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Warming Trends: The Cacophony of the Deep Blue Sea, Microbes in the Atmosphere and a Podcast about ‘Just How High the Stakes Are’

Warming Trends: The Cacophony of the Deep Blue Sea, Microbes in the Atmosphere and a Podcast about ‘Just How High the Stakes Are’

Katelyn Weisbrod


Deep Ocean Sounds

Below the ocean’s surface, the waters are anything other than silent. 

The sounds uttered by fish, whales and crustaceans are vibrant and informative—they tell us something about each animal, like where they are, what they’re up to and how they communicate.  

Scientists can study the sounds of marine life in the most comprehensive and minimally invasive way possible. A simple hydrophone placed on the seafloor can pick-up noises in pitch black without the need for lights, boats, or divers. 

A group of researchers from all over the world has set out to do something about it.lThey created a library of these sounds, the Global Library of Underwater Biological Sound. They Their proposal was outlinedIn a new paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution this month.

This collection will enable scientists to study how climate change, extreme weather events and large infrastructure projects such as offshore wind farms affect marine ecosystems. A lot of the ecosystems that the researchers will be looking at are threatened by climate change, said paper co-author Aran Mooney, a researcher at Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution, and it’s important to document them before they change entirely. 

“We need to know what a healthy environment is because what we’re going to need to do is to kind of rebuild these habitats,” Mooney said. “And you can’t really rebuild a proper habitat without understanding what it looks like, what it smells like, what it sounds like for the animals.”

Citizen scientists will be able to submit recordings of marine life while snorkeling or diving in oceans. If enough records are collected, artificial intelligence can be trained to identify marine species using their sounds. 

“We think there are thousands of species that make sounds that are not yet in the libraries, because this whole area is pretty new,” said Jesse Ausubel, a scientist at the Rockefeller University who is also involved in the project. “Of course, you start off with things like humpback whales that are obvious or croaker fish that croak. There are likely many, many thousands more species that have yet to be cataloged. So there’s a lot to discover.”


‘Wrapping Our Heads Around’ 1.5 Degrees Celsius 

Is it possible to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius?

That’s the question at the center of the fourth season of the podcast ThresholdThe name of the company is Time up to 1.5. Amy Martin, host and journalist, takes listeners through a story about what it will take for this goal to be achieved. This narrative is based on the Paris agreement to prevent the worst effects from climate change. Martin was recently interviewed by Inside Climate News about the new season. This conversation was lightly edited to improve clarity and length.

What will you do in this new season for Threshold:

It’s basically about the time that we have left before we cross 1.5 degrees Celsius of global heating over pre-industrial levels. It’s kind of a technical thing, whenever I say that, I’m always like, “Oh, I feel like I’ve lost people halfway through that sentence.” But that’s kind of the complexity of our time. Like we all have to start wrapping our heads around the fact of this scientific information and what it actually means for us in our lives, and I think most people know at this point that climate change is real, that it’s a huge problem. But I don’t know how many people are actually living with that on a daily basis and grappling with it in a really immediate way, just how high the stakes are. 

Why is the 1.5 degree Celisus threshold important

There’s a scientific answer and there’s a political answer. I find it hard to believe that 1.5 is a topic that is being discussed in debates. Sometimes it feels like these two sides are not communicating or understanding each other. Because on the science side, it’s not like flipping a light switch. It’s turning a dial. And so it’s not like we hit 1.52 and everything just goes to hell in a handbasket. I think that’s a danger of focusing on 1.5, it can confuse people about that and make them think that way.

We have to pick a number somewhere, on the political side. You can’t form a global regimen for holding each other accountable as countries for reducing emissions by just saying “everybody hold their hands and try to burn less carbon.” They have to choose something, you have to choose a target. And that’s where the science kind of starts to clash with the politics a little bit.

What is the role storytelling plays in communicating about climate change?

I believe that the stories we tell, the narratives that we create, and the mental paradigms we have as a society are the most important aspects of this process. I don’t believe stories alone can solve the climate crisis. But I don’t think we can solve the climate crisis without good stories, without stories that make people feel like they can see themselves as being part of the solution, without stories that help people understand what’s actually at stake. 


Two Life Forms Live in Symbiotic Relationships as One

The organisms that form a flaky, green or blue crust on boulders and tree trunks are known as lichens, and they are actually two different life forms living symbiotically as one—an algae that provides nutrients through photosynthesis and a fungus that provides a greenhouse-like shelter for the algae to comfortably survive. 

Lichens can be found in almost every terrestrial environment and are a diverse group. A new studyResearchers from the Chicago Field Museum discovered that Trebouxia, the most common species found in lichens worldwide, doesn’t evolve quickly enough to keep up the rapid pace of climate changes.

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This means that this most common algal lichen species may find itself in extreme heat environments, which could cause its range to shift. 

“It was definitely an ‘Oh, my,’ moment, and definitely surprised me,” Matthew Nelsen, a scientist at the field museum, said of when he first realized what their research was showing. “I feel really silly, because I should have known, especially from reading other papers, but somehow I just didn’t expect it to be quite so striking.”

Lichens are an important part of the ecosystem. They can help retain water in dry areas. They help to sequester carbon, recycle nutrients and indicate air quality. Others are food sources for animals and tiny habitats for insects. 

It’s difficult to predict what exactly will happen to lichens as the planet warms, Nelsen said, but even if climate change does alter where certain algae can exist, some fungi may be able to find other algal species to partner with to form lichen, while others may need to shift ranges along with the shifting algae. 

“Symbioses might be very vulnerable to changing environments,” Nelsen said. “The idea being that you’ve got two different organisms involved that each have their own unique niches, they might not be completely in sync with one another. And impacting one of those symbiotes might have a cascading effect.”

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Life Forms in the Atmosphere 

The study of ecological communities floating in the atmosphere is far less extensive than that of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. These communities of fungi and bacteria swept up into the air by gusts of wind are so small that the laws of gravity don’t apply to them. They float in the sky until they’re knocked to the ground by a raindrop or attached to a settling piece of dust. 

A recent study of bacteria and fungi up to two miles in the sky revealed that temperature is the number one factor. Temperature is the number one factor that determines the composition of microbes within the atmosphere. According to the study authors, global warming will cause temperature changes that will lead to changes in species composition and distribution of microbes in the atmosphere. 

Over the past century, studying life forms in the atmosphere has changed from collecting samples on adhesive surfaces to the sides of early 20th-century airplanes to sophisticated air sampling devices taking simultaneous measurements at different altitudes.

“This is a super precise, super high resolution biological sensor that, for the first time, lets you read the biological output as it changes in response to temperature,” said lead author Stephan Schuster of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. 

Schuster and other researchers from the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering discovered that higher temperatures could allow microbes to spread more widely, possibly worldwide, increasing the risk of disease to humans and agriculture as the planet heats. Their These are the findingsThese papers were published in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this month.

Schuster stated that there is still much to learn about the impacts of a warming climate on these communities. 

“This is not like fear mongering,” he said. “What we are saying is that we now understand the mechanisms of how this can work.”

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