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

Antarctica is going green – not in a good way

Plant life is growing on Antarctica like never before in modern times, fueled by global warming which is melting ice and transforming the landscape from white to green.

Scientists studying moss in an area spanning 400 miles (640 kilometers) have found a sharp increase in growth over the past 50 years, said the report in the journal Current Biology.

Plant life exists on only about 0.3 percent of Antarctica.

Five moss cores — or column-like samples drilled from the Earth — showed evidence of what scientists called “changepoints,” or points in time after which biological activity clearly increased.

Areas sampled included three Antarctic islands — Elephant Island, Ardley Island, and Green Island — where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow, said the report.

The polar regions are warming more rapidly than the rest of the Earth, as greenhouse gasses from fossil fuel burning build up in the atmosphere and trap heat.

The Arctic is warming the fastest, but Antarctica is not far behind, with annual temperatures gaining almost one degree Fahrenheit (half degree Celsius) each decade since the 1950s.

“The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region,” said researcher Dan Charman, a professor at Exeter.

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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

Wildlife

Global Warming Affecting Migratory Birds

The arrival of migratory birds at northern breeding grounds typically coincides with the growth of spring plants. A team of researchers from several universities studied data collected by citizen scientists and satellites between 2001 to 2012 in an attempt to see how climate change is affecting the birds’ ability to accurately time their arrival at these breeding grounds. Their research has been published in Scientific Reports.

Of the 48 North American songbird species that migrate north, the researchers found that nine — almost 20 percent — didn’t reach the grounds by the deadline critical for mating and breeding the next generation of birds. On average, the gap stretched by more than half a day each year across all species, for a total of five days per decade. However, the change for some species was far more drastic — double or triple that pace.

This delay was due to the effect of warmer temperatures on the growth cycles of plants. The birds leave their southern homes at the same time every year, basing their departure on the amount of daylight, which remains unaffected by climate change. However, climate change is altering when plants put out new leaves, with plants in eastern North America “greening up” sooner than normal, while plants in the western part of the continent are undergoing the process later.

This means birds are arriving either too soon and being met with frigid temperatures or too late and missing out on the insect boom that coincides with the new plant growth. Either condition means the birds have a much lower chance of surviving and reproducing, so the nine species identified in the study are therefore in danger of dwindling numbers.5

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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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Global Warming

Snow Machines Could Rescue Melting Swiss Glacier

Receding polar ice caps provide one of the main indications of climate change’s impact, and researchers have been investigating how to save the world’s ice. One idea is undergoing a trial run in Switzerland, where a team will attempt to refreeze a landmark glacier using snow machines, New Scientist reported.

Morteratsch glacier, one of the most frequently visited glaciers in Switzerland which is receding at an incredibly fast rate is the test subject, will receive a layer of artificial snow each summer to protect the ice, according to New Scientist. The idea is that the glacier’s surface, when covered with a thin coating of artificial snowflakes from machines, will reflect more sunlight and protect the ice below, the researchers said. Eventually, that will help the glacier to regrow, they said.

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Global Warming

Climate Shift Affects Livestock Husbandry in Kenya

A growing number of Kenyans are switching from traditional livestock to drought-resistant camels because of the changing climate.

Longer and less-predictable droughts have resulted in three times as many camels being owned today than a decade ago.

“My husband and I had over a hundred cattle until 2005. But as the climate became drier in this region, the cows stopped producing milk, and 20 to 30 of our cows even died every year,” Mariam Maalim told Germany’s Deutsche Welle broadcaster. She says her new camels produce milk even during drought.

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.

Global Warming

Climate Change Continues Unabated in the Arctic

Evidence continues to mount that climate change has pushed the Arctic into a new state. Skyrocketing temperatures are altering the essence of the region, melting ice on land and sea, driving more intense wildfires, altering ocean circulation and dissolving permafrost.

A new report chronicles all these changes and warns that even if the world manages to keep global warming below the targeted 2°C threshold, some of the shifts could be permanent. Among the most harrowing are the disappearance of sea ice by the 2030s and more land ice melt than previously thought, pushing seas to more extreme heights.

