OTTAWA — Research measuring the effort of climate change on bees suggests they are only half as likely to be found in areas where they were once common.
“Things are just getting way too hot for them in a lot of places, too frequently in the year,” said Peter Soroye, a biologist at the University of Ottawa.
Bees are crucial to agriculture. The United Nations says about one-third of the world’s crops depend on pollinators.
Bees have faced a series of threats for years, including habitat loss, parasites and pesticide use. One 2011 study found that wild bumblebee species had declined by up to 96 per cent and their ranges had contracted by at least one-quarter.
Climate change is also a factor. Soroye and his colleagues, whose research was published Thursday in the journal Science, wanted to tease out its part in the bees’ decline.
Although global warming is usually reported in terms of average degrees per year, climatologists say that’s not how it’s actually experienced. What usually happens is a period of extreme weather.
That’s what hurts the bees, Soroye said.
“Temperatures getting a little hotter every year, most species can probably tolerate that,” he said. “But when you get a week of 40-plus (Celsius) temperatures, this is something that’s really difficult for bumblebees to tolerate.”
Using almost a century’s worth of records and data on 66 bumblebee species from more than half a million locations, the researchers showed a clear correlation — separate from land use or pesticides — between bee population surveys and weather that exceeded their tolerance.
They found a powerful link between population decline and what the paper calls “climate chaos.”
“Eureka moments don’t usually happen,” said co-author Jeremy Kerr, a University of Ottawa professor. “Usually you see something in your data and you squint a little bit and then you say, ‘That’s strange.’ But this time, everything you could think of totally worked.”
The paper concludes that climate change in North America has resulted in a 50-50 chance that a meadow or a vacant lot that was loud with bees just a generation or two ago still has them. The paper also says their risk of extinction has increased.
Not all changes are losses. Soroye said some areas benefited from the warmer weather and increased their bee numbers.
But the overall trend was down, he said.
Kerr said correlating populations with weather data could be useful to help understand the declining numbers of many other species, especially birds for which long records are available.
“The premise is intended to be transferable. We didn’t build the premise for bumblebees. We built it for any kind of species.”
Not all animals are necessarily in decline from climate change. Butterflies, for example, might not be bothered by hot spells.
“They originated in tropical conditions and they may have greater capacity to tolerate hot weather,” Kerr said.
But the reason for any changes would remain the same — climate.
“These principles are applicable everywhere,” Soroye said. “We have yet to test that, but that’s what we think.”
Kerr said the study has the added benefit of being immediately useful to beekeepers or wildlife managers.
“If we can manage our habitats to maintain things like microclimates, little habitat buffers like a hedgerow, it has the same effect as putting a shade tree in your backyard on a hot day,” he said. “You can go sit in the shade and so can a bumblebee.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2020
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter
Western University has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to build a high-tech camera that may be used on rovers for future missions on the moon.
“We’ve not had something on the surface of the moon built by Canada ever,” said Gordon Osinski, director of Western University’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration.
“A lot of people don’t know about London, Ontario and Western really becoming an epicentre for space research in Canada and internationally,” he added.
The camera, otherwise known as an integrated vision system, will be able to capture shorter and longer wavelengths compared to a typical smartphone camera, allowing researchers to get a better look at the composition of the moon’s surface.
In addition, it will also have a Light Detection and Ranging component to help researchers explore the moon at night and areas where there are shadows.
“Some of the most scientifically interesting places on the moon are these permanently shadowed regions near both poles where we think there might be water hiding away,” Osinski said.
Under the 18-month contract, the CSA will provide $690,123 toward the initial design and development of the high-tech camera.
Osinski said one of the challenges researchers will have to figure out is how the camera will survive getting to and staying on the moon’s surface.
“Anything you send to another planet has to withstand the extreme temperatures and radiation, so that really doubles and triples the price you might think of for something here on Earth,” he said.
“We really are only talking about a few years until we see lots of robots and eventually, humans back on the surface of the moon,” he added.
The project is funded through the CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program, where $150 million has been allocated over the next five years to help businesses and post-secondary institutions create new technologies that can be used in lunar orbit or on the moon’s surface.
So far, seven contracts have been awarded worth a total of $4.36 million.
The InSight lander has been on the surface of Mars for about a year, and a half dozen papers were just published outlining some results from the mission. Though InSight’s primary mission is to gather evidence on the interior of Mars—InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport—the lander also keeps track of Martian Meteorology. A new paper reports that InSight has found gravity waves, swirling dust devils, and a steady background rumble of infrasound.
InSight’s primary science instruments are designed to probe the interior structure of Mars. They include the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). But another suite of instruments, called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS), measures the temperature, wind, atmospheric pressure and magnetic field near the lander.
Altogether the APSS is a weather station—and more—that gives daily weather reports from its location on Mars.
Some of the findings are not necessarily that surprising. The daily temperature and pressure fluctuations are more pronounced on Mars than on Earth. “The atmosphere is so thin that it can heat up and cool down much faster than on Earth,” said lead author Banfield in a press release.
