49 Global Warming News Articles
for January of 2018
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1-16-18 A capsized oil tanker is releasing invisible toxins into the sea
The slick of oil condensate from a stricken tanker in the East China Sea is a threat to all marine life, not least because it is invisible. At least crude oil is visible. Not so the toxic liquid leaking from a capsized oil tanker in the East China Sea. This invisible substance is a lethal threat to marine life. On 6 January, the oil tanker Sanchi collided with the CF Crystal, a Chinese freighter whose crew were all rescued. Ablaze since the collision and rocked by several massive explosions, the Sanchi finally capsized on Sunday with the loss of its 32-strong crew. The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of oil condensate, a fuel much more volatile and flammable than crude oil. The spill is the biggest since the Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster in 2010. Much has already burned off, but the rest of the transparent fluid could leak out and float upwards, forming an invisible toxic plume just below the sea surface. “It’s a pretty good assumption that all the fuel and cargo either has been released to the environment, or will be shortly,” says Rick Steiner, a marine conservation scientist in Anchorage, Alaska. “If it is all released, it will be the largest spill of condensate in history.” “Condensate is acutely toxic to all marine organisms, from zooplankton and fish larvae to adult fish and whales,” says Steiner. “Organisms exposed to the underwater toxic plume will absorb it through their membranes, skin and gill filaments. It can cause lethal injury quickly, or sub-lethal impairments such as reproductive failure.” The species at risk include minke and fin whales. “It’s a very rich ecosystem and substantial fishery,” says Steiner. Steiner has called on the UN and the three countries whose waters are affected – Japan, China and South Korea – to team up and track the plume. “The condensates are likely to persist for a few months, so it’s important to know where the plume is headed,” he says. And although the spill is around 240 kilometres offshore, it could persist long enough to pollute shorelines.
1-15-18 Huge oil spill left after burning tanker sinks off China
Chinese ships are racing to clean up a giant oil spill after an Iranian tanker sank in the East China Sea. The 120 sq km (46 sq mile) oil slick is thought to be made up of heavy fuel that was used to power the vessel. The Sanchi oil tanker sank on Sunday and officials say all its crew members are dead. It was carrying 136,000 tonnes of ultra-light crude oil from Iran which generates a toxic underwater slick that would be invisible from the surface. Both the fuel and the ultra-light oil could cause devastating damage to marine life. The Sanchi and a cargo ship collided 260km (160 miles) off Shanghai on 6 January, with the tanker then drifting south-east towards Japan. It caught fire after the collision and burnt for more than a week before sinking off China's east coast. Iranian officials now say all 32 crew members - 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis - on the tanker were killed. On Monday, China Central Television said a search and rescue operation had been cancelled and a clean-up operation had begun after a fire on the surface was extinguished. They said two ships were spraying the water with chemical agents designed to dissolve the oil. The BBC's China correspondent Robin Brant says the oil slick has more than doubled in size since Sunday. The big concern now is for the environmental impact, he said. There could also be a very tall plume of condensate, this ultra-refined form of oil, underneath the surface. Condensate, which creates products such as jet fuel, is very different from the black crude that is often seen in oil spills. It is toxic, low in density and considerably more explosive than regular crude.
1-15-18 Mount Etna may not really be a ‘proper’ volcano at all
Italy’s famous volcano Mount Etna may be fed mostly by hot water and carbon dioxide, with only a small dose of molten rock to make it resemble a classic volcano. Mount Etna, one of the world’s most famous volcanoes, may be misunderstood. According to one geologist, the material feeding the cone is mostly water, so Etna is effectively a giant hot spring. But other geologists are unconvinced. Mount Etna in Italy is almost constantly active. It’s been estimated that it spewed about 70 million tonnes of lava in 2011 alone. But what really puzzles Carmelo Ferlito at the University of Catania, Italy – about 30 kilometres from the volcano – is that Etna also belches out more than 7 million tonnes of steam, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide every year. The conventional explanation is that this gas bubbles out of magma as it loses pressure on its way up through the volcano’s vent. But Ferlito says Etna would need to erupt ten times more lava than it does to account for all the gas that burps out. Alternatively, maybe most of the molten rock in Etna loses its gas and sinks again, without erupting. But Ferlito’s calculations suggest that sustaining the gas emissions would require a fresh injection of 10,000 kilograms of magma every single second. This would “inflate the volcano like a children’s balloon”, he says. So instead, Ferlito argues the easiest way to explain Etna’s excess gas is to ditch the idea that it is fed only by magma. He has calculated that the volcano’s deep plumbing system could hold lots of water, carbon dioxide and sulphur, collectively making up about 70 per cent of the volume of material feeding the volcano. “Only 30 per cent is molten rock,” he says.
1-15-18 Unchecked climate change is going to be stupendously expensive
America is shooting itself in the foot. Climate change is first and foremost a threat to human society. That fact has been somewhat obscured in regular discourse, in favor of a false dichotomy portraying climate policy as an upper-middle-class noblesse oblige idea for anxious birders and other environmentalist types, and hardheaded economists who think building up yet more wealth is more important. In reality, one obvious way that threat to humanity is going to be expressed is through economic damage. In other words, unchecked climate change is going to be terrifically expensive. Now, its exact cost is basically impossible to predict. Contrary to people who would confidently rely on cost damage estimates for 2100, economic projections tend to be wildly inaccurate over even five years. Furthermore, the amount of damage will depend greatly on what humans do in the future, and there have been few studies on what damage would be like under higher warming scenarios of 3 degrees or above. But we can say the damage is going to be very large — indeed, it's already quite bad. NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information estimates that 2017 was America's most expensive year for climate disasters of all time, with 16 disasters costing over $1 billion (more than three times the 1980-2017 average, after accounting for inflation) and a total cost of over $300 billion. That's about 1.5 percent of total GDP — or enough to pay for a $300 per month child allowance for every parent in America, with some left over. This year is already off to a bad climate start as well. There is a severe precipitation shortfall in parts of the Southwest, with some Colorado drainages at less than 30 percent of the median snowpack. Southern California has also been rather dry — with the exception of severe rains that hammered parts of the region over the last few days, causing flooding and multiple mudslides that have killed at least 20 people. (Webmaster's comment: The ignorant have to pay!)
