Warming Trends: A Potential Decline in Farmed Fish, Less Ice on Minnesota Lakes and a ‘Black Box’ for the Planet

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

An angler catches a perch while fishing an area of Gull Lake on Jan. 25, 2008 in Brainerd, Minnesota. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

An angler catches a perch while fishing an area of Gull Lake on Jan. 25, 2008 in Brainerd, Minnesota. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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SOLUTIONS

Earth’s ‘Black Box’

Inside the “black box” recovered from an airplane crash, investigators can find out everything that led up to the mishap, piecing together weather conditions, mechanical failures and the dialogue between the pilot, the copilot and the control tower, to figure out what went wrong.   

With the planet heading for its own, climate-driven disastrous crash, several groups in Australia are collaborating to create “Earth’s Black Box,” a building that will store data on temperature changes, ocean acidity, solar radiation and hundreds of other climate indicators, as well as speeches and media coverage of policymakers, the “pilots” attempting to steer Earth away from a fiery crash. 

“Really what we want to have this box do is actually help people realize when they do say something and when they do pledge something, when they do think about something good or bad, that the box will record it,” said Michael Ritchie, managing director of Revolver, an Australian production company working on the Earth’s Black Box project.

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The solar-powered structure, which will be completed in mid-2022, will be built of three-inch-thick steel on the Australian island of Tasmania and will cost about $1 million. The site was selected for it’s relative stability, both geologically and politically, and the facility is built to last 10,000 years. 

Ritchie said he hopes that they can also create a multi-language, analog version of the data to serve as a sort of “Rosetta Stone” for whoever discovers the data after society suffers its own “plane crash.”

“The box will provide very, very clear, objective data on what actually happened,” Ritchie said. “And how another being from another planet, or from another pocket of our civilization that managed to survive, whatever—how they get to decode that is going to be their challenge, and it’s like the challenge that we had thousands of years in the past in our history.”

SCIENCE

‘If You Have Less Winter, You’ll Have Less Ice’

The length of Minnesota’s lake ice cover season has decreased by an average of 10 to 14 days in the last 50 years, new data from state agencies shows.

In the land of 10,000-plus lakes, frozen waters are vital for local economies, seasonal traditions, recreational activities and cold-adapted ecosystems. Summer surface water temperatures in the state have increased an average of 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half-century, according to a recent report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, causing ice-in dates to arrive an average of nine days later in the fall, and ice-out dates an average of four to five days earlier in the spring.

“We still can get cold in the winter, the lakes still freeze over,” Minnesota DNR climatologist Pete Boulay said. “We just don’t have that extreme cold anymore to build ice as much as we used to. Year after year, we’re seeing these trends. And it fits the pattern pretty well. If you have less winter, you’ll have less ice.”

Warmer waters can lead to more algal blooms in lakes and can force cold water fish species to decline or shift their populations north, including walleye, the state fish of Minnesota. Plus, a shorter ice season has an impact on recreation during Minnesota winters, like ice fishing, ice skating, cross country skiing and snowmobiling. 

“I think you can still have fun on the lakes,” Boulay said. “You just might not be able to be on the lakes as long.”

SCIENCE

Oil and Gas Not Only Perpetrators But Victims of Global Warming 

Climate change is coming for the fossil fuels that are causing it. 

A new analysis shows that 40 percent of the world’s recoverable oil and gas reserves are threatened by extreme heat, sea level rise, floods and other climate change-related risks. Conducted by Verisk Maplecroft, a firm that assesses risk for businesses and investors, the analysis shows that reserves in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Nigeria are most vulnerable to climate events that would disrupt the movement of oil to global markets. 

“There’s a fair chunk of these reserves that the world is kind of banking on getting out of the ground, but actually they may not be able to,” said Will Nichols, head of environment and climate change research at Verisk Maplecroft. “They may be significantly disrupted by these physical changes that are kind of coming down the line.”

Some examples of climate disruption to the fossil fuel industry that the authors of the analysis cite include the February freeze in Texas, which disrupted natural gas production; Hurricane Ida, which led to dozens of spills in the Gulf of Mexico, and permafrost melt in the Russian Arctic, which has damaged oil and gas infrastructure in the region.

But the effects of climate change are not the only threats to the oil and gas industry, Nichols said. If the industry fails to come up with and reach meaningful net-zero targets, he said, policymakers and investors may leave oil and gas behind. 

“Ultimately, the industry has been able to cope with quite difficult environments thus far. It may rise to the challenge in the future in terms of the physical threat,” Nichols said. “You could see a situation where increasingly disrupted supply from oil and gas would lead to policymakers looking to move away to more secure, potentially renewable sources of energy.”

SCIENCE

Climate Change May Lead to Farmed Fish Decline

If greenhouse gas emissions continue on a business-as-usual trajectory through the century, seafood supply from farmed fisheries could significantly decline, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia created a farmed fisheries future production model that took into account factors like how ocean conditions would change and how suitable areas for fish farming would shift. 

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They found that under a scenario where global emissions are strongly reduced, production would increase by 17 percent by 2050 and 33 percent by 2100, relative to an early 2000s average baseline. But under a scenario where global emissions are not reduced at all, production would increase by 8 percent through mid-century, when it would peak, and then decline by 16 percent by the end of the century. The findings were published this week in the journal Global Change Biology

Human population growth, increases in wealth and dietary shifts that are anticipated for the century ahead are going to lead to a rise in demand for seafood, the study’s authors wrote, and farmed seafood will be essential to meet this demand.

One of the main causes of the decline, the researchers found, was warming ocean temperatures that harm fish metabolism. The industry could improve with adaptation measures, like switching to plant-based fish feed instead of relying on fish-based fish feed, but lead author Muhammed Oyinlola, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, said reducing climate change would be the best solution, putting the future of the industry in the hands of policymakers. 

“More research and more technology development might actually help us in the future,” said Oyinlola. “But the elephant is still going to be in the room, if we don’t take care of the elephant, which is climate change itself. If we can take care of climate change, I think so many things will fall in place.”