Global Warming

Melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled in past 20 years

The rate glaciers are melting in the Himalayas has doubled in just 20 years, according to a study which examined 40 years of satellite data.

Glaciers have been losing more than a vertical foot and a half of ice each year since 2000. This equates to 8 billion tons of water being released – or the equivalent of 3.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

The rate of melting is more than double that which took place between 1975 and 2000, according to the study published in Science Advances. It is the latest indication climate change is threatening the water supplies for 800 million people living downstream.

These glaciers currently harbour 600 billion tons of ice and they may have lost as much as one quarter of their mass over the past four decades.

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Global Warming

What would life be like in a zero-carbon country?

Drastic restrictions on almost every aspect of people’s lives, from the cars they drive, the way they heat their homes, to the fridges they buy — even the food stored in them. That is the reality of what awaits us in 2050 if a UK government pledge to cut greenhouse emissions to “net zero” is to be met.

If it can do it, the country will become the world’s first major economy to stop contributing to climate change. Net zero means the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken out.

Petrol and diesel vehicles will need to be phased out and replaced by electric or hydrogen powered ones by 2035. Consumption of beef, lamb and dairy must be cut by 20% by 2050. No houses built after 2025 will be connected to the gas grid. The owners of older buildings will need to switch their heating system to a low carbon one by around 2035. Aviation and shipping are other sectors where low-carbon alternatives don’t yet exist.

Emissions that can’t be cut, like the ones created by belching animals, must be offset for the country to reach the net zero target. Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, so planting more of them is one way to do this. But growing more trees is not always practical. Britain is a small island and space is limited, so the government wants the option of paying other countries to plant trees instead. Groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are sounding the alarm about that idea. They worry that being able to pay someone else to act could undermine UK’s domestic efforts.

Another way to offset emissions is by storing greenhouse gases underground or under the sea. But scientists are still figuring out how exactly to do that in a cost-effective and safe way.

Reaching net zero will cost about £1 trillion ($1.3 trillion), a price that for some, is simply too much. There are also those who argue the UK and other countries should move much faster. Extinction Rebellion, which recently staged major protests in central London and pushed the UK parliament to declare a climate emergency, wants the net zero target to be set for 2025.

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Global Warming

Trump Seeks Strategy Advice from Climate Change Deniers

The Trump administration sought advice from a vocal climate-change denier to help shape its environmental message, according to the Associated Press, which saw emails acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. The emails, written in 2018 and 2019, included correspondence between William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, and officials from the Heartland Institute, one of America’s most vocal climate-change challengers. The AP quotes a March 3 email exchange between Happer and Heartland adviser Hal Doiron in which the Trump official was given arguments that would help counter environmentalists’ messaging. In those emails, Happer admitted he had also discussed the issue with another Heartland adviser. “It’s the equivalent to formulating anti-terrorism policy by consulting with groups that deny terrorism exists,” Matthew Nisbet, a professor of environmental communication and public policy with Northeastern University said.

Global Warming

Arctic Permafrost Is Going Through a Rapid Meltdown — 70 Years Early

In the Canadian Arctic, layers of permafrost that scientists expected to remain frozen for at least 70 years have already begun thawing. The once-frozen surface is now sinking and dotted with melt ponds and from above looks a bit like Swiss cheese, satellite images reveal.

Permafrost is ground that remains frozen for at least two years. It underlies about 15% of the unglaciated Northern Hemisphere and serves a critical role in the transfer of carbon from living things to the atmosphere.

The researchers recorded permafrost thawing to depths that were not expected until air temperatures reached levels the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted will occur after 2090, according to one of its “moderate” climate change models.

The researchers believe higher summer temperatures, low levels of insulating vegetation and the presence of ground ice near the surface contributed to the exceptionally rapid and deep thawing.

The most striking evidence is visible to the naked eye. As upper layers of permafrost thaw and ice melts, the land settles unevenly, forming what is known as thermokarst topography. Landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that had been defined by gently rolling hills are now pockmarked with ditches and small ponds. The ground at the northernmost study site sank by about 35 inches (90 centimeters) over the course of the study.

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Global Warming

Australian Report Lays Out Devastating Consequences Climate Change Could Have By Mid-Century

According to analysis put together by a Melbourne, Australia-based think tank, climate change is “a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization” which “threatens the premature extinction of Earth- originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development.” The analysis goes on to describe what could happen in as little as three decades if the problem isn’t seriously addressed and combated with a massive global effort.

