1-31-19 Polar vortex: What role does climate change play?
As a third of the US grapples with brutally cold weather, scientists are assessing how much this might be down to long-term changes to our climate. So whatever happened to global warming? That's certainly what President Donald Trump wanted to know when he tweeted this a couple of days ago: There is no question the Midwest is cold - very cold. Just check the advice from the US National Weather Service. It has warned that the current low temperatures could easily "freeze the flesh off your bones". Don't leave home if you can avoid it, the NWS in Iowa urged, and if you do have to go out, "avoid taking deep breaths; minimise talking". Meanwhile the internet is heaving under images of snow and ice. My favourites include the icy steam pouring off lake Lake Michigan and the thousands of people who have been doing the "hot water challenge". So, is this brutal cold snap evidence that global warming is faltering? Sadly, the answer is no, as one of the president's own agencies quickly pointed out in an apparent response to his tweet. "Winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening" tweeted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA included a link to an article which suggests that severe snowstorms may even become more likely as the world warms. You have probably already heard that the current brutal weather is thanks to something called the "polar vortex". The polar vortex is a great gyre of air that forms each winter and circulates above the North Pole, way up in the stratosphere. It is like a whirlpool which holds icy polar air within a wall of powerful circular winds. There's a great graphic illustrating how it works at the New York Times. Sometimes the vortex breaks down, splitting up and spilling cold air out from the polar regions. That is reckoned to have happened on the 3 January this year. The frigid air from the polar vortex warps the jet stream - another powerful air current, but much lower in the atmosphere - making it bulge down southwards. It is this bulging of the jet stream that brought the merciless cold to the US this week, and the so-called Beast from the East to Europe last year.
1-31-19 Scuba-diving gear could help clean up carbon dioxide from power plants
Most plans for tackling climate change involve some form of trapping carbon dioxide and locking it away. A new method draws inspiration from scuba-diving equipment. Rebreathers allow scuba divers to stay underwater for hours. They use a substance called soda lime to filter the exhaled air, converting CO2 into solid calcium carbonate, so that the air can then be recycled. Instead of soda lime, the new approach uses a type of naturally occurring compound called guanidine, which similarly, reacts with CO2 to form a solid. Heating the compound releases the CO2 so that it can be stored. This process occurs at lower temperatures than it does for soda lime, reducing the amount of energy required. Dissolving it in water afterwards allows it to be recycled for reuse. It is a simpler way to reduce CO2 emissions released by coal-burning power plants, says Radu Custelcean at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The process is 24 per cent more energy efficient than current methods. In small-scale tests, Custelcean’s method removed 99 per cent of the CO2 from exhaust gases. Once the process is optimised, his team will try scaling it to capture up to a tonne of CO2 per day. Current CO2 absorbers remain in liquid form after they have captured the gas, meaning that releasing the CO2 requires a significant amount of energy. In the new method, CO2 is released from bicarbonate crystals, which also avoids evaporation and degradation of the absorber over time. Technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere are increasingly considered necessary for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. Globally, only a very small portion of the carbon dioxide from coal-burning plants is currently captured.
1-31-19 Climate change might not slow ocean circulation as much as thought
Observations over 21 months cast doubt on ideas of what drives Atlantic Ocean ‘conveyor belt’. New findings from an international ocean observing network are calling into question the longstanding idea that global warming might slow down a big chunk of the ocean’s “conveyor belt.” The first 21 months of data from sensors moored across much of the North Atlantic are giving new insight into what controls the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a system of currents that redistributes heat around much of the Western Hemisphere. Researchers had thought the strength of that circulation, known by the acronym AMOC, was largely influenced by the sinking of cold, fresh water in the Labrador Sea, between Greenland and Canada. And climate simulations suggest that the sea’s deepwater formation might slow as the world continues to warm — which also could slow down the entire Atlantic current system and possibly make temperatures on land in the northeastern United States and the United Kingdom plunge. That concept inspired the (otherwise unrealistic) 2004 climate apocalypse film The Day After Tomorrow. But, the data collected over those 21 months show that the Labrador Sea’s influence on the AMOC paled in comparison with that of another North Atlantic ocean region, just east of Greenland. How the intensity of deepwater formation in that area changed with time accounted for 88 percent of the observed variability in the entire AMOC, physical oceanographer Susan Lozier of Duke University and colleagues report in the Feb. 1 Science.
1-31-19 Deep-sea mining could wreck the last unexplored ecosystem on Earth
As mining firms begin tests to pick up metal ores from the Pacific seabed, we need rules to protect this unusual ecosystem, says Olive Heffernan. Some call it the final frontier. Having spent much of human history scouring – and scarring – Earth’s surface to extract precious mineral resources, we are now turning to the most remote, and least known, part of our planet in search of more: the deep sea. In February, the Belgian dredging company DEME-GSR will send a prototype ore collector to the Pacific Ocean’s Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), an area lying between Hawaii and Mexico. This fault line has one of the world’s largest untapped collections of rare minerals and metals. Manganese, copper, iron and much more besides are all neatly enveloped in trillions of potato-sized packages known as polymetallic nodules that are scattered across this vast stretch of seafloor. The International Seabed Authority, the body that oversees deep-sea mining, has granted 29 licences for contractors to explore mineral wealth at specific locations. Of those licences, 16 have been granted for the CCZ. The nodules, formed over millions of years, could be harvested in just decades once mining gets under way, bringing a bonanza to the companies that hope to extract their enormous mineral wealth. But nobody knows the harm that deep-sea mining will do, in part because so little is known about the creatures that inhabit these places. Only now are scientists getting the opportunity to study them, often paid for by the mining firms. Among the discoveries so far are otherworldly animals such as fast-moving sea urchins, the yellow gelatinous “gummy squirrel” and a species of bacteria that can absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide. To look at the effects of mining on such an ecosystem, the German research vessel RV Sonne will run alongside the DEME-GSR ship while it tests its mining prototype.
1-31-19 Belgium climate protests: Children skip school to demonstrate
For a fourth week, tens of thousands of children have skipped school in Belgium to join protests demanding tougher action against climate change. Ahead of the marches in Brussels, Liège and Leuven, dozens of children protested outside the home of Belgium's environment minister. New impetus came in an open letter from 3,450 Belgian scientists saying "the activists are absolutely right". Youth demonstrations have also taken place in Germany and Switzerland. More than 30,000 students and others turned out in three Belgian cities, slightly down on last week. The biggest number, according to police, was in the eastern city of Liège (Luik in Flemish) where 15,000 people marched to the city hall. Protesters clapped and chanted "to arms" and "everyone together", said local journalist Benjamin Hermann. Another 12,500 children turned out in Brussels and a further 3,500 in Leuven (Louvain in French). In Brussels primary and secondary schoolchildren were marching through the city centre from north to south, and they were joined by groups of grandparents. (Webmaster's comment: The young people have it right! American young people should join in.)
1-31-19 Polar vortex brings deadly cold snap to US states
Cities are all but shutting down across the US Midwest as the region shivers in a deadly cold snap known as a polar vortex. At least eight people have been killed in several states as a result of the Arctic weather. Temperatures fell to -30C (-22F) in Chicago - colder than parts of Antarctica - and -37C (-35F) in North Dakota. Freezing weather will chill 250 million Americans, and 90 million will experience -17C (0F) or below. Snow fell throughout Wednesday, from the Great Lakes region into New England; as much as 24in (60cm) was forecast in the state of Wisconsin, and 6in in Illinois. States of emergency have been declared in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, and even in the normally warmer Deep South states of Alabama and Mississippi. "This could possibly be history-making," said Ricky Castro, a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist in Illinois. Dangerous wind chills across the Upper Midwest and into the Ohio Valley were expected to last through Thursday, with heavy snow downwind of the Great Lakes, the NWS said. Heavy rain and mountain snow were expected in the west of the country by the weekend, it added. The NWS is warning frostbite is possible within just 10 minutes of being outside in such extreme temperatures. Grand Forks, North Dakota, has seen the lowest wind chill so far at -54C on Wednesday morning. Twenty million people in the continental US are expected to experience temperatures of -28C or lower by the week's end.
1-31-19 America colonisation ‘cooled Earth's climate’
Colonisation of the Americas at the end of the 15th Century killed so many people, it disturbed Earth's climate. That's the conclusion of scientists from University College London, UK. The team says the disruption that followed European settlement led to a huge swathe of abandoned agricultural land being reclaimed by fast-growing trees and other vegetation. This pulled down enough carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere to eventually chill the planet. It's a cooling period often referred to in the history books as the "Little Ice Age" - a time when winters in Europe would see the Thames in London regularly freeze over. "The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas led to the abandonment of enough cleared land that the resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO2 and global surface air temperatures," Alexander Koch and colleagues write in their paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews. The team reviewed all the population data it could find on how many people were living in the Americas prior to first contact with Europeans in 1492. It then assessed how the numbers changed in following decades as the continents were ravaged by introduced disease (smallpox, measles, etc), warfare, slavery and societal collapse. It's the UCL group's estimate that 60 million people were living across the Americas at the end of the 15th Century (about 10% of the world's total population), and that this was reduced to just five or six million within a hundred years. The scientists calculated how much land previously cultivated by indigenous civilisations would have fallen into disuse, and what the impact would be if this ground was then repossessed by forest and savannah. The area is in the order of 56 million hectares, close in size to a modern country like France. This scale of regrowth is figured to have drawn down sufficient CO2 that the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere eventually fell by 7-10ppm (that is 7-10 molecules of CO2 in every one million molecules in the air). "To put that in the modern context - we basically burn (fossil fuels) and produce about 3ppm per year. So, we're talking a large amount of carbon that's being sucked out of the atmosphere," explained co-author Prof Mark Maslin. "There is a marked cooling around that time (1500s/1600s) which is called the Little Ice Age, and what's interesting is that we can see natural processes giving a little bit of cooling, but actually to get the full cooling - double the natural processes - you have to have this genocide-generated drop in CO2."
1-30-19 So far 2019 has set 35 records for heat and 2 for cold
North America is in the grip of a polar vortex, bringing freezing weather from North Dakota to Ohio. The cold snap has drawn predictably frosty comments from climate change deniers. But the global picture tells a different story. Until 31 January, no weather stations had recorded all-time cold records in 2019 – which is unprecedented at this stage of the year, according to weather records compiler Maximiliano Herrera. On Thursday morning, two all-time record lows were finally broken, at Rockford and Moline in Illinois, where temperatures reached -36.1°C. In contrast, 35 stations in the southern hemisphere have recorded all-time highs. Among them were Noona in New South Wales, where the temperature at night remained above 35.9°C on 17 January – the hottest night in Australia’s history. Reunion and Christmas Island also experienced all-time hottest temperatures. The mean temperature for January in Australia exceeded 30°C – the first time this has happened for any month in the country’s history. Mathematical models predict that in a stable climate, the number of hot and cold records should be equal, and new records occur less frequently over time. In 2018, 430 stations worldwide saw all-time high temperatures and 40 saw all-time lows. Despite what many in the US are experiencing now, this ratio is as clear a sign as any that the planet is getting hotter.
