Roughly 50 million years ago, the Eurasian and Indian continental plates began to crash into each other, dramatically changing the landscape of modern-day Asia. The force of the collision caused the Earth to scrunch together at the zone of impact, subsequently forming the Himalayan mountain range. However, to the north of the crash, a stretch of the Earth uplifted without bunching up or wrinkling; instead the clash formed an elevated flat surface five times as large as France, now known as the Tibetan Plateau.
The Tibetan Plateau is often called the ‘Roof of the World,’ as the region’s average elevation exceeds 4,500 metres and is home to the Earth’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest and K2. The plateau is also a crossroad for many different kinds of ecosystems and geologic features, including deep canyons, winding rivers, massive glaciers, boundless grasslands and alpine deserts.
This week’s featured image, taken by Monica Cardarilli, a risk and safety engineer at the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, gives a snapshot into the plateau’s dynamic and diverse environment, where snow, water, soil and organic matter all make their mark on the landscape. “In this picture natural elements are expressed by the colors, like a painting where the whole exceeds the single parts in a mix of perceptions,” says Cardarilli.
The landscape of the plateau and the surrounding mountainous regions is also as fragile as it is diverse, and many scientists fear that climate change and other human activities are rapidly altering this corner of the Earth. For example, research suggests that the Tibetan Plateau is experiencing higher rates of warming compared to the global average, which has already caused concerning levels of glacier melt, flooding, desertification and grassland degradation in the area.
A recent report suggests that, due to climate change, at least one third of the glaciers situated within the plateau and the surrounding Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region will be lost from ice melt by the end of the century. This level of melting would have major consequences for the surrounding population, as more than 1.5 billion people rely on freshwater that stems from the region and many local communities would be threatened by severe flooding and lake bursts.
The report, undertaken by more than 200 researchers, warns that climate action is necessary to prevent even further melting in this region and avoid worse disasters.
By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer
Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.
Drawing inspiration from popular stories on our social media channels, major geoscience headlines, as well as unique and quirky research, this monthly column aims to bring you the latest Earth and planetary science news from around the web.
The impact that humans have left on the planet’s landscape is so profound, that up to one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, a new 1,500-page report backed by the United Nations has found. This serious decline in biodiversity would have far-reaching consequences for the planet’s ecosystems and the global human population.
The report, assembled by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) with the aid of hundreds of scientists, is one of the most comprehensive reviews of the fate of Earth’s biodiversity. It follows up on an environmental assessment from 2005, but the new report goes further by analysing how biodiversity, climate and human wellbeing are connected to each other.
The results show that roughly 75 percent of land and 66 percent of marine areas have been “significantly altered” by human activities, including urban development, agriculture, logging, fishing, mining, and hunting. “The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history,” the authors of the assessment write. This kind of change has already taken its toll on Earth’s environment, as the average abundance of species in terrestrial ecosystems has dropped by at least 20 percent, mostly within the last century.
The rate of global species extinction is already tens to hundreds of times faster than the average extinction rate over the last 10 million years and will only increase unless governments issue sweeping environmental measures measures, says the analysis.
Climate change poses as an additional threat to many species that rely on certain climate conditions for survival. The new report estimates that 2 °C of global warming above pre-industrial levels would put 5 percent of all species at risk of extinction. If global temperature rise goes past 4.3 °C, extinction risk would extend to 16 percent of Earth’s species.
The review also warns how this kind of loss in biodiversity would pose significant risks to human populations. “For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, to the New York Times. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.”
Earth’s diverse environment provides several benefits and services to human communities, from absorbing carbon dioxide and filtering drinking water to being a source of tourism and medicine. Without the resources, services, and protections from our natural surroundings, humans could face a number of challenges, including increased food instability and environmental disaster.
Stumps on the valley in Madagascar caused by deforestation and slash and burn type of agriculture. Photo credit: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com
The authors of the report note that we can still avoid severe loss in global biodiversity if nations adopt “transformative changes” to how humans interact with the environment, such as cutting down on wasteful consumption and pollution, reducing our agricultural impact, and curtailing logging and fishing activities.
David Obura, one of the main authors of the review, said to the Guardian: “We tried to document how far in trouble we are to focus people’s minds, but also to say it is not too late if we put a huge amount into transformational behavioural change. This is fundamental to humanity. We are not just talking about nice species out there; this is our life-support system.”
What you might have missed
This month has also produced some interesting new findings about the geology of our closest astronomical neighbor, the Moon.
The first mission to the far side of the Moon, led by the China National Space Administration, may have discovered pieces the Moon’s mantle exposed on its surface. If confirmed, the material would be the first unaltered samples of the Moon’s interior layer collected and could give scientists clues about the Moon’s early history.
