Climate Change

This week from the world of science and environment

The discovery of an important piece in evolutionary science and the threat of extreme weather events to our food security—a quick look at news you may have missed this week

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 21 August 2015

Paleobotanist identifies one of the world’s earliest flowers

A paleobotanist from Indiana University Bloomington has identified one of the world's earliest flowering plants. David Dilcher, along with researchers from Europe, analysed more than 1,000 fossilised remains found in limestone deposits in the mountainous regions of Spain to identify Montsechia vidalii as one of the first flowering plants on the planet. 

Montsechia was an aquatic plant which grew abundantly in freshwater lakes present in the region 125 million to 130 million years ago. "This discovery raises significant questions about the early evolutionary history of flowering plants, as well as the role of these plants in the evolution of other plant and animal life," Dilcher said in a release by the university.

The finding was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US this week. 

Concrete has taken over 14 per cent of the US coastline

A group of researchers studying the consequences of shoreline hardening on ecosystems has found that 14 per cent of the US coastline is covered in concrete. Shoreline hardening consists of building seawalls and bulkheads to protect against erosion and lashing by sea waves.

Most of the hardening has taken place along the south-Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The researchers are worried that rapid hardening of the shoreline has the potential to destroy tidal marshes not protected by concrete, making coastal areas more vulnerable to storms.

They found that natural oceans sills and marshes provided better protection against erosion than bulkheads during Hurricane Irene in August 2011. These natural barriers may also help sustain fish habitat, the researchers said in their study

Extreme weather events likely to cause severe food shocks in future

With both floods and droughts likely to become more common in the future, a group of experts has estimated that the risk of a 1-in-100 year food production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by 2040.

Their report states that the production of the most important food crops—maize, soybean, wheat and rice—is concentrated in a small number of countries. Simultaneous extreme weather events in two or more of these regions have the potential to create a multiple bread basket failure.

This comes as grim news as Food and Agriculture Organization estimates show that demand for food will increase over 60 per cent by 2050. The report has also listed factors such as inelastic demand in response to rising prices, recovery of oil prices and depreciation of the US dollar which could amplify the impact of production shocks in 2026. 

These estimates are based on a set of scenarios generated by the experts. The group was brought together by the UK’s Global Food Security programme and was jointly commissioned by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Government Science and Innovation Network.

China's CO2 emissions lower than previous estimates

A study by researchers from the US, China and other countries has found that China's CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production had been overestimated. Revised estimates suggest that the emissions in 2013 were 2.49 gigatonnes of carbon, 14 per cent lower than previously estimated. 

Differences in these estimates arose due to the lack of actual measurements which were representative of the Chinese fuel mix among other factors, say the researchers. They also state that emission factors for Chinese coal are on average 40 per cent lower than the default values recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Their findings were published in the journal Nature.

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