Global Warming

End in Sight for an Ice Age Remnant

For eons, the Laurentide Ice Sheet has been a fixture of North America. At its peak, it covered the majority of Canada and sent icy tendrils down across the Midwest and Northeast, covering Chicago, New York and Toronto in a mile or more of ice. It helped carved mountains as it advanced, and it filled the Great Lakes as it receded at the end of the last Ice Age.

About 2,000 years ago, the ice sheet remnants reached equilibrium on Baffin Island, Canada’s largest island, now dubbed the Barnes Ice Cap. But that equilibrium has been disrupted by human-driven climate change.

A new study shows that the last vestige of the once-mighty ice sheet faces near certain death, even if the world rapidly curtails its carbon pollution. The results indicate the Arctic has entered a state nearly unheard of since the Pliocene, an epoch when the Arctic was largely free of ice.

The Barnes Ice Cap covers an area about the size of Delaware. After reaching a near steady state 2,000 years ago, the ice cap began shrinking in the late 1800s, with a marked increase in its decline since the 1990s. That coincides with the rapid rise in human carbon pollution, which has also driven a roughly 1.8°F increase in the global average temperature over that period.

But researchers can look back much deeper into the ice cap’s history using other clues. The new research, published on Monday in Geophysical Research Letters, looked at an array of amazingly named cosmogenic radionuclides in bedrock around the ice cap to tease out when the ground was free of ice.

Cosmogenic radionuclides are isotopes that form when exposed to cosmic rays. That can only happen when the ground isn’t covered by ice, giving researchers a way to see how rare the current shrinking ice cap is.

Their findings show that there were two periods where ice extent was roughly as tiny as it is now. Both periods came hundreds of thousands of years ago and were due to natural changes in the earth’s tilt and orbit that helped warm the planet.

Today’s rapid change is different because human carbon pollution is the main driver of the unrelenting warmth in the region, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. The findings indicate that the Arctic likely hasn’t been this warm in 2.6 million years.

Looking into the future using climate models, sustained warming almost certainly spells doom for the ice sheet. On our current trajectory of carbon pollution, the research indicates that the ice cap is likely to disappear in the next 300 years. That’s a geological blink of an eye for an icy legacy that stretched across millions of years.

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Environment

Beijing Moves from Coal to Natural Gas

The last large coal-fired power plant in Beijing has suspended operations, with the city’s electricity now generated by natural gas, as the city battles a long term heavy smog problem. The shuttering of the Huangneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant comes on the heels of China’s annual legislative sessions, where Premier Li Keqiang promised to “make our skies blue again” in his state-of-the-nation speech.

The Huangneng plant is the fourth to be closed and replaced by gas thermal power centres between 2013 and 2017, cutting nearly 10 million tonnes in coal emissions annually. Smog has cloaked the capital for several days and is expected to continue through the week.

However, PM2.5 (harmful particulate) levels have remained between 200 and 330 micrograms per cubic metre –well above the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum average exposure of 25 micrograms per cubic metre in a 24-hour period.

The pollution often vanishes during prominent events like the legislative sessions and the 2008 Summer Olympics as authorities order factories to halt activity and force cars off the road.

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Global Warming

Climate Conditions Affect Health

A consortium of 11 leading medical societies, representing more than half of the doctors in the United States, launched a campaign to show how climate change is affecting people’s health.

Its new report, Medical Alert! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health, says climate change is leading to more cardio-respiratory illness, the spread of infectious disease as well as physical and mental health problems from more frequent episodes of extreme weather.

The report was delivered to Congress before being more widely distributed. “Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker,” said Dr. Mona Sarfaty, director of the new consortium and a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, USA.

Warming Seas

The world’s oceans are heating up about 13 percent faster than previously believed, with the rate of warming since 1992 found to be twice as great as the warming rate measured since 1960.

Researchers from leading U.S. and Chinese agencies made the discovery by correcting past data errors and by using more advanced climate computer models.

“The oceans are affecting weather and climate through more intense rains. This process is a major reason why 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded at the Earth’s surface,” the team wrote in a press release. “Additionally, 2015 was a year with record hurricanes, heat waves, droughts and wildfires around the world.”

Environment

New CO2 record

The atmosphere’s carbon concentration now exceeds 1960 levels by about a third, and rises faster each decade.

The concentration of carbon dioxide rose by 3 parts per million (ppm) for the second year in a row in 2016, bringing the average concentration to a record-setting 405 ppm, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Pre-industrial concentrations rarely exceeded 280 ppm, and some estimates suggest we would need to keep the carbon concentration between 405 and 450 ppm to limit warming to the internationally set target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). But while that concentration rose by less than one part per million annually in the 1960s, the current annual increase of 3 ppm would put Earth in the danger zone by the early 2030s.

