Global Warming

The Escalating Global-Warming Crisis, in One Chart

Last month tied July of 2016 for the hottest month on record, according to a new analysis from researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Sixteen of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century, including 2015 and 2016, both of which saw a temperature boost thanks to a strong El Niño event. (El Niños bump up surface temperatures by churning warm water to the ocean surface.) Record-setting temperatures in 2017 are especially concerning now that there is no El Niño; in other words, most of the excess heat this year is due to human-induced climate change.

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Global Warming

Fast-melting Arctic – Cause and Effects

International researchers embarked on a month-long, 10,000 kilometer (6,200-mile) journey to document the impact of climate change on the forbidding ice and frigid waters of the Far North

Glaciers, sea ice and a massive ice sheet in the Arctic are thawing from toasty air above and warm water below. The northern polar region is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet and that’s setting off alarm bells.

“The melting of the Arctic will come to haunt us all,” said German climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf.

While global leaders set a goal of preventing 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of man-made warming since pre-industrial times, the Arctic has already hit that dangerous mark. Last year, the Arctic Circle was about 3.6 degrees (6.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.

CAUSES OF WARMING

The Arctic is mostly ocean covered with a layer of ice; changes from ice to water often kick in a cycle that contributes to global warming.

Sea ice is white and it reflects the sun’s heat back into space. But when it melts, it’s replaced with dark ocean that strongly absorbs it, said former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, who heads the environmental research program at the University of Colorado.

That heat gets transferred back up to the atmosphere in the fall and winter. As that happens, water vapor — a greenhouse gas — hangs around, trapping more heat. More clouds form around that time, also acting as a blanket, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

ROLE OF WINTER

Winter is crucial. Three times in the past two cold seasons, air temperatures near the North Pole were near or even a shade above freezing. That’s about 50 degrees warmer than it should be. From last November through February, Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost U.S. city — was 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 20th century average, and much of the Atlantic Arctic off Norway and Greenland was as hot.

Warm winters weaken sea ice, which floats on the ocean surface. It’s supposed to recover, spread more across the Arctic and get thicker in the winter so it can withstand the warmth of the summer. But a warmer winter means less protection when the heat hits.

In September 2016, the time of year the spread of ice across the Arctic is at its lowest, Arctic sea ice was the second lowest day on record, about 40 percent below the lowest day measured in 1979 when satellite records started. Between those two days 37 years apart, the Arctic lost enough sea ice to cover Alaska, Texas and California combined.

Then it didn’t grow back that much this winter, setting record low amounts from November through March, when sea ice reaches its peak spread.

BEYOND THE ARCTIC

Of all the global warming warning signs in the Arctic, “it is the sea ice that is screaming the loudest,” Serreze said.

That’s a problem because a growing body of studies connects dwindling sea ice to wild weather. The reduced winter sea ice interacts with warmer oceans to change conditions in the air that then triggers a potent noticeable shift in the jet stream, the giant atmospheric river that controls much of our weather, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. This theory is still debated by scientists, but increasingly more researchers are agreeing with Francis.

It’s not just sea ice on the decline. Glaciers in the Arctic are shrinking. And the massive Greenland ice sheet is slowly but steadily melting and that can add a big dose to sea level rise. Since 2002, it has lost 4,400 billion tons (4,000 billion metric tons) of ice.

Then there’s the Arctic carbon bomb. Carbon dioxide and methane — which traps even more heat — are stuck in the permafrost in places like Alaska and Siberia.

WILDLIFE

No Arctic creatures have become more associated with climate change than polar bears. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in January that about 26,000 specimens remain in the wild. Population counts of polar bears are notoriously difficult, and researchers are unsure how much their numbers have changed in recent years. But the Fish and Wildlife Service warned that melting sea ice is robbing the bear of its natural hunting ground for seals and other prey.

While some polar bears are expected to follow the retreating ice northward, others will head south, where they will come into greater contact with humans — encounters that are unlikely to end well for the bears.

