Dying coral reefs, impacts of El Niño and other news from this week

While coral bleaching is destroying the Great Barrier Reef, Malaysia and Indonesia are struggling to control forest fires originating from existing palm oil plantations

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 29 April 2016

'50 per cent of northern Great Barrier Reef dead or dying'

Scientists estimate that mass bleaching has destroyed half of the northern coral of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. While strong El Niño conditions are expected to have worsened the bleaching effect, scientists suspect climate change is the culprit. "We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it's like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once," said Terry Hughes, conveyor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, which conducted aerial surveys of the World Heritage site, in an interview to Reuters. Australian authorities have admitted the significance of this finding, saying they "take it seriously". But environmental organisations have criticised the government for its support to fossil fuel projects.

60 million worldwide hit by El Niño, says UN

With El Niño 2015-16 being considered as one of the worst recorded, the UN stated that an alarming 60 million people have been affected by the weather phenomenon and millions more are at risk. But only half of all aid required for food, water, health and agriculture support has been provided so far. UN estimates that at least US $3.6 billion is required to meet these needs. It is also feared that communities that have been affected by El Niño may be hit by the opposite weather phenomenon, La Nina, later this year.

Malaysia may amend Act to control forest fires

Malaysia has proposed to amend an Act that will allow the government to take control of any land, whether smallholding or large plantations, to bring under control raging forest fires. Malaysia and Indonesia, both notorious for being the source of widespread haze from forest fires, have been criticised for the deforestation and land-clearing methods followed by palm oil plantation owners. It is unlikely, however, that the amendment will be made in time to deal with the forest fires of this year. Ninety per cent of global palm oil is produced by Malaysia and Indonesia.

Japanese priests were recording climate data in 15th century

Scientists have discovered that priests living in the Japanese Alps were keeping climate data 600 years ago, by recording when Lake Suwa froze during the winters. Recorded as part of a religious observance, the data now provides a clue to early climate science. The lake records show that while the date of freezing was later by only 0.19 days per decade until 1683, it froze as much as 4.6 days later for every decade after the Industrial Revolution. The scientists have also found that Finnish merchants started to record ice break-up dates along the Torne River in 1693. These findings also corroborate the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

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