7-22-19 US groundwater shortage is forcing us to dig extremely deep wells
The US’s thirst for water – whether to drink or to grow crops – is encouraging an unsustainable trend towards ever deeper groundwater wells. That is the warning from US researchers who have produced the first map of the country’s wells, spending four years painstakingly talking to scores of public authorities to unearth the data. Groundwater provides drinking water for 120 million Americans and around half of the country’s irrigation needs. But demand in places such as California’s central valley is drying up existing wells, and engineers are drilling deeper ones to replace them. No one knew how many and how deep these new wells were. But a mapping exercise by Debra Perrone and Scott Jasechko at University of California, Santa Barbara found there are 11.8 million wells in total, and they are becoming deeper over time. “We wanted to make the invisible visible,” says Perrone. Simply drilling deeper is “an unsustainable stopgap to groundwater depletion”, Perrone and Jasechko argue, for four reasons: cost, energy for pumping, geology, and water usually becoming saltier the deeper you go. Perrone suggests that the alternative is to improve governance around groundwater use, and to look closer at which legal controls around withdrawals are most effective. In those cases where deeper drilling has to go ahead, water quality must be protected, she adds.
7-21-19 In pictures: Americans cool down in sweltering heatwave
The US is currently experiencing a serious heatwave, with dangerously high temperatures of almost 38C (100F). Cities on the country's east coast are particularly hard-hit, with New York, Philadelphia and Washington all experiencing unbearable heat. Unusually, they are even hotter than Phoenix, Arizona, and Miami in Florida. People in affected areas have been urged to stay hydrated, stay indoors as much as possible, and to try and take care of vulnerable people, including those who are ill, very young, or elderly. With residents trying to cool down in whatever way they can, public pools and fountains have been extremely busy. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a heat emergency in the city, and the New York City Triathlon, which was scheduled for Sunday, has been cancelled for the first time in its 18-year history. About 4,000 people were supposed to take part, with many travelling long distances for the race. Organisers said participants would receive full refunds of entry fees up to $399 (£319). A two-day music, comedy and food festival, OZY Fest, was also meant to be held in Central Park this weekend, but was cancelled.
7-21-19 Portugal wildfires: Huge blazes force evacuations
Hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to central Portugal where several wildfires have forced people to flee their homes. One person has suffered serious injuries. At least seven firefighters have also been hurt. Helicopters and planes have been used to douse three blazes in the mountainous Castelo Branco region, where one village has been evacuated. On Sunday, officials said two of the fires had been brought under control. The fires started on Saturday afternoon and were fanned by strong winds that made them more difficult to contain. "We are ready for a difficult day," Belo Costa, a civil protection official, told reporters early on Sunday. Hundreds of vehicles, including four bulldozers, have been used to tackle the fires. Army soldiers have been deployed. Several major roads are closed. A person who suffered first and second degree burns was taken by helicopter to a hospital in the capital, Lisbon. Temperatures in the Castelo Branco region are expected to reach 31C (88F) on Sunday. Six regions in central and southern Portugal have been placed on maximum fire alert. Wildfires are an annual problem in Portugal. The country is warm, heavily forested, and affected by strong winds from the Atlantic. Dozens of people were killed in huge fires there in 2017.
7-21-19 The world's first zero-waste flight
This Australian airline is trying to minimize its environmental impact — besides the jet fuel. This spring, passengers on a Wednesday morning flight from Sydney to Adelaide, Australia, were greeted in the usual way — the flight attendant telling them to place larger bags in overhead compartments, smaller ones under their seats. But then the flight attendant tacked on an unexpected announcement: "At this time, we'd like to invite you to sit back and enjoy the world's first zero-waste flight. We certainly hope you're as proud as we are to be part of aviation history." Aviation history? The world's first zero-waste flight? "That means that all paper, plastic, and aluminum and food items that we'll be serving you today will be either composted, recycled, or reused," the flight attendant said. Greenhouse gases aren't the only significant waste airlines produce. All those single-use plastic cups, meal boxes, pretzel bags. Many of us ask: Is it all really necessary? Qantas is asking that question, too. Qantas says it produces about 30,000 tons of waste per year, the equivalent to 80 fully laden 747 jumbo jets. And the Australian airline wants to cut that down significantly. "This flight was the first, I guess you could call, laboratory," said Andrew Parker, the group executive for government, industry, international, and sustainability with Qantas. "There were a thousand individual items that we removed or substituted from this flight." That included everything from plastic stirrers to individualized salt and pepper containers. Altogether, Qantas' goal is to eliminate 100 million pieces of single-use plastic annually by the end of next year. That's 45 million plastic cups, 30 million sets of cutlery, 21 million coffee cups, and 4 million headrest covers. "Why we're doing it, I think, is the critical question," Parker said. "We really feel it's the right thing to do. Airlines play a critical role in society, but we also know we are big consumers of resources, be that fuel, be that plastics." Of course, one of the biggest environmental impacts of flying may not be things like plastic stirring straws — it's the carbon dioxide from burning all that jet fuel. But that's a separate and far more complicated challenge for the airline industry.
7-20-19 Some unexpected consequences of extreme heat
This weekend, close to 200 million Americans will face temperatures of 90F (32C) and higher. Add in humidity, and many cities across the East Coast and Midwest will be feeling more like 110F (43C). Heat waves have killed more people on average than any other extreme weather event in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Officials define extreme heat as a period of two to three days of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90F (32C). On the heels of earth's hottest June on record, the US National Weather Service (NWS) estimates over 100 record-high minimum temperatures could be set as the heat lingers even past sunset. Air-conditioning is used in 87% of US homes, according to a 2018 report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). During heat waves, air conditioning use stresses power grids and can lead to city-wide outages. In cities, that means millions of units - including those on cars and buses and trains - constantly pushing out heat into the atmosphere. Studies have found the extra heat from air-conditioning can raise temperatures by as much as 2C. And when it gets hotter, our thermostats turn lower and the cycle continues.But it goes further than just an ever-hotter summer season - the emissions from air conditioners and their refrigerants is contributing to climate change. The man-made greenhouse gases used in air conditoners, called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In cities, the cycle is also exacerbated by all the concrete, asphalt, steel and glass, creating an urban heat island.
7-19-19 Five ways the US heatproofs 50C cities
Much of the US is baking this weekend. As American cities continue getting hotter, the people who live in them have begun efforts to heatproof their homes and neighbourhoods in order to stave off the impending rise in global temperatures, writes Lucy Sherriff. The number of extreme heat days will rocket across the US, according to a new climate change report which predicts hundreds of cities experiencing month-long temperatures above 100F (38C) by 2050. Roughly 80% of Americans live in cities, equating to around 262 million people. Cities are almost always hotter than the surrounding rural areas, thanks to the urban heat island effect. These heat islands are caused by numerous factors, such as trapped waste heat, concrete structures and pavements absorbing the sun and tall buildings blocking the wind. All of these components contribute to air temperatures in cities that can be up to 22F hotter than neighbouring regions with less urban development. A warming planetary climate means temperatures in heat island areas will continue to rise, with desert states such as Texas, Nevada and Arizona particularly affected. In 2017, heat killed 172 people in Maricopa County, according to local health officials. The 9,000 square-mile region - which includes the city of Phoenix and miles of desert - contains 60% of Arizona's population. The region is one of the most heat-vulnerable areas in the US. To combat this, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) environmentalist group launched a programme to engage communities in tree planting in order to provide cooling shade to vulnerable residents. The programme aims to bring equality to the city. Affluent neighbourhoods can finance trees themselves, often have air conditioning units, and are less likely to use public transport. In low-income areas, residents are more likely to work outside, use public transport and generally are more vulnerable to the heat due to their lack of economic resources. "We are creating green corridors around the city," says Maggie Messerschmidt, urban conservation program manager at the TNC. TNC is starting by targeting low-income neighbourhoods where urban heat islands are more prevalent due to these areas having fewer open spaces, more concrete surfaces and less trees.
7-19-19 Could planting trees halt climate change?
Scientists have calculated that the cheapest and most effective way to fight climate change may be to plant trees—a trillion of them. Because trees soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology decided to examine what would happen if saplings were replanted on lands where forests had been cleared. They concluded that the planet could support an extra 2.2 billion acres of tree cover, an area almost the size of the U.S. Those new forests, the researchers say, would remove about two-thirds of the roughly 330 billion tons of carbon pumped into the atmosphere by humans since the Industrial Revolution. Reforestation is “the top climate change solution in terms of carbon storage potential,” co-author Thomas Crowther tells Vox.com. Crowther and his colleagues identified six countries where the majority of the reforestation would need to take place: Russia, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China. And, they say, trees need to be planted sooner rather than later, because climate change could soon make it impossible for forests to thrive in some areas, such as the tropics. Other climate scientists say the global reforestation plan is too ambitious to be realistic, and that governments should focus on reducing carbon emissions, not coming up with ways to scrub greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
7-19-19 Cigarette butts in soil hamper plant growth, study suggests
Discarded cigarette butts can hamper plant growth, new research suggests. The study, led by Anglia Ruskin University, found the presence of butts in soil reduced the germination success and shoot length of clover by 27% and 28% respectively. An estimated 4.5 trillion butts are littered globally each year making them the planet's most pervasive form of plastic pollution, the study said. Most cigarette butts contain a filter made of cellulose acetate fibre, a type of a bioplastic. But researchers found filters from un-smoked cigarettes had almost the same effect on plant growth as used filters, indicating that the damage to plants is caused by the filter itself, even without the additional toxins released from the burning of the tobacco. As part of the research - published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety - academics sampled locations around the city of Cambridge and found areas with as many as 128 discarded cigarette butts per sq metre. Control experiments were carried out and contained pieces of wood of identical shape and size as the cigarette butts. Lead author Dr Dannielle Green said while dropping butts seemed to be "socially acceptable", they had the ability to "cause serious damage to the environment". Dr Green - a senior biology lecturer at ARU - said: "Despite being a common sight littering streets and parks worldwide, our study is the first to show the impact of cigarette butts on plants. "We found they had a detrimental effect on the germination success and shoot length of both grass and clover, and reduced the root weight of clover by over half. "Ryegrass and white clover, the two species we tested, are important forage crops for livestock as well as being commonly found in urban green spaces. "These plants support a wealth of biodiversity, even in city parks, and white clover is ecologically important for pollinators and nitrogen fixation." She said that the filters can take years, if not decades, to break down.
7-19-19 Toxic selfies
A gorgeous turquoise lake that thousands of Siberians have been using as a backdrop for their Instagram photos is full of toxic waste, environmentalists have warned. Nicknamed the Siberian Maldives by locals, the lake contains runoff from an industrial dump site. The water gets its color from a chemical reaction among waste elements from the local coal-burning power station. Environmentalist Dmitry Shakhov said the water could cause allergic reactions or even chemical burns if ingested or touched. “This water is saturated with heavy metals and harmful substances,” he said. The Siberian Generating Co. said the lake poses no danger, but added that it has stationed guards to keep trespassers out.
7-19-19 World experienced hottest June on record in 2019, says US agency
The world experienced its hottest June on record last month, with an average temperature worldwide of 61.6F (16.4C), according to new data. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the average global temperature was 1.7F warmer than the 20th Century average. The heat was most notable in parts of Europe, Russia, Canada and South America, it said. The NOAA report was released as the US prepares for a "dangerous heatwave". The National Weather Service has warned that tens of millions of people will be affected by excessive heat in the coming days, with temperatures expected to reach up to 110F (43.3C). "Friday is going to be bad. Saturday is going to be really, really bad," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday. "Take it seriously." In its latest monthly global climate report, the NOAA said the heat in June had brought Antarctic sea ice coverage to a record low. Nine of the 10 hottest Junes on its 1880-2019 record have occurred in the past nine years, it said. Last month beat June 2016 to be named the hottest. Nasa and other groups also reached the same conclusion last month. Scientists have warned that record-setting temperatures will continue as a result of climate change. "Earth is running a fever that won't break thanks to climate change," climatologist Kathie Dello told the Associated Press news agency. "This won't be the last record warm summer month that we will see."
7-19-19 Dangerous heatwave starts hitting US
Extremely hot weather has started to hit most of the United States, with temperatures set to peak over the weekend, meteorologists say. The heatwave could affect about 200 million people in major cities like New York, Washington and Boston in the East Coast, and the Midwest region too. In some places, temperatures could be close to or exceed 100F (38C). Experts say heatwaves are becoming more frequent, a phenomenon that is linked to climate change. The world experienced its hottest June on record this year, with an average temperature worldwide of 61.6F (16.4C), according to new data. Earlier this month, the US state of Alaska, part of which lies inside the Arctic Circle, registered record high temperatures. The heatwave is hitting an area stretching from the Central Plains of Colorado and Kansas, to the Great Lakes in the north-east. Temperatures are also rising in most areas of the East Coast. The National Weather Service (NWS) published a map of the areas that are affected. "The hazy, hot and humid conditions will persist through the weekend. Be smart and stay cool!" it warned. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared "a local emergency due to the extreme heat" in the city. "This is a heatwave coming up these next days. It's serious stuff," the mayor said in a video posted on Twitter. "Friday is going to be bad. Saturday is going to be really, really bad on through Sunday." He urged New Yorkers to take the threat seriously, to stay hydrated, and to not go out in the hot weather. Mr de Blasio added that 500 "cooling centres" were being opened across New York. Similar measures were being taken in Detroit and other cities.
7-18-19 We're pushing 28,000 species closer to extinction
Seven primate species, two families of rays and thousands more animals, plants and fungi have moved closer to extinction, according to a global analysis. The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list shows that worldwide some 28,338 species are threatened with extinction due to a combination of habitat loss, unsustainable fishing and hunting. That is a 6 per cent increase from 2018, when 26,840 species were threatened. The IUCN classified 6127 species as critically endangered, meaning they are one step away from global extinction. This is up from 5826 species last year. However, the IUCN says this may be due to greater efforts at assessing species, rather than a true increase in the number of endangered animals. All but one of the 16 species of wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes, collectively known as rhino rays because of their elongated snouts, are now critically endangered due to “increasingly intense and essentially unregulated coastal fishing”, the IUCN says. Rhino ray meat is sold locally, while the fins are highly valued and traded internationally for shark fin soup. Some 40 per cent of primate species in West and central Africa are now threatened with extinction, and the conservation status of seven primate species have become more precarious in the past year, the IUCN warns. Six of these species live in West Africa, which “shows clearly how hunting for bushmeat and development-related deforestation are causing primate populations to decline”, it says. The roloway monkey (Cercopithecus roloway) is now critically endangered, with fewer than 2000 thought to remain in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where they are endemic. Their size and the value of their meat and skin make the monkeys a target for hunters.
7-18-19 Red List: Extinction threat to overlooked species
A deep-sea snail, many of Europe's fungi and half the freshwater fish in Japan are just some obscure additions to a list of threatened species. The Red List, a conservation status catalogue of more than 100,000 species, is compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list update "delves into" ecosystems not examined before. "[Many species] probably have been overlooked," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List Unit. Their status serves as a warning. And "for some groups, they're jumping on to the list in a threatened category". Fungi, Mr Hilton-Taylor said, were relatively poorly studied, in comparison with many animals. "By bringing experts together and sharing all the information, we've seen a pattern - species are declining everywhere across Europe," he said. "That's helped us identify that semi-natural grasslands - a key European ecosystem- are also declining." The abandonment of traditional grazing and more intensive agricultural practices, including increased use of fertiliser are key drivers of that. "Fungi are very sensitive to changes in the environment, like pollution - they're the first to go," said Mr Hilton-Taylor. "But once they go, plants dependent on fungi will disappear, then the animals dependent on those plants."
