The sixth mass extinction will hit harder than expected, according to a collaborative study between Stanford and the University of Mexico. 32% of all vertebrate species are steadily decreasing, even if one third of them classify as low concern species.

We already knew that animals and plants are going extinct 100 to 1 000 times faster than what is normal  (and those are the most conservative estimates). If we stay on this course, the general consensus is that around 30% of all species will be gone by 2050. The scientific community went from asking if the next mass extinction is underway to asking if it’s going to be worse than the last one – which, keep in mind, killed most of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Now, researchers say that assessments based on species extinctions, alarming as they may be, might be underestimating the problem. According to the article published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States:

“Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations [EN: local extinctions], which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.”

This huge study is based on a sample of 27 600 vertebrate species (which is roughly half of them). All of the 177 mammal species among them have seen their natural range significantly shrink, 40% of them have seen their populations decrease by 80% or more.

The article concludes: “we emphasize that the sixth mass extinction is already here and the window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most…”

*Featured image by Robert Young under Creative Commons

As I sit on my couch contemplating what to write in my gently roasting living room, the temperature has reached a balmy 40 degrees Celsius with humidity.   With the sweat leaking from my forehead, despite the fans blowing in my direction, I had a thought: when there is nothing else to say, talk about the weather.

As the summer of 2010 slowly comes to an end, I find it hard to remember a warmer summer than the one we’ve experienced this season.   After the last couple of days of record breaking temperatures I’m about ready to welcome winter with open arms.   Judging by all the heat waves and wildfires we’ve seen this summer in Quebec, Russia, Bolivia and elsewhere, I’d say the rest of the world is ready to welcome winter as well.

I’m not about to chalk up a couple of heat waves to global warming, just as I wouldn’t try to deny global warming because of a snow storm in February, but I get the feeling that the Earth has a fever.   In fact, if the earth was a human head its forehead would be sweating profusely as much as mine.

The two largest countries in the world are both situated in the uppermost part of the northern hemisphere and both have experienced their warmest seasons on record this year.

Mind if I smoke? The Big O drenched in smoke from Quebec wildfires in late May

Canada came off its warmest and driest winter in its history with an average temperature 4 degrees Celsius above normal.   The warm dry weather continued into the late spring causing over fifty different forest fires in Quebec, some of which are still burning.   Fires also affected B.C. and Alberta in July and August.   About 290,000 hectares of forest were burned in British Columbia by August 23rd, about three times more than the average.

In Russia, the hottest summer in their history (an average temperature 5 degrees Celsius above normal) has led to a direr situation.   Starting in late July, twenty-eight regions were under a state of emergency due to crop failures caused by drought and seven regions because of wildfires.   At one point in early August there were more than eight hundred fires burning at a time, many of them around Moscow.   During that same time period an average of seven hundred people were dying everyday from smoke and heat.

A Russian man stands near one of hundreds of forest fires

I’m no scientist; I can’t tell you that this is a definitive sign of global warming, but when two large countries that contain a majority of the North Pole have simultaneous record breaking hot streaks such as these… I have to wonder.