1-30-19 Chinese ‘tweets’ hint that happiness drops as air pollution rises
Scientists analyzed air quality data along with more than 210 million social media posts. Air pollution is recognized as a public health threat in China, linked to heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline and even risky behavior. Now a study analyzing air quality data and social media posts on China’s version of Twitter suggests that poor air quality may also harm people’s sense of well-being. “The higher the levels of air pollution in Chinese cities, the lower people’s happiness,” says Siqi Zheng, an environmental and urban economist at MIT and coauthor of the study published January 21 in Nature Human Behaviour. To reach that conclusion, Zheng and colleagues first developed a daily “happiness index” that looked at a population’s overall mood in each of 144 Chinese cities. The researchers gauged these moods using two word analysis programs on a total of 210 million social media posts appearing in March to November 2014 on the platform Sina Weibo. The researchers then compared their happiness findings with daily levels of airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or PM2.5, as reported by authorities. The analysis revealed a link between poor air quality and lower overall mood. This finding held true even after eliminating posts containing words that explicitly referred to pollution. The researchers were also able to show how other variables, such as the weather or the day of the week, affected a population’s overall mood. People expressed more happiness on weekends and on holidays — no surprise there. Posts also reflected less happiness when the weather became hot. And when high air pollution coincided with weekends, happiness plummeted.
1-30-19 So long, veganuary: Here’s how to consume consciously year round
Cutting out meat and dairy products is a great way to save the world from your dinner plate, but there are many more, says P. K. Newby. IN JANUARY, people around the world gave up meat and dairy for “veganuary”, a month-long challenge taken to benefit health, the environment and animal welfare. Yet there are year-round ways to dine eco-consciously. Eschewing animal-based foods is an evidence-based approach that has impacts across the life cycle of food production, including for those who work in it. Plant-based foods use less land, water and fuel, and create less pollution. A 2018 study of the impacts of 40 foods from 40,000 farms across 119 countries found that eating less or no animal-based food is critical for reducing our impact on the environment. The World Health Organization says a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and grains is the optimal path to health and longevity. The bigger the proportion of a person’s diet they comprise, the greater the benefit. Still, there are other ways your food choices matter. Take palm oil. It is often grown in monoculture, which degrades soil, and is a leading cause of deforestation, which threatens biodiversity. A 2017 Amnesty International report found the industry used banned pesticides, exploited farmworkers and used forced and child labour. The chocolate and coffee industries have similar issues. When choosing food products, read labels and pick those that protect food producers and the environment. Buy organic, not because it is better for your own body, but because it reduces farmworkers’ exposure to many fertilisers and pesticides.
1-30-19 Polar vortex brings deadly cold snap to US states
Cities are all but shutting down across the US Midwest as the region shivers through a record-breaking and deadly cold snap known as a "polar vortex". At least six people are reported to have been killed across several states as a result of the arctic weather. Temperatures have dropped as low as -45C (-49F) in Chicago and -54C in North Dakota. Freezing weather will chill 250 million Americans, and 90 million will experience -17C or colder temperatures. Twenty million people in the continental US will experience temperatures of -28C or lower by the week's end. Snow is expected to fall throughout Wednesday, from the Great Lakes region into New England. As much as 24in (60cm) is forecast in the state of Wisconsin, and 6in in Illinois. States of emergency have been declared in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, and even in the Deep South states of Alabama and Mississippi. "This could possibly be history-making," said Ricky Castro, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Illinois. Multiple deaths have been confirmed, including a man killed by a snow plough in Chicago; another found frozen to death in a Milwaukee garage; and a young couple who died after a traffic accident on snowy roads in northern Indiana. Hundreds of schools have been closed in the affected states. At least 1,300 flights were cancelled early on Wednesday, mainly out of Chicago O'Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, said FlightAware.com. The US Postal Service has also cancelled mail deliveries throughout the Midwest on Wednesday.
1-30-19 Bangkok: Toxic smog shuts schools in Thailand
Toxic smog in Bangkok has forced more than 400 schools to close for the rest of the week, to protect children from its harmful effects. Thailand's capital city is experiencing some of its worst-ever air pollution levels, caused by ultra-fine dust particles known as PM2.5. Traffic exhaust, construction works, burning crops and pollution from factories are blamed for the haze. Authorities' efforts to clear the air have so far failed. The government has tried seeding rain clouds, reducing traffic, and hosing down streets, with little impact. Those celebrating the Lunar New Year holidays next week have been asked not to burn incense or light fireworks. According to The World Air Quality Index project (AQICN), Bangkok's Air Quality Index (AQI) is currently at around 170, making it "unhealthy". But that still doesn't match New Delhi, which is currently hovering around 390, a "hazardous" level of pollution.
1-29-19 Major expedition targets Thwaites Glacier
The US icebreaker Nathaniel B Palmer leaves Punta Arenas in Chile on Tuesday to begin an expedition to Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier. The huge ice stream in West Antarctica is currently melting, and scientists want to understand its likely future contribution to sea-level rise. If all of Thwaites' frozen bulk were to give way, it would add 80cm to the height of the world's oceans. "How much, how fast? That's our mantra," said Dr Robert Larter. "These are the questions we're asking about Thwaites," the British Antarctic Survey scientist told BBC News before leaving Chile. Dr Larter will be directing operations on the Palmer when it gets on site. The Palmer's 52-day cruise is just one part of a five-year, joint US-UK research programme to investigate the glacier. Data is to be gathered in front of, and on top of the ice stream. Instruments will even be sent under its floating front, or shelf. It's hoped that by capturing Thwaites' every behaviour, computer modellers can then better predict how its mass will respond to a warming world.One of the studies to be conducted off the Palmer is a seal-tagging exercise. Marine mammals will be captured on islands near the glacier and fitted with sensors. When seals are released to dive in the vicinity of Thwaites, they'll report back on seawater conditions. "Weddell and Elephant seals like hanging out near the ice front or under ice shelves, places we as humans can't go," explained Dr Lars Boehme from St Andrews University. "The sensors record details about the seals' immediate physical environment, which gives us a clearer picture of the current oceanic conditions in these remote and inaccessible places."
1-29-19 Fast food giants under fire on climate and water usage
A coalition of investors is calling on McDonalds, KFC, and other fast food suppliers to take swift action on climate change. The group, with around $6.5 trillion under management, want the chains to cut carbon and water risks in their dairy and meat suppliers. Animal agriculture, they argue, is one of the highest emitting sectors without a low CO2 plan. They're calling for public, time limited targets for reducing impacts. The investors group have targeted some of the largest companies in the global fast food sector that's said to be worth $570bn. These include the owners of McDonalds, Domino's Pizza, Burger King, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Wendy's, Pizza Hut and KFC. More than 80 investors have signed a letter to the fast food giants asking them to "enact meaningful policies and targets" to reduce the carbon footprint of their meat and dairy supply chains. They are concerned by an analysis of the meat and dairy producers that supply the fast food giants. Agricultural emissions including those from meat and dairy are on track to contribute around 70% of the total allowable greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 that would the keep rise in the world's temperature under 2C this century. The livestock sector is also estimated to use approximately 10% of annual global water flows. In their letter, they are calling on the chains to put in place clear requirements for suppliers of animal proteins to report and reduce their greenhouse gases and their freshwater impacts. They want the companies to publish quantitative, time bound targets for reductions and commit to publicly disclose the progress on these targets. The investors say they are calling for these steps to help these fast food companies minimise their future risks.
1-28-19 Lakes 'skating on thin ice' as warming limits freeze
Thousands of lakes across the Northern Hemisphere are set to lose their winter ice as global temperatures rise, say scientists. Their new study suggests that, within a generation, over 35,000 lakes will lose their winter cover. The researchers involved say the disappearance will have significant implications for millions of people living near these bodies of water. It could also pose a threat to supplies of drinking water and to fish species. Right now some 15,000 lakes in Canada, the US and northern parts of Europe experience intermittent ice cover during the winter months. This means that they freeze in the colder winters but remain ice free when winters are warmer. This is already posing problems for communities living in these regions who rely on ice roads that cross lakes for food supplies and social connection. Lake ice is also seen by scientists as an important long-term indicator of climate change and one of the world's resources most threatened by rising temperatures. Now, in what researchers believe is the most comprehensive analysis of lake ice loss, researchers say that many more lakes are set to go ice free in winter. If the world manages to keep the rise in global temperatures to 2C, the study suggests that the number of lakes experiencing intermittent ice will increase to over 35,000. This may have implications for 394 million people who live within an hour of their shores. "We're not taking about lakes getting a little warmer. We are talking about lake ice being gone in the winter," said Dr Catherine O'Reilly, a co-author on the study from Illinois State University. "Our children and grandchildren would not see something we have taken for granted." In a worst case scenario, where the world warmed by 8C by the end of this century, the number of lakes impacted would be 230,400.
1-25-19 A disturbing rise in ocean temperatures
Scientists have discovered that the world’s oceans are warming far faster than previously thought, raising the risk and scale of climate change–related natural disasters. The analysis found that the seas are heating up 40 percent more, on average, than was estimated by a United Nations scientific panel only five years ago, reports The New York Times. The new study—based on data gathered by a global network of floats that measure the temperature of the upper 6,500 feet of the ocean—also concluded that 2018 was the warmest year on record for oceans, just as 2017 and 2016 were before it. Earth’s oceans provide a crucial buffer against climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the excess heat caused by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. In the past year alone, says study co-author John Abraham, from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, oceans have swallowed “about 150,000,000 Hiroshima bombs’ worth of heat.” Ocean warming can have deadly consequences: It raises sea levels—water expands as it warms—making coastal floods more common; increases the power of hurricanes; and bleaches coral reefs, killing off marine ecosystems. In separate research, scientists found the Antarctic has been shedding 250 billion tons of ice a year since 2009, up from 40 billion a year from 1979 to 1989, because of an influx of warm ocean water. That means sea levels could rise even faster than previously predicted.
1-25-19 The young demand a future
Belgium’s youth are rising up in rage, said Francis Van de Woestyne. We old folks have dismissed the current generation as self-centered, “only interested in video games” and posting selfies on Instagram. But the children of the year 2000, those just now reaching adulthood, are as politically aware as the generation of 1968, and they have a righteous cause. These kids have grown up with the knowledge that they were born into a polluted, depleted world, where climate change could soon render life hellish for millions. And they won’t stand for it. Two weeks ago, the burgeoning Belgian youth movement brought 3,000 striking students into the streets; by last week, their number had grown to 12,000. “How many will it be next week?” The movement is already spreading to Switzerland. And unlike the “yellow vest” movement in France, where adults are rioting over taxes, these young people are peaceful and selfless—but radical. They demand nothing less than a total overhaul of the global economy, and they’re right. We’ve been offering our children kiwis from New Zealand and strawberries from Ethiopia, when what they really need is “a clean planet and breathable air.” Will they change the world? Somebody has to.
1-25-19 Three ways to reduce plastic waste
- Buy in bulk: Even people who avoid disposable water bottles go through many plastic bottles full of shampoo, dish soap, laundry detergent, etc. Switch to reusable bottles and buy the cleaning products in bulk-size pouches. Also favor concentrated formulas, which saves on packaging, too.