7-18-19 Birds and insect species are heading north in the UK as climate warms
More than 50 species – including the purple heron, the southern emerald damselfly and the green-jawed tube web spider – have been on the move in the UK over the past decade as climate change takes hold. Despite a tradition of nature-watching and climate records in the UK, monitoring of wildlife movements due to rising temperatures is patchy. But a study by a UK-Australian team combed scientific literature, government reports and, unusually, social media, to explore whether UK species have moved into new areas between 2008 and 2018. They found 55 of the UK’s 39,000 species of animal, mostly insects and birds, had extended their range within the UK, primarily northwards. The Jersey tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria) has expanded beyond the Channel Islands to London. One species, the black bee fly (Anthrax anthrax), arrived in the UK for the first time due to climate change. “The nature we are used to is going to change. It’s an important question we haven’t talked about much,” says Nathalie Pettorelli of the Zoological Society of London. People shouldn’t be afraid of species arriving in their area for the first time, she adds, but should try to support them with green space. Species were only considered to have moved because of global warming if there was scientific literature supporting climate change as a likely driver. For that reason, the figure of 55 species is probably a big underestimate, says Pettorelli. Naturalists tweeting and sharing photos about species in unusual locations helped identify 10 of the species, such as the arrival of the small skipper butterfly (Thymelicus sylvestris) in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Social media is a useful resource when species are recognisable from photos, Pettorelli says, but less so when a microscope is required, for example to tell some spiders apart.
7-18-19 Adding more bioethanol to petrol is no way to go green
Making “greener” fuels by adding bioethanol to petrol will wreck the environment, not save it. We need to focus on making electric cars work. The UK should burn more alcohol to go greener, a group of MPs styling themselves the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol said this week. They want the UK government to increase the bioethanol in standard unleaded petrol from 5 to 10 per cent. Such “E10” fuel is already sold in many countries, including the US, Australia and several European nations. Yet it is a social and environmental disaster. Biodiversity is under threat, and we need to preserve habitats, not destroy them. But growing crops to make biofuel increases the global demand for farmland and results in the destruction of ever more wilderness. By pushing up food prices and encouraging land grabs, most biofuels also deepen poverty and social division. They aren’t even that great at limiting climate change. Growing them produces greenhouse gases in all kinds of ways, from carbon dioxide when fertilisers are manufactured to nitrous oxide when they are applied to fields. Add to that people cutting down forests that store lots of carbon to create more farmland. The official carbon footprint of petrol and diesel in the European Union is 84 grams of carbon dioxide or the equivalent for every megajoule of energy. According to a 2017 study by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, producing bioethanol from wheat – the main crop used for this purpose in the UK – emits around 100g CO2 eq/MJ on average, once land-use change is taken into account. Other sources at least emit less than petrol and diesel. Bioethanol made from sugar beet – another crop used in the UK – comes in at around 50g CO2 eq/MJ on average, counting land use. But the UK’s official aim is to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050. Even using only sugar-beet bioethanol for blending with petrol wouldn’t get us close to what is needed. (Webmaster's comment: we suggest buying Chinese BYD electric cars instead. They are way ahead of anyone else with the technologly.)
7-18-19 Electric car models to triple in Europe by 2021
The number of electric car models available to consumers in Europe is expected to triple by 2021, says a European environmental lobby group. The uptake of electric cars has been stalling, blamed on a lack of charging infrastructure and higher prices. Latest data shows carmakers will offer 214 electric car models in 2021, up from 60 models at the end of 2018. More affordable options could see consumers switch from petrol and diesel cars sooner than anticipated. Analysis by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), based on data by research firm IHS Markit, suggests that car manufacturers are now ready to embrace car electrification. In 2021, carmakers are forecast to bring 92 fully electric models and 118 plug-in hybrid models to market. If they stick to these plans, 22% of vehicles produced could have a plug by 2025, which would enable manufacturers to easily meet the EU's car CO2 emissions target of 95g/km by 2025. The biggest electric car production plants will be in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the data shows. Some 16 large-scale lithium-ion battery cell plants are confirmed or due to begin operations in Europe by 2023. "Thanks to the EU car CO2 standards, Europe is about to see a wave of new, longer range, and more affordable electric cars hit the market," said Lucien Mathieu, a transport and e-mobility analyst at T&E. "That is good news, but the job is not yet done. We need governments to help roll out electric vehicle charging at home and at work, and we need changes to car taxation to make electric cars even more attractive than polluting diesel, petrol or poor plug-in hybrid vehicles." Even luxury sports carmakers are jumping on to the electric bandwagon. This week, Lotus, owned by Chinese firm Geely, unveiled a £2m all-electric "hypercar" - the Evija - capable of more than 200mph (322km/h). (Webmaster's comment: Ridiculous! Where are you going to drive that.).
7-17-19 Sounding alert about vanishing US coastlines
Equipped with little more than a camera and a bird's eye view, Henry J Fair's new book captures the ongoing environmental threat to America's coastal region.
7-17-19 A drastic plan might prevent catastrophic Antarctic ice sheet collapse
Pumping colossal amounts of ocean water onto the West Antarctic ice sheet could stop it collapsing and causing drastic sea level rise that would threaten cities including Tokyo and New York. But the German and US researchers who have explored the idea admit the drastic intervention would require an “unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet”. The fix would also be extremely expensive, incredibly hard to do and risk potentially devastating impacts for the region’s unique ecosystem. Five years ago, studies suggested the West Antarctic ice sheet had already started an unstoppable collapse. While the process will take centuries, it would raise sea levels to a height that would have dire consequences for major coastal cities. The threat is so grave, it requires an exploration and discussion of bold ideas to stop the ice sheet’s collapse, says Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. “I’m certain the impact is so big it justifies this sort of thinking. It doesn’t mean it justifies the measure,” he says. Previous far-out ideas to stop the loss of the ice sheet have included building an island to stop the flow off the ice shelf. Levermann and colleagues instead modelled a more direct approach that would involve pumping ocean water onto the sheet, adding it either in liquid form or as snow. They found stabilising the collapse would require at least 7400 gigatonnes of the stuff over 10 years. “It’s a lot of ice. It’s huge,” says Levermann. He says while he is against global scale geoengineering proposals such as giant sunshades, the water pumping idea is different and more surgical. Even if society agreed on such a scheme, it faces mind-boggling obstacles. Around 145GW of wind farm capacity would be needed for the pumping, 12 times that installed in Europe last year. Temperatures would be too low for existing turbines, so new materials would be needed. The infrastructure would also turn the region into an “industrial compound”, says Levermann. Costs would likely be hundreds of billions of dollars, he adds.
7-17-19 Planning to carbon offset your flight? You should read this first
Carbon offsetting seems like an easy solution to climate guilt, but not all offsetting schemes are created equal. GRETA THUNBERG’S recent speech to the UK parliament was memorable not just for her oratorical firepower, but for how she got there: by taking trains from Stockholm to London, not a plane. The climate striker isn’t alone, as Swedes have driven the flygskam (flight shame) campaign. About 2000 people in the UK have pledged not to fly, while academics are being urged to fly less. But what if we still want or need to take the plane for work, holidays or meeting loved ones? The main option to assuage your guilt is carbon offsetting, where the amount of carbon you emit from an activity is negated by an equivalent reduction of carbon emissions elsewhere, through reforestation, renewable energy or other projects. Countries are also trying to decide what role offsetting plays in a post-Paris climate deal world, and many airlines will soon be required to offset any emissions growth. But does offsetting have a legitimate role to play in tackling climate change, given that it does nothing about our past emissions or cutting our ongoing footprint? need to do,” says Niklas Hagelberg at the United Nations Environment Programme. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that if temperature rises are to be limited to 1.5°C, emissions must nearly halve by 2030 and decrease almost entirely by 2050. Offsets can balance activities with few alternatives, says Hagelberg – in his case, flights from Nairobi to see family in other countries. But he says they are only useful if you also halve your carbon footprint in the next 11 years, so he is cutting emissions using solar heating and electricity at home. Benjamin Sovacool at the University of Sussex, UK, says if people are going to fly, it is good to offset, but better still would be not flying, or taking the train.
7-17-19 Costa Rica is banning the use of polystyrene packaging from 2021
Costa Rica will no longer allow the import or sales of expanded polystyrene – commonly known as Styrofoam in North America. The law prohibiting the packaging was signed on 15 July and will take effect in 2021. “It’s a material that can’t be reutilised. This is why this ban on import and commercialisation is so important, as it will reduce the pollution caused by this type of waste,” said Costa Rica’s Minister of Health Daniel Salas in a statement. Polystyrene is lightweight, inexpensive and moisture resistant, which makes it useful for everything from building insulation to food packaging. But it isn’t biodegradable – instead it slowly breaks down into smaller particles called microplastics. Polystyrene has been found to be widespread in marine environments where its chemicals can leach into the water and become toxic to sea life, potentially contaminating fish we eat. There are also concerns about the direct health effects of polystyrene for humans. People exposed to high concentrations during plastic production have developed eye and skin irritation, and problems with their respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. The prohibition will be enforced in two years, and before then the government said in a statement that they will incentivise the substitution of other packaging materials to replace expanded polystyrene.
7-17-19 The super fly that could feed us, end waste and make plastic and fuel
The black soldier fly is the next big thing in sustainability, digesting waste products with minimal greenhouse gas emission. Farming them could save the world. BZZZZZZZ. Most people would find working next to the noise of thousands of flies a little irritating, and perhaps reach for a rolled-up newspaper. But to Keiran Whitaker, it is the soundtrack of a more sustainable future. That, and the promise of hard cash: Whitaker’s company Entocycle is farming the flies in a specialised lab a short walk from Tower Bridge in central London. Within a year, he wants to be shipping them around the country. As food. These are no ordinary insects. They are bigger than the average housefly but far more sluggish. They don’t eat anything, so they don’t need mouths or digestive systems, which means they can’t bite. They aren’t pests and they can’t carry disease. And as flies go, they don’t even fly that much. When they do, it is like they can’t really be bothered. It is easy to reach out and just grab one. They are black soldier flies. And if they sound amazing – which they are – then wait until you meet the kids. The larvae of these flies are the next big thing in sustainability. They can be dried and fed to pets. They can replace fishmeal in the diet of farmed fish and animals, and so help protect the oceans from over-exploitation. They can be swapped for the mountain of soya used in animal feed, so saving the rainforests. They can digest all manner of human wastes without generating a lot of greenhouse gases. They can be processed into a kind of plastic. They have been baked into bread and biscuits and mixed into ice cream. They taste, if you were wondering, a bit like peanuts.
7-17-19 Climate change: 'No brainer' fuel change to cut transport carbon
Adding more ethanol to the UK's fuel mix would cut carbon by as much as taking 700,000 cars off the roads, according to a group of MPs. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol says the swift introduction of E10 fuel would also help the £1bn British biofuel industry. E10 is a mixture of 10% ethanol with 90% petrol, double the current permit One of the unintended consequences of 2015's diesel emissions scandal has been a jump in the sales of petrol cars, with a knock-on effect on sales of the fuel. This has contributed to the first increase in emissions of CO2 from new cars in two decades recorded in 2017. A significant plank of the government's plan to reduce carbon on the roads has been the introduction of biofuels made from crops, which soak up CO2 as they are grown. At present, ethanol made from wheat or sugar beet is blended into petrol to a maximum of 5%. The report's authors say that while electric cars and vehicles are the long-term solution to emissions from transport, E10 represents a big advance that could be achieved right now.ted maximum. The MPs say that Brexit has distracted the government from taking action. "For many reasons it is absolutely a no-brainer," said Nic Dakin MP, the chairman of the all-party group. "On the environmental front, it's a cleaner, greener fuel at a time when we're trying to address air pollution and tackle climate change. "Cars aren't going to all switch to battery power overnight and if they did there isn't the capacity in the National Grid to power all of our transportation. "This must be a top priority for the government and we renew our call for a mandate to introduce E10 by 2020 at the latest." In other European countries, the change to E10 has been fully embraced. France introduced the fuel in 2009 and last year it was the largest volume petrol grade sold, with 47% of the market. Germany, Belgium and Finland have also introduced E10, with other countries including China and India set to do the same. In Brazil the minimum ethanol content is now 27%.
7-17-19 Planting trees could buy more time to fight climate change than thought
Earth has 0.9 billion hectares that are suitable for new forests. A whopping new estimate of the power of planting trees could rearrange to-do lists for fighting climate change. Planting trees on 0.9 billion hectares of land could trap about two-thirds the amount of carbon released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution, a new study finds. The planet has that much tree-friendly land available for use. Without knocking down cities or taking over farms or natural grasslands, reforested pieces could add up to new tree cover totaling just about the area of the United States, researchers report in the July 5 Science. The new calculation boosts tree planting to a top priority for gaining some time to fight climate change, says coauthor Tom Crowther, an ecologist at ETH Zurich. The study used satellite images to see how densely trees grow naturally in various ecosystems. Extrapolating from those images showed how much forest similar land could support. Plant a mix of native species, he urges. That will help preserve the birds, insects and other local creatures. The analysis revealed space to nourish enough trees to capture some 205 metric gigatons of carbon in about a century. That’s close to 10 times the savings expected from managing refrigerants, the top item on a list of climate-fighting strategies from the nonprofit Project Drawdown, a worldwide network of scientists, advocates and others proposing solutions to global warming. The benefit of tree planting will shrivel if people wait, the researchers warn. Earth’s climate could change enough by 2050 to shrink the places trees can grow by some 223 million hectares if the world keeps emitting greenhouse gases as it does now, the analysis suggests.
7-17-19 Plastic pollution: Could a year's waste circle the Earth four times?
So much plastic is thrown away every year that it could circle the Earth four times. This is claim is a claim commonly made on environmental websites - but is it true?
7-17-19 Chennai, the city where drought is visible from space
Millions of people in India's southern city of Chennai are struggling as taps run dry. rains and trucks have been bringing water in for residents, but it comes at a cost. Environmentalists are warning this is a problem which could soon affect many other countries.
7-16-19 Journal criticised for study claiming sun is causing global warming
A high profile scientific journal is investigating how it came to publish a study suggesting that global warming is down to natural solar cycles. The paper was criticised by scientists for containing “very basic errors” about how the Earth moves around the sun. The study was published online on 24 June by Scientific Reports, an open access journal run by Nature Research, which also lists the prestigious Nature journal among its titles. A spokesperson told New Scientist that it is aware of concerns raised over the paper, which was authored by five academics based at Northumbria University, the University of Bradford, and the University of Hull in the UK, plus the Nasir al-Din al-Tusi Shamakhi Astrophysical Observatory in Azerbaijan, and the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia. The authors suggest that the Earth’s 1°C temperature rise over the past two centuries could largely be explained by the distance between the Earth and the sun changing over time as the sun orbits around our solar system’s barycentre, its centre of mass. The phenomenon would see temperatures rise a further 3°C by 2600, they say. Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh, UK, criticised the paper for an “elementary” mistake about celestial mechanics. “It’s well known that the sun moves around the barycentre of the solar system due to the influence of the other solar system bodies, mainly Jupiter,” he says. “This does not mean, as the paper is claiming, that this then leads to changes in the distance between the sun and the Earth.” “The claim that we will see warming in the coming centuries because the sun will move closer to the earth as it moves around the solar system barycentre is very simply wrong,” adds Rice. He is urging the journal to withdraw the paper, and says it is embarrassing it was published. Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies says the paper contains egregious errors. “The sun-Earth distance does not vary with the motion of the sun-Earth system around the barycenter of the sun-Jupiter system, nor the sun-galactic center system or any other purely mathematical reference point.” He says the journal must retract the paper if it wants to retain any credibility.