1-13-18 How Australia's extreme heat might be here to stay
A section of highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne started to melt. Bats fell dead from the trees, struck down by the heat. On the northern Great Barrier Reef, 99% of baby green sea turtles, a species whose sex is determined by temperature, were found to be female. In outer suburban Sydney, the heat hit 47.3C (117F) before a cool change knocked it down - to the relative cool of just 43.6C in a neighbouring suburb the following day. Scenes from a sci-fi novel depicting a scorched future? No, just the first days of 2018 in Australia, where summer is in fierce form. With parts of the US suffering through a particularly grim winter, extremes in both hemispheres have triggered discussions about the links between current events and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The climate system is incredibly complex and no weather event can be directly attributed to rising emissions, but everything that is experienced today happens in a world that is about one degree warmer than the long-term mean. Prof Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales, says given the average temperature has risen it is a "no brainer" that the likelihood of the sort of heat that hit Sydney last week has also increased. (Webmaster's comment: And our "summer" is coming!)
1-12-18 Even a small cut in global warming will help slow sea level rise
Limiting climate change to 1.5 °C instead of 2 °C, even if we overshoot at first and then bring temperatures back down, will ease the rise in sea levels. When it comes to avoiding dangerous rises in sea level, every little bit of global warming we can avoid will make a difference. In Paris in December 2015, world leaders agreed to try to limit warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and if possible keep it within 1.5 °C. While a 2 °C limit would be easier politically, it turns out that sticking to 1.5 °C makes quite a difference when it comes to sea level rise. Klaus Bitterman of Tufts University in Massachusetts and his colleagues simulated sea level rise under different amounts of warming. They found that stabilising temperatures at 1.5°C would lead to seas rising less, and more slowly, than allowing temperatures to reach 2°C. By 2150 – just over a century from now – sea levels would be as much as 17cm lower for a temperature rise of 1.5°C, compared to 2°C. That means fewer coastal communities destroyed.
1-12-18 Pollution is endangering the future of astronomy
Technological advances are making it harder to see the night sky. Even as technological advances allow astronomers to peer more deeply into the cosmos than ever before, new technologies also have the potential to create blinding pollution. Three sources of pollution — space debris, radio interference and light pollution — already are particularly worrisome. And the situation is getting worse. In the next two decades, as many as 20,000 satellites could be launched into low Earth orbit, LEDs will become the dominant source of artificial light, and fifth-generation mobile networks will fill radio frequencies, speakers warned during the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. These sources of pollution could prevent astronomers from getting a clear look at the night sky, limiting the sensitivity and accuracy of their measurements. Space debris is perhaps the most nascent form of human pollution. But only six decades after Sputnik's launch into pristine skies, the orbit around Earth is now filled with nearly 18,000 objects tracked by the United States Strategic Command. These objects range in size from about centimeter-long chunks of material to bus-sized satellites. Space debris can both damage existing space telescopes and reflect light, potentially confusing terrestrial telescopes. From Earth, a glint of light could be a distant star or just a hunk of metal.
1-12-18 Tiny individual decisions really could help avert climate chaos
A new computer model has shown individual decisions can massively influence how bad global warming might get. Time to take the human factor seriously, says Adam Corner. Climate scientists are in no doubt that global warming is almost entirely the result of human activity. Which makes it odd that attempts to predict how things will pan out have paid lip service to human behaviour, one of the key factors determining whether a sustainable future is possible. A vast array of influences are routinely included in computer models simulating future climates, from cloud coverage to land use. However, a realistic account of how people perceive climate risks and alter habits or carry on as usual has been largely absent. Typically, this human dimension has been limited to population-level inputs that assume we are economically rational decision-makers, behaving in a way that optimises financial gains and minimises losses. This conception of human behaviour is now thoroughly debunked. A new study suggests a better way; it presents a model that couples well-established psychological theories of behaviour change with more familiar climate metrics (Nature Climate Change, doi: 10/gcp3jx). The authors show that our personal decisions are directed by how we view extreme weather events, our attitudes towards climate risk, social norms and a sense of whether our actions make a difference, and, collectively, these decisions create very different outcomes in terms of global temperature.
1-12-18 Energy: Florida excluded from drilling expansion
The Trump administration this week ruled out drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Florida, reversing a week-old policy, “after strong opposition from the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott,” said Hiroko Tabuchi in The New York Times. Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he was opening nearly all U.S. coastal waters to new offshore gas and oil drilling, a policy shift that exposes “more than a billion acres” to energy leases. “Republican and Democratic governors” on both coasts sharply criticized the move, saying drilling would imperil tourism and harm the environment, but Zinke said drilling restrictions put in place under the Obama administration “had cost the country billions of dollars in lost oil and gas revenue.” “Blue states would be justified in thinking that the administration was targeting them for punishment,” said Philip Bump in The Washington Post. In granting an exemption to Florida, which voted for Trump and where the president maintains his Mar-a-Lago resort, Zinke cited the fact that its “coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” Lawmakers in California, where offshore drilling has been off-limits for decades, responded by arguing their state’s coastline also drives tourism, “raising the question of why Florida should be exempted but California might not be.”
1-12-18 Cold snaps and climate change
The East Coast was gripped by record cold and powerful storms last week, with every state from Maine to Florida under a blanket of frigid air. Tallahassee saw its first snowfall since 1989, while in the Northeast a “bomb cyclone”—a storm strengthened by an extreme drop in atmospheric pressure—produced 60 mph blizzards and dumped up to 12 inches of snow. But meteorologists and climatologists have pushed back against the notion that recent freezing temperatures and snowy conditions refute or challenge the legitimacy of climate change, reports CNN.com. Counterintuitively, the icy blast may in fact be a product of a warming world. Research shows that warmer air and shrinking Arctic ice weaken the polar jet stream—the strong band of winds that forms where balmy breezes from the mid-latitudes and frigid Arctic air meet. This weakening allows frosty air that is normally trapped in the Arctic to descend into North America—the much-feared “polar vortex.” Atmospheric scientists warn that as the world warms and normal atmospheric patterns are disrupted, extreme weather events of all kinds will become more common. Indeed, it was warmer than usual last week in most of the world; in Alaska, it was 49 degrees—warmer than in Florida. To conclude that a temporary cold snap in one part of the globe disproves climate change, said climate scientist Peter Frumhoff, “is like saying, ‘If everyone around me is wealthy, then poverty is not a problem.’”
1-12-18 Bomb cyclone
As the northeastern U.S. was dealing with a “bomb cyclone” that caused wind chills as low as 100 degrees below zero in New Hampshire, regions of Australia were dealing with the most catastrophic heat wave in nearly 80 years. In a Sydney suburb, temperatures hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit, while a 6-mile stretch of highway in Victoria melted into soft, sticky asphalt.