Massive Thirsty Mangroves Dieback Due To Extreme Weather Condition

A James Cook University researcher has found why there was an uncommon dieback of mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria in mid-2016 – the plants died of thirst.

The researchers used aeronautical observations and satellite mapping information of the area going back to 1972, joined with climate and weather records. Dr. Duke said they discovered three factors met up to create the extraordinary dieback of 7400 hectares of mangroves, which extended for 1000 kilometres along the Gulf coast.

“From 2011 the coastline had experienced beyond normal rainfalls, and the 2015/16 dry season was especially serious. Secondly, the temperatures in the zone were at record levels and thirdly a few mangroves were left high and dry as the ocean or sea level dropped around 20cm during a particularly extreme El Nino.”

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Environment

Demolishing Unsafe USA Dams Beneficial for Environment

With California now on track to have the rainiest year in its history—on the heels of its worst drought in 500 years—the state has become a daily reminder that extreme weather events are on the rise. And the recent near-collapse of the spillway at California’s massive Oroville Dam put an exclamation point on the potentially catastrophic risks.

More than 4,000 dams in the U.S. are now rated unsafe because of structural or other deficiencies. Bringing the entire system of 90,000 dams up to current standards would cost about $79 billion, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. Hence, it has become increasingly common to demolish problematic dams, mainly for economic and public safety reasons, and less often to open up old habitats to native fish. About 700 dams have been taken down across the U.S. over the past decade, with overwhelmingly beneficial results for river species and ecosystems.

Global Warming

UN reports Antarctica’s highest temperatures on record

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization published the highest temperatures on record in three Antarctic zones on Wednesday, setting a benchmark for studying how climate change is affecting this crucial region.

For the entire Antarctic region – all land and ice below 60 degrees South latitude – the highest temperature recorded was 19.8 degrees Celsius (67.6 degrees Fahrenheit), on January 30, 1982, at a research station on Signy Island.

For the continent itself, a maximum of 17.5 C was recorded on March 24, 2015, near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Finally, the highest temperature for the Antarctic Plateau – at or above 2,500 metres was minus 7 C, on December 28, 1980, at a weather station.

Getting a better grip on how global warming might impact the world’s largest ice mass is of more than academic interest.

Spanning an area twice the size of Australia, Antarctica’s ice sheet – up to 4.8km thick – contains 90% of the world’s fresh water, enough to raise sea levels by about 60 metres were it to melt.

The continent’s western peninsula, close to the tip of South America, is already among the fastest warming regions on the planet, hotting up by 3 C over the last half century – three times the global average.

The lowest temperature yet recorded by ground measurements for the Antarctic Region – and the whole world — was minus 89.2 C at Vostok station on July 21, 1983.

Northern hemisphere sees in early spring due to global warming

Spring is arriving ever earlier in the northern hemisphere. One sedge species in Greenland is springing to growth 26 days earlier than it did a decade ago. And in the US, spring arrived 22 days early this year in Washington DC.

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Environment

‘Atmospheric Rivers’ Wreak Havoc Around The Globe

An “atmospheric river” is a colorful term for a sinuous plume of moisture that travels up from the tropics — a single plume can carry more water than the Mississippi River at its mouth. But new research shows that atmospheric rivers are also among the most damaging weather systems around.

The atmospheric rivers that soaked California this winter did some good — they ended an epic drought in the state.

Waliser studied two decades of storms around the globe at mid-latitudes — that is, outside the tropics. When he focused on the very windiest — the top 2 percent — he found that “atmospheric rivers are typically associated with 30 and even up to 50 percent of those very extreme cases.” Atmospheric rivers were also responsible for almost that percentage of the very wettest storms, too.

Atmospheric rivers are famously wet. But atmospheric scientist Duane Waliser has done some new research that shows they’re also remarkably windy. Waliser found that winds during an atmospheric river are typically twice the speed of the average storm.

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Global Warming

Coders Race to Save NASA’s Climate Data

A group of coders is racing to save the government’s climate science data.

On Saturday (Feb. 11), 200 programmers crammed themselves into the Doe Library at the University of California, Berkeley, furiously downloading NASA’s Earth science data in a hackathon, Wired reported. The group’s goal: rescue data that may be deleted or hidden under President Donald Trump’s administration.