- Never be without a bag: “We all know we should be using reusable shopping bags”—but remembering them is another thing. “The solution is simple: Strategically plant reusable bags in all the spaces you inhabit,” including your car and office. Always have at least one folded into your purse or backpack.
- Choose slow shipping: “Do you really need every single item in two days?” To cut down on packaging waste, place orders with online retailers only when you’ve accumulated several items in your shopping cart. Then select no-rush shipping—which increases the odds they’ll be sent out in a single box.
1-25-19 Carbon dioxide levels will soar past the 410 ppm milestone in 2019
We will pass yet another unwelcome milestone this year. The average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely to rise by 2.8 parts per million to 411 ppm in 2019 – passing 410 ppm just a few years after first passing the 400 ppm mark. That’s the forecast of Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK, who began making annual CO2 forecasts a few years ago to test our understanding of the factors involved. The Met Office began publicly releasing the forecasts last year. The rise in atmospheric CO2 is the main cause of global heating. Before the industrial age began the CO2 concentration was around 280 ppm, and had not risen much higher for hundreds of thousands of years. Now it is rising ever faster because human emissions of the gas continue to increase. The average annual increase has risen from less than 1 ppm a year in the 1950s, when measurements began, to well over 2 ppm today. While the long term trend is remorselessly clear, the annual rise varies greatly from year to year depending on how the weather affects the balance between plants taking up CO2 as they grow and releasing it as they decay or burn. During El Nino years, for instance, there can be extensive droughts and wildfires, leading to big jumps in CO2 levels. The biggest ever annual rise, of 3.4 ppm, occurred in 2016 during a strong El Nino. The forecast rise of 2.8 would also be one of the largest rises on record. CO2 concentrations at any one place also vary over the year, peaking at the end of the winter and falling as plants grow in summer. Betts’ forecast is for the monthly average at Mauna Loa in Hawaii to peak at 415 ppm in May and drop back to 408 ppm in September before rising even higher in 2020.
1-25-19 Children's climate rallies gain momentum in Europe
Thousands of schoolchildren in Europe are expected to skip classes and rally for action on climate change. Children plan to stage a sit-in outside city hall in Basel, Switzerland, and similar protests are planned in Berlin and other German cities. They are inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She is in Davos, urging the World Economic Forum (WEF) to ensure a greener future. On Thursday, 35,000 teenagers marched in Brussels against global warming. Thousands of school pupils went on strike in Switzerland a week ago to demand climate action. In Brussels, home to the main EU institutions, students carried banners with slogans such as "Dinosaurs thought they had time too" and "Be part of the solution, not the pollution". German students are mobilising with the Twitter hashtag #FridaysForFuture. The young activists are urging world leaders and corporate bosses to stick to the ambitious goals agreed in Paris in 2015 to combat climate change. Since August, Greta Thunberg has been sitting outside the Swedish parliament every Friday to get her climate message across. She took a train all the way from Sweden to Davos, which took 32 hours, underlining the need to use cleaner forms of transport. Jets emit especially high quantities of CO2. She has drawn some criticism on social media: some accuse her of encouraging truancy, publicity-seeking and doing the work of environmental lobbyists. But one of her young German supporters, Jakob Blasel, said combating climate change was "for us more important than education". "After all, why should we study if we have no future?" he asked. In the Swiss ski resort Ms Thunberg told business leaders: "Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they've been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money… and I think many of you today belong to that group of people." Speaking later to the BBC she said: "My message was that most emissions are caused by a few people, the very rich people, who are here in Davos."
1-25-19 Big rise in atmospheric CO2 expected in 2019
Met Office researchers expect to record one of the biggest rises in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in 2019. Every year, the Earth's natural carbon sinks such as forests soak up large amounts of CO2 produced by human activities. But in years when the tropical Pacific region is warmer like this year, trees and plants grow less and absorb smaller amounts of the gas. As a result, scientists say 2019 will see a much bigger CO2 rise than 2018. Since 1958, the research observatory at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, has been continuously monitoring and collecting data on the chemical composition of the atmosphere. In the years since they first started recording, the observatory has seen a 30% increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere caused by emissions of fossil fuels and deforestation. Scientists argue that the increase would have been even larger without the ability of the forests, land and seas to soak up around half of the gas emitted by human activities. This ability however, varies with the seasons. In the summer, CO2 levels in the atmosphere fall as the trees and plants soak up more of the carbon as they grow. In the winter, when they drop their leaves, they soak up less and atmospheric levels rise. But when temperatures are warmer and drier than normal, trees and plants grow less and absorb less. This natural variation is compounded in years when there's an El Niño event, which sees an upwelling of heat from the Pacific into the atmosphere. "The warm sea surface conditions now will continue over the next few months and that will lead into the vegetation response," said Dr Chris Jones from the Met Office. "Around the world this heat has different impacts. In some places, it's hotter and drier and you get more forest fires. In a tropical rainforest, for instance, you reduce the natural growth of the vegetation." According to the Met Office, these limits on the ability to absorb CO2 will see a rise in concentrations this year of 2.75 parts per million, which is higher than the 2018 level. They are forecasting that average CO2 concentrations in 2019 will be 411ppm. Carbon dioxide concentration exceeded 400ppm for the first time in 2013. Researchers say the long-term trend is only going in one direction. "The year-on-year increase of CO2 is getting steadily bigger as it has done throughout the whole of the 20th Century," said Dr Jones. "What we are seeing for next year will be one of the biggest on record and it will certainly lead to the highest concentration of CO2."
1-25-19 In pictures: How Australians are enduring record heat
Australia has experienced a fortnight of extreme heat that has toppled records across the nation - and pushed people and animals to the limit. (Webmaster's comment: Their wildlife is dropping dead by the thousands!)
1-24-19 How warmer waters threaten Arctic Ocean life
The Barents Sea is shifting from an Arctic climate to an Atlantic climate, and is now said to be at tipping point as its waters heat up.
1-24-19 Australia horse deaths: Wild animals perish at dried-up waterhole
An extreme heatwave in Australia has led to the deaths of more than 90 wild horses in the outback, authorities say. Rangers found dead and dying animals in a dried-up waterhole near Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, last week. About 40 of the animals had already died from dehydration and starvation. Surviving horses were later culled. It comes amid record-breaking heat, with temperatures hitting 49.5C (121F) north of Adelaide in South Australia. The mercury rose to 47.7C (118F) in the city itself on Thursday, breaking a record set in 1939. Australia has experienced a fortnight (2 weeks) of extreme heat that has broken dozens of records across the nation. More than 13 towns in the state of South Australia have seen heat records eclipsed. Emergency services in more than 13 districts are on alert for fear of possible bushfires. Meanwhile in Alice Springs, near where the horses were found, temperatures have exceeded 42C for almost two weeks - more than 6C above January's typical average, according to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology. Rangers came across the horses after their absence was noted by a remote community, said local authority Central Land Council (CLC). A local resident, Ralph Turner, also visited the site and posted photos online, describing the scene as "carnage". "I was devastated. I'd never seen anything like it - all the bodies," he told the BBC. "I couldn't believe something like that had happened.". Another local, Rohan Smyth, told the ABC that water was "normally there" and that the horses "just had nowhere to go". Several other wildlife species have also suffered, with reports of mass deaths of native bats in New South Wales. Up to a million fish have also been found dead along river banks in the drought-affected state. (Webmaster's comment: Human beings will soon follow!)
1-24-19 'Tipping point' risk for Arctic hotspot
A rapid climate shift under way in the Barents Sea could spread to other Arctic regions, scientists warn. The Barents Sea is said to be at a tipping point, changing from an Arctic climate to an Atlantic climate as the water gets warmer. A conference in Norway heard that the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea – both further to the east - are likely to become the new Arctic frontier. The scientists warn that it will affect ecosystems. It may also impact on global weather patterns, although there's no agreement on that. They’re concerned because the north Barents Sea has been governed by an Arctic climate since the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. The Arctic Ocean has a cold, fresh surface layer which acts as a cap on a layer of warm, saltier Atlantic water beneath. But now in the Barents Sea there’s not enough freshwater-rich sea-ice flowing from the high Arctic to maintain the freshwater cap. And that’s allowing warm, salty Atlantic water to rise to the surface. In what’s known as a feedback loop - the more the layers mix, the warmer the surface gets. And the warmer the surface gets, the more the waters mix. So it’s now only a matter of time, the researchers say, before this section of the Arctic effectively becomes part of the Atlantic. It could happen in as little as a decade, they warn. Dr Sigrid Lind, from the Institute of Marine Research and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway, told the conference that if the sea stratification broke down completely, the change might be irreversible. “Large sea ice inflows of several consecutive years would probably be needed to rebuild the freshwater reservoir once its gone- and that's not likely given global warming and strong Arctic sea-ice loss,” she told BBC News. She said the shift was so rapid that the whole Barents Sea could be completely sea ice-free within a few decades - possibly even a decade. Then a new polar frontier region would probably develop further east, in the Kara Sea or Laptev Sea.
1-24-19 Skye volcanic eruption 'changed climate'
A catastrophic volcanic eruption on the Isle of Skye is likely to have caused major changes in the world's climate. Researchers from Scotland, Sweden and England have linked the explosion to a prehistoric spike in global warming. It is the first time a large-scale explosive eruption has been confirmed in Scotland The term Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) does not exactly trip off the tongue. It's none too easy to get out of the keyboard either. But it played a huge role in shaping the prehistoric world. It happened about 56 million years ago. We're talking geological timescales here so "about" is close enough. No need to time it down to the second or even millennium. It was a massive climate disturbance that caused global temperatures to shoot up by 8C, four times the increase predicted to create huge problems for present-day humans. Writing in the journal Scientific Reports the researchers say have found evidence of an explosion in the same league as the eruption of Krakatau in 1883. It was one of the biggest volcanic catastrophes in recorded history. The shock waves travelled round the world three and a half times. The huge amounts of particles thrown into the atmosphere caused global temperatures to fall for several years as the ashes blocked sunlight.
1-23-19 To feed 11 billion people, we must share crop seeds as a common good
FOR millennia, crop seeds have been regarded as a common good, bred by farmers into a rich diversity of cultivars. Over the past 70 years, however, genetic resources in agriculture have been increasingly privatised, made possible by intellectual property rights such as patents and plant variety protection. Today, three corporations control more than 60 per cent of the global commercial seed market. This creates uniformity in agricultural production, stifles innovation and makes society increasingly dependent on just a few companies, with diminishing choice and rising costs. All this is diametrically opposed to what is required to cope with global agricultural challenges: adaptation to climate change, increased production to feed an expected 11 billion people and transformation of agriculture based on agrochemicals into an organic form. For this, we need a great diversity of crops with manifold cultivars. The private seed sector cannot supply this. Instead, we need a commons-based seed sector. With the Open Source Seed (OSS) Licence and the newly established service provider OpenSourceSeeds, the German NGO Agrecol offers plant breeders a chance to maintain seeds as a commons. The first OSS licensed cultivar, the tomato Sunviva, was presented in 2017. The OSS Licence sets three rules. Anyone may use the seed, multiply it, enhance it, breed with it and pass it on within existing laws. No one may privatise the seed and any further developments. And each recipient assigns the same obligations to further developments. Plant breeding must be seen as a societal task rather than an economic activity. If cultivars are developed for small, site-specific purposes, revenues from patent royalties would be insufficient to finance plant breeding. Seed diversity is essential for maintaining food security, ecosystem services and cultural landscapes, but most of all for enhancing our capacity to adapt to climate change.
