Global Warming

US growing season extends by 13 frost-free days

The number of frost-free days in the northern United States has increased by more than 13 days in the past 100 years, according to new research.

The other main areas of the mainland US also saw significant increases in the number of days without frost, essentially the growing season – 10.7 days in the west, 8.6 in a central region and 7.7 days in the south.

Global warming was one of the reasons for the trend, but the researchers also found changes to local cloud cover and atmospheric circulation patterns played a part.

Global Warming

American Trees Are Moving West Due to Climate Change

As the consequences of climate change strike across the United States, ecologists have a guiding principle about how they think plants will respond. Cold-adapted plants will survive if they move “up”—that is, as they move further north (away from the tropics) and higher in elevation (away from the warm ground).

A new survey of how tree populations have shifted over the past three decades finds that this effect is already in action. But there’s a twist: Even more than moving poleward, trees are moving west.

About three-quarters of tree species common to eastern American forests—including white oaks, sugar maples, and American hollies—have shifted their population center west since 1980. More than half of the species studied also moved northward during the same period.

These results, among the first to use empirical data to look at how climate change is shaping eastern forests, were published in Science Advances on Wednesday.

Trees, of course, don’t move themselves. But their populations can shift over time, and saplings can expand into a new region while older growth dies in another.

While climate change has elevated temperatures across the eastern United States, it has significantly altered rainfall totals. The northeast has gotten a little more rain since 1980 than it did during the proceeding century, while the southeast has gotten much less rain. The Great Plains, especially in Oklahoma and Kansas, get much more than historically normal.

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Global Warming

Ocean acidification is global warming’s forgotten crisis

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Most of us are familiar with the climate change impacts we see and feel in our communities: heatwaves, storms, droughts, floods, and so on.

But a UN meeting this week about climate change and oceans reminds us a related crisis is unfolding largely away public attention: the one-two punch of ocean warming and acidification.

With record temperatures sweeping over continents year after year, it is easy to overlook that the ocean has absorbed some 90% of the heat trapped by the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution; and how much of that CO2 has dissolved into seawater as carbonic acid, altering its basic chemistry.

The UN meeting follows on the heels of a new secretary general report that investigates the impacts of these changes and the findings are concerning, to say the least.

The report describes record ocean temperatures pushing fish species toward cooler latitudes and out of reach of artisanal fishers; it documents widespread coral bleaching across the tropical belt and how most reefs could enter a state of permanent decline by 2040; it shows how ocean acidification has damaged a range of calcifying marine life, such as corals and shellfish; and it raises fears that the cumulative effects of the impacts are degrading phytoplankton, zooplankton, and krill, the foundation of the ocean’s food chain.

A sea snail shell is dissolved over the course of 45 days in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100.

Pterapod shell dissolved in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100

Environment

Trash Isn’t Just A Problem For Henderson Island, It’s Everywhere

The uninhabited Henderson Island has gained a lot of attention because of the fact that it has no people, but lots of trash.

A recent study determined that the island has become a dumping ground for plastic refuse. Unfortunately, it’s not alone. Here are just a few examples of seemingly pristine locales that have become polluted by humanity’s waste.

The Mariana Trench: The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean and, as such, one would expect it to be free from humanity’s touch, but that is not the case. A study has discovered that sea life living in the trench were found to have high levels of cancer-causing pollutants in their bodies.

Ironically, the isolated nature of the Mariana Trench is part of the reason that these pollutants often end up there.

“[These chemicals] don’t like water, and so they will stick to things in the water like plastic, and then that plastic will settle,” said the study’s co-author Stuart Piertney. “Because these deep-sea trenches are the very bottom of the sink for the oceans, there’s a sort of inevitability that they’re going to end up there.”

We know less about the depths of the ocean than we do the surface of the moon, but this serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences regardless of whether we are aware of them.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on Earth really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” said co-author Alan Jamieson.

Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands: Hawaii is a tropical paradise and one of the world’s top vacation spots, but it also has a string of uninhabited islands. Those islands serve as a wildlife refuge for many types of marine life, but, like Henderson Island, they too have became littered with trash.

The problem has gotten so bad that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has organized cleanup efforts. A recent expedition uncovered more than 57 tons of garbage. In addition to polluting the water and ruining the area’s natural beauty, the trash, which is mostly plastic, is dangerous to the local wildlife.

The debris, which includes lighters, bottle caps, and other hard plastic items, are often mistaken for food by seabirds, which will feed the trash to their offspring.

Smaller debris isn’t the only problem facing these islands. Despite the fact that fishing is prohibited in wildlife sanctuaries, lost nets and lines that often end up in the area can kill larger marine life such as dolphins or sea turtles.

Plastic Is The Problem: In the case of both Henderson and Hawaii, the bulk of the discarded trash is made of plastic. Every year, roughly 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up the in ocean. This waste is then caught up in gyres that carry the garbage to remote locations.

Environment

One of the World’s Most Polluted Islands

A tiny, uninhabited piece of land in the South Pacific Ocean, called Henderson Island, is considered one of the most remote islands in the world. But now, researchers say it has earned a much more worrisome new title: the world’s most polluted island.

Henderson Island is so remote that it’s visited only every five to 10 years, for research purposes, and is listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But this isolation from humanity has not prevented the island’s beaches from becoming filled with trash. In a new study, researchers estimate that 37.7 million pieces of plastic — amounting to 17 tons of plastic debris — litter the beaches of Henderson Island.

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Global Warming

Glacier National Park Is Losing Its Glaciers

Glacier National Park is losing its namesake glaciers and new research shows just how quickly: Over the past 50 years, 39 of the parks glaciers have shrunk dramatically, some by as much as 85 percent.

Of the 150 glaciers that existed it the park in the late 19th century, only 26 remain.

The pristine, 1 million-acre park sits along the border with Canada in Montana and has long been a poster child for climate change in U.S. national parks. Side-by-side photo comparisons show in the starkest terms just how far some glaciers have retreated, with some only reduced to small nubs of ice.

The retreat has happened as temperatures in the region have risen by 1.5°F since 1895 as heat-trapping greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere.

A 2014 study found that it is this human-caused warming that accounts for the bulk of worldwide glacier loss over the past few decades.

Boulder Glacier with visitors in 1932 and bare land in 1988. The ice has shrunk so much that it’s no longer considered an active glacier.

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Screen Shot 2017 05 11 at 11 50 57 AM

Environment

Pollution causes rise in cancer cases

Air pollution contributes to a 10 per cent rise in people being diagnosed with cancer, a study has found.

US researchers believe it causes an extra 44 cases per 100,000 people – equivalent to more than 28,600 cancer diagnoses in Britain.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, is the first to examine the link between environment and cancer, although previous research has found diesel fumes could cause women to give birth prematurely.

Its authors say developing the disease is 50 per cent due to genetics, but environment also damages our DNA, changes the way genes work and can even alter important hormones.

They examined the populations of almost 2,700 counties across America, where cancer affected an average of 451 people in every 100,000 between 2006 and 2010.

The extra 44 cases found in the worst polluted counties compared to the cleanest represents a rise of around 10 per cent, while socio-economic circumstances and roads also increased risk.

Lung cancer had already been linked to diesel exhausts and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, produced by cars and also thought to cause asthma and heart disease. But an extra ten cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 men were also attributed to air pollution, with almost four extra cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women. The reasons behind this increase are still being examined, but the study states: ‘Environmental exposures can alter or interfere with a variety of biological processes, including hormone production and function, inflammation, DNA damage and gene suppression or over-expression.’

Previous research has suggested particles of pollution can mimic oestrogen, which is known to fuel breast cancer.

They can also make women’s breasts denser, which raises their danger of the cancer.

To investigate the effects of overall environmental quality, the researchers looked at air, water and land quality, as well as the built environment and social factors. When adjusting for age, the annual incidence was 451 cancer cases per 100,000 people.