The process involves developing web-crawler scripts to trawl the internet, finding federal data and patching it together into coherent data sets. The hackers are also keeping track of data as it disappears; for instance, the Global Data Center’s reports and one of NASA’s atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) data sets has already been removed from the web.

Climate Change Blocks Expansion of Austrian Airport

An Austrian court has blocked construction of a new runway at Vienna’s airport mainly on the grounds that the project would increase climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions in violation of Austrian and European environmental laws.

The decision was seen as affirming Austrians’ constitutional rights to a clean environment, including protection from climate change impacts. It may be the first time a court anywhere in the world has blocked a major public infrastructure project based heavily on climate-related laws or considerations, according to several legal experts.

Environment

India Beats China As Worst Air-Polluted Country On Earth

India now has the world’s worst air pollution. They have beaten China. Specifically, it is New Delhi, India’s capital that has the worst air pollution on Earth.

Industrialization, coal-fired power plants, and low regulation have made the air pollution in India so much worse. Technology Review has reported that there have been 1.1 million deaths recorded last year due to air pollution in India. The country has been tied with China as having deadly air pollution. India’s rapid industrialization, too much use of coal for energy, growing population, and an ageing populace that is affected by air pollution are the factors why there are so many deaths.

Pollution Has Worked Its Way Down To The World’s Deepest Waters

The Mariana Trench in the northern Pacific is the deepest part of the world’s oceans. You might think a place that remote would be untouched by human activity.

But the Mariana Trench is polluted.

At its deepest — about 7 miles down — the water in the trench is near freezing. The pressure would crush a human like a bug. Scientists have only recently explored it.

Among them is biologist Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in England. His team dropped what they call a mechanical “lander” down into the trench. It had cameras and water samplers and some baited traps. They didn’t really know what they’d find.

When the lander surfaced, the traps contained amphipods — shrimplike crustaceans. That wasn’t terribly surprising, as amphipods are known to live at great depths. But bringing them back from the Mariana Trench was a rarity, and Jamieson thought there might be something to learn from them. He took the creatures to an environmental scientist.

The amphipods were contaminated with PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — toxic chemicals used for decades in industry, as well as other industrial pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants.

Every sample we had,” Jamieson says, “had contaminants in it at very high or extraordinarily high levels. How high? He compared the contamination level in his Mariana amphipods to crabs living in waters fed by one of China’s most polluted rivers, as well as amphipods from other parts of the world. “And what we were finding in the deepest place in the world were (levels) hugely higher, 50 times in some cases,” he says.

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Wildlife

Climate Threat to Wildlife May Have Been Massively Underreported

More than 700 of the world’s threatened and endangered animal species may be directly affected by climate change, according to a new study — vastly more than the number of animal species scientists initially thought would face risks from global warming.

Scientists had previously determined that only 7 percent of mammals and 4 percent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” of threatened species are affected by climate change. However, a new study finds that the threat from climate change may have been massively underreported.

In a comprehensive analysis of 130 previous studies on the subject, researchers found that nearly half of the world’s threatened and endangered mammals and nearly a quarter of birds are already seriously impacted — more than 700 species total.

Most climate change studies focus on impacts in the future, but the researchers said the effects of global warming are being felt “here and now.” And research on present threats were focused on specific species and were spread across numerous journals, according to study co-author James Watson, director of the Science and Research Initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Primates, in particular, are threatened because they have specialized diets and their tropical homes are vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. In some cases, species can adapt to the changes, but others are facing dire consequences.

For instance, mountain gorillas live on top of mountains — they’ve got nowhere else to go if the climate changes,” Watson said. “They’re stuck on top of these mountains, so they might not survive climate change because they can’t move anywhere else.”

Though birds can fly from mountaintop homes, the researchers found that species that live at higher altitudes and experience little seasonal temperature changes are negatively affected by climate change. Animals that dwell in aquatic environments also face even higher risks because these ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to global warming, according to the scientists.

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Environment

Melting Glaciers Will Reveal Cold-War-Era Nuclear Waste

Melting glaciers have revealed a number of surprises over the past few years, from Viking artifacts in Norway to World War I burials in the Italian Alps. And one day, if global warming continues its current course, Greenland’s retreating ice sheet could expose a more troubling relic of the past: a Cold War military base and whatever biological, chemical and radioactive waste is left inside, scientists say.

NASA’s Earth Observatory posted maps today (Jan. 31) that show the changes expected to take place near the site of Camp Century, a once-secret U.S. military base built in 1959 primarily to test the possibility of launching nuclear missiles from the Arctic to the Soviet Union.