1-12-18 Sahara snow
The weather condition that brought freezing Arctic air to much of the U.S. East Coast last week also made it snow in the Sahara Desert. Sand dunes outside the Algerian city of Ain Sefra were blanketed with 15 inches of snow that lasted for hours before melting. Experts said that snow in the North African desert—which is scorching during the day, but freezing at night—is rare. Nobody knows exactly how rare, because there are few weather stations in the vast sandy expanse. Kamel Sekkouri, a resident of Ain Sefra, told The New York Times that he had seen snow in the desert five times in the past 40 years—but the sight hadn’t lost any of its magic. “When you walk in the snowy dunes,” he said, “you feel like you are on Mars or Uranus.”
1-12-18 Three monster hurricanes
Three monster hurricanes and a deadly wildfire season made 2017 the costliest year ever for natural disasters in the U.S., said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The combined cost of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, plus 13 other weather and climate disasters was $306 billion.
1-12-18 Deadly mudslides
Hundreds of rescue workers slogged through rivers of muck and debris this week searching for survivors of mudslides that ravaged a swath of the Southern California coast. At least 15 people died, swept away after heavy rains sent torrents of mud flowing down from vegetation-stripped hills burned by wildfires last year. In Montecito, houses were lifted off their foundations by waves of waist-high mud, covering the downtown with a thick layer of sludge. Santa Barbara County officials had anticipated flooding and issued mandatory evacuation orders for some 7,000 residents. But most people chose to stay in their homes, and some later had to be rescued by emergency crews. “It looked like a World War I battlefield,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. “It was literally a carpet of mud and debris.”
1-12-18 Regulators nix coal and nuclear bailout
Federal regulators this week rejected a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize struggling nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Dozens of such plants have closed in recent years, unable to compete with cheap natural gas and renewable energy sources. Perry’s plan would have provided financial reward to plants that can store a 90-day fuel supply on-site—a criteria only met by coal and nuclear plants. Subsidizing these plants to stockpile fuel, Perry argued, would make the grid more reliable and prevent outages. But the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected the proposal, saying there was no evidence for Perry’s claims. Four of the panel’s members were nominated by President Trump.
1-11-18 Rising CO2 in lakes could keep water fleas from raising their spiky defenses
The greenhouse gas could alter the delicate balance of many lake food webs. Rising carbon dioxide levels could leave some tiny lake dwellers defenseless. Like the oceans, some lakes are experiencing increasing levels of the greenhouse gas, a new study shows. And too much CO2 in the water may leave water fleas, an important part of many lake food webs, too sleepy to fend off predators. Detailed observations of lake chemistry over long periods of time are rare. But researchers found data from 1981 to 2015 on four reservoirs in Germany, allowing the scientists to calculate how much CO2 levels had risen and how much pH levels, measuring acidity in the water, had dropped, the scientists report online January 11 in Current Biology. Rising CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere has also increased levels of the gas dissolved in the oceans, making them more acidic (SN: 5/27/17, p. 11). Studies show that ocean acidification alters the behaviors of marine species (SN Online: 2/2/17). It’s less clear how rising atmospheric CO2 levels are affecting freshwater bodies, or how their denizens are coping with change, says aquatic ecologist Linda Weiss of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.
1-11-18 Here’s Where the Arctic’s Wildlife Will Make Its Last Stand
Forecasters say the region’s sea ice will dwindle to a strip above Greenland and Canada. There, polar bears and others will fight to survive. We see evidence of the kill first: a shockingly broad spread of scarlet, probably the blood of a ringed seal, on snow-covered sea ice. Then the polar bear appears. She’s big, maybe 500 pounds, trailed by a single cub. They’ve just jumped into a lead—a long fissure of open water in the frozen sea. In seconds they’re out of the water again, running across the ice, spooked by the approach of our helicopter. Prolonged running can harm polar bears: Fat and fur insulate them so well they risk overheating. François Létourneau-Cloutier, our 33-year-old Québécois pilot, takes us higher, and the mother and cub slow to an amble. After following them for several minutes, Létourneau-Cloutier sets the helicopter gently onto the ice a few hundred feet away and cuts the engine. The mother rises on her hind legs, assessing our 35-foot-long flying machine with the unruffled gaze of the Arctic’s top predator; the cub remains on all fours behind her. For a few timeless moments we savor the scene—bears against an otherwise empty immensity of snow and ice, countless shallow pools of meltwater reflecting a high summer sun ringed by faint halos of red and blue. Then, with a frenzied whine, the helicopter’s rotor blades break the spell, and we lift off, veering southwest toward our campsite on the northernmost tip of Baffin Island, Canada, about 700 miles north of Hudson Bay. Within a few decades such vistas are unlikely to exist, at least not here, during summer. As the planet heats up, the summer sea ice and all the superbly adapted life it supports—the bears, the seals, the walruses, the whales, the Arctic cod, the crustaceans, the ice algae—may well vanish around Baffin. As we fly over the vast frozen expanse, it almost strains belief to think that we’re witnessing—and with the rest of humanity, helping to cause—its demise. In the 1980s satellite data showed that Arctic sea ice extended on average across nearly three million square miles at the end of summer. Since then more than a million square miles has been lost—an area roughly the size of Alaska, Texas, and California combined.
1-11-18 Deadly heat: How to survive the world’s new temperature extremes
Australia’s latest sizzling summer presages a global future – but we’re beginning to understand heat’s impacts on the human body, and how to combat them. EVEN by Australian standards, last summer was a scorcher. January 2017 was the hottest ever recorded in Sydney and Brisbane, and great swathes of the south-east endured temperatures that often exceeded 40°C for weeks on end. In South Australia, soaring electricity demand caused an outage that left 90,000 homes sweltering through a blackout with no air conditioning. Across New South Wales, 87 bush fires blazed. It was so hot that dairy cows dropped dead in the fields. This kind of heatwave isn’t a blip. It is part of a trend that saw Sydney’s temperature climb to over 47°C earlier this month – the highest recorded in the city for 79 years – and could see both it and Melbourne experiencing mega-heatwaves with highs of 50°C by 2040. “Going out to 40 or 50 years, basically the summer we just had will be normal,” says Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick at the Climate Change Research Centre of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. “It hasn’t really sunken in yet in Australia.” Australians are not alone: most of us fail to take the “warming” in global warming seriously. If you live somewhere temperate, you might even welcome a rise of a few degrees as offering more opportunity for picnics, barbecues and relaxed afternoons in pub gardens. That is unwise. Even now, heatwaves are deadly, and as global warming increases so will the death rate. Human physiology is not designed to cope with the temperatures predicted for large swathes of the globe and many areas could become uninhabitable. Fortunately, there are things we can do to make our bodies and our environments better adapted to a warming world.
