The news is full of the surge in deforestation and fires in the Amazon rainforest, and and I have been fielding various media enquiries about what is causing this rise and what it means for our atmosphere. The increases fires have major consequences for regional climate, the rich Amazonian biodiversity, air quality and human health, and some consequence for global carbon emissions (though still small compared to the amount being emitted by fossil fuel combustion in industrialised parts of the world). One thing I am often asked on is to comment on the statement that "the Amazon provides 20% of our oxygen", a statement now being used by, among others, the President of France and the Secretary General of the UN. This statement is basically incorrect and based on a partial understanding of how ecosystems function. There are lots of reasons to be concerned about the Amazon and the current fires, including regional climate, human health affects of pollution, loss of the most biodiversity rich area of the planet and global carbon emissions. But running out of oxygen isn't one of them.
Below I lay out the science of where this number comes from, and why it is incorrect when you have a whole-ecosystem view of the Amazon.
The 20% figure comes from a partial understanding of the global oxygen cycle.
The tropical forests account for about a 34% of global land surface photosynthesis. This is shown in the figure below (Beer et al. 2010, Science). The figure shows the global land distribution of photosynthesis - the rainforests are the big red patches and the Amazon accounts for about one half of the world's rainforests. Tropical rainforests photosynthesise so much because they have a year-long growing season not constrained by winter or drought. The units in the figure at g of carbon per square metre, and in the summary Table below the units are Pg (petagrams) of carbon. Pg of carbon taken up by photosynthesis but can be converted to Pg of oxygen released by multiplying by 2.67. One petagram is 10^15 g, or a thousand million million grams, it is also often called a gigatonne, a thousand million tonnes).
Photosynthesis takes up carbon dioxide from the air but produces oxygen, as in the famous school textbook equation, which belie a fantastically complex and still incompletely understood marvel of nature:
6CO2 + 6H2O —> C6H12O6 + 6O2
The 2.67 multiplying factor comes from the molecular weight of O2 (32) divided by that of carbon (12).
Table 1 from the same paper shows the total photosynthesis (also known as Gross Primary Productivity or GPP) of each major land biome. We need to multiplying by 2.67 to convert to total oxygen production. Hence total oxygen production by photosynthesis on land is around 330 Pg of oxygen per year. The Amazon (just under half of the tropical forests) is around 16% of this, around 54 Pg of oxygen per year. Rounded up, this is where the 20% figure comes from. 16% of the oxygen being produced on land today is from photosynthesis in the Amazon.
But, rather like the Buddhist parable of the blind monks who each can only feel part of the elephant and therefore disagree on what the animal is, there are (at least) two important additional bits of information needed for a full picture.
First, the phytoplankton in the oceans also photosynthesise, generating around 240 Pg of oxygen per year. So total global photosynthesis (land and sea) produces about 570 Pg of oxygen per year. Therefore in terms of TOTAL global photosynthesis, photosynthesis in the Amazon contributes around 9%. This is smaller, but still substantial.
Second, a bigger point that is often missed is that the Amazon consumes about as much oxygen as it produces. This is shown in the diagram below. Plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis (green arrow). However, the the same plants consume the equivalent of over half the oxygen they produce in their own respiration (blue arrows: my own team's research suggests this is more like 60%). Plants metabolise just as animals do, just at a slower rate, and at night when there is no photosynthesis forests are net absorbers of oxygen. The remaining 40% of the Amazon oxygen budget is consumed mainly by microbes breaking down the dead leaves and wood of the rainforest, a natural process called heterotrophic respiration (dark blue arrows).
These process of plant and heterotrophic respiration are effectively the reverse of the photosynthesis equation above.
So, in all practical terms, the net contribution of the Amazon ECOSYSTEM (not just the plants alone) to the world's oxygen is effectively zero. The same is pretty much true of any ecosystem on Earth, at least on the timescales that are relevant to humans (less than millions of years).
The oxygen levels in the atmosphere are set on million year timescales by the subtle balance of geological, chemical and biological processes. They are not set by the short term (short term equals anything less than hundreds of thousands of years) activities or existence of current biomes.
A final point to make is that the atmosphere is awash with oxygen, at 20.95% or 209,500 ppm (parts per million). Carbon dioxide, by comparison, is around 405 ppm, over 500 times less than oxygen, and rising by around 2-3 ppm per year. Human activity (around 90% of which being fossil fuel combustion) has caused this oxygen concentration to drop by around 0.005% since 1990, a trivial amount. In parallel, the same activities have caused carbon dioxide concentrations to rise by by 37 ppm since 1990, or 10%. This is a much more substantial percentage because there is so little carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to begin with, so human activities that emit or absorb carbon dioxide can make a major difference. This is why we need to worry about the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (and its resulting impact on climate), and why we don't need to worry about running out of oxygen.