China’s Yutu 2 rover moving across the far side of the moon. Credit: China National Space Administration
The materials were found by a rover deployed by the Chinese space agency as it was surveying a crater that scientists believe was formed by an impact event. If powerful enough, such a collision could have brought parts of the Moon’s mantle to the surface. By analysing data taken by the rover’s visible and near-infrared spectrometer, the researchers identified olivine and low-calcium pyroxene. These minerals haven’t typically been found on the lunar surface, suggesting that the samples may have come from the mantle.
“The findings lend weight to the theory that the Moon’s surface was once molten but separated into layers as it solidified, leaving largely lighter minerals in the surface crust and burying denser ones in its mantle,” Nature reported.
Meanwhile, a new analysis of decades old data from NASA suggests that the Moon may still be tectonically active today. About 50 years ago, Apollo astronauts installed seismometers on the Moon’s surface. The instruments picked up the rumbling of shallow moonquakes, but the activity couldn’t be properly explained at the time. Recently, scientists have found that a number of these moonquake were located within 30 km of fault scarps, cliff features that form when one side of a fault has thrust up or slipped down. The cliffs were identified in 2010 from images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
This visualization of Lee Lincoln scarp is created from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs and elevation mapping. The scarp marks the location of a relatively young, low-angle thrust fault. Credits: NASA/Goddard/SVS/Ernie Wright
The findings suggest that these quakes may have been triggered by these faults as a result of both internal heat escaping the Moon and Earth’s gravitational pull. This would imply that the Moon has more internal heat and is more tectonically active than previously believed. “Knowing more about that activity, including where the moon’s surface is still on the move, could help scientists identify where — and where not — to land future spacecraft,” says Science News.
This month we introduced Geoscience Days, a new EGU series of national public engagement events. The EGU Geoscience Days are events organised around Europe that aim to raise awareness of the Earth, planetary and space sciences to students, researchers, the wider public and national policymakers. The first event is taking place today (31 May) at the Romanian Academy in Bucharest, Romania.
The deadline to nominate the best deserving researchers for the EGU 2020 awards and medals is next month, on the 15th of June. To increase diversity in the group of EGU awardees and medallists, we encourage the EGU membership to consider gender, geographical and cultural balance when nominating outstanding Earth, planetary and space scientists at various career stages.
And don’t forget! To stay abreast of all the EGU’s events and activities, from highlighting papers published in our open access journals to providing news relating to EGU’s scientific divisions and meetings, including the General Assembly, subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter.
We caught up with Lucie Parsons, a ten-year old girl from Walkington, England, who is on a personal mission to save the environment from plastic pollution. She and her mother presented at the EGU General Assembly 2019 earlier this month. Credit: Maria Rubal Thomsen
Lucie Parsons, a ten-year old girl from the small village of Walkington, in England, is on a personal mission to save the environment from plastic pollution. After seeing on the BBC Blue Planet II documentary how litter in the ocean is damaging ecosystems, she decided to take action. Now she gives talks and is co-researcher in her mother’s PhD on climate change and the youth voice. Lucie has come to the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna with her mother, Katie Parsons, to tell scientists that children want to be involved in addressing environmental issues.
Unless the flow of plastics and industrial pollution into the world’s oceans is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come.
David Attenborough, The Blue Planet II: Episode 4, BBC One
How did you learn about the impact of plastic pollution in the oceans and marine life?
L: Through Blue Planet. I saw an episode about a whale and her calf, and how the contamination poisoned the whale’s milk. When I saw that I got really, really upset so I wrote a poster about it. Then I asked my mummy and daddy to photocopy it so that I might be able to put it around the village. I read and watched documentaries to learn more, and I found out that it is a big problem. I wanted to do something about it.
So you started giving talks…
L: Katy Duke, the head of the [aquarium] Deep in Hull, got in touch with daddy because she saw my poster.
K: I tweeted Lucie’s poster to show what she had done after she was so moved by the documentary. The CEO of the Deep saw that and contacted us to ask if Lucie would like to give the opening talk at the European Union of Aquarium Curators Conference, which the Deep were due to host.
What do you tell people in your talks?
L: I have done two conferences and talks, also at schools. I have also been interviewed for the radio and profiled by the Earth Day Network. In my talks I basically tell people how bad the problem is, what it is doing to the animals and what they can do to help.
Here at the EGU General Assembly people were really touched by your presentation. Do you think your talks make people take action?
K: Gilles Doignon, from the European Commission for Environment, was really moved about what Lucie had said at the Deep. He promised her that he would get the aquariums to sign up to a plastic pledge.
L: And he managed to do it.
K: He said that, thanks to Lucie, thousands of turtles will be saved. This is where she got her inspiration from to carry on. If she can talk and say the things she has done, even if just one or two people do something about it, that creates a knock-on effect.
Why do you think children should be involved in the fight against climate change?
L: Children are the next generation; when they get older they will take over the work grown-ups have done. So they should start now. Children can do the same things as grown-ups, there is not really a difference with helping, you need to get as many people to help as you can get.
