UCI oceanographers predict increase in phytoplankton by 2100

Machine learning Earth system model projects higher numbers in low-latitude regions

University of California – Irvine

Irvine, Calif. – A neural network-driven Earth system model has led University of California, Irvine oceanographers to a surprising conclusion: phytoplankton populations will grow in low-latitude waters by the end of the 21st century.

The unexpected simulation outcome runs counter to the longstanding belief by many in the environmental science community that future global climate change will make tropical oceans inhospitable to phytoplankton, which are the base of the aquatic food web. The UCI researchers provide the evidence for their findings in a paper published today in Nature Geoscience.

Senior author Adam Martiny, UCI professor in oceanography, explained that the prevalent thinking on phytoplankton biomass is based on an increasingly stratified ocean. Warming seas inhibit mixing between the heavier cold layer in the deep and lighter warm water closer to the surface. With less circulation between the levels, fewer nutrients reach the higher strata where they can be accessed by hungry plankton.

“All the climate models have this mechanism built into them, and it has led to these well-established predictions that phytoplankton productivity, biomass and export into the deep ocean will all decline with climate change,” he said. “Earth system models are largely based upon laboratory studies of phytoplankton, but of course laboratory studies of plankton are not the real ocean.”

According to Martiny, scientists traditionally account for plankton by measuring the amount of chlorophyll in the water. There is considerably less of the green stuff in low-latitude regions that are very hot compared to cooler regions further away from the equator.

“The problem is that chlorophyll is not everything that’s in a cell, and actually in low latitudes, many plankton are characterized by having a very small amount of it; there’s so much sunlight, plankton only need a few chlorophyll molecules to get enough energy to grow,” he noted. “In reality, we have had so far very little data to actually demonstrate whether or not there is more or less biomass in regions undergoing stratification. As a result, the empirical basis for less biomass in warmer regions is not that strong.”

These doubts led Martiny and his UCI colleagues to conduct their own phytoplankton census. Analyzing samples from more than 10,000 locations around the world, the team created a global synthesis of the key phytoplankton groups that grow in warm regions.

The vast majority of these species are very tiny cells known as picophytoplankton. Ten times smaller in diameter than the strains of plankton one would find off the California coast – and 1,000 times less voluminous – picophytoplankton are nonetheless great in number, making up 80 to 90 percent of plankton biomass in most warm regions.

The group built global maps and compared the quantity of biomass along the gradient of temperature, a key parameter, according to Martiny. Conducting a machine learning analysis to determine the difference now versus the year 2100, they found a big surprise: “In many regions there would be an increase of 10 to 20 percent of plankton biomass, rather than a decline,” Martiny said.

“Machine learning is not biased by the human mind,” he said. “We just give the model tons and tons of data, but they can help us challenge existing paradigms.”

One of the theories the team explored to explain the growth, with help from co-author Francois Primeau, UCI professor of Earth system science, had to do with what happens to phytoplankton at the end of their life cycle.

“When plankton die – especially these small species – they sit around for a while longer, and maybe at high temperature other plankton can more easily degrade them and recycle the nutrients back to build new biomass,” Martiny said.

Such ecosystem features are not easily taken into account by traditional, mechanistic Earth system models, according to Martiny, but they were part of the geographically diverse dataset the team used to train its neural network-derived quantitative niche model.

Martiny said that this study as a follow-up to research published last summer is further evidence as to the diversity and resilience of phytoplankton.

“We could obviously let climate change get out of hand and go into completely uncharted territory, and then all bets are off,” he said. “But at least for a while, I think the adaptive capabilities in these diverse plankton communities will help them maintain high biomass despite these environmental changes.”

Joining Martiny and Primeau were fellow authors Pedro Flombaum, former UCI postdoctoral researcher and later visiting scholar in Earth system science (currently a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina), and Weilei Wang, UCI postdoctoral scholar in Earth system science. The study received support from the National Science Foundation’s Ten Big Ideas program and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research.


About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit http://www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.

From EurekAlert!

via Watts Up With That?


January 27, 2020 at 04:49PM

Atrazine: A Water Rule the EPA Got Right — and Tucker Carlson Got Wrong

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson recently went off on a Trump EPA change to the rules for the herbicide atrazine. Here’s why Carlson and others should dodge pitches and propaganda from green advocacy groups. My column at AmericanGreatness.com.

I’m a big fan of Tucker Carlson. Like his fellow disruptor, President Trump, he’s willing to take on all sides of the establishment, Left, Right, and the deep state. And, in my opinion at least, he’s almost always right over the target.

But in one particular case, an issue he addressed recently—the EPA’s review of the herbicide atrazine—he hit way wide of the mark, accusing the agency of risking the public health by loosening standards for atrazine in water.

