this positive feedback loop has provocative implications for understanding climate variability in Earth’s past,” said Professor Mark Jellinek, whose lab Aubry works in at the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences. “In particular, this mechanism may have contributed to Earth’s entry into a long period of global glaciation around 700 million years ago, a theory known as the Snowball Earth hypothesis.”

climate change could result in $10-billion revenue loss in future fisheries

New UBC study finds global fisheries are at a risk of loosing close to $10 billion of their annual income by 2050, if climate change is left unchecked. According to the study the countries most dependent on fisheries for food will be the ones most effected.

In a previous study, UBC’s Institute for Oceans and Fisheries found the effects of climate change including rise in temperatures, changes in ocean salinity, acidity and oxygen levels will likely result in decreased catches.

“Developing countries most dependent on fisheries for food and revenue will be hardest hit,” said Vicky Lam, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and the study’s lead author. “It is necessary to implement better marine resource management plans to increase stock resilience to climate change.”

A woman arranges fishes and crabs for selling at Nochikuppam in Madras, India, 20th Feb. 2005. Fishermen back to normal life after nearly 2 months of tsunami attack in the southern coast of India on Dec. 26th.

Scientists found the most vulnerable countries to be the ones that highly rely on fish including island countries like Tokelau, Cayman Islands and Tuvalu. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

To compensate the financial losses of fishing under climate change and to improve food security, many communities are leaning toward aquaculture, also known as fish farming, as a solution. However,  researchers found it may aggrevate the existing economic losses by further decreasing the price of seafood.

“Climate adaptation programs such as aquaculture development may be seen as a solution,” said William Cheung, associate professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and a study co-author. “However, rather than easing the financial burden of fishing losses and improving food security, it may drive down the price of seafood, leading to further decreases in fisheries revenues.”

Co-author Rashid Sumaila, professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and fisheries said global fisheries revenues add up to about $100 billion annually. Sumaila further added that their modelling shows that high emission scenario could result in an average 10 percent reduction in global fishing revenue, while a low emissions scenario could lead to a 7 percent decrease.

Scientists found the most vulnerable countries to be the ones that highly rely on fish including island countries like Tokelau, Cayman Islands and Tuvalu. However, many developed countries like Greenland and Iceland could see increase in revenues as fish migrate to colder waters.

Management of high sea fisheries could compensate losses due to climate change

New UBC study finds, a 10 percent increase in fish catches in coastal waters when high seas are closed off to fishing. This increase could help the most vulnerable cope with the expected losses of fish caused by climate change.

“Many important fish stocks live in both the high seas and coastal waters. Effective management of high seas fisheries could benefit coastal waters in terms of productivity and help reduce climate change impacts,” said lead author William Cheung, associate professor and director of science of the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

The high seas cover close to two-thirds of the ocean’s surfaces and are outside the jurisdiction of any country.

By using computer models, researchers used three different management scenarios to predict catches of 30 important fish stocks in 2050, living in both the high seas and coastal waters.

The three different scenarios were as followed: international cooperation to manage fishing, closing the high seas to fishing, and maintaining the status quo.


By using computer models, researchers used three different management scenarios to predict catches of 30 important fish stocks in 2050, living in both the high seas and coastal waters.(Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

Strengthening governance and closing the high seas to fishing were found to increase resilience of coastal countries to climate change. This effect was especially noticed in tropical countries which are highly dependent on fisheries for food and livelihood.

“The scenarios of closing the high seas may greatly reduce the issue of inequity of benefits and impacts among different countries under climate change,” said co-author Vicky Lam, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Countries in the South Pacific, Indo-Pacific, West African coast and west coast of central America are expected to be disproportionately impacted by climate change.

According to previous UBC studies, these countries could face a 30 percent decrease, if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise in a similar manner. This decrease would be due to the fish migrating to cooler waters.

“The high seas can serve as a fish bank of the world by providing the insurance needed to make the whole global ocean more resilient,” said paper co-author Rashid Sumaila, professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and director of OceanCanada, one of the research funders. “By closing the high seas to fishing or seriously improving its management, the high seas can help us mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems.”

African bird shows preferential treatment toward male subordinates

A new research published in “Biology Letters”, suggests African desert-dwelling birds prefer their biological sons and alienate their stepsons.

“Nepotism has likely played a vital role in the evolution of family life in this species,” said Martha Nelson-Flower, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry.

The group’s dominant male bird decides which of the subordinate males to tolerate. Nelson-Flower’s research reveals subordinate male birds spend less time in a group if they are unrelated to the dominant male bird. The subordinate males are actually sent out of the group by their stepdads and in some instances by their brothers-in-law. They are then forced to live alone or to join other groups as subordinates.

