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OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's Up In Climate Change - a glance at the most important news about our warming world

The largest king penguin colony has shrunk nearly 90 percent


Isabella O'Malley
Digital Writer/Climate Change Reporter

Wednesday, August 1, 2018, 11:47 AM - Disappearing penguins, flooding in the Maritimes, making plastic wrap out of crabs and trees, and the competitive edge manufacturers gain from recycling. It's What's Up in Climate Change.

WHY IS THE LARGEST KING PENGUIN COLONY DISAPPEARING?

Islands have high levels of biodiversity, but their small landmasses leave them vulnerable to threats that could significantly change their environments and occupants. A new study shows that the king penguin colony on Île aux Cochons has rapidly vanished, and researchers are trying to understand why.

Located in the centre of the Indian Ocean approximately 3,000 kilometres southeast of South Africa is the remote Île aux Cochons island with the second biggest penguin colony and largest king penguin colony in the world. Only few studies have been conducted on this isolated island, and researchers are flummoxed as to why the penguin population has plummeted by 85 per cent between 1998 and 2015.

Research has been conducted on the island since 1960 and scientists use satellite images to record size of the colony, which had 494,000 breeding pairs in 1988 but only 76,000 pairs in 2015. Decline began in the 1990s, when influential environmental events were occurring, such as a strong El Nino year and the Sub-Tropical Indian Dipole, which is when the sea surface temperatures in the southwestern regions of the Indian Ocean becomes warmer or cooler than the eastern regions.


A researcher measures the heart rate of king penguins. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The decrease was unexpected since nearby king penguin colonies on other islands in the Crozet archipelago either remained stable or increased during the same environmental fluctuations between 1982 and 2015. Possible explanations include: the warmer waters in 1997 from a strong Dipole event likely affected the foraging capacities of the king penguins, relocation away from breeding sites occurred for unknown reasons, competition with feral cats and mice that were introduced to the island by explorers in 1700s intensified, or widespread disease killed off large proportions of the colony.

The possible effect of warming sea levels on the penguin colony suggests that they as well as other species on the island could be sensitive to changes in the physical environment. Oceanic temperatures are expected to increasingly warm as our rates of carbon emissions continue on without coordinated, international efforts. Despite being located thousands of kilometres away from the closest landmass, remote islands can show that changes in the environment can have devastating effects. 

DAMAGE COSTS FROM FLOODS IN MARITIMES COULD INCREASE BY 300 PERCENT

A new study projects that Maritime communities will see the costs of flooding damage adding up, and that the costs could increase by up to 300 per cent by the end of this century.

Catastrophe models were used to estimate the financial losses that occur from natural disasters such as flooding, which is valuable for insurers and homeowners to know since flooding is Canada's largest contributor to disaster losses. Flooding accounts for nearly 80 per cent of federal disaster assistance costs and is expected to become more frequent and the average cost of a flooded basement in an urban Canadian city costs approximately $40,000.


Saint John River Flood in 2008. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The study provides updated flood maps for the urban core in Halifax, Nova Scotia and projects that a warming of 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century would cause an increase of $67 million in material losses, with annual average losses increasing by 137 per cent by 2050 and 300 per cent by 2100. The projections also show that floods that have a low likelihood of occurring once a year will cause more damage in flood losses when they do occur, which indicates that the nature of the floods will become more severe.

To best prevent damage loss from floods this study recommends that communities should consider how much flood risk is acceptable, controlling further urban development in areas where risk is unacceptable, and Canada maintaining it's current commitment to the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction efforts.

Many parts of Canada have experienced patterns of extreme rain and subsequent flooding in recent years - the June 2013 Southern Alberta Floods displaced between 100,000 - 120,000 people and cost $1.72 billion in insured damage and the July 2013 Toronto Flood resulted in the rescue of nearly 1400 people from a flooded GO Transit train, submerged streets and highways, and cost $943 million in insured damage. Extreme weather events, such as the devastating flooding in New Brunswick this past May as well as extensive research are showing that the Maritimes are a particularly vulnerable Canadian location to climate change and are likely rapidly experience severe environmental damage if serious action is not taken to fight climate change.

CRAB SHELLS AND TREE FIBRES - A NEW TYPE OF PLASTIC

Starbucks, McDonalds, and KFC are just some of the many brands that are joining the trend of opting out from plastic straws. Ditching single-use plastic items like straws and packaging could soon become the norm, and a new plastic-like material made out of crab shells and tree fibres could be part of the solution.

Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a strong, flexible, and transparent material made out of chitin, a polymer in crab shells, and cellulose from trees that could be a 100 per cent biorenewable alternative to conventional transparent packagings. Cellulose and chitin are widely available in many different parts of the world and they are the first and second most abundant and naturally occurring biopolymers - cellulose is found in a wide variety of plants and bacteria, and chitin is found in shellfish, insects, and fungi.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The bioplastic could even outperform petroleum-based plastic wrappings - some films had oxygen permeabilities (how much oxygen passes through the film) of 0.006 and whereas the conventional packaging compound polyethylene terephthalate (PET) had an oxygen permeability between 0.015 - 0.076. When less oxygen passes through the film, the wrapped item is able to stay fresher for longer, which could save money by reducing food waste caused by spoilage.

While the technology and environmental impact of this bioplastic seems like it could be the next obvious step in phasing out petroleum-based plastics, there are improvements that need to be made before the bioplastic can be introduced to the market. The amount of water vapour that passes through the film needs to be reduced and methods for producing chitin are still in the early stages. Despite these barriers, current research is showing that there are green alternatives to items that we rely on and they could replace items that could be prohibited by plastic bans.

STUDY SHOWS RECYCLING GIVES MANUFACTURERS COMPETITIVE AND ECONOMIC BENEFITS

Going green has more benefits that an improved public image - a new study shows that recycling helps manufacturers have a competitive advantage with greater economic advantages.

The researchers chose to analyze two companies in the metal cutting tools industry because of the challenges manufacturers face with raw material supply and the existing opportunities for recycling. The amount of natural resource use in manufacturing varies as the demand fluctuates and how quickly it replenishes, so they reasoned that recycling materials would address the issue of limited supply that some manufactures face during periods of high demand.


Recycling and repurposing metal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By using game theory modelling, the study found that recycling increases the quantity of product sold, a manufacturer's quantity increases as its unit recycling cost decreases, and a manufacturer with a higher recycling capability has a higher market share and higher profits. In a single-period model the companies sold an identical product to the market under four scenarios:

1) Both manufacturers recycle and both decide on the overall quantity to sell

2) Manufacturer 1 recycles and chooses it's recycling rate but manufacturer 2 does not, and both decide the overall quantity to sell

3) Manufacturer 2 recycles and chooses it's recycling rate but manufacturer 1 does not

4) Neither manufacturer recycles


The trials show that market prices prices under recycling are lower compared to the no-recycling scenarios and improves industry welfare. Even continuing business as usual and not recycling proved detrimental - when a manufacturer chose to not recycle his competitor benefited from higher quantities and profits. If the environmental improvements that these manufacturers experienced while recycling doesn't convince other prospective companies to adopt these practices, then perhaps the economic benefits will.

Sources: Antarctic Science | Globe News | Geoenvironmental Disasters | ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering | Production and Operations Management 

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