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We explore the development of the Anthropocene, the current epoch in which humans and our societies have become a global geophysical force. The Anthropocene began around 1800 with the onset of industrialization, the central feature of which was the enormous expansion in the use of fossil fuels. We use atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration as a single, simple indicator to track the progression of the Anthropocene. From a preindustrial value of 270–275 ppm, atmospheric carbon dioxide had risen to about 310 ppm by 1950. Since then the human enterprise has experienced a remarkable explosion, the Great Acceleration, with significant consequences for Earth System functioning. Atmospheric CO2 concentration has risen from 310 to 380 ppm since 1950, with about half of the total rise since the preindustrial era occurring in just the last 30 years. The Great Acceleration is reaching criticality. Whatever unfolds, the next few decades will surely be a tipping point in the evolution of the Anthropocene.
This paper provides an original account of global land, water, and nitrogen use in support of industrialized livestock production and trade, with emphasis on two of the fastest-growing sectors, pork and poultry. Our analysis focuses on trade in feed and animal products, using a new model that calculates the amount of “virtual” nitrogen, water, and land used in production but not embedded in the product. We show how key meat-importing countries, such as Japan, benefit from “virtual” trade in land, water, and nitrogen, and how key meat-exporting countries, such as Brazil, provide these resources without accounting for their true environmental cost. Results show that Japan's pig and chicken meat imports embody the virtual equivalent of 50% of Japan's total arable land, and half of Japan's virtual nitrogen total is lost in the US. Trade links with China are responsible for 15% of the virtual nitrogen left behind in Brazil due to feed and meat exports, and 20% of Brazil's area is used to grow soybean exports. The complexity of trade in meat, feed, water, and nitrogen is illustrated by the dual roles of the US and The Netherlands as both importers and exporters of meat. Mitigation of environmental damage from industrialized livestock production and trade depends on a combination of direct-pricing strategies, regulatory approaches, and use of best management practices. Our analysis indicates that increased water- and nitrogen-use efficiency and land conservation resulting from these measures could significantly reduce resource costs.
With the large scale developments of offshore windpower the number of underwater electric cables is increasing with various technologies applied. A wind farm is associated with different types of cables used for intraturbine, array-to-transformer, and transformer-to-shore transmissions. As the electric currents in submarine cables induce electromagnetic fields there is a concern of how they may influence fishes. Studies have shown that there are fish species that are magneto-sensitive using geomagnetic field information for the purpose of orientation. This implies that if the geomagnetic field is locally altered it could influence spatial patterns in fish. There are also physiological aspects to consider, especially for species that are less inclined to move as the exposure could be persistent in a particular area. Even though studies have shown that magnetic fields could affect fish, there is at present limited evidence that fish are influenced by the electromagnetic fields that underwater cables from windmills generate. Studies on European eel in the Baltic Sea have indicated some minor effects. In this article we give an overview on the type of submarine cables that are used for electric transmissions in the sea. We also describe the character of the magnetic fields they induce. The effects of magnetic fields on fish are reviewed and how this may relate to the cables used for offshore wind power is discussed.
Humans have continuously interacted with natural systems, resulting in the formation and development of coupled human and natural systems (CHANS). Recent studies reveal the complexity of organizational, spatial, and temporal couplings of CHANS. These couplings have evolved from direct to more indirect interactions, from adjacent to more distant linkages, from local to global scales, and from simple to complex patterns and processes. Untangling complexities, such as reciprocal effects and emergent properties, can lead to novel scientific discoveries and is essential to developing effective policies for ecological and socioeconomic sustainability. Opportunities for truly integrating various disciplines are emerging to address fundamental questions about CHANS and meet society's unprecedented challenges.
Urban dwellers depend on the generation of ecosystem services for their welfare. The city of Stockholm is growing, and a 25% increase in population is projected by 2030. The effects of urban development were estimated through the quantification of nitrogen (N) leakage to the Baltic Sea under two urban development scenarios. We found that total net N load will increase by 6% or 8%, depending on which growth scenario is applied, and population increase by itself will contribute at least 15% of the point source N leakage. Technical improvements in sewage treatment could, according to our results, decrease total N load to the Baltic Sea by 4%. Based on our results, we conclude that proactive measures such as spatial urban planning can provide a constructive tool for sustainable urban development on regional as well as national and international scales, depending on geographical context as well as the ecosystem services' scale of operation.
Using Christmas Bird Count data, we analyze the annual spatio-temporal abundances of six passerine species in the upper Great Plains, US (1960–1990). This study provides new insight into how global warming could cause separation of species within present-day communities. We find that winter relative abundances of similarly-sized songbirds are differentially affected by ambient winter temperature. As such, average annual winter temperature fluctuations (i.e., severity of winter) are significantly (P < 0.05) correlated with the relative abundances of three species while the other three are not. Our conditional probability-of-occurrence analysis indicates that the abundances of the three temperature-associated species declined markedly below −4°C while the abundances of the other three species fluctuated little from 8°C to −16°C. We conclude that even in colder climates i) the winter distributions of some, but not all, songbirds are directly or indirectly limited by temperature; and ii) these birds have dynamic abundances that can quickly respond to temperature changes.