The report says that the risk to the planet is far more dire than most people seem to think, and that the potential devastation is hard to comprehend because it falls “outside the human experience of the last thousand years.”

It also says, again like many previous reports, that the “point of no return” is quickly approaching, and could arrive around 2050. If/when this happens order would break-down both domestically and internationally. The report states that the only way to counter the impending disaster would be with an effort “akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilization,” which we already know is way too optimistic.

The report comes to the conclusion that the earth’s current path will probably lock in a global heating temperature of at least three degrees Celsius. They go on to say that this would trigger an acceleration of the collapse of ecosystems “including coral reef systems, the Amazon rainforest and in the Arctic.” Additionally the report notes that even coming up short of this projection would still have disastrous consequences, writing “Even for 2°C of warming, more than a billion people may need to be relocated and in high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end, two billion would have to deal with major water scarcity, agriculture would be devastated in the sub-tropics, and food production would dramatically reduced.

Global Warming

Climate change is already affecting global food production – unequally

The world’s top 10 crops — barley, cassava, maize, oil palm, rapeseed, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane and wheat — supply a combined 83 percent of all calories produced on cropland. Yields have long been projected to decrease in future climate conditions. Now, new research shows climate change has already affected production of these key energy sources — and some regions and countries are faring far worse than others.

Published in PLOS ONE, the University of Minnesota-led study, conducted with researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Copenhagen, used weather and reported crop data to evaluate the potential impact of observed climate change. The researchers found that:

– observed climate change causes a significant yield variation in the world’s top 10 crops, ranging from a decrease of 13.4 percent for oil palm to an increase of 3.5 percent for soybean, and resulting in an average reduction of approximately one percent (-3.5 X 10e13 kcal/year) of consumable food calories from these top 10 crops;

– impacts of climate change on global food production are mostly negative in Europe, Southern Africa, and Australia, generally positive in Latin America, and mixed in Asia and Northern and Central America;

– half of all food-insecure countries are experiencing decreases in crop production — and so are some affluent industrialized countries in Western Europe;

– contrastingly, recent climate change has increased the yields of certain crops in some areas of the upper Midwest United States.

Marine Species More Vulnerable to Global Warming Than Terrestrial Species

A new study published in the journal Nature reveals that marine species may be more susceptible to global warming effects — specifically increases in temperatures — than land creatures.

All organisms, whether you’re warm-blooded or cold-blooded, have this range of temperatures that you can tolerate before your body starts to shut down and experience serious physiological stress — a lower bound and an upper bound. And so with warming, we’re mostly concerned about the upper bound because these temperatures are getting hotter and hotter.

The scientists compiled the upper thermal limits for 406 total ectothermic species — 88 marine and 318 terrestrial — and assessed their position relative to the temperature threshold before they would begin to experience heat shock or heat stroke.

It turned out that in the ocean, marine animals were sitting much closer to that maximum, much closer to this ceiling where they would overheat and get into a real physiological stressful situation than terrestrial animals were, on average — which means that there is then less buffering for them to get to these overheating points in the ocean.

In addition, the scientists found that local species extinctions in the ocean occurred at twice the rate than those on land. Marine organisms may also have heightened vulnerability and sensitivity to thermal stress because they experience less thermal variability on average than do land creatures. During the transition from winter to summer or even across the duration of a day, a temperature logger tracks noticeably greater changes on land than in water.

Marine species haven’t needed to worry about temperature fluctuations as much, leaving them more disadvantaged to deal with the rapidly rising ocean temperatures.

Global Warming

Global warming and more storms

The type of stalled jet stream pattern that brought almost daily rounds of severe storms to North America and parts of the Mediterranean during the latter half of May is linked to the record warming of the Arctic.

Researchers from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) combined two models that use machine learning to realistically reproduce the observed changes in the jet stream. They say it’s the first time artificial intelligence has been used in climate modeling.

“Our study shows that the changes in the jet stream are at least partly due to the loss of Arctic sea ice,” said Markus Rex of AWI. “If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events – in the middle latitudes will increase.”

Wildlife

Mass Die-Off of Puffins

Hundreds of “severely emaciated” puffin carcasses have washed ashore on an Alaskan island, and researchers believe thousands more have died at sea as warming waters continue to shrink their food supply.