7-16-19 Michael Gove: Time running out to stop damage to planet
Michael Gove threw his weight behind a comprehensive plastic bottle recycling scheme today as he warned time is running out to repair the damage human beings have done to the planet. In a speech at Kew Gardens in London the Environment Secretary said there was a political, economic and moral imperative to tackle climate change and reverse wildlife loss. He outlined ambitious proposals for what he described as a "world leading" Environment Act, to match the success of the Climate Change Act of 2008. He said it would include the creation of an Office of Environment Protection with tough powers to take legal action on a range of environmental issues, including reducing carbon emissions. It was his intention that the new body would have "real teeth' and would be able take central government to court if necessary, the Environment Secretary said. The speech will be seen as a signal to the two Tory leadership contenders that Mr Gove is keen to stay in his post at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) after Theresa May leaves office next week. Mr Gove announced that he favours an "all in" deposit return recycling scheme that would cover all sizes of bottles. This would give the public "the greatest possible incentive" to recycle, he told the audience at Kew. Large retailers have lobbied against such a scheme, warning it could cost as much as £1bn to administer. But deposit schemes in Europe have boosted recycling. The idea is that a deposit - a few pence - would be added to the price of a drink. The deposit is paid back when empties are returned to retailers. am Chetan-Welsh, political adviser for Greenpeace UK, said: "Michael Gove's call for urgency and UK leadership is spot on. By backing an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, and pledging to force big business to finally foot the bill for the masses of plastic rubbish they create, Gove's pledges give the next government a good place to start. "But tangible commitments on climate were notably absent. The next government must speed up the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, triple renewable power over the next decade, end fracking and Heathrow's third runway, and boost investment in insulating our homes."
7-16-19 EU top nominee von der Leyen in 'green deal' push for MEP votes
The woman nominated to head the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has pledged to launch a "green deal for Europe", in a bid for MEPs' support. Mrs von der Leyen set out her agenda in the European Parliament ahead of a key vote on her candidacy. The outgoing German defence minister needs a majority to take charge. On Brexit, she said "I stand ready for a further extension of the [UK] withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason". MEPs reacted with a mixture of applause and boos. "In any case the UK will remain our ally, our partner and our friend," she said, defending the existing withdrawal deal, reached with Prime Minister Theresa May but rejected by the UK Parliament, which the EU has vowed not to reopen. The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October. If she wins the vote in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening, she will replace EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November. She is a centre-right politician close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mrs von der Leyen, 60, has been criticised in Germany over the armed forces' persistent equipment shortages and what some consider to be her aloof management style. On climate change, she said "I will propose a sustainable Europe investment bank", to unlock substantially more investment in renewable energy and other measures over the next decade. The new "green deal" - promised within Mrs von der Leyen's first 100 days - would aim to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050, whereby carbon pollution is balanced by green measures such as planting trees. The UK has already set a 2050 deadline for becoming carbon neutral. "It means change - all of us will have to contribute… in the way each of us travels and lives. Emissions must have a price that changes our behaviour," she said.
7-16-19 Night-shining ‘noctilucent’ clouds have crept south this summer
An uptick in atmospheric moisture may be fueling clouds that catch the sun’s rays after dark. High in the sky, sunlit wisps remain aglow even after sundown. This summer, a surprising number of such noctilucent, or “night-shining,” clouds have been spotted in the Northern Hemisphere — and, unusually, as far south as Oklahoma and New Mexico, scientists report. These clouds typically float in the mesosphere about 80 kilometers above Earth’s surface, and are visible at high latitudes. They gleam blue or white when they catch the sun’s rays, even after the night has fallen on land. “They’re beautiful,” says James Russell, an atmospheric scientist at Hampton University in Virginia. “It’s hard to take your eyes off of them, because they’re so iridescent.” The clouds form when cold temperatures, around -130° Celsius, cause water vapor to condense and freeze around dust particles, making nanometer-sized ice crystals. What stood out in June was how wet the mesosphere was. “It’s record-setting,” says Lynn Harvey, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder. Possible explanations for that extra wetness include more moist air ascending in summertime than usual, or an increase in the atmosphere of methane, which can be oxidized to form water vapor. A satellite image released by NASA’s Earth Observatory shows these noctilucent clouds covering the Arctic on June 12, with white areas showing where sunlight is reflected the most off the clouds and dark purple the least. Russell, Harvey and colleagues have monitored these clouds for 13 years to learn more about how they form and whether they might reveal atmospheric changes due to global warming. The scientists plan to use computer models to simulate cloud formation under various conditions, in hopes of explaining the clouds’ southward stretch.
7-15-19 ‘Sunny day’ high tide floods are on the rise along U.S. coasts
By 2050, sea level rise could make such flooding a new normal, a NOAA report warns. As sea levels continue to rise, many coastal U.S. cities will see an increasing number of days each year that streets flood during high tides, according to the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. For many parts of the country, particularly along the U.S. East Coast, that increase has already ramped up over the last two decades. From 2000 to 2019, these “sunny-day flooding” events jumped by 190 percent in the southeast, and by 140 percent in the northeast, according to a report by NOAA released July 10. Such events can devastate coastal infrastructure — for example by disrupting traffic, inundating septic systems and salting farmlands. In its fifth annual high tide report, NOAA details flood risks faced by different U.S. regions using tide gauge data collected at 210 stations around the country from May 2018 to April 2019. Officials’ definition of a “flood” can vary, depending on factors including the shape of the land, urban development and storm-proofing. But across all U.S. coastal areas, tidal flooding occurred an average of five days during the study period — repeating a record set in 2015, the report says. Still, some regions saw tidal flooding far more frequently than the national average. The Chesapeake Bay region set new records in the last year, with 22 days of high tide floods for Washington, D.C., and 12 days each in the Maryland cities of Annapolis and Baltimore. “It’s primarily an issue in the East Coast and Gulf Coast at the moment,” said NOAA oceanographer William Sweet, who led the study, during a July 10 news conference. Flooding in the densely populated northeast, in particular, is influenced by “a very energetic system” offshore involving winds and ocean currents along with sea level rise. The land surface in the Chesapeake Bay region also is slowly sinking, part of a delayed readjustment to the retreat of the great ice sheets that covered North America thousands of years ago (SN Online: 8/15/2018).
7-15-19 The plan to build mega wind farms and artificial islands in North Sea
Radical plans for artificial islands connecting a series of mega windfarms in the North Sea have inched closer to reality after an initial assessment concluded the idea is technically feasible. The scheme’s backers say the bold project is needed because the rate offshore windfarms are being built in Europe is not enough to deliver the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and space is running short near coastlines to cheaply connect turbines. The North Sea Wind Power Hub, backed by a consortium including Dutch energy network firm TenneT, previously envisaged the scheme as one big sand island with windfarms radiating off it. But Michiel Muller of TenneT says the consortium’s research, published last week, suggests a series of smaller islands would be better than the “grand vision” of a single big one mooted two years ago. “The main message is that we have looked in detail on how we could facilitate a very large scale roll-out of offshore wind as required to combat climate change. And we believe that the concept we present is both technically feasible and economically feasible,” says Muller. “It would be very transformative,” says Kees van der Leun of Dutch consultancy Navigant, which contributed to the research. The proposed scale of the windfarms are “completely beyond” what is happening off the waters of the UK and Germany today, he says. The first island hub, one of as many as eight, could built by the early 2030s. Each hub is seen as ideally having a series of windfarms with up to 15 gigawatts of capacity, enough to power more than 12 million UK homes. By comparison, the biggest single windfarms being built in the region today are just over 1GW. The project would not get the benefits of economies of scale if the hubs were less than 10-15GW, while bigger would see long construction times and more financial risk, says Muller. The windfarms could utilise turbines much bigger than the largest around UK waters today. Today the largest being installed are around 8 megawatts and taller than London’s ‘Gherkin’ skyscraper, but 12MW ones have already been unveiled by turbine makers and 15MW ones are expected by 2030.
7-15-19 Elephants help forests store more carbon by destroying smaller plants
Elephants do a lot of damage to plants as they stomp around the jungle, but, counterintuitively, this activity increases the biomass of the forest, letting it store more carbon. If elephants were to go extinct, the amount of carbon stored in central African rainforests could ultimately fall by 7 per cent, according to a new analysis. There are thought to have been around a million elephants in these forests in the early 19th century, but there are now only about 100,000. These animals graze and trample on trees smaller than 30 centimetres in diameter – plants that are subject to a lot of competition for light, water and space. Fabio Berzaghi at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, and his colleagues wondered if elephants’ destructive habits might allow surviving trees to grow larger by eliminating their competition. They built a mathematical model of plant diversity and simulated the impact of elephants by increasing the mortality of smaller plants. The model showed that elephants reduce the density of stems in the forest, but increase the average tree diameter and the total biomass. Overall, they favour slow-growing trees that live longer and store more carbon in their trunks. “If elephants promote these kinds of trees, in the long run you will store more atmospheric carbon in trees,” says Berzaghi. The model results fit with data from sites in the Congo basin where elephants live and comparable areas that are undisturbed by elephants. These effects may also account for the differences between African and Amazonian rainforest. In the Amazon, where there are no large herbivores, the number of trees per hectare is higher, but they tend to be smaller and hold less biomass in total. “We think that large herbivores have contributed to these differences,” says Berzaghi.
7-15-19 Climate change: Used cooking oil imports may fuel deforestation
Imports of a "green fuel" source may be inadvertently increasing deforestation and the demand for new palm oil, a study says. Experts say there has been a recent boom in the amount of used cooking oil imported into the UK from Asia. This waste oil is the basis for biodiesel, which produces far less CO2 than fossil fuels in cars. But this report is concerned that the used oil is being replaced across Asia with palm oil from deforested areas. Cutting carbon emissions from transport has proved very difficult for governments all over the world. Many have given incentives to speed up the replacement of fossil-based petrol and diesel with fuels made from crops such as soya or rapeseed. These growing plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and so liquid fuel made from these sources, while not carbon-neutral, is a big improvement on simply burning regular petrol or diesel. In this light, used cooking (UCO) oil has become a key ingredient of biodiesel in the UK and the rest of Europe. Between 2011 and 2016 there was a 360% increase in use of used cooking oil as the basis for biodiesel. Because UCO is classed as a waste product within the EU, UK fuel producers are given double carbon credits for using it in their fuels. This has sparked a boom in demand for used cooking oil that is so great it is being met in part with imports from Asia. In the UK, the most common feedstock source of biodiesel between April and December 2018 was Chinese UCO, totalling 93 million litres. In the same period, used cooking oil from UK sources was used to produce 76 million litres of of fuel. Now a new study, from international bioeconomy consultants NNFCC, suggests that these imports may inadvertently be making climate change worse by increasing deforestation and the demand for palm oil.
7-13-19 How New Orleans' flooding risks are exacerbated by climate change
The region faces multiple overlapping threats that require long-term solutions. We need long-term solutions to Louisiana's flood problems. As of this writing, Hurricane Barry was expected to make landfall as a category 1 hurricane Saturday, and it appears that New Orleans and the surrounding areas have avoided a worst-case scenario. After an extraordinarily rainy spring season, there was concern Barry's storm surge would push an already swollen Mississippi River over the city's levees. That risk has subsided for now, but the area still faces dangerous and damaging flooding, with as much as 30 inches of rainfall expected to test already-stretched systems across the state over the next few days. The whole situation is a vivid illustration of the multiple overlapping threats the city and region face, all of which are exacerbated by climate change. New Orleans can flood in a few different ways. The first is rainfall. Earlier this week, New Orleans flooded when nearly nine inches of rain fell on the city in just three hours. The streets filled with water, cars were submerged, and first stories flooded. A little over 50 percent of the city is below sea level, so when it rains the bowl begins to fill. The city has over 100 pumps that work to keep the streets dry. But when that much rain falls that fast, the pumps can't keep up and the streets flood. City officials like to remind us that no system in the world could keep up with this amount of rainfall. What do we have to do to make one that will?
7-13-19 Is there a future for New Orleans?
Just over a month into the 2019 hurricane season, New Orleans is already flooding. The Mississippi River is 10 feet higher than usual for this time of year and the arrival of Tropical Storm Barry from the Gulf of Mexico threatens to build the river's surge to 20 feet, enough to overflow the sodden city's levees on Saturday. Some New Orleans streets were under four feet of water by Wednesday, half a week before the downpour's peak. The National Weather Service says Barry's effects may be "unprecedented," a designation that had a lot more power to shock a couple of decades ago. These days it seems like unprecedented floods are nothing so much as normal. Maryland's Ellicott City, where stormwater surges down Main Street's charming, historic, death trap of a man-made gulch, has 1,000-year storms with a ruinous frequency. Houston suffered in 2017; Washington this past week threatened to literally submerge in its usually metaphorical swamp. But New Orleans is a special case, both because of the lasting trauma of 2005's Hurricane Katrina and because so much of the city is uniquely vulnerable. About half of New Orleans is below sea level, and it's sinking. The soil is soft, and unwise development choices shifting water drainage patterns have made it unstable. Then there's the river, five feet above a rising ocean. New Orleans has flood defenses, but they "can't stop rain falling from the sky," so the city "fills up like a bowl." Is there a future for a city like that?
7-13-19 Adrift in a melting Arctic
A multinational expedition will follow an ice floe as it drifts across the North Pole for a year. The scientists hope to better understand why Arctic ice is vanishing. The scientists walk across a frozen Arctic Ocean, dark specks in a sea of white. Pale clouds loom low over the bundled figures. The wind sends ice crystals skidding and swirling around them, erasing their footprints. Behind a large ice ridge, the group shelters from the subzero cold and 25 mph gusts to set up their experiment. They are learning to map an area's topography by shooting lasers across the ice and snow. But even their machines seem disoriented by the whiteout conditions: The lasers bounce off whirling snowflakes before striking their targets. It's yet another problem they must solve before the fall, when these scientists and several hundred others will launch the largest Arctic research expedition in history: a 12-month, $134 million, 17-nation effort to document climate change in the fastest-warming part of the globe. Home base will be a massive German icebreaker, though the ship will spend only a few weeks under its own power. After reaching a remote part of the Siberian Arctic, the crew will cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel, entrapping it. Then the ship — and everyone on it — will be adrift, at the mercy of the ice. What the scientists discover during their year in the frozen north will help them forecast the future of the entire planet. As Arctic ice vanishes, many scientists expect the steady stream of air that pushes weather across the Northern Hemisphere to wobble, producing periods of punishing cold, brutal heat waves and disastrous floods. That's already happening. The polar vortex that gripped the Midwest this winter, the fires in California and lingering hurricanes such as Sandy and Florence are all thought to be domino effects of this instability. Unless humans take drastic action, Earth is on track to exceed the threshold for dangerous warming in a little over a decade, the U.N. has said. These scientists are racing against the changing planet to understand what's happening — and what is yet to come.