1-22-19 Satellites saw rapid Greenland ice loss
Greenland has gone through an "unprecedented" period of ice loss within the last two decades. The Grace satellites revealed a four-fold increase in mass being lost from Greenland's ice sheet from 2003-2013. The study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that ice loss subsequently stalled for 12-18 months. The research reveals how different areas of Greenland might contribute to sea-level rise in future. Scientists concerned about sea levels have long focused on Greenland's south-east and north-west regions, where glaciers continually force large chunks of ice into the Atlantic Ocean. But the largest sustained acceleration in ice loss from early 2003 to mid-2013 occurred in south-west Greenland, which is largely devoid of these large glaciers. "Whatever this was, it couldn't be explained by glaciers, because there aren't many there," said the study's lead author Michael Bevis, from The Ohio State University. "It had to be the surface mass - the ice was melting inland from the coastline." The ice melt accelerations in this region tracked a weather phenomenon known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). When in a particular ("negative") phase, the NAO enhances summertime warming and the solar radiation that reaches the Earth's surface, while reducing snowfall - especially in western Greenland. The researchers believe the melting in south-west Greenland is a combination of climate change and conditions brought on by the NAO. "These oscillations have been happening forever... so why only now are they causing this massive melt? It's because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer. The transient warming driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation was riding on top of more sustained global warming," said Prof Bevis.
1-22-19 Why America should double down on hydropower
Solar and wind power are advancing fast — but it may come as a surprise that they're still not the largest source of renewable energy in the U.S. That title is still held by hydropower, which is nearly as big as solar and wind put together. That raises a natural question: Would it be worth pursuing more hydro power? Climate change is a gigantic problem, and as such all possible methods of reducing carbon dioxide emissions deserve full consideration. And hydropower — that is, power generated from water flowing downhill — has a lot more potential than one might suppose. Now, the history of American hydropower is extremely checkered, as Marc Reisner detailed in his classic book Cadillac Desert. Water projects were for decades a major avenue of pork-barrel politics, and a great many preposterously uneconomical projects were built — and for my money the Glen Canyon Dam was one of the greatest crimes against nature in world history. However, we have to be realistic about our dire situation. There are no perfect solutions to climate change — even solar and wind power take up land, potentially quite a lot. And when it comes to concrete environmental effects, as a report prepared for Hydro-Québec details, hydropower is far superior to coal or natural gas power. It may cause local problems in the form of drowned river valleys and so on, but no particulate pollution like coal (which kills an estimated 1.6 million people per year in China alone), no carbon or methane emissions from daily production like natural gas, and has no need for long-term hazardous waste storage like nuclear. So what are the possibilities? The biggest gimme is undoubtedly the approximately 80,000 extant U.S. water projects that have no hydroelectric capacity. Many of these are so small as to not be worth bothering with, but an Oak Ridge National Laboratory report estimated that if we rigged up the reasonably-sized ones with generators, we could get 12 gigawatts (or 45 terawatt-hours) of new capacity — equivalent to expanding the existing hydro fleet by 15 percent. Not bad! But what about new projects? A different Oak Ridge report estimated that the U.S. could build 84.7 gigawatts (or 480 terawatt-hours) of new capacity if we went all-out. Now, much of that would probably not be worth the ecological damage it would cause. But if even if we rule out national parks, wild and scenic rivers, and wilderness areas, the total potential only drops to 65.5 gigawatts (or 347 terawatt-hours). It's also worth noting that many of the projects considered here are run-of-the-river projects that don't require huge lakes.
1-22-19 The battle on the frontline of climate change in Mali
Everything about Mami exudes exhaustion. Her round brown eyes are pools of sadness, and her bulbous body throbs with pain.. "First, armed groups attacked nearby," she explains in a tired voice as we sit on plastic matting, five young children nestled close to their mother in Mali's fabled city in the sand Timbuktu. "Then the rains came, and did the rest." The worst rains in 50 years in northern Mali washed away their entire crop. Those rains poured through the cracks in her mud home caused by an explosion an armed group set off. The cracks are showing everywhere in a fragile land now doubly cursed by the extremes of conflict and climate change. The increase in temperatures in the Sahel are projected to be 1.5 times higher than the global average, says the UN. "It hasn't been on our radar screens," says Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "We often look at arms and armed actors, and maybe at underdevelopment, but now we see that climate change is leading to conflicts among communities and this is a different kind of violence." The Sahel region - which includes Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania - comprises some of the world's poorest and most fragile states, and is regarded as the most vulnerable to climate change. On a visit to northern Mali with the ICRC, it was startling to see how the consequences of climate change are woven through the fabric of lives in what has always been a harsh existence on the edge of the encroaching Sahara desert. "The fragility of Mali stares you in the face," remarks Mr Maurer as we stand, surrounded by a vast crowd, in a cramped camp for families fleeing insecurity and hunger in communities across northern Mali.
1-21-19 Antarctic krill: Key food source moves south
A keystone prey species in the Southern Ocean is retreating towards the Antarctic because of climate change. Krill are small, shrimp-like creatures that swarm in vast numbers and form a major part of the diets of whales, penguins, seabirds, seals and fish. Scientists say warming conditions in recent decades have led to the krill contracting poleward. If the shift is maintained, it will have negative ecosystem impacts, they warn. Already there is some evidence that macaroni penguins and fur seals may be finding it harder to get enough of the krill to support their populations. "Our results suggest that over the past 40 years, the amount of krill has, on average, gone down, and also the location of the krill has contracted to much less of the habitat. That suggests all these other animals that eat krill will face much more intense competition with each other for this important food resource," Simeon Hill from the British Antarctic Survey told BBC News. The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change. It focuses on the Scotia Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula - the places where the crustaceans are most abundant. Scientists have been gathering data in these areas since the 1920s. Initially, krill catches were recorded to understand the environmental consequences of commercial whaling, but the information has continued to be collected through to the present. Dr Hill and colleagues say the change in the distribution and density of the crustaceans is a clear signal that emerges in the data from the late 1980s onwards. It coincides with a phase change in a climate oscillation known as the Southern Annular Mode. The SAM essentially describes the dominant pattern of pressure zones in the southern hemisphere outside of the tropics. The mode's switch in state in the late 80s produced warmer, cloudier, windier weather, and much less sea-ice in those areas where the krill had tended to congregate. The larval stage of the crustaceans in particular has been strongly associated with the presence of a sea-ice habitat.
1-21-19 France and others plan to tackle air pollution in Mediterranean sea
Cleaning up air pollution from shipping in the Mediterranean Sea would have financial benefits as well as saving lives. A feasibility report looking at implementing a low emission zone for ships in the region has concluded the benefits would outweigh the costs threefold. The proposal already has the backing of France, Spain, Italy and Morocco, says Charlotte Lepitre of France Nature Environment, an environmental group. Only Greece and Malta are opposed. The clean-up is certainly needed. Many ships burn dirty fuels, such as heavy fuel oil, that contain high levels of sulphur and pollute the air with sulphur dioxide, particulates and black carbon. Up to 40 per cent of the air pollution in coastal towns around the Med can come from shipping. It’s not just tankers and cargo ships that are to blame. Many cruise ships still use heavy fuel oil, and burn it even while in port to power their generators. In 2017 the French TV programme Thalassa reported measuring extremely high air pollution levels on the deck of a cruise ship as well as in surrounding areas. The feasibility report, which was commissioned by the French environment ministry and released on 21 January, concludes that particulate pollution from shipping causes 6000 premature deaths around the Mediterranean each year and causes a serious burden of disease. A ban would save €8 to 14 billion per year in health costs but itself cost less than than €3 billion. particulate emissions by 95 per cent, says the report. Such fuels have long been available but are not widely used as they are more expensive.The benefits would be greatest if limits were imposed on nitrogen oxide emissions too, but this requires the introduction of ships with engines designed to minimise pollution.
1-19-19 Every bottle of prosecco may erode 4.4 kilograms of Italian hillside
The exquisite sloping hillsides of Italy’s north-eastern wine region are where some of the world’s best prosecco is made. But a big problem is fermenting at the heart of this stunning place. Soil in the vineyards appears to be washing away at an enormous rate. In the traditional centre of prosecco production, between the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, a new analysis estimates that 400,000 tonnes of soil is lost every year in the vineyards. The region produces 90 million bottles of prosecco annually, meaning that 4.4 kilograms of soil is lost for every bottle of fizz. “I find myself in disbelief,” says Caroline Mazzey, a plant scientist at Hadlow College, who was not involved with the study. “It’s more soil than the physical volume of the bottle.” To come up with the estimate, the team factored in data on rainfall, the type of soil in the region and what kind of soil cover, if any, is available in the vineyards. The vineyards have less vegetation growing through the soil, so rain can wash it away more easily. It’s a concern because over time large areas of hillside can be removed and, on shorter time-scales, the health of the soil can be affected detrimentally. In the region the team studied, prosecco must abide by strict quality controls and is marked “DOCG” on the label. Although erosion occurs across the DOCG area, the research suggests that vineyards are responsible for nearly three quarters of the total loss – even though they only cover a third of the land. Based on an analysis by the European Commission, the prosecco DOCG area’s erosion problem is roughly 40 times greater than the tolerable limit for the continent.
1-18-19 Prosecco production takes a toll on northeast Italy’s environment
The industry accounts for 74 percent of the region’s soil loss every year. Sorry to burst your bubbly, prosecco lovers, but skyrocketing demand for the sparkling wine might be sapping northeastern Italy’s vineyards of precious soil — 400 million kilograms of it per year, researchers report in a study posted online January 10 at bioRxiv.org That’s a lot of soil, but not an anomaly. Some newer vineyards in Germany, for example, have higher rates of soil loss, says Jesús Rodrigo Comino, a geographer at the Institute of Geomorphology and Soils in Málaga, Spain, who was not involved in the study. And soil erosion isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can help generate new soils to keep an ecosystem healthy. But the amount of erosion from Italy’s high-quality prosecco vineyards is not sustainable, he says. Letting too much earth wash away with rain and irrigation could jeopardize the future of the region’s vineyards, which produce 90 million bottles of high-quality prosecco every year. Concerned that the recent bottle boom was taxing the local environment, a team led by researchers from the University of Padua in Italy calculated the “soil footprint” for high-quality prosecco. It found the industry was responsible for 74 percent of the region’s total soil erosion, by studying 10 years-worth of data for rainfall, land use and soil characteristics, as well as high-resolution topographic maps. The team then compared their soil erosion results with average annual prosecco sales to estimate the annual soil footprint per bottle: about 4.4 kilograms, roughly the mass of two Chihuahuas.
