We’re Giving Coral Cancer Too: The Climate Change Stories on Our Radar

Climate change stories Haaretz didn’t report on this week – but that are worth knowing

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Healthy coral in the Red Sea, Eilat
Healthy coral in the Red Sea, EilatCredit: Irisphoto1 / Shutterstock
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Will this be the news that stops us from dumping deadly goop into the sea? We knew coral can develop tumors, but now these skeletal anomalies have been associated with limited water motion (not generally our fault), a paucity of herbivorous fish (generally our fault) and to fertilizer and pesticide runoff (completely our fault). The University of Hawaii-led study of the ecological risks to reef well-being appeared in Scientific Reports. What is a coral tumor? Localized bumps that can be centimeters proud of the colony surface. Tumorous corals do not do well, especially in the acidifying oceans. Abnormal tissue growth in other organisms is also associated with toxic waste, and even with climate change itself (more sunshine, more skin cancer, for instance).

G-20 overcomes U.S. veto on mentioning climate change

Finance officials from the G-20 biggest economies meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday overcame American obstructionism and reached a final communique that does mention climate change, Reuters reports. The United States had balked at an earlier draft that included climate change among the risk factors to growth, never mind that at Davos, global warming topped the agenda.

“Overcoming U.S. objections, the compromise language retained a reference to work by the Financial Stability Board to examine the implications of climate change on financial stability, although it dropped climate change from its list of downside risks to global economic growth,” Reuters reported. Maybe the U.S. reps missed estimates that sea level rise alone could cost the world more than 4 percent of its gross domestic product each year by 2100. The world awaits the final G-20 communique with bated nothing.

Wildfire smoke actually good for plants

Counterintuitively perhaps, the smoke from massive wildfires may actually boost photosynthesis in surviving plants, reports Eos, based on research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. And this is how? A study following California’s conflagrations in 2018 deduced that direct sunlight available to plants did drop by 4 percent versus 2017, but the smoke particles scattered the light. That increased the amount of diffuse light by about a third. Direct sunrays fall on the top leaves; scattered light reaches lower leaves too. This greater light utilization overcame the downside of the extra ozone produced by the fires, which plants don’t like either, the researchers calculate.

Black-throated Blue Warbler male
Black-throated Blue Warbler maleCredit: cuatrok77, Wikimedia Commons

Warning song of the warbler

Migration patterns of black-throated blue warblers have been changing over the last 50 years. Every decade they set off a day earlier, reports a study in The Auk: Ornithological Advances. One can’t link that creeping change directly to climate change, but one can link creeping change in a host of bird behaviors to exactly that, Cornell ornithologist Andrew Farnsworth told The Auk. “Birds are very susceptible to changes, and they are really good indicators of what’s happening around them in their physical environment,” he said.

One indication: Global warming is causing birds to shrink; birds in the United States and Europe face massive extinction due to global warming (“Nature is unraveling”); and, of course, their migratory habits have to change as the environments they know vanish.

Ice-entombed bird connects speciation with climate change

Apropos avians: Unlike the mega-viruses, anthrax and heaven knows what else is thawing out of the melting permafrost, a bird discovered still entombed in subterranean Siberian ice was dead, and turns out to have been so for 44,000 to 49,000 years. Our story begins with the discovery in 2018 of a frozen bird in northeastern Siberia and ends with its genetic sequencing by Swedish scientists, who revealed that the deceased was a female horned lark – and that the larks evidently underwent speciation as the climate changed. We note that she was found in tunnels bored by mammoth ivory hunters. We also note that climate change is happening a lot faster now compared with then, and change-driven speciation today isn’t expected to prevent mass extinctions as accelerated climate change rages.

GM super-maize? Well, it’s a plan

America’s commander in chief may be in climate denial, but the nation’s scientists are worried about future starvation – including because of failure in staple crops such as maize. There are tens of thousands of wild maizes, but American farmers only grow a few kinds that don’t thrive under stress. Some wild strains of maize thrive better in onerous conditions, but not having evolved in the United States, they need adaptation, which can be a roughly 10-year process using ordinary farming techniques. Now a team reports in Agriculture about trying to beat the climate change clock by sequencing exotic maize genomes so they can cherry-pick “helpful” traits. Modifying maize is certainly a possibility but I wouldn’t bet the farm on drought-resistant GM maize reaching a grocery shop near you soon.

Ruth Schuster is Senior Editor for archaeology and science at Haaretz English Edition.

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