Record hot year may be the new normal by 2025

November 8, 2016

The hottest year on record globally in 2015 could be just another average year by 2025 if carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, according to new research published in the Bulletin of American Meteorological Society.

And no matter what action we take, human activities had already locked in a “new normal” for global average temperatures that would occur no later than 2040, according to lead author Dr Sophie Lewis, from the Australian National University (ANU) hub of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS). Read more

How fast must we adapt to climate change?

October 4, 2016

What would we do differently if sea level were to rise one foot per century versus one foot per decade? Until now, most policy and research has focused on adapting to specific amounts of climate change and not on how fast that climate change might happen.

Using sea-level rise as a case study, researchers at Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology have developed a quantitative model that considers different rates of sea-level rise, in addition to economic factors, and shows how consideration of rates of change affect optimal adaptation strategies. If the sea level will rise slowly, it could still make sense to build near the shoreline, but if the sea level is going to rise quickly, then a buffer zone along the shoreline might make more sense.

The research is published in the October 4, 2016, issue of the Environmental Research Letters. Read more

A tenth of the world’s wilderness lost since the 1990s

September 21, 2016

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on September 8 show catastrophic declines in wilderness areas around the world over the last 20 years. They demonstrate alarming losses comprising a tenth of global wilderness since the 1990s – an area twice the size of Alaska. The Amazon and Central Africa have been hardest hit.

The findings underscore an immediate need for international policies to recognize the value of wilderness and to address the unprecedented threats it faces, the researchers say. Read more

Magma build-up at Japanese volcano poses threat to ‘Naples of the Eastern World’

September 15, 2016

One of Japan’s most active volcanoes could be close to a major eruption, threatening the safety of hundreds and thousands of residents of a nearby city, a new study has shown.

A team of experts, including Dr James Hickey from the University of Exeter, developed pioneering techniques to map the natural ‘plumbing system’ of Sakurajima volcano, on the south-west tip of the East Asian country, to discover a substantial growing magma reserve. Read more

Remains of rice and mung beans help solve a Madagascan mystery

May 31, 2016

Researchers have helped solve one of the enduring mysteries of the ancient world: why the inhabitants of Madagascar speak Malagasy, a language otherwise unique to Southeast Asia and the Pacific – a region located at least 6,000 km away. An international research team has identified that ancient crop remains excavated from sites in Madagascar consist of Asian species like rice and mung beans. This is thought to be the first archaeological evidence that settlers from South Asia are likely to have colonised the island over a thousand years ago. The findings are published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more

172 year old Saiwan boundary marker stone found!

April 12, 2016

Teachers and students of Department of Real Estate and Construction of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) discovered a long forgotten boundary marker stone from the very earliest days of the British presence in Hong Kong. This B.O. No4, boundary stone, is located in the Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village in Sai Wan Shan. Read more

Sea level rise danger to larger number of people than previously estimated

March 9, 2016

More people live close to sea coast than earlier estimated, assess researchers in a new study. These people are the most vulnerable to the rise of the sea level as well as to the increased number of floods and intensified storms. By using recent increased resolution datasets, Aalto University researchers estimate that 1.9 billion inhabitants, or 28% of the world’s total population, live closer than 100 km from the coast in areas less than 100 meters above the present sea level. Read more

Nearing the limits of life on Earth

January 20, 2016

It took Jackie Goordial over 1000 Petri dishes before she was ready to accept what she was seeing. Or not seeing. Goordial, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University has spent the past four years looking for signs of active microbial life in permafrost soil taken from one of the coldest, oldest and driest places on Earth: in University Valley, located in the high elevation McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, where extremely cold and dry conditions have persisted for over 150,000 years. The reason that scientists are looking for life in this area is that it is thought to be the place on Earth that most closely resembles the permafrost found in the northern polar region of Mars at the Phoenix landing site. Read more

World population likely to surpass 11 billion in 2100

August 11, 2015

The world’s population will increase from today’s 7.3 billion people to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion at century’s end, John R. Wilmoth, the director of the United Nations (UN) Population Division, told a session focused on demographic forecasting at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM 2015) today in Seattle.

The UN projection suggests there will not be an end to world population growth this century unless there are unprecedented fertility declines in those parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are still experiencing rapid population growth. The UN estimated the probability that world population growth will end within this century to be 23%.

Wilmoth’s presentation–”Populations Projections by the United Nations“–was made as part of an invited session titled “Better Demographic Forecasts, Better Policy Decisions” held here today.

Wilmoth told the audience that according to models of demographic change derived from historical experience, it is estimated the global population will be between 9.5 and 13.3 billion people in 2100. In the United States, the population is projected to add 1.5 million people per year on average until the end of the century, pushing the current count of 322 million people to 450 million, he said.

The primary driver of global population growth is a projected increase in the population of Africa. The continent’s current population of 1.2 billion people is expected to rise to between 3.4 billion and 5.6 billion people by the end of this century. The continent’s population growth is due to persistent high levels of fertility and the recent slowdown in the rate of fertility decline. The total fertility rate (TFR) has been declining in Africa over the past decade, but has been doing so at roughly one-quarter of the rate at which it declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s.

In some African countries, the TFR decline appears to have stalled. For instance, in Nigeria–the continent’s most-populous country–the high fertility rate would result in a more than fourfold projected increase in total population by 2100–from 182 million to 752 million people. Wilmoth said although there is considerable uncertainty about these future trends, there is a 90% chance Nigeria’s population will exceed 439 million people in 2100, which is nearly 2.5 times its current size.

Looking more closely at the global projections, Wilmoth said Asia, with a current population of 4.4 billion, is likely to remain the most populous continent, with its population expected to peak around the middle of the century at 5.3 billion, and then to decline to around 4.9 billion people by the end of the century.

The UN report also examines the level of population aging in different countries, noted Wilmoth. One such measure is the potential support ratio (PSR), which is equal to the number of people aged 20 to 64 divided by the number of people aged 65 or over and is frequently considered the number of workers per retiree. Japan currently has the lowest PSR at 2.1, followed by Italy at 2.6.

In the United States, where the median age of the population is expected to increase from today’s 38.0 years to 44.7 years in 2100, the PSR is projected to decline from 4.0 to 1.9. Other countries that will experience sharp declines in their PSR by the end of the century are the following:

 

  • Germany, current 2.9 to projected 1.4
  • China, current 7.1 to projected 1.4
  • Mexico, current 8.7 to projected 1.4
  • Bangladesh, current 11.2 to 1.6

Only five countries are projected to have a PSR above 5.0 in 2100: Niger, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia and Angola. Niger is expected to have the highest PSR by the end of the century at 6.5.

These results have important policy implications for national governments. Rapid population growth in high-fertility countries can exacerbate a range of existing problems–environmental (resource scarcity and pollution), health (maternal and child mortality), economic (unemployment, low wages and poverty), governmental (lagging investments in health, education and infrastructure), and social (political unrest and crime), explained Wilmoth.

Developing countries with young populations but lower fertility–such as China, Brazil and India–face the prospect of substantial population aging before the end of the century. The new projection suggests these countries need to invest some of the benefits of their demographic dividend in the coming decades toward provisions for the older population of the future such as social security, pensions and health care.

The political challenge of mining rare-earth materials outside China

July 29, 2015

Five years ago, the cost of rare-earth materials that are critical for today’s electronics went through the roof. An export quota set by China, which mines most of the world’s rare earths, caused the price run-up. Though short-lived, the occurrence spurred calls for developing mines outside China, but whether others can challenge the country’s dominance remains to be seen, reports Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society. Read more

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