The walrus, for example, may spend more time on the mainland. They’re very prone to disturbance so that’s not a good place for walrus to be.

Alarms bells are ringing about the future of the red king crab — a big earner for Alaska’s fishing industry — because rising levels of carbon dioxide, a driver of global warming, are making oceans more acidic. Scientists found that juvenile crabs exposed to levels of acidification predicted for the future grew more slowly and were more likely to die.

Algae that cling to the underside of sea ice are also losing their habitat. If they vanish, the impact will be felt all the way up the food chain. Copepods, a type of zooplankton that eats algae, will lose their source of food. The tiny crustaceans in turn are prey for fish, whales and birds.

Meanwhile, new rivals from the south are already arriving in the Arctic as waters warm. Orca have been observed traveling further north in search of food in recent years, and some wildlife experts predict they will become the main seal predator in the coming decades, replacing polar bears.

Humans are also increasingly venturing into the Arctic in search of untapped deposits of minerals and fossil fuels — posing a threat to animals. The potential for oil spills from platforms and tankers operating in remote locations has been a major cause for concern among environmentalists since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska killed a quarter of a million seabirds, as well as hundreds of seals and sea otters.

Global Warming

Study: Global warming alters timing of floods in Europe

Global warming is altering the timing of floods in Europe, making some rivers swell early and others later than usual, a phenomenon that impacts farming and daily life across the region, researchers said Thursday.

The report in the US journal Science is the largest European study of its kind, and spans 50 years and a vast trove of data from over 4,000 hydrometric stations from 38 countries.

“In the north-east of Europe, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States, floods now tend to occur one month earlier than in the 1960s and 1970s,” said lead author Guenter Bloeschl, a professor at the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien).

“At that time, they typically occurred in April, today in March. This is because the snow melts earlier in the year than before, as a result of a warming climate.”

Winter floods along the Atlantic coast of western Europe tend to occur earlier, almost in the autumn, because maximum soil moisture levels are now reached earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, floods in parts of northern Britain, western Ireland, coastal Scandinavia and northern Germany now tend to occur about two weeks later than they did two decades ago.

Storms hit later in the winter than before, a trend that is likely “associated with a modified air pressure gradient between the equator and the pole, which may also reflect climate warming,” said the report.

And as the Mediterranean coast warms, coastal flood events in some regions occur later in the season.

Global Warming

2016 as hottest year on record

The federal government confirmed 2016 as the planet’s warmest year on record, according to a report released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The combined influence of long-term global warming and a strong El Niño early in the year led to last year’s all-time record heat, NOAA said.

While El Niño is a natural warming of Pacific Ocean water, man-made global warming is caused by greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

The amount of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere climbed to its highest level in 800,000 years, the report found.

The report also noted other signs of a warming planet in 2016:

Greenhouse gases were the highest on record. Sea-surface temperatures were the highest on record. Global upper ocean heat content near-record high. Global sea level was the highest on record. Antarctic had a record low sea ice extent.

Global warming makes expedition to ice-locked North Pole possible

Two specially-equipped sailboats are attempting a voyage that’s never been done before – a trip to the North Pole. Led by a British explorer, the international crew has moved the boats from their home in Sitka up to Nome, where they’re hoping to launch for their journey to the Pole this weekend. Melting sea ice in the Arctic could make their voyage possible for the first time in history.

Global Warming

Climate Change is disrupting the ‘birds and the bees’

Over the last two decades, scientists have found that warmer temperatures are quietly spoiling the mood, making it harder for plants and animals to reproduce.

While humans and many other animals determine sex genetically, many reptiles and some fish use the incubation temperature of the eggs to set the gender of their offspring. This means that changing global temperatures could alter the ratio of sexes produced, making it harder for these animals to find mates.

Eastern three-lined skunk females can partially compensate for temperature increases by digging deeper nests and laying earlier in the season. Nevertheless, according to a study published in 2009, their nests still warmed by 1.5C over 10 years. This shifted the sex ratio towards females.

