We had a wonderful talk today by John Hemming, a historian and explorer of the Amazon. It drew on his decades of experience in contact with Brazil's Indians, looked at their history over the late 20th century, and looked forward to their prospects for the 21st century after the steep decline in their populations in the 20th century and before. The overall theme was quite positive: for many surviving groups their cultures are intact, their populations are booming, and their lands largely demarcated. The talk was laced by stunning photos of their way of life, most taken by John during his various encounters and adventures in the 1970s and 1980s.
I strongly recommend his three-volume history of the Brazilian Indians, especially the third volume Die If You Must, or the more concise Tree of Rivers. They are gripping.
We had a great talk last Thursday by Prof Todd Dawson of the University of California at Berkeley, on the ecology of physiology of the California redwoods, and the crucial role that intercepting coastal fog plays in their survival. Following discussions after the seminar we are hopeful that some redwoods plots can be added to our Global Ecosystems Monitoring (GEM) network early in 2014. The talk pdf can be download here (76 MB).
Here is a nice introduction poster on our research group at Oxford and some of the research that we do. This was designed and prepared by Emily Read.
The Global Carbon Project is a group of scientists who do an excellent job in producing an annual analysis and report on the state of the global carbon budget. Their analysis for 2013 has just been released and the paper, slides and data can be found at their website:
A ppt pdf of the presentation can also be uploaded here.
You will find a summary of new findings, a ppt with an extended graphic analysis, and links to the data and paper for download.
Global Carbon Cycle 2013 (powerpoint, 10 MB) or pdf (4 MB)
The analysis makes for sombre reading (my personal comments in italics):
CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production increased by 2.1% in 2012, with a total of 9.7±0.5 GtC emitted to the atmosphere. These emissions were the highest in human history and 58% higher than in 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol reference year). In 2012, coal burning was responsible for 43% of the total emissions, oil 33%, gas 18%, cement 5.3%, and gas flaring 0.6%. Emissions are projected to increase by 2.1% in 2013, to a record high of 9.9±0.5 GtC (36 billion tonnes of CO2), 61% above emissions in 1990.
These numbers show just how spectacularly unsuccessful our global attempts have been to get to grips with CO2 emissions. From the graphs in the report there is little evidence of a turning point soon.
Regional fossil fuel emissions
In 2012, global CO2 emissions were dominated by emissions from China (27%), the USA (14%), the EU (28 member states; 10%) and India (6%). Growth rates of these countries from 2011 to 2012 were 5.9% for China, −3.7% for the USA, −1.3% for the EU28, and 7.7% for India. The per-capita CO2 emissions in 2012 were 1.4 tC person-1 yr-1 for the globe, and 4.4, 1.9, 1.9 and 0.5 tonnes of C person-1 yr-1 for the USA, the EU, China, and India, respectively.
The countries contributing most to the 2012 change in emissions were China (71% increase), USA (26% decrease), India (21% increase), and Japan (11% increase).
In 1990, 62% of global emissions were emitted in Annex B countries (developed countries), 34% in non-Annex B (developing countries), and 4% in bunker fuels used for international shipping and aviation. In 2012, 37% of emissions were emitted in Annex B countries, and 57% in non-Annex B countries.
This shows how much the world has changed since 1990, and how out-of-date the Kyoto framework has become. China is now at parity in per capita carbon emissions with the EU. There is still strong argument for trying to reduce emissions in the West, but even the most aggressive of emissions reductions schemes could not compensate for the surge of emissions from Asia. Surely the most immediate global priority is to shift Asia's energy economy away from coal (and ideally other fossil fuels) while meeting its development aspirations? Everything else seems small compared to this challenge
Interesting patterns in the USA and Japan. A 26% decrease in emissions from the US, probably linked to the expansion of shale gas. And an 11% increase from Japan, as it has shifted towards coal following the shutdown of most nuclear power plants following Fukushima. Interesting grist to the mill for arguments around whether nuclear and shale gas should been seen as viable strategies for reducing CO2 emissions. With shale gas the key climate question is this whether this just feeds our fossil fuel addiction in the long run or is a transition strategy to wean us off coal?