7-13-19 Major cities in India are starting to run out of water
After weeks of soaring temperatures and drought, Chennai, India — the country's sixth largest city — is facing a dire water shortage. The four reservoirs that provide the majority of the city's water supply have dried up, forcing restaurants, businesses, and schools to close and leaving residents to wait in line for hours for water from municipal or private tankers. The water crisis is hitting the region's poor particularly hard; wealthy residents can pay the premiums for water from private tankers that those living in slums can't afford. Hundreds were arrested in June outside the municipal government's headquarters, where protesters gathered with empty water containers to blame the local authorities for mismanagement of the critical resource. The region relies on annual monsoons to replenish groundwater and reservoir supplies, but rain levels have been below average for several years, and the monsoon rains, which usually begin by June 1st, were weeks late. Chennai also receives some water from a desalination plant, according to Samrat Basak, the director of the World Resource Institute's Urban Water Program in India, but the plant doesn't produce enough water to supply the city's entire population. "Only rain can save Chennai from this situation," one local official told the BBC. Chennai has two monsoon seasons: one that typically stretches from June to September, and the main monsoon that begins in late October and ends in December. A good monsoon season could easily recharge the city's reservoirs, according to Basak, but the main monsoon season isn't until the fall, which means Chennai may have to secure water from neighboring states over the summer months. Global warming is pushing the country's climate toward extremes; in 2015, massive floods, spurred by an unusually strong El Nino season, killed hundreds in Chennai and left the coastal city economically devastated. "We are having extreme rainfall periods and then extreme dry and drought periods. During these extreme rainfall periods, we have to capture and recharge our groundwater as much as possible," Basak says. "The biggest challenge that not only Chennai, but most of India faces is very bad management of water."
7-12-19 Antarctic sea ice in sharp decline
In a development that has baffled scientists, four decades’ worth of expanding sea ice in Antarctica has been completely wiped out by a few years of dramatic declines. A new analysis of satellite data shows that the yearly average amount of sea ice—which forms when seawater freezes in winter—increased markedly around the southernmost continent from 1979 to 2014. But over the next four years, Antarctica lost as much sea ice as the Arctic has in 34 years. Unlike the melting of ice on land, sea ice melt doesn’t directly raise sea levels. But the disappearance of reflective sea ice means that more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the dark ocean, exacerbating global warming. Researchers say it’s too early to tell whether this retreat is a blip or a long-term trend, and given the decades-long increase in Antarctic sea ice, they caution against blaming climate change for the reversal. Some scientists speculate that the shifting levels of ice could be the result of a natural climate pattern such as El Niño. Whatever the explanation, scientists are worried, reports CNN.com. “Growth of Antarctic sea ice over the past few decades had been a relief, because it offset some of the rapid losses in the Arctic,” said Andrew Shepherd of Britain’s University of Leeds. “Now that sea ice is retreating in both hemispheres, [less] of the sun’s heat is reflected back into space.”
7-12-19 Adrift in a melting Arctic
A multinational expedition will follow an ice floe as it drifts across the North Pole for a year, said journalist Sarah Kaplan in The Washington Post. The scientists hope to better understand why Arctic ice is vanishing. The scientists walk across a frozen Arctic Ocean, dark specks in a sea of white. Pale clouds loom low over the bundled figures. The wind sends ice crystals swirling around them, erasing their footprints. Behind a large ice ridge, the group shelters from the subzero cold and 25 mph gusts to set up their experiment. They are learning to map an area’s topography by shooting lasers across the ice and snow. But even their machines seem disoriented by the whiteout conditions: The lasers bounce off whirling snowflakes before striking their targets. It’s yet another problem they must solve before the fall, when these scientists and several hundred others will launch the largest Arctic research expedition in history: a 12-month, $134 million, 17-nation effort to document climate change in the fastest-warming part of the globe. Home base will be a massive German icebreaker, though the ship will spend only a few weeks under its own power. After reaching a remote part of the Siberian Arctic, the crew will cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel, entrapping it. Then the ship—and everyone on it—will be adrift, at the mercy of the ice. As Arctic ice vanishes, many scientists expect the steady stream of air that pushes weather across the Northern Hemisphere to wobble, producing periods of punishing cold, brutal heat waves, and disastrous floods. That’s already happening. The polar vortex that gripped the Midwest this winter, the fires in California, and lingering hurricanes such as Sandy and Florence are all thought to be domino effects of this instability. These scientists are racing against the changing planet to understand what’s happening—and what is yet to come. If all goes according to plan, the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) will begin on Sept. 20—when the icebreaker RV Polarstern sets out in search of an ice floe to which it can pin its fate. The ship will spend the next 12 months following that single floe through the central Arctic and across the North Pole—a 387-foot drifting research station inhabited by a rotating cast of some 300 meteorologists, biologists, oceanographers, and ice experts.
7-12-19 First air conditioner
The temperature in Anchorage reached a record 90 degrees on July 4, a whopping 5 degrees higher than the prior record. It was so hot that many Alaskans went to the beach or lakes to cool off, while others bought their first air conditioner.
7-12-19 Climate change may thin high-altitude clouds and trigger more warming
The climate may be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than we thought. That’s because in a warmer world high-altitude clouds may become thinner, causing them to reflect less sunlight back into space. “This is a previously unrecognised effect that should be looked into in more detail,” says Richard Allan at the University of Reading in the UK, who was not involved in the study. “If it is going on in the real world, you’d expect climate feedbacks to be more strongly amplified.” The main thing heating up Earth’s climate today is our emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. However, we are still not sure how much a given amount of carbon dioxide will warm the planet. That’s because many feedback mechanisms activate as the Earth warms up, some causing warming and some cooling. The usual measure of this is the equilibrium climate sensitivity: how much the climate heats up if the carbon dioxide level doubles and the Earth is allowed to settle. The sensitivity is thought to be about 3 °C, but it could be anywhere from 1.5 °C to 4.5 °C. One of the biggest sources of uncertainty is the response of clouds to a warmer world, says Ryan Li of Yale University. Climatologists are starting to understand low clouds, which cool the planet by reflecting sunlight. There is evidence that a warmer world will have fewer low clouds, so their cooling effect will weaken and warming will accelerate. However, for high clouds like cirrus “there isn’t yet a consensus”, says Li. As well as cooling the planet by reflecting sunlight, they also trap heat. In the early 2000s, climatologist Richard Lindzen argued that high cloud coverage would reduce in a warmer climate, like the iris of an eye opening. This would allow more heat to escape to space and significantly slow warming. However, this cooling effect has been “largely disproved on a number of grounds”, says Allan.
7-12-19 The coal mine that ate Hambacher forest
More than a third of Germany's electricity is still produced by burning coal - mostly dirty brown lignite - and environmental activists are fighting to change this. A small area of forest not far from the Dutch border has become the focal point of their campaign. It's almost a uniform that they're wearing - heavy boots, dark trousers, a hooded fleece and a scarf covering nose and mouth. There are three of them: Mona, Omo and Jim. They appear to be in their early 20s, and they say they want to change the world. "We're fighting capitalism and the big companies who are ruling the world and destroying it for profit," says Jim. We're sitting under the trees of the Hambacher Forest, in the west of Germany, 30km (20 miles) from the city of Cologne. They all live in the "Hambi", as they call it, in tree houses like the one above us, nestling in the branches of an oak. They're here because the Hambi is threatened with total destruction. There's not much of it left now. The forest sits atop one of the largest coalfields in Europe and since mining started in 1978 the trees have been gradually stripped away to allow the excavators access to the riches that lie beneath - millions of tons of coal, coal that keeps industry running in this part of Germany and provides thousands of people with a living. To add insult to injury, the coal that is extracted here is brown coal, also known as lignite, which emits particularly high levels of carbon dioxide. Only 10% of the Hambi is still standing. But that 10% has become a powerful symbol for Germany's climate change movement. Mona, Omo and Jim represent the hard core, the ones who are prepared to live outside through freezing winter nights to defend the trees. "You'd better have two sleeping bags," says Jim. Today they've got visitors, several hundred of them, who've come to demonstrate their solidarity with the activists and their anger with the mining company, RWE. "Hambi bleibt!" they chant - let the Hambi stay.
7-12-19 Double heatwave killed two-thirds of coral in central Indian Ocean
Back-to-back heatwaves in the central Indian Ocean killed more than two-thirds of corals in two years. But some corals were more resilient to the high sea temperatures, which could provide hope for the important habitat as the planet warms. Catherine Head at the Zoological Society of London and her colleagues studied reefs in the remote Chagos Archipelago of the British Indian Ocean Territory before and after two ocean heatwaves with unusually high sea temperatures, which came 12 months apart. In 2015, seawater temperatures around reefs in the territory were unusually high for nearly eight weeks, and sea-floor surveys before and after the heatwave saw live healthy coral cover fall by 60 per cent. Before the corals could recover, they were hit by another ocean heatwave in 2016, lasting for more than four months. Although the team was unable to assess the impact of the second heatwave across all the islands of the archipelago, data from the Peros Banhos Atoll show that 68 per cent of the remaining corals there were bleached and 29 per cent died. This suggests that about 70 per cent of hard corals were lost between 2015 and 2017. But while the second heatwave lasted longer, fewer of the surviving corals were killed. The team suggests that the remaining corals are more resilient to rising temperatures and their ability to survive may be key to protecting reefs from rises in sea temperatures driven by global warming. Hard corals are the building blocks of reefs, which provide a home for about a quarter of all marine species and food, protection and income for some 500 million people worldwide. Similar coral death and changes to the make-up of species in the reef were seen in the Chagos Archipelago following global coral bleaching in 1998, from which recovery took 10 years.
7-12-19 India air pollution: Will Gujarat's 'cap and trade' programme work?
Air pollution contributed to the deaths of at least 1.2 million Indians in 2017 - but a unique pilot scheme to combat air pollution in the western state of Gujarat could prove to be a model for the rest of the country. The BBC spoke to experts to find out more about the world's first ever such experiment. The concentration of tiny particulate matter (known as PM2.5) in India is eight times the World Health Organization's standard. These particles are so tiny that they can enter deep into the lungs and make people susceptible to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, making them extremely deadly. Air pollution in India is caused by fumes from cooking on wood or dung indoors in villages, and a combination of traffic exhaust, soot and construction dust and factory emissions in the cities. Now Gujarat has launched the world's first "cap and trading" programme to curb particulate air pollution. Put simply, the government sets a cap on emissions and allows factories to buy and sell permits to stay below the cap. It is being launched in the dense, industrial city of Surat, where textile and dye factories are a major source of pollution. Since 2011, local pollution control authorities have been working on the impact of emissions trading in Surat, along with the University of Chicago and Harvard University. The basic commodity in the emissions trading system is particulate matter, which is emitted by industries through their smoke stacks. Under the emissions trading system, industries must hold a permit for each unit of particulate that they emit, and must comply with the prescribed standard of 150 milligrams per cubic metre of particulate matter released in the atmosphere. Although industries can trade permits among themselves, the total quantity of these permits are fixed, so that air pollution standards are met. For example, an industry that finds it inexpensive to decrease emissions is likely to over-comply with the standards - this would allow them to sell its excess permits to another industry that finds it more expensive to decrease emissions.
7-12-19 This solar-powered device produces energy and cleans water at the same time
Still a prototype, the machine could one day help curb electricity and freshwater shortages. By mounting a water distillation system on the back of a solar cell, engineers have constructed a device that doubles as an energy generator and water purifier. While the solar cell harvests sunlight for electricity, heat from the solar panel drives evaporation in the water distiller below. That vapor wafts through a porous polystyrene membrane that filters out salt and other contaminants, allowing clean water to condense on the other side. “It doesn’t affect the electricity production by the [solar cell]. And at the same time, it gives you bonus freshwater,” says study coauthor Peng Wang, an engineer at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Solar farms that install these two-for-one machines could help meet the increasing global demand for freshwater while cranking out electricity, researchers report online July 9 in Nature Communications. Using this kind of technology to tackle two big challenges at once “is a great idea,” says Jun Zhou, a materials scientist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China not involved in the work. In lab experiments under a lamp whose illumination mimics the sun, a prototype device converted about 11 percent of incoming light into electricity. That’s comparable to commercial solar cells, which usually transform some 10 to 20 percent of the sunlight they soak up into usable energy (SN: 8/5/17, p. 22). The researchers tested how well their prototype purified water by feeding saltwater and dirty water laced with heavy metals into the distiller. Based on those experiments, a device about a meter across is estimated to pump out about 1.7 kilograms of clean water per hour.
7-12-19 3 questions seismologists are asking after the California earthquakes
Tectonic activity may be shifting very slowly away from the San Andreas Fault. A week after two large earthquakes rattled southern California, scientists are scrambling to understand the sequence of events that led to the temblors and what it might tell us about future quakes. A magnitude 6.4 quake struck July 4 near Ridgecrest — about 194 kilometers northeast of Los Angeles — followed by a magnitude 7.1 quake in the same region on July 5. Both quakes occurred not along the famous San Andreas Fault but in a region of crisscrossing faults in the state’s high desert area, known as the Eastern California Shear Zone. The San Andreas Fault system, which stretches nearly 1,300 kilometers, generally takes center stage when it comes to California’s earthquake activity. That’s where, as the Pacific tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate slowly grind past each other, sections of ground can lock together for a time, slowly building up strain until they suddenly release, producing powerful quakes. For the last few tens of millions of years, the San Andreas has been the primary origin of massive earthquakes in the region. Now overdue for a massive earthquake, based on historical precedent, many people fear it’s only a matter of time before the “Big One” strikes. But as the July 4 and July 5 quakes — and their many aftershocks — show, the San Andreas Fault system isn’t the only source of concern. The state is riddled with faults, says geophysicist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. That’s because almost all of California is part of the general boundary between the plates. The Eastern California Shear Zone alone has been the source of several large quakes in the last few decades, including the magnitude 7.1 Hector Mine quake in 1999, the magnitude 6.7 Northridge quake in 1994 and the magnitude 7.3 Landers quake in 1992 (SN Online: 8/29/18).
7-10-19 Forget Tesla - China’s BYD is driving the electric car revolution
Shifting to electric vehicles is an essential part of tackling climate change and China is doing far better than the West. FORGET Tesla – the world’s biggest electric car manufacturer is a Chinese company you have probably never heard of. With the age of the fossil-fuel car drawing to an end, electric vehicles (EVs) from China could be on track for global dominance – assuming that the hundreds of start-ups in the sector don’t skid out and crash. China buys more EVs than any other nation. Last year, 1.25 million electric cars – 984,000 of which were solely battery-powered – were sold in the country, accounting for more than half of all EVs sold globally. A significant proportion of them were made by BYD Auto, a firm headquartered in Xi’an, China. In 2018, BYD sold nearly 248,000 zero-emissions vehicles globally, outpacing Tesla’s sales of roughly 245,000. The company began in 1995 as a manufacturer of batteries for mobile phones and digital cameras, and has since expanded to produce battery-powered cars, buses and trucks. Last week, it launched a fleet of 37 fully electric double decker buses as part of London’s public transport system. Other Chinese companies with international reach include Chery and the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which is the behemoth that now owns Volvo, Lotus and the London Taxi Company. Sam Korus, an analyst at investment firm ARK, estimates that there are nearly 500 EV companies in China, many of which are yet to produce their first vehicle. Recent reports suggest that 330 firms are registered for government subsidies encouraging investment in EVs. All this means that despite an overall decline in car sales – the number of Chinese-produced cars sold last year dropped nearly 8 per cent from 2017 – the EV industry is booming. Battery electric vehicle sales rose by more than 50 per cent in 2018. “We are witnessing a transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to zero-emission vehicles,” says Yunshi Wang, director of the China Center for Energy and Transportation at the University of California, Davis. The shift has been driven by a Chinese government goal of reaching 5 million “new-energy” vehicles – including battery electrics, hybrid cars and fuel-cell cars – on China’s roads by 2020, when yearly sales of these cars should hit 2 million.