1-11-18 California mudslides: Before and after
Rescue teams are continuing to search for survivors in southern California after a series of mudslides killed 17 people and swept away more than 100 homes. Run-off from heavy rain caused devastation in Santa Barbara County, with officials saying mud was waist-deep in some areas. In the upmarket neighbourhood of Montecito, some homes were swept from their foundations. The area is home to a number of celebrities, including actor Rob Lowe, chat show host Ellen DeGeneres and TV personality and actor Oprah Winfrey. Parts of the major north-south highway Route 101 were closed in both directions and not expected to reopen until next week. Heavy downpours hit ground that had been burned by wildfires that took hold in December. Burned vegetation and charred soil create a repellent layer which prevents this rainwater from being absorbed. Together with the loss of vegetation, this can increase the risk of mudslides and floods.
1-10-18 If the sea floor is sinking, are we safe from sea level rise?
The first study to calculate how much the ocean floor is sinking due to the extra weight of meltwater going into the sea has been widely misrepresented. “We’ve measured sea level rise wrong for 20 years – and it’s higher than previously thought.” Well, no, not really. This is just one of the misleading headlines about the first study to try to work out how much the ocean floor is sinking under the weight of all the extra water pouring into it. What’s more, climate deniers twisted the findings beyond all recognition, claiming “climate alarmists” were using the sinking sea floor as an excuse for why sea level isn’t rising as fast as predicted (it is and they aren’t). So what is the actual story? Researchers have known for many decades that Earth’s crust is elastic and sinks in response to increased weight. “We are really sure about this,” says Thomas Frederikse of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. We also know that a lot of water once locked away in mountain glaciers and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica is now entering the oceans. The extra weight means the sea floor must be sinking, but the effect is so small that there is no way to measure this directly. Instead, Frederikse and colleagues used indirect methods to estimate how much the sea floor has sunk, and published their findings in Geophysical Research Papers on 23 December. It was a technical paper, says Frederikse, so the team didn’t press release it or expect any press coverage.
1-10-18 Climate change is putting the ocean's phytoplankton in danger
As Hurricanes Irma and Harvey swept along the Atlantic this summer, they were followed by a huge undercurrent of phytoplankton. Although the two storms claimed countless lives and caused billions of dollars in damage, there was at least one unexpected benefit: Phytoplankton — single-celled organisms like plants and bacteria that populate the surface of the ocean — bloomed behind them. For decades, researchers have pointed to phytoplankton as one of the planet's most valuable resources. They form the basis of the marine food chain and provide half the ocean's oxygen (while trees, shrubs, and grasses provide the other half). Hurricanes churn the ocean, bringing up nutrients like nitrogen, phosphate, and iron from the depths of the ocean and introducing them to the surface levels where plankton live. In turn, the phytoplankton bloom and spread, and marine life grows with it. But even as hurricanes are increasing and intensifying, scientists say that phytoplankton is still in serious danger of dying out. "Over the next 100 years, the climate will warm as greenhouses gases increase in our atmosphere," says Andrew Barton, oceanographer and associate research scholar at Princeton University. As the climate warms, Barton says, so will the oceans — bad news for phytoplankton, since warm waters contain less oxygen, and therefore less phytoplankton, than cooler areas. Already, gradually warming ocean waters have killed off phytoplankton globally by a staggering 40 percent since 1950. (Webmaster's comment: Phytoplankton is at the base of the ocean food chain. They die off and so does everything above them.)
1-10-18 US offshore drilling: Florida wins exemption from Trump plan
The administration of US President Donald Trump has exempted the state of Florida from controversial plans for offshore drilling for oil and gas. The reversal comes after vocal opposition from the state's Republican Governor Rick Scott when the plans were announced last week. It is set to trigger further demands for exemptions from other states. The five-year plan was to open 90% of the nation's offshore reserves to leasing from drilling companies. US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said it would boost the economy and ensure US "energy dominance", but environmentalists decried it as a "shameful giveaway" to the oil industry. In a statement posted on Twitter, he explained that he agreed with Gov Scott's position that "Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. "As a result... I am removing Florida from consideration from any new oil and gas platforms." He said President Trump had directed him to "take into consideration the local and state voice" in deciding policy. Gov Scott cheered the decision, saying he would "never stop fighting for Florida's environment and our pristine coastline". But Florida's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson smelled a rat. Gov Scott is reportedly planning to run for an open US Senate seat.
1-10-18 California: Rescuers search for mudslide survivors
Rescue workers in southern California are searching for survivors after mudslides and flooding in which at least 13 people have died. More than 30 miles (48km) of the main coastal road have been closed and police said the scene "looked like a World War One battlefield". A group of 300 people are reportedly trapped in Romero Canyon neighbourhood east of Santa Barbara, with rescue efforts due to resume at daybreak. The death toll is expected to rise. More than 50 people have been rescued already but many places are still inaccessible. Several roads are closed, including the major Highway 101. The first rain in months caused mudslides when it hit ground that had been scorched by December's huge wildfires. After a wildfire, burned vegetation and charred soil create a water repellent layer which blocks water absorption. Together with the loss of vegetation, this leads to an increased risk of mudslides and floods. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the risk of flooding stays "significantly higher" for up to five years after a wildfire. "Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible," said the National Weather Service in a statement. In some places mud was waist-deep, officials said.
1-10-18 Storm waves can move boulders heavier than the Statue of Liberty
Extreme storm waves at sea have shifted a boulder weighing 620 tonnes, explaining why huge rocks are sometimes mysteriously found on high cliffs. MONSTROUS oceanic waves are able to transport boulders weighing hundreds of tonnes. The finding helps explain how huge rocks end up atop high cliffs. It also implies that storm waves, and other rogue waves, can be more powerful and hazardous than previously thought. Until recently, the heaviest rock known to have been transported by waves was about 200 tonnes. Now RÓnadh Cox of Williams College in Massachusetts and her colleagues have found a new record holder: a 620-tonne boulder, equivalent to roughly three Statues of Liberty. Cox found the boulder on the west coast of Ireland. The region was struck by a huge cluster of storms during the winter of 2013-2014. When she and her team examined photographs taken before and after the storms, they found the massive boulder had been moved about 2.5 metres (Earth-Science Reviews, doi.org/ch3q). Many researchers didn’t think such heavy boulders could be moved by storm waves, says Cox. “Calculations and force-balancing equations suggested that storm waves did not have sufficient power, so there were people who argued strongly that only tsunamis were capable of moving such huge blocks,” she says.