Consumption-based fossil fuel emissions
In 2011 (the latest year with consumption data), the biggest emitters from a consumption-based perspective were China (22% of the global total), USA (17%), EU (14%), and India (5%).
Cumulative CO2 emissions
The cumulative carbon emissions are the sum of the total CO2 emitted during a given period of time. Total cumulative emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, 1750 to 2012, were 385±20 GtC from fossil fuels and cement, and 205±70 from land use change. Using 1870 as the reference year (as in IPCC AR5 2013), cumulative emissions up to 2013 are 390±20 GtC from fossil fuels and cement, and 160±55 GtC from land use change, for a total of 550±60 GtC.
Emissions from land use change
CO2 emissions from deforestation and other land use change were 0.9±0.5 GtC on average during 2003-2012, accounting for about 8% of all emissions from human activity (fossil fuel, cement, land use change). The data suggest an overall decrease trend in land use change emissions particularly since 2000. Emissions were 1.4±0.5 GtC yr-1 during the decade of 1990s.
The land use change emissions are dominated by tropical deforestation, and the decline in these emissions by Brazil's relative success in reducing Amazonian deforestation. Overall, tropical deforestation becomes less and less part of the climate problem, contributing only 8% of total emissions. This is mainly because the fossil fuel part of the problem continues to surge.
Current trajectories of fossil fuel emissions are tracking some of the most carbon intensive emission scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The current trajectory is tracking the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (of the latest family of IPCC scenarios) that takes the planet's average temperature to about 3.2°C to 5.4°C above pre-industrial times by 2100.
That is the most startling line of all (if not surprising)
CO2 removal by natural sinks
Of the total emissions from human activities during the period 2003-2012, about 45% accumulated in the atmosphere, 27% in the ocean and 27% on land. During this period, the size of the natural sinks has grown in response to the increasing emissions, although year-to-year variability of that growth is large.
The annual growth rate of atmospheric CO2 was 5.2±0.2 GtC in 2012, corresponding to an increase of 2.43±0.09 parts per million in the atmospheric concentration. This is significantly above the 2003-2012 average of 4.3±0.1 GtC yr-1, thought the interannual variability in atmospheric growth rate is large. The global atmospheric CO2concentration reached 392.52±0.10 ppm on average over 2012.
Investigating climate change and biosphere function via an elevation transect in the Andes_Part 1 (given by Yadvinder Malhi)
This lecture explores how our research in the Andes can give insights into how tropical plant species are responding to climate warming. As well as our own work it draws on the work (and slides) of my colleagues Miles Silman at Wake Forest University and Ken Feeley at Florida International University.
Investigating climate change and biosphere function via an elevation transect in the Andes_Part 2 (given by Dr Cécile Girardin)
This lecture explores how studies of productivity and carbon cycling in the Andes can give insights into how the tropical biosphere will respond to warming.
A crisp November afternoon, the sun low over the tranquil English Channel. We comb along the beaches of Hanover Point, Isle of Wight, walking on the 125 million year old Cretaceous fossilised mudflats, looking for dinosaur bones. The site is criss-crossed with dinosaur tracks and casts, and the remains of a petrified Araucaria forest. A perfect afternoon.
(I also highly recommend the fossil hunting safaris from Island Gems)
We are hosting a major conference st St John's College, Oxford on March 18-20 2014.
The conference will examine the role that large animals play (or have played) in the structure and function of ecosystems from the high Arctic to the tropics. We will explore the effect that the (likely human caused) extinctions in the late Pleistocene had on ecosystems, how current megafaunal loss is shaping ecosystems, and explore the provocative idea that megafauna should be brought back into the changing ecosystems of the Anthropocene.