1-18-19 Australia swelters in record temperatures with warmest ever night
Roads melting, fish dying and bats falling from trees – this is what global warming looks like. Many records have been smashed during Australia’s latest heatwave. Most notably, on 17 January Noona in New South Wales recorded Australia’s warmest ever night with temperatures remaining above 35.9°C. Canberra has also had four consecutive days of temperatures above 40°C for the first time. Healthy people can tolerate very high temperatures as long as humidity is low for sweating to cool us. But when temperatures remain high overnight and for several days in a row, it can be dangerous, especially for the young and elderly. There’s little doubt that climate change has played a big part. Heatwaves in Australia have been getting hotter, longer and more frequent as the planet warms. Fortunately this heatwave has peaked already. Temperatures are forecast to fall over the coming days. During another heatwave in November, more than a third of the country’s flying foxes died, according to Justin Welbergen of Western Sydney University. The toll from the latest heatwave is not yet clear.
1-18-19 Australia swelters through record-breaking heatwave
Australia has just sweltered through at least five of its 10 warmest days on record, authorities estimate. An extreme heatwave has afflicted the nation since Saturday, causing wildlife deaths, bushfires and an increase in hospital admissions. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said preliminary readings showed daily national temperature highs of 40C (104F). The town of Noona in New South Wales meanwhile recorded a night-time temperature of 35.9C. It was the highest minimum temperature ever recorded anywhere in Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said. Temperatures on Friday will soar above 42C (107F) in "broad areas", the bureau predicted. Forecasters have compared conditions to the nation's worst heatwave in 2013, where the mercury soared to 39C for seven consecutive days. The hottest day on record for Australia is 7 January 2013, when the national average maximum temperature was 40.3C. "The current heatwave ranks alongside that of January 2013 as the most extensive and prolonged heatwave on record over Australia," BOM senior meteorologist Blair Trewin told the BBC earlier this week. "There have been other notable heatwaves but none affecting such a large area of the country." A large swathe of New South Wales is bearing the brunt of the heat, with temperatures also soaring in parts of Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory.
1-18-19 10 year challenge: how science and the world have changed
The last 10 years have seen amazing advances in science and technology – and stark damage to the world we live in. Like a lot of people on social media we thought we'd take a look back at the last ten years in science and New Scientist. Columbia Glacier, Alaska: The Columbia Glacier is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world. Since 1980, it has been in retreat, as shown in these false-colour images from NASA’s Landsat satellites. Its terminus has moved more than 20 kilometres to the north in the last three decades. Chunks of ice have broken off at the bottom, contributing to global sea level rise. At the same time, the glacier has thinned substantially, expanding the area of brown bedrock visible in the pictures. In 2008, New Scientist reported on the first forecasts to try and predict how the climate would change over a 10-year timescale. A model built by the Met Office Hadley Centre, the UK’s official centre for climate change research, predicted that surface air temperatures would remain steady for around six years as cool sea surface temperatures kept the atmosphere cool. But, it expected surface temperatures to rise again by 2014 and hit “a string of record highs at the end of the next decade”. That has proven to be pretty close to the mark. Despite the wealth of knowledge we have about climate change, the intervening years saw precious little progress on steering us away from impending catastrophe. On a cover in 2018, we asked whether humanity is getting more stupid, but we answered the question with a no. “If we perceive the world to be dumbing down, perhaps that is because, as science expands our knowledge, we see a widening gap between the rational solutions it suggests and the messy reality of the world,” we wrote.
1-17-19 Climate change: Is nuclear power the answer?
Nuclear is good for the environment. Nuclear is bad for the environment. Both statements are true. Why is it good? Nuclear power is planned to be a key part of the UK's energy mix. The key benefit is that it helps keep the lights on while producing hardly any of the CO2 emissions that are heating the climate. CO2 emissions come from traditional ways of creating electricity such as burning gas and coal. And the government is expected to have halted emissions almost completely by 2050, to help curb damage to the climate. Why is it bad for the environment? Because major nuclear accidents are few and far between, but when they happen they create panic. Take the Fukushima explosions in 2011, which released radioactive material into the surrounding air in Japan. Or the Chernobyl accident in 1986, which spewed radioactive material across northern Europe. But arguably, the bigger environmental problem is what to do with nuclear waste. This is a very live issue in the UK, where contaminated material has been held in a temporary store at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The government has been trying for years to secure a site with the right geology, offering cash sweeteners to local communities to host a permanent £12bn underground store for the most dangerous waste. So far no permanent dump has been agreed - that is after 70 years of nuclear power in the UK.
1-17-19 Could a diet save the planet? Only if we pay the real cost of food
Our food is killing us, and the planet. That’s the message from a group of 37 experts called the EAT-Lancet commission, which spent three years poring over the evidence to work out the best diet in terms of health and the environment. Their conclusion: we need to radically change what we eat. That means far more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and tubers, and far less meat, dairy and sugar. On an average day, for instance, we should eat just 14 grams of red meat and 250 grams of whole milk or derivatives such as cheese. “It certainly is an enormous change, especially for the western world,” says Fabrice DeClerck of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, one of the report’s authors. Telling people to change their diets is always likely to spark anger. “They say ‘you are what you eat’ and that must be true, because this is nuts,” said Christopher Snowden of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing think tank. But the reality is that the broad conclusions of the EAT-Lancet report are sound and should surprise no one, as they reflect a huge body of evidence. When New Scientist looked last year at how to eat well for yourself and the planet, our answers were much the same. The big question is really, how do we persuade people to change their diets? Or, in the case of most of the world’s population, how do we stop them adopting the terrible diets of people in the US and Europe as they grow richer? The report essentially says we need to throw the kitchen sink at the problem. We need persuade consumers to change what they buy and cook, while farmers and shops must produce and promote healthier, more sustainable foods.
1-17-19 Global leaders warn of ecological collapse and technological meltdown
The top five dangers facing the world are all now either environmental or technological, according to a major annual survey. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report has found that extreme weather, climate policy failure and natural disasters are the risks most likely to trouble us in 2019. All three are also ranked in the top five in terms of impact. The fourth and fifth most likely are data fraud or theft, and cyberattacks. The report is based on an annual survey of risk perception by around 1000 business and political leaders worldwide. “There has been a real shift towards environmental risks,” said the report’s author Aengus Collins, head of global risks at the WEF. Ten years ago the top five risks were asset price collapse, economic slowdown in China, chronic disease, gaps in global governance and retrenchment from globalisation. Two other environmental risks – man-made environmental disasters and biodiversity loss or ecosystem collapse – are ranked sixth and eighth. All the environmental risks in the survey are considered to be both highly likely and high-impact. The findings emphasise the growing realisation among the global elite that environmental issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss are an “existential threat,” said Børge Brende, president of the WEF. The top five are the same as last year but in a different order, with climate change climbing from five to two after another year of stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but little meaningful action worldwide.
1-16-19 Earth in 2050: This is what a world warmed by 1.5°C looks like
From wild weather to huge ecosystem shifts, dramatic effects from global warming are already baked in – but by acting now we can prevent the worst. IT IS probably the best deal we can hope for – but it is considerably worse than the one we have now. “It is not going to be fine,” says Dann Mitchell. “We will see significant changes to our lives.” Mitchell, a climate modeller at the University of Bristol, UK, is talking about a world warmed by 1.5°C – the number agreed at the Paris climate talks in 2015 as the “safe” level of global warming we should aspire to stay below. The political will to keep to the 1.5°C target has been lacking so far. The latest round of talks, which closed in Katowice, Poland, last month, confirmed the number, but gave no indication of how to stick to it. Meanwhile, the number’s scientific significance has grown, as both the minimum warming we can possibly achieve, and the maximum that we can tolerate without near-certain disaster. But what does a 1.5°C warmer world really look like? And if we miss the target and end up at 2, 3 or 4°C, what then? The answers are beginning to crystallise. They aren’t pretty – but they do tell us what’s at stake. When world leaders in Paris unexpectedly announced their intent not just to keep warming below 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels, but also “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”, delegates cheered. Although the actual targets set in Paris still commit the world to more than 2°C of warming, the adoption of 1.5°C has really focused the minds of climate scientists, says Myles Allen at the University of Oxford, a leading light at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Our current best estimate is that the world has already heated by 1°C, with the temperature increasing at 0.2°C per decade. There are still significant uncertainties on this number, however – and a tenth of a degree either way really matters if 1.5°C is the new goal. “When we were talking about 2 or 3 or 4°C of warming we didn’t care about this,” says Allen. “But now we’re at 1°C of warming and worried about stabilising at 1.5, it is really important.”
1-16-19 Trump's plan to fight climate change will just 'make things even worse,' study finds
Perhaps President Trump should start ignoring climate change altogether. Trump ditched former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan in 2017 and lined up a replacement that has yet to take effect. But this current policy-less limbo is likely better than what's to come, a Harvard University study published Monday reveals. Trump's new policy, dubbed the Affordable Clean Energy rule, eliminates standards dictating just how quickly America has to rid itself of coal-fired energy sources. This obviously means Trump's plan would allow higher coal emission levels than Obama's strict standards. But it would also cause an 8.7 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions in 18 states and Washington, D.C. by 2030, "compared with having no policy at all," The Guardian reports via the study. Greenhouse gas emissions are already warming the planet and leading to drastically more devastating storms, droughts, and wildfires. By "throw[ing] a wrench into the climate action plans for many states and cities," the Affordable Clean Energy rule "could make things even worse," study co-author Jonathan Buonocore tells The Guardian. After all, the EPA's own analysis showed as many as 1,400 additional Americans could die prematurely each year by 2030 by inhaling the deadly fumes. The study was released just before Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler faces a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to drop "acting" from his title. Walker used to be a coal lobbyist and is "an architect of the new Trump emissions policy," The Guardian writes. Read more about the study at The Guardian, and check out the whole study here.
1-16-19 Growth of desalination plants is a serious problem for marine life
DESALINATION is growing so fast that the extra salty waste water it produces is becoming a big problem. There are now 16,000 desalination plants worldwide, creating 142 million cubic metres of brine a day, says a study by Edward Jones of the United Nations University and his colleagues. Over a year, that is enough to cover Florida to a depth of 30 centimetres. Most of this brine ends up in the sea. In calm conditions, the dense brine can spread out over the sea floor and kill organisms by increasing salinity beyond what they can tolerate, says Callum Roberts at the University of York, UK. The brine is also contaminated with toxic chemicals used to stop sea life clogging pipelines. Desalination is expected to continue growing rapidly as the technology improves and demand for freshwater soars (Science of the Total Environment, doi.org/cznz).
1-15-19 How one heatwave killed 'a third' of a bat species in Australia
Over two days in November, record-breaking heat in Australia's north wiped out almost one-third of the nation's spectacled flying foxes, according to researchers. The animals, also known as spectacled fruit bats, were unable to survive in temperatures which exceeded 42C. In the city of Cairns, locals saw bats toppling from trees into backyards, swimming pools and other locations. Wildlife rescuers found surviving animals clumped together, usually on branches closer to the ground. "It was totally depressing," one rescuer, David White, told the BBC. Lead researcher Dr Justin Welbergen, an ecologist, believes the "biblical scale" of deaths could be even higher - as many as 30,000 - because some settlements had not been counted. Australia had only an estimated 75,000 spectacled flying foxes before November, according to government-backed statistics. "This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since European settlement," says Dr Welbergen, who is also the president of the Australasian Bat Society, a not-for-profit conservation group. The spectacled flying fox - so named for light-coloured fur around its eyes - can also be found in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. In Australia, the species is only found in a small rainforest region of northern Queensland, where it helps to pollinate native trees. Dr Welbergen says about 10,000 bats of another species - black flying foxes - succumbed to the heat during the same two-day period. Flying foxes often experience fatal heat stress when temperatures eclipse 42C, scientists say. During November's heatwave, Cairns recorded its highest-ever temperature of 42.6C.
