63 Global Warming News Articles
for December of 2017
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12-30-17 Is climate change making hurricanes worse?
The past year has been a busy one for hurricanes. There were 17 named storms in 2017, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes (category 3 or higher) - an above average year in each respect. The 10 hurricanes formed consecutively, without weaker tropical storms interrupting the sequence. The only other time this has been recorded was in 1893. Are these storms getting worse? And does climate change have anything to do with it? This Atlantic hurricane season has been particularly bad. There was Harvey, which pummelled the United States in August. It brought the largest amount of rain on record from any tropical system - 60 INCHES. It caused the sort of flooding you'd expect to see once every 500 years, causing $200bn of damage to Houston, Texas. Ironically, this was the third such "one every 500 years" flood Houston had suffered in three years. September brought Irma, which devastated Caribbean communities. It was the joint second strongest Atlantic hurricane ever, with sustained winds of 185mph. Those winds were sustained for 37 hours - longer than any tropical system on record, anywhere in the world. Next came Hurricane Maria - another category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 175mph - which destroyed Puerto Rico's power grid. Finally, Hurricane Ophelia span past Portugal and Spain - the farthest east any major Atlantic hurricane has ever gone.
12-30-17 Why we should all be taxed based on our carbon footprints
In today's technologically advanced world, it's all too easy to forget about the environmental impact of our lifestyles. Technological advances and historically unprecedented income inequalities have raised living standards while enabling a new global elite to enjoy lifestyles more lavish in energy consumption and environmental impact than those enjoyed by any aristocracy in the past. Real-life illustrations of elites show the excesses afoot. In one instance, a businessman oversees his economic activities across several Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African countries from a base in Dubai. He largely evades tax through an intricate tax-haven/residence arrangement concocted by his wealth advisor, giving him leeway to engage in the pleasures of modernity: frequent jet travel, the consumption of imported goods, and the ability to use as his playground a country whose extreme climate requires energy-intensive technology for much of the year. In another instance, a civil servant for the United Nations lives in the diplomatic district of the capital of a developing nation. Despite her strong commitment to improving the world, her work- and play-spaces remove her from the society she's supposedly serving, while revolving around a carbon-heavy diet of jet travel and imported goods and experiences. Both these lifestyles, hatched in the 20th century and continued in the 21st, show disregard for ecological costs associated with global networks, alongside a culture of wasteful consumption. Yet such behaviors have only increased: A third example represents the 21st century's remote workers, freelancers, and consultants. Employed as web-designers, interpreters, or editors, they boost mobility by leveraging online jobs, cheap airline tickets, powerful passports, and unregulated sharing technologies such as Airbnb and Uber.
12-28-17 UK enjoyed 'greenest year for electricity ever' in 2017
The UK has achieved its greenest year ever in terms of how the nation's electricity is generated, National Grid figures reveal. The rise of renewable energy helped break 13 clean energy records in 2017. In June, for the first time, wind, nuclear and solar power generated more UK power than gas and coal combined. Britain has halved carbon emissions in the electricity sector since 2012 to provide the fourth cleanest power system in Europe and seventh worldwide. In April, the UK had its first 24-hour period without using any coal power since the Industrial Revolution. The government is committed to phasing out unabated coal by 2025 as part of efforts to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions in line with legal obligations. Separate findings from power research group MyGridGB show that renewable energy sources provided more power than coal for 90% of 2017, figures up to 12 December show. British wind farms produced more electricity than coal plants on more than 75% of days this year. This changing landscape saw the cost of offshore wind power fall below the price of nuclear for the first time. (Webmaster's comment: Coal is dying except in the United States where it is keep alive by ignorance and greed!)
12-23-17 California Thomas fire becomes largest in state's history
A deadly wildfire which has destroyed more than 700 homes in California is now the largest blaze in the state's recorded history. The Thomas fire has burned more than 1000sq km - an area greater than New York City, Brussels and Paris combined. The blaze broke out in Santa Paula in early December and has moved west towards the coast, one of several major fires in California in recent months. Thousands of firefighters have been deployed to bring it under control. Most of California's largest wildfires have been recorded this century. Scientists say the warming climate and spread of buildings into wilderness areas have contributed. The Thomas fire slowly eclipsed previous record-setting blazes, finally overtaking the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which burned 273,246 acres. It follows a series of deadly fires in the state's wine country in October that burned more than 10,000 homes and killed more than 40 people. State fire agency Cal Fire says the Thomas blaze is now 65% contained and expected to continue to slow. Controlled burns by firefighters may cause some temporary expansion, it said. Seven of California's 10 largest fires on record have occurred since 2000. Two were in the 1970s and the earliest was in 1932 - the Matilija fire which, like the Thomas fire, burned through Ventura County.
12-22-17 Curbs on plastic bottle and packaging waste sought by MPs
People should pay a deposit for using plastic bottles in an attempt to protect the seas from the "devastating effects" of plastic pollution, MPs say. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) also wants free public drinking water fountains. And it says firms using plastic packaging should pay more for the waste they create. The government says it is consulting with industry on a deposit scheme, and charges for single-use plastics. But the MPs say ministers need to review society's relationship with plastics as a whole. They are proposing a sliding scale of taxes on plastic packaging. They want suppliers of hard-to-recycle complex plastics to be charged most and firms using simple easy-to-recycle packages to pay least. The MPs are trying to tackle the rising tide of plastic waste in the ocean, which has been described by UN Oceans Chief Lisa Svensson as a "planetary crisis". EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP said: "Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution which, if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050." She added that the current levy on plastics producers only raised a fraction of the cost of dealing with plastic waste. "Packaging producers don't currently have to bear the full financial burden of recycling their packaging," she said. "By reforming charges, the government can ensure that producers and retailers will have financial incentives to design packaging that is easily recyclable - or face higher compliance costs." The committee also proposes a minimum 50% recycled plastic content in plastic bottles to stimulate the recycled plastics market.
12-22-17 China tackles climate change with world’s largest carbon market
The Chinese state hopes to use market forces to encourage energy-hungry firms to seek cleaner alternatives, but simply telling them what to do may be more effective. China has upped the ante in its efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow the progress of climate change. The Chinese government is launching a nationwide carbon market that should encourage power companies to cut their emissions. China is the world’s largest polluter, responsible for more than a quarter of annual greenhouse gas emissions – although that is partly an artefact of its huge population, as it produces fewer emissions per person than the United States. Though China invests heavily in green technologies like electric cars and solar panels, its greenhouse gas emissions have tripled since 2000. Five cities and two provinces in China already have carbon markets, where companies trade the right to emit greenhouse gases. These are specific to different sectors, focusing on steel mills, cement factories and other energy-guzzling industries. The nationwide project will focus on power generation. It’s hoped that the scheme will eventually extend to all industries, but China’s power generation alone is responsible for 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. In comparison, the carbon trading system in Europe, the EU Emissions Trading System, covers only around two billion tons. The Chinese government has yet to reveal all of the details of the scheme, but if they manage to get it up and running the impact could be immense. “In principle it’s exceptionally important,” says Robert Stavins at Harvard University. “If they put in place a carbon market that covers 50 per cent of its emissions as they originally proposed, that would be roughly equivalent of the scope of all existing carbon markets combined.” (Webmaster's comment: Again China takes the lead.)
12-22-17 Higher temperatures linked to EU asylum figures
Sharp increases in the numbers of those seeking asylum in the European Union have been linked to higher temperatures in agricultural regions of the world. Researchers found that when temperatures deviated from 20C in food growing areas of 103 countries, more people sought refuge abroad. Around 660,000 extra applicants would be expected each year by 2100, the authors say, if current temperature trends continue. The study appears in Science journal. Between 2000 and 2014, around 350,000 people applied for asylum in the European Union every year. The majority came from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. In this study, researchers examine these numbers and assess the role of what they call "weather shocks" in pushing people to seek asylum. The authors find that the numbers increase if the temperatures in the 103 countries they looked at were too warm or too cold. Warmer temperatures, defined as being above 20C, were seen as having a bigger impact. The researchers found "a highly statistically significant relationship" between the number of asylum applications logged by the EU and average temperatures in the maize growing regions in countries like Pakistan. The authors believe that too much heat especially, depresses yields, damages national GDP and increases aggressive behaviours. The study also found that the weather-induced spikes in applications translated into roughly three times higher acceptance rates by the EU in the two years following an event. "I feel very confident that what we discovered for 2000-2014 is a causal relationship between weather and asylum applications," lead author Prof Wolfram Schlenker from Columbia University told BBC News. "Some of these 103 countries in a given year, are shocked warmer, some are shocked colder. It's like a random assignment and it ensures that those weather shocks are uncorrelated with other factors - so we are not just capturing a correlation, we really are capturing a causal relationship, I feel pretty confident on that, given the randomness of weather." Looking ahead to the rest of this century, the authors predict that if temperature rises linked to climate change are limited to 1.8C above pre-industrial levels, then applications would increase by 28%. However if carbon emissions continue at their present rate and temperatures rise by up to 4.8C, then applications could rise by 188%, meaning an extra 660,000 seeking refuge each year. (Webmaster's comment: People are already dying from the higher temperatures and of course they want to escape those environments.)