More details on the conference (and how to register and submit abstracts) can be found here.
There is an amazing new paper out in Science today, led by Matt Hansen and colleagues, which produces a global high resolution map of forest cover change across the world over the period 2000-2012. This study is a major advance on previous studies by combing the global availability of Landsat data with the computational power of the Google eEarth Engine. There is a great data visualisation and exploration tool here, definitely worth a play with and zooming in to high resolutions:http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/11/google-earth-deforestation/
High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change
M. C. Hansen, et al. Science
In the tropics, there are some fascinating elements apparent with this tool. We already had a good sense of what was happening in the Brazilian Amazonia thanks to annual reports by INPE and others, but this gives a wider high resolution picture. Over this period the southern Amazon arc of deforestation dominates, but this covers both the high Brazilian deforestation per 2005 and the huge slowdown since then, where large scale agro-pastoral clearing has almost come to a halt. But it has just been announced that Brazilian Amazon deforestation bounced up by 28% this year, so the slowdown is far from guaranteed. Lots of clearance in the drier forests of Bolivia and Paraguay. The much-deforested Atlantic rainforest seems to have broadly passed a forest transition, with areas of expansion and few areas of major loss.
In Africa the most striking thing is how static the humid rainforest biome is overall, with a few notable exceptions such as civil-war torn Côte d"Ivoire in West Africa. This is consistent with recent analyses by Mayaux et al and Rudel, suggesting a forest transition in West Africa, and the lack of an active deforestation frontier in Central Africa, because of minerals-heavy economies, heavy urban migration and (in the DRC) political instability. The dry forests of souhern and eastern Africa are experiencing much more loss, notably in Angola (despite its oil heavy economy), Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar.
In Asia it is striking how Sumatra and much of the circumference of Borneo are being picked apart. I suspect much of the "forest gain" in blue is oil palm plantations appearing (though have not studied the methodologies closely enough), No sign of stabilisation there, in either Indonesia or Malaysia. There is also a major deforestation front in Cambodia.
Outside the tropics to me the most striking thing is the lack of massive afforestation widely reported for China and reported by the FAO (see also the figure in the supplementary table). This might be causing some frowns in Beijing and Rome... Some big losses and gains in the boreal zones of Siberia and Canada, but much of this may be the fire dynamucs of this region.
Here is a BBC news item on the map.
There is a draft video available from NASA that highlights the work. (It's a LARGE file, be warned.)
The CHAMBASA field team has finally emerged from the last plot in our intensive ten plots transect for collection of tree and branch traits. This has been a stupendous effort in extremely challenging terrain, and the team have been almost continuously in the field since April (starting with what upon reflection seem like paradise-like days at the Wayqecha field station. The team has ranged from the Andean treeline, 3600 m above sea level, down to the Amazon lowlands at Tambopata, 200 m above sea level. Overall there were about 107 full days of active sampling, and 1005 branches (about 5000 leaves) were sampled for photosynthesis, spectra, chemistry (and many more for herbivory and chemistry). As will as the immense fieldwork effort, this campaign involved major challenges in terms of logistics and permits for import, collection and export. Congratulations to the whole CHAMBASA team for an amazing effort!
CHAMBASA is supported by grants from the Natural Environment Research Council and the European Research Council.
This is the the first (and largest) of the GEM-TRAITS campaigns across the tropics over the next few years. We have learnt a lot. Roll on Brazil, Ghana, Malaysia, Gabon and more...
Here is a photo of the CHAMBASA team at the end of six exhausting months.
We had a fascinating and thought-provoking presentation by Keith Kirby on how British conservation organisations view the topic of rewilding. The presentation can be downloaded here. It highlighted the practical and legislative challenges to rewilding the British landscape, and examples of early rewilding projects. This idea is gaining some momentum and sympathy in the Oxford scientific community - we'll be having several discussions on this in the next few months and a major conference ("Megafauna and Ecosystem Function: From the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene") in March 2014.
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University