Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

Disappearing Climate Zones Mean Disappearing Species

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:05 PM EDT

A new study forecasts the complete disappearance of existing climates in tropical highlands and regions near the poles. Meanwhile large swaths of the tropics and subtropics will likely develop new climates unlike any seen today, according to the National Science Foundation. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wyoming predict that existing climate zones will shift toward higher latitudes and higher elevations, squeezing out the climates at the extremes. In fact a lot of this is already underway, as species are already moving to higher latitudes and higher elevations to escape the heat.

The most severely affected parts of the world span heavily populated regions, including the southeastern U.S., southeastern Asia, parts of Africa. Known hotspots of biodiversity, including the Amazonian rainforest and African and South American mountain ranges will also experience radical change. Disappearing climates will affect biodiversity, increasing extinctions too.

The study's authors foresee the appearance of never-before-seen climate zones on up to 39 percent of the world's land surface area by 2100, and the global disappearance of up to 48 percent of current land climates, if current rates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue. Julia Whitty

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Global Warming Bad For Allergy And Asthma Sufferers

| Sat Mar. 24, 2007 1:45 PM EDT

Global warming may be bad for asthma sufferers. Longer plant growing seasons are leading to weeds scattering vast amounts of pollen and conquering new territory, according to Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent for Reuters. By spring, pollen has been in the air for months in the northern hemisphere even in countries where snows normally bring a winter respite for allergics. In southern Sweden hazel trees have been flowering since December. "In the United States the incidence of asthma is up nearly four times since 1980," said Paul Epstein, Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "No one has really been looking at the aerobiology dimension (such as pollen). But I think it helps account for it," he said. Any further warming will make things worse.

Epstein ran a study showing that ragweed produced 60 percent more pollen when grown under twice normal concentration of carbon dioxide. At the same time, the stalks grew only 10 percent more. "Warming is touted as good for agriculture, but weeds may be reacting disproportionately fast," he said. "This is an issue with great importance for human health and agricultural yields."

Sneezing my way through this blog, I kid you not. Julia Whitty

Global Warming Could Reverse Trend Toward Bigger Human Brains

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 5:02 PM EDT

Early humans developed larger brains as they adapted to colder climates. A warming climate might reverse that trend. Imagine that, while you still can.

This is the result of an analysis by University at Albany researchers to be published in the spring edition of Human Nature, according to a press release from the University of Albany. The research suggests that human cranial capacity as an indicator of brain size grew dramatically during our evolution. The authors suggest a key environmental trigger to the evolution of larger brains was the need to devise ways to keep warm and find food in cold climates.

In other species, problems of cold are solved by hibernating or migrating, and/or by growing fur and fat. During human evolution, however, the authors surmise that solutions to the problems of cold produced progressively "smarter" strategies, such as the development of cooperative hunting techniques and more sophisticated tools and weapons. Increased brain capacity also brought with it the use of fire as a means to keep warm and cook, adaptations in clothing and shelter, and the development of more refined social skills.

So, if our smarts have caused all the trouble with global warming in the first place, will getting dumber help?

Twenty of World's 162 Grouper Species Threatened With Extinction

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 3:48 PM EDT

The first comprehensive assessment of the world's 162 species of grouper, vital predators in many marine ecosystems as well as important commercial fish, found that 20 are threatened with extinction. Previously, eight species were listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List. The new assessment proposes adding 12 more. From the Conservation International press release:

A panel of 20 experts from 10 nations determined the extinction threat facing groupers, which are the basis of the multimillion-dollar live reef food fish trade based in Hong Kong and comprise one of the most valuable groups of commercial fishes in chilled fish markets of the tropics and sub-tropics. Around the world, consumers pay up to $50 per kilogram for grouper.

"This shows that over-fishing could decimate another major food and economic resource for humans, similar to the loss of the cod stocks off New England and Canada that has put thousands of people out of work," said Roger McManus, a senior director of Conservation International's Marine Program.

The ground-breaking workshop at the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Hong Kong was the first systematic assessment of the commercially important species, said Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, Chair of the IUCN Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and Associate Professor at HKU.

"The results are worrying and highlight the urgent need for fishery management, more effective marine protected areas (MPAs), and more sustainable eating habits for consumers of these fishes," said Sadovy, who organized the workshop.

Groupers are among the oldest fish on coral reefs, with some species reaching more than 50 years old. Several species only reach reproductive maturity later in life, making them particularly vulnerable to fishing before they mature. In addition, commercial fishing that targets reproductive gatherings of adults further hinders replenishment of unmanaged populations.

The threatened groupers include two species of coral trout grouper, which are mainstays of the live reef food fish trade in Hong Kong. Both can be found in Hong Kong fish markets, but they face heavy and unmanaged fishing pressure that is rapidly reducing their populations.

In North and South America, heavy fishing of grouper for the chilled fish markets also poses a significant threat. The Nassau grouper, once one of the most commonly landed groupers in the islands of the Western Atlantic Ocean, now is listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and has virtually disappeared from most Caribbean reefs.

The troubles facing fish worldwide are chronicled in Mother Jones' oceans issue. Go here to find out what you can feel okay about eating from the sea.

Rio Grande One Of The Big Ten Rivers At Risk

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 3:16 PM EDT

The Rio Grande--Rio Bravo in Mexico--is among the world's top ten rivers at risk, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund. The World's Top 10 Rivers at Risk names the waterways facing widespread degradation even as millions of people depend on them for survival. The Rio Grande, marking the U.S.-Mexico border, made the Top 10 because it's severely threatened by water diversions, widespread alteration of the floodplain, dams and pollution. From the WWF press release:

"The world's freshwater ecosystems are under siege, and the rivers in this report are the front lines," says Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "We don't have to look far to find examples of the freshwater crisis. The Rio Grande basin is in our own backyard and over-extraction and drought are draining it dry, endangering a unique desert river ecosystem and potentially undermining the economic growth of communities along the U.S./Mexico border."

Five of the ten rivers listed in the report are in Asia: Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Ganges and Indus. Europe's Danube, South Americas' La Plata, Africa's Nile-Lake Victoria and Australia's Murray-Darling also make the list.

Although the Rio Grande and its tributaries run through the arid Chihuahuan Desert it is home to a spectacular array of freshwater species. The river is also the lifeblood of the region's economy, providing water to some of the fastest-growing urban areas in the country and thousands of farms and ranches. Irrigation accounts for more than 80 percent of all water diversions from the river.

"The Rio Grande is a treasure for all Americans and Mexicans as well as an economic resource of incalculable value," said Jennifer Montoya, U.S. director of WWF's Chihuahuan Desert Program. "This report shows how the U.S. is as vulnerable as anywhere else to the freshwater crisis that is affecting the entire world."

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