The species is the southern pied blabber, a black and white bird found in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The chicks are raised by both parents as well as other adult birds and live in groups. The size of the groups range from three to 14 birds.

However, this kind of preferential treatment was not seen among the females.

“The research is some of the first to show that the sex of both dominant and subordinate birds, and the genetic relationship between them, has a significant impact on their family groups and cooperative breeding behaviour,” said Nelson-Flower.

The researchers used data from 11 years of observation.

Evolution effects the speed of plant migration in the face of climate change

A new study proposes evolution as the driving force behind plant migration. The study also suggests scientists could be underestimating how fast species could move.

The study published in the journal ‘Science’ reveals some animals and plants are moving farther north to cooler temperatures due to climate change.

“We know from previous research that evolution might play a role in how fast a species can move across a region or continent,” said Jennifer Williams, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in UBC’s department of geography. “But what our study suggests is that evolution is not only a factor in movement, but that it can, in fact, accelerate the spread, and can do so predictably.”

Evolving plant populations dispersed seeds and migrated 11 per cent farther in landscapes with favourable conditions. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

Evolving plant populations dispersed seeds and migrated 11 per cent farther in landscapes with favourable conditions. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

For the study the scientists used a small flowering plant (Arabidopsis thailana) to test the role of evolution in plant migration. Two sets of population were cultivated, evolution was active in one set and hindered in the other.

The study showed, after six generations, evolving plant populations migrated 11 percent farther than the other non-evolving populations in favourable conditions. However, in the more challenging environment seeds dispersed 200 percent farther in the set with the evolving plants.

Williams suggested, the findings show evolution accelerates the speed of migration.

Nonetheless, more research is required to find the reason for the increased speed of migration in challenging conditions.

“We know, for example, that there are some species of butterflies and plants that are expanding their ranges with climate change and moving north or up in elevation,” she said. “What our results suggest is that, with evolution, the species can move faster and faster because the traits that make them better at moving are becoming more common at the front of the invasion. In the case of our plants, in the evolving populations, their seeds can disperse a bit further.”

In addition, she said the findings emphasize the importance for scientists to acknowledge evolutionary change when predicting how quickly native species will move as the Earth’s temperature rises.

Scientists find how hummingbirds avoid high-speed collisions

Researchers have discovered hummingbirds process visual information differently from other animals. This difference helps them in their extreme aerial acrobatics.

They can travel faster than 50 kilometres per hour and stop on a dime while flying through dense vegetation.

“Birds fly faster than insects and it’s more dangerous if they collide with things,” said Roslyn Dakin, a postdoctoral fellow in the UBC’s department of zoology who led the study.

In order to figure out how hummingbirds avoid collision, scientists at UBC placed the birds in a specially designed tunnel while projecting patterns on the walls. Observations were then made to see how the birds navigate to avoid collisions.

“We took advantage of hummingbirds’ attraction to sugar water to set up a perch on one side of the tunnel and a feeder on the other, and they flew back and forth all day,” said Douglas Altshuler, associate professor in the department of zoology. “This allowed us to test many different visual stimuli.”

When scientists simulated this information on the tunnel walls, the hummingbirds showed no reaction. On the other hand, Dakin and her colleagues found the hummingbirds depended on the size of an object to determine their distance. As something grew bigger, it was a signal that the object is getting closer and vice-versa. This is in contrary to the humans and the bees where speed of an object indicates its distance as the object goes passed their field of vision.

“When objects grow in size, it can indicate how much time there is until they collide even without knowing the actual size of the object,” said Dakin. “Perhaps this strategy allows birds to more precisely avoid collisions over the very wide range of flight speeds they use.”

The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness

One of the most basic human impulses, to look up and ponder the night sky is becoming compromised for the majority of the world’s population, according to a recent study published in the Journal Science Advances.

Using the latest available technology, researchers around the world have collaborated in creating an up-to-date World Atlas illustrating the geographical spread of night sky brightness.

Scientists have observed that artificial skyglow is the most visible effects of light pollution – the brightening of the sky cased by street lights, building and other human-made sources. This is inhibiting the naked human eye from observing the Milky Way in highly populated areas.
The study shows, “due to light pollution, the Milky Way is not visible to more than one-third of humanity, including 60% of Europeans and nearly 80% of North Americans.”
Combining the data collected from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), Day/Night Band (DNB) new precision charge-coupled device (CCD), brightness measurements and a new database of Sky Quality Meter (SQM) Scientist have managed to create the most accurately up-to-date Atlas on the visible effects of light pollution around the globe.
The Atlas demonstrates their findings “found that about 83% of the world’s population and more than 99% of the U.S. and European populations live under light-polluted skies”.


