today with the modern world, it is aljazeera.com. >> three locations, three different stories about the environment. one message. >> this year is blowing our minds. >> storms generated by a powerful weather system. >> these urchins are in trouble right now, why is that? >> our oceans getting warmer and more toxic. land frozen for years now melting. what is happening around the planet and what can science do about it? the latest technology from above
and boots on the ground. >> you've got to get down there with your hands, in the mud. >> are we looking for a dead one? >> all trying to fight back, but is it too late? >> when the pacific speaks, everybody around the planet better listen. >> this is "techknow". a show about innovations that can change lives. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... >> oh! >> oh my god! >> by scientists. techknow investigates climate chaos. >> think the weather's been pretty wacky lately, well just wait, it might get even worse. hey guys, i'm phil torres, joined by dr. crystal dilworth and marita davison, and today
we're talking el nino and this is something we've seen here on the west coast in the us, but it definitely extends far beyond that and marita you've actually experienced it. >> i've experienced a few el nino events when i was growing up in bolivia so it certainly has global impacts but what it is is an interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere that happens in the tropical pacific ocean. >> for some this interaction seems like this mysterious force, but this is techknow so of course we want to know what an el nino is, the weird things it's doing, and how researchers are studying it. >> severe fires and drought leading to food shortages in 11 south pacific countries. mega flooding in central america forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. and sea life found hundreds of miles from their natural habitats. all this due to a powerful weather system known as el nino.
this year's el nino is already breaking records for the wettest start in the pacific northwest, flooding homes and causing treacherous landslides. >> they come in all sizes, el nino's, small, medium and large. then every once in awhile you get what i call the godzilla el nino. >> that's right, they're calling the current el nino... godzilla el nino. >> this el nino, like all el nino's, is a weather system that begins in the pacific ocean at the equator. >> the pacific covers 30% of the planet. so i always say, when the pacific speaks everybody around the planet better listen. >> understanding el nino begins with the acronym "enso" - or el nino southern oscillation. according to the national oceanic and atmospheric administration, every 3 to 7 years surface waters of the tropical pacific ocean warm or cool by 1 degree celsius to 3
degrees celsius compared to normal. >> when this happens all the pieces on the weatherboard around the planet are changed. what was wet becomes drought and vice versa. >> you have the maps up here, we're looking at '97 and we're looking at now. what do you see? >> on the left 1997 very very big event. and we see the same event almost exactly replicated here in 2015. >> in the years since the last el nino, nasa went all out lauching a series of satellites for monitoring the worlds oceans... and predicting weather. >> so you guys are monitoring it as it happens. using what tools? >> the satellite has an instrument it's very cool, it's called an altimeter. it bounces signals off the sea surface measures the travel time. which really tell you how much heat is stored in the ocean and of course that is the key to understanding climate.
>> it's those fluctuations in ocean temperatures that shape the earths weather. >> while some scientists are studying el nino from space, others are studying the oceans. that's what brought us here to uc santa barbara where scientists are studying el ninos effect on the pacific. >> this year is blowing our minds. >> dr. jennifer caselle is a marine biologist analyzing el nino's impact on sea life. >> you don't necessarily study the climate, you study the creatures in the ocean, what are they telling you about el nino? >> the things we're seeing up here now in my area, we do not see, except on el nino's and some of the things we don't even see during normal el nino's, only this big one. >> in november 2015, california state officials closed the $60-million dollar commercial crab industry because domoic acid, a neurotoxin, was found in marine life. >> when we eat the infected
crabs you can get all kinds of serious neurological issues, really bad stuff... leading to death. >> in the uc santa barbara marine lab, dr. caselle gave me a closer look at more of the sea life in distress. >> so if we start with the urchins... that's amazing. these urchins are in trouble, why is that? >> well, the urchins are actually being affected pretty negatively by the warm water, we just noticed that we might be on the start of an urchin disease epidemic or die off. the urchins in our area are also fished. >> the urchins are not only important for the oceans but for the industry. >> they are a very important industry for southern california. >> this is so strange, it's adorable. >> that's a sea cucumber. >> so right now its being effected by the algae? >> the same sort of disease may be effecting these guys. >> but if there is a silver
lining at all to el nino, it's this. enjoying the effects of the warming pacific ocean is the sport-fishing industry. >> el nino is good for fisherman, yes! it's good fishing. we caught an opah this year, in 23 years of being on the water i've never seen an opah. >> a 120-pound opah, a fish usually found in the tropics, not off the coast of southern california. steve earwood is the skipper of the coroloma... a hook sport-fishing boat out of channel island harbor in oxnard california. >> normal water temperature this time of year is anywhere from 58 to 62 degrees. and right now its 67 to 72 degrees. >> the warm water brings all kinds of sea life much further north than usual. >> they're catching yellowtail and that's just unheard of.