12-20-17 Hardy Antarctic tardigrades may be threatened by climate change
Tardigrades can famously survive almost anything, including being sent into space, but the Antarctic species could face problems as a result of climate change. They can survive freezing temperatures, total desiccation, and even being sent into space. But the world’s hardiest animal, the tardigrade, could have a hard time surviving climate change. Tardigrades, also known as water bears, live in many environments. They are one of the few organisms that are abundant in Antarctica. To assess how they will handle climate change, Lorena Rebecchi and colleagues at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy collected Antarctic tardigrades and subjected them to dehydration, rising temperatures, and increased ultraviolet radiation. The tardigrades coped admirably with individual stressors. They survived desiccation at every stage of their life cycle by shutting down their metabolism, entering a state known as anhydrobiosis. They also tolerated brief periods of high temperatures up to 33 °C, and separately, high ultraviolet radiation – which they might encounter because of damage to the ozone layer. However, the tardigrades suffered when faced with high temperatures and high radiation simultaneously. Desiccated tardigrades had particularly low survival rates when exposed to this double whammy. Furthermore, tardigrades that survived the radiation blast showed ill effects. They reached sexual maturity later, laid fewer eggs over their lifetimes, and sometimes developed abnormally.
12-19-17 England’s soggy place names could predict the climate future
Anglo-Saxon England was unusually warm and stormy. Place names coined then could hold clues to how the weather will get wetter and wilder as the climate changes. IT’S blowy on the B4380 to Buildwas. A keen wind whipping across the floodplain from Shrewsbury flaps a misarranged saddle bag strap against my back wheel. As I cross the river Severn at Atcham, and bend right down the back road past Wroxeter, a black cloud delivers the first dribbles of rain. England’s place names are a treasure trove of hidden history – if only we could find the key. Shrewsbury: recorded in the 10th century as Scrobbesbyrig, the name’s origin is as uncertain as its pronunciation today, but possibly means “the fortified place in the scrub”. Atcham: a contraction of Attingham, “the homestead of Eata’s children”, a puzzling reference to an obscure 7th-century saint from England’s far north. Wroxeter: origin disputed, but a rare Roman place name survival, as befits the site of what was Roman Britain’s fourth largest town. Buildwas: we’ll get to that. In the title of one of her books, Margaret Gelling, the doyenne of English toponymists, called place names “signposts to the past”. I’m cycling the road to Buildwas because they could be signposts to the future, too. I take refuge from the now intense, globular rain in the shadow of a large hedge on a bluff overlooking the floodplain just beyond Eyton – a homestead on a raised promontory – on Severn. Britain is a wet island, and it’s getting wetter. This is just a passing autumn shower, but as global temperatures rise, the paths of the most severe Atlantic storms are hitting the western shores of Britain and Ireland more frequently, oftenEngland’s soggy place names could predict the climate future large quantities of rain in short periods.
12-19-17 People without electricity could end up living the energy dream
Solar power is giving millions of people access to electricity for the first time – could they bypass traditional fossil fuel grids altogether? MORE than 100 million people around the world now have access to electricity for the first time thanks to simple solar power systems that typically provide LED lights and a phone charger. More powerful versions include radios and even televisions. The LEDs provide a clean and cheap alternative to the kerosene lamps normally used by those with no electricity. “People spend 50 cents a day on kerosene,” says Nick Hughes, co-founder of M-KOPA Solar of Kenya, which has sold 550,000 home solar power systems in East Africa. Some families spend a tenth of their income on fuel for lighting. “It’s a crazy price for a poor fuel,” says Hughes. His firm has just raised the money it needs to finance a million more systems, and Hughes thinks they could eventually sell up to 11 million in East Africa alone. And M-KOPA is just one of many companies now selling solar power systems to people who lack electricity around the world. There is, in short, no doubt that the off-grid renewable energy revolution has begun. But where is it going to end up? In South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, about 1.3 billion people still lack electricity. Some think off-grid energy systems will expand to fill this gap. If so, that could let the world’s poorest people leapfrog conventional electricity grids powered by fossil fuels entirely and go directly to 100 per cent renewable systems.
12-19-17 Good news: Demand for coal is plummeting towards a record low
The global demand for coal has fallen 4.2 per cent over the last two years, one of the biggest drops on record. Coal is in the pits, despite US President Donald Trump’s promise to rekindle the world’s dirtiest energy source. A new report on global coal demand from the International Energy Agency reveals that global demand for coal slumped by 4.2 per cent over the past two years. That nearly equals the largest drop since the IEA started compiling statistics 40 years ago; a two-year decline in the early 1990s. If current trends continue, coal’s share of the global power supply will fall below 36 per cent by 2022. That will also be the lowest since IEA statistics began. Thanks to lower gas prices, surging installation of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency, global consumption of coal fell by 2 per cent last year, to 5357 million tonnes of coal equivalent. In Europe, renewable energy accounted for 86 per cent of newly-installed capacity for electricity generation in 2016, according to a report issued this week by the European Environment Agency. Worldwide, it says, renewables were 62 per cent of newly-installed capacity. “These two reports indicate that there’s a fundamental shift underway in the global power sector, with coal becoming increasingly unattractive for electricity generation because of its high emissions of greenhouse gases and local air pollution,” says Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London. “However, this transition to low-carbon power needs to accelerate across the world if we’re to meet the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 °C.” (Webmaster's comment: And Trump wants to dig up more coal! What an idiot!)
12-18-17 UK plan to tackle plastic waste threat
A four-point plan for tackling plastic waste has been outlined by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove. He told BBC News that he wants to reduce the amount of plastic used in the UK, and to make it simpler for people to recycle. Environmentalists fear Mr Gove will be reluctant to set tighter rules for firms which benefit from the current use of plastics. The Environment Secretary outlined his thoughts during an informal meeting. Recycling schemes often differ from one borough to the next, making it very confusing for households. Mr Gove said he was considering introducing common standards throughout local authorities to make recycling simpler. (Webmaster's comment: Looks like a lot of eyewash to me!)
He says he wants to:
- Cut the total amount of plastic in circulation.
- Reduce the number of different plastics in use, because that will help recycling firms.
- Improve the rate of recycling, which has been slipping recently.
- And make it easier for individuals to know what goes into the recycling bin and what goes into general rubbish.
12-16-17 California fires: Sentinel satellite tracks wildfire smoke plume
Europe's new Sentinel-5P satellite has captured a dramatic image of the smoke billowing away from the devastating California wildfires. It is a powerful demonstration of 5P's ability to sense the atmosphere. The plume is seen to sweep westwards out over the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles and then turn north towards the State of Oregon. The image, taken on Tuesday, was shown at this week's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. It is the first time that data from the brand new UK-Dutch-built Sentinel has been presented at a research conference. The mission was only launched on 13 October and has been engaged in calibration ever since; full operational service is still some months away. When that happens, it will be combing the atmosphere for a suite of trace gases including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide (CO) - as well as aerosols like the smoke particles from the California fires. All of these components affect the air we breathe and therefore our health. A number of them also play a role in climate change. But even though the Sentinel and its Tropomi instrument are still in a test phase, the sample data that is being acquired suggests the European spacecraft will be an extremely powerful tool for monitoring our planet.
12-15-17 Macron leads on climate
In a rebuke to President Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, French President Emmanuel Macron has awarded $70 million in grants to climate researchers under the rubric Make Our Planet Great Again. Of the 18 grants, 13 went to Americans who will be expected to conduct their research in France. Macron made the announcement at a summit this week in Paris, where business and government leaders discussed how to reduce carbon emissions. The U.S. is now the only nation to have rejected the Paris pact. “We must all act,” said Macron, “because we will all be held to account.”
12-15-17 Wildfires worsen
The biggest of five wildfires raging across Southern California consumed another 50,000 acres this week, making it the fifth-largest in the state’s history. The Thomas Fire, driven by dry conditions and high winds, has now scorched more than 230,000 acres, destroying some 700 homes and displacing 94,000 people. Nearly 8,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, which has been only 25 percent contained. After ripping through Ventura County, the flames are now threatening communities along the coast in Santa Barbara County. In the upscale town of Montecito, celebrities such as Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres joined the tens of thousands under evacuation orders. “Praying for my town,” Lowe tweeted. “Firefighters making brave stands. Could go either way. Packing to leave now.”