K: Getting schools and individual children involved in science will make it real and manageable, part of life. Otherwise much science ends up in dusty journals. We need people to live it and understand it.
Are grown-ups doing enough?
L: I think they should be doing a tiny bit more. They are not really focusing on the problem, not as much as I want them to.
You have talked to politicians before, why do you think it is important to talk to scientists also?
K: When Lucie was affected by Blue Planet she luckily had me and her dad to help her. But other children will have their passion stopped unless they have an adult who supports them. Some schools don’t do environmental education, it is not within many curriculums, and some parents might not carry on informing their children.
There is amazing science going on and some scientists who communicate get through to the children. There is a youth rising at the moment. Children are interested, they want to know and they want to be involved. But, how? Scientists have to continue feeding the information to the children and involve them in citizen science so they will carry on with that passion.
What can people do to help?
L: Inform other people, go on litter picks and map the areas where they found the litter to help prevent more litter. With my friends and my family, we have cleaned three areas so far in my village and we are mapping them to feed in the data about where we found the litter. Also, stop using single-use plastics.
Is there any other documentary, book or podcast you would recommend to people who want to learn about plastic pollution in the oceans?
L: Drowning in Plastic. We have watched about three quarters of that.
The EGU is implementing a number of initiatives towards minimising the General Assembly’s carbon footprint. Today we’ve compiled a few of the ways the EGU is working to make your conference experience more environmentally friendly, and how you can help.(Credit: EGU / Foto Pfluegl)
The annual EGU General Assembly, the largest geoscience conference in Europe, attracts more than 15,000 attendees to Vienna, Austria every year. With such a large number of participants, many flying to the Austrian capital to attend, the meeting has a large environmental impact.
Given this, the EGU is implementing a number of initiatives towards minimising the General Assembly’s carbon footprint. Today we’ve compiled a few of the ways the EGU is working to make your conference experience more environmentally friendly, and how you can help.
The environmental cost of travelling hundreds to thousands of kilometres for a science meeting cannot be ignored.
To reduce this impact, we encourage participants to travel by train to Vienna when possible. For example, we are promoting a discount offered by SBB, the Swiss Federal Railways, to General Assembly participants traveling from Zurich, Switzerland to the meeting. As in previous years, we also encourage participants to use public transportation once in Vienna by including a weekly transportation pass with every week ticket to the meeting.
Looking for ways to make your conference travel carbon neutral? As a repeat from last year, we are giving meeting participants the opportunity to offset the CO2 emissions resulting from their travel to and from Vienna. To take part, simply select the ‘offset your carbon footprint’ option if registering online or through the on-site terminal stationed in the entrance hall of the convention centre.
Depending on the origin of your travel we charge you an amount to compensate your CO2 emissions. The money collected from you will then be forwarded to the Carbon Footprint campaign to be invested in one of the three projects participants can choose from.
If you opt to offset your carbon emissions, the money collected from you will then be forwarded to carbonfootprint.com to be invested in one of these three projects.
This carbon offset initiative was introduced during the 2018 General Assembly, with about 4,800 attendees, almost one third of the total meeting participants, taking part! We collectively raised nearly €17,000 for the carbon offsetting scheme, which was donated to a project that aims to reduce deforestation in Brazil.
Reducing and reusing
At the conference venue, the Austria Center Vienna (ACV), the EGU has been implementing several environmental measures with our carbon footprint in mind. The following actions from the EGU are focused on limiting the amount of waste generated at the meeting:
EGU’s daily newsletter at the General Assembly, EGU Today, will now only be available online, and we are moving towards producing digital versions of the programme book exclusively.
Carpeting will be limited to the poster halls on the basement level.
Lanyards used at the conference will be produced using 100% recycled material, and the badges contain FSC-recycled paper, which can be recycled in the paper products bins.
The plenary and division meetings will serve lunch bags with recyclable PET bottles, which will have designated boxes for disposal by the exits of the rooms.
Single-use water bottles will not be offered at coffee breaks. Instead water fountains will be placed throughout the centre. Bringing your own water bottle and mug for hot drinks is highly encouraged! We will also sell multi-use water bottles and coffee mugs at the EGU booth.
The ACV also has a number of green measures in place, including having energy-saving LEDs throughout the centre, using a solar array to heat the water used in the kitchens and toilets, and working with an in-house catering company compliant with green standards.
Join the discussion
If you would like to learn more about the EGU’s efforts to make the General Assembly more sustainable and share your own ideas to make the meeting more environmentally friendly, we encourage to participate in the townhall session “The carbon footprint of EGU’s General Assembly,” taking place on Thursday 11 April, 19:00-20:00 in room -2.47 of the convention centre.
The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 7 to 12 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website and follow the Assembly’s online conversation on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.