But according to the science team, the discovery of gravity waves (not gravitational waves) was a surprise. Gravity waves are generated in a fluid, which in physics includes atmospheric gases, when those fluids are out of equilibrium. As the fluid seeks equilibrium, the waves are propagated.
On Earth gravity waves can create distinct cloud forms called wave clouds. There are still questions about Martian gravity waves. “We’re still working to understand what these waves can teach us about Mars,” Banfield said. In their paper the researchers said they discovered “unexpected similarities between atmospheric turbulence on Earth and Mars.”
The researchers also discovered what’s known as infrasound on Mars, something that they expected to find. Infrasound is a low-frequency rumble that’s outside the range of human hearing, below 10 Hertz. “We expected infrasound would exist, but this is the first direct measurement,” Banfield said. “It’s still mysterious as to exactly what causes the signals we’ve heard, but we’ll keep studying.”
InSight also sensed thousands of dust devils during its first year, though none were ever seen by the lander’s cameras. “We have seen the pressure signature of thousands of dust devils, and we have tried to take images at the right times of day,” Banfield said. “We’ve caught absolutely no dust devils on camera. Other landers have more effortlessly imaged dust devils, so it’s surprising that we haven’t even captured an image of one.”
“This site has more whirlwinds than any other place we’ve landed on Mars while carrying weather sensors,” said Aymeric Spiga, an atmospheric scientist at Sorbonne University in Paris.
Overall, the APSS is giving scientists the opportunity to study up close an atmosphere other than Earth’s. Orbiters and other landers have watched the Martian atmosphere, but InSight is giving us our most continuous and accurate sampling of atmospheric conditions on the red planet. In their paper, the team of researchers states that InSight “extends our understanding of Mars’s meteorology at all scales.”
Not only do the lander’s instruments take frequent measurements of conditions at its locale, but it also sat through a large dust storm shortly after it reached Mars. These large storms occur frequently on Mars, sometimes becoming truly global storms.
Mars is much drier than Earth, obviously. On Earth the moisture in the atmosphere plays a large role. On Mars, it’s the dust that plays a significant role. The airborne dust has an oversize impact on Mars’ thin, sunlight controlled atmosphere. The dust contributes to gravity wave features near the surface, though the researchers don’t have a clear picture of how it all works yet.
Mars researchers are excited by InSight’s capabilities and results so far. Though other satellite-based research has looked at the upper atmosphere for extended periods of time, InSight is the first ground level, in-situ, long-lasting measuring station for the Martian atmosphere. InSight’s APSS measurements not only supplement orbital measurements, but the data can serve to help prove or disprove models of the Martian atmosphere.
InSight has also detected airglow and noctilucent clouds at Mars, both of which are upper atmosphere phenomena. Along with the gravity waves, the unseen dust devils, and the infrasound, that’s a treasure trove of data for the lander’s first year.
With about one more year to go in the mission, who knows what else the lander will unearth? Especially if the HP3 starts working.
Western University researchers have an inside track on developing sensory technology that could be used on future space missions.
A team led by the university’s space director Gordon Osinski was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency to develop an “integrated vision system” for rover missions, Western announced Tuesday.
Osinski describes the technology — that would document the surface of the moon and help select samples to bring back to Earth — as the “eyes” of the lunar rovers that could be launched during the next few years.
“One of our ultimate goals is building hardware and launching it into space and being involved in space missions,” he said. “Getting this contract is the first step to — hopefully, eventually — building a camera system that will go on a rover on the surface of the moon.”
The $700,000 contract will fund a team of research scientists, post-doctoral students and graduate students from the faculties of science and engineering which will work on developing the system.
The camera system would use imaging technology to overcome the lack of sunlight on the moon to collect data and help guide and control the rover.
“We’ve been working on a number of concepts for science instruments for over a decade here at Western. A lot of them do revolve around imaging systems,” Osinski said.
The team’s work during the next 18 months will be designing technology that will survive the rigours of space, he said.
“When we build a space camera, it will be multimillions of dollars, everything space-qualified to withstand extreme temperatures and the radiation in space,” Osinski said. “So, we’re designing this concept with that in mind.”
The team’s mission is to advance the design and technology to a point where they have a prototype “cemented in stone” so they can seek additional funding, he said.
The university’s funding from the Canadian Space Agency comes from a five-year $150-million program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop technologies to be used in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface.
Western will work with MDA Vision Systems and Sensors on the project.
The university launched the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration last summer with a goal of becoming an international hub for Earth and space exploration research, development and training.
“The institute has taken us to the next level. It signifies that space is an important area across campus,” Osinski said. “This (contract) really established Western as an epicentre for space exploration, research and exploration.”
NASA has committed to return humans to the moon by 2024 in a program known as Artemis. The U.S. space agency also has set a goal of landing on Mars by the 2030s.
Canada has agreed to take part in the NASA-led effort by contributing a smart robotic system to the NASA’s lunar gateway program.
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