>> this 23-pound yellowtail, normally found 100 miles south of here, didn't disappoint. >> it's my first one! it gave me a workout! >> as we've seen, el nino impacts the pacific in many ways, but what about all the promise of rain it brings? much of the west has been in a drought for years, is el nino the "great wet hope" to solve the water emergency? bill pazert at jpl is not optimistic. >> we've seen drought building slowly for the last decade and a half. one el nino, one wet winter, will not be a drought buster. >> not far from jpl, is the morris dam an important part of the los angeles county water system. there, engineers are hoping el nino brings heavy rains they can capture. techknow's crystal dilworth picks up our story from there.
>> scientists have been researching the impact of el nino from space to the sea but we have an inside look at how infrastructure is being prepared for the storms. >> we have invested a lot of time and money in doing projects over the last 10 years to make sure that these dams and infrastructure that was built in the 20's and 30's really are employing now the latest and greatest technologies. >> sterling klippel is a civil engineer with the los angeles department of public works. >> when you look out here you see this kind of ring that goes around the reservoir, i'm expecting we'll see reservoir levels all the way to the top of that ring. >> tell me a little bit about capturing the storm water. how do you do that? >> we do release downstream, into our spreading basins and spreading basins are areas that are kind of gravelly, sandy, has good geology for the water to move down into the aquifers. >> and while the morris dam is ready to do its job capturing el nino water, jpl's bill patzert
says, it's just a drop in the bucket of a larger statewide problem. >> so here in southern california 80-90% of all that el nino water will end up in the pacific ocean. and it's nice to think that we can capture all this water and put it in our groundwater basins, but unfortunately half our basins are polluted. when i told you earlier that this el nino was not a drought buster those are a couple of reasons why. >> so you know it's really important not to confuse el nino with climate change, you know el nino is a naturally occurring cyclical phenomenon as we saw. climate change is an unprecedented trend that we've been seeing that is driven by human activities, primarily emissions of green house gases. >> so when you combine those two you get this naturally occurring thing like el nino but it's
happening at potentially at an unnatural pace or unnatural impact. >> well yes of course as the climate begins to warm you see an increase in precipitation which is rain and um, an increased occurrence like el ninos. >> and what's interesting is that you know we know this trend of climate change is definitely happening, there is no question about it, scientific consensus there, right. but how that's going to interact with this naturally occurring event of the el nino is still pretty uncertain. >> it's interesting talking to the different researchers each one of them had a different take on how el nino and climate change will impact each other, and in general they said, climate change will probably make el ninos much worse. >> continuing on the topic of climate change now phil i know any time you have a chance to go to the rainforest, no one has to ask you twice. >> that's right i strap on my boots, grab my gear, and i'm there. now this forest we went to in panama is a rather interesting tropical forest. not the prettiest places i've been to, it is wild it is
mangled it is the mangrove, but it is very unappreciated and very important. we'll check that out after the break. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow. >> the only live national news show at 11:00 eastern. >> we start with breaking news. >> let's take a closer look.
>> and more than that they are one of the most endangered ecosystems worldwide, they are found on virtually every coast line on the planet and they provide a lot of critical resources and services. >> they are just amazing they stand up to tsunamis and their root systems can sponge carbon dioxide from the environment which is so important. >> well i got to go down to panama and spend some quality time in some mangrove forests and you could say we got a little too close for comfort at one point. take a look. >> they look like something out of a medieval horror story. a mass of gnarled roots, limbs, and vines twisting along seemingly chaotic routes. they may not be the most glamorous trees on the planet, but mangroves might just be one of the most important. techknow's come to one of panama's most important laboratories - galeta point marine lab -- a really cool
place at the edge of the caribbean, and on the front lines of climate change. and that's what brings professor wayne sousza here. >> so is this it? >> this is it, this is the spot. i'll show you some of the species as we go. >> professor souza's been studying mangroves here for more than a decade. he usually brings students to take down data. this year he's got jackie, mackenzie, josh and henry they're kinda of galeta point's version of the a team. and for our protection... these guys. they bring a bit of reality to our expedition. they're armed and ready. >> so what they are saying is these biologist working in the forest need a little bit of protection and there's people going in here who are poaching some of the animals.