Between October 2016 and January 2017, inhabitants of St Paul Island in the Bering sea found the starved bodies of more than 350 seabirds, primarily tufted puffins.

Analysing the location of bird carcasses and wind data, Timothy Jones at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues estimated that between 3000 and 9000 birds died in total.

When they examined some of the bodies, they found no signs of infection or unsafe levels of toxins. “Collected specimens were severely emaciated, suggesting starvation as the ultimate cause of mortality,” Jones wrote.

Tufted puffins, which accounted for 79 per cent of the bird carcasses found, eat fish and marine invertebrates, which in turn eat phytoplankton. But changes to atmospheric conditions, including the ongoing heatwave, have massively disrupted the marine ecosystems, he wrote. There is less winter sea-ice, and warmer temperatures have been linked to fewer forage fish, crustaceans and other prey animals as they either die off or move north to cooler waters.

Almost all the puffins they found were adults in the process of moulting, which makes them flightless for up to 40 days and requires more nutritional energy than normal.

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Global Warming

Global warming could enlarge world’s largest ocean dead zone

Climate modelling experts ran computer experiments to predict how the world’s largest oxygen minimum zone (OMZ), situated in the Arabian Sea, will react to future warming scenarios.1 First documented in the 1960s, the dimensions of the Arabian Sea’s dead zone, an area the size of Scotland, were only formally established a year ago by marine biologists who dispatched underwater robots.

The most recent simulation, led by Zouhair Lachkar from New York University Abu Dhabi’s Center for Prototype Climate Modelling, showed that an additional warming of 2°C to 4°C is bound to intensify the OMZ. This will further reduce marine habitats for fish species intolerant to hypoxic conditions, strain commercially important fisheries, and accelerate the release of toxic heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere.

Naturally occurring oxygen minimum zones exist in three other locations worldwide. They result from an imbalance between oxygen supply and loss. In any water body, atmospheric oxygen is injected and mixed by waves and eddies, and consumed by bacteria feeding on sinking and decomposing organic matter. Because the Arabian Sea is one of the most productive marine ecosystems, it generates large amounts of organic matter that is decomposed by bacteria, tipping the fragile oxygen balance towards anoxia.

The intensification of the oxygen minimum zone, especially nearer the surface, has huge impacts for local communities. When the low oxygen boundary gets shallower, fish communities are squeezed into a thinner layer. This puts a lot of stress on fisheries.

Global Warming

Students Strike for Climate Change

Hundreds of thousands of students around the world walked out of their schools and colleges Friday in the latest in a series of strikes urging action to address the climate crisis. According to event organizers Fridays for Future, over 1664 cities across 125 countries registered strike actions, with more expected to report turnouts in the coming days.

Global Warming

Global sea levels could rise faster than previously predicted

Global sea levels could rise by two metres (6.5 feet) and displace tens of millions of people by the end of the century, according to new projections that double the UN’s benchmark estimates.

The vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contain enough frozen water to lift the world’s oceans dozens of metres. The expansion of water as oceans warm also contributes to sea level rise. But predicting the rates at which they will melt as the planet heats is notoriously tricky.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report that under current emissions trajectories — a “business-as-usual” scenario known as RCP8.5 — would likely rise by up to one metre by 2100.

That prediction has since been viewed as conservative, as the levels of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year, and satellites showing accelerated rates of melt-off from massive ice sheets atop Antarctica and Greenland.

A group of the world’s leading ice scientists this week released a expert judgement on the situation, drawing on their own experience and observations. While there was still a significant margin of error, they found it “plausible” that under the business-as-usual emissions scenario, sea-level rises could exceed two metres by 2100.

The authors said the area of land lost to the ocean could be equivalent to that of France, Germany, Spain and Britain combined and would displace more than 180 million people.

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Global Warming

Polar Sea Ice Levels

The sea ice in the Chukchi Sea to the north of Alaska and far eastern Siberia was at the lowest extent on record for early May, covering an area more typical of early June, according to data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice over the Arctic region as a whole on May 14 was at the second-lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979, and slightly above the 2016 record low.

The extent of the sea ice around Antarctica remained at the lowest on record.

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Global Warming

Australian islanders file landmark climate change complaint

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A group of indigenous people from low-lying islands off the coast of Australia on Monday lodged an unprecedented complaint against the country’s government, accusing it of insufficient action on climate change.