1-9-18 Extreme weather in US and Australia may be due to climate change
The eastern US has shivered through freezing temperatures while Australia has sweltered in a colossal heatwave, and both events may be linked to climate change. 2018 is barely a week old, but it has already brought some stunning weather extremes. Australia has experienced a heatwave, with thermometers hitting 47.3 °C in Sydney on 6 January. To stay cool, New Scientist’s local reporter Alice Klein says she had to sleep under a wet towel cuddling a bag of ice. Meanwhile, on the east coast of the US, a rapidly intensifying “bomb cyclone” was followed by a blast of cold Arctic air that led to waterfalls and fountains freezing. On top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, it was -38 °C, with the high winds making it feel like -70 °C. The cold reached as far south as Florida, where chilled-out iguanas fell off trees. Far fewer people were around to witness another 2018 extreme: in parts of the Arctic north of Eurasia, temperatures soared to well above freezing, up to 20 °C above the average for this time of year. The Arctic as a whole was more than 3 °C warmer than normal. The Sydney heatwave is very much in line with what is expected in a rapidly warming world. Indeed, a study in October predicted that both Sydney and Melbourne could start hitting 50 °C within just two decades (Geophysical Research Letters, doi.org/gchkn6). More surprisingly, the extreme cold in the eastern US may also be linked to climate change. The winds circling the Arctic usually stop frigid air flowing south. But there is growing evidence that global warming is weakening these winds, allowing Arctic air to spill further south – and warm air to flow further north.
1-9-18 El Nino's long reach to Antarctic ice
Antarctica may be thousands of kilometres from the central Pacific but events there can have a significant effect on the White Continent's ice. Scientists have shown how ice shelves - the floating fronts of marine-terminating glaciers - respond to the El Niño phenomenon. The warming of tropical eastern Pacific seawaters will lead to a change in wind patterns in the polar south. This promotes snowfall on the shelves, and also melting of their undersides. These are competing processes, of course. One adds mass; one takes it away. However, the net outcome is a loss, say scientists. The reason? The ice removed from underneath the floating slabs has a higher density than the fluffy new snow at the surface. It is another example of the complexity researchers need to grasp as they try to gauge how Antarctica will react to a warming world. Although much of the continent is relatively static in its behaviour at the moment, it is losing ice in the west, especially in the Amundsen Sea sector, where glaciers are thinning and accelerating. The ice being shed in this region - many tens of billions of tonnes a year - adds to global sea-level rise. Dr Fernando Paolo, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and colleagues report their work in the journal Nature Geoscience.
1-8-18 Most expensive year on record for US natural disasters
The US experienced a record year of losses from fires, hurricanes and other weather related disasters in 2017, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). Total losses amounted to $306bn the agency said, over $90bn more than the previous record set in 2005. Last year saw 16 separate events with losses exceeding $1bn, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Noaa confirmed that 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the US. Last year witnessed two Category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the States. Hurricane Harvey produced major flooding as a result of a storm surge and extreme rain. Nearly 800,000 people needed help. Researchers have already shown that climate change increased the likelihood of the observed rainfall by a factor of at least 3.5. Noaa says the total costs of the Harvey event were $125bn, which is second only to Hurricane Katrina in terms of costs over the 38 years the record has been maintained. Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm for the longest period on record. Rain gauges in Nederland, Texas, recorded 1,539mm, the largest ever recorded for a single event in the mainland US. Hurricanes Irma and Maria cost $50bn and $90bn respectively. As well as hurricanes, there were devastating fires in western states, particularly in California. While last winter and spring saw heavy rains in the region that alleviated a long-term drought, the resulting boom in vegetation created abundant wildfire fuel. Fires in both the north and south of California meant hundreds of thousands of residents had to be evacuated from their homes. The report from Noaa says that across the US, the overall cost of these fires was $18bn, tripling the previous wildfire cost record. Noaa confirmed that in overall temperature terms, it was the third warmest year in the US since records began in 1895, behind 2012 and 2016.
1-8-18 Warming ocean water is turning 99 percent of these sea turtles female
Rising temperatures are skewing population ratios toward extreme imbalance. Warming waters are turning some sea turtle populations female — to the extreme. More than 99 percent of young green turtles born on beaches along the northern Great Barrier Reef are female, researchers report January 8 in Current Biology. If that imbalance in sex continues, the overall population could shrink. Green sea turtle embryos develop as male or female depending on the temperature at which they incubate in sand. Scientists have known that warming ocean waters are skewing sea turtle populations toward having more females, but quantifying the imbalance has been hard. Researchers analyzed hormone levels in turtles collected on the Great Barrier Reef (off the northeastern coast of Australia) to determine their sex, and then used genetic data to link individuals to the beaches where the animals originated. That two-pronged approach allowed the scientists to estimate the ratio of males to females born at different sites.
1-7-18 Sydney swelters on hottest day since 1939 as mercury hits 47.3C (117F)
The Australian city of Sydney has experienced its hottest weather in 79 years with temperatures in the region hitting as high as 47.3C (117F). In Penrith, west of Sydney, residents sweltered as the town bore the brunt of the heat on Sunday. Severe fire warnings were issued for the greater Sydney area and total fire bans were put in place across the city. Sunday's temperatures fell short of the scorching heat to hit the area in 1939, when the mercury reached 47.8C. The sweltering temperatures reached in Penrith were confirmed by the Bureau of Meteorology. ABC reported that one charity, Mission Australia, helped transfer homeless people to hospital for treatment while taking others into shelters to avoid the heat.
1-7-18 Extreme weather: Social media reaction in US and Australia
The contrast couldn't be greater. The eastern US is experiencing record-breaking low temperatures while in Australia, the city of Sydney has had its hottest weather in nearly 80 years. Posts on social media are reflecting what the extremes feel like. The US National Weather Service (NWS) said the temperature in New York City had reached an all-time low for 6 January of -13C (8F). Thousands of flights from the city's John F Kennedy airport were delayed by blizzard conditions, and other airports in the eastern US also suffered problems. Some travellers complained of being stranded on the tarmac in New York and facing long delays in baggage reclaim. More than 1ft (30cm) of snow blanketed parts of US states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire, according to the NWS. In eastern Canada, temperatures close to -50C (-58F) were forecast for northern Ontario and Quebec. Toronto airport has also experienced delays and cancellations. The freezing weather comes in the wake of a powerful winter storm that dumped snow as far south as Florida. Meanwhile in Sydney, extreme heat cut power to thousands of people, and charities were handing out water to the homeless. Play at an international tennis tournament in Sydney had to be postponed when temperatures rose above 40C, while cricketers from England and Australia playing at Sydney Cricket Ground endured the hottest day recorded during a Test match in Australia. Wildfire warnings are in place for the Sydney area. (Webmaster's comment: Exactly what you would expect as the additional energy stored in the atmosphere by global warming tries to reach a new equilibrium with the land and oceans.)