The findings, released Monday in the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment, come after a winter of extreme discontent for the region. Sea ice receded a bit in November, a rare occurrence, and hit a record-low maximum for the third year in a row. Temperatures averaged 11°F above normal, driven by sustained mild weather that was punctured by periods of almost unheard of heat when temperatures reached up to 50°F above normal.

The decline of sea ice is well documented. It’s disappearing in all seasons with the fastest shrinkage in the summer months. Old ice, which has formed the bedrock of sea ice for decades, is also declining precipitously. That leaves new ice in its place and susceptible to melt.

The new analysis shows that the average number of days with sea ice cover has dropped by 10-20 days per decade since 1979. Some areas, such as the Barents and Karas seas, have seen even steeper declines. Disappearing sea ice means the darker ocean left in its wake absorbs more energy from the sun, speeding the warming in the region.

Arctic soil holds up to 50 percent of the world’s soil carbon. Rising temperatures are melting permafrost, causing it to release some of the carbon into the atmosphere.

While the carbon release so far has been relatively small, rising temperatures have the potential to rapidly reshape the landscape and speed the melt.

The biggest impact for the globe is the melt of land ice from Greenland’s massive ice sheet. It’s the biggest land ice driver of sea level rise, and it’s been melting at a quickening rate since 2011.

The SWIPA report uses new data and findings to update the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sea level rise estimates made just four years ago.

If carbon emissions continue on their current trends, the report indicates 29 inches would be the low end of sea level rise estimates by 2100, roughly 9 inches higher than the minimum IPCC estimate. And that’s just the low end, with more sea level rise possible as scientists untangle the web of melting in Greenland as well as the Antarctic.

The massive rush of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean is also reshaping ocean circulation and the ecology of the region. Researchers have seen a marked slowdown in North Atlantic circulation as cold, fresh water off Greenland’s southern tip has acted as a roadblock to the currents that steer water through the region. That has the potential to mess with ocean circulation as well as weather patterns, particularly in Europe.

Research shows global warming making oceans more toxic

Climate change is predicted to cause a series of maladies for world oceans including heating up, acidification, and the loss of oxygen. A newly published study published online in the April 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” demonstrates that one ocean consequence of climate change that has already occurred is the spread and intensification of toxic algae.

Toxic or harmful algal blooms are not a new phenomenon, although many people may know them by other names such as red tides. These events can sicken or kill people who consume toxin-contaminated shellfish and can damage marine ecosystems by killing fish and other marine life.

The problem is worsening.

The distribution, frequency and intensity of these events have increased across the globe and this study links this expansion to ocean warming in some regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.

Marine algae are so tiny—50 of them side by side span only the width of a single hair—that they may seem harmless. But when billions of toxic cells come together, they can poison humans, kill marine life, and economically harm coastal communities.

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.

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

Climate change causes huge Canadian river to vanish in four days

Slims River in Canada is no more as the water that once fed it now flows south, not north.

A river disappeared in just four days after a melting glacier retreated so much that it opened up an alternative route to the sea.

Such dramatic changes are known in the geological record but this is believed to be the first time in 350 years that an entire river has vanished.

The Kaskawulsh glacier in Canada has retreated about a mile up its valley over the past 100 years, researchers reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. Until last spring, it sent meltwater into the Slims River, which eventually flowed north to the Bering Sea.

However the glacier shrank back so much that the water was able to join the Kaskawulsh River, which flows south into the Gulf of Alaska. And that saw the Slims River turn into a long thin lake and gradually start to dry up.

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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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Wildlife

Butterflies are ‘failing to cope’ with climate change – UK

Butterflies are “failing to cope” with climate change and the pollution of the British countryside, experts have warned after a disastrous year saw population declines in 40 out of 57 species.

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Survey found it had been the fourth-worst year overall with six species – the heath fritillary, grizzled skipper, wall, grayling, white-letter hairstreak and white admiral – all suffering their most dramatic declines in the 41 years since records began.

Sixteen species saw increases with one remaining about the same, the annual survey found.

The survey has run since 1976 and involves thousands of volunteers collecting data through the summer. Last year a record 2,507 sites were monitored across the UK.

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