But counties with poor environmental quality had on average 39 more cases per 100,000 people than those of high quality.

Water quality had little or no effect on cancer rates when taken in isolation, with land quality, including the use of pesticides, having a small effect.

Air quality alone was found to cause an extra 44.19 cases per 100,000 over the four years.

Global Warming

Global Warming – Heatwave Hits Chile’s Glaciers

High, high up in the Andes mountains above Chile’s capital, at the foot of the glaciers that date from the last ice age, the temperatures were almost balmy this summer. That threatens long-term water supplies to the city of seven million spread out on the plain below.

At the Olivares Alfa glacier, 4,420 meters above sea level, temperatures rose above 10 Celsius on several days in January and rarely fell below zero, said Andres Rivera, a glaciologist at the Center of Scientific Studies in Valdivia.

“It is not rare to have above-zero temperatures during summer, but high temperatures day and night, for several days in a row, that was unprecedented,” Rivera said.

The glaciers that supply much of Santiago’s water over the hot, dry summer months shrunk by a quarter to 380 square kilometers in the 30 years to 2013/14, according to a study by the Universidad de Chile. The melt will accelerate if the South American nation sees more record breaking heatwaves as global warming increases. Eventually, the shrinking glaciers may force the citizens of Santiago to follow their counterparts in southern California and give up their green lawns and swimming pools.

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The Echaurren Norte glacier above the Laguna Negra reservoir has shrunk in height by the equivalent of 20 meters of water over the past 40 years, according to the government’s Water Directorate. That standard measure for glaciers means that the height of the ice has been reduced by about 25 meters since 1976.

That was before this year’s heat wave, with the glacier probably shrinking further in the past 12 months.

The worst wildfires the country has seen in generations burned 614,000 hectares of woodland and crops, dumping ash on the glaciers thousands of meters up in the Andes mountains. That meant the ice absorbed more heat, instead of reflecting it back.

Chile’s giant copper industry probably isn’t helping the glaciers either.

State-owned Codelco’s Andina copper mine and Anglo American Plc.’s Los Bronces both sit right next to the Olivares glacier system. Their operations are impacting the glaciers and the planned expansion of Andina could have an even larger effect, Ferrando said.

“The mine pit has often been drilled on both ice glaciers and rock glaciers,” Ferrando said. “Trucks also lift dust that strong winds move to the glaciers and this changes the way solar radiation lands on the ice and increases the effect of heat.”

The situation may be even more critical in neighboring Bolivia where glaciers have shrunk by 43 percent in 20 years, according to research by Manchester Metropolitan University. The study said new lakes have appeared as a consequence of the melting and at least 25 of them are at risk of causing floods or mudslides.

At some point soon, Latin America needs to prepare for life without glaciers.

Environment

Ancient underground water sources not immune to today’s pollution

New research suggests ancient underground water sources long believed to be shielded from modern-day contaminants may not be as safe as previously thought.

The study, led by University of Calgary hydrogeologist Scott Jasechko, involved delving into data collected from 6,000 groundwater wells around the world.

The research yielded two interesting findings – up to 85 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water in the upper kilometre of the earth’s crust is more than 12,000 years old and it’s possible for ancient and recent water sources to mingle deep underground.

The implication of that finding is that, unfortunately, even deep wells are vulnerable to modern land uses.

The tests released a specific radioactive hydrogen isotope into the environment called tritium, which has been useful in dating water samples. Trace levels of tritium – too low to pose any danger – were found in deep groundwater wells, demonstrating there is a way for old and new water to mix.

“Its presence alone indicates that some of the water in the well is recent rain and snow,” said Jasechko. “And the fact that we find that at deep depths implies that even deep wells are vulnerable to modern-era contaminants.”

Global Warming

Global Warming Chart 1880 – 2017

Scientists have created a global temperature chart that maps the average monthly temperature from 1880 to 2015. The result shows that every single month has been warmer than the early industrial baseline for more than half a century.

