Turning the Sahara Green: Some Unintended Consequences of Wind and Solar Farms

A few days ago, the IPCC released a special report announcing that we only have about twelve years before we cross the 1.5-degree warming threshold that many countries are trying to avoid.  We need to reduce our carbon emissions more urgently than ever, and some scientists have risen to this challenge with proposals so ambitious that they almost sound like science fiction.  One proposal is to cover much of the Sahara Desert with wind turbines and solar panels. A move this big could have many unintended consequences for the climate, but fortunately, a new study by Li Yan et al. suggests that enormous wind and solar farms could actually have positive impacts for those living around the Sahara.

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Are Harmful Algal Blooms a New Concern For Coral Reefs?

Coral reefs are marine invertebrates that create a diverse ecosystem that supports sea life, fish communities, and humans. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the algae that grows inside their shell, providing coral food through photosynthesis, and allowing the coral to expand its reef. However, coral reefs are already under pressure from a changing ocean climate, human pollution, overfishing, and development, all which can stress the coral and their algae counterparts. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), a consequence of human derived nutrient pollution, were investigated to determine their impact to coral reef or fish communities. Reef and fish communities at two sites in the Gulf of Oman were surveyed before and after a HAB in 2008. One site saw coral reef abundance reduced from 53% before the bloom, to 6% after, and both sites had a significant decrease in total fish biomass. These results demonstrate that HABs have a negative impact on both coral and fish communities. HABs cloud surface waters, preventing the coral’s algae from photosynthesizing and providing food for corals. Once the HAB dies, it decays and depletes the oxygen along the seafloor, suffocating corals. These changes to corals impact fish, as a struggling coral reef cannot provide food and shelter to attract sea life and fish communities. These impacts are felt by the nearly 30 million people that depend on coral reefs for their livelihood. Nutrient pollution to coastal waters resulting in HABs, along with other stressors, need to be addressed to safeguard coral reef ecosystems for the future.

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