Since writing this piece I have received a number of questions about whether the "effectively net zero" contribution of the Amazon to our oxygen supply means that trees have no net contribution to the climate and atmosphere. To be clear, when a tree is planted up on deforested land, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it away biomass. Following the same old balance of photosynthesis, an equivalent amount of oxygen is released to the atmosphere. It we were to plant up an area the size of the Amazon rainforest (something unrealistically ambitious), around 90 Pg C would be removed form the atmosphere, and atmospheric carbon dioxide would be lowered by around 40 ppm, or 10%. Conversely, if the entire Amazon rainforest were to go up in flames (something also unrealistic, I think), atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would rise by 10% and it would be almost impossible to keep global climate warming within safe boundaries such as 1.5 degrees Celsius. Using the same argument applied above, burning up the whole Amazon rainforest would use up around 240 Pg C of oxygen, causing atmospheric oxygen concentrations to drop by around 0.02%, an almost negligible amount because there is so much oxygen in the atmosphere. Keeping the Amazon rainforest largely intact matters for carbon dioxide and climate reasons (as well as many other reasons), it does not matter for oxygen reasons.
Addendum 2 (Aug 27)
Yesterday Prof Scott Denning from Colorado State University published an article in the Conversation making basically the same point, but elaborating more on the long-term oxygen cycle and the role of the oceans. This can be found here:
Every year our MSc Students in Environmental Change and Management break into groups and prepare some sort of exposition on the theme of Global Change and the Biosphere in the Anthropocene. This video was the winning entry this year, telling the story of environmental change and loss as experienced in each of the student's home regions.
Further below, in the students' own words, are further descriptions of the events they refer to:
Alexandria Herr, Sophia Rhee, Sarah Novak, Joshua Arens, Sapphire Deana Vital
Solastalgia, a variation on the concept of nostalgia, is defined by Albrecht et. al. (2007) as, “the distress caused by environmental change”. Impacts of environmental change on daily life can often be diffuse and difficult to articulate; furthermore, environmental problems are often addressed in scientific or policy terms. As such, the living, emotional aspects of environmental degradation can be rendered abstract and clinical. For this piece, each participant chose an environmental problem that was personal to them and portrayed that experience on their body, in an attempt to represent the lived experience of Solastalgia and the often-overlooked personal impacts of environmental change.
“Paradise” – Alexandria Herr
The Camp Fire in early November of 2018 was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. 88 people died, over 13,000 homes were destroyed, and 50,000 people were displaced. Many small communities, including Paradise, CA, were wiped off the map. The fire gained national and international attention, especially because many residents filmed their evacuation with their families and shared the footage on social media and YouTube. The audio used in this clip is extracted from one such video. Though attribution of fires is difficult, especially because land management practices differ across forests, climate change does make the dry, hot conditions which increase the probability of wildfires more likely.
"Breathe" – Sophia Rhee
Using a news clip from 2016, audio in this segment is highlighting how an OECD report listed South Korea as a country projected to see one of the highest increases in mortality rates from air pollution by 2060. As someone with family in Korea and who returns every so often, this is a concerning, and highly noticeable, trend. I am saddened to see the beautiful mountains surrounding Seoul becoming slowly obscured year-round, I worry for my family who will no doubt feel these health effects, and I feel the loss of the dense green landscape and traditions I once knew.
“Nitrification” –Joshua Arens
I chose to look at how agriculture changes the environment—specifically bodies of water. Agricultural runoff, whether it be from fertilizers or livestock manure, ends up in rivers and lakes, leading to their nitrification and eventual degradation. Having grown up on a cattle and crop farm, I’m directly a part of this problem. When working on this project, I was thinking of a small lake in one of our pastures, which no longer supports aquatic life after livestock manure from the neighboring farm was washed into it during a storm. That was when I realized for the first time that agriculture can do real damage to the natural world.
“Eutrophication” – Sarah Novak
New Zealand is known for its stunning landscapes and supposed environmental purity. Yet, contrary to popular images of the country, more than 60 percent of our rivers and lakes are now unswimmable. This is largely due to eutrophication and toxic algal blooms created by agricultural runoff. Having grown up in New Zealand, I feel a deep sense of loss at now being unable to swim freely in our waterways. These images are an attempt to reveal how my solastalgia for clean, healthy rivers is felt holistically, across both body and the mind, and to link that sense of loss to the ecosystem losses that have occurred at a grand scale across New Zealand's landscapes.
