Global Warming: Threat to 1 in 6 species

A study published by the journal, Science, found that global warming could drive to extinction as many as 1 in 6 animal and plant species. This warning on the scale of global warming’s impact comes just months before the UN climate talks in Paris.

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Dr. Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut compiled and analyzed data from 131 scientific studies about the risk of extinction from climate change. He found that the rate of biodiversity loss is likely to accelerate with every degree celsius increase in temperature. That is, if future temperatures rise by 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial times, global extinction will rise from 2.8% today to 5.2%.

A Cause for Alarm

Assuming that global warming continues on its current path, 16% of the species (or 1 in 6) stand to face extinction. The biggest contributing factor would be the loss of habitat for most of the species. In a study about a pack of wolves with nearly 50 wolves in 1958, it has been found that human intervention has caused the number to dwindle to just 3 remaining wolves in the pack.

“If the world does not come together and control greenhouse gas emissions and we allow the earth to warm considerably, we will face a potential loss of 1 in 6 species. Many species will not be able shift their ranges and keep up with climate change whereas others will not either because their habitat has disappeared or because they can’t reach their habitat anymore,” said Dr. Urban.

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Another contributing factor is the rise in global temperature. Entire species would be wiped out because they might not be able to reproduce with the same speed as they get killed by warmer temperatures.

Dr. Urban said, “The risk if we continue on our current trajectory is very high. If you look out your window and count six species and think that one of those will potentially disappear, that’s quite profound. Those losses would affect our economy, our cultures, our food security, our health. It really compels us to act.”

The Risk Might Even be Higher than Projected

The study also shows that extinction risks are higher for Australia, New Zealand, and South America. This is because many species found in these locations adapted to live in habitats not found anywhere else in the world. Australia’s white lemuroid ringtail possums, for instance, would die within hours in higher temperatures.

One commenter, Professor John Wiens of the University of Arizona said that extinction risk might even be higher than 16% since most of the researches involved were from North America and Europe. “In South America, the extinction risk was estimated to be 23%. Unfortunately, this higher number might better reflect the number of species that might go extinct due to climate change globally, if we consider how the world’s species are distributed.”

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Jamie Carr from the International Union for Conservation of Nature said, “The loss of 1 in 6 species would be an absolute tragedy, not only because it is sad to lose any part of our rich world, but also because biodiversity is fundamental in providing important functions and services, including to humans. Such significant changes to biological systems would undoubtedly have knock-on effects and could potentially result in the collapse of entire systems.”

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Bat-Winged Dinosaur Discovered

Researchers from China have recently announced the discovery of a strange new dinosaur fossil: a glider with wings resembling those of birds and bats. It is a small dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic Age, and is preserved with a full coating of feathers. It is a close relative of the ancestry that eventually gave rise to birds.

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Called Yi qi , Mandarin for strange wing, the reptile is believed to to be one of nature’s early pioneers of flight – even though it wasn’t very successful. Lead researcher Xing Xu, professor from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, said: “We thought giving this animal a name meaning strange wing was appropriate, because no other bird or dinosaur has a wing of the same kind.”

Not a Direct Ancestor of Birds

Yi qi weighed less than a pound and lived 160 million years ago. It is classified under a family of small dinosaurs called Scansoriopterygids which are related to Archeopteryx, the famous primitive bird that served as a transition from the non-avian feathered dinosaurs to the modern birds. However, there is no evidence that any of them had the ability for powered flight.

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Yi qi is not a direct ancestor of birds or mammalian bats. Its wings, however, are a great example of convergent evolution. Bats and passive gliders like flying squirrels, sugar gliders, and flying lemurs have all developed an extension that helps support a membranous wing. Professor Xu Xing said, “We don’t know if Yi Qi was flapping or gliding or both, but it definitely evolved a wing that is unique in the context of the transition from dinosaurs to birds.”

Strange Wing

What sets this species apart from other dinosaur gliders and primitive birds is the composition of its wings. In addition to the unusual feathers located on the long arms and fingers, there is massive bone on each wrist that extends backwards. Between this bone and the fingers is a membrane-like soft tissue that would have given the dinosaur some sort of wings, akin to that of bats.

It is unclear whether the rod-like bone extending from its wrist remained stationary or could be moved to control the membrane. It is also difficult to determine whether the animal glided, flapped its wings, or alternated between both. If it did take to the air, the research team suggests that it may have spent most of its time gliding and not flapping its wings.

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The bone in the wing membrane might render flapping cumbersome. Features on forelimb bones suggest that the creature’s flight muscles may have been relatively small and weak. Its feathers also would not have helped it fly: they are more like stiff, frayed bristles rather than the aerodynamic structures that modern birds have. Most of the dinosaur’s body below the rib cage is missing. It is therefore also unclear whether its tail created lift or drag in flight.

Implications on Evolution

Dr. Zheng, one of the authors of the journal report, said, “It reminds us that the early history of flight was full of innovation, not all of which survived.”

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Tesla Home Battery

Electric car manufacturer Tesla has recently announced that it is in the process of building stationary batteries that store solar energy. These would serve as a back-up system for homes and businesses during blackouts. The device would allow consumers to decrease their reliance on a power grid. It would also bring energy to remote areas that lack an energy infrastructure.

Called the Powerwall, the system utilizes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery unit that is built using the same batteries that Tesla produces for its electric vehicles. The 7kWh unit will be sold to installers for $3000, while the 10kWh unit will retail for $3,500. If you’re thinking of purchasing a unit for your home or business, here are some things to consider:

Advantages

  1. Clean energy – Powerwall is a battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels. As Tesla CEO Elon Musk puts it, “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the sun. You don’t have to do anything, it just works.”

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    The battery is geared toward homeowners who want solar panels. According to Tesla’s website, without a battery, the excess solar energy that an average home produces is often sold back to the power company and purchased back in the evening. This process only increases the power plant’s carbon emissions.

  2. Avoids peak electricity rates – An electric company usually charges higher rates for electricity during peak evening hours than overnight when the demand is low. Powerwall will help you save on your power bill by storing electricity when rates are low and powering your home when rates are high.
  3. Power independence – A house battery will let you be more power independent. An added benefit is that Powerwall switches automatically to battery power in cases of power outages. This gives energy security to those who live in storm-prone areas or places with unreliable power grids.

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    “Without storage, you’ve always got to have huge capacity just in case one of the peaks come through at a particular time- a very hot day when you need a lot of cooling, and so a lot of demand. With storage, you don’t have to have all of that massive production energy,” said Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Disadvantages

  1. Expensive upfront cost – At $3000 to $3,500, it remains to be seen whether, for many people, the Powerwall’s starting price will be low enough to make the economics of solar energy worthwhile.
  2. AC to DC conversion – Your house runs on AC current, but the Powerwall gives you DC current. The Powerwall does not include a DC to AC converter (or vice versa, should you opt to charge from the power grid).
  3. Storage and CapacityUSwitch estimates that one kWh can power 2 days of work on a laptop, a full washing machine cycle, or boil a kettle ten times. Forbes writer Christopher Helman said, “If you do not have a big enough solar system to get your home entirely off the grid, then there is simply no point in paying 30 cents per kWh to get electricity via the Powerwall.”

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In a statement, the company said, “Tesla Energy is a critical step in this mission to enable zero emission power generation.” The units are expected to be shipped to installers in the US by this summer.

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