Statistical and spatial analyses of both historical time series and remotely sensed data show a link between the spatial distribution and growth of gold production across the Guiana Shield in northeast Amazonia. Results indicate that an exponential rise in production across an expanding area is primarily a delayed response to the 1971−1978 market flotation of international gold prices. The subsequent 10-fold (2-fold) average nominal (real) price increase has provided a compelling economic incentive to mass exploitation of lower-grade gold deposits. The ground-based and remotely sensed distributions of mining activity are strongly attached to these deposits that dominate the region's gold geology. The presence of these gold-bearing formations in conservation and sustainable timber zones has sparked social conflict and environmental degradation across the region. Left unmanaged, more than a quarter-million square-kilometer area of tropical forest zoned for protection and sustainable management could ultimately be compromised by the price-driven boom in gold mining through poorly integrated resource use planning, lack of reclamation effort, and control of illegal operations. Serious public health issues propagated through the unregulated mining environment further erode the financial benefits achieved through gold extraction. This study demonstrates in part how international economic policies successfully stabilizing more conspicuous centers of the global economy can have unintended but profound environmental and social impacts on remote commodity frontiers.
The cost of fishing and the income earned by fishers using small and large traps, gill nets, beach seines, hand lines, and spearguns were assessed in the multigear fishery of southern Kenya to establish a financial rationale for fishing gear use. Direct observations and key-informant interviews with fish leaders and boat captains were used to gather data on fish catch, cost of fishing gear, boats, and the price of fish. Among the fishing gear used, spearguns had the lowest monthly cost (USD 1 mo−1) while big traps had the highest (USD 13 mo−1). Income was highest among capital cost beach seine fishers (USD 183 mo−1) and lowest among noncapital cost beach seine fishers (USD 20 mo−1). There was a direct positive correlation between income earned and profitability of gear. Correlation of the financial measure for each gear to four categories of damage to fish and habitats showed that low cost fishing gear were associated with the highest environmental damage indicating a trade-off between cost of gear and environmental health.
Borullus, the most centrally situated of the Nile Delta lakes, probably evolved around the eighth century AD from a preexisting salt marsh by fluviatile deposition of sand dunes north of the lake and subsidence of the preexisting tidal swamp behind this barrier. It was flooded yearly (September–December) by the Sebennytic branch of the Nile, and evacuated water through an exit, Bughaz. At low river levels, this process reversed and Bughaz functioned as a marine inlet. Because of this switch, its fauna and flora contained a mix of marine, freshwater, and brackish-water species. Around the mid-nineteenth century, damming of the Nile began, culminating with the high Aswan Dam (1964) that brought the yearly flood fully under control. As a result, a steady flow of Nile water, used for irrigated delta agriculture, began to drain to the lake and became a constant evacuator to the Mediterranean. It turned almost fresh, and its fishery, formerly marine and mullet-based, became cichlid–catfish based. However, rice and other new delta crops caused huge amounts of nutrients to wash down the drains, and currently the lake is eutrophied and only resists hypertrophication because of the low residence time of its water. Finally, the damming of the Nile terminated the influx to the delta of a yearly sediment layer, but subsidence and coastal erosion continue and are now consuming the sand bar that separates the lake from the sea.
In the dry forest of southern Madagascar, a region of global conservation priority, formally protected areas are nearly totally absent. We illustrate how the continued existence of unique forest habitats in the Androy region is directly dependent on informal institutions, taboos, regulating human behavior. Qualitative interviews to map and analyze the social mechanisms underlying forest protection have been combined with vegetation analyses of species diversity and composition. Of 188 forest patches, 93% were classified as protected, and in Southern Androy all remaining forest patches larger than 5 ha were protected. Eight different types of forests, with a gradient of social fencing from open access to almost complete entry prohibitions, were identified. Transgressions were well enforced with strong sanctions of significant economic as well as religious importance. Analyses of species diversity between protected and unprotected forests were complicated because of size differences and access restrictions. However, since, for example, in southern Androy >90% of the total remaining forest cover is protected through taboos, these informal institutions represent an important, and presently the only, mechanism for conservation of the highly endemic forest species. We conclude that social aspects, such as local beliefs and legitimate sanctioning systems, need to be analyzed and incorporated along with biodiversity studies for successful conservation.
The language and tools of risk and uncertainty estimation in flood risk management (FRM) are rarely optimized for the extant communication challenge. This paper develops the rationale for a pragmatic semiotics of risk communication between scientists developing flood models and forecasts and those professional groups who are the receptors for flood risk estimates and warnings in the UK. The current barriers to effective communication and the constraints involved in the formation of a communication language are explored, focusing on the role of the professional's agenda or “mission” in creating or reducing those constraints. The tools available for the development of this discourse, for both flood warnings in real time and generalized FRM communications, are outlined. It is argued that the contested ownership of the articulation of uncertainties embedded in flood risk communications could be reduced by the development of a formally structured translational discourse between science and professionals in FRM, through which process “codes of practice” for uncertainty estimation in different application areas can be developed. Ways in which this might take place in an institutional context are considered.