7-10-19 Climate change: UK government 'like Dad's Army'
The UK has been dealt a "brutal reality check" on its climate change ambitions, environmentalists have said. The government's official climate change advisers warn ministers are failing to cut emissions fast enough, and adapt to rising temperatures. Committee on Climate Change chair John Gummer likened them to the hapless characters in 1970s comedy Dad's Army. The government said it would soon set out plans to tackle emissions from aviation, heat, energy and transport. The prime minister recently announced that the UK would lead the world by cutting almost all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - so-called net zero. Theresa May also aspired to the UK hosting a hugely important global climate summit next year. But the CCC said that the UK was already stumbling over measures needed to achieve the previous target of an 80% emissions cut. Its report says new policies must be found to help people lead good lives without fuelling global warming. Policies are needed to ensure that people living in care homes, hospitals and flats can stay cool in increasingly hot summers. And ministers must show how funds will be found to protect critical infrastructure - like ports - from rising sea levels. The committee said unless it delivered on these issues, the government would not have the credibility to host a global climate change summit of world leaders, likely to be held in the UK next year. Doug Parr from Greenpeace UK said: "This is a truly brutal reality check on the government's current progress in tackling the climate emergency. "It paints the government as a sleeper who's woken up, seen the house is on fire, raised the alarm and gone straight back to sleep". The committee's deputy chairwoman Baroness Brown told BBC News: "There's an increasing sense of frustration that the government knows what it has to do - but it's just not doing it." The committee said the government's 2040 goal to eliminate emissions from cars and vans was too late. New ways must be found to nudge some drivers into walking, cycling and taking public transport, it believes. There's palpable annoyance from the committee that their recommendations are often ignored. In the list of actions needed to meet emission targets, such as improving insulation of buildings and increasing the market share of electric vehicles, the committee found only seven out of 24 goals were on track. Outside the power and industry sectors, only two indicators were on track. Committee chairman Lord Deben, the former agriculture minister John Gummer, said: "The whole thing is really run by the government like a Dad's Army. We can't go on with this ramshackle system." (Webmaster's comment: But in the United States we're doing nothing.)
7-10-19 UK is going backwards on climate change action, advisers warn
The UK is going backwards on preparing for the impacts of global warming and is failing to deliver adequate action to meet old climate targets, let alone its new ‘net zero’ one, government advisers have warned. In one of a pair of damning progress reports on government, the Committee on Climate Change said priority given to adapting to higher temperatures, such as upgrading flood defences, had been eroded in the past decade. The number of officials working on adaptation has fallen since 2013 and adaptation schemes have ceased. Asked if the UK was going backwards on adaptation, CCC chief executive Chris Stark says: “That is indeed the way it looks.” His team found of 56 risks and opportunities around adaptation, 21 have no actions in the government’s plans. “There really needs to be a proper national plan for adaptation and it’s not what we have at present. There are loads of gaps. It’s peripheral, and partial and incomplete,” he says. The CCC says “there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C” of global warming, far lower than the world is on track for. “It’s realistic to consider much higher temperatures,” says Stark. In a second report, the group was critical of government progress on cutting emissions, saying the gap between policies and carbon targets had worsened in the past year. “This year has not been a year when we’ve seen lots of big major policies put in place,” says Stark. “These plans we have at the moment simply aren’t up to the task.” The committee found only one of 25 policy actions recommended a year ago had been fully completed – and that was simply a contingency plan on carbon pricing if the UK leaves the EU. (Webmaster's comment: The United States is going nowhere. It has no plan.)
7-10-19 Putin: Is he right about wind turbines and bird deaths?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned against over-reliance on renewable energy, something he says harms birds and other wildlife. Speaking at a global manufacturing conference, the president said: "Wind-powered generation is good but are birds being taken into account in this case? How many birds are dying?" "[Wind turbines] shake, causing worms to come out of the soil. This is not a joke," he said. Research does suggest that wind power has led to birds and bats dying - in collisions with turbines or because of habitat loss. We couldn't find any reference to worms. It's hard to get at a definitive figure on how many birds are killed by wind turbines, though, and estimates vary. Research from the London School of Economics (LSE) estimated in 2014 that by 2020 there could be anywhere between 9,600 and 106,000 bird deaths a year from wind energy in the UK - in other words, we're not sure. It compared this with the estimated 55 million birds killed by domestic cats in the UK each year. Studies looking at the US have put the figure at anywhere from fewer than 10,000 to more than 500,000. We were unable to find any studies looking particularly at Russia. But it's not only wind power that harms wildlife. A study published in 2009 looking at the US and Europe estimated that wind farms were responsible for about 0.3 bird deaths for every 1GWh of electricity generated, compared with 5.2 deaths per 1GWh caused by fossil-fuelled power stations. It said this would equate to the deaths, every year, in the US, of about 7,000 birds caused by wind turbines, 300,000 by nuclear plants and 14.5 million by power plants using fossil fuels. It's a fairly old study so this may have increased with the growth of wind power in the US or decreased with better understanding of how to mitigate the risks.
7-10-19 Satisfaction With Environment Declines Ahead of Green Wave
Europeans flocked to the polling stations in late May in numbers not seen since 1999 to elect a new swath of representatives into the European Parliament. Migration, security and the overall future of the European Union were on voters' minds as they cast their ballots, but in addition to the changing political climate, many were also thinking about climate change. Europeans have become increasingly supportive of public action to reduce humanity's toll on the environment and counter climate change, but the size of the "Green Wave" that swept the ballot boxes in many European nations was much larger than anyone expected. Collecting 75 of the 751 seats in the European Parliament, the once left-out Green Party is now the fourth-largest party. However, if you look at this year's election results and compare them with people's satisfaction with their country's efforts to preserve the environment, we see that dissatisfaction was rising in many of the countries that had break-away Green Party success. One must wonder what factors were at play that pushed the general public to begin voting en masse for a party that was a relatively minor player just one election cycle before. Through its World Poll instrument, Gallup has been tracking public sentiment in Europe -- and around the world -- for the past 14 years on myriad issues, ranging from how people rate their lives to their trust in their national institutions. When we asked people across Europe about their satisfaction toward their country's efforts in preserving the environment, there was a sense of rising dissatisfaction in several key countries.
7-10-19 Nine Nara deer in Japan die after eating plastic bags
Nine deer have died in Japan's Nara Park over the last four months after swallowing plastic bags, a wildlife group says. The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation said they found huge masses of plastic bags and food wrappers in the stomachs of nine of the 14 deer that died between March and June. One animal was found to have over 4kg (9lbs) of rubbish in their stomach. Nara, a popular spot for tourists, is home to over 1,200 free-roaming deer. The Sika deer are classified as a national treasure, and so are protected by law. Most of them congregate in Nara Park, which is also home to temples and shrines. Visitors are allowed to feed them specially-made sugar-free crackers without plastic packaging. However, it is thought that some visitors may have fed the deer other snacks. Rie Maruko from the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation told Kyodo News Agency that tourists often discard food wrappers and plastic bags on the island. The deer then smell the bags, think they are food and then eat them. On Twitter, the foundation shared a photo of the mass of plastic bags found inside one of the deceased deer. It is thought that the deer may have died from malnutrition after their stomachs became blocked with plastic. On Wednesday volunteers took part in a mass clean-up of the park, collecting over 31kg (68lbs) of plastic waste. Nara prefecture's government is planning to investigate the animals' deaths and set up signs in the park with illustrations to warn tourists about the dangers of feeding the animals food that has not been approved.
7-10-19 'Climategate': When sceptics tricked the public
Hackers stole 6,000 emails and other documents from a climate research centre almost 10 years ago.
7-10-19 Earth's helium is running out and it has dire consequences for science
Helium's essential for party balloons, but also for MRI scanners, physics experiments and space rockets. But supplies on Earth are getting dangerously low. WHEN I was 4, my favourite book was Balloonia by Audrey Wood. It tells the story of a little girl who realises that balloons have an afterlife when they float away. Wielding a sharp pin, she takes a balloon hostage, demanding that it take her to Balloonia. There, she experiences a world where everything is made of balloons, including the animals and the landscape they populate. It is a wonderful tale. It is only later in life that I have come to worry it might be predicated on the continued availability of the second most abundant element in the universe: helium. Trouble is, helium is running out on Earth. When we fill a balloon with helium, it floats because helium is lighter than air. Sound also travels through helium faster than it travels through air, which is why inhaling helium makes people’s voices sound temporarily more high-pitched. Beyond its entertainment value, helium is also a crucial coolant in its liquid form. It pops up in diverse technologies, from fancy medical equipment like MRI machines to big physics toys such as space rockets and the Axion Dark Matter Experiment, which searches for axion particles, my favourite candidate to make up the universe’s missing dark matter. On a day-to-day basis, we rarely give much thought to the origins of helium, but they are fascinating. Almost all of the helium in the universe was produced when space-time as we know it was only a few minutes old. This period is called big bang nucleosynthesis, an era that began when the universe became cool enough that radiation could no longer prevent protons and neutrons coming together to form the first atomic nuclei.
7-9-19 Butterfly numbers fell by one third in the US over last two decades
Butterfly numbers have dropped by one third in the last two decades in the US, echoing declines seen in Europe. These figures raise alarm bells for the health of other insect populations, because butterflies face similar environmental changes and are used as a proxy for studying insects in general. Much of what we currently know about declining insect populations comes from European monitoring programmes. To find out if similar patterns were occurring in the US, Tyson Wepprich of Oregon State University and his colleagues turned to volunteers at the Ohio Lepidopterists, who have been collecting weekly data on butterfly sightings across the state over the last two decades. “We analysed their data to estimate trends for 81 species over this time and found that many more are declining than increasing,” says Wepprich. “Overall, the number of butterflies you’d expect to see has fallen by 33%, or at a rate of 2% per year.” As temperatures increased, Wepprich and his team found that species from the south moved north into Ohio and were growing in number, while the number of northern species shrunk. “Insects are very sensitive to temperature, and these changes in some species suggest that they are responding to ongoing climate change,” says Wepprich. It wasn’t only rare and vulnerable species whose numbers were decreasing. “I was surprised that some common species that are adapted to live in human-dominated habitat, like agricultural or urban areas, were declining,” he says. Common butterflies like the Cabbage White are not often considered to be in need of protection. “But we think this shows that the populations of some of the hardiest butterfly species may be affected by environmental changes,” says Wepprich.
7-9-19 David Attenborough on climate change: 'We cannot be radical enough'
The UK must take radical action to meet its climate change targets, David Attenborough told a UK parliamentary committee today. But he warned ministers must carry the public with them because of the financial cost of meeting the goals. “We cannot be radical enough in dealing with these issues,” he told MPs when asked if the UK should bring forward its new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, as some campaigners have called for. But he said the real issue was what is politically possible. “Because it costs money in realistic terms, dealing with these problems mean we have to change our lifestyles,” he told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. “The question of how fast we can go is how fast we can carry the electorate with us.” Getting to net zero within three decades was a “tough target” but he “hoped to goodness” the UK could achieve it. Attenborough compared changing morality towards slavery in Britain in the nineteenth century to changing attitudes on climate change today. “I suspect we are right now in the beginning of a big change. Young people are the stimulus bringing that about,” he said. The movement of school pupils striking over climate change, sparked by Greta Thunberg in Sweden last year, was a beacon of hope, he said. “The most encouraging thing I see of course is that the electorate of tomorrow are making their voices very, very clear.” Turning to an audience of young people in parliament behind him, he said: “It is their world we are playing with. It is their future in our hands.” Attenborough, who presented a BBC documentary on climate change in April and has become increasingly outspoken on the need for action, denied he had only started campaigning on the issue after public attitudes had shifted. “I didn’t wait for public opinion to change. I waited until the facts seemed incontrovertible.”
7-9-19 Attenborough: Climate risks Africa turmoil
The naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough says that climate change will make parts of Africa uninhabitable. Speaking to the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee, Sir David said we can't be radical enough when tackling the problem. Tough, unpopular actions from the government would be needed, he said. These included putting up the price of airline tickets. Painting a vivid picture for MPs of coral reefs turned "stark white" by warming waters, Sir David warned that the w This could make parts of Africa uninhabitable, he said, causing mass migration. "Large parts of Africa will become even less inhabitable than they are now," he told the committee. He criticised those governments where voices sceptical about climate science were still clearly heard. And he hoped the electorate in the US and Australia particularly would remember this come election time. Sir David told MPs that everyone would have to play their part in the battle against climate change, and this would involve some tough decisions. He criticised airfares as too cheap, and said that these should rise to discourage flying. The public mood was changing, he said. The young, he said, gave him hope that the world would change before irreversible climate change destroyed our world. Despite the stark nature of his message, Sir David's passion and status seemed to charm the MPs on the committee. The chair described it as the "most inspiring session" that they've held.
7-8-19 Cleaning up China's dirty air would give solar energy a huge boost
Cleaning up China’s hazy skies would increase electricity generation from the country’s vast array of solar panels by 13 per cent and provide billions of dollars of extra revenue, according to a new analysis. China has more installed solar power capacity than any other country, at 170 gigawatts at the end of 2018. But it also has one of the world’s worst air pollution problems. In recent years the Chinese government has begun addressing the dangerously dirty air amid health concerns and protests by citizens. Now we know there could be a big economic benefit to the action too, as clearer skies boost the power-generating potential of solar panels. Bart Sweerts of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich took solar radiation data from 119 stations across China between 1960 and 2015, combining it with data on emissions of sulphur dioxide and black carbon to pinpoint how much human-caused aerosols had dimmed the maximum output from solar panels. He and his colleagues found air pollution had decreased the potential solar generation by 13 per cent over the period. In 2016, that would have resulted in 14 terawatt hours less electricity generation, the equivalent of Tunisia’s annual electricity output. By 2030, when China is expected to have increased solar capacity by more than three times the amount it had in 2016, the figure jumps to as much as 74TWh, or the same as Bangladesh’s total generation today. The extra electricity would have been worth $1.9bn in 2016 and will be worth up to $6.7bn in 2030. “This is many terawatts and many billion of dollars of lost revenue. These are substantial numbers even for a country like China,” says Sweerts. China has backed deployment of solar at a local level on households and other buildings in cities, but these urban solar panels have been particularly badly hit. Heavily populated regions are heavily-polluting, so dimming is worse here.
7-9-19 Climate change: How important is the rainforest in limiting global warming?