12-14-17 These weather events turned extreme thanks to human-driven climate change
Scientists rule out natural chance in 2016 deadly heat, ocean warming events. For the first time, scientists have definitively linked human-caused climate change to extreme weather events. A handful of extreme events that occurred in 2016 — including a deadly heat wave that swept across Asia — simply could not have happened due to natural climate variability alone, three new studies find. The studies were part of a special issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, also known as BAMS, released December 13. These findings are a game changer — or should at least be a conversation changer, Jeff Rosenfeld, editor in chief of BAMS, said at a news conference that coincided with the studies’ release at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting. “We can no longer be shy about talking about the connection between human causes of climate change and weather,” he said. For the last six years, BAMS has published a December issue containing research on extreme weather events from the previous year that seeks to disentangle the role of anthropogenic climate change from natural variability. The goal from the start has been to find ways to improve the science of such attribution, said Stephanie Herring of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Boulder, Colo., who was lead editor of the latest issue.
12-14-17 How Greenland would look without its ice sheet
Scientists have produced a stunning visualisation of Greenland – without its ice cover. It is made from decades of survey data that show the position and shape of the territory’s bedrock, and the surrounding seafloor. This is critical information needed to understand how the huge island might respond to a warming world. Were all the ice on Greenland to melt, it would raise global sea-levels by 7.42m (24.34ft). This is one of the refined statistics to come out of the new compilation of data. It is a simple calculation: if you know the elevation of the top of the ice sheet and you subtract from that the height of the bedrock - you get a volume: 2.9 million cubic km. The 7.42m figure is seven cm more than previous estimates. "[It's] a little bit more than we thought, but not a whole lot more," explained Dr Mathieu Morlighem from the University of California at Irvine, US. "And the reason for that is that although we do find deeper fjords and deeper valleys, they're very narrow and constrained along the sides of the ice sheet. The interior hasn't change a lot, however." For comparison, the Antarctic ice sheet has a volume of 26.5 million cu km. Greenland is currently losing about 260 billion tonnes of ice to the ocean every year. It sounds a lot - and it is, but no-one is expecting an immediate collapse - not for centuries, at least. (Webmaster's comment: Wanna Bet!)
12-14-17 Hurricane Harvey rainfall 'weighed 127bn tonnes'
Scientists have weighed the water that fell on Texas during the record-breaking Hurricane Harvey in August. They calculate, by measuring how much the Earth was compressed, that the Category 4 storm dropped 127 billion tonnes, or 34 trillion US gallons. "One person asked me how many stadia is that. It's 26,000 New Orleans Superdomes," said Adrian Borsa from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His numbers were released as other scientists stated that this year's big hurricanes had a clear human influence. Harvey, Irma and Maria ripped through the US Gulf states and the Caribbean, leading to widespread flooding and wind damage. Researchers told the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union here in New Orleans that the heavy rainfall seen in Harvey was very likely exacerbated by the extra warming associated with increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Sea surface temperatures were particularly high in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico this hurricane season. Warm ocean water acts as a fuel for the storms. Harvey devastated parts of the Texas coastline because it stalled, concentrating its deluge in a very narrow region. It was one of the heaviest precipitation events in recorded hurricane history.
12-13-17 Why 2018 is gearing up to be a tipping point for climate action
What will next year hold for global temperatures, carbon dioxide levels, the electric car revolution and Trump's coal dream, wonders Owen Gaffney. One climate-related headline you will read in 2018 is a dead cert: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reach levels unprecedented in at least 800,000 years. That’s an easy prediction, given emissions are non-zero and this gas stays aloft for centuries. What is more concerning is the rate of growth of carbon dioxide. It appears to be accelerating despite the recent dramatic slowing in annual emissions from human activity. The strong El Niño of 2015 and 2016 explains some of this acceleration. That’s because this vast warming of waters in the tropical Pacific leads to drought in tropical regions and natural carbon release. But in 2018, with El Niño gone, scientists will be watching for signs that land and ocean stores of carbon are adding to this. On the flipside, we are unlikely to see a repeat of global temperature records of recent years in 2018. That’s thanks to a weak La Niña, El Niño’s opposite number, which tends to have a cooling effect. More good news is that 2018 is likely to be the year electric cars become cheaper than their diesel and petrol counterparts. China is expected to announce an end to diesel and petrol engines on its roads – ultimately saving millions of lives as urban pollution falls and sending shockwaves through the car industry. More countries will follow. The question remains whether Tesla can ramp up production of its moderately priced family car – the Model 3 – fast enough to meet expected increase in demand. Some of the other big carmakers with the muscle to scale up production will be circling for a takeover.
12-13-17 Fracking linked to low birth weight in Pennsylvania babies
Study of birth records finds association between infant health and mom’s proximity to production sites. Living near a fracking site appears to be detrimental to infant health, a study eyeing the gas production practice in Pennsylvania suggests. Babies of moms living within one kilometer of a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, site in the state had a 25 percent greater chance of being born underweight than did babies whose moms lived at least three kilometers away, researchers report online December 13 in Science Advances. The chance of having a low-birth-weight baby was 1 in 14 for the moms living closest to a fracking site, but 1 in 17 for moms three to 15 kilometers away, says Janet Currie, an economist at Princeton University. For babies born to moms living within one to three kilometers away from a site, the chance of being underweight at birth was about 8 percent greater than for babies of the more distant moms, Currie says. The study found no ill effect on infants born to moms residing farther away, an indication that fracking’s health impact may be highly local. In the study, distance of residences from the fracking sites was used as a stand-in for potential pollution exposure. But the researchers did not measure actual pollution exposure, or figure out whether people faced exposure through water, air or both. Pam Factor-Litvak, an epidemiologist at Columbia University not involved in the study, notes that it’s possible the associations between fracking and poor infant health could be due to other factors besides pollution, such as extreme levels of maternal stress, perhaps due to noise and continuous traffic to and from the sites.
12-13-17 Federal maps underestimate flood risk for tens of millions of people, scientists warn
Researchers harnessed multiple types of data to come up with a new estimate. National flood maps are underestimating the risk for tens of millions of people in the United States. That’s the conclusion of researchers presenting a new study December 11 at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that about 13 million people live in a “1-in-100-year” floodplain zone, a region that has a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year. But the agency’s risk assessment largely focuses on larger streams and rivers, and lacks assessments of risk along smaller tributaries. FEMA’s calculations “miss a lot of the risk,” says Oliver Wing, a geographer at the University of Bristol in England. Wing and his colleagues amassed a wealth of data, including the U.S. Geological Survey’s river gauge data, lidar measurements of land-surface elevation, rainfall data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and population density maps from the Environmental Protection Agency. By combining these data, the researchers found that about 40 million people in the United States live in 1-in-100-year risk zones, three times as many people as FEMA’s estimate. A paper based on this work is in review at Environmental Research Letters. As the planet continues to warm, rainfall patterns around the globe will shift — and some parts of the United States will see their flood risks rise.
12-13-17 Warmer Arctic is the 'new normal'
A warming, rapidly changing Arctic is the "new normal" and shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen region of the past. This is according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic Report Card. Director of the administration's Arctic Researcher Program, Dr Jeremy Mathis, said the region did a great service to the planet - acting as a refrigerator. "We've now left that refrigerator door open," he added. Dr Mathis was speaking at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans, where Noaa presented its annual summation of Arctic science. This is the 12th report the administration has produced. And although it pointed to "a few anomalies" in a recent pattern of warming in the Arctic region, Dr Mathis said: "We can confirm, it will not stay in its reliably frozen state." "The thing I took that had the most resonance for me was we're able to use some really long-term records to put the Arctic change into context - going back more than 1,500 years. "What's really alarming for me is that we're seeing the Arctic is changing faster than at any rate in recorded history." The speed of change, Dr Mathis added, was making it very hard for people to adapt. "Villages are being washed away, particularly in the North American Arctic - creating some of the first climate refugees," he said. "And pace of sea level rise is increasing because the Arctic is warming faster than we anticipated even a decade ago."
12-13-17 Worries grow that climate change will quietly steal nutrients from major food crops
Increasing carbon dioxide tinkers with plant chemistry in ways not well understood. 2017 was a good year for worrying about nutrient losses that might come with a changing climate. The idea that surging carbon dioxide levels could stealthily render some major crops less nutritious has long been percolating in plant research circles. “It’s literally a 25-year story, but it has come to a head in the last year or so,” says Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md. Concerns are growing that wheat, rice and some other staple crops could, pound for pound, deliver less of some minerals and protein in decades to come than those crops do today. In 2017, three reports highlighted what changes in those crops could mean for global health. Also this year, an ambitious analysis made an almost-global assessment of sources of selenium, a trace element crucial for health, and warned of regions where climate change might cut the element’s availability (SN: 4/1/17, p. 14). Crop responses to rising CO2 might affect nutrition and health for billions of people, Ziska says, but the idea has been difficult to convey to nonspecialists. One complication is that though plants certainly need CO2 to grow, providing more of it doesn’t mean that all aspects of plant biology change in sync. In hoping for a farming bonus, Ziska warns, people often overlook the disproportionate zest of weeds. An outdoor experiment wafting extra CO2 through a forest has already shown, for example, that poison ivy grew faster than the trees.