As editor of JunkScience.com, I’ve worked on environmental regulatory issues for three decades now. No one would accuse me of being a fan of the EPA. In fact, I’ve sued the EPA, called for reforms, and otherwise endlessly written about the agency’s willingness to throw science under the bus to achieve its often left-wing political agenda. As a member of the Trump transition team on EPA issues, I developed a long list of badly needed reforms for the agency, many of which have been instituted.

But that doesn’t mean that EPA always gets it wrong.

The agency’s position on the chemical atrazine is one instance in which—despite its track record—the regulators appear to be coming out largely in the right place. First, a few baseline facts about what EPA’s review says and doesn’t say.

Contrary to some reports and Tucker’s shot on atrazine, the EPA is not raising the limits on the level of atrazine allowed in drinking water. These will remain exactly where they are now, which is an almost infinitesimal 3 parts per billion on a yearly average. Neither is the monitoring program coming to an end. Atrazine levels will continue to be monitored as before under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which requires testing for a large number of naturally occurring chemicals, microorganisms, and possible synthetic contaminants.

Here’s what’s changing: In 2003, EPA set up a separate Atrazine Monitoring Program (AMP) to more frequently sample drinking water in communities with heavy atrazine use to make sure the SDWA monitoring wasn’t missing anything. It wasn’t.

The AMP—which tested for both atrazine and its breakdown products—demonstrated a clear lack of health concerns. The vast majority of samples came in below 1 part per billion, none exceeded the SDWA standard, and the clear trend was declining atrazine levels over time. EPA reasonably decided that the extra monitoring wasn’t needed. The decision will be reviewed in a year.

In any case, monitoring will continue as always under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

It’s important to understand that EPA sets its limits on contaminants by building in huge safety margins. This is especially true for pesticides (herbicides are one kind of pesticide), where allowable levels are many orders of magnitude below what has been demonstrated in the lab to have “no effect.” At each point in the process, EPA assumes a “worst case” scenario and purposefully errs on the side of caution. This includes assuming maximum exposure to the most sensitive parts of the population (infants and pregnant women) and multiplying “uncertainty factors” together for any issue on which the science can’t give a definitive answer.

When the 3 parts per billion limit was set in the early 1990s, this created an “uncertainty” buffer, or margin, which was 1,000 times below the no-effect level. What the EPA said in its recently published review is that toxicological science has advanced considerably in the past 30 years, and that means many of the “uncertainties” the EPA built in back in 1991 are no longer uncertain and could, theoretically, be dispensed with. The EPA doesn’t say this, but if one were to calculate safety limits according to the up-to-date science, the allowable limit could easily be set above 500 parts per billion and still achieve a wide margin of safety.

But EPA isn’t going to do that. It’s keeping the 3 parts per billion. It works for farmers and the agency doesn’t see any compelling need to change it.

One could complain, perhaps, that if they were basing their regulations on the best science, they really ought to raise it; but it makes no sense to complain that EPA has done an incredibly thorough job and is accurately reporting out on their findings.

The problem is that environmental groups such as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have, as usual, mischaracterized the EPA’s findings and in their news releases and seemingly conflated EPA’s drinking water limits with its ecological review, which has nothing to do with human health.

The eco-review does, in fact, recommend raising these eco limits in light of extensive new studies, but these limits are based on the effect of atrazine on algae, which sits at the bottom of the food chain for lots of aquatic wildlife. Algae, like most other plants, engage in photosynthesis to turn sunlight into energy. Atrazine works by disrupting photosynthesis in plants. Humans don’t do photosynthesis. The eco-limits don’t apply to drinking water and they will have no effect whatsoever on any human health issues.

If you read all this and still think the safety factors aren’t enough, think about the difference between drinking one cup of coffee, which is harmless and may possibly have positive health effects, and drinking 1,000 cups of coffee in one sitting, which would probably kill you.

If you’re worried about NRDC’s claims that atrazine is an “endocrine disruptor,” understand that this is only true in the sense that any food that contains naturally occurring phytoestrogens is an endocrine disruptor, including (and this is a short list) rice, beans, wheat germ, apples, carrots, coffee, tea, and—sorry to break it to you—beer. Most of these foods are thought to have positive health effects. Phytoestrogens like resveratrol and genistein—two famous “antioxidants”—are even marketed as health supplements, and there is evidence that they fight inflammation and may be protective against cancer.

If you still say that pesticides are yucky and you don’t want artificial chemicals in your diet, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re out of luck. All farmers who grow to scale, including organic farmers, use chemical pesticides, and they have for centuries. NRDC and EWG won’t tell you this, but organic farmers use older pesticides like sulfur, neem oil, and copper sulfate, which is highly toxic to people, plants and wildlife and is a known carcinogen. And because these “natural” chemicals are less targeted and less effective, they dump them on their fields in truly astounding quantities.