1-14-19 Desalination pours more toxic brine into the ocean than previously thought
The supersalty water is a byproduct in producing potable water. Technology meant to help solve the world’s growing water shortage is producing a salty environmental dilemma. Desalination facilities, which extract drinkable water from the ocean, discharge around 142 billion liters of extremely salty water called brine back into the environment every day, a study finds. That waste product of the desalination process can kill marine life and detrimentally alter the planet’s oceans, researchers report January 14 in Science of the Total Environment. “On the one hand, we are trying to provide populations — particularly in dry areas — with the needed amount of good quality water. But at the same time, we are also adding an environmental concern to the process,” says study coauthor Manzoor Qadir, an environmental scientist at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Hamilton, Canada. Between human population growth and climate change, water is becoming increasingly scarce (SN: 8/18/18, p. 14). Desalination technology has become a viable solution to this problem and has grown exponentially in popularity since the 1980s. Almost 16,000 plants now operate worldwide. Desalination relies on evaporation or specialized membranes to either chemically or electrically separate pure water from a stream of saltwater. But two streams always flow out of the system: one that becomes water that people can use, and another with the leftover, extra-salty brine, which is released back into the environment. Previous evaluations didn’t assess how much brine these facilities produced, Qadir says. Scientists assumed that desalination facilities on average equally produced brine and pure water — one liter of brine for every liter of pure water. That turned out to be wrong. (Webmaster's comment: Thinking ahead is not a human strong point.)
1-14-19 Concerns over increase in toxic brine from desalination plants
Desalination plants around the world are pumping out far more salt laden brine than previously believed, according to a new study. The salty effluent is a by-product of efforts to extract fresh water from the sea. Researchers found that plants are now producing 50% more of this chemical laden cocktail than expected. The brine raises the level of salinity and poses a major risk to ocean life and marine ecosystems. More than half the brine comes from four middle eastern countries. These are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, with Saudi Arabia alone responsible for 22% of the effluent. There's been a major expansion of desalination plants around the world over the past few years, with almost 16,000 now operating in 177 countries. It's estimated that these plants produce 95 million cubic metres of freshwater per day from seas and rivers - equivalent to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls. A number of small countries, such as the Maldives, Malta and the Bahamas, meet all their water needs through the desalination process. But the success of the technology is coming at a price. This new study estimates these plants discharge 142 million cubic metres of extremely salty brine every day, a 50% increase on previous estimates. That's enough in a year to cover the state of Florida under 30.5cm (12 inches) of brine. The problem with all this hyper salty water is that it often contains other contaminants and can pose a significant threat to marine life. "The salt level in the sea water is further increased because of this disposal of the concentrate brine," said Dr Manzoor Qadir from the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, one of the study's authors. "There is an increase in the temperature of this zone of the sea, together they decrease the dissolved oxygen level, which is called hypoxia and that impacts the aquatic life in that zone." Hypoxia often leads to what are called dead zones in the oceans - Scientists say these zones have quadrupled since 1950, mainly as a result of climate change. Now the salt is adding to these problems.
1-14-19 Watch how air pollution moves across Europe
This is what pollution looks like on a European scale. The animation shows the concentration and movement through the atmosphere of nitrogen dioxide. NO2 is a problem gas that is produced primarily by vehicle exhausts and industrial activity via the burning of fossil fuels. The map covers a sample period from 5 to 10 January, and describes the behaviour of NO2 at ground level on an hourly basis. The worst air quality peaks in the white. This fascinating insight was produced for the BBC by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which is based at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in Reading. To make this type of animation, CAMS incorporates satellite observations and surface measurements. But as extensive as these data-sets have now become, they don't give a complete, real-time picture. So, the scientists must also marry the sensor information with models - of how the atmosphere moves and what the weather is doing. One of the first things you'll notice in the animation is the prevalence of NO2 emanating from the "usual suspects". "What you immediately see are the larger cities. You see Madrid, you see Paris, you see Moscow, you see London," explains Richard Engelen, the deputy head of CAMS. "Then you'll see more industrial areas, like Germany but also in the UK. You'll see too those areas where there are very dense traffic infrastructures, such as the Netherlands and Belgium where you have a lot of traffic from the two main ports at Rotterdam and Antwerp. These are the emission sources that always pop up," he told BBC News.
1-14-19 Wood burners and open fires face restrictions in new clean air plan
Wood burning stoves, open fires and farms all face new restrictions as the government sets out what it calls a "world leading" plan to tackle air pollution. In their Clean Air Strategy, published today, the government promises to set a "bold new goal" to reduce particulates across much of the country by 2030. But green groups say the scheme is vague and severely lacking in detail. They believe the plan proposes nothing new to tackle roadside dirty air. The new strategy, which is focused on tackling air pollution in England, has been launched just days after the family of a nine-year-old girl who died from asthma were given permission to apply for a fresh inquest into her death. The government's chief lawyer heard new evidence her death could be linked to unlawful levels of air pollution. Catherine Bazell is a retired London librarian who suffers from asthma and a condition called bronchiectasis. It's a long-term illness where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened, leading to a build-up of excess mucus that can make the lungs more vulnerable to infection. "People can't always see dirty air but it's there," she told BBC News. "I find it really frustrating, it means that I feel really tired, I can get tightness in my chest, I find it hard to breathe, it just stops you from doing all things you'd like to do. "You see the alerts, that say it's a very polluted day today and you are obliged to stay in to keep away from the pollution, and that makes me quite angry because why should we have to stay in? "We need to do something about the air pollution so that people can live normal lives."
1-12-19 How Trump is redefining the EPA
Under President Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has made industry happy and environmentalists angry. Here's everything you need to know.
- What is the EPA's mission? The agency was created by President Richard Nixon in 1970 — a time when industrial pollution shrouded cities in smog, turned rivers and lakes into toxic stews of human waste and chemicals, and left shorelines blackened by garbage and oil spills.
- What is Trump's view of the EPA? During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump decried the EPA as a job-killing bureaucracy that had needlessly hamstrung the American economy with costly regulations.
- What has this new EPA done? So far, it has abolished a total of 47 environmental regulations — and is in the process of rolling back 31 more, according to a New York Times analysis.
- What about carbon emissions? Under both Pruitt and Wheeler, the EPA has acted as if climate change did not exist.
- What about enforcement of laws? It's way down. In fiscal 2017, the EPA initiated 20 percent fewer civil actions against polluters — and 30 percent fewer criminal cases — than during the year prior.
- Shrinking the EPA: Since Trump's inauguration, his hostility toward the agency has sparked an exodus of career employees — and has had a dispiriting effect on those who have remained behind.
1-11-19 U.S. CO2 emissions spike upward
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions shot up 3.4 percent last year, the biggest increase in eight years, according to a report published this week. The spike, after three years of decline, occurred despite a near-record number of coal plants closing last year, and growing use of alternative-fuel vehicles and renewable power sources. Analysts at the Rhodium Group say the uptick is the result of a surging economy, with a manufacturing boom leading to a 5.7 percent increase in emissions from industrial sectors. Greenhouse gas emissions peaked at 6 billion metric tons in 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession. The Rhodium report comes in advance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s tally of carbon emissions, which won’t be released until 2020.
1-11-19 Fine-to-flush label will tell you which wet wipes won’t cause fatbergs
A “fine-to-flush” symbol will be introduced in the UK for wet wipes that do not contribute to sewer fatbergs. Fatbergs are mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, oils and grease into a solid mass. They have occurred more often in recent years, with a 64-metre-long fatberg discovered blocking a sewer in Sidmouth in Devon, UK, this week. There are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages a year, costing £100 million, harming the environment and leading to home and business drains backing up, says Water UK. “This is an important step in the battle against blockages,” says Michael Roberts at Water UK. “The new fine-to-flush standard that we’ve created will make it easier for consumers to buy an environmentally friendly product instead of one which clogs up drains and sewers.” The Marine Conservation Society called for retailers to ensure all wipes have either passed the fine-to-flush standard and have the logo on the pack or are clearly labelled with “do not flush” to help consumers make the right choices. In its annual beach clean in 2018, the charity’s volunteers found an average of 12 wet wipes per 100 metres of beach, an increase of more than 300 per cent in the past decade.
1-10-19 Anak Krakatau: Finnish radar satellite eyes tsunami volcano
Here's a new view of Anak Krakatau, the collapsed Indonesian volcano that generated the 22 December tsunami that devastated local coastlines. The picture was assembled from radar images acquired on Wednesday by the ICEYE-X2 satellite. This is a small innovative spacecraft from Finland that will soon be part of a large orbiting network of sensors. The volcano continues to evolve, following the cone's catastrophic failure. Its original height of 340m was reduced to just 110m in the disaster, but further eruptions have since begun to re-model the remnant structure. "This image indicates the edifice is in a building phase, with the crater no longer connected to the sea as it was in images from a week or so ago," observed Prof Andy Hooper from Leeds University, UK. More than 400 people died along the coastlines of Java and Sumatra in the Sunda Strait when the tsunami hit. Scientists relied heavily on radar satellites in the days immediately after the collapse to try to understand what had happened. Radar will see the ground day or night, and will even pierce thick cloud. Researchers were fortunate that the European Union's Sentinel platform passed overhead just hours after the event. But such observations are not always so timely. Helsinki-based ICEYE hopes to remedy this by putting up a constellation of small radar satellites. ICEYE-X2 is the second spacecraft to be launched. Another five to eight will go up this year. All these platforms are about the size of a suitcase - far smaller than the traditional radar sensors placed in orbit. (Webmaster's comment: To bad America's space program is focused on military ojectives. Focused on ways to kill more people!)
1-10-19 Climate change: Will insect-eating dogs help?
Do you fret that your pet pooch is blamed by environmentalists for turning rainforests into poo in the park? Have no fear - you can now fatten Fido on black soldier flies instead of Brazilian beef. A pet food manufacturer now claims that 40% of its new product is made from soldier flies. It's one of many firms hoping to cash in on the backlash against beef by people concerned that the cattle are fed on soya. These soya plantations are responsible for the release of greenhouse gases in significant quantities. The key question is whether a diet of 40% soldier flies meets the nutritional needs of your beloved canine. We put the question to a pet diet expert at the Royal Veterinary College, Aarti Kathrani. Her conclusion was a cautious "yes". "Insects can be a very useful source of protein," she told us. "More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog's body - but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs." At first sight it seems obvious that feeding your dog meaty food is bad for the environment. The link between humans eating meat and the allied emissions of CO2 and methane is well established - and pets are estimated to eat 20% of global meat. It's also true that flies produce protein much more efficiently than cows - using a small percentage of the water and land. But actually the analysis is more subtle than that - because as societies become more wealthy, people often turn to muscle meat and reject the animal's offal. That offal is just as nutritious - and it gets made into pet food. That means that dog food is just as sustainable - or unsustainable - as humans eating meat. In fact, if dogs were weaned off meat and on to insects, the industry would have to find another purpose for the offal. More sausage, perhaps? Or more humans eating insect protein. Or more going vegan?