12-13-17 The Larsen C ice shelf break has sparked groundbreaking research
Anticipation of one of the biggest rifts ever detected reached a fever pitch in summer 2017. In 2015, glaciologist Daniela Jansen reported that a large rift was rapidly growing across one of the Antarctic Peninsula’s ice shelves, known as Larsen C. When the shelf broke, she and colleagues predicted, it would be the largest calving event in decades. It was. In July, a Delaware-sized iceberg split off from Larsen C (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6). And researchers knew practically the moment it happened. After Jansen’s 2015 paper, a U.K.-led group called Project MIDAS began keeping close track of the rift, aided by new data delivered every six days from a pair of European polar-orbiting satellites known as Sentinel-1. Jansen, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, and glaciologist Adrian Luckman of Swansea University in Wales were among the MIDAS team members who reported their observations on the team’s blog. To the scientists’ surprise, the news media, perhaps anticipating a climate change moment, began to track the trackers. When interviewed, the researchers repeatedly noted that ice shelves calve naturally, and that any link between the new rift and climate change is complicated at best. But the crescendo of public interest still rose, particularly during the spring and summer of 2017 as the final break loomed.
12-12-17 California Thomas Fire: No end in sight for week-long wildfire
California firefighters continue to battle one of the largest fires in the state's history as wind and dry weather make it nearly impossible to contain. The Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed 234,000 acres (950 sq km) in just over a week. Destroying 900 properties, including 690 homes, it has become the fifth largest wildfire in recorded state history. Some 94,000 residents have been displaced in the last week. Though the fire has continued to spread, firefighters reported that 20% of the blaze had been contained by Tuesday morning, up from 10% on Sunday. Around 7,000 firefighters have been deployed to fight the blaze, but steep slopes and rocky terrain have made it dangerous to tackle the flames. "We are not going to put firefighters in harm's way half way up a steep, rocky slope. We are going to wait for the fire to come to us and extinguish it where it is safe," Cal Fire spokesman Ian McDonald said. Efforts to combat the wildfire have already totalled more than $48 million (£36 million).
12-12-17 Nomadic birds in danger after spate of wildfires in key wetland
The Hutovo Blato wetland in Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered its latest severe fire in October, and may vanish within decades - threatening many bird species. A protected wetland that is home to hundreds of threatened species, some of them unique, has caught fire for the ninth time since 2011. A new assessment says the entire wetland will be lost by 2050 unless better care is taken. The Hutovo Blato wetland spans 7411 hectares in south-west Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is fed by underground aquifers linked to the Krupa river, a tributary of the Neretva. More than 150 bird species spend the winter there: it is one of Europe’s richest sites for migratory birds. Altogether it is home to more than 600 plants, 45 fish species and more than 163 bird species. The site is managed by a public authority and holds a number of conservation accolades. In 2001 it was designated a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, and BirdLife International recognises it as an Important Bird Area. However, in October 1000 hectares of the wetland was destroyed by fire. A commission formed by the public authority estimated the cost of repairing the damage at 500,000 euros. It is the ninth fire since 2011, according to Naše ptice, an NGO focused on bird conservation.
12-12-17 Polar bear video: Is it really the 'face of climate change'?
It is harrowing footage. An emaciated polar bear searches for food on Baffin Island, north-eastern Canada. Exhausted, it drags one leg slowly behind it, eventually trying to eat some discarded seating foam among rubbish humans have left. Polar bears hunt from the sea ice, which is diminishing every year, and the photography team are certain the unfortunate animal died within days. "This is what starvation looks like," wrote one of the photographers, Paul Nicklen. "The muscles atrophy. No energy. It's a slow, painful death." Mr Nicklen's colleague, Cristina Mittermeier, said: "We cried as we filmed this dying bear. This is the face of climate change." The clip has gone viral, widely shared as a warning about the dangers of climate change. But is there more to it? Mr Nicklen and Ms Mittermeier are co-founders of the conservation group Sea Legacy, with a declared mission to "use the power of storytelling to create the change we want to see". Canada's National Post newspaper argues: "These images aren't the work of a scientist, an impartial documentarian or even a concerned bystander. They are part of a very calculated public relations exercise." This particular animal could also simply have been sick. Biologist Jeff Higdon, writing on Twitter, speculated that it could have some form of aggressive cancer. "It's not starving because the ice suddenly disappeared and it could no longer hunt seals," he said. "The east Baffin coast is ice free in summer. It's far more likely that it is starving due to health issues." However, he warned that he could not be sure.
12-12-17 Climate change: Trump will bring US back into Paris deal - Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron has said he believes President Donald Trump will bring the US back into the Paris deal on combating climate change. But Mr Macron says he will not agree to the president's demand that America's terms should be negotiated. He made his comments in a CBS interview on the eve of a summit on climate he has arranged on Tuesday in Paris. Mr Macron condemned the manner in which the US had signed an international deal, then withdrawn from it. "The US did sign the Paris Agreement. It's extremely aggressive to decide on its own just to leave, and no way to push the others to renegotiate because one decided to leave the floor. I'm sorry to say that. It doesn't fly." President Macron aspires to lead the world in fulfilling the ambition of the Paris climate accord to hold global temperature rise to well under 2C. He told CBS he was not willing to be accused by future generations of understanding the extent of the climate problem but doing too little to solve it. Scientists are waiting now to see whether Tuesday's summit of 50 senior ministers and prime ministers in Paris will achieve its aim of giving a boost to the current sluggish progress on cutting emissions.
12-12-17 Golden eagle migration out of sync with climate change
Golden eagles in North America may have the timing of their migration shifted out of step with a seasonal boom in food they need to raise their young, according to scientists. A project to track the impact of climate change on migrating animals has revealed that adult golden eagles are unable to shift the timing of their migration. Lead researcher Scott LaPoint from Columbia University presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. He explained that day length, or photoperiod, appeared to give the great birds the cue to go "as far and as fast as possible". When analysing tracking data, composed of 20 years' worth of tagging birds with satellite tags and following their seasonal migrations, Dr LaPoint noticed an unusual pattern. Younger raptors would shift the timing of their journey, seemingly adapting to weather conditions and climate. "But the adults get this photoperiod trigger and it's 'Time to go!'," he told BBC News. "I would have expected an older, wiser bird to better time their migration," he added. "But, with this [daylight] trigger, they don't have the luxury of deciding. They need to get [to their nesting site] as soon as possible to initiate a clutch. "They want to get their chicks as independent as possible by October, November." Birds younger than five years are sub-adult. They do not reproduce, so they are able to wait for good thermals to take them on a less energy-intensive journey north. Northern-breeding golden eagles can travel thousands of miles to their wintering grounds. And they have adapted to have their departure coincide with the first lasting snowfall or freeze and decreasing prey abundance.
12-12-17 'Worrying alarm call' for world's birds on brink of extinction
Overfishing and changing sea temperatures are pushing seabirds to the brink of extinction, according to new data on the world's birds. Birds that are now globally threatened include the kittiwake and the Atlantic puffin, which breed on UK sea cliffs. Meanwhile, on land, the Snowy Owl is struggling to find prey as ice melts in the North American Arctic, say conservation groups. The iconic bird is listed as vulnerable to extinction for the first time. "Birds are well-studied and great indicators of the health of the wider environment,'' said Dr Ian Burfield, global science coordinator at BirdLife International, the IUCN Red List authority on birds. ''A species at higher risk of extinction is a worrying alarm call that action needs to be taken now.'' He added that success in kiwi and pelican conservation had shown that, when well-resourced and supported, conservation efforts do pay off. Worldwide, over a quarter of more than 200 bird species reassessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have been moved to higher threat categories while a similar number have been downgraded. Seabirds are of particular concern, including Cape gannets, which are now classified as Endangered, and the Antipodean Albatross, which risks being drowned by fishing lines. Fishing pressures and ocean changes caused by climate change are reducing food supply for the chicks of seabirds, while adults receive little protection when they fly over areas of the ''high seas'' that do not fall under the jurisdiction of any country, says BirdLife International.
12-12-17 Giant pelicans in danger after spate of wildfires in key wetland
The Hutovo Blato wetland in Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered its latest severe fire in October, and if the blazes continue the resident Dalmatian pelicans will struggle to survive. A protected wetland that is home to hundreds of threatened species, some of them unique, has caught fire for the ninth time since 2011. A new assessment says the entire wetland will be lost by 2050 unless better care is taken. The Hutovo Blato wetland spans 7411 hectares in south-west Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is fed by underground aquifers linked to the Krupa river, a tributary of the Neretva. More than 150 bird species spend the winter there: it is one of Europe’s richest sites for migratory birds. Altogether it is home to more than 600 plants, 45 fish species and more than 163 bird species. The site is managed by a public authority and holds a number of conservation accolades. In 2001 it was designated a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, and BirdLife International recognises it as an Important Bird Area. However, in October 1000 hectares of the wetland was destroyed by fire. A commission formed by the public authority estimated the cost of repairing the damage at 500,000 euros. It is the ninth fire since 2011, according to Naše ptice, an NGO focused on bird conservation. Most of the fires have been relatively minor, but one blaze in 2011 destroyed much of the wetland, says Nikola Zovko, a director of the Hutovo Blato nature park. Big fires release lots of nutrients into the wetland’s clean waters. This stimulates the growth of algae, causing algal blooms that reduce the water’s oxygen content and kill water organisms.