“Surge” – Sapphire Deana Vital
Category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall on Dominica on the 18th of September 2017. Having never experienced an intense hurricane, stepping outside of my home after that sleepless night I was confounded. The mountains, normally clothed in lush greens, were stripped bare. Infrastructure was demolished largely beyond recognition. Beaten and flounced by the high rains and winds, my quaint nature isle of the Caribbean was transformed into little more than a landfill. Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica, causing catastrophic storm surge, flooding, and landslides which wrought immense damage and robbed dozens of people of their lives. The increased intensity and frequency of such weather events are thought to be exacerbated by warming oceans caused by climate change. Dominica, as well as other Caribbean islands affected by the hyper active 2017 hurricane season, now strive to recover and fortify themselves for the inevitable storms we know are to come.
In September 2018 I had the opportunity to visit Pleistocene Park, and project in the far north-east Siberian Arctic (with my colleagues Marc Macias-Fauria and Paul Jepson), where large wild animals are being introduced in an attempt to shift the existing tundra into an extinct ecosystem, the mammoth steppe.
The landscape of the region is vast and sparsely populated, one of northern taiga larch forests grading into willow tundra, and interspersed with innumerable thermokarst lakes. In September the deciduous larch forests blazed a brilliant gold, framed by red alder and birch understory.
The landscape is littered with relics of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when this remote high Arctic region was heavily depopulated and abandoned.
Our base is the wonderful North East Science Station, sitting on the banks of the river and centred on an abandoned TV satellite station. It provided good food, genial company, bountiful supply of coffee, chocolates (and vodka!), and a sauna by the river bank. On the nights around my birthday the night sky was laced with vast shimmering auroral storms.
At places such as Duvany Yar, the permafrost-frozen river banks erode into the meandering Kolyma River. High banks of carbon-rich yedoma soils are exposed, the result of slow-frozen accumulation of thousands of years of plant productivity.
Walking along the beach, a surprisingly large number of large bones pop out: horse, bison, rhinoceros and mammoth, frozen in the Pleistocene tens of thousands of years ago. From transects of the beach it is possible to work out the density of these numbers, and the numbers are high. The landscape was a northern Serengeti, rich in mammoths, bison, horses, camels bears and lions, all deriving food and nutrition from a highly productive grassland. Yet all this occurred in the high Arctic during the ice ages. How was such a cold climate able to support such high productivity and biomass? The hypothesis underpinning Pleistocene Park is that it was the animals that made the steppe ecosystem, by accelerating the nutrient cycle many hundredfold through eating and egestion.
Pleistocene Park is an attempt to rebuild this lost grassland ecosystem. Sergey and Nikita Zimov have introduced a range of large and cold-tolerant mammals, including horses, yaks, bison, sheep, musk oxen, local reindeer and soon cattle. In fenced patches where the grazing in intense, the system is shifting into a grassy willow savanna. By the lake floodplains are grasslands that provide vital and reliable grazing lands while the system is in transition.
This experiment it not just about animals and ecosystems. A key hypothesis is that the high biomass of animals would have trampled with winter snow layer, preventing it from being an insulating blanket, and thereby freezing the soils deeper in winter. This is turn would reduce the risk and depth of summer melt. As the regional climate warms, this may be a key tool to keep the carbon-rich soils frozen, and thereby preventing a dangerous feedback on climate change.
Thank you to Nikita Zimov and his family and staff for hosting us with endless good humour and many tales. Thanks to the Oxford University John Fell Fund and the School of Geography and the Environment for supporting this visit.
I spent a week in January 2018 at the Congreso Futuro (Congress of the Future) in Chile. I has never heard of this event when I was invited a few months ago, and I confess my interest was initially piqued by the prospect of a trip to Antarctica. However, in being here and experiencing the whole Congress I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and also found it an interesting and impressive attempt at popularisation and democratisation of science (and many ideas beyond the sciences) that merits some reflection.
The core of the event is a week of TED-style talks in Santiago, in the magnificent building of the former Congress. This year the broad theme of the meeting was “Tome Consciencia Hoy” (become conscious now) and there is a very pro-active future-looking theme to the whole meeting. Many of the talks are celebrations and discussions of the new scientific discoveries (from exoplanets to graphene to precision medicine) but there is also a broad environment theme (from raising alarms on topics ranging from the state of the oceans and climate or the risks of agricultural antibiotics to new approaches and technologies to dealing with these issues). Unlike many standard science festivals, there is also a fascinating disruptive edge to some of the talks, with a number of speakers questioning our economic system and social values, exploring new ways of organising democratic societies, or challenging the nature of the online world as it has been shaped thus far.