Not every species is as badly affected. Australian water dragon females have been shown to buffer temperature differences of 4C by nesting in sunnier or shadier locations. When it comes to climate change, behavioural flexibility is often a big advantage.

In the plant world, temperature can influence sex ratios in more subtle ways. For example, the tobacco root plant, which lives in alpine meadows in North America, has been producing ever more male plants over the last 40 years. This may be due to reduced water availability, since females require more water to develop. So far, the extra males have actually boosted seed production, but if the trend continues, the lack of females could eventually leave male tobacco roots feeling a little lonely.

Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s sea turtles use temperature to set the sex of their offspring. “Embryos are laid with no gender,” says Graeme Hays of Deakin University in Australia. “They can develop into males or females.” Warmer eggs develop into females, cooler eggs into males. “Temperature during the middle third of incubation controls the sex,” says Hays, by switching on and off the genes that trigger development into either a male or a female.

The difference between male and female is just a couple of degrees. That means even slight changes in the climate could skew the sex ratio, making males harder to find. Incubation temperatures above 29C are predicted to produce increasingly female-biased clutches.

There is evidence that this shift is already underway. Over the last century, the sex ratios of green turtles, hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles have become increasingly sex-biased. By 2030, the percentage of male green turtles produced has been predicted to drop to just 2.4%. “All else being equal, a warming climate will produce more female sea turtle hatchlings,” says Hays.

One solution for sea turtles and other reptiles with temperature-based sex determination is to breed at different times of year. This is called a “phenological shift”. “Earlier nesting may mean that sea turtles avoid incubation conditions that are too hot,” says Hays.

Phenological shifts are common, because many animals use environmental cues like temperature and rainfall to time key events like migration, flowering and breeding. Climate change is changing the timing and strength of the seasons, and as these cues change, the annual ebb and flow of the natural world is being disrupted.

In fact, one of the first pieces of evidence for the effect of climate change on living things was the discovery that plants are flowering earlier and earlier each year. In 2002, a landmark study showed that 385 British plant species were flowering on average 4.5 days earlier than in the 1990s. The same story is playing out across the globe: a 2008 meta-analysis looked at 650 temperate plant species in Europe, Asia and North America, and found that spring flowering had advanced by 1.9 days per decade on average.

The biggest concern is that plants and their pollinators might respond differently to climate change, leading to a mismatch that could significantly affect plant reproduction. For instance, in Japan the flowering of the plant Corydalis ambigua has advanced faster than the emergence of its bumblebee pollinators, resulting in a mismatch that reduces seed production in years with an early spring. Such mismatches could have a major impact on certain crop plants.

Global Warming

Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they wrote.

Global Warming

Artifacts Exposed as Ice Fields Retreat

In the past century, the glaciers and ice fields of the European Alps have lost half their volume to global warming, and their continued retreat, like that of glaciers everywhere in the world, is accelerating. By 2100, many scientists predict, they will have all but disappeared. The meltdown has already disrupted the region’s sensitive mountain ecosystems and tourist resorts—some local communities have taken to laying protective white blankets over the snow and ice—but it has also opened up new avenues of scientific inquiry. As the glaciers recede, they are releasing some of the human artifacts that they have absorbed through the ages, including humans themselves. Ötzi, the five-thousand-year-old mummified mountaineer discovered in 1991, remains the most astonishing find. But hundreds of other archeological objects, preserved in remarkable delicacy, have also turned up—medieval crossbow bolts, coins of Roman vintage, a pair of twenty-six-hundred-year-old socks. In July, an employee of a Swiss ski company came across the mummified remains of a couple who had gone missing in 1942; they were found fully dressed, with their wartime identity cards, backpacks, an empty bottle, a pocket watch, and a book.

Burdick An Ancient Lunch Box Emerges from the Ice

Global Warming

Warming Certainty

New studies find that it is now almost impossible to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the end of the century.

Scientists at the University of Washington calculated the effects of the world’s population growth, the GDP per person and amount of carbon emitted in economic activity.

They then projected that there is only a 5 percent chance Earth will warm by less than 2 degrees by 2100.