The site was abandoned in 1967 and is now buried about 100 feet (30 meters) beneath a crust of snow and ice. But the maps, analyzed as part of a study published in August 2016 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, show that because of ice loss, Camp Century could become an environmental hazard by the end of this century.

These maps show the surface mass balance of ice, or the net change between the accumulation and ablation of ice and snow on a glacier’s surface. Ablation happens when ice thins due to evaporation, melting and wind. The dark red indicates areas where the ice surface is likely to drop by 10 feet (3 meters) or more per year.

Greenland camp century ice balance

Environment

Doomsday Clock ticks closer to apocalypse and 1 person is to blame

Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight on Thursday amid increasing worries over nuclear weapons and climate change.

Each year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit that sets the clock, decides whether the events of the previous year pushed humanity closer or further from destruction. The symbolic clock is now two-and-a-half minutes from midnight, the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953, when the hydrogen bomb was first tested. Scientists blamed a cocktail of threats ranging from dangerous political rhetoric to the potential of nuclear threat as the catalyst for moving the clock closer towards doomsday.

“This year’s Clock deliberations felt more urgent than usual…as trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used by a President-elect of the United States in cavalier and often reckless ways to address the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change,” Rachel Bronson, the executive director and publisher of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in a statement.

While many threats played into the decision to move the clock 30 seconds forward from where it was in 2016, one person in particular prompted the scientists to act.

“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter,” David Titley and Lawrence M. Krauss of the Bulletin wrote in an New York Times op-ed.

The Bulletin pointed to President Donald Trump’s careless rhetoric on nuclear weapons and other issues as well as his troubling stance on climate change.

Environment

Warsaw Grapples With Gray Smog

An eerie gray mist with a pervasive odour of fumes wreathed Warsaw and dozens of other Polish cities, bringing a global problem more associated with Beijing and New Delhi into the heart of Europe. It took less than half a day, on Jan. 8, for the smog levels to break all records set in the 10 years since Poland, following a directive from the European Union, put in place an air pollution monitoring system.

Warsaw city officials reacted by making all public transportation free last Monday, in an attempt to keep cars off the roads, and warned residents to stay indoors unless necessary. Pollution levels eventually dropped off toward the end of the week.

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Global Warming

Global Warming Pause? — It Doesn’t Exist

Forget about the so-called climate change hiatus — a period beginning in 1998 when the increase in the planet’s temperature reportedly slowed — it doesn’t exist, according to a new study that found the planet’s ocean temperatures are warming faster than previously thought.

The findings support similar results from a 2015 study published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the journal Science. However, doubters of climate change attacked that study, prompting the researchers of the new study to examine the data anew.

“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” study lead author Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.

The climate change hiatus was more of a suspected “slowdown, not a disappearance of global warming,” as the world’s oceans were still warming, but at a lesser rate than previously predicted, according to Climate Central. However, many scientists acknowledged the slowdown, which allegedly took place from 1998 to 2012. Climate change doubters also took note, and used the slowdown as evidence that climate change was a hoax, the researchers of the new study said.

But in 2015, NOAA published an analysis showing that the slowdown wasn’t real, and was the result of measurement errors. The modern buoys that measure ocean temperatures tend to report slightly cooler temperatures than older ship-based systems, even when measuring the same part of the ocean, the NOAA researchers found.

That’s because in the 1950s, ships began to measure water piped through the engine room, which is usually a warm place. In contrast, today’s buoys report slightly cooler temperatures because they measure the water directly from the ocean, Hausfather said.

“The observations have gone from 80 percent ship-based in 1990 to 80 percent buoy-based in 2015,” the researchers wrote in the study. As this switch happened, it appeared that there was a warming slowdown in the ocean — largely because researchers didn’t account for the ships’ warm bias when combining the buoy and ship data sets.

When the NOAA researchers corrected for the bias, they found that the oceans had warmed 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit (0.12 degrees Celsius) per decade since 2000, a rate almost twice as fast as earlier estimates of 0.12 F (0.07 C) per decade. Moreover, the newfound rate matched estimates for the previous 30 years, from 1970 to 1999, the researchers said.

This image obtained Nov. 16, 2015 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the satellite sea surface temperature departure for the month of October 2015, where orange-red colors are above normal temperatures and are indicative of El Niño.

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Environment

Oldest Water

Scientists from the University of Toronto say they have found the planet’s oldest water, which is about 2 billion years old, deep in a Canadian mine.

Researchers had earlier found water that was about 500 million years less ancient and not quite as deep in the same Ontario mine.

“It won’t kill you if you drink it, but it would taste absolutely disgusting,” said lead researcher Barbara Sherwood Lollar.