The events in Santiago are only part of the story. All through the week speakers are sent to around twelve regional centres across Chile, to participate in similar style local events. As an example, on the Monday I was in lovely Punta Arenas in Magallanes, near the southern end of Chile, together with three other speakers, at a wonderfully organised event speaking to an audience of around 200 and participating in panel discussions. The meeting audience ranged from the regional Senator and Presidential Representative (who both spoke) through to the general public and a host of school children. In the afternoon we circulated around groups of school children, answering questions about lives and careers in science, and the nature of the scientific process.
What is most impressive is the amount of effort put in to making the event accessible and to engage the wider public. All events are free to attend and overall around around 40,000 people directly attended events around the country. They are also professionally livestreamed (with around 2.1 million viewers) and heavily covered on national TV, and follow-up programmes are built from the material and broadcast on TV throughout the year, to keep the meeting and its content in the public discourse. There is strong political support, with both the President and President-Elect (of opposite parties) speaking at the opening ceremony, and the key dinner of the week hosted by the President in the La Moneda palace. The Senate has played a key role in originating and supporting the concept over the years, although now there is also substantial (perhaps almost all) funding from sponsors.
As guest speakers you are very well looked after. Smiley and helpful student guides are assigned to each speaker and there to help with every logistical issue - my guide Bastian was just great) - the main requirements to be accepted as a guide seems to be good grades and language skills. The field trips before the meeting (to either Antarctica/Patagonia or to the Atacama Desert and its mountain astronomical observatories) are just spectacular (and certainly a cunning strategic bait to attract many key thinkers to Chile to an event they may never have heard of), and there are a range of wonderful events and receptions throughout the week. The trips also served as a chance to get to know and really bond with the organisers and other speakers, which played a valuable role in taking away the potential anonymity of such a broad ranging and disparate meeting.
At a time when some national horizons seem to be retreating in vision and evidence-based thinking is questioned as being mere ideology, it is remarkable to see such a high-level celebration of knowledge, evidence and critical thinking, and questioning of the status quo, and moreover one played out on a national stage and with such strong political support. It is also remarkable that a middle-income nation, Chile, is leading the way and punching well above its weight. In terms of engaging a nation in thinking about where the future is going and what kind of future we wish to have, and I have not come across any other event operating at a national scale and at this level. There are lessons to be learnt in many nations (whether existing or emerging scientific powers) from the Congress of the Future. I wish it well, and may it contribute to raising a new generation of thinkers and questioners in Chile, and to shaping the regional global discussion on what kind of future we are heading towards and what kind of future we want.
I have spent the last week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. I was invited by the European Research Council (as a current grantee), to present some of my work on climate change and tropical forest conservation and tipping points. My initial reaction to the invitation was some trepidation - media coverage and reference to “the self-congratulating elites of Davos” governing the world detached from the concerns of the wider world had pre-shaped my perceptions. But I was also very curious, and excited to have the chance to peer into the dynamics of this extraordinary invitation-only gathering of a few thousand people in this lovely Alpine valley, and see what role there was for science and environmentalism in its deliberations.
The hotels for Davos are booked up well in advance, and so I stayed in a wonderful AirBnB chalet perched high up on a slope of the valley, together with my fellow invitee Maja Schleuter from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. When it was first booked we had not quite appreciated that getting there involved a 40 minute hike up a mountain in pitch darkness through deep snow and forest. But being perched in silence on the edge of the valley gave a valuable moment for reflection at the start and end of each day, and I really looked forward to this crunchy snowy hike at the end of a full day of conversations and ideas. Every morning from my snowy mountain perch I could nurse a coffee and gaze down on what is probably one of the greatest concentrations of power and influence (political, financial, commercial) in human history. The valley held not only on the powerful and the wealthy, but also on a host of campaigners, researchers and thinkers trying to understand and shape a better world. As the week progressed more helicopters buzzed in and out (particularly after Thursday when Donald Trump and his vast entourage arrived), soldiers patrolled the slopes and armed guards and X-ray security were found at every hotel entrance.