The map was created by Climate Central, based on Nasa and NOAA global temperature data, relative to a baseline of average global temperatures between 1881 and 1910.

On the chart, each month is represented by a box.

Light blue colours depict months that were cooler than average, while red boxes represent months that were much hotter than average.

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The Unfolding Tragedy of Climate Change in Bangladesh

Bangladesh sits at the head of the Bay of Bengal, astride the largest river delta on Earth, formed by the junction of the Brahmaputra, Ganges, and Meghna rivers. Nearly one-quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet about sea level; two-thirds of the country is less than 15 feet above sea level. Most Bangladeshis live along coastal areas where alluvial delta soils provide some of the best farmland in the country.

Sea surface temperatures in the shallow Bay of Bengal have significantly increased, which, scientists believe, has caused Bangladesh to suffer some of the fastest recorded sea level rises in the world. Storm surges from more frequent and stronger cyclones push walls of water 50 to 60 miles up the Delta’s rivers.

At the same time, melting of glaciers and snowpack in the Himalayas, which hold the third largest body of snow on Earth, has swollen the rivers that flow into Bangladesh from Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. So too have India’s water policies. India diverts large quantities of water for irrigation during the dry season and releases most water during the monsoon season.

According to the Bangladesh government’s 2009 Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, “in an ‘average’ year, approximately one quarter of the country is inundated.” Every four to five years, “there is a severe flood that may cover over 60% of the country.” Rapid erosion of coastal areas has inundated dozens of islands in the Bay. For example, Sandwip Island, near Chittagong, has lost 90 percent of its original 23-square-miles—mostly in the last two decades.

Climate change in Bangladesh has started what may become the largest mass migration in human history. In recent years, riverbank erosion has annually displaced between 50,000 and 200,000 people. The population of what the Bangladesh government calls “immediately threatened” islands, called “chars,” exceeds four million.

The Bangladesh riverine environment is so dynamic that, as chars wash away, the process of accretion creates new chars downstream. Land is so scarce and the population so dense that the displaced people try to eke out an existence on these new, highly unstable sand bars.

Already, the intruding sea has contaminated groundwater, which supplies drinking water for coastal regions, and degraded farmland, rendering it less fertile and eventually barren.

It is not just people who are affected. The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world and a World Heritage Site, lies in the delta of the Ganges River in Bangladesh and India. Home to the iconic Bengal tiger, the Sundarbans also play a critical role in protecting Bangladesh’s coastal areas from storm surges caused by cyclones.

Nevertheless, across coastal Bangladesh, sea-level rise, exacerbated by the conversion of mangrove forest for agricultural production and shrimp farming, has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of mangroves. In the Sundarbans, the number of tigers has plummeted. The World Wildlife Fund predicts that the tiger may become extinct. Further loss of mangrove habitat, especially in the Sundarbans, also means that Bangladesh will lose one of its last natural defenses against climate change-induced super-cyclones.

Environment

The Arctic Ocean May Soon Have Its Very Own ‘Garbage Patch’

In findings published this week, a 2013 Arctic Ocean expedition found plastic “was abundant and widespread” in the waters east of Greenland in the Barents Sea, off the coasts of northern Russia and Scandinavia.

A multinational expedition that skimmed the Arctic Ocean in 2013 found plastic “was abundant and widespread” in waters east of Greenland in the Barents Sea, off northern Russia and Scandinavia. In some parts of those waters, they found hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic per square kilometer of surface, the researchers reported this week.

“The growing level of human activity in an increasingly warm and ice-free Arctic, with wider open areas available for the spread of microplastics, suggests that high loads of marine plastic pollution may become prevalent in the Arctic in the future,” the researchers warned.

Nearly all the plastic was concentrated in the stretch between Greenland and the Russian islands of Novaya Zemla. Those waters “constitute a dead end” for the currents that flow northward from the Atlantic, bringing with them trash from the coasts of Europe and North America, the study found.