A University of Colorado at Boulder study also found that a 2-degree warming this century is now “baked in.”

This threatens to surpass the amount of warming scientists have warned could trigger catastrophic sea level rise, as well as extreme weather events like heat waves, floods and drought.

Global Warming

Temperature and salinity double in Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is responding very quickly to global warming and the rate of evaporation is higher than precipitation and fluvial supply. Temperatures and salinity is also increasing at two and a half times the rate at the midway point in the twentieth century and higher than that of the oceans, according to research published in Scientific Reports.

The data of the study shows that since the end of 1993 until today, the temperature and salinity of the water coming from the eastern Mediterranean, between 300 and 600 meters below sea level, have experienced significant variations. In particular, the rapidity with which they are increasing is two and a half times that seen in the eastern Mediterranean in the second half of the twentieth century and is much higher than that seen in oceans.

Global Warming

Rare mega-tsunami in Greenland

On the evening of June 17, residents in the Greenland village of Nuugaatsiaq felt a low rumble shake the ground.

Within five minutes, a giant tsunami arrived, caused by a massive landslide in Greenland’s Karrat Fjord. The wave washed away 11 homes, leaving four people in the town of 84 residents presumed dead. But because the tsunami struck in a remote location, researchers didn’t know how exactly it had originated and how big it had been. That’s crucial information, since another landslide is likely to happen in coastal Greenland very soon—and even more enormous waves will be on the way around the world as climate change worsens.

Tsunamis caused by landslides in bays can rise to incredible heights, travel at devastating speeds, and cause massive destruction. The biggest one ever recorded occurred in 1958 in Lituya Bay in Alaska, reaching more than 500 meters in height—almost as tall as the Sears Tower in Chicago or Canton Tower in Guangzhou. A similar, albeit smaller, tsunami is thought to have destroyed Geneva in 563 CE.

Global Warming

Climate change drawing squid, anchovies and tuna into UK waters

Squid and anchovies, more commonly eaten by Britons holidaying abroad, are being drawn into UK waters in large numbers by climate change, according to major new report that suggests the nation’s long-lost bluefin tuna is also returning.

However, global warming is harming sea birds, such as puffins, fulmars, terns and razorbills, as the fish they rely on are driven north or deeper as waters warm. The analysis of the impact of climate on the UK’s seas, which draws on the work of 400 scientists, found a steady rise in water temperature.

It also found a clear rising trend in sea level, leading to much more frequent extreme high water events. Improved defences and forecasting have prevented an increase in coastal floods, but the report warns that sea level rise around the UK is likely to accelerate.

Squid were seen in the North Sea only occasionally in the past but have increased “dramatically”, according to the report, with thousands of tonnes now caught each year and mostly exported.

Anchovies have followed the same path northwards. “You now have an anchovy fishery, which is clearly linked to climate change – that is what the science is showing,” said Frost. The anchovies come from the Bay of Biscay, where there is a large Spanish and French fishery.

Bluefin tuna were common around the UK before the second world war, with the giant fish a popular target for “big game” fishermen. The decimation in later decades of the mackerel and herring that tuna eat then saw the giant fish disappear. But shifting mackerel and herring populations and warming waters have seen the tuna return.

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Global Warming

Alien species invasions and global warming a ‘deadly duo’, warn scientists

Invasions by alien species and global warming form a “deadly duo”, scientists have warned, with the march of Argentine ants in the UK a new example. The public are being asked to be on alert for invaders such as the raccoon dog and Asian hornet, as eradication can be near impossible after a species becomes established.

As trade and human travel has become globalised many thousands of species have crossed oceans or mountain ranges and become established in new regions. Recent research shows that ever more animals and plants are finding their way to foreign lands and that invasive species are a “primary threat” to economies, human wellbeing and wildlife.

For example, the Argentine ant is a species that has some indoor populations in London [and elsewhere], but in the last couple of years we have seen those indoor populations spread outdoors. A little bit more climate warming for the UK and we could see the Argentine ant settling in very well.

