Warming Trends: Tuna for Vegans, Battery Technology and Climate Drives a Tree-Killer to Higher Climes

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Researchers analyze glacial melt on July 10, 2013 in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Researchers analyze glacial melt on July 10, 2013 in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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CULTURE

Poké for Vegans

The plant-based seafood substitute market is much smaller than the market for plant-based milk and meat replacements. But a U.S.-based chain poké restaurant is adding to its growth, offering plant-based tuna at locations in five states.

Poké Bar locations in California, Oregon, Texas, Georgia and New York will offer a vegan alternative version of their bowls using Kuleana tuna, which looks, feels and tastes similar to the traditional raw tuna that characterizes the Hawaiian dish. 

“We use bamboo for texture. algae oil for omega-3s, potato for the kind of bounce of a traditional tuna, and then radish for color,” said Adrienne Han, director of brand marketing at Kuleana. “Along with some other trace ingredients that help with the iron content and help with the vitamin B12 and are all also derived from plants.” 

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Kuleana is not the only plant-based tuna on the market. Nestlé’s Sensational Vuna and Omni Foods’ OmniTuna are comparable to a canned tuna product, while Mimic Seafood’s Tunato and Ocean Hugger Foods’ Ahimi are both tomato-based, sushi-style tuna substitutes. 

Despite this, plant-based seafood makes up less than 1 percent of plant-based meat and seafood sales, according to 2021 data from the market research company SPINS. But, the sector grew by 23 percent from 2019 to 2020, and is valued at $12 million. 

“There has been under-innovation in the plant-based seafood space,” Han said, but added that there has been growth for both plant-based foods and seafoods. “That’s where we see ourselves coming in and being able to leverage a basically under-represented category that is at the intersection of two verticals that have seen tremendous growth.”

CULTURE

 A Story of Melting Ice and Personal Struggle

After more than two decades of studying glaciers around the world, from Greenland to Antarctica, from Nepal to Peru, from Switzerland to Norway, University of Bristol glaciologist Jemma Wadham is bringing her expertise on these majestic, disappearing formations to a wide audience. 

Her new book, Ice Rivers, available on Sept. 7, chronicles her fascination with glaciers, especially the extreme ecosystems that exist beneath the massive sheets of ice, along with fieldwork mishaps and personal struggle. Inside Climate News recently discussed Wadham’s book with her. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. 

What led you to write this book? 

I nearly lost my life because I had emergency brain surgery at the end of 2018, and that really was a huge shock. And as I recovered I didn’t really know what to do with myself; actually, my brain wasn’t quite as it used to be. I kind of thought, ‘What if I can’t study glaciers in the same way that I used to?’

As I was recovering, I thought, ‘Well, what if I can take people to glaciers?’ With all the experiences I’ve had all around the world, most people don’t see a glacier or they don’t touch it and feel it and haven’t experienced the incredible wilderness that surrounds them.

How would you describe the state of the world’s glaciers?

They’re like barometers for our climate. They mimic what’s happening in our climate. So what we’ve seen over the last few decades is accelerating melt, much more melt in glaciers around the world, and also accelerating loss of ice of Greenland and Antarctica, you know, our greatest ice masses. And that is to do with the fact that they’re not getting enough snowfall and they’re getting too much melt, so that the equation isn’t balancing for them.

What do you envision your readers taking away from this book? 

I hoped the book would really do two things. One is to fascinate people. Fundamentally I didn’t want to tell this doom, gloom story about climate change and glaciers melting because I actually think people have heard a lot of that. And I actually wanted to capture people’s imagination and fascinate them and think, ‘Oh, my God, this is an amazing thing.’

The second thing is, it’s very hard for people to figure out how to change their lifestyles around how much we consume of things without necessarily understanding what all the repercussions of that are, in terms of making what can seem like quite an intangible thing, in terms of glacier change, tangible for people.

SCIENCE

In the Congo’s Forests, Trees are Rainmakers

The water that falls as rain in the Congo rainforest largely comes from the forest itself rather than from ocean evaporation, a new study found. But as deforestation and climate change alter the forest composition, this source of moisture may be at risk. 