1-9-19 Report: US 2018 CO2 emissions saw biggest spike in years
A new report has found that US carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% in 2018 after three years of decline. The spike is the largest in eight years, according to Rhodium Group, an independent economic research firm. The data shows the US is unlikely to meet its pledge to reduce emissions by 2025 under the Paris climate agreement. Under President Donald Trump, the US is set to leave the Paris accord in 2020 while his administration has ended many existing environmental protections. While the Rhodium report notes these figures - pulled from US Energy Information Administration data and other sources - are estimates, The Global Carbon Project, another research group, also reported a similar increase in US emissions for 2018. The US is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. And last year's spike comes despite a decline in coal-fired power plants; a record number were retired last year, according to the report. The researchers note that 2019 will probably not repeat such an increase, but the findings underscore the country's challenges in reducing greenhouse gas output. In the 2015 climate accord, then President Barack Obama committed to reducing US emissions to at least 26% under 2005 levels by 2025. Now, that means the US will need to drop "energy-related carbon missions by 2.6% on average over the next seven years" - and possibly even faster - to meet that goal. "That's more than twice the pace the US achieved between 2005 and 2017 and significantly faster than any seven-year average in US history," the report states. "It is certainly feasible, but will likely require a fairly significant change in policy in the very near future and/or extremely favourable market and technological conditions. "
1-9-19 Climate change: 'Right to repair' gathers force
It is frustrating: you buy a new appliance then just after the warranty runs out, it gives up the ghost. You can’t repair it and can’t find anyone else to at a decent price, so it joins the global mountain of junk. You’re forced to buy a replacement, which fuels climate change from the greenhouse gases released in the manufacturing process. But help is at hand, because citizens in the EU and parts of the USA will soon get a "right to repair" - of sorts. This consists of a series of proposals from European environment ministers to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend. The European proposals refer to lighting, televisions and large home appliances. At least 18 US states are considering similar laws in a growing backlash against products which can’t be prised apart because they’re glued together, or which don’t have a supply of spare parts, or repair instructions. European environment ministers have a series of proposals forcing manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend. The European proposals refer to lighting, televisions and large home appliances. Plans for the EU Ecodesign Directive are complex and controversial. Manufacturers say the proposed rules on repairability are too strict and will stifle innovation. Green groups say legislation under way in Europe and the US represents progress towards saving carbon emissions and using resources more wisely.
1-9-19 Climate change: Which are the best vegan milks?
The popularity of vegan foods continues to grow, with January seen as a traditional time to consider giving them a try. Milk alternatives, such as oat, soy, almond or coconut, are one area of interest, with sales rising in the UK. A scientific study suggests the greenhouse gas emissions used in the production of plant-based milks are lower than for dairy milk. But which milk has the smallest impact on the planet? Producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any non-dairy milks, according to a University of Oxford study. Looking at land use, the difference is starker still. Producing a glass of dairy milk every day for a year requires 650 sq m (7,000 sq ft) of land, the equivalent of two tennis courts and more than 10 times as much as the same amount of oat milk, according to this study. Almond milk requires more water to produce than soy or oat milk. A single glass requires 74 litres (130 pints of water) - more than a typical shower. Rice milk is also comparatively thirsty, requiring 54 litres of water per glass. However, it's worth noting that both almond and rice milk still require less water to produce than the typical glass of dairy milk. To find out the climate impact of what you eat and drink, choose from one of the 34 items in our calculator and pick how often you have it. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to the study on which the calculator is based, by Dr Joseph Poore, of the University of Oxford.
1-4-19 Satellites make mapping hot spots of ammonia pollution easier
Animal feedlots and other sources of the gas can lower air quality. Satellites may be a more accurate way to track smog-producing ammonia. It’s notoriously tricky to pinpoint accurate numbers for ammonia gas emissions from sources such as animal feedlots and fertilizer plants. But new maps, generated from infrared radiation measurements gathered by satellites, reveal global ammonia hot spots in greater detail than before. The new data suggest that previous estimates underestimate the magnitude of these emissions, researchers report December 5 in Nature. In the atmosphere, ammonia, which contains nitrogen, can help form tiny particles that worsen air quality and harm human health. The research could help keep tabs on who’s emitting how much, to make sure that factories and farms are meeting environmental standards. Emissions are usually estimated by adding up output from individual known sources of activity, but those calculations are only as good as the data that go into them. Ammonia sticks around only hours to a few days in the atmosphere, so on-the-ground measurements vary a lot even in the same place, says coauthor Martin Van Damme, an atmospheric scientist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. “There’s so much uncertainty in ammonia emissions,” says Daven Henze, a mechanical engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder who wasn’t part of the research. Other scientists, including his research group, have estimated ammonia releases using satellite data before. But these new maps rely on a more detailed dataset and have substantially better resolution, Henze says — fine enough that the study authors were able to link areas of high emissions to specific factories or farms.
1-4-19 4 ways to tackle ocean trash besides Ocean Cleanup’s broken system
A controversial plan to capture trash in the Pacific isn’t panning out as planned. Cleaning up ocean pollution is no simple task, as an effort to fish plastic out of the Pacific Ocean is revealing. In September, scientists launched a 600-meter-long boom meant to herd plastic debris from the great Pacific garbage patch into a net (SN Online: 9/7/18). The trash accumulation, which is twice the size of Texas, swirls in waters between California and Hawaii. But some scientists worry the system, designed by a Dutch organization called Ocean Cleanup, could harm marine wildlife. Others aren’t convinced it will even work. Four months in, some of those concerns appear to be founded: Wind and currents have pushed trash into the rig, but the setup hasn’t kept the trash corralled as planned. Now part of the rig has broken off, and the device is being towed back to shore for repairs and design tweaks. Whether the system will eventually help remove garbage from the Pacific remains to be seen. But it’s not the only option for reducing how much plastic is dumped in the oceans — now at some 5 trillion pieces, per some estimates. Here are a few other approaches seeing success.
- Meet Mr. Trash Wheel and friends: It’s easier to collect trash from rivers and streams than from the open ocean. Baltimore has deployed three giant waterwheels that trap river plastic before it flows into the harbor.
- Snag it on land: Using less plastic in the first place is the most straightforward way to cut down on ocean pollution. Many cities and 127 countries have imposed regulations on single-use plastic, such as grocery bags or plastic straws, according to a December report from the U.N. Environment Program.
- Rise of the bans: Using less plastic in the first place is the most straightforward way to cut down on ocean pollution. Many cities and 127 countries have imposed regulations on single-use plastic, such as grocery bags or plastic straws, according to a December report from the U.N. Environment Program.
- Rethink the cycle: Plastic can take decades or even centuries to break down, so some scientists are working on alternatives that are easier to recycle. For example, a type of recyclable plastic described in Science in 2018 can be broken down into component pieces and rebuilt again and again. But if recyclable plastic ends up in a landfill or in the ocean, those special properties won’t matter.
1-4-19 Why the UK using less electricity is weirdly bad news for the climate
Electricity demand in the UK is falling – but surprisingly, that means the country is not doing what it must to cut greenhouse gas emissions. An analysis of government and industry data by Simon Evans of climate website Carbon Brief has revealed that electricity generation in the UK peaked in 2005 and has fallen 16 per cent since then, to the lowest level for 25 years. The fall in electricity demand is slightly smaller, as UK now imports a bit more electricity. This is part of a global trend: electricity consumption in many comparable countries including the US is stable or even falling. But the fall in the UK is particularly large. “The UK does seem to be unusual,” says Evans. Oddly, no one is entirely sure why electricity use has stopped rising in rich countries. The decline in heavy industries has certainly contributed but in the UK this mostly played out in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, it appears better energy efficiency is the main factor. This is fantastic news. It suggests all those efforts over the years to make appliances such as fridges more efficient really are making a difference. (And these improvements are why, contrary to what many people think, replacing old appliances is often greener than repairing them.) If you’re one of the people who swapped incandescent light bulbs for fluorescents or LEDs before you were forced to, give yourself a pat on the back. It also means economists who claim economic growth depends on rising electricity consumption are wrong. Evan’s analysis shows the UK’s real GDP has been risen over the past decade or so even as electricity use has fallen. And there’s more good news. In 2018, more than 40 per cent of the UK’s electricity came from nuclear, wind, solar or hydro.
1-4-19 Global warming devastating both poles
Rising temperatures are wreaking havoc in the Arctic and Antarctic, melting once pristine ice sheets and killing wildlife, according to two new U.S. government studies. The first report, by NASA, identified significant melting in a group of glaciers in East Antarctica, a region previously deemed stable and unaffected by climate change. Satellite imagery suggests that the height of glaciers feeding Vincennes Bay, an area due south of Australia, has dropped by nearly 10 feet since 2008—and the speed of melting is accelerating. The Vincennes Bay glaciers are crucial because they block the inland Aurora and Wilkes ice basins from falling into the sea; if both basins collapsed, sea levels could rise by up to 92 feet, submerging coastal communities around the world. Things are just as dire at the top of the planet. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that 2018 was the second-warmest year on record in the Arctic and the second-worst for sea ice, reports TheAtlantic.com. The world’s northernmost region is now so warm that it sheds ice even in the Arctic winter: The Bering Sea lost an area of ice the size of Idaho during two weeks in February. Toxic algae blooms, typically a warm-water phenomenon, are increasingly common in the region, fatally poisoning seals, walruses, and whales. “The Arctic,” said NOAA researcher Emily Osborne, “is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history.”
1-4-19 Climate change you can believe in
Despite Donald Trump and everything else going on, climate change was “the most important story of the year,” said David Leonhardt. Extreme weather made our planet’s rapid transformation “hard to ignore.” Freakishly powerful hurricanes flooded the Southeast, wildfires ravaged the West Coast, and prolonged droughts and record heat scorched Asia, Canada, and Europe—with forests burning even north of the Arctic Circle. “For a long time, many people thought it was a mistake to use the weather as evidence of climate change”: Point to hot weather, and someone will inevitably hold up a snowball in rebuttal. Yet while weather is indeed subject to “a lot of randomness,” firsthand experience is our best bet to move public opinion. Only 40 percent of Americans called the quality of the environment “good” or “excellent” in a Gallup poll this year—“the lowest level in almost a decade.” In another recent poll, 66 percent of Americans said they wanted to see action combating climate change. Scientific studies have long offered a dire forecast for our planet but haven’t roused enough people into action. But now that we’re actually experiencing alarming weather extremes, Americans may finally be coming out of denial.
1-4-19 Coal Use
As Europe and the U.S. have reduced their coal use, China has taken up any excess—and then some. In 1997, China produced 867 terawatt hours of energy from coal; by 2017, that went up fivefold, to 4,361. American coal use, by contrast, dropped from 1,998 terawatt hours to 1,314.
