Tag Archives: climate change

Gorillas in the Ugandan Mist

This past weekend, my wife and I were fortunate to travel to Rwanda and Uganda to spend some time with one of the world’s most endangered animals, the eastern mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, in Uganda’s tiny Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

It was awesome.

 

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Mountain gorillas are are a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla and are listed as critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. Our guides told us there are only 680 individuals left in the wild. They’re found only in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where they live in dense primary, i.e. uncut, rainforest and bamboo forests between 600 and 2,900 meters above sea level.  The IUCN claims that the major threats to mountain gorillas’ survival are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, civil unrest (especially in the DRC), and climate change.

Unfortunately for the gorillas, growing human populations in the surrounding areas have pushed farms farther and farther up into the mountains, dividing the forest habitat the gorillas depend on into two separate ‘islands’ of montane forest. This human encroachment prevents the remaining gorilla populations from interacting with one another, minimizing gene flow and increasing inbreeding.

Such genetic isolation can contribute to the process of speciation if both populations are large enough and have enough resources to thrive for many generations. However, large mammals with relatively long gestational periods need fairly large populations to ensure sufficient genetic diversity. Mountain gorilla pregnancies last about 8.5 months, and they only have babies about once every 4 years, which is a big part of the reason why the tiny populations found in Rwanda, DRC, and Uganda are critically endangered.

And now for a few words on Rwanda.

During our brief time in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where about 259,000 people are buried in the middle of town. I was working on my undergraduate degree when the Rwandan genocide happened in 1994, and I have clear memories of watching events unfold on television. But that doesn’t begin to do justice to the horrors of a million people losing their lives in the span of 100 days. During the genocide, roughly 10,000 acts of murder were committed Every. Single. Day. Most of those acts were by hand, with machetes, hammers, clubs, and axes, directed against neighbors, coworkers, teammates, classmates, and family members. It’s astounding. Twenty three years later, Rwanda is basically an entire country suffering from PTSD.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial doesn’t only focus on the events that shaped this small East African country – it also explores the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, German atrocities committed in Namibia at the start of the 20th century, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and of course the Jewish Holocaust of World War 2. Overall the museum and the memorial are really well done, discussing the attitudes and actions that lead to genocide, as well as detailing the way Rwanda has seemingly successfully recovered from it. If you have the chance, I highly recommend a visit.

Ecology resources for students: Part 1

Good afternoon!

I’m back with another set of bookmarks for students and teachers. Because I’ve taught the IB Environmental systems and societies course for several years, this set of online resources is closest to my heart. Some of these links are here simply because I think they’re cool or fun. Many may also be applicable for studying biology and chemistry as well. Let’s get to it:

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mr K

Random Tidbits of Interesting Stuff

Good morning. It’s the last day of September, and if I lived in a temperate area, I would be anticipating the arrival of autumn’s cool weather and colorful leaves. Alas, I live in Dar es Salaam, where it’s hot, and the arrival of October just means it’s getting hotter.

At least the rising heat in Dar is a result of normal seasonal fluctuations caused by Earth’s tilted axis of rotation. That may not be the case for much of Europe and North America, according to a new study from Rutgers University, USA. Jennifer Francis claims that the ‘extreme’ weather events, which are becoming more and more common in North America, are tied to changes in Arctic sea ice levels.

Crazy weather and the jet stream. Image: screen capture from New Scientist.

Crazy weather and the jet stream. Image: screen capture from New Scientist.

And because I always read stories about the science of coffee, you should check out this article from New Scientist, outlining how researchers could use the gene sequence of robusta beans to brew the perfect cup of Joe. I’m not sure I like the idea of a scientifically-produced cappuccino. It still seems like it should remain art rather than science…

I was searching through Graphite.org again over the weekend, and this list of top picks for science apps has been sitting open on my browser since then. I haven’t had a chance to explore these apps in depth, but there seem to be some pretty good ones in this list.

And last but not least, the obligatory astronomy plug: Jupiter’s moon Europa, one of the best candidates for finding life elsewhere in our solar system, is covered by a thick layer of ice that moves around in much the same way that tectonic plates shift on the surface of our home planet.

Mixed News Monday

Good morning! Well, it’s Monday, so how about just a “morning” until my coffee kicks in? Speaking of coffee, ASAP Science released the video below over the weekend. It’s not particularly relevant to anything we’re studying right now, but it is educational and scientific.

And now for the less good news: Global warming is likely to continue unabated, at least for the foreseeable future of our lifetimes. Researchers have published papers in Nature Climate Change and Geophysical Research Letters claiming that natural variations in planetary warming are being overwhelmed by human-induced carbon emissions. Prepare for more extreme weather events for the next 100 years or so! 

Some good news now: Nature magazine reports that a new test for malaria, if proven effective in the field, could bring testing and treatment to millions of rural people who currently don’t have access to these potentially-lifesaving interventions. Science at its best – improving the world around us! 

 

Why Should We Trust Scientists?

This TED Talk is appropriate for the start of a new school year. Naomi Oreskes breaks down the traditional concept of the scientific method and explains some of the realities of how scientific thinking has shaped our world in the past and present. It’s worth a watch, especially if you know climate-change deniers, creationists, or other people who don’t understand the many beautiful ways our Universe works because they don’t understand the scientific mindset. Here’s the video:

 

Link

Climate Change Plan Considers Trees, Elephants, People

I came across this article on my Twitter feed this morning. It relates to several topics within our ESS syllabus, such as Topic 4 – Conservation and Biodiversity, Topic 6 – Global Warming, and Topic 3 – Resources as Natural Capital.

It outlines the potential links between trading carbon credits on an international exchange, economic development in rural Africa, wildlife conservation, and the battle to combat ivory poaching.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140705-kenya-elephant-poaching-carbon-credits-world-science/

Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience

That’s the title of a recent (June 2013) publication from the World Bank, which outlines the probable impacts of continued global climate change. Among the highlights of the article, according to the official press release:

  • This report, part II in a series, looks at likely impacts of 2°C and 4°C warming across three vulnerable regions.
  • It describes risks to agriculture and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, the rise in sea-level and devastation to coastal areas likely in South East Asia, and water extremes facing South Asia.
  • Turn Down the Heat warns that poor coastal urban communities are among the most vulnerable to climate change.

As a poor, coastal, urban community in Sub-Saharan Africa, Dar fits this description perfectly. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, talks about the perils of climate change in the brief video embedded below.