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Global Warming

How Mongolia’s nomads are adapting to climate change

Harsh winters and dry summers are threatening the livelihoods of Mongolia’s nomadic herders. Some are banding together to safeguard their herds – and communities – from the extreme conditions.

For centuries, nomadic families have driven their livestock across Mongolia’s steppe, preserving a way of life that goes back generations. But changes in this vast, desolate landscape have forced them to adapt. Winters have become harsher, and extreme weather events more frequent.

Global warming is affecting Mongolia faster than other parts of the world. “Over the last 70 years, the average air temperature has risen by 2.1 degrees Celsius [3.8 degrees Fahrenheit] – one of the highest increases recorded on Earth

Mongolia is one of the last pastoral countries left on Earth. Its economy is dependent on the production of livestock, and around 80 percent of its territory is covered in grasslands. Living at the edge of the habitable world, pastoral nomadic people are highly vulnerable to changes. In response, some herders are forming communities and pooling their resources, in hopes that this will allow their traditional nomadic lifestyles to survive.

Around 28 percent of the Mongolian population lives at or below the poverty line, and many people survive on a subsistence basis. Because of this, and the fragile nature of pastures, extreme weather events are often disastrous in Mongolia. Experts are warning that pastures are at further risk due to overgrazing and climate change. A few centimeters more snow than average locks the forage under a thick frozen layer, and causes high mortality among the livestock.

Due to dzud, (a summer drought followed by a severe winter, generally causing serious loss of livestock) the winter of 1999 to 2000 resulted in the country losing 30 percent of its herds nationwide. As reported by Ulambayar in the scientific journal “World Development,” 2 million head of livestock, or 20 percent of the national herd, were lost in the dzud of 2009. And dzud events are projected to increase due to climate change.

Many nomads are abandoning their traditional lifestyle and migrating to the cities. The capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, is already reeling under the impacts of rapid urbanization, which include off-the-charts air pollution.

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Global Warming

Climate change challenges sinking city of Venice

The Italian city of Venice is prone to frequent flooding because it has sunk five inches over the last century, but it is also grappling with a new challenge: sea-level rise, caused by climate change, which increases the severity.

“Acqua Alta,” meaning high water, has always been a fact of life here. Several times a year, high tides and storm surges flood the city, especially the famous Piazza San Marco. The worst flood occurred in November 1966, when the Venice lagoon rose more than six feet above sea level.

Acqua Alta events are usually less than boot high, last just a few hours, and the city cleans up and goes back to normal. But floods also eat away at the soft, permeable bricks that sit above the foundations of the buildings. Over time, Venetians have raised their doorways and in some cases abandoned their ground floors. But the flooding is getting worse as the water level in the Adriatic Sea and Venice Lagoon rises due to climate change. The sea level alone has risen five and half inches since 1900, according to city officials.

The Italian government does have a plan to protect Venice. It’s called the MOSE project. Conceived in the 1970s, it’s a series of 78 underwater gates secured to the floor of the Venice lagoon. During especially high tides, they will be pumped with air and rise to the surface to block rising water from reaching the city. Four giant barriers across three inlets are scheduled to be operational by 2019.

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Global Warming

The Larsen C Iceberg Is Already Cracking Up

The trillion-ton iceberg that broke off Antarctica last week will not go quietly into the night. New satellite imagery reveals that the iceberg, dubbed A68, is already shifting shape along with the remaining Larsen C ice shelf itself.

The iceberg has traveled about 1.5 miles from the ice shelf it was formerly attached to. A piece of ice the size of Delaware moving across the choppy waters of the Weddell Sea was bound to experience an almost unbearable amount of stress. And on Tuesday, the European Space Agency showed the iceberg has begun to crack up.

Satellite images show that the massive iceberg is splintering and a constellation of smaller icebergs are surrounding it. The vagaries of ocean currents and buoyancy of ice will dictate how long the pack of ‘bergs travels together. It’s possible the smaller chunks could be the first drift north toward warmer waters in the South Atlantic where they would meet their likely demise.

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