Billions of leaves in the Amazon rainforest take in carbon dioxide – a gas which contributes to global warming. So does deforestation cause a rise in global temperatures? Erika Berenguer is a scientist at the Oxford Environmental Change Institute. She's been studying the same patch of trees in the Amazon for ten years
7-9-19 Climate change: Water and green energy produced by a single device
Researchers have found a way to purify water and produce electricity from a single device powered by sunlight. The scientists adapted a solar panel that not only generated power, but used some of the heat energy to distil and purify sea water. They believe the idea could make a major difference in sunny climates with limited water supplies. The lead author expects that a commercial device could be available in five years. Clean energy and clean water are among the major challenges for sustainable development especially in emerging countries. But traditional approaches to electricity generation consume huge amounts of water. In the US and Europe about 50% of water withdrawals are for energy production. Similarly, producing water for humans via desalination in countries with water scarcity is a huge consumer of energy. It's estimated that in Arab countries around 15% of electricity production is used to produce drinking water. Now, researchers believe they have found a way to combine these actions in a single device. Existing state-of-the-art solar panels face physical limits on the amount of sunlight they can actually turn into electricity. Normally about 10-20% of the sun that hits the panel becomes power. The rest of this heat is considered as waste. In this experiment, the scientists designed a three stage membrane distillation unit and attached it to the back of the photovoltaic (PV) panel. The membrane essentially evaporates seawater at relatively low temperatures. The researchers were able to produce three times more water than conventional solar stills while also generating electricity with an efficiency greater than 11%. This meant the device was generating nine times more power than had been achieved in previously published research. "The waste heat from PV panels has really been ignored, no one has thought about it as a resource," said lead author Prof Peng Wang from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. "We use the heat to generate water vapour that gets transported across the membrane and then it condenses on the other side."
7-9-19 A mysterious coral disease is ravaging Caribbean reefs
Off St. Thomas, the disease is moving faster and killing more corals than any disease before. Divers monitoring coral reefs off St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in January noticed something alarming: Big white lesions were eating into the colorful tissues of hundreds of stony corals. Some corals were dead by the next day — only their stark white skeletons remained. Others languished for up to two weeks. Within four months, more than half of the reef suffered the same demise. What’s killing the corals is far from clear, but the prime suspect is stony coral tissue loss disease, sometimes referred to by its initials SCTLD or by the nickname “skittle-D.” This infection, discovered off Florida in 2014, is responsible for what some scientists consider one of the deadliest coral disease outbreaks on record. In the Caribbean, the disease is now ravaging about a third of the region’s 65 reef-building species, scientists estimate. Yet researchers aren’t even sure if the disease is viral, bacterial or some other microbial mix. Whatever the cause, “it’s annihilating whole species,” says coral ecologist Marilyn Brandt, who is leading a science team trying to tackle the outbreak from multiple research angles. Past outbreaks of other coral diseases near St. Thomas have cut coral cover by up to 50 percent over a year, says Brandt, of the University of the Virgin Islands. But this new disease has done the same amount of damage in half that time — spreading faster and killing more corals than any past outbreaks in the area.
7-8-19 Is Stella McCartney right - should we stop washing our clothes?
"Basically, in life, rule of thumb: if you don't absolutely have to clean anything, don't clean it." Fashion designer Stella McCartney said this in an interview with the Observer this weekend, adding that she picked up the tip while working for bespoke tailors on London's prestigious Savile Row. Instead, she says, the "rule" is to "let the dirt dry and you brush it off". It may have been a throwaway comment at the end of the interview, but something about this line stuck with readers - many of whom have been doing several loads of laundry a week. So does she have a point? Is it better to avoid washing your clothes? This isn't the first time McCartney has recommended not washing our clothes. In fact, she has long advocated avoiding the washing machine - both for the longevity of the garments, but also because of the impact washing them has on the environment. Laura Diáz Sánchez, from the Plastic Soup Foundation advocacy group, agrees with this, particularly when it comes to high-street clothes, which contain more synthetic materials such as polyester and acrylic. "Every time we wash our clothes an average of nine million [plastic] microfibres are released into the environment," she tells BBC News. "The way we wash our clothes affects this, as well as the way our clothes are made - but the more we wash our clothes, the more microfibres are released." When you do wash, she recommends setting the machine to a lower temperature and using liquid detergent: "Powder detergent creates more friction between the clothes [during washing], so more fibres are released, whereas liquid is smoother. The less friction there is in general, the fewer fibres are released." She advises against overloading washing machines for the same reason - fewer clothes in the drum means there's less friction.
7-8-19 Portsmouth beach clean-up as war on plastic continues
There's no doubt that people are becoming more plastic-aware, but do we really understand the impact of our waste? Campaign group Final Straw Solent have carried out a clean-up of Farlington marshes in Portsmouth, in an attempt to clear thousands of washed up plastic-pellets from the shore. The group are urging people to do their bit to reduce the amount of waste plastic they are creating.
7-8-19 Air pollution in Birmingham may cut months off life expectancy
Air pollution could shorten a person’s life by up to seven months, a study on one of the largest UK cities has suggested. A person born in Birmingham in 2011 may die between two to seven months early if exposed over their lifetime to projected future pollution concentrations, Kings College London researchers have found. The study looked at the combined impact of two pollutants: particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide – two of the leading causes of poor health from air pollution. It examined the link between these and loss of life-expectancy, but didn’t study non-fatal health conditions such as asthma. The team found that the pollutants appear to be having more of a health impact in some UK cities than others. “This report should be a wake-up call to policymakers not just in Birmingham but across the country,” says Polly Billington, of UK 100, a network of local governments that commissioned the report. The excess mortality cost to the UK of air pollution has previously been estimated at between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year.
7-8-19 Seeds of life: The plants suited to climate change
Experts at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, selected 11 seeds from plants and trees that may be better suited to climate change than other species. Using a scanning electron microscope, artist Rob Kesseler created striking colourised images of the seeds in extraordinary detail. The five experts at Kew in London chose the species based on characteristics such as resilience to drought and diseases, and suitability to increased global temperatures. Eleanor Wilding, a technical officer in the Crop Wild Relatives Project at Kew, chose the Daucus carota, the wild relative of the carrot. Kesseler produced an image of the seed magnified 30 times to reveal a spiky star-like shape, and coloured it with an orange hue. Daucus carota originated on the Iranian Plateau - which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran - but now grows across much of Asia and Europe. Seed samples were sourced from Kew's Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) in Wakehurst, West Sussex, home to more than two billion seeds from 39,000 species. “We have Daucus carota growing on the edges of fields in Wakehurst at the Millennium Seed Bank,” says Wilding. The species is the wild relative of the carrot we are familiar with from supermarkets. “The best analogy we can use is how a wolf and a dog are related, so the Daucus carota is like the wolf and the carrot you buy in the shops is the dog.” The Daucus carota is inedible, looks very different to the bright orange commercial carrot, but has the distinctive sweet carrot smell. It has its original genetic make-up, making it tougher than cultivated strands and able to withstand harsh growing conditions. It may hold genetic traits that are useful in cultivating a new species of edible carrot which can better withstand drought and warmer temperatures. Scientists predict that we are on course for the global surface temperature to exceed an increase of 1.5C by the end of the 21st Century, relative to the pre-industrial age of 1850. Some prediction models in a 2014 report by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say that the temperature increase will actually exceed 2C, unless unprecedented change occurs within human societies.
7-6-19 Alaska heatwave: Anchorage hits record temperature
The US state of Alaska, part of which lies inside the Arctic Circle, is sweltering under a heatwave, with record temperatures recorded in several areas, including its largest city. Temperatures reached 90F (32C) in Anchorage on Thursday, shattering the city's previous record of 85F. Several other places in southern Alaska also set all-time or daily records. Experts say the unusual weather has been caused by a "heat dome" over the southern part of the state. The high pressure system is expected to move north next week. The state-wide record was set in Fort Yukon in 1915 when the temperature reached 100F. With the latest round of high temperatures set to continue in the state over the coming days, the National Weather Service urged people to stay hydrated, seek out shade and wear lightweight clothing. Shawn King, a native of Anchorage, said he had never seen a stretch of similar hot weather. His young daughter Tessa had insisted going barefoot when he offered to go fishing. "It's too hot for shoes," she said. The dramatic warming Alaska has experienced in recent years is linked partly to a decline in sea ice and Arctic Ocean warming. This has wreaked havoc on local communities, wildlife and the state's economy. Climate change played a role in the deaths of thousands of puffins in Alaska, scientists said in May. They said they believed the birds had starved to death when the fish they eat migrated north with rising sea temperatures.
7-5-19 Madrid low emission zone reinstated after protests
Fines for vehicles entering areas of central Madrid have been reinstated, five days after a low emission zone policy was suspended. The new conservative mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, had shelved the initiative known as Madrid Central. It was introduced by his left-wing predecessor, Manuela Carmena, in November to meet EU rules on clean air. A court reinstated the ban after a spike in pollution and mass environmental protests. The People's Party-run city hall, which came into power on 15 June, had suspended the ban on most petrol and diesel cars entering the centre. It had been introduced to ramp up anti-pollution efforts and mirrored schemes in other European cities like London, Stockholm and Milan, whose governments wanted to tackle the harmful effects of vehicle emissions. Since Madrid Central came into force seven months ago, the lowest air pollution was recorded in 10 years. But in the five days since the ban was lifted, there had been a "surge" in pollution, environmental groups say. On Monday, thousands of protesters hit the streets to protest against Mr Martínez-Almeida's decision to shelve the policy. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, along with a group of various environmental organisations, presented an appeal against the lifting of the ban. The judge said "the health of Madrid" was more important than "the right to travel by car" and reversed the decision. It will mean that most vehicles once again cannot enter the low emissions zone in central Madrid.
7-5-19 Climate mistake reveals Earth warmed more than we thought last century
Human-drive global warming is worse than we thought. An oversight in historical weather records means we have underestimated how much the climate warmed last century. The finding means we are 0.1°C closer to passing the internationally-agreed limit of 2°C than we thought. “Global warming has been stronger than we think,” says Rasmus Benestad of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo, who led the analysis. The problem stems from where the first weather stations were set up around the world. “At the start of the temperature records, you have most measurements from Europe and North America, and also along the trade routes,” says Benestad. “The area that was covered was about 20 per cent of the Earth’s area.” This has been a favourite theme of climate deniers, some of whom have argued that the temperature record is too incomplete to be reliable. But in fact temperatures tend to be similar across regions. “If you have a warm winter in Britain, you tend to have a warm winter in most of Europe,” says Benestad. As a result, climatologists have largely been able to fill in the gaps in the early record, and there is a high degree of confidence that the Earth has warmed due to greenhouse gas emissions. However, Benestad and his colleagues found a subtler problem. The early weather stations were all in regions where the temperature does not vary too much from month to month. Only in later decades were stations built in places like Siberia, where month-to-month changes are larger. To find out if this was a problem, Benestad’s team ran computer models of the global climate for 1861 to 2017, and noted how the simulated global average temperature changed. Then they calculated the global average again, this time limiting the models to only use data corresponding to the weather stations that were present in each year.
7-5-19 Electric cars 'will not solve transport problem,' report warns
Car use will still need to be curbed even when all vehicles are powered by clean electricity, a report has said. It warns that electrifying cars will not address traffic jams, urban sprawl and wasted space for parking. The Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) report calls on the government to devise a strategy allowing people to have a good standard of living without needing a car. The government said it was spending £2bn to promote walking and cycling. It also says it plans to spend £50bn on improving roads. However, critics accuse the government of not having a serious plan to deal with the social problems associated with mass car ownership. CREDS is an academic consortium of more than 80 academics across the UK. "Car use is a massive blind spot on government policy," Prof Jillian Anable, one of the authors of the report, said. She added: “For many years ministers have adopted the principle of trying to meet demand by increasing road space. "They need to reduce demand instead.” The authors say there will always be people who depend on cars, especially in the countryside or suburbs. But, they point out that many young people in cities are choosing not to buy cars. Instead they are using public transport, walking, cycling, taking minicabs and hiring cars when they are needed. This more active lifestyle means less obesity, pollution and road danger – and greater sociability as people meet their neighbours on their way to work. It also allows parking spaces to be liberated for more housing or gardens. The government, the authors say, should be encouraging other people to follow the lead set by the young. “It is a happy accident that car ownership is static in every age group except the over-60s," Prof Anable says. "The government should build on that.”
7-5-19 More than a thousand sharks and rays have become entangled in plastic
Sharks and rays can become entangled in plastic debris. More than a thousand sharks and rays have become entangled in plastic debris, a study has found, with a greater number of species likely to be affected. A team at the University of Exeter found reports of 1116 sharks and rays caught up in plastic in the world’s oceans after scouring existing studies and social media. However, the true number could be much higher. The researchers reviewed studies published since 1940 and also looked for reports on Twitter since 2009, fearing that the issue had been pushed “under the radar” by threats such as over-fishing. “Due to the threats of direct overfishing of sharks and rays, and bycatch [accidental catching while fishing for other species], the issue of entanglement has perhaps gone a little under the radar,” says team member Brendan Godley. Dozens of species were affected including whale sharks, great whites, tiger sharks and basking sharks. The majority of the entanglements involved abandoned, lost or discarded fishing equipment. There were also reports of the creatures trapped in plastic packing straps, bags, packaging, elastic cords and clothing.
7-4-19 Billions of extra trees may give us 20 years to tackle climate change
The world could support many more trees. A massive expansion of the world’s forests by almost a third could be the most effective way for humanity to tackle climate change. Jean-Francois Bastin at ETH Zurich says he and his team have produced the most realistic estimate yet of how many more trees the world can support – and the number is much bigger than previous suggestions, at 0.9 billion hectares of forest cover, roughly the size of the United States. The team estimates that would lock up around 205 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, a huge amount given humanity emitted 37 gigatonnes last year. The scale of forest growth is broadly in line with what the UN climate science panel said last year will be needed by 2050 to hold temperature rises to 1.5°C. “It’s showing that it’s achievable,” says Bastin. “We estimated that if you managed to restore all the forest we talked about it would buy us about 18 or 20 years [to meet climate targets]. It gives us time to adapt our way of living, to adapt our economy.” The team analysed 79,000 plots of forest across the world’s protected areas using data extracted from Google Earth. Combined with data on what soil and climates could support trees, they built a machine-learning algorithm to predict where trees could grow. Once land with existing buildings and farmlands was stripped out, that left a potential 0.9 billion hectares of potential extra forest cover, in addition to the existing 2.8 billion hectares. Bastin says the analysis is more accurate than earlier efforts because of the resolution of today’s forest cover and only looking at places where trees could feasibly grow. While the resulting map of potential new forests shows they could be planted all over the world, restoring forests in six countries would account for about half of the expansion. Those six – the United States, Canada, Russia, China, Australia and Brazil – are partly top simply because of their size and the amount of forest they have destroyed already. In some places, such as Madagascar, more could be done relative to the size of the country.
7-4-19 Climate change: Trees 'most effective solution' for warming
Researchers say an area the size of the US is available for planting trees around the world, and this could have a dramatic impact on climate change. The study shows that the space available for trees is far greater than previously thought, and would reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by 25%. The authors say that this is the most effective climate change solution available to the world right now. But other researchers say the new study is "too good to be true". The ability of trees to soak up carbon dioxide has long made them a valuable weapon in the fight against rising temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that if the world wanted to limit the rise to 1.5C by 2050, an extra 1bn hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees would be needed. The problem has been that accurate estimates of just how many trees the world can support have been hard to come by. This new report aims to show not just how many trees can be grown, but where they could be planted and how much of an impact they would have on carbon emissions. The scientists from ETH-Zurich in Switzerland used a method called photo-interpretation to examine a global dataset of observations covering 78,000 forests. Using the mapping software of the Google Earth engine they were able to develop a predictive model to map the global potential for tree cover. They found that excluding existing trees, farmland and urban areas, the world could support an extra 0.9bn hectares (2.22bn acres) of tree cover. Once these trees matured they could pull down around 200 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, some two-thirds of extra carbon from human activities put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. This is a quarter of the overall amount of CO2 in the air. "Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today and it provides hard evidence to justify investment," said Prof Tom Crowther, the senior author on the study. "If we act now, this could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 25%, to levels last seen almost a century ago." The researchers identify six countries where the bulk of the forest restoration could occur: Russia (151m hectares), US (103m), Canada (78m), Australia (58m), Brazil (50m) and China (40m).