12-11-17 Ancient microbes caused Earth’s first ever global warming
Over 3 billion years ago, the sun was faint so our planet should have been a snowball. But it wasn’t – and microorganisms may have been what kept it warm. We’re not the first living beings to drastically alter Earth’s climate. The earliest photosynthetic microorganisms belched out enough methane to warm the planet by 15°C. This bout of global warming may have saved Earth from freezing over, and created a comfortable climate for early organisms. When Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, the sun was 25 per cent dimmer than it is today. This suggests the early planet should have been a big snowball, but geological evidence indicates it was just as warm as now, if not warmer. One explanation for this “faint young sun paradox” is that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide warmed Earth by trapping the sun’s heat. But carbon dioxide levels probably weren’t high enough to fully account for the balmy climate. Now, Chris Reinhard and Kazumi Ozaki at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and their colleagues suggest that a major contributor to this greenhouse effect was methane – released by primitive microorganisms that had evolved to photosynthesise. Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants and many microbes sustain themselves. It involves using the sun’s energy to convert carbon into carbohydrates like sugars, which can be used as fuel. It requires sunlight and a source of electrons to “fix” the carbon. Today’s photosynthetic organisms, which date back at least 2.5 billion years, mostly use water as this source of electrons. The reaction between water and carbon dioxide produces carbohydrate fuel and releases oxygen as a waste product.
12-11-17 US flood risk 'severely underestimated'
Scientists and engineers have teamed up across the Atlantic to "redraw" the flood map of the US. Their work reveals 40 million Americans are at risk of having their homes flooded - more than three times as many people as federal flood maps show. The UK-US team say they have filled in "vast amounts of missing information" in the way flood risk is currently measured in the country. They presented the work at the 2017 American Geophysical Union meeting. This mapping project includes areas across the US that are on river floodplains and those at risk of flash floods associated with heavy rainfall. It focuses on rivers and does not include areas at risk of coastal flooding. One of the researchers, Oliver Wing PhD from the University of Bristol in the UK and part of the flood-mapping organisation Fathom, spoke to BBC News ahead of this international gathering of Earth and planetary scientists. He said the new maps were based on "cutting edge science", simulating every river catchment area. The biggest issue, Mr Wing explained, is the how incomplete the network of river gauges is in the US. So he and his colleagues created a model based on decades of analysis of the way in which river systems behave. This model "fills in those data gaps," he told BBC News, meaning the probability of flooding can be worked out in every river catchment area.
12-11-17 California's Thomas Fire scorches area larger than New York City
The most destructive wildfire raging in southern California has expanded significantly, scorching an area larger than New York City. The Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed 230,000 acres (930 sq km) in the past week. Fanned by strong winds, it has become the fifth largest wildfire in recorded state history after it grew by more than 50,000 acres in a day. Residents in coastal beach communities have been ordered to leave. On Sunday, firefighters reported that 15% of the blaze had been contained but were forced to downgrade that to 10% as it continued to spread. "This is a menacing fire, certainly, but we have a lot of people working very diligently to bring it under control," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. The containment operation is not only being hampered by dry winds. It is proving challenging for firefighters because of the location and mountainous terrain. An analyst with the California fire protection department, Tim Chavez, said the emergency services were struggling because "a hot interior" was in parts practically meeting the ocean, making access difficult. "It's just a very difficult place to fight fire," Mr Chavez said, adding: "It's very dangerous and has a historical record of multiple fatalities occurring over the years."
12-11-17 The devastating beauty of Greenland's melting ice
What the planet loses as the climate warms. The autonomous Danish island, located in the Arctic, is 80 percent ice. Its massive sheet of frozen water — about 660,000 square miles across (roughly the size of Alaska) and two miles thick at its highest point — is the second largest body of ice in the world, built up from snowfall dating back to the last ice age, some 115,000 years ago. It's so massive, in fact, that the ice sheet "creates its own weather," The New Yorker reports. "Its mass is so great that it deforms the Earth, pushing the bedrock several thousand feet into the mantle. Its gravitational tug affects the distribution of the oceans." But with rising global temperatures, the great Greenland ice sheet has been shrinking at an alarming rate. Since 2012, at least a trillion tons of ice have been lost. And the melt is only accelerating: In 1993, Greenland ice-loss made up just 5 percent of the rise in global sea levels. In 2014, it contributed 25 percent. "Nobody expected the ice sheet to lose so much mass so quickly," one geophysicist told Science magazine. "Things are happening a lot faster than we expected." If all of Greenland's land ice melted, it would cause ocean levels to rise roughly 23 feet, Scientific American reports, which would decimate low-lying countries like Bangladesh and drown over 1,400 cities and towns in the U.S. alone.
12-11-17 Faltering carbon capture needs more investment not doubt
The world's first full-scale power plant carbon capture project has stumbled, but we can't let that risk the future of a technology we need, says Olive Heffernan. It’s been hailed as a game-changer, a get-out-of-jail-free card that would allow us to burn fossil fuels without precipitating dangerous climate change. But the potential for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to clean up coal – the cheapest and dirtiest fossil fuel – is now in doubt. In recent weeks, it has become clear that a world-leading CCS project in Saskatchewan, Canada is struggling. The country’s largest coal-fired power plant, Boundary Dam, was retrofitted in 2014 with state-of-the-art technology in a bid to capture 90 per cent of its CO2 emissions and then pump them deep underground into a nearby oilfield. If successful, the scheme would prevent almost 1 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year, equivalent to taking around 250,000 cars off the road. But three years on, Boundary Dam’s performance is under-par and doubts about the expansion of CCS are rising. Since start-up, the facility has captured on average just 46 per cent of its CO2. Overall, it has stored or re-used 1.75 million tonnes of CO2, far less than the 3 million tonne target. What happens next matters a lot. Coal-fired electricity generation is still popular. Some 1600 coal plants are planned or under construction in 62 countries. If they are all built, this would expand the world’s coal-fired power capacity by 43 per cent.
12-10-17 California wildfires: Governor brands fires 'new normal'
Devastating wildfires fuelled by climate change are "the new normal", California's governor has said. Jerry Brown said vast fires, such as the ones that have ravaged southern California in recent days, "could happen every year or every few years". "We're facing a new reality in this state," he said. Mr Brown made the comments after surveying the damage in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. Thousands of firefighters have been battling the fires since Monday. Mr Brown, a Democrat who has attacked the Trump administration's stance on climate change, said: "We're facing a new reality in this state, where fires threaten people's lives, their properties, their neighbourhoods, and of course billions and billions of dollars. "With climate change, some scientists are saying southern California is literally burning up." The largest wildfire - known as the Thomas Fire - burned close to 150,000 acres, an area of land roughly the size of Chicago, Reuters reported. On Saturday, firefighters began to make progress in containing the blaze.
12-10-17 Seven charts that explain the plastic pollution problem
Marine life is facing "irreparable damage" from the millions of tonnes of plastic waste which ends up in the oceans each year, the United Nations has warned. "This is a planetary crisis... we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean," UN oceans chief Lisa Svensson told the BBC this week. But how does this happen, where is most at risk and what damage does this plastic actually do? Plastic as we know it has only really existed for the last 60-70 years, but in that time it has transformed everything from clothing, cooking and catering, to product design, engineering and retailing. One of the great advantages of many types of plastic is that they're designed to last - for a very long time. And nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today. In July a paper published in the journal Science Advances by industrial ecologist Dr Roland Geyer, from the University of California in Santa Barbara, and colleagues, calculated the total volume of all plastic ever produced at 8.3bn tonnes. Of this, some 6.3bn tonnes is now waste - and 79% of that is in landfill or the natural environment. This vast amount of waste has been driven by modern life, where plastic is used for many throwaway or "single use" items, from drinks bottles and nappies to cutlery and cotton buds. Drinks bottles are one the most common types of plastic waste. Some 480bn plastic bottles were sold globally in 2016 - that's a million bottles per minute. Of these, 110bn were made by drinks giant Coca Cola. Some countries are considering moves to reduce consumption. Proposals in the UK include deposit-return schemes, and the improvement of free-drinking water supplies in major cities, including London.
