Nature and Biodiversity

Annual hole in ozone layer a threat to Antarctic sea ice, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

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Small chunks of ice float on the water near Fournier Bay, Antarctica, February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino     SEARCH "ANTARCTICA PENGUINS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Top nature and climate stories: annual hole in ozone layer has begun to form early this year. Image: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • This weekly round-up contains key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: Annual hole in ozone layer a threat to Antarctic sea ice; Earth's soil home to more than half of living species; 390-million-year-old Takakia moss could disappear due to climate crisis.

1. Annual hole in ozone layer a threat to Antarctic sea ice, say experts

The annual hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica has begun to form early this year. This could indicate a larger-than-usual breach, leading to increased warming in the Southern Ocean, experts say.

The hole, caused by a stretching of the stratosphere's ozone layer, usually starts forming towards the end of September, peaks a month later and closes in November, Dr Martin Jucker of the Climate Change Research Centre at University of New South Wales in Australia, told The Guardian.

Southern hemisphere ozone hole area.
Southern hemisphere ozone hole area. Image: Copernicus ECMWF

But this year's event began in August, prompting fears it could lead to a larger-scale opening than in previous years, enabling more harmful ultraviolet radiation to warm Antarctic waters and melt already record-low levels of sea ice.

Following a global agreement in 1989 on banning harmful chlorofluorocarbons and other chemicals, the annual hole has been gradually reducing in size.

Reversing this trend risks heating the Southern Ocean more quickly, which would accelerate the impact of the climate crisis.

Antarctic sea ice yearly minimum.
Antarctic sea ice yearly minimum level. Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Antarctic and Arctic regions freeze over in winter and thaw in summer. February 2021 saw the lowest ever recorded Antarctic sea ice levels, which has been followed by several record lows, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

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2. Earth's soil home to more than half of living species

More than half of the planet's living species can be found in the soil, making this the most abundant habitat for life, according to a new study.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found 90% of fungi, 85% of plant life and more than half of bacteria are soil-based, doubling previous scientific estimates.

"Here we show that soil is likely home to 59% of life including everything from microbes to mammals, making it the singular most biodiverse habitat on Earth,” the paper states. The authors add that greater study of soil habitats could reveal a higher figure.

Soil is composed water, gases, minerals and organic structures, and plays an important role in maintaining the food chain and environmental well-being.

While the research acknowledges there is a large potential margin of error on their findings, the study provides fertile ground for future scientific investigation into the role soil plays in supporting life.

Globally, large expanses of soil have been depleted by air and chemical pollution, deforestation and the nature and climate crisis.

While there is no simple solution to ensure healthy soil, less-intensive farming, more regulation of non-native invasive species and greater habitat conservation could help preserve soil biodiversity, the researchers note.

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3. News in Brief: Other top nature and climate stories this week

The 390-million-year-old Takakia moss could disappear due to climate change, scientists say. Found in small quantities in the US, Japan and Tibet, the world's oldest moss may fall victim to climate breakdown.

At least 55 people have died as a result of wildfires, which engulfed Hawaii's largest tourist destination of Maui Island. Thousands were forced to flee the blaze, with firefighters were tackling three separate wildfires on the island, according to officials.

Canadian dairy farmers are breeding cows to burp less methane, to reduce the environmental impact of raising livestock. Methane emissions of Canada's dairy herd could be reduced by 1.5% annually, according to the genetics company behind the initiative.

Jakarta has been ranked the most polluted city in the world, according to a study by Swiss air-quality tech company IQAir. Indonesia's capital regularly features as one of the world's top-10 polluted cities.

India has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions rate by 33% in 14 years, according to the latest UN assessment. The rate measures the amount emitted for every unit of increase in gross domestic product.

Spain has enforced emergency drought measures that place restrictions on water use as the country's reservoir levels plummet, following low rainfall over the last two and a half years.

Endangered African penguins could face extinction by 2035 say campaigners, as overfishing and environmental changes in the Indian Ocean have depleted fish stocks that form their diet.

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4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

The planet's soil holds more carbon dioxide than its atmosphere and plant life combined, so simple techniques to improve soil quality could help hit climate targets.

Record-breaking temperature highs are sending global food commodity prices soaring. Here are some of the crops impacted the most by price spikes and shortages.

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Contents
1. Annual hole in ozone layer a threat to Antarctic sea ice, say experts2. Earth's soil home to more than half of living species3. News in Brief: Other top nature and climate stories this week4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

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