Biblical floods, polluting cruise ships, tracking seals: 3 big stories you might have missed

Young southern elephant seal in Antarctica. (© Conservation International/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. After a biblical spring, this is the week that could break the Corn Belt

Record-breaking flooding in America’s “breadbasket” threatens prime planting season.

The story: The Midwest has endured 60 days of incessant rain, waterlogging the soil and making it virtually impossible for farmers to plant corn, Andrew Van Dam, Laris Karklis and Tim Meko reported in The Washington Post. In key corn-producing states Illinois and Indiana, farmers have planted only 45 percent and 31 percent, respectively, of the acres of corn they had planned to plant by this time. For those seeds that do make it into the ground, the wet conditions threaten to stunt their growth.

The big picture: The Midwest will be among the regions hardest hit by climate change according to a recent study.  Scientists predict an increase in precipitation in the area, particularly in the winter and spring — and in the form of larger weather events. As the atmosphere warms, it’s able to hold more moisture, which it will eventually unload somewhere — including on the fields and farmers that supply one-quarter of the world’s grains.

Read the story here.

2. Carnival Cruise lines hit with $20 million penalty for environmental crimes

After decades of deliberately ignoring environmental laws and racking up US$ 40 million in fines, the cruise-ship line has been ordered to pay for new violations.

The story: Carnival Corporation and its Princess Cruises line have agreed to pay a US$ 20 million criminal penalty for dumping plastic waste into the ocean and other violations, reported Merrit Kennedy and Greg Allen for NPR. The company’s history of deliberately polluting the waters it operates in dates back to 1993.

The big picture: Carnival owns seven of the 20 most polluting cruise-ship lines, and its largest boats pollute 10 times more than all 260 million cars in Europe in 2017. The irony of Carnival Corporation’s actions — polluting the nature passengers are on the ship to see — is not lost on those following the case: “Today’s ruling was a … continuation of the weak enforcement that has allowed Carnival Corporation to continue to profit by selling the environment to its passengers while its cruise ships contribute to the destruction of the fragile ecosystems they visit,” said Kendra Ulrich, a senior shipping campaigner at environmental non-profit Stand.earth.

Read the story here.

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3. How can a seal track climate change? 

Scientists have tagged two seal species with transponders to track a warm-water layer melting West Antarctica’s glaciers.

The story: Earlier this year, 12 seals (11 Weddell and 1 elephant) were tagged with transponders off the coast of West Antarctica, Carolyn Beeler and Alex Newman reported for Public Radio International. As the seals dive to depths of 609.6–914.4 meters (2,000-3,000 feet), their transponders send data back to scientists who use it to track Antarctic water temperatures, and to locate where warmer water may be flowing toward ice shelves and melting them.

The big picture: Climate change is causing glaciers and ice shelves in Antarctica’s coldest regions — once thought to be untouched by warming — to melt due to warmer deep waters flowing nearby. Scientists suspect changing winds and upwelling are driving the warmer deep-water layer toward the Thwaites Glacier and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, causing the ice shelf to thin and melt. The newly melted water could contribute to as much as 6 feet of sea level rise this century when combined with the thawed water off melting mountain glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Read the story here.

Kipp Lanham is the media relations manager at Conservation International.

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