According to their findings, Singapore is the most light polluted country, where the problem is so prevalent ‘the entire population lives under skies so bright that the eye cannot fully dark-adapt to night vision”.

These findings are subject to a number of factors, including but not limited to time of night (this study was conducted at 1am), proximity to geographical landscapes (such as volcanoes), tidal patterns and weather conditions (factoring in the reflective capabilities of snow).

In addition scientist also highlight the shift from high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting to white light-emitting diode (LED). The bluer colour temperature of LED lighting is contributing to the problem of light pollution.

For those that wish to observe the nights sky unaffected by light pollution there are fewer and fewer land based locations available to contemplate the mysteries of the galaxy.

Professor at UBC boosts sustainable energy research

To improve renewable energy generation and power conversion, Martin Ordonez, Fred Kaiser Professor in Power Conversion and Sustainability at UBC is expanding a research and education program. This research is funded by a $ 1-million investment by the Fred Kaiser Foundation and will help store and use renewable energy.

Ordonez said as Canadians are trying to reduce greenhouse emissions, the efficiency in generating energy is critical not only to them but also to the future on a global scale.

The goal of this project is to derive maximum amounts of energy from sustainable resources in order to compete with hydrocarbon alternatives. To support this objective, at least five top-tier researchers are added, doubling the program’s current size.

According to Professor Martin Ordonez advances in renewable energy generation and power conversion are key not only for Canadians but also to the future on a global scale. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

According to Professor Martin Ordonez advances in renewable energy generation and power conversion are key not only for Canadians but also to the future on a global scale. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

He said the main challenge is to change existing electrical infrastructure to support the expansion of low carbon energy sources like wind and solar.

However, according to Ordonez developing countries have a different challenge to face. With a clean slate they can envision a better system by developing an electrical system with sustainable energy sources in mind

The development of sustainable resources would be economically feasible for developing countries after research and testing.

Ordonez said as part of the program, they will train graduate students and research professionals who will be skillful engineers  capable of tackling challenges associated with sustainable electrical energy. An outreach program will be planned to draw undergraduates from across the globe in different engineering disciplines. They will join a team of researchers investigating sustainable power solutions for developing countries.

Study finds vessels well-known for illegal fishing able to get insurance

A new research from UBC reveals, rogue fishing vessels including those with an international record of illegal activities are able to attain insurance. Unlawful fishing, responsible for disappearance of tonnes of fish from the oceans, siphons an estimated $10 to 20 billion annually from the global economy. This is a huge problem that destroys habitats and makes fishing challenging for law-abiding fishers.

“Restricting access to insurance could play a major role in ending illegal fishing, and right now, it’s a largely overlooked method,” said lead author Dana Miller, who studied illegal fishing and insurance while she was a postdoctoral fellow at UBC.

Insurance is financially beneficial for fishers in the case of an accident since it eliminates the risk of large financial loss.

In order to prevent illegal fishers from obtaining insurance, researchers suggest insurance companies check lists of illegal vessels before issuing insurances.


Some ships flagged for illegal fishing are still able to get insurance. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

The lists are as follows: regional fisheries management organizations’ Illegal, Ureported, and Unregulated (IUU) vessel lists, and the list of vessels that INTERPOL has issued Purple Notices for.

This approach is a much less expensive way to prevent illegal fishing than traditional methods,” said co-author Rashid Sumaila, the project director of OceanCanada and a professor in the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. Traditionally, fighting illegal fishing often  involves monitoring and surveillance, through the use of satellite tracking and inspections. The power of including the insurance companies in the discussion has been underestimated. By refusing insurance to unlawful vessels, insurance companies can have a major impact on the numbers of illegal vessels. Miller and her colleagues at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries investigated insurance information for 94 IUU fishing vessels and 837 legal vessels that were required, by international law, to have insurance because of their size. They identified the insurers of 48 per cent of the illegal vessels and 58 per cent of the legal vessels and often the same companies provided insurance to both illegal and legal fishing vessels.

Some of the most infamous fishing vessels were found to have insurance coverage. One example is the Bandit 6, a fleet of six fishing vessels, wanted for illegally transporting Patagonian tooth fish from southern waters.

Although the vessels were on internationally recognized lists like the European Union’s IUU vessel list for years they were recently caught in different parts of the world.

“It was shocking when we found that out,” said Miller. “Insurers should take the simple step of consulting IUU fishing vessel lists to make sure that these notorious and well-known ships are refused insurance.”

The authors recommend insurers mandate all vessels over a certain size to be assigned an international Maritime Organization ship identification number, and operate automatic identification vessel tracking technology . They added these these measures would increase transparency and tighten regulations.