Located in central Africa, the Congo rainforest is the world’s second largest after the Amazon and experiences rainy seasons in the spring and fall. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology used measurements of heavy isotopes in water vapor in the atmosphere to determine whether the water came from ocean evaporation or evapotranspiration, the process through which water evaporates from tiny holes in leaves that open to let water out and carbon dioxide in. 

The researchers found that the moisture that falls in the rainforest comes primarily from evapotranspiration from the trees and other plants, especially during the spring rainy season.

Knowing that evapotranspiration plays such a key role in the water cycle in the Congo rainforest, study co-author Rong Fu, a climate scientist at UCLA, said there are three major ways the forest may soon have lower rates of evapotranspiration. 

First, she said, deforestation is reducing the number of trees in the rainforest, depleting the source of evapotranspiration. Second, climate change is allowing more drought-tolerant trees to prosper, which transpire less because they prefer to hold onto water. And third, higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations caused by the burning of fossil fuels means plants are consuming more carbon dioxide each time they open the holes on their leaves, meaning they don’t have to open these holes as often, so they release less water. 

“It means you really need to protect these rainforests,” Fu said. “It’s protecting your moisture source. If you don’t do that, you will very likely see a transition towards a drier climate similar to the Amazon.”

SOLUTIONS

Charge That Phone in a Nanosecond. Well, Almost

A novel technology for batteries could reduce charging times from hours to minutes for phones, computers and even electric vehicles. 

The electrochemical energy storage technology, called MXene, stores ions in narrow spaces between thin, nanoscale sheets of titanium carbide material that can rapidly store and retrieve energy for quick charging, creating a “supercapacitor.” The technology also uses a room temperature ionic liquid as an electrolyte, a liquid salt that can conduct ions at a voltage approximately three times greater than a salt dissolved in water.

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Michael Naguib, who documented the new technology in a recent paper published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, found a way to increase the space between the sheets to allow larger ions in by placing pillars made of polymers between them and, increasing the energy storage potential by a factor of nine compared to previous technology. 

Naguib used a water storage metaphor to explain the various energy storage technologies. Lithium ion batteries, currently the norm in mobile phones and electric vehicles, are like a jug on an office water cooler. The jug can store several gallons of water, but it can only be emptied and refilled by a small flow through its narrow mouth. Energy storage devices with basic capacitor technology are more like a coffee mug, which can be emptied and refilled in a fraction of a second, but can’t store that much water. By inserting these pillars between the titanium carbide sheets and creating a supercapacitor, Naguib has found a way to achieve the energy storage potential of the water jug and the recharge speed of the coffee mug, kind of like a large bucket, according to his metaphor. 

The technology is still in the development stage, Naguib said. Next, he wants to do some testing to see if the titanium carbide material is ideal or if there’s another material that can be used to create the MXene that would be more effective. 

“I’m very optimistic that it will be the new future,” Naguib said. 

SCIENCE

Warming Drives a Tree Disease to New Heights

Climate change is pushing a killer tree disease into new areas, according to data from surveys collected 20 years apart in two California national parks. 

In 1996, surveyors recorded the spread of white pine blister rust disease in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks in Northern California. The pathogen is originally from Asia and kills several white pine species across North America. In 2016, surveyors returned to see if the disease spread had changed. 

Crew members survey white pines for blister rust disease. Credit: Clayton Boyd
Crew members survey white pines for blister rust disease. Credit: Clayton Boyd

A new paper published Aug. 24 in the journal Nature Communications found that the disease was 6.8 percent more prevalent at higher elevations, where the climate became more optimal, but 5.5 percent less prevalent at lower elevations that had become less hospitable. The pathogen prefers cooler temperatures up to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Joan Dudney, lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis, didn’t initially expect climate change to be a factor in the disease spread because the region had warmed less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit. But after four years of statistical analyses of the data, Dudney and her co-authors confirmed that the spread was not random, but was significantly affected by climate change.

“Not being able to explain the shifts and how the disease had emerged using our typical approaches, that gave us a clue that something else was going on in this system,” Dudney said. “We finally are able to say with confidence that this was actually a climate change effect.”