12-9-17 California wildfires: Businesses face ruin as blaze rages
Much of California's avocado crop has been destroyed by wildfires that have ripped through the southern part of the state, industry experts say. "We've lost at least several hundred acres of avocados, probably more," the California Avocado Commission told agriculture news site AgNet West. About 90% of US avocados are grown in California, and the industry is worth millions to the economy. About 5,700 firefighters have been battling the fires, officials say. One death has been confirmed - that of a 70-year-old woman found in her car on Wednesday. Three firefighters have been injured and about 500 buildings destroyed. There are now fears the fires will have serious implications for California's vast agricultural industry. Last season's avocado harvest produced a crop worth more than $400m (£300m), according to the California Avocado Commission. Much of this was grown on family-owned farms in the south of the state. Ventura County, which is California's largest growing region for avocados, has seen the worst of the fires with 180 square miles (466 sq km) consumed, according to officials. John Krist, chief executive of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, told Reuters news agency: "A lot of that fruit everybody was looking forward to harvesting next year is lying on the ground." Food safety regulations mean the crop cannot be sold once it falls from the tree.
12-8-17 Will wildfires finally change Rupert Murdoch’s climate stance?
The media-mogul's Santa Monica vineyard was saved from wildfire destruction, but the world may yet burn thanks to his climate views, says Richard Schiffman. A wildfire has ripped through one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the US, damaging Rupert Murdoch’s $28.8 million vineyard estate in the Santa Monica mountains at the edge of Los Angeles. The media-mogul’s palatial house was saved, thanks to firefighters who spent the afternoon and night battling the conflagration. Others weren’t so lucky. Hundreds of homes and scores of lives have been lost in both northern and southern California in a spate of recent wildfires that were fiercer and moved faster than any in recent memory. Such fires are made more likely as the world warms. California has just had its hottest summer on record, and the recent wildfires came much later in the year than normal. We also know that seven of California’s 10 largest recorded wildfires have occurred in the last 14 years. California isn’t alone. Wildfires are occurring with greater frequency from Siberia to Australia. Climatologists see these as a flashing red early warning sign of the coming catastrophe as global mean temperatures continue to rise due to anthropogenic climate change. Not that you would know it from Murdoch-owned news outlets. His vast holdings of newspapers, magazines and TV stations on four continents are megaphones that spread the view that climate change isn’t happening, or at least not because of human activities. Murdoch has called climate change “alarmist nonsense“. On a flight he tweeted: “Just flying over N Atlantic 300 miles of ice. Global warming!”
12-7-17 California wildfires: Nearly 200,000 flee as new blaze spreads
Nearly 200,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes in California as firefighters battle several raging wildfires. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego on Thursday after a new blaze spread from 10 acres to 4,100 acres in just a few hours. Three firefighters have been injured and about 500 buildings destroyed. One death has been reported - a woman's body was found in a burned-out area in Ventura County. But an official told the Ventura Country Star newspaper that the death, in the town of Ojai, may have been the result of a car crash not related to the fire. About 5,700 firefighters have been battling the brushfires, officials said on Thursday, with firefighters drafted in from neighbouring states to help. The Thomas fire in Ventura County to the north of Los Angeles remains the largest of the blazes and has spread as far as the Pacific coast. It has consumed 180 square miles (a square 13.5 miles on a side) since it broke out on Monday, and destroyed more than 430 buildings, fire officials said. A BBC correspondent in Ojai says the blaze is burning in the hills all around and more than 100 fire engines have been seen driving through the town centre.
12-7-17 Massive wildfires
At least 27,000 people were forced to flee their homes this week as multiple fast-moving wildfires, whipped by strong winds, raged unchecked just outside of Los Angeles. More than 83,000 acres have been consumed and more than 200 homes destroyed so far, with the largest of the fires burning its way through parts of Ventura on its march toward the Pacific Ocean. Another 200,000 people are under evacuation orders. Months of dry weather have provided ample fuel for the infernos, exacerbated by the region’s fierce Santa Ana winds. Gusts of more than 50 miles per hour have grounded water-dropping planes and helicopters, stymieing efforts by fire crews. “The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”
12-7-17 The dangers of growing light pollution
The proliferation of artificial light across the world is blurring the distinction between night and day, a significant shift that has major consequences for human health and the environment. Using a calibrated satellite radiometer, which can detect radiance, researchers found that artificially illuminated outdoor space grew by 2.2 percent each year between 2012 and 2016. Much of this increase is the result of people in developing nations in the Middle East and Asia gaining access to electricity and outdoor lighting, reports The Washington Post. But exacerbating the problem is the widespread transition to LED lights, which are cheaper and more efficient than traditional lighting. People were expected to use fewer lights when they switched over to LEDs; instead—presumably because the lights are cheaper—they are using more. Scientists warn that this perpetual glow is threatening human health and ecosystems that have evolved to rely on predictable patterns of day and night. The blue light emitted by LEDs is particularly disruptive to circadian rhythms, which govern the behavior and biological processes of most living things, including people. Light-polluted skies are also taking a toll on plants and wildlife, disrupting pollination, reproduction, migration, feeding, and other natural behaviors. “The problem is that light has been introduced in places, times, and intensities at which it does not naturally occur,” says co-author Franz Holker, of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries. “Many organisms have had no chance to adapt to this new stressor.”
12-7-17 Shrinking monuments
President Trump ordered the largest rollback of federal land protections in the nation’s history this week, reducing the size of two Utah national monuments by roughly 2 million acres and opening vast new tracts to commercial development. The Bears Ears National Monument will shrink to 228,000 acres, about 15 percent of its original size, while Grand Staircase–Escalante will be reduced by half, leaving it with about 1 million acres. Both monuments were created by Democratic presidents, with Barack Obama setting aside Bears Ears in December 2016 and Bill Clinton forming Grand Staircase in 1996. Western communities have long bristled at restrictions put on local land; Clinton’s declaration of Grand Staircase derailed a planned coal mine in one of the state’s poorest areas. Trump’s order is already being challenged in court by environmental groups, as well as several Native American tribes.
12-7-17 Your dirty laundry is polluting the ocean
After decades of intense observation and campaigning by conservation groups, awareness of microplastic pollution has fortunately grown. There is now worldwide concern about tiny pieces of plastic litter that have a harmful impact on marine species and habitats. Large plastic litter has already been identified as both an eyesore and a danger to turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. So the scene was already set for mass action against microbeads and other forms of tiny plastics, which are present in things such as shower gels and beauty products. But most of the small plastic we find doesn't come from your face wash. It is formed from the breakdown of larger plastics such as bottles and bags. Less widely known as a source of microplastic is the breakdown of synthetic fabrics, which forms tiny plastic fibers. Reports now indicate that these are the most common form of microplastic recovered from sediment and water samples. And the vast majority of these are produced during domestic clothes washing. In the washing machine, abrasion of clothes removes tiny fibers which are too small to be caught by the machine's filters. This may add up to hundreds of thousands of fibers from a single wash. These fibers are then carried in the waste water into the sewage system, but are far too small to be removed in the treatment plants where other solid materials and pollutants are caught. As a result, the fibers escape into rivers and then oceans. The fibers which end up in the ocean come from every kind of synthetic garment — from your socks and swimsuits to pullovers and parkas.
12-7-17 California fire burns Bel-Air mansions as spread continues
Residents of Los Angeles' wealthy Bel-Air neighbourhood have found their homes under threat after another wildfire erupted in California. The so-called Skirball Fire destroyed several homes in the exclusive area, quickly spreading over 150 acres. It is the latest eruption of wildfire in the state, which has already seen widespread destruction from a series of uncontrolled blazes. The largest, named the Thomas Fire, has covered some 90,000 acres. By Wednesday night local time, California's fire service said it had threatened 12,000 buildings, destroyed 150, and was only "5% contained". Mandatory evacuation orders remained in several areas, as strong winds helped to spread the flames. Authorities issued a purple alert - the highest level warning ever issued in the state - amid what it called "extremely critical fire weather". Ken Pimlott, head of California's fire response, told reporters: "There will be no ability to fight fires in this kind of wind." He said evacuations would be prioritised. The nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) cancelled all classes on Thursday, despite the university campus lying outside the evacuation zone on the city's west side. It said it had taken the decision "given the array of uncertainties". Many schools have also been closed. In Bel-Air on Wednesday, firefighters were seen removing artwork from opulent homes as they attempted to contain the fire.
12-6-17 Earth’s climate will warm 15 per cent more than we thought
Climate models have always offered a range of possible temperature rises, but it turns out the ones that best fit what’s happened so far all predict even greater warming. CHILDREN born now could live to witness the planet warming more than 4°C, even if we cut greenhouse emissions by a fair amount. That’s one of the terrifying implications of a study that adds to the growing evidence that the “official” projections underestimate future warming. “Basically, it shows between 10 and 20 per cent more warming than previously reported,” says Patrick Brown of Stanford University in California. The biggest problem for global warming forecasts is that we don’t know how much more carbon dioxide and other climate-altering stuff will be released. Even if we assume greenhouse gases reach a specific level, climate models still produce a wide range of results. To narrow that range, Brown and Ken Caldeira, also at Stanford, tried to pick the climate models whose projections to date best match real-world data. They chose several measures: for instance, how much heat is escaping from the top of Earth’s atmosphere. This is a direct measure of how much the total heat content of the sea, air and land surface is changing. Models that handle this well should be better at forecasting long-term temperature change. “Warming is fundamentally a result of these radiation changes,” says Brown. Brown also looked at how well models predict monthly shifts in temperature. The idea here is that such changes in regions like the tropics are determined by clouds. Because clouds respond strongly to changes in temperature, models that are good at predicting these short-term changes should also be good over the long term.