1-7-18 Northern Forest: Plan to plant 'ribbon of woodland' across England
Plans to create a new Northern Forest stretching from Liverpool to Hull have been kick-started by the government. It is providing £5.7m to increase tree cover along a belt spanning Manchester, Leeds and Bradford. The project will cost £500m over 25 years. The balance of the funds will need to be raised by charity. Environmentalists have welcomed the planned 50 million new trees, but say ministers must stop allowing ancient woodland to be felled. The UK has one of the lowest rates of woodland in Europe and the area to be covered by the Northern Forest is one of the most denuded in England, with tree cover less than 8%. The emphasis of the project will be to increase tree cover around major conurbations to 20%. There will also be a focus on river valleys, where there are benefits for flood prevention and soil loss - as well as wildlife. But these areas will soak up funding, leaving many of the northern hills just as bleak and treeless in the coming 25 years. (Webmaster's comment: It's better than nothing but we need to plant 50 Billion new trees to have any significant impact on global warming.)
1-6-18 US shivers amid record-breaking low temperatures
North America's East Coast is shivering in a record-breaking freeze in the wake of a deadly "bomb cyclone" that dumped snow as far south as Florida. In parts of US and Canada, temperatures were forecast to fall below -20F (-29C), with wind chill making it feel more like -90F (-67C) on Friday night. In Canada, high winds have knocked out power for tens of thousands of residents in Nova Scotia. Thousands of snow ploughs are clearing roads across the US East Coast. On Friday, the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted dangerously low temperatures moving into the weekend as frigid air lingering over the North Pole prowls towards the US mid-Atlantic region. "An arctic outbreak will keep temperatures 20F to 30F degrees below average across the north-eastern US," the NWS said, adding that there was a "chance for many daily temperature records to be broken". In Massachusetts, residents of Boston, which received over 1ft (30cm) of snowfall, were clearing the streets with shovels. It comes just days after a phenomenon described as a "bomb cyclone" brought heavy snowfall to a wide area along the US East Coast, as well as hurricane-force winds. Giant waves caused by the storm saw freezing floodwaters inundate parts of the New England coast. The extreme weather has so far been linked to up to 19 deaths in the US and two more in Canada, according to reports.
1-5-18 In the News: Offshore Drilling
The Trump administration announced a new regulatory decision Thursday that will open up nearly all U.S. coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling. This move would undo the ban that Barack Obama imposed on offshore drilling in 2016. Several political leaders from coastal states -- both Democrats and Republicans -- voiced opposition to ending to the ban on offshore drilling, citing concerns over the potential environmental impact. Americans typically favor protecting the environment over producing traditional U.S. energy supplies. Fifty-nine percent of U.S. adults said they prioritized protecting the environment in Gallup's March 2017 Environment survey, compared with 34% who supported the production of oil, natural gas and coal. This was the highest percentage who favored protecting the environment over energy production since 2001. In that same survey, most Americans said the U.S. should emphasize alternative energy (71%) rather than the production of oil, gas and coal (23%) to solve the nation's energy problems.
1-5-18 Tackle UK’s killer toxic air before waging war on ocean plastic
If only environment secretary Michael Gove's enthusiasm to curb plastic pollution extended to more pressing environmental issues, says Olive Heffernan. Two things are almost certain to happen soon. UK environment secretary Michael Gove, moved to urgent action, will publish a plan to tackle plastic pollution. At about the same time, the annual limits on toxic air will be passed in at least one part of London – even though it’s only January – and be largely ignored by government. In the first case, a staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans every year, ensnaring and drowning marine animals as well as contaminating the seafood that eventually ends up on our plates. This pollution, which may see the oceans hold more plastic than fish by 2050, was forced into the public consciousness by the BBC’s recent Blue Planet II series. Like millions of other viewers, Gove was left “haunted” by images of an ocean awash with bottles, bags, straws and coffee cups. In response, he is about to launch a war on plastic waste – a series of proposed measures that includes refundable deposits on plastic drinks bottles, incentives for retailers to use fewer types of plastic, and efforts to increase recycling. That’s laudable when viewed in isolation. But Gove’s rush to address the plastics problem is in stark contrast to inaction on toxic air. One could hardly be blamed for suspecting that a focus on plastics is a convenient diversion from the government’s failure to address the nation’s largest, and far deadlier, environmental concern.
1-5-18 Trump plans to expand offshore drilling in Pacific and Atlantic
The Trump administration has proposed a controversial plan to open up protected areas in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans for offshore drilling. The five-year plan expands drilling to most of the US outer continental shelf, including California and Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades. Environmentalists called it a "shameful giveaway" to the oil industry. The move fulfils US President Donald Trump's promise to boost domestic oil and natural gas production. US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled the plan on Thursday, saying it would boost the US economy. "This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance," he told reporters in a conference call. "We are going to become the strongest energy superpower." The Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Programme, which would be the most expansive drilling plan in decades, was immediately opposed by a coalition of 60 environmental groups, nearly a dozen attorneys general and more than 100 US lawmakers. "These ocean waters are not President Trump's personal playground," read a statement signed by members of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups. "They belong to all Americans and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies."
1-5-18 Offshore drilling rules on the chopping block
The Trump administration last week proposed rolling back safety regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. The Interior Department proposal relaxes the rules on blowout preventers, which seal off undersea oil and gas wells in an accident, and removes a requirement that inspectors confirm that the amount of pressure that drillers propose to use in a new well is safe. The Deepwater Horizon spill happened after a blowout preventer failed when a section of drill pipe buckled, leading to an explosion that killed 11 people. The Interior Department says the proposal reduces “unnecessary burdens” on the energy industry and will save firms $228 million over 10 years.
1-5-18 US storm to bring 'record-breaking' low temperatures
North-eastern parts of the US are bracing for record-breaking cold weather as the deadly "bomb cyclone" is set to continue into the weekend.. Efforts are under way in New England to clear roads of ice and snow with temperatures expected to plunge below -20F (-29C), according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Giant waves and flooding on Friday also added to serious travel disruption. The storm has so far been blamed for up to 19 deaths, US media report. Deaths were recorded in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Texas as a result of traffic accidents and exposure to the bitterly cold temperatures, CBS news reports. Utilities companies in eastern North America are advising residents to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere if they experience problems heating their properties. The National Grid also warned customers on Twitter not to attempt to clear snow and ice from gas meters and vents using "sharp objects" and to avoid operating generators indoors. The storm has so far forced hundreds of schools and businesses to close in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, the Carolinas, Maryland and Virginia. Nearly 4,000 US flights were cancelled on Thursday as snow blanketed parts of the north-eastern US seaboard.