The eight Torres Strait Islanders filed the complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, claiming that rising sea levels were having a devastating effect on their communities.

Around 4,500 people live on the Torres Strait Islands, a group of more than 270 islands lying between the north coast of Australia and Papua New Guinea. The complainants say their homes, burial grounds and cultural sites could disappear underwater in their lifetimes.

Global Warming Is Fueling Growth Spurts in Some of China’s Oldest Trees

Climate change is causing old trees in northern China’s permafrost forests to grow faster, likely thanks to warmer soil temperatures, according to recent research. Older larch trees grew more from 2005 to 2014 than in the preceding 40 years. And the oldest trees, often 400-plus years, grew more rapidly than at any time in the past three centuries.

But scientists warn that these growth spurts are a temporary boon: As the region’s permafrost continues to melt, the soil will become wetter and soggier, almost wetland-like. Larch trees are not able to survive in that type of landscape, which will cause the entire ecosystem to shift.

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Global Warming

CO2 in the atmosphere exceeds 415 parts per million

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For the first time in human history carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 415 parts per million, reaching 415.26 parts per million, according to sensors at the Mauna Loa Observatory, a research outpost of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency on 11 May 2019.

The increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is important because of its heat absorbing properties. The land and seas on the planet absorb and emit heat and that heat is trapped in carbon dioxide molecules. The NOAA likens CO2 to leaving bricks in a fireplace, that still emit heat after a fire goes out.

Ocean Acidification

Oceans have been such comfortable homes to approximately 2.2 million species since hundreds of thousands of years. Thanks to overfishing, warming, pollution, plastics and other human pressures, now they are turning inhospitable. Apart from all these, there is another major threat to the marine life called the ‘ocean acidification’. It refers to the decreasing pH of ocean water due to the conversion of absorbed CO2 into carbonic acid.

The first victims of ocean acidification are the marine calcifying organisms with shells. Coral reefs, which cradle almost a quarter of marine biodiversity, are also severely affected by acidification. These reefs are formed by the accumulation of calcium carbonate skeletons secreted by the colonies of corals over time over which algae and protozoans grow, imparting beautiful colours to the coral reefs. Due to increased acidification and other reasons, these symbiotic organisms are expelled by the corals, revealing their white calcium carbonate skeleton underneath.

Global Warming

Climate Change – The Basics

The term, climate change is used to describe a long-term change in global temperatures and weather patterns.

The earth’s temperature has changed drastically in its 4.5 billion year history, from the Huronian Ice Age that covered vast portions of the planet in ice for nearly 300 million years, to a period about 50 million years ago, when scientists believe that palm trees and crocodiles were native above the Arctic Circle.

Today, climate change is commonly used as a term to describe the effects of global warming that have occurred as a result of human activity following the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

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Earth’s atmosphere is full of gases. Some gases, including nitrogen and oxygen — that together accounts for 99% of the gas in the atmosphere do not absorb heat from the sun, allowing it to reflect back into space from the Earth’s surface.

Other gases, known as greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — absorb heat and make up roughly 0.1% of the atmosphere. When these gases absorb solar energy, they radiate it back towards the planet’s surface and to other gas molecules, creating the greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect plays an important role in naturally regulating the temperature of our climate. Without it the Earth’s average temperature would -18C. That’s roughly the temperature of a domestic freezer.

Since the industrial revolution the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been increasing as a result of human activities like burning fossil fuels, deforestation and modern farming practices. Which means more greenhouse effect, and more heating.

A 2013 report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body of climate scientists, found that the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration had risen by 40% since the industrial revolution, resulting in earth’s temperature increasing by 1C.

In 2018, the IPCC released a stark report on the effects of a 1.5C temperature increase. These include more extreme weather conditions, sea-level rising, the destruction of coastal ecosystems, loss of vital species and crops, population displacement and a huge cost to the global economy.

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In 2018, the United Nations warned that without urgent action global temperatures are set to rise above 3C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

At that temperature the outlook begins to look even worse — Entire cities could be swallowed by the rising oceans, species of plants and animals face extinction as their ecological systems fail to adapt to the heat, and hundreds of millions of people could be forced to migrate due to coastal flooding, longer-lasting draughts and depleting crop yields.