12-6-17 Babies' brains damaged by pollution, Unicef says
Seventeen million babies under the age of one are breathing toxic air, putting their brain development at risk, the UN children's agency has warned. Babies in South Asia were worst affected, with more than 12 million living in areas with pollution six times higher than safe levels. A further four million were at risk in East Asia and the Pacific. Unicef said breathing particulate air pollution could damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development. Its report said there was a link to "verbal and non-verbal IQ and memory, reduced test scores, grade point averages among schoolchildren, as well as other neurological behavioural problems". The effects lasted a lifetime, it said. "As more and more of the world urbanises, and without adequate protection and pollution reduction measures, more children will be at risk in the years to come," Unicef said. It called for wider use of face masks and air filtering systems, and for children not to travel during spikes in pollution. Last month hazardous smog began blanketing the Indian capital Delhi, prompting the Indian capital's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to say the city had become a "gas chamber". Some schools in the city were closed but there was criticism when they re-opened, with parents accusing the authorities of disregarding their children's health. Indian and Sri Lankan cricketers playing in Delhi vomited on the pitch during high levels of pollution. In northern China, air pollution is estimated to cut life expectancy by about three years and the government has imposed tougher emissions rules on companies, although state media have reported that these are routinely flouted.
12-6-17 UN signals 'end' of throwaway plastic
The end of the era of throwaway plastic has been signalled by UN environment ministers meeting in Kenya. They signed off a document stating that the flow of plastic into the ocean must be stopped. Scientists welcomed the statement, but were unhappy the agreement was only based in principle, with no firm targets or timetables. Ministers say it's a milestone because it shows governments, industry and the public that a major change is needed. Vidar Helgesen, Norway's Environment Minister, has been leading the UN debate on plastic pollution. He told BBC News: "What we came here with was the need for action. The starting point was aiming for zero emission of marine litter. So it's effectively a breakthrough for zero emission of plastic into the ocean." He admitted that this was really only the start of action against plastic litter. Li Lin from WWF International told BBC News: "Today we have seen quite good progress on marine litter and micro-plastics. "We would just like to see this agreement implemented by governments, business, NGOs and consumers as quickly as possible. Because this issue is urgent." We know plastics are already damaging life in the sea, but we don't know how much more damage it can take before whole ecosystems start to be affected. The seas after all are also beset with climate change, acidification, dead zones, and multiple types of pollution.
12-6-17 Trump smashes a national treasure
Nothing says "Republican Party" more than destroying national monuments for private profit. I grew up in remote rural Utah, near Capitol Reef National Park, and was raised by a couple of river guides. I spent much of my childhood in the back seat of an Isuzu Trooper, exploring the spectacular canyon country of southern Utah and Arizona. I was unsurprisingly strongly in favor of President Obama's executive action designating the Bears Ears National Monument not far from my hometown — and a big fan of President Clinton's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I've personally driven, camped, and hiked all over the region, and I can say confidently that it's one of the most beautiful and precious places that exists in the world. So I suppose it's no surprise that President Trump is taking a jackhammer to both places, in the greatest reduction in public land protection in American history — all for the highly probable benefit of ranchers, oil drillers, and coal miners. It's akin to giving the Sistine Chapel to Eric Trump so he can sell off the frescoes in hacked-off chunks. Various environmentalist groups have filed suit to block the move, but Trump might well prevail in court. The Antiquities Act is broadly worded, and grants the president sweeping power to declare national monuments. Presidents Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson both previously shrunk monuments, so there's a precedent as well. However, shrinking is not all Trump is doing here. For the Bears Ears National Monument, he would cut it into two pieces 85 percent smaller than its current size: the Shash Jaa National Monument, and the Indian Creek National Monument. This would leave out the Dark Canyon Wilderness and Cedar Mesa, both packed with American Indian relics like the Doll House and Moon House ruins.
12-5-17 Robofish floats about tracking antibiotics in the Great Lakes
A robotic fish is going to use sensors to monitor the levels of anibiotics in Michigan's Great Lakes region. A ROBOTIC fish may be an unlikely ally in the fight against antibiotic resistance. Swimming through streams and lakes, it will monitor the levels of antibiotics in the water, among other pollutants. The prototype will soon be sent below the surface of the lakes near Michigan, which are under threat from industrial pollution and contaminants from farming. “The water is getting increasingly contaminated with multiple pollutants,” says Alicia Douglas at the Water Rising Institute. Antibiotics are among them, she says, and are becoming a growing risk because we know so little about how they spread. “The idea is to put sensors on the robots so that you can gather data from different locations in an automated manner,” says Xiaobo Tan at Michigan State University. By understanding the antibiotic levels in different parts of the lake, it should be easier to work out where they are coming from. Robofish aren’t the only robots monitoring pollutants around the world. A robotic orca is tracking pollution in a reservoir in Tibet, and an artificial swan is doing the same in Singapore’s Pandan Reservoir.
12-5-17 Ventura fire: Thousands evacuated in southern California
Some 27,000 residents were forced to flee their homes in the middle of the night as a fast-moving wildfire ripped through southern California. Several thousand homes are under mandatory evacuation in the cities of Ventura and Santa Paula, some 70 miles (115 km) north of Los Angeles. Firefighters warned the fire was moving so fast they were unable to contain it. Fanned by high winds, the fire swept through 31,000 acres (48 square miles, that's an area 7 miles on each side) in a matter of hours. One person died in a traffic accident while trying to flee the blaze - which has been named the Thomas Fire - and one firefighter was injured, officials say. They also said 150 structures had been destroyed, and more than 260,000 people were without power. Some 500 firefighters were working through the night to tackle the blaze, but fire chiefs admitted they were fighting a losing battle. "The prospects for containment are not good. Really, Mother Nature is going to decide," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters. Residents of Santa Paula and Ventura received mandatory evacuation notices via their phones and from emergency workers going house to house. "My son is a firefighter and I'm not going to wait around for someone to rescue me," June Byrum told CBS, saying her 91-year-old father, husband and dog had already left for a safe place. Santa Paula has 30,000 residents, while Ventura's population is about 110,000. Both are in Ventura County. The fire is believed to have broken out close to Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula at some time after 18:00 local time (02:00 GMT). It was quickly fanned by gusts of up to 70mph (115 kph).
12-5-17 UN commits to stop ocean plastic waste
Nations have agreed that the world needs to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans. The UN resolution, which is set to be sealed tomorrow, has no timetable and is not legally binding. But ministers at an environment summit in Kenya believe it will set the course for much tougher policies and send a clear signal to business. A stronger motion was rejected after the US would not agree to any specific, internationally agreed goals. Under the proposal, governments would establish an international taskforce to advise on combating what the UN's oceans chief has described as a planetary crisis. Environmentalists say ministers are starting to take plastic waste more seriously, but need to move much more quickly. Li Lin from the green group WWF said: "At last we are seeing some action on this issue, but we still don’t have the urgency we need. The problem needs solving right now." One contentious issue is the wish of delegates to include businesses on the global taskforce. Ministers say the problem will not be solved without business, but green groups point out that some firms in the plastics industry have been lobbying against restrictions for decades. (Webmaster's comment: Including the polluters in the group will only delay what needs to be done. The polluters will only want to continue polluting as they are now. It's all about the money.)
12-5-17 'Shame and anger' at plastic ocean pollution
Scientists who advised the Blue Planet II documentary team say they feel "shame and anger" at the “plague of plastic” impacting the natural world. Even in the remote waters of Antarctica, they have found evidence of plastic killing and harming seabirds. Wandering albatrosses – which have the longest wingspan of any birds alive today – are thought to be especially vulnerable. Nesting on the barren islands of South Georgia, they feed their young by scouring thousands of miles of ocean for squid and fish but often bring back plastic instead. The final episode of what has become the most-watched TV programme of the year explores how the oceans are threatened by human activities including overfishing and pollution. It will be broadcast on Sunday 10 December. In a particularly moving scene, Dr Lucy Quinn, a zoologist, is seen checking albatross chicks on Bird Island where she was the British Antarctic Survey’s winter manager for more than two years. One chick that Dr Quinn found dead and later dissected was killed because a plastic toothpick that it swallowed had pierced its stomach. Others had regurgitated plastic items including cling film, food packaging, cutlery and parts of bottles. Dr Quinn told me: “I feel real shame and anger that it’s humans who have caused this problem. "It’s really sad because you get to know the birds and how long it takes the parents, away for ten days at a time, to collect food for their chicks and what they bring back is plastic. "And what’s sad is that the plague of plastic is as far-reaching as these seemingly pristine environments."