they are fishing. there's even drug traffic that can go by the coast so these guys are here to make sure science is safe. >> okay let's head out this way. watch your step. >> as we make our way... carefully -- into the mangroves, professor souza gives us a warning. >> how deep is this water here? well the water is not very deep, maybe 10, 20 centimeters but the mud, soft mud, can go down 10 feet or more. >> so thanks to these roots i'm not in mud right now. >> right, yeah. >> i will stay on the roots. >> to avoid open water. >> you got it. >> the ground is muddy. really muddy. one wrong step is all it takes. >> oh! >> you get a good idea of how think this muck is. we had to pull one of our crew-members out. he was waist-deep in mangrove mud.
the soil here is a mix. water, sand, mud, it's what makes mangroves so special. >> mangroves are the wetland of the tropics. they used to dominate about 75 percent of tropical coastlines, they've been severely damaged and removed by coastal development. >> mangroves provide the transition from ocean to land. our goal is to make it to the waters edge. plenty of time for dr souza and his team to get out and do some science. >> so these are you know we have all the big trees tagged and then we need to find out what's going on with the youngest stages. >> this here is what we call a baby mangrove. it actually falls out of the tree looking like this and when it hits the ground, it grows these little roots. it will then turn into a little seedling, this might be a couple years old and eventually a big tree. >> okay, you kind of have to get down their on your hands. >> so we are looking for dead ones? >> oh yeah dead ones.
>> when you talk about carbon storage in the roots, are you just talking about things we can see here? >> no, it's actually several compartments they might be called so we have the above ground carbon, the trees themselves. we have these prop roots that are supporting the red mangroves but then under the soil, at the soil level and below there's a dense network of roots and those roots as they die become peat and so you have layers that may be 10 feet deep of peat and so it's a huge sort of store house of carbon that is released when you kill the above ground biomass. >> after a sweat-soaked hour we finally made it - or at least close enough to see the ocean. >> so this is it, i can see the water out there. >> yeah, we are at the end. we are at the edge of the lagoon. >> and you can really see if there was a storm out there, it has to get through this dense root system in order to get to land. >> yeah, it's vitally important for protecting the coast. >> now phil are there any preliminary results of your research now.
>> yeah the results are really starting to trickle in on these guys and when you look at mangroves you think, water to them is just water, they are emersed in it but it really can vary. and what they've found is climate change and right now they are going through a drought is drying up the land water, making it way too saline for these plants, so some of those mangroves are being affected. >> yeah, these are highly adapted systems, they survive in a particular range of salinity so if you deviate from that, they potentially are in trouble. >> we're talking about the effect climate change is having on ecosystems, you talk about vulnerability and you talk about value. and here these mangroves i mean they are adding such value to the system, not just because of their root systems but also because they can capture co2 and combat this global destruction that we're seeing. >> the ecosystems services that they provide are really numerous. >> phil it seems like you're really taking us to extremes in this show. >> yeah if by that you mean i'm taking you to sweltering panama to the frozen arctic, you're right.
>> yeah but it's not so frozen anymore right? >> and unfortunately that's the case, we went up to alaska to look at permafrost, and we'll have that, after the break. >> "inside story" takes you beyond the headlines, beyond the quick cuts, beyond the soundbites. we're giving you a deeper dive into the stories that are making our world what it is.
