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Executive Summary for August 3rd

In our weekly news roundup, scientists find that degrading ocean plastics emit greenhouse gases, an environmental group sues to protect critically endangered orcas and an 87-year-old sea temperature record is shattered in San Diego.

Published on Aug. 3, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Climate Change and Ocean Plastic Pollution Aren’t Separate Things

Cheap fossil fuels have helped supercharge the growth of plastics, and now a new study points to another way that the issues of climate change and plastic pollution are linked. When plastic degrades in sunlight, it releases greenhouse gases.

A team in Hawaii tested several kinds of common plastics and all emitted methane and ethylene as they degraded. The plastic used for shopping bags, polyethylene, is both the most common in the world and also the biggest emitter, according to the study published in the journal PLOS One. Debris in the ocean acted the same as on land in response to a longer amount of sunlight exposure.

David Karl, senior author of the study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a statement that plastics make up a source of “climate-relevant trace gases” that will only increase as more plastic is produced and discarded into the environment. The next step is trying to get a handle on just how much emissions plastics are producing globally.

Orca Carries Dead Calf in Grief as Group Sues to Protect Pod

Critically endangered southern resident killer whales in the Pacific Northwest have seen their numbers dwindle in the last few decades, but no single death may be as tragic as one last week.

As of Thursday, a mother, known as J35, had been carrying her dead infant around with her for an unheard-of 10 days in what experts are calling an extended grief ritual. Her species is down to just 75 individuals, with no successful births in recent years. One major problem is the orcas’ dwindling food source, Chinook salmon, a species itself endangered.

This week, the Center of Biological Diversity and other groups filed a notice of intent to sue the United States government to force action in establishing a “whale protection zone” free from boat traffic and noise in a key area where they feed. Earlier this year, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order to form a strategy to recover both orca and Chinook salmon populations.

Nine-Decade Sea Temperature Record Shattered In California

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, has been measuring the ocean temperature from its research pier every single day since 1916. On Wednesday, water temperatures spiked beyond the previous record set on July 30, 1931, setting a new high: 25.9C (78.6F)

Southern California’s coastal waters have been unusually warm over the last week, according to Scripps, with other devices further offshore also measuring record or near-record numbers. It’s just one more episode for the heat record books this summer, with July’s record-high temperatures on land sparking wildfires across California. Researchers at Scripps noted that climate change has warmed the ocean by about 1 degree Celsius since monitoring at the pier began, so it’s not surprising the record was broken.

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