I wanted to peek into the workings of this week in this secluded Alpine valley, to get some understanding of how this concentration of power and influence worked, of what reactions were catalysed by this concentration. Did and could this concentration lead to new ways of shaping the world and humanity’s place in it in positive ways? In a few days I could not hope to answer my questions in any depth, but I would hope to come away with some insight. I discovered immediately that Davos is vast and multi-layered, and one week probably left me with only the most cursory of first impressions, but I’ll try and put my thoughts down here.
Davos is concentric rings of access. I was a white badge holder (thanks to the ERC), which enabled me to attend all events in the magnificent main conference centre (an elegant building with many wonderful spaces – probably amongst the finest meeting spaces I have every encountered), but not to access private lounges for the paid members. Associated companies pay at least 70,000 euros for the right to be affiliated to the WEF and attend Davos, but about a third of invitees (mainly from academia or civil society) attend for free. The Conference Centre is where the main plenary keynotes (e.g. speeches by world leaders) took place, but also there were a host of meeting rooms, many very innovative in design such as the Ideas Lab (build around small table discussions), the Science Hub (a goldfish bowl where I could make presentations to around 30 people while the main conference talked and met just outside) and the Global Situation Space and Situation Area, which featured massive map and stunning screens which could be manipulated by the presenter, and which could not be ignored by any passing delegate. There was an endless supply of free coffee and smoothies, and coffee areas packed with delegates staring and swiping through their smartphones as obsessed as teenagers at the school gate. Special Virtual Reality Artworks in the hallways offered transport into the world of an Amazonian shaman, a Holocaust survivor or a new pandemic outbreak.
The Global Situation Space was one of the wonderful spaces to explore and understanding mapping data. This image shows areas of income decline in recent years in the USA - a factor that was to lead to recent political earthquakes. It was located in the main meeting area, and almost impossible for any attendee to ignore
Outside the conference centre there was a greater Davos amongst the array of large hotels and rented-out shops stretched out along the Promenade. In addition to some core conference events, these hosted a large range of side events, network events, café meeting spaces and evening receptions that were open to a much wider range of participants (though all seemed need some level of pass and security check). This was also where to find many attendees who did not have the much-envied white passes needed for the Congress Hall.
I was impressed and how many of the events did try to deal with sustainability and equity issues. On a flick through the programme I would estimate 25-35% were on such issues, another third where on assessments of the economics and prospects for particular regions, and others were more futurist, examining the potential and influence of emerging or future technologies, the prospects and threats of artificial intelligence, biotech or blockchain. This was much more of a thinkfest, an exploration of ideas, than I had anticipated, and I got to see or interact with some of my favourite authors or thinkers like Steven Pinker ("Better Angels of our Nature", etc) and Yuval Harari ("Sapiens", "Homo Deus"). It felt like a Hay Book Festival and UN General Assembly thrown together.
In parallel to this thinkfest, there was the corporate or political networking, in hallways or meeting spaces with the Conference Centre, and even more so in the hotels and bars along the Promenade. These areas witnessed a frenzied exchange of contact information, of searching for new business opportunities.
On top of all these events sat the big plenary showcases, the speeches by major world leaders. This year was kicked off by Narendra Modi (very much sending the message that “India has arrived”), various moments filled by Justin Trudeau, Emanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Michel Temer, Theresa May and others, and rounded off by Donald Trump, who the delegates lined up to see with morbid fascination and disdain. I kept my antenna open for mention of climate change, and was impressed how much it featured in India’s message (Macron was the other main leader who made a major mention of it). These showcase events were fascinating, but their scale and anonymity meant there was little value gained over watching the same speeches on livestream. My interest and social curiosity was driven much more by the myriad of smaller events.
A key question for me was how many opportunities were there for intersection and connection between these parallel groups? Or did the academics and NGOs mainly end up talking among themselves while the CEOs and politicians talked elsewhere. I found out that there were a surprising number of points of interaction. Many meetings and talks were set up in formats that made it fairly easy interact in small groups around tables. At one of my presentations, the Ideas Hub, the talk and Q&A were followed by the speakers joining small group tables for follow-up conversation. Another very fruitful format was evening dinners with structured conversations, which allowed for more in-depth explorations and conversations than brief conversations in wine receptions.
The ERC looked after us well, and was keen to showcase the importance of Pan-European Science, in the context of the next long-term funding plans being drawn up and the uncertainty that Brexit throws up for British involvement in European science. I found myself drawn into several strategic conversations on this. The WEF staff also looked after us well, ensuring that as academics that we felt involved and welcome in this complex and somewhat daunting space.