1-5-18 Recycling chaos as China bans imports
“Every day, nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of recyclables leave U.S. ports bound for China,” said Jason Margolis in PRI.org. For decades, China has taken America’s old plastic, metal, paper, and textiles and used the recycled goods to propel its manufacturing boom. But as of Jan. 1, the country, which is adopting tough new environmental standards, is turning those containers away, under a ban on “24 types of solid waste, including various plastics and unsorted papers.” It has also imposed strict rules on the amount of trash and contaminants, “like the remnants of a greasy pizza box” or nonrecyclables like plastic bags, that can be included in recycling bales. U.S. recycling firms are scrambling to respond. In Westborough, Mass., one firm already has 200 tractor-trailer loads of recycled paper bales stacked in a parking lot. “We don’t know what to do with it,” says owner Ben Harvey. “We can’t keep it forever.”
1-4-18 Corals are severely bleaching five times as often as in 1980
Warming tropical waters are largely responsible, researchers say. Severe bleaching events are hitting coral reefs five times as often as in 1980, researchers report in the Jan. 5 Science. Scientists surveyed 100 coral reef locations in tropical zones around the world, tracking each spot’s fate from 1980 to 2016. At first, only a few of the locations had experienced bleaching. But by 2016, all had been hit by at least one bleaching event, and all but six had suffered a severe event — defined as affecting more than 30 percent of corals in an area. The median time between pairs of severe bleaching events has also decreased, the researchers found — it’s now just under six years, versus 25 to 30 years in the early 1980s. That’s not enough time for corals to fully bounce back before getting hit again. Consistently higher tropical water temperatures, the result of climate change, are in part to blame for the increase in bleaching, researchers say. Warm water stresses corals and strips away their symbiotic algae — their main source of food and the reason they’re colorful. Bleaching episodes can be fatal, especially if corals can’t recover between events.
1-4-18 Coral reefs head for 'knock-out punch'
Repeat bouts of warmer seawater are posing a significant challenge to the world's tropical corals. A study of 100 reefs, published in Science Magazine, shows the interval between bleaching events in recent decades has shortened dramatically. It has gone from once every 25-30 years in the early 1980s to an average of just once every six years today. Bleaching is caused by anomalously warm water, which prompts coral polyps to eject their symbiotic algae. This drains the corals of their colour and is fatal unless conditions are reversed in a reasonably short time. But even if temperatures fall back quickly, it can still take many years for damaged reefs to fully recover. "If you go into the ring with a heavyweight boxer, you could probably stand up for one round, but once that second round comes - you're going down," said Dr Mark Eakin from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). "The acceleration in the return rate of bleaching events matches up very well with what the climate models have been telling us. They predict that by mid-century most of the world's coral reefs will be suffering yearly, or near-yearly, heat stress," he told BBC News.
1-4-18 ‘Thrill-seeking’ genes could help birds escape climate change
Some birds may escape extinction if their genes favour exploring newer, more hospitable habitats. Study of yellow warblers across North America suggests birds may be better able to adapt to global warming if their genes favour exploring newer, more hospitable habitats. Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question facing all wildlife when climate change makes home territory unsuitable. A study has now found that having variants of two novelty-seeking genes might help some warblers survive by making lifesaving migration more attractive to them than to peers who risk local extinction by staying put. Both genes, called DRD4 and DEAF1, have already been linked with novelty-seeking in people, fish and other birds. After screening DNA from 229 yellow warblers in 21 diverse populations spread throughout North America, researchers led by Rachael Bay of the University of California at Los Angeles identified the pair of genes as having the strongest effect on survival. The variants, identified through a DNA-marker on chromosome 5, were least common in declining populations already threatened by climate change, such as the drought-ravaged Rocky Mountains in the western US. “If their finding stands up that there are two specific genes associated with migration and novelty-seeking behaviour, it will be a big step forward in understanding adaption to climate change,” comments Marcel Visser of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
1-4-18 'Bomb cyclone' brings travel chaos and deaths to US north-east
A winter storm has caused travel chaos on the US north-east and is being blamed for up to 17 deaths. More than 3,300 US flights were cancelled on Thursday as snow blanketed parts of New York and New England, as well as eastern Canada. Boston could get up to 18in (45cm) of snow, while New York City is bracing for up 1ft, say forecasters. The storm, known as a "bomb cyclone", is expected to continue to affect eastern North America into the weekend. Nearly 60 million people are in the path of the storm, with weather warnings in effect from the Maine to parts of Georgia in the US. The National Weather Service said: "Heavy snowfall rates will spread northward across NH and through southern/central ME through early this evening. "In addition to heavy snowfall rates, the intensifying storm will result in strengthening winds, producing blizzard conditions for coastal regions of New England." Seventeen cold-related deaths have been reported across the US, according to the Associated Press news agency. Hurricane force winds of up to 60mph (95km/h) are expected to hammer the north-eastern US coastline. US railway operator Amtrak is running on a reduced schedule, and interstate buses are also being cancelled. The weather pattern has already brought snow to the US South as far down as Florida.
1-4-18 Iconic tree from Twin Peaks threatened by climate change
The Douglas fir is one of the most ecologically and economically vital species in the Pacific Northwest, but global warming may pose a serious threat to it. In the Pacific Northwest, no tree is as important as the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). The conifer is the dominant tree of the region’s rainforests. It was the basis of the traditional timber-based economy and continues to be an important source of timber in plantations around the world. But now, research suggests the iconic tree – famous for its prominence in Twin Peaks – may face a future rife with disease and decline, fuelled by a warming climate. The culprit is Swiss needle cast (SNC), a fungus that grows only on Douglas firs. SNC (Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii) can live on the tree benignly. However, its activity intensifies under certain environmental conditions, causing a yellowing and shedding of needles that slows growth. In severe cases, the tree is killed. Because of limitations in our understanding of the historical, geographical and environmental pattern of infection, a team of scientists from the US Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon State University came together to reconstruct SNC outbreak conditions. In doing so, they found that the increasingly mild conditions expected due to climate change will drive an increase in SNC disease. The team took tree core samples from mature Douglas firs in nine different forests in Oregon’s Coast and Cascade ranges, growing at various elevations and in a range of precipitation conditions. The growth rings in each core provided years of information, with sharp reductions in growth rate indicating SNC impacts.