12-5-17 IUCN Red List: Wild crops listed as threatened
Wild relatives of modern crops deemed crucial for food security are being pushed to the brink of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. More than 20 rice, wheat and yam plants have been listed as threatened on the latest version of the IUCN's Red list. The wild plants are being squeezed out by intensive farming, deforestation and urban sprawl, say scientists. Modern crops can be crossbred with their wild cousins to safeguard foods. ''To lose them would be a disaster,'' said Dr Nigel Maxted of the University of Birmingham, who is co-chair of the IUCN's specialist group on crop wild relatives. ''It would be much more difficult to maintain food security without them.'' Commercial crops have lost genetic diversity. They are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which may bring drought, diseases and new pests. Work is under way to breed new varieties of grains, cereals and vegetables by crossing them with tough, wild species that can grow in a range of habitats, such as mountains, deserts or salt marshes. These efforts rely on protecting plants related to modern food crops at the sites where they grow in the wild as well as preserving their seeds in gene banks. The first systematic assessment of wild wheat, rice and yam has led to the listing of three types of rice, two types of wheat (used to make bread) and 17 types of yam.
12-5-17 How UK's birds are being affected by a changing climate
Migratory birds are arriving in the UK earlier each spring and leaving later each autumn, a report has confirmed. Some visitors are now appearing more than 20 days earlier than they did in the 1960s, according to the state of the UK's birds 2017 report. The swallow, for instance, is arriving 15 days earlier than 50 years ago. Ongoing monitoring is essential to track the future effects of a changing climate on birds, says a coalition of wildlife organisations. The report is by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) , the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the UK's nature conservation bodies. It pulls together data from the latest bird surveys and monitoring studies. The report warns that there will be winner and losers in a changing world, with opportunities for some bird species but higher extinction risks for others. Some, such as the night heron, are breeding in the UK for the first time as their range expands north, while others, such as the snow bunting are in decline. Dr Daniel Hayhow, lead author of the report, said familiar species such as swallows and sand martins are changing their migratory behaviour. ''We need to take that almost as a warning sign,'' he told BBC News. ''The report is aiming to show to people that these changes are happening and there is potential for such changes in timing to cause a mismatch between the time when the chicks need to be fed and the food that's available for them, meaning they may be less successful in their breeding.''
12-4-17 Environmentalism: mission impossible, or just improbable?
The latest dire warning from scientist could inspire defeatism. But hope and redoubled effort is a better response. “HUMAN beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.” Hazard a guess as to when those words were written. Last month? Or 25 years ago? The answer is “both”. TheWorld Scientists’ Warning to Humanity was originally issued in November 1992, backed by more than 1700 signatories including most of the science Nobel prizewinners alive at the time. It was reissued last month, this time with the backing of 15,364 scientists – and an even blunter message. “Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.” So has nothing really changed? Has 25 years of effort been wasted? Maybe things could have been even worse, but it is clearly not mission accomplished. Perhaps it was always Mission: Impossible. Warnings from experts often fall on deaf ears, or worse are counterproductive. In these febrile, populist times they are easily dismissed as the sanctimonious preaching of an out-of-touch elite. The world appears to be in no mood to listen.
12-3-17 Anchorage's climate change conundrum
Like any coastal city, the impacts of climate change are a concern for Anchorage's leaders. But in Alaska, the concerns are even more dire. Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as rest of the country — winters in Anchorage are 6 degrees warmer than they were 70 years ago. And that's impacting life there in many ways, from commerce to recreation to the city's ability to take in climate migrants. Consider commerce. The Port of Anchorage is a lifeline for Alaska. "Ninety percent of all inbound cargo coming into Alaska comes via marine vessel; about half of that cargo comes through the Port of Anchorage," says Jim Jager, the port's spokesperson. The port has a big problem: Its steel pilings are crumbling, being eaten away by microbes. "Our challenge is getting the docks replaced before they rust away," says Jager, who estimates that the port has about 10 years to fix the problem. The port is spending $700 million on the project, with funding coming from a range of sources. The problem isn't being caused by climate change, but warming temperatures are making things trickier. Alaska's warming weather means nearby glaciers are retreating fast. Those glaciers don't just hold water frozen in place; they hold rocks, sand, and dirt. "In a traditional Alaskan winter, all of that sedimentation is kind of frozen in place, and what comes down off the glaciers is minimized," says the port's director, Steve Ribuffo. But the warmer things get, the more silt flows down into the port. And that can mean more time and money devoted to dredging. Then, there's the threat from rising sea levels. "We already have the second highest tides in the world," says Ribuffo. "I don't know what that's going to mean in the future. But it's an engineering consideration that we have to put into every design that we do for anything new here."
12-2-17 Major fishing nations agree Arctic moratorium
The world's major fishing nations have agreed a moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, before it has even become established. Much of the Arctic was once permanently frozen but global warming means its waters are becoming more accessible. The deal is expected to last for 16 years while research is carried out into the existing marine ecosystem. The moratorium was agreed by Canada, Russia, China, the US, the EU, Japan, Iceland, Denmark and South Korea. It covers an area of about 2.8m sq km (1m sq miles) - roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea. No commercial fisheries exist in Arctic waters yet. "This is one of the rare times when a group of governments actually solved a problem before it happened," said David Balton, US ambassador for oceans and fisheries. "In the future if fish stocks are plentiful enough to support a commercial fishery there, they will be part of the management system and presumably their vessels will have the opportunity to fish for those stocks." Conservationists applauded the deal. Trevor Taylor, of the Canadian group Oceans North, said fish and marine mammals that many Arctic communities relied upon would now be protected.
12-1-17 Mega battery
Tesla has built the biggest battery in the world in just two months—all because of a Twitter bet. After massive lightning storms knocked out South Australia’s power grid last year, Australian politicians blamed the state’s reliance on renewable energy for the mass blackouts, saying wind and solar couldn’t cover baseline electricity needs in an emergency. Tesla responded that it could build 100 megawatts’ worth of giant lithium batteries in just 100 days to solve the state’s problem; the battery farm will store huge amounts of energy from renewable sources and transmit it as needed. Asked on Twitter if the offer was real, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free.” The company finished 40 days ahead of schedule.
12-1-17 Tesla mega-battery in Australia activated
The world's largest lithium ion battery has begun dispensing power into an electricity grid in South Australia. The 100-megawatt battery, built by Tesla, was officially activated on Friday. It had in fact provided some power since Thursday due to demand caused by local hot weather. South Australia has been crippled by electricity problems in recent times. Tesla boss Elon Musk famously vowed to build the battery within 100 days - a promise that was fulfilled. "This is history in the making," South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said on Friday. The battery would prevent a repeat of a notorious incident last year where the entire state lost power, Mr Weatherill said. Mr Musk has described it as three times more powerful than the world's next biggest battery.
12-1-17 New Sentinel satellite tracks dirty air
It's been working less than a month but already the UK-Dutch-built Sentinel-5P satellite is returning spectacular new views of Earth's atmosphere. The spacecraft was designed to make daily global maps of the gases and particles that pollute the air. The first sample images released by mission scientists show plumes of nitrogen dioxide flowing away from power plants and traffic-choked cities. S5P has even captured the ash and sulphur emissions from Agung volcano. The mountain, sited on the Indonesian island of Bali, is in the midst of a big eruption. Researchers, led from the Netherlands Met Office (KNMI), still have another five months of calibration work ahead to get the satellite's data ready for public use. But it is clear, says principal investigator Pepijn Veefkind, that when fully operational, the new Sentinel will be an extremely powerful tool to monitor air quality. "It's been amazing to see how quickly we were able to get the satellite working. This is a big improvement on what we've been able to do before. In just a week, we've got more data out of Sentinel-5P than in several years of operation of a previous mission," he told BBC News.
12-1-17 'Zero tolerance' plan eyed for plastic pollution
A plan for zero tolerance of plastic pollution of the oceans may be agreed by nations at a UN environment summit. Governments are being asked to move towards a legal treaty banning plastic waste from entering the sea. At the moment ships are prohibited from dumping plastic overboard but there's no international law against plastics flooding into the sea from the land. Experts say ocean plastics are an obvious subject for a global treaty: plastics present a large-scale threat. Plastic pollution doesn't recognise international borders. Delegates in Nairobi preparing the way for the UN's environment ministers meeting next week are said to be in broad agreement on the need for tougher action to combat the plastics crisis. They are setting up a working party to explore options for global action to tackle plastic waste and microplastics. The US has volunteered to take part, but is traditionally resistant to agreeing any international laws. (Webmaster's comment: As always the United States is against anything that would better the world but that might cost its corporations any money.)