I ended my week in Davos with a mainly favourable impression of what the World Economic Forum was trying to do. I saw a real effort to inject new conversations and perspectives about equity and sustainability into the proceedings of the event, and a genuine attempt to give opportunities of showcasing and exchange of ideas. Whether these efforts deliver in the medium term is hard to tell. But, as one example, every day I bumped into my colleague Kate Raworth moving tirelessly from event to event, presenting and promoting her ideas on doughnut economics to rethink the basis and fundamentals of the global economy. Her ability to use this forum to stimulate and harangue everyone from political leaders to social innovators to Nobel Laureates in Economics was one of the examples of what made Davos special, and how it is possible to really engage and use the opportunity to reach an audience that at most other times is out of reach.
As part of being a visiting speaker at the fantastic #CongresoFuturo2018 in Chile (a supercharged week of TED-style talks and events across Chile), I was invited to take a pre-meeting trip to the Chilean Frei base in Antarctica, hosted by the Chilean air force and navy. For over a month I have been excited at this unique chance to visit the seventh continent, and spent much of Christmas reading about the history and science of the continent.
A group of around 20 visitors, accompanied by navy officers and senators and cadets, made the journey using an Hercules C-130. At Punta Arenas, near the southern top if South America, we slip into cold weather gear, leaving our main luggage behind, get weighed (together with our hand luggage), get a briefing and then head out into the bright sun towards the awaiting grey behemoth of a Hercules C-130. We climb in and line up along benches. The interior is red strapping, a high ceiling above exposing the internal mechanics. There is a heavy odour of aviation fuel. The wide ramp at the rear pulls up. The engines roar into action, we plug in our earphones, and off we go. TThe bare landscapes of northern Tierra del Fuego give any to jagged snowy peaks cut through by narrow channels and fjords of the far southern tip of the Americas. Then a few small and snowy islands and we are out over the Drake Passage.
Over the next two hours the Drake Passage gets cloudier as we approach Antarctica. The lumbering Hercules descends through the clouds, then suddenly the view clears and I glimpse the wind-tortured sea, a few barren islands an before we know it we are on the jagged black runway.
We leave the plane and are greeted by individual handshakes by a line of Air Force officers and cadets. The landscape around is rocky black volcanic mud-rock, interspersed with sheet patches of snow. A strong wind is driving harsh hail into our faces. After a welcome, an group photo and a tour of the quite comfortable science station, we are quite disappointed to learn that the bad weather (the hail has now morphed into horizontal snow) means we cannot go by boat to the ice-breaker ship for a tour of the coast (either by zodiac boat or by helicopter) as we had planned. Rather than hang around too much in cosy rooms, I go for some solo walks along the coast
There is a beauty in the harshness. Navy officers wrestle to bring a zodiac in and bail it out as the wind has blown in blocks of ice that now rim the shore until 10 metres out. Large dark brown skuas glide hungrily overhead and occasionally settle to tear at the yellowed seaweed. Further out I spot a number of mini-icebergs, distinguished by their odd contoured shapes a sharp and gorgeous turquoise colour amid a grey sea and sky. I trail some chinstrap penguins. There is no hint of ground vegetation. I gaze out south, breathing in the harsh but pure air, and imagine the vast and empty continent that lies in front. There are glimpses of neighbouring peaks and jagged rock formations. It is peak mid-summer, at the mildest tip of the content, and I get a sense of how harsh Antarctica can be. The cold wind and snow chill me deep inside, but I feel on awe of briefly sensing the harsh heart of this extreme continent. We did not get a boat trip, but we got to briefly glimpse, feel and breathe the beautiful, severe soul of this harshest and wildest continent, to briefly pay respect by merely touching its toe.
A day last July, signing a 357-year old parchment charter, joined by my parents and sister and brother-in-law, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (for Improving Natural Knowledge...)
We are planning to host the European Conference of Tropical Ecology in the UK in April 2019, jointly supported by the British Ecological Society Tropical Ecology Group (BES-TEG), the European Society for Tropical Ecology (GTOE) and the European Group of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC). We are embarking on an open solicitation process to find a venue to host this exciting event. Please find further details by clicking here here.
My review on the concept of the Anthropocene has just been published in Annual Reviews in Environment and Resources. I explore the history of the concept, how it is used in disciplines ranging from the Earth system sciences, geology, ecology, social sciences and in the wider cultural sphere, and how useful it is a way of describing the modern environmental challenge.
Malhi, Y. (2017) The concept of the Anthropocene. Annual Reviews in Environment and Resources, Vol. 42, 2017, pp. 77–104
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University