7-4-19 9000 km belt of seaweed spanning the Atlantic threatens marine life
Satellites have revealed the biggest ever microalgae bloom, stretching from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. Its continuing spread threatens ecosystems and marine life. The stretch of brown seaweed, known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, is made up of floating islands of the algae that attract fish, birds and turtles. But over the last decade, its growth has ballooned dangerously. By the middle of last year, the belt of algae had grown to more than 20 million metric tons and stretched almost 9000 kilometres. Now, beaches along the Atlantic and Caribbean are seeing knee-high swathes of this seaweed mat washing ashore, posing a threat to the vital tourism industries of some of these communities. Ordinarily, these patches of algae can help provide refuge for marine animals in the open ocean and help oxygenate the water through photosynthesis. But rampaging growth, especially around coastal regions, can hamper animals’ ability to move and breath and can choke other corals and plantlife. To understand what has been causing this spread, Mengqiu Wang at the University of South Florida and colleagues went back and analysed two decades of satellite data, cross referencing it with data that included Brazil’s fertilizer consumption patterns, Amazon deforestation rates and Amazon River discharge. Before 2011, the amount of Sargassum around the equatorial Atlantic and Caribbean was negligible. But a major shift occurred in 2011, when the blooms spread into these regions for the first time on record. Wang found that the annual blooms seen almost every year from 2011 aligned with nutrient-rich discharge flowing out from the Amazon River during summer and spring, and winter upwelling near the West African coast that brings nutrient-rich deeper water into shallower depths.
7-4-19 The largest seaweed bloom ever detected spanned the Atlantic in 2018
Satellite data revealed increasing amounts of Sargassum algae in the ocean since 2011. During the summer, vast, floating islands of Sargassum algae can blanket entire parts of the tropical Atlantic Ocean. The algae reached their largest extent on record in June 2018, forming a giant brown belt that extended for 8,850 kilometers from the west coast of Africa into the Gulf of Mexico. At least 20 million metric tons of Sargassum made up the belt, the largest bloom of seaweed ever detected, researchers say. Satellite data tracking the extent of the mats over the last 19 years reveal a sudden, dramatic increase in the summer of 2011, and recurring almost every year since, the scientists report in the July 5 Science. These annual massive mats of seaweed, which the researchers have dubbed the great Atlantic Sargassum belt, have been fueled in part by increasing nutrients pouring into the ocean from the Amazon River, the study suggests. Forests can both filter and regulate the flow of water from land to ocean. But with increasing fertilizer use and deforestation anticipated in the coming decades along the Amazon’s tributaries, such colossal blooms may become a new normal. The floating algae islands have long provided an important shelter for turtles, fish, crabs, eels and other marine species (SN Online: 4/13/17). But there can be too much of a good thing, particularly when Sargassum mats crowd coastlines. They can smother corals and seagrass, and wreak havoc on coasts across the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico as heavy, meters-thick layers of the seaweed wash up on beaches and rot (SN Online: 8/28/15). To track the waxing and waning of the Sargassum, the researchers, led by optical oceanographer Mengqiu Wang of the University of South Florida in Tampa, used data from satellite instruments that scan the ocean in visible and infrared light wavelengths. Sargassum algae, like photosynthesizing plants, contain abundant chlorophyll-a. That pigment pings brightly at infrared wavelengths, creating a sharp and easily detectable contrast to the darker water beneath.
7-4-19 Sargassum: The biggest seaweed bloom in the world
A floating mass of seaweed stretching from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico is now the biggest seaweed bloom in the world, according to satellite observations. The algal explosion in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea could signify a new normal, say US scientists. Deforestation and fertiliser use are among the factors thought to be driving the growth. The seaweed has inundated beaches, causing an environmental nuisance. As of June 2018, the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, as scientists call it, extended 8,850km (5,500 miles) and was made up of over 20 million tonnes of biomass. "The ocean's chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand," said Dr Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, who led the study, published in Science. The researchers used a 19-year record of satellite data to study the Sargassum, which has bloomed every year from 2011 to 2018, with the exception of 2013. 2011 appeared to be a tipping point, when the algae arrived en mass on shorelines. "This is all ultimately related to climate change because it affects precipitation and ocean circulation and even human activities, but what we've shown is that these blooms do not occur because of increased water temperature," said Dr Hu. "They are probably here to stay." Some species of Sargassum - a group of seaweed - live on the ocean's surface, where they attract fish, birds and turtles. "In the open ocean, Sargassum provides great ecological values, serving as a habitat and refuge for various marine animals," said co-researcher Dr Mengqiu Wang. However, too much of the seaweed can smother corals and seagrasses, and end up on beaches, releasing gas that smells like rotten eggs. Some 1,000km (621 miles) of Mexican beaches have been impacted this year. Removal is time-consuming, expensive, and not always effective.
7-4-19 UK’s National Trust to sell off fossil fuel investments worth £45m
The National Trust will sell all the fossil fuel assets it holds in its £1bn investments, saying it no longer wants to be invested in companies that are not doing their part to tackle climate change. The conservation group has around £45m invested in fossil fuel companies including BP, Shell and Total, and expects to have divested most of that in the next year, and entirely within three years.“We understand that action doesn’t happen overnight,” says Peter Vermeulen, the charity’s chief financial officer. “But three years on from the Paris climate deal, we are still not seeing evidence of fossil fuel companies putting enough capital in low carbon investments.” The move will serve as a stinging criticism of companies such as Shell, which has touted the fact it spends up to $2bn of its annual $25bn capital investment on low carbon technology as a sign it is taking clean energy seriously. Vermeulen pointed to research that shows major oil companies are on average spending just one per cent of capital expenditure on low carbon investments. “If you’re going to be a relevant player in 10 years time, it needs to be the other way around.” He added that the charity still believed in shareholder engagement with companies. “We very strongly believe in engagement. Where engagement doesn’t work we will divest.” The National Trust will now direct around £25m into green energy firms and companies with an environmental mission that would not be able to start or grow without the capital. Investments have already been made in a wind power and battery technology company. Fossil fuel divestment campaigners welcomed the move. Anna Vickerstaff of 350.org says: “This is a welcome, but belated move from the National Trust.” The divestment is one of the largest by a UK organisation, eclipsing previous sell-offs such as the Church of England divesting £12m from fossil fuel firms in 2015.
7-4-19 How high-tech seals are helping us learn about our warming oceans
Researchers are using seals as science allies. n a rocky island just off the coast of West Antarctica, ecologist Lars Boehme is standing face-to-face with a 1,500-pound elephant seal, eyeing the animal's bulbous nose and jowls to see if he's finished shedding his fur. When the seal opens his mouth wide to bellow, Boehme waves his hand in front of his face like he's just smelled something foul. "You can hear the amount of air going in and out," Boehme said of the animal, which is the length of a small car and has a distinctively sour musk. "It's like an air conditioner." Boehme is on a two-month scientific expedition to Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized glacier that sits at the center of West Antarctica. It's melting fast and could eventually trigger roughly 11 feet of global sea level rise. Scientists on the voyage are working to decode if, and when, that might happen. Boehme and three colleagues have come to one of the Schaefer Islands on a crisp day in mid-February to enlist an army of seals to help gather climate data. As penguins squawk in the background and waddle around on small ridges, Boehme and his team look for seals to tag with sensors that will track the layer of warm water that's thought to be melting Thwaites. Scientists believe changing winds are forcing a layer of warmer, denser circumpolar deepwater up from the deep ocean and onto the shallower continental shelf in front of West Antarctica. But they don't know exactly how. Clues from these seals, showing where that warm water is working its way toward the continent, how much of it there is, and how it changes seasonally, are key to understanding if, and how fast, West Antarctica's glaciers might collapse. "We record temperature, salinity, and depth whenever a seal dives, and when the seal comes back to the surface, the data is transmitted in real time back to a ground station back home," said Boehme, an ecologist and oceanographer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, who has been doing this work for 15 years.
7-3-19 Wetland conservation is a key part of saving Earth’s ecosystems
The importance of wetland conservation is highlighted by a new book, Wading Right In, which says that our most fertile ecosystems disappear three times faster than our forests. MIRED in difficulties, in a slough of despair, bogged down or simply just plain swamped, wetlands tend to conjure negative visions. Often regarded as the last refuge of the desperate, a place of outlaws and outcasts, historically they have had few fans. The name of Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp (one of North America’s biggest wetlands) isn’t exactly one you would pick for a place that is loved. Draining wetlands, on the other hand, has always been seen as land reclamation, as bringing it back into the realm of the useful, the valid and unsullied. Yet, wetlands brim with life. Buoyed by water, smaller plants are freed from the need to invest in supportive structures and can devote their full attention to growth and reproduction. The vigour with which they do this makes wetlands the most fertile non-marine ecosystems on the planet. While tropical forests produce biomass equivalent to an annual 2 kilograms of carbon per square metre, the world’s marshes and wetlands manage 2.5 kg. Faced with this bounty, nature declares a biodiversity party, with densities and diversities of fish, dragonflies and other life forms higher here than anywhere else. Yet the swamps, marshes, fens, bogs, quags and swales continue, as they always have been, to be generally misunderstood and largely unloved. Clearly, these amazing habitats need serious PR. Enter environmentalist Catherine Owen Koning and ecologist Sharon Ashworth, with their book Wading Right In. Both have spent years as swamp biologists and want to share their passion. “People are more moved by stories than statistics,” they write. The book, they say, is “not a checklist of characteristics, but an immersion in… real events”, and off we go, on a book-length exposition of the joy of all things marshy, told by people whose joy in life is to “wade into the muck”.
7-3-19 Ancient Earth reveals terrifying consequences of future global warming
Lessons from the deep past reveal that human-induced warming could create more extreme conditions than Earth has ever experienced. WELCOME to Icehouse Earth. It may not feel like it but, right now, our planet is in an ice age. It started about 2.6 million years ago and, until recently, showed little sign of letting up. In the 1970s, scientists were even worried that we were about to plunge into another full-blown icy spell. Today, those fears have evaporated into a fog of greenhouse gases. Unless we do something, fast, the exact opposite is going to happen. If emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, Earth will blow its cool, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and the living world. As the climate hots up, so does the race to understand what really happens when we crank up the thermostat. The standard approach is computer modelling, but we need every insight we can get, which is why some climatologists are turning their attention to the deep past, searching for global warming events to help predict the future. The good news is that the biosphere has endured some very hot periods and lived to tell the tale. The bad news is that the next hothouse may be more extreme than anything Earth has experienced before. In which case, it really is goodbye, cool world. The earliest inklings that Earth’s climate was radically different in the past came in the 1800s, when geologists were stumped by phenomena such as glacial deposits and desert sandstones at temperate latitudes. In the early 20th century, the theory of continental drift appeared to offer an explanation – maybe the deposits had been laid down elsewhere and inched their way to their current positions. But in the absence of accurate temperature records, nobody could be entirely sure. “Reliable temperature records only go back a couple of hundred years, so we have to find proxies,” says Tracy Aze, a marine micropalaeontologist at the University of Leeds, UK. Proxies are things that are affected by the temperature at the time and that are preserved over very long periods, creating a record of ancient temperatures. “These are typically chemical traces captured in sedimentary rock or ice, which allow us to make inferences about [past] ambient temperatures,” says Aze.
7-3-19 We could breed climate-friendly cows that belch less methane
Cows could be selectively bred to cut their significant contribution to global warming in half, researchers have proposed. Livestock are responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority stemming from beef and milk production, largely because flatulent, belching cattle emit so much methane. Researchers have previously looked at tweaking their diet to reduce these emissions, such as by adding seaweed. But now there might be a long-term solution, as it appears that a core group of gut microbes play a key role in how much methane a cow produces. The bacteria are closely correlated to the cows’ genetic makeup, suggesting the drivers for emissions are passed down through generations. “Because of the heritability, it should be possible using that information to breed animals for low emissions and increased productivity,” says John Wallace of the University of Aberdeen, UK, who led the research. The microbiome of herds could be sequenced and individual animals with high emissions selectively bred out. Eliminating the worst offenders in the microbiome could cut methane by 50 per cent, Wallace says. But this breeding process would take decades, and we need to reduce emissions much faster. A potentially quicker approach could be to see if specific genes are responsible – Wallace and colleagues looked at genetic variations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), not genes – and knock them out if it could be done without harm. A simpler, short-term idea is a probiotic for young cattle to alter their microbiome to cut emissions, says Wallace. “That sort of inoculation for young animals is not as difficult as you might think.” James Osman of the UK National Farmers Union says: “Research to better understand the genetics of low-methane emitting ruminant livestock, and any trade-offs with other important traits, is absolutely key.”
7-3-19 Unprecedented Arctic megafires are releasing a huge amount of CO2
The Arctic is on fire. Dozens of wildfires of an unprecedented intensity have been burning across the Arctic circle for the past few weeks, releasing as much CO2 in just one month as Sweden’s total annual emissions. Fires in the region are not unknown but the scale of the blazes, predominantly in boreal peatlands across Siberia, is surprising. Satellite measurements show the amount of energy released by the fires in June is more than that released by all the previous nine years of the month combined. “It’s quite striking, it does really stand out,” says Mark Parrington at European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. The last time the region had such intense fires was 15 years ago. The driver for the fires appears to be the unusually high temperatures that affected many parts of the world in June, with the month marking the hottest June on record in Europe. The Arctic was also warmer than average. “It’s hotter and drier. If the temperature is high enough and there’s ignition, fuel burns,” says Parrington. The exact size of the area on fire is not entirely clear. But Thomas Smith of the London School of Economics says his analysis of satellite photos suggest some of the fires appear to be bigger than 100,000 hectares, which would classify them as megafires. There are signs they are still burning, though detection is currently hampered by cloud cover. “Some hotspots are apparent through gaps in clouds which suggest fires are continuing,” he says. The fires appear to be mostly on carbon-rich peatland. Parrington calculates the wildfires in June released around 50 megatonnes of CO2, on par with Sweden’s total emissions in 2017. That CO2 will bring about more warming, in a positive feedback loop. The blazes appear to also be accelerating climate change by depositing soot and ash on sea ice. Satellite photos in June show sea ice in the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea turning darker, which will exacerbate melting, in turn bringing about more warming because the sea is darker than ice and so absorbs more of the sun’s energy. Arctic sea ice extent loss “ramped up” in June and was the second lowest for the month on record, data released on Tuesday shows.
7-3-19 Amazon rainforest indigenous people in fight for survival
Indigenous people living in the Amazon rainforest fear their survival is being threatened, as more and more trees are cut down to make way for farming and agriculture. They say Brazil's new president wants to allow deforestation in some of the 700 protected areas for indigenous groups within the Brazilian rainforest - which cover more than a tenth of Brazil's entire land area. Around 900,000 indigenous people live there - but that's a tiny proportion of Brazil's overall population.