“The total load of floating plastic for the ice-free waters of the Arctic Ocean was estimated to range from around 100 to 1,200 tons, with 400 tons composed of an estimated 300 billion plastic items as a midrange estimate,” the scientists wrote.

Global Warming

Antarctic meltwater lakes threaten sea levels – study

Antarctic meltwater lakes are far more common than once thought and could destabilise glaciers, potentially lifting sea levels by metres as global warming sets in, scientists said on Wednesday.

Most vulnerable are the massive, floating ice shelves that ring the Antarctic continent and help prevent inland glaciers from sliding toward the sea, they reported in the journal Nature.

Antarctica holds enough frozen water to push up global oceans by tens of metres.

Meltwater pooling on the surface of ice shelves can suddenly drain below the surface, fracturing the ice with heat and pressure, studies have shown.

Rising temperatures are eroding ice shelves – which can be hundreds of metres thick and extend hundreds of kilometres over ocean water – on two fronts, scientists say.

From above, warmer air and shifting winds remove snow cover, exposing the bedrock ice underneath. Because ice has a darker, blueish tint, it absorbs more of the Sun’s radiation rather than reflecting it back into space.

But the main damage to ice shelves comes from ocean water eroding their underbellies.

Normally, that erosion is compensated by the accumulation of fresh snow and ice from above.

But oceans in recent decades have absorbed much of the excess heat generated by global warming, which has lifted average global air temperatures by 1°C since the mid-19th century.

Temperatures in Earth’s polar regions have risen twice as fast during the same period. On the Antarctic Peninsula – which juts north toward South America – they have shot up by 3.5°C in just the last 50 years.

Global Warming

Mysterious crack appears in one of Greenland’s largest glaciers

The first photographs of a new and ominous crack in Greenland’s enormous Petermann Glacier were captured by a NASA airborne mission Friday.

The NASA pictures make clear that a significant new rift has opened near the center of the glacier’s floating ice shelf — an unusual location that raises questions about how it formed. Moreover, this crack is not so distant from another much wider and longer crack that has been slowly extending toward the shelf’s center from its eastern side wall. The two cracks are clearly visible in this image taken from the aircraft: Oblique photo of a portion of the new rift, near bottom center, on Petermann Glacier’s floating ice shelf and an older curved rift from the flank of the shelf, near top center.

If the two cracks were to intersect, then a single break would run across more than half of the ice shelf. That might, in turn, cause the piece to begin to break away.

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Environment

Two billion people drinking contaminated water: WHO

Dramatic improvements are needed in ensuring access to clean water and sanitation worldwide, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday, warning that nearly two billion people currently use faecal-contaminated water. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year because they are forced to drink contaminated water.

“Today, almost two billion people use a source of drinking-water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” Maria Neira, who head’s WHO’s public health department, said in a statement.

“Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause more than 500 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma,” she added.

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Environment

Atlantic Ocean invades the Arctic

The waters of the Arctic Ocean are becoming increasingly similar to those of the Atlantic as warm currents from the south flow in, according to a new report.

It says the intrusion of the warmer Atlantic currents is also contributing to the accelerated melting of sea ice. The increased Atlantic currents have removed a thick layer of cold surface waters that had previously insulated the polar ice cap, allowing it to thin.

“Rapid changes in the eastern Arctic Ocean, which allow more heat from the ocean interior to reach the bottom of sea ice, are making it more sensitive to climate changes,” said oceanographer Igor Polyakov.

Tree Massacre in Poland

Environmentalists say that changes to a Polish law have led to a “massacre” of trees across the country.

New legislation that went into effect on Jan. 1 removed previous requirements that private landowners who want to cut down trees must apply for permission, pay compensation, plant new trees or even notify authorities about the removal of trees.

“We used to receive around one telephone call a day from people concerned about trees being cut down in their area. But suddenly, we had two telephones ringing all day long,” said Pawel Szypulski of Greenpeace.

Freshly cleared spaces are now being reported around Polish cities and across the countryside.