1-3-19 Fixing a flaw in photosynthesis could massively boost food production
Intelligent design has triumphed where evolution has mostly failed. Biologists have boosted the biomass of tobacco by around 40 per cent by compensating for a fundamental flaw in photosynthesis. The team is now working trying to introduce the same changes into food crops, starting with cowpeas and soybeans. “The funding agencies are really keen on getting this technology into the hands of the world’s poorest,” says team member Amanda Cavanagh at the University of Illinois in Urbana. The key ingredients of life are molecules made of chains of carbon atoms. Plants assemble these chains from carbon atoms taken from the carbon dioxide molecules in the air. But the enzyme that grabs hold of CO2 and adds it to a carbon chain often grabs hold of an oxygen molecule by mistake. This generates toxic molecules that plants have to expend energy to mop up. This fundamental flaw has been described as one of evolution’s greatest mistakes. To be fair, it wasn’t a huge issue when photosynthesis first evolved, because there was little oxygen around. But as oxygen levels rose and CO2 levels declined over the aeons, it became a huge problem for plants. The grabbing of oxygen by mistake – called photorespiration – now happens so often it can reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis by as much as 50 per cent. A few plants have evolved a solution: they concentrate CO2 inside them to reduce the odds of oxygen being grabbed by mistake. But most of the plants we eat, including almost all vegetables and fruits, and key crops such as wheat, rice and soybeans, can’t do this. Biologists have been trying to find a fix for decades.
1-3-19 Genetically modified 'shortcut' boosts plant growth by 40%
Scientists in the US have engineered tobacco plants that can grow up to 40% larger than normal in field trials. The researchers say they have found a way of overcoming natural restrictions in the process of photosynthesis that limit crop productivity. They believe the method could be used to significantly boost yields from important crops including rice and wheat. The study has been published in the journal Science. Researchers are growing increasingly concerned about the ability of the world to feed a growing population in a time of serious climate change. It's expected that agricultural demand will increase globally by 60-120% by the middle of this century compared to 2005. Increases in crop yields however are rising by less that 2% per annum, so there's likely to be a significant shortfall by 2050. While the use of fertilisers, pesticides and mechanisation have boosted yields over the past few decades, their potential for future growth is limited. Instead, scientists are increasingly looking to improving the process of photosynthesis as a way of increasing food productivity. While plants use the energy from sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars that fuel the plant's growth, the chemical steps involved produce some toxic compounds that actually limit the potential of the crop. These toxins are then recycled by the plant in a process called photorespiration - but this costs the plant precious energy that could have been used to increase yield. In this study, researchers set out to developed a way around the photosynthesis glitch. "We've tried three different biochemical designs with the aim of shortcutting this very energy expensive process," said lead author Dr Paul South with the US Agricultural Research Service. "It's been estimated that in plants like soybeans, rice and fruit and vegetables, it can be a significant drag on yield by as much as 36%. We've tried to engineer this shortcut to make them more energy efficient - and in field trials this translated into a 40% increase in plant biomass." One important aspect of the problem is that it becomes more prevalent at higher temperatures and under drought conditions.
1-3-19 A Green New Deal for cars would be easier than you think
The technology is there, all we need is a big government shove. he Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last year stating that the world is quickly running out of time to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the level widely agreed to be the conservative, safety-first goal to prevent serious climate harms. To get there, the world would have to cut current emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. That sounds preposterously unlikely. Even 2 degrees of warming — which would be much worse than 1.5 degrees — would be nearly impossible to hit at this point (if we set aside hugely risky geoengineering schemes or untested carbon capture industries). It would mean something like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's hugely aggressive Green New Deal starting right now, and probably adding a bit along the way. The Democratic leadership has already made certain that won't happen in the near term. But before we give in to despair, we should remember that the technology to address climate change is barreling along at high speed. The largest source of U.S. carbon emissions is transportation, and a Green New Deal for motor vehicles would be quite straightforward The reason is simple: With some decent subsidies, electric cars and buses are now cost-competitive with fossil-fuel vehicles, and they are getting better and cheaper with every passing month. Electric buses have made the greatest inroads into the market, because they are a logical choice for electrification and because China has been building them like crazy. By the end of 2018, electric vehicles were displacing about 280,000 barrels of oil demand per day — about 84 percent of which was due to buses. That's more than the whole consumption of Greece, and a 37 percent increase from 2017.
1-2-19 A New Year vow for our leaders? Start taking climate change seriously
Never has there been a more important time for politicians to move beyond paying lip service to the fight against global warming, says Owen Gaffney. STOP smoking? Lose weight? Play less Fortnite? It is the time of year to forgo instant gratification for long-term gain. For world leaders, getting serious about climate change offers the ultimate New Year’s resolution. Last year was the fourth hottest on record. An unprecedented heatwave in the northern hemisphere brought devastating wildfires and floods. And with an El Niño – the ocean phenomenon that raises global temperatures – spinning up in the Pacific, 2019 could be even hotter. Despite the hype, the Paris Agreement on climate change has barely more legal status than your personal pledges for 2019, and lacklustre national commitments to the agreement risk committing the world to catastrophe. It is now increasingly clear that, to curb the risk of disastrous climate change, certain things must happen at set times: fossil fuel emissions must peak in 2020 and halve by 2030, then halve again by 2040 and so on each decade. My colleagues and I at the Stockholm Resilience Centre call this exponential decline the Carbon Law. Framing the problem this way can provide short-term focus to a long-term goal, something the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change backs. The next two years setting us on the is path are critical for the planet. Every decision made now on energy, transport, buildings and industry will affect whether we can stick to the Carbon Law. Can emissions peak by 2020? Yes. Between 2014 and 2016 there was almost no emissions growth, while economies still grew. (Webmaster's comment: Baloney!) In around 50 countries emissions have already peaked. Is it realistic to halve emissions by 2030? Yes. In fact, many firms and cities can go far faster. Renewable energy is now 12 per cent of electricity production and wind and solar are doubling every three years. In 2018, the cost of green energy reached parity with fossil fuels in many regions, and is still falling. Over 50 per cent of the world’s electricity will come from renewables by 2030, if we can stay the course. But only if the world halts investment in fossil fuels.
(Webmaster's comment: Does this chart show that emissions have peaked, or even slowed down?)
1-2-19 Our addiction to flying is ruining the climate, but it doesn’t have to
From simply flying planes in straighter lines to sucking fuel from thin air, a raft of new technologies that could help us fly guilt-free are in the offing. RIGHT now, there are more than half a million people in the sky. Some 11 kilometres up, at the base of the stratosphere, the equivalent of a small city’s population is strapped into seats in pressurised tubes atop gigantic tanks of kerosene. It is an extraordinary thought. It is also a worrying one. By some estimates, aviation is set to become the single biggest source of carbon dioxide. You may have switched to a green energy supplier, swapped your car for a bike, and maybe even stopped eating meat. But if you’re thinking about taking that holiday in the Mediterranean and don’t want to bust your carbon budget, you’re going to have to paddle there. Yet we are addicted to flying. Few would willingly give up the freedom and opportunities it gives. So is there any way we can keep that city in the sky aloft without destroying the planet? One factor that makes it especially tough is the ever-increasing number of us up there. An average return plane ticket in 2017 was about 60 per cent cheaper in real terms than it was in 1995. That has driven an annual 5 per cent rise in passenger numbers. At the moment, 4 billion passenger seats are sold in civilian airliners each year, according to the International Air Transport Association. By 2036, that figure is predicted to almost double to 7.8 billion. That means annual passenger numbers in roughly 20 years will be a shade higher than Earth’s entire population today. At the same time, aviation’s emissions of potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides will increase.
1-2-19 Warming seas linked to bluefin tuna surge in UK waters
Growing numbers of bluefin tuna are being seen in the waters around the UK because of the warming impact of a long term ocean current say researchers. These large, speedy fish are a globally endangered species and almost disappeared from the UK around 40 years ago. Scientists say that their recent rise is connected to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Now in a warm phase, the current makes UK waters more hospitable for the fish. Bluefin tuna are one of the largest and fastest fish on the planet - they can weigh up to 900kg and can travel at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour (43mph). In the 1930s, the species was a common sight in the seas off Scarborough and was highly prized by big-game fishers. However, from the 1940s, the species began to decline and by the early 1990s had all but disappeared. But over the past five years or so, sightings of the warm blooded fish have increased off the UK once again with many of these encounters captured on social media. This situation has been mirrored in the Nordic seas, in the waters between Greenland and Norway which witnessed a spectacular collapse in tuna numbers in the 1960s, when the fish declined dramatically in just two years. Researchers now believe that the warming and cooling impact of the long term current, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is key to the ebb and flow of the species. The scientists' new paper has been published in the journal Science Advances. The team looked at the changing abundance and distribution of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic over the past 200 years. They've concluded that the major factor influencing the movement of bluefin is the AMO.
1-2-19 Leafcutter ants have their own landfill sites that emit greenhouse gas
Leafcutter ants make huge piles of waste from cultivating fungus, and these rubbish dumps emit a surprising amount of greenhouse gas. The ants, found throughout Central and South America, collect huge amounts of vegetation and use it to farm a domesticated fungus in their nests. They have a sophisticated waste management system, with members of the colony responsible for transporting their refuse to a dump outside the colony. This waste consists of decomposed leaves, dead fungus and even dead ants. Just like compost heaps, these dumps are very rich in carbon and nitrogen, providing ideal conditions for microbes that produce nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. To work out just how much, Fiona Soper at the University of Montana and colleagues measured the emissions from 22 refuse piles in Costa Rica. “These unique conditions create small areas that have unprecedentedly high emissions,” says Soper, who is now at Cornell University, New York. Although the dumps are smaller than a dinner table, they can release as much nitrous oxide as human-made systems such as wastewater treatment plants. Soper estimates that in rainforests where these ants live, the refuse piles may generate up to 350 grams of nitrous oxide per hectare per year. That doesn’t mean ants are a major contributor to global warming, but it shows they play a major part in the cycling of nutrients in the ecosystem, says Soper. “We tend to think of greenhouse gas production being driven by microbes in the soil, and not influenced much by animals,” she says.
1-1-19 Recycling: Where is the plastic waste mountain?
A year ago, experts warned that the UK could face a mountain of waste plastic as China imposed a ban on waste imports. In recent years, the UK has heavily relied on China to take our unwanted plastic packaging. Three years ago, the UK was exporting half a million tonnes of plastic to China and Hong Kong - accounting for almost two-thirds of all our plastic sent abroad. China introduced its ban on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries 12 months ago. At the time, the UK recycling industry warned that the decision would be a "game-changer" and that it would be a struggle to deal with the country's waste. Well, it hasn't appeared - partly thanks to other countries taking our waste plastic instead, and partly because we are burning more of it. In the wake of mass public alarm about plastic pollution we may also be producing less plastic waste, although it's impossible to be sure of the figures. In the 12 months to October 2018, our analysis of Environment Agency figures shows that the UK exported a total of 611,000 tonnes of recovered plastic packaging to other countries. In the previous 12-month period (ie to October 2017), the UK exported 683,000 tonnes. So that works out as a drop in exports of 72,000 between 2016-17 and 2017-2018. It's clear that other countries have imported much of the plastic packaging previously reprocessed by China. But incineration in the UK has also increased, and we may be seeing the benefits of the Blue Planet effect on public behaviour. The fact is we can't be certain from the data what exactly has happened to the shortfall.