A final word about “big agriculture.” My first response is, “if only it still existed.” I carry no brief for ethanol mandates (which are stupid) and farm subsidies, but the political power of the “farm lobby” has become increasingly attenuated as, ironically, farming has become ever more efficient and fewer and fewer people have any direct connection to the land. If you doubt this, pick up a copy of the Des Moines Register sometime, which has effectively become an environmentalist, anti-farmer mouthpiece.

Meanwhile, the power of the environmentalist movement grows ever greater by the day. Many of the “nonprofit” anti-pesticide and anti-GMO groups are the same, and funded by many of the same money sources, as those that are pushing the global warming agenda, including the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Bloomberg Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the McArthur Foundation, as well as the organic industry and the trial bar.

Environmental “nonprofits” that are in part or wholly devoted to a “Green New Deal”-style attack on modern agriculture have a war chest in the neighborhood of $10 billion a year, which goes into producing nothing but environmentalist propaganda that barely disguises its true anti-capitalist, big-government agenda.

I’d take everything they say with a heavy helping of salt—which according to NRDC standards, is also an endocrine disruptor.

via JunkScience.com


January 27, 2020 at 04:23PM

Antarctica’s biggest glacier is thinning in patterns opposite to previously observed

Significant changes since 2007 or so are observed but not explained, which seems to leave them open to interpretation. To get that ball rolling the recent solar slowdown could be mentioned.
A 2015 NASA study said that ‘an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers.’

Using the latest satellite technology from the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists from the University of Bristol have been tracking patterns of mass loss from Pine Island — Antarctica’s largest glacier, reports SciTechDaily.

They found that the pattern of thinning is evolving in complex ways both in space and time with thinning rates now highest along the slow-flow margins of the glacier, while rates in the fast-flowing central trunk have decreased by about a factor of five since 2007.

This is the opposite of what was observed prior to 2010.
[Animation of the thinning of Pine Island Glacier here].

Pine Island has contributed more to sea-level rise over the past four decades than any other glacier in Antarctica, and as a consequence has become one of its most intensively and extensively investigated ice stream systems.

However, different model projections of future mass loss give conflicting results; some suggesting mass loss could dramatically increase over the next few decades, resulting in a rapidly growing contribution to sea level, while others indicate a more moderate response.

Identifying which is the more likely behavior is important for understanding future sea-level rise and how this vulnerable part of Antarctica is going to evolve over the coming decades.

The results of the new study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggest that rapid migration of the grounding line, the place where the grounded ice first meets the ocean, is unlikely over that timescale, without a major change in ocean forcing.

Instead, the results support model simulations that imply that the glacier will continue to lose mass but not at much greater rates than present.

Lead author Professor Jonathan Bamber from the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences, said: “This could seem like a ‘good news story’ but it’s important to remember that we still expect this glacier to continue to lose mass in the future and for that trend to increase over time, just not quite as fast as some model simulations suggested.”

Full report here.

via Tallbloke’s Talkshop


January 27, 2020 at 02:09PM

Electric Vehicle Sales Fall Despite A Proliferation Of New Models


BY Brad Anderson | Posted on January 25, 2020

As more and more electric vehicles hit the market, it would be reasonable to assume that sales of EVs would be rising consistently. However, according to new figures, that’s not the case.

The Los Angeles Times reports that while 45 new all-electric and plug-in hybrids debuted in the U.S. last year, just 325,000 EVs and plug-in hybrids were sold across the nation in 2019, a fall of 6.8 per cent from the 349,000 of the year prior. Numbers regarding how many EVs were sold in California last year aren’t available quite yet.

“The number of battery-electric models available more than doubled last year, but EV sales didn’t budge much. That’s troubling,” the head of the automotive practice at consulting firm AlixPartners, Mark Wakefield said.

A number of factors could explain this. For starters, it seems as though range anxiety remains a serious cause for concern among consumers. In addition, electric vehicles remain more expensive than their ICE-powered rivals and with some of the government’s generous subsidies ending for many of the market’s best-selling EVs, buyers are feeling the pinch. What’s more, gas prices remain low and stable.

Read: There’s A Recession In Global Car Sales And It Shows Little Signs Of Abating

Then there’s Tesla. The car manufacturer has created a lifestyle brand and its models are often considered as the quintessential electric car. Sales of the Model 3 jumped by 14 per cent in 2019 in the U.S. and more than doubled globally to 300,600.

Many so-called ‘Tesla killers’ have hit the market recently but failed to sell. The Jaguar I-Pace, for example, shifted just 2,594 units in the U.S. last year while the Audi e-tron registered just 5,369 sales. Cheaper alternatives like the Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro also aren’t selling particularly well either, shifting 3,600 and less than 1,000 units respectively.

Read the full article here.

via Watts Up With That?


January 27, 2020 at 12:47PM