1-3-18 China’s plan to stop recycling the world’s rubbish may backfire
China is giving Western nations a headache with a ban on imports of "foreign garbage" to recycle, but the move is also creating a Chinese cardboard shortage. FORGETTING to put the bins out is one thing, but this is a whole other recycling disaster. Monday saw the notional start of China’s ban on waste imports, which is threatening to cause global panic, because the nation is the world’s largest recycler of scrap metals, plastic and paper. It’s not that we weren’t warned. Last July, China declared that it was no longer willing to accept yang laji, or “foreign garbage“, from 1 January 2018. It notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its plan to ban the import of 24 types of scrap, including plastics for recycling, waste textile materials and all unsorted waste paper — basically the sort of paper that accumulates in household bins. Likewise, imports of cardboard for recycling must be much “cleaner” and free of gravel, dust and stones. So where will this mountain of waste go instead? And it really is a mountain – China and Hong Kong imported 70 per cent of the world’s plastic waste in 2016. Frantic negotiations are still under way between Chinese authorities and Western exporters of the banned waste, who want to try to agree a much longer transition. The WTO and exporting countries have appealed for a five-year transitional period. China has so far agreed a grace period, delaying enforcement of the ban until 1 March. But there are some glimmers of hope that a backlash from Chinese companies equally affected by the ban might add domestic pressure for a calmer transition.
1-3-18 US braces for explosive and bone-chilling 'bomb cyclone'
The US is braced for a "bomb cyclone" - a weather phenomenon which officials say will arrive during a cold snap that has already claimed at least 11 lives. Forecasters say a severe drop in pressure will lead to an explosive winter storm along the eastern US, which may even bring snow to Florida. The US is currently on its 10th day of frigid record-breaking low temperatures which began around Christmas. But the predicted new storm has led meteorologists to deploy a new term. The National Weather Service (NWS) has warned that "Arctic air mass will remain entrenched over the eastern two thirds of the country through the end of the week". "Very cold temperatures and dangerously cold wind chills expected," the NWS added. A "bomb cyclone" or "weather bomb" is an unofficial term for what is known as explosive cyclogenesis, according to BBC Weather. This occurs when the central pressure of a low pressure system falls by 24 millibars in 24 hours and can result in violent winds developing around the system. The winds can be strong enough to bring down trees and cause structural damage. The Washington Post adds that the coming storm will "in many ways resemble a winter hurricane" which could be the eastern US's most intense in decades.
1-3-18 Fire reductions 'make methane numbers add up'
Scientists think they can now better explain the recent surge in methane levels seen in the Earth's atmosphere. Although only a trace component in the air, CH4 is a greenhouse gas and has been rising rapidly since about 2006. Tropical wetlands and fossil fuels are suspected as major sources - but the sums do not add up. Only if methane reductions stemming from fewer global fires are considered can the CH4 budget be made to balance, says a new Nasa-led study. John Worden from the US space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and colleagues report their work in the journal Nature Communications. Methane concentration in the atmosphere currently stands just above 1,850 parts per billion (1,850 molecules of CH4 for every billion molecules of air). But in the early 2000s, it hovered around 1,770ppb. Emissions from oil and gas production, such as losses from fracking operations; and microbial production in wet tropical environments, such as marshes and rice paddies, have been put forward as explanations for the subsequent rise. However, when their estimated contributions are added together, they exceed the observed changes in the atmosphere.
1-2-18 The great climate change migration
In the wake of a devastating cyclone, nearly every village on Koro Island is relocating further inland. Koro Island is one vast construction zone. On the roadside, cinderblocks and plastic piping are stacked in towering pyramids; trucks piled high with bags of "premium-quality cement" circle the island making deliveries; young men on rooftops or balancing on the wooden skeletons of new homes wave to the drivers as they crawl down the dirt and gravel roads. Everyone knows each other on this tiny Fijian island with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants; it takes less than an hour to drive around all of Koro. On Koro, nearly every village is inching inland after Cyclone Winston in 2016. The Category 5 storm destroyed just about every structure on the island, forcing each of its 14 villages to start anew. Today, new homes built to withstand Category 5 storms overlook neighborhoods of temporary structures built from the wreckage, some sturdier than others. Bright silver patches dot their corrugated metal walls where rust is eating away at the material. These were meant to be temporary shelters, while the families waited on the supplies for a new home. But, nearly two years on, the materials are still hard to come by. Carpenters with free time are even harder to find.
1-2-18 A sinking, melting ancient tectonic plate may fuel Yellowstone’s supervolcano
Computer simulations suggest that a core-deep plume of magma isn’t needed to power the massive eruptions. The driving force behind Yellowstone’s long and explosive volcanic history may not be as deep as once thought. A new study suggests that instead of a plume of hot mantle that extends down to Earth’s core, the real culprit is a subducting tectonic plate that began sinking beneath North America hundreds of millions of years ago. Computer simulations show that movement of broken-up remnants of the ancient Farallon Plate could be stirring the mantle in a way that fuels Yellowstone, researchers report December 18 in Nature Geoscience. “The fit is so good,” says study coauthor Lijun Liu, a geodynamicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The giant supervolcano now beneath Yellowstone National Park, located mostly in Wyoming, has a 17-million-year history — much of it on the move. In that time, the locus of volcanism has moved northeastward from southwestern Idaho to its current location, where it most recently explosively erupted about 640,000 years ago. These shifting eruptions have created a track of volcanic craters resembling those created by the hot spot that formed the Hawaiian island chain. As a result, scientists have long suspected that a deep plume of magma originating from the core-mantle boundary, similar to the one that fuels Hawaii’s volcanoes, is the source of Yellowstone’s fury.
1-1-18 UK 'faces build-up of plastic waste'
The UK's recycling industry says it doesn't know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. "It's a huge blow for us... a game-changer for our industry," he said. "We've relied on China so long for our waste… 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. "We simply don't have the markets in the UK. It's going to mean big changes in our industry." China has introduced the ban from this month on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries. Other Asian nations will take some of the plastic, but there will still be a lot left. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has admitted that he was slow to spot the problem coming. The UK organisation Recoup, which recycles plastics, said the imports ban would lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and a move towards incineration and landfill. Peter Fleming, from the Local Government Association, told the BBC: "Clearly there's a part to play for incineration but not all parts of the country have incinerators. (Webmaster's comment: And dumping toxic chemicals into the air. That's not a solution. The solution is to stop making so much plastic!) "It's a challenge - but mostly in the short term… and we will cope. In the longer term we need a much more intelligent waste strategy." Any move towards burning more plastic waste, though, would be met with fierce resistance from environmental groups.
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