the ultimate arena for business. hour after hour of diving deep, touching base, and putting ducks in rows. the only problem with conference calls: eventually they have to end. unless you have the comcast business voice mobile app. it lets you switch seamlessly from your desk phone to your mobile with no interruptions. i've never felt so alive. make your business phone mobile with voice mobility. comcast business. built for business. >> welcome back to techknow i'm marita davison here with dr. crystal dilworth and phil torres. now guys here's a stat that completely blows my mind. the arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. >> yeah and when people hear that they think warming, melting
ice, but it's not melting ice it's warming ground that we're worried about. >> yeah i went to alaska to look at that ground because within it is permafrost, something that is supposed to stay permanently frozen but when you warm it, it starts to melt and there's a wide range of effects that happen, so, lets take a look. >> rising temperatures are changing the face of the arctic - on the sea... as summer sea ice recedes... and on land, as earth... once permanently frozen...thaws. that thaw is eroding parts of alaska's northern coast, buckling its roads and causing trees and houses to tilt. >> it's pretty difficult to live in this kind of house. >> vladimir romanovsky has been studying this frozen ground - called permafrost - for 40 years. >> so what is permafrost? >> any earth material which is at or below zero degrees celsia
for two or more consecutive years. that is permafrost. >> rising temperates aren't the only thing causing permafrost to melt. deforestation, construction - even a bad wildfire season like the summer of 2015 can impact permafrost. to understand why things get lopsided when permafrost melts - you have to understand its structure. and there is no better place to do that than here - almost 50 feet below the ground - in a-one-of-a-kind research facility near fairbanks, alaska. it's a 360 foot tunnel dug out of earth that's been frozen for tens of thousands of years. >> we see 10 to 14 to 15 thousand year old bones in the wall as they began excavating this. >> quentin gehring is a research engineer at the us army corp of engineer's permafrost tunnel. >> they're just everywhere - these bones are giant. >> absolutely. this looks like a pelvic of a mammoth - still right around 14 thousand years carbon dated.
>> the tunnel was created in the early 1960s to test excavation techniques in permafrost. after it was built - the corps added this refrigeration system to keep the exposed permafrost from melting. now it serves as a living lab for scientists who want to study the past - and get a better handle on the future. >> material types, ice content, moisture content. in terms of dating these ice wedges, understanding more of the development of these ice features, dating the organics, dating the carbon. >> ice content is key to predicting what will happen if the permafrost melts. if the ground is mostly soil and rock, it can remain stable - even if it gets above freezing. but if the permafrost has large wedges of ice like this, a thaw will cause the ground to sink as the ice turns to water. because summers can be warm in fairbanks, permafrost here is close to the thaw threshold.
but rising air temperatures are putting permafrost in alaska's arctic zone at risk too. >> for the last 30 years, for example, permafrost on the north slope, increased by 3 almost 3 degree celsia. >> so that's pretty major in permafrost terms? >> it's major change, especially if you project these changes into the future very soon we can actually cross this zero degree celsia threshold. >> melting permafrost is a threat to more than just the arctic - that's because it stores carbon - up to 1600 gigatons. that's more than twice the amount already in the atmosphere. >> is that something we should be concerned about? >> definitely. >> this study co-authored by romanovsky found that up to 15% of the carbon stored in permafrost could be released by 2100. >> so the arctic is warming, the permafrost is thawing, the carbon is getting released. >> right. >> is that just going to thaw it
even more? >> yes, because that's typical positive feedback, it will affect climate, warmer climate will thaw more permafrost, by another 20-30 years, this feedback will really kick off an then it can have a much more affect of this thawing permafrost. >> now, what's interesting about this episode to me is we've seen climate change affecting all different sorts of places, whether it be alaska or panama or right here in california, and it's not like we as techknow go out looking for these climate change stories, we go places to cover one thing and climate change is always part of the equation, it's affecting everywhere. >> yeah and the us is at the table for a lot of these global summits and global meetings on climate change, but unfortunately at least to me a lot of these are all talk not enough action. >> yeah i recently spent some time in europe to see how they do it, and i'll tell you what they are so active on this and
they have been, in some cases, for two decades working on fixing climate change in their country. >> on the international scale we talk about carbon, carbon emissions being used as a type of international currency in exchange because other countries are really acknowledging that this is an issue that we need to solve. >> now whether we're in california or panama or alaska, everywhere we look we're taking cues from nature - we're seeing climate change is happening so we're going to keep following it, wherever it goes. that's it for this episode for techknow, see you next time. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> mosquitos spreading rare diseases. >> as scientists we'd be fighting a losing battle against mosquitos. >> they'd kill one person every 12 seconds. >> just like that, i might have genetically modified a mosquito.