7-3-19 US top of the garbage pile in global waste crisis
The world produces over two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste every year, enough to fill over 800,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. Per head of population the worst offenders are the US, as Americans produce three times the global average of waste, including plastic and food. When it comes to recycling, America again lags behind all other countries, only re-using 35% of solid waste. Germany is the most efficient country, recycling 68% of material. The study has been compiled by Verisk Maplecroft, a research firm that specialises in global risk. They've developed two new indices, on waste generation and recycling. They've used publically-available data, plus academic research to develop a global picture of how countries are coping at a time when the world is facing a mounting crisis, primarily driven by plastic. The waste generation index shows per capita rates of municipal solid waste, plastic, food and hazardous materials.Municipal solid waste is rubbish that's collected by local authorities from residential, institutional and commercial sources. While the world produces 2.1bn tonnes of this rubbish every year, only 16% is recycled while 46% is disposed of unsustainably. In the analysis, China and India make up over 36% of the global population and account for 27% of the waste. US citizens produce 773kg per head of population, roughly 12% of the global total. Their output is three times that of their Chinese counterparts and seven times more than people living in Ethiopia. Other European countries, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Germany, feature on the list. The UK ranks 14th in the waste index generating 482kg of household waste per person every year. The US is the only developed nation with waste generation that outstrips its ability to recycle.
7-3-19 Packaging-free shops may tackle plastic but risk increasing food waste
Shops that let you bring your own containers aim to tackle the plastic packaging scourge, but they may not be the perfect solution. SUPERMARKETS are full of food, but they are also full of packaging: cereal bagged in plastic sits inside a cardboard box, cucumbers are shrink-wrapped with care. Now trendy packaging-free shops are popping up in Europe and North America where you bring your own containers and buy exactly as much as you need. While the trend started with small, local shops, even retail giants are getting in on the action. Waitrose, one of the UK’s biggest grocery store chains, is trialling a packaging-free section in one of its Oxford stores. The switch is driven largely by a desire to make shopping more environmentally friendly. “We have made good progress in reducing our use of unnecessary plastics and packaging and this test is designed to help us identify ways for us to build on that,” says a Waitrose spokesperson. Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of packaging, particularly plastic waste that can end up in the ocean, hurt wildlife and even work its way back up the food chain and onto your plate. According to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost 30 million tonnes of containers and packaging were sent to landfill in the US in 2015. More than 10 million tonnes of that was plastic, which can take hundreds of years to break down. “People want to know what they can do,” says Rachelle Strauss, the founder of UK waste-reduction consultancy Zero Waste Week. Packaging-free stores help us feel like we have the ability to make at least a small change, she says. But it isn’t clear whether, as a whole, they will actually have a positive environmental impact, or if they are just aspirational marketing. “If we could do without packaging, it wouldn’t be here,” says Susan Selke, director of Michigan State University’s School of Packaging. Companies would gladly rid themselves of the expense if they could, she says.
7-2-19 Climate change: Antarctic Peninsula 'can still avoid irreversible change'
Even if global warming can be kept to a 1.5-degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial times, the Antarctic Peninsula is set for some big changes. This is the assessment of an expert panel of scientists. The group says reaching the threshold will likely result in a 50-150% increase in the number of days a year the frozen peninsula spends above zero. But although this means more melting, the team also stresses the "benefits" that come from not breaching 1.5C. Keeping below this figure should allow the peninsula to hang on to its remaining ice shelves, they argue. That's important because these floating platforms of ice that fringe the long spine of mountainous land work to hold back glaciers, preventing them from dumping more ice into the ocean and raising sea-levels. Recent decades have seen a dozen or so shelves either disintegrate or lose significant volume, as the peninsula has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. "A 1.5-degree world" increases the likelihood of thinning and iceberg production, according to the panel. However, it's possible the largest ice shelves can still retain sufficient integrity to avoid further catastrophic failures. "Under 1.5, we don't expect ice shelves to be lost - but under more warming they look far more vulnerable with consequences for sea-level and other impacts," explained Prof Martin Siegert from Imperial College London, UK. "The 'benefits' of 1.5 need to be explained - and we're trying to explain that while the peninsula is locked into change. It's still possible to avoid severe problems that would change the peninsula beyond recognition and without historic precedence," he told BBC News.
7-2-19 'Football pitch' of Amazon forest lost every minute
An area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch is now being cleared every single minute, according to satellite data. The rate of losses has accelerated as Brazil's new right-wing president favours development over conservation. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. A senior Brazilian official, speaking anonymously, told us his government was encouraging deforestation. Usually by bulldozers, either pushing against the trunks to force the shallow roots out of the ground, or by a pair of the machines advancing with a chain between them. In one vast stretch of recently cleared land, we found giant trees lying on their sides, much of the foliage still green and patches of bare earth drying under a fierce sun. Later, the timber will be cleared and sold or burned, and the land prepared for farming. In other areas, illegal loggers carve new tracks through the undergrowth to reach particularly valuable hardwood trees which they sell on the black market, often to order. What does this mean for the forest? Satellite images show a sharp increase in clearances of trees over the first half of this year, since Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil, the country that owns most of the Amazon region. The most recent analysis suggests a staggering scale of losses over the past two months in particular, with about a hectare being cleared every minute on average. The single biggest reason to fell trees, according to official figures, is to create new pastures for cattle, and during our visit we saw countless herds grazing on land that used to be rainforest. Over the past decade, previous governments had managed to reduce the clearances with concerted action by federal agencies and a system of fines. But this approach is being overturned by Mr Bolsonaro and his ministers who have criticised the penalties and overseen a dramatic fall in confiscations of timber and convictions for environmental crimes.
7-2-19 Climate change made Europe's heatwave at least five times more likely
Climate change made last week’s deadly heatwave in Europe at least five times more likely, according to a rapid analysis. The team of European researchers who conducted the work also found humanity’s warming of the planet made the heatwave about 4°C hotter than it would otherwise have been. The findings came as new data showed that the average European temperature last month was the hottest ever for June. The intense heatwave affected large areas of Europe, setting temperature records in Germany, Austria, Spain, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the Netherlands. France saw the hottest temperatures, including an all-time high of 45.9°C near the city of Nîmes, a level more typical of Death Valley, California. Manure self-ignited in Spain, causing a wildfire. Hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2003 heatwave which killed more than 70,000, authorities in France postponed exams and set up ‘cool rooms’ for people, while Germany imposed motorway speed restrictions over fears of roads cracking. At least seven deaths have been linked to the heatwave; the true toll will not become clear until much later. But we now know the exceptional heatwave was made much more likely by global warming, due to an assessment published on Tuesday by the World Weather Attribution group. They used computer models to calculate the temperatures we would expect to see in France with the 1°C of warming – our current level above pre-industrial temperatures – and also without it. They then looked at the average temperature in three days in June across France and in the French city of Toulouse and compare the observations with the models. The results for France as a whole showed that climate change increased the probability of the heatwave by at least a factor five. The results were similar for Toulouse.
7-2-19 Europe’s latest heat wave has been linked to climate change
Global warming driven by human activity made the heat wave at least five times more likely. Climate change made it five times more likely that Europe would experience a powerful heat wave like the one that baked the region in June, an international team of scientists reports. The findings, released July 2 by the World Weather Attribution Network, tackle the tricky question of how the heat wave might have been linked to global warming (SN Online: 6/2/19). The extreme weather broke heat records in parts of Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, and set an all-time high for France of 45.9° Celsius (114.6° Fahrenheit). Heat waves aren’t just about isolated high temperatures; the events are also defined by where, when and for how long they occur. To identify heat wave patterns and determine if climate change played a role in the June event, the network’s scientists examined three-day averages of the average daily temperatures for France during the heat wave, and compared those to previous temperature observations as well as to climate simulations to assess the role of climate change. Current climate conditions make the June heat wave in France up to 100 times more likely to occur than it would have been in 1901, the team found. It’s unclear exactly how much climate change contributed to that increased risk, due to several factors including that temperature observations began only in 1947. But the researchers say they are “very confident” that climate change increased the probability by at least a factor of five. The findings have yet to be peer reviewed. Intensity of heat waves also has increased, the report notes. One hundred years ago, the three-day average temperature during a heat wave would have been about 4 degrees Celsius cooler.
7-2-19 Climate change: Heatwave made 'at least' five times more likely by warming
Last week's record breaking heatwave across much of Europe was made "at least five times" more likely to happen by climate change, say scientists. Their rapid attribution study says that rising temperatures "super-charged" the event, making it more likely to happen than through natural variability alone. Heatwaves in June are now about 4C hotter than they used to be, the researchers said. Globally, the average temperature for June was the highest on record. Heatwaves naturally occur in summertime but last week's event in many European countries was unprecedented because it happened so early, and the recorded temperatures were so high. Records were broken at locations in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Spain. The new French record, established at Gallargues-le-Montueux last Friday, was more than 1.5C above the previous high mark. Much of the concern about the heat focused on France, with red alerts in several areas, many schools were closed, exams were postponed and health minister Agnès Buzyn warned that "everyone is at risk". The immediate cause of the heatwave was the weather, with hot air drawn in from northern Africa, caused by high pressure over central Europe and a storm stalling over the Atlantic. By lucky coincidence, the authors of this new study happened to be in Toulouse, France, at a conference on climate change and extreme events. The researchers, members of the World Weather Attribution Group decided to use the opportunity to analyse the link between human-induced climate change and the heatwave. They defined the heatwave as the highest three-day averaged daily mean temperature in June, arguing that this is a better indicator of health impacts than maximums or minimums. The researchers compared the observations of temperatures recorded during the month of June with climate models that can show how the world would be without the human influence on the climate.
7-1-19 CO2 emissions are on track to take us beyond 1.5 degrees of global warming
Current and planned energy infrastructure could emit around 850 gigatons of the greenhouse gas. A new study shows just how hard it may be to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial times. The world’s existing power plants, industrial equipment, vehicles and other CO2-emitters are on track to pump out enough carbon dioxide to blow past that target by midcentury, researchers report July 1 in Nature. Add in future power plants that are already planned, permitted or under construction, and we could emit enough by 2033 to raise average global atmospheric temperatures by 1.5 degrees, the researchers say. If we want to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, then “we cannot invest more in fossil fuel power or infrastructure,” says Thorsten Mauritsen, a physical climate scientist at Stockholm University who was not involved with the work. “Everything we do from now has to change direction and not use fossil fuels.” In the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, nearly all the world’s nations agreed to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees by 2100 (SN: 1/9/16, p. 6). The United States has said it would pull out of the agreement (SN Online: 6/1/17), though the exit wouldn’t be complete until 2020. Still, calls have increased since 2015 for the more ambitious goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees. That would mean fewer heat waves, spells of extreme weather and species extinctions (10/27/18, p.7). Human activity has already increased global temperatures by 1 degree. Emitting an additional 420 to 580 gigatons of CO2 could warm the planet to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in 2018. Current infrastructure could emit that much CO2 between 2018 and as early as 2035, though it could take until 2046 to reach those totals, the new study found.
7-1-19 Antarctic sea ice is declining dramatically and we don’t know why
Decades of expanding sea ice in Antarctica have been wiped out by three years of sudden and dramatic declines, leaving scientist puzzled as to why the region has flipped so abruptly. A new satellite analysis reveals that between 2014 and 2017 sea ice extent in the southern hemisphere suffered unprecedented annual decreases, leaving the area covered by sea ice at its lowest point in 40 years. The declines were so big that they outstripped the losses in the fast-melting Arctic over the same period. “It’s very surprising. We just haven’t seen decreases like that in either hemisphere,” says Claire Parkinson at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who undertook the analysis. However, researchers cautioned against pinning the changes on climate change and said it was too early to say if the shrinking is the start of a long-term trend or a blip. “There was a period in the 1970s when the Antarctic also had a huge decrease in sea ice and then increased. So it could be this huge decrease over a few years [2014-2017] is going to reverse,” says Parkinson. There was a modest uptick between 2017 and 2018, but sea ice extent has since fallen again and today is at a near record low for this time of year. The decline may just be natural variability, driven by shift in wind patterns which influence the extent of Antarctic sea ice, says Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. “To argue that this recent dip is evidence of the start of a longer term decline driven by greenhouse warming is premature.” Wind patterns, the hole in the ozone layer and the climate phenomenon El Niño all play key roles in affecting Antarctic sea ice which, unlike the Arctic, has been growing for decades. Researchers are trying to find out why the trend has flipped, says Kaitlin Naughten at the British Antarctic Survey.
7-1-19 We need to shut power plants early to stay under 1.5°C warming
As the world grows dangerously warm due to carbon dioxide emissions, the last thing we want to do is keep building fossil fuel power plants that make the problem worse. But that’s exactly what we are doing. If the existing fossil fuel energy infrastructure – such as coal-fired power stations – is not phased out early, it will produce another 650 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, according to a study by Dan Tong of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues. Add in the energy infrastructure that is in the planning stages, has been given the go-ahead or is under construction, and the total is 850 GtCO2. That is more than enough to take the planet past the 1.5°C mark and would leave little chance of limiting warming to 2°C. There is of course uncertainty about these numbers. Some previous studies suggest 1.5°C is still achievable, others that we’re already committed to pass 2°C. But to argue about the numbers is to miss the key point: we’re in a hole, and we have not stopped digging. In fact, we’re digging faster than ever. What we need to do is crystal clear. We need to stop building “all new CO2-emitting devices” as the paper puts it, and to shut down existing fossil fuel infrastructure as soon as possible. A handful of countries are working towards this aim, but globally, energy demand is rising, and much of this increase is being met by building new fossil fuel infrastructure rather than clean energy sources. Studies like this use the term “committed emissions” to describe this problem. But governments could shut down power stations early if they chose. There is precedent: after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Germany decided to shut down all its reactors by 2022.
7-1-19 Was Mexico’s freak summer hail storm due to global warming?
A hailstorm in Guadalajara on 30 June left some parts of the Mexican city covered in up to 2 metres of hail pellets, nearly burying cars. No injuries were reported but two people were said to be showing signs of hypothermia. The city’s usual temperature in June is 31°C. The incredible aftermath has left many wondering if global warming is to blame. “I’ve never seen such scenes,” the state governor, Enrique Alfaro, tweeted. “Then we ask ourselves if climate change is real.” Most studies looking at how global warming will affect hail have looked at the size of hailstones, rather than the overall mass of hail, because large hailstones do the most damage. They occasionally kill people and animals as well as doing serious damage to cars and buildings. For instance, 25 people were killed by a hailstorm in China in 2002. These studies suggest hailstones will indeed get bigger as the world warms. It is also possible that the mass of hail that falls in any one storm could increase due to warming. As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture. This means more water can fall out of the sky when conditions are right, in the form of rain, snow, hail or graupel (snow pellets). “In a warmer future, increased amounts of moisture in the air can lead to heavier precipitation during an individual storm,” says climate researcher Amulya Chevuturi at the University of Reading in the UK. However, it’s not clear that the mass of hail that fell in Guadalajara was that exceptional. “It does appear from some of those pictures that floodwaters helped to pileup the hailstones into larger drifts,” says Matthew Kumjian of Pennsylvania State University. “Some of the photos show much smaller accumulations in more open spaces.” Such pileups, or hail drifts, do occur